Tony De Meur, of the Fabulous Poodles: Something Else! Interview

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Fabulous Poodles guitarist and singer Tony De Meur joins Steve Elliott for a Something Else! Sitdown sparked by the arrival their new box set Mirror Stars: The Complete Pye Recordings 1976-1980. American listeners will find a host of rarities, since their record label combined portions of the Fabulous Poodles’ first two albums (a 1977 self-titled debut and 1978’s Unsuitable) to make their first U.S. release.

Unfortunately, they didn’t get much further after 1979’s Think Pink; after a stand-alone 1980 single called “Stomping with the Cat,” the Fabulous Poodles were no more. De Meur takes us back to their glory days, discusses the struggles he had in compiling the Mirror Stars box set, and the possibility of a long-hoped-for reunion for the Fabulous Poodles …

STEVE ELLIOTT: It must feel like a real tip of the hat to you and to the rest of the Fabulous Poodles, having all three of your albums remastered and reissued.
TONY De MEUR: It was interesting curating this package going back 40 years! As I explain in booklet, I think a lot of our songs stand up, but some are ill-thought through and don’t really stand the test of time – but they should be included, I felt.

STEVE ELLIOTT: What can the fans look forward to hearing with the rare bonus material that’s included on the box set?
TONY De MEUR: BMG, who own all our stuff, which they leased out to Cherry Red, fucked up the digitizing of all demos etc. with a corrupted CD master but luckily, an old fan, Steve Elphick had them on cassette and made digital copies for us. I am mad with BMG for screwing it up, and not letting us put any of the released tracks on Spotify. Bastards.

STEVE ELLIOTT: Like most American fans, we only knew you guys for your two Epic/Park Lane Records albums. What’s the story with Epic creating the Mirror Stars album for the U.S., and what did you all think about this?
TONY De MEUR: Epic thought it a good idea to put our first U.S. album out as a compilation of selections from first two U.K. albums. It was good enough for the Beatles so, hey …

STEVE ELLIOTT: You guys had some back history before we saw your albums appear on the scene. It’s my understanding that the line-up was slightly different than what we saw later on with the four man line-up we all know and love?
TONY De MEUR: Five-piece originally, but [pianist] Bob Suffolk left on the morning of our second Dutch tour, so we had to rearrange everything on the boat going over there. Long story, which I won’t go into here.

STEVE ELLIOTT: What was it like working with your producers, John Entwistle for your first self-titled album and Muff Winwood on the Unsuitable / Mirror Stars and Think Pink albums?
TONY De MEUR: The Pye A&R man sent Entwistle our demos, which he liked, and when he saw us live that clinched it. We were very honored to be the only band, outside of the Who, that he produced. Muff Winwood was finishing up production on the first Dire Straits album, when he started on Unsuitable, our second vinyl venture. He was easy to work with and has a good sense of humor – which was important – and helped us with arrangements, but we felt the finished product ended up sounding a bit too “professional” and smooth, lacking the energy and edge of our live performances.

STEVE ELLIOTT: One of the many cool things about the Fabulous Poodles was your sense of humor, which came to you guys naturally.
TONY De MEUR: I am the guilty one for introducing that element, I’m afraid.

STEVE ELLIOTT: Were both the Kinks and the Who an influence on your songwriting and the band?
TONY De MEUR: Both bands were major influences on me as a young teenager.

STEVE ELLIOTT: Besides the Fabulous Poodles, there was a wild cavalcade of unusual characters on the album cover of Think Pink. What do you remember about it?
TONY De MEUR: Mary Ann, a Southern kook I met in Atlanta, took all of these mad Instamatic shots which I loved, so I invited her to let us use some for the cover.

STEVE ELLIOTT: Were there any BBC radio recordings that stick out for you?
TONY De MEUR: The demos we did for John Peel were better than some of the officially released material, but the BBC wanted so much money for us to use them that we had to give that a body swerve. See BMG: Bastards.

STEVE ELLIOTT: What were some of your tours like? I understand that you opened for Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers.
TONY De MEUR: The first tour was opening for Sha Na Na, which was bit of a mismatch through we liked the guys in the band. Petty was much closer to our vision and a great guy. Rest in peace.

