Benny The Moth – No War Interview with James Evans

In-depth chat with drummer about new single and more

Chris: Hello and thanks for joining us. We are Chris Almond and Jim Dolan of Bubblebrain Records introducing our friend James Evans, who is one quarter of the reggae/punk rock band Benny The Moth. Let’s start with the single that has just been released, No War. It’s had a lot of radio play over the past few days and that’s pretty exciting.

Chris: Benny The Moth will be a new band to most of the listeners of those radio shows. Let’s try to fashion some kind of introduction to the band, the who, when, and how you all got together.

James: Well, no-one in the UK would’ve heard of us at all. We’ve been together for twenty years, probably, but we’ve just played mainly Channel Islands shows, in Jersey, Guernsey and, occasionally, Sark.

Jim: You mentioned there some radio stations that you guys have been played on. How does it come about for a band from Jersey to have their record played on various radio stations when you guys haven’t played gigs outside of the Channel Islands?

James: To be fair, it’s all down to Bubblebrain getting us those link-ups with the UK because in Jersey we’re isolated. But we’ve got a story and that’s for real. It may not be as polished as your music in the UK but we’ve definitely got a story to tell.

Jim: A story is exactly what it’s all about. This track, No War, there’s a story in the title. There must be. Give us a bit of insight into the track.

James: It’s actually quite an old track. We played it at the last gig we ever did, which is supposedly 2012, when we broke up. We decided to play this tune as an encore and we thought, it’s not really a great tune, but in that encore at the Splash … Jim, yourself, like …

Jim: Was that that night?

James: That was that night. We weren’t even going to play that tune. We’d just written it and we were like, oh fuck, okay. In the end, it was such a great night we said fuck it, let’s just try it and then you guys got up and cheered.

Jim: Such a great tune!

James: We were, like, fucking hell man, this is actually a tune. And that was when the band ended.

Jim: Really?

James: For two years.

Jim: That’s intriguing. Instantly, as soon as you hear that, [sings] We all need some loving tonight … and it drops into this psychedelic reggae …

James: So then Lionel left the band and moved to New Zealand. He came back a couple of years later and we got offered a UB40 support gig.

Jim: That was at Fort Regent ..?

James: Fort Regent, yeah, yeah. That was the turning point.

Jim: Was it a Rockit production?

James: It was Warren Holt, whatever it was. That drew us out of retirement in about 2014. Then we thought, okay, well, we might as well carry on playing.

Chris: Why had you wanted to retire at that earlier point, as a band?

James: It was only because Lionel was moving away. As you know, our band members are quite migratory. It’s Jersey, so if you’re a person of the world you can’t stay here for too long at a time. People move around, do their thing.

Chris: Is it mainly Lionel that has that migratory nature?

James: No, Dozy was the first one. When we first started, we played Jersey Live with Razorlight in 2004. Dozy was living in Norway at the time. We just put it together, based on the songs we’d written and rehearsed and we just thought, we should keep doing this.

Jim: Time to get it back together, type of thing ..? So it never really ended.

James: Yeah. It’s been a constant cycle of that.

Chris: I was trying to remember the first time I met you.

James: We did a couple of Asylum shows together at the Live Lounge.

Chris: I think our relationship is a lot earlier than that. I think it goes back to 1998.

James: Reggae nights at Pesos. I was in another band around 1996, a band called Candidate Kaya. The idea was, the band was a rebel gang, kind of like The Clash. But it was all about tea, you know … Candidate Kaya was the ideal politician that’s gonna legalise tea for you.

Jim: So that was the concept behind the name of the band? So Candidate Kaya was what you guys were hoping for and campaigning for as a rock ‘n’ roll band. The freedom of being able to do what you want to do.

James: For the politicians to speak up for people and just say, look man, people get fucked on alcohol all the time, they fight … It’s all about let’s make a better society.

Chris: Were reggae and ska musical influences at that point?

James: No. We were into indie music like Eat.

Jim: Eat! One of my favourites.

James: We used to cover their tune Shame.

Jim and James [singing in unison]:

Shame, shame on you
You broke so many basic rules
Lies on your breath
Dragged us down to lower depths
Just because you spoke out louder
Just because you made them think

Jim: I didn’t know anyone else knew that band. Get out of town!

