The following interview with Sam
Dodson of The Transmitters was originally published in Hamish
Ironside's Saudade Fanzine.
Justice Is Our Conviction is a
recently released benefit LP from which artists' royalties will
be given to the Martin Foran Defence Campaign. Allegedly, Foran
has twice been framed by officers from the notorious, and now
defunct, West Midlands Police Serious Crime squad (the same squad
involved with the Birmingham Six), and is currently in Frankland
jail, near Durham, serving an eight years sentence on charges of
robbery and conspiracy to rob, although the sentence was extended
by six years after he took a member of the prison staff hostage.
Martin maintains his innocence and as such has jeopardised his
chances of parole and early release.
The LP is a mixture of punky and
more experimental, On-U-Soundy tracks by Anhrefn, Mega City Four,
Sink, Visions Of Change, The Shamen, Plant Bach Ofnus, Annie
Anxiety Bandez, Bim Sherman and Dub Syndicate, Barmy Army,
Benjamin Zephaniah and The Transmitters. Who are The
Transmitters? They're a west London band with a pedigree
going back ten years. The name's the same but there have been a
few line up changes since they were label mates with The Fall, on
Step Forward, and their John Peel sessions were broadcast.
Sam: We were one of those groups
that never fitted into any category. In '79 there were bands like
The Pop Group and The Good Missionaries, and we felt a certain
kinship to the way they worked. We were more organised than them,
but we came up with a much less organised sound. Even now, we've
been compared to Stump, to Talking Heads, and I think "I
don't like Stump, I don't like Talking Heads. Why am I doing
this?" and I listen to what we're doing and I think "I
love it". It's because it sounds different.
Why did you contribute towards
Sam: It's something that we believe
in. the injustice that goes on in this country is ridiculous. As
soon as we were asked we wanted to know all the details and then
we were right behind it. What I hope it achieves is bringing to
attention the Martin Foran case. I don't think it'll make that
much money but if it gets reviewed it might bring forward his
case to the public eye. It's in the background at the moment,
there's the odd article but that's about it. The Transmitters
have always involved ourselves in political things. We've always
done benefits, always been very 'left field'. Since Thatcher got
in we've always worked against her in any way that we can,
although when we go out and play it's not always that obvious
that we're politically minded.
What about the selection of
bands featured on the LP?
Sam: Great. I think it's a really
good mixture. Bands like The Shamen: great. I think they're
really excellent. It has a broad enough scope so it will actually
attract more attention than if it was just one style of music.
Tell me about the featured
Transmitters track: Count Your Blessings.
Sam: God knows what it's about, but
it's a nasty little song. There are lines in it like "cut
your fingers off