STEVE ELLIOTT: Visually, the Fabulous Poodles had a striking, colorful image that was cool and fun – and you all rocked pretty hard on stage. You all came across as real characters! Tony, do you still have those fab pink specs that you used to wear?
TONY De MEUR: Haven’t worn them in years. Still have the giant wooden pair we used to suspend over [drummer] Bryn [Burrows]’s boxing rink, in which he played.

STEVE ELLIOTT: What’s the story with your last non-album single “Stomping with the Cat,” which was released after the Think Pink album in 1980? It’s a great song. You all should’ve been allowed to ride the rockabilly revival wave that the Stray Cats were just starting to create over there in England. The Fabulous Poodles had a natural affinity for that music.
TONY De MEUR: “Stomping” was based on real story when my then-girlfriend killed our kitten Arthur by stepping on him in middle of the night. It was an awful accident, which I probably ill-advisedly turned into a celebration. The Stray Cats played their first public U.K. performance with us on “Stomping” in North London.

STEVE ELLIOTT: One of the Fabulous Poodles’ great features was multi-instrumentalist Bobby Valentino’s totally original use of the Talkbox with his violin. I don’t recall anyone else ever doing that.
TONY De MEUR: It worked so we ran with it.

STEVE ELLIOTT: The two hit singles that you’re known for here in America, “Mirror Star” and “Bionic Man,” sounded fresh then and now, and were played quite a bit on the rock stations and indie rock stations. If the Six Million Dollar Man TV series is ever revived, “Bionic Man” should be the new theme song.
TONY De MEUR: I’ll go for that.

STEVE ELLIOTT: There are so many clever, fabulous songs from your albums, including “Mr. Mike,” “Work Shy,” “Chicago Box Car (Boston Back),” “Anna Rexia,” “Suicide Bridge” and others. You seemed to encapsulate ’50s Americana themes so well on tunes like “Oh Cheryl,” “B-Movies” and “Pinball Pinup” that, dare I say, are better than some American bands.
TONY De MEUR: Thank you, kindly. Some ideas came from our lyricist John Parsons, and some were mine. We didn’t set out to be a “vintage” band, but I couldn’t help my early influences coming through.

STEVE ELLIOTT: I have to say that “Toy Town People” really perfectly captures those Music Hall-like sounds which the Small Faces and Kinks did so well.
TONY De MEUR: It’s a kinda cynical tune, with Devo overtones.

STEVE ELLIOTT: I could imagine Buddy Holly and the Crickets recording “You Wouldn’t Listen,” and having a hit single with it.
TONY De MEUR: That was an early song of mine, written when I was 15, I think. A total rip off.

STEVE ELLIOTT: I believe “Talkin’ Trash” has the rare distinction of having the world’s first lead guitar-like part in a song by a car starter. That’s very original, and quite funny!
TONY De MEUR: I think that was Bobby’s violin ramped to the max and fuzzed up.

STEVE ELLIOTT: The Fabulous Poodles came up with some unusual covers that you made your own, like “Man With Money” and “Roll Your Own.” How’d you find them?
TONY De MEUR: “Man With Money” was the b-side of a ’60s Everly Brothers song which I saw the Who play a couple of times. A great “story” song with hundreds of chords. Read our box set booklet for a Don Everly tale.

STEVE ELLIOTT: What caused the Fabulous Poodles to break up in 1980? Are you still in touch with Bobby Valentino, bassist Richie Robertson, and Bryn Burrows?
TONY De MEUR: Looking back, I was having a nervous breakdown brought on by too much drugs and drink, and I couldn’t handle it all. We should’ve taken a break and got back together, but things didn’t work out that way. We – Bobby, Bryn and I – will be doing a few gigs late September and October. Who’da thunk it?!


Steve Elliott

Steve Elliott

Steve Elliott has written for Shindig, Twist and Shake, Garage & Beat and Ugly Things. A big fan of all things rock and roll - especially the British Invasion, garage rock, psychedelic, new wave, folk rock, surf and power pop - he was a consultant on Sundazed Music's reissue of 'The Best of Butch Engle & The Styx: No Matter What You Say' in 2000, and has also provided liner notes for Italy's Misty Lane Records. Contact Something Else! at reviews@somethingelsereviews.com.
Steve Elliott
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