James; The first ever gig we did in the UK, in High Wycombe’s strip club/biker’s club/live music venue called the White Horse. It was the first time we played that tune.

Jim: I remember going to see Eat at Feet First at the Camden Palace. I remember it very well. I was wearing a Lemonheads t-shirt, just bought it in HMV. Jumped on stage and Ange Dolittle grabbed me before I could jump off and pushed me off the stage. One of my first stage dives. The album was called Epicure, it’s one of the greatest albums ever written.

James: It was a fucking great album. That single brought it home to me, you know? I discovered it when I went to university. I came from Jersey and landed in High Wycombe and was like, well, what the fuck is going on here? It taught me a few things. I was studying media and music, originally, and then I started promoting nights in the first year, I was going around putting up posters. I hooked up a local bar and we had some mates who were DJing. We’d get parties going and shit like that, y’know? All in the first three months of being at university, I’m just thinking oh fly-posting’s cool. I was going down roads and there were bullet holes in windows and shit like that. What the fuck? So anyway we kept these nights going. We used to do scratch DJing and combine it with house music and techno. I just wanted to have a party where I was living. Putting on nights puts you in touch with certain people. You start linking up with people. Hey, you’re the one that’s got the balls to go out at 3 a.m. in the morning and put posters up so everyone sees it when they’re walking to university in the morning.

Jim: Bullet holes in High Wycombe …

James: There were, honestly. I’m not even kidding you, bruv.

Jim: It sounds like near Milton Keynes, is it? I know it’s up past St. Albans and Hemel Hempstead.

James: It’s grimy mate, out that way.

Jim: It’s like an in-between place, isn’t it?

James: It’s Mercia. It’s not London, it’s not the Midlands, it’s in-between.

Jim: We went out to see Nirvana UK in this place in High Wycombe.

James: Was it the White Horse?

Jim: I don’t think it was the White Horse.

James: Where else could it have been?

Jim: It has a big outside area where they put a big stage up.

James: No, it’s not that then. What the fuck is that?

Jim: I’ll find out.

James: Please find out because we’ve got a group chat going on at the minute and we’re trying to … It’s our 25 year anniversary since we started university. This year, ’23. We’re trying to hook up a little party.

Jim: [indistinct] … James Corden or something.

James: Exactly. He was there, as well. He was only pulling all the birds, though, the fucker. I reckon he only turned up because he was pulling the birds in the town. He lived in High Wycombe, a local boy.

Jim: When was this that he turned up to pull all the birds?

James: Well, late ’90s. Rocking up to the student union bar, of course he was, man.

Jim: Was he famous in the late ’90s?

James: Yeah. He was in Hollyoaks, mate. It was the big show at that time, ’97, ’98. I’m not sure if he went to the university or whether he was just a local boy who was in drama school who was just like, yeah I’m just gonna tap up all the uni girls that are coming to High Wycombe.

Jim: And you guys got all friendly with him back then, yeah?

James: No, I met him a couple of times but I didn’t really get on with him. I just thought he was a bit arrogant, a bit drama school. He was big in the game at that time. “I’m in Hollyoaks.” He was already inflated. It was the first youth soap. Everyone watched it, everyone knew who was who in it.

Jim: And now he’s got his own show in the States.

James: It’s unbelievable what he’s done. There’s another big Jersey connection with James Corden, as well. He owns a mansion near Henley-on-Thames. It used to be owned by the Sultan of Brunei. In 1787, Henry Conway, who was Governor of Jersey, retired. He’d set up lots of defences against the French. He was a big hero in Jersey. There was a dolmen. A huge dolmen, bigger than the one at La Hougue Bie. The Mont de la Ville dolmen. As a gift to Henry Conway, they were going to give it to him. Because they were very into that shit, secret societies and ancient culture. “We’re going to give that to you” and now it belongs to James Corden.

Jim: So, were any members of Benny The Moth in Candidate Kaya?

James: No. My band broke up, the last gig we ever did was at the White Horse. I came back to uni after … There’s lots in between. Anyway, I ended up linking up with these guys from Gorey.

Jim: You came back from uni to Jersey?

