Scotland's Fivestones: Enjoying the Ride

by Geoff Wilbur

[NOTE: This is a longer version of the interview that ran in the March 1997 issue of GEOFF WILBUR'S RENEGADE NEWSLETTER]

With a crisp, clean, catchy style that has them wowing AAA and album rock stations, Fivestones have the skills to make it big in the United States. The band's CD, WEE ONESIE, has become one of my favorites, so I decided to interview Joe Mitchell, the band's vocalist and bass player. Turns out Joe's a really normal guy and that he and the band are just excited to have the chance to put their music out to a large audience. Every step is more than they expected, even though they're working hard enough to earn it. And I'm not sure if Joe's Scottish accent softened or if I just got used to it, but I understood him an awful lot better by the end of the interview than I did at the beginning.

The band's record deal was a result of Alan Rae, who is now the band's manager, passing a tape along to Midnight Fantasy Records at dinner in Cannes. "They took a cassette back to America," Joe continues, "and about four or five days later, they phoned Alan up and went 'We really like that stuff, and we're really interested in the band. Can we come over to the UK and see them?' And Norm, the guy that's the president of the company, flew over for the weekend, and we put on a showcase, and he liked it. He offered us a contract before he went back. It was just one of these things that a lot of it was luck. They were over here trying to up the profile of the label," and, as a result, Fivestones landed an American record deal.

"We were having no luck in the UK," says Joe, "because everybody told us it's just not the UK, it's very American, which we always knew. But we always thought we could never get someone interested who could see us here and could see it for more than the UK as a market rather than America and the rest of the world."

It strikes me that Midnight Fantasy may also have been lucky to have been in the right place at the right time, too, based on Joe's comments: "We were changing what we were doing around, experimenting and turning it about and lightening up some of it and stuff like that, and these were the first guys that really got to hear that, and they grabbed it.

Fivestones hopes to tour the U.S. sometime in early 1997. Says Joe, "We don't have any definite dates, but it's all in the motions of getting fixed up. Nothing definitely's up at the moment, but we're talking to some agents in the state because we want to do it through an agent. And they obviously will want to support people who are playing the records and buying the records. In areas where they aren't getting support, we won't even play there." For now, Fivestones is waiting until they'll be able to launch a full three month (or more) U.S. tour in support of the album, rather than having to fly back and forth more than once from London.

Even while they're supporting the current album, Fivestones continues writing songs. Of the band's songwriting, Joe says, "The songwriting, a lot of it has been me and Gary, but there's about three or four tracks on the album that was a group effort thing, but most of it on the album comes from me and Gary. Since then, it's been more of a group effort. There's still that kind of nucleus there, if you like, and that's always there -- that's kind of the bedrock -- and at the moment, we're working on making it a bit more of a cooperative thing... which is tough, because me and Gary have worked together for a long time. We've worked together for about 15 years." For 15 years? Joe qualifies, "On and off. We worked together when we were I moved to London, and Gary moved to London about nine months after I did. We both had four-tracks, and we bought other bits and pieces of gear and what together for about two years. We worked at job, holding down jobs, and came home at night tired and kickin' about ideas and working on songs on the weekend and did that for a while.

"Then Gary did what he wanted to do when he first came to London, and he went around the world. He went travelling for two years. And when he came back, he decided that's what he really wanted to do. And we got together just to kick about some songs he'd written when he was away and work together in my studio on them, and it was just so easy because we knew each other so well.

"Anyway, we'd done that, and it sounded really good, and we dropped what we were doing with other people and we went 'I want to do a band together.' We put an ad in our local paper in London -- that free ads thing in the musicians section -- we put an ad for a guitarist and a drummer.

"These guys (guitarist Gordon Moir and drummer John Telford) phoned us up, and it just turned out they're from the same town in Scotland as we are. That wasn't why they got the job; they got the job because we can work with them. That was in '94. And we got together and made some songs -- some of them are on the album; some of them aren't."

After getting the band rolling, the band members quit their jobs to dedicate themselves to their music. Says Joe, "We decided that we're going to make people believe in what we're doing -- we can't hedge our bets kind of thing. You've got to have your heart and soul 150 percent in there. So everyone did that. We call quit our jobs. That was tough, money-wise.

"We played in the club circuit in London for a while, but that was getting us nowhere, so we stopped doing that, and we were gonna concentrate on writing songs and getting a sound. That's when we sat there and went, 'Nobody's buying what we're doing. It's time we have a long, hard look at it.'"

So the band made the necessary changes, resulting in the current sound, a crisper, cleaner, softer sound that showcases melodies. "So we did that," Joe continues, "and basically that's where we are now. And that's taken us two-and-a-half years."

Of course, the other big difference is that now Fivestones have a record deal that enables them to showcase that new sound. And the end result is a catchy, memorable album of soft-to-mid-tempo melodic rock tracks that cut to the soul. WEE ONESIE, which is available on Midnight Fantasy Records, is right up old fashioned American rockers' alley, smooth enough for you to hear the melodies -- the way the songs were meant to be played.

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