James: Yeah. That was September, 2000. Somehow, me and my friends, the Horsfall Brothers, found a house in St. Brelade’s Bay. Found it in the paper. £30 a week each. Four bedrooms. Massive field. We started living there, and then we met these guys who were friends of the Horsfall Brothers in Gorey and just started hanging out with them.

Jim: Who are the Horsfall Brothers? Were they a band?

James: No. Both their parents were music teachers. Andy Horsfall was an original member of Benny The Moth. Tim Horsfall is a very amazing jazz musician. Pete Horsfall was a big DJ, he used to play at these nights called Rehab with Johnny Cabasa and Pete was known as A Man Called Horse. They were the first big opposites of the house music scene. So these guys were doing something different. “We’re gonna do funk shit, we’re gonna do breakbeats” and it was all like a lot of the Brighton scene at that time.

Chris: The people that Rehab used to bring to the Royal Hotel, oh my god, Gil Scot-Heron, Roy Ayers …

James: It’s nice to talk about Johnny because I feel that he has got such, still now, such a big part … The spirit of the music he was into at that time, against what was happening in the mainstream …

Jim: I didn’t come here until 2006 so I missed all of that. That name sounds class. Johnny Cabasa!

James: We had our house in St. Brelade. They had a house in Gorey. Both basically the same, big old empty houses. You pay fuck all for rent. Doesn’t happen in Jersey any more. They were like, come and jam with us. Right, cool man. So I’d go from St. Brelade to Gorey every Friday. We’d stay up ’til four in the morning. Getting ideas together. It just went from there. Before we knew it. Obviously they were party houses, so people were coming round, jamming in the upstairs room, DJs downstairs …

Jim: That’s how you met the members of Benny The Moth?

James: That’s how it all started, yeah.

Jim: Is that how you met Lionel?

James: No. So, Lionel is a different story, right … The story I was telling you, that happened without Lionel. This all happened between me, Tom, and Dozy.

Jim: So you, Tom, and Dozy are the original, still-standing members …

James: Yeah and Andy Horsfall and Antony Payne, as well, were the original jammers of that era. We carried on having our parties. We got the East-West thing going on, it’s all cool. Then, one day, Lionel shows up to my house and knocks on my door. Never met this guy before. This is around 2000 or 2001. He’s, like, “yo man, so I’ve just got back from India and my mate Kazz said there’s a cool place to stay here, if that’s cool?” I was, like, Kazz said that?

Jim: Who is Kazz?

James: Kazz Padidar is basically the survivalist expert of Jersey. He’d told Lionel I was crashing there. Right, come on in man, let’s have a chat. Within the first five or ten minutes, we were picking up guitars, yeah brilliant … At that time, Lionel probably didn’t have any idea about being in a band, never had an idea about playing an instrument, nothing like that. I was, like, yeah man you can stay here. I’ll teach you to play guitar. Taught him the basic chords and shit like that. Then he starts to do three chord classics like Bob Marley would do. Then, we had a party one night. The moment that Benny The Moth really happened, we had a big party, I can’t remember whose birthday it was. I think it was maybe Tom’s bird’s thirtieth – something like that. We went upstairs and had a jam. Lionel was, like, “can I have a go on the microphone? I’ve got this idea for a tune.” Two chords, C and E Minor. [sings] I think you’re lovely

Jim: You’re joking. That was the first tune? Wow. One of the greatest Benny The Moth tunes. We played that recently on our radio show. People really enjoyed it.

James: Then, we were, like, that was fucking pretty cool, but hold on we’ve got this other jam we’ve got going on, boom be boom boom … And then we’ve got Downtown, which has more of a reggae sort of, like … [sings] I’m going downtown, I’m gonna sell some thing. Whoa whoa, in this world! I got to buy me some tunes. I’m coming down that mountain, you know what I’m gonna bring. Whoa whoa, in this world! And that was it, we had two tunes.

Chris: Has Lionel always been the lyric writer of the collective?

James: Absolutely, yeah. We’ve chucked in little ideas here and there. Lionel writes really good lyrics.

Jim: Fantastic lyrics. “I’m going downtown, I’m gonna sell some thing” [laughs] That is fucking brilliant.

Chris: It’s poetic but it’s, like, street vernacular. There’s nothing pretentious about it, it’s direct language. It’s evocative and it’s telling a story.

James: It’s the classic Jimmy Cliff story. Obviously, in this case with something to sell whereas Jimmy Cliff had nothing.

Jim: It shows that he has nothing as well, because he’s going down there with something to sell to buy some records. The simplicity. That’s what I love about Lionel and what I love about artists who are able to put the simplest of actions into a context. I’m going downtown, I’ve got to sell some thing. We all know, by you singing that, exactly where you’re going with that. We know that you’re skint, you’ve got to go and sell something to buy something else. Love that.

James: For the three of us, who had no voice – I’m not picking up a microphone … We were just, oh yeah mate, you’re our fucking boy now. [laughs]

Chris: So that was the spark, the realisation …

James: This is a band now.

Jim: And twenty-three years later, your first record.

James: [laughs]

Chris: In some ways, it hasn’t changed all that much since those formative times.

James: I don’t think we’ve wanted to, we wanted to keep it to that … So it was in that special moment forever. We’re quite happy every Thursday, let’s just get together and recreate those moments.

Chris: Would you say, therefore, that it has never become stale?

James: No it never got stale, otherwise we wouldn’t bother doing it. We all love it.

Jim: It’s absolutely amazing to have, for the past twenty-three years, a band that has been that consistent, anywhere in the world, without delusions of grandeur about wanting to go anywhere apart from, let’s play some fucking tunes man.

James: Instead of playing five-a-side on a Thursday, do you know what I mean? We just get the tunes on.

Jim: Have you guys always had access to a rehearsal space?

James: No. We’ve been in so many different places, it’s crazy man. We’ve been in bunkers, we’ve been in sheds. As you know, in Jersey, rehearsal spaces are difficult to find. We had a place in St. Ouen’s Bay, opposite Sands, where the bird sanctuary is now.

Jim: Have you noticed over the past ten years it’s got even worse? Right now, there are no spaces.

Chris: In Jersey, there are people that have all sorts of space, and then there’s the rest of us constantly hustling and scrabbling –

Jim: To try and find …

Chris: Yeah.

Jim: Space.

James: One of my primary drives, always, in life is to think about where I can have a space to make music. So, when I walked into this house I was, like [clicks fingers]

Jim: Boom.

James: [laughs]

Jim: Schnell.

James: We moved here three months before the first big lockdown. We got lucky.

Jim: Would you say having access to a rehearsal room has helped you propel the band with this resurgence of Benny The Moth?

James: Absolutely, because most of the music we wrote was recorded in different little sessions, here and there. You do a weekend, you do a couple of tracks. You do another weekend, and sometimes you put out a record and the whole record has taken a year all around different spaces, but this time we’ve written all the music in one space.

Jim: And then gone to Orbital and recorded it all in one space.

James: The first stuff we did, we’d go up to Orbital every now and then, on weekends, and do a couple of sessions. But this time, with our new EP, it was the first time we went in knowing that we had all these tunes sorted. We knew exactly what we wanted to do with them. Lucas [Saunter, record producer] was surprised. He was like, oh man it’s going to be more dub and reggae and then he was, like, this is kind of interesting what you’re doing. He didn’t expect this style of music.

Jim. Well, he needed a new challenge. He wanted to better himself as a producer without having to go off to the UK to do any courses. The only way he could do that was by putting bands through the studio that pay to record.

James: It was Bubblebrain that introduced him to us.

Chris: Lucas is better than many producers you will find in the UK.

Jim: Exactly. He wanted to stay in Jersey and carry on recording and learning more but there was no way for him to do that. So, we were like, right, we need to facilitate a business for you. We need to find clients for you. He came up to me one Christmas and said, “Man, you know, thank you man because without you guys giving me my first real thing …”

James: That’s what it’s about. We got a shout-out at Vale Earth. The pyramid stage, it was so cool, we were loving it. Perchard’s Wall, or maybe it was Pam Bindi, were, like, “Yo, let’s give a massive shout to Benny The Moth. We used to watch them when we were sat in the garden and they were having a party up there and we were just, like, aah, we just want to play music like them.” Honestly, it’s fucking mad. And now, the thing is with these Gorey bands, there’s about five or six of them. So many of them, you know? I’m gonna do A&R East Side for you. [laughs] I’m already doing it.

Benny The Moth – No War is available to stream and download from all good online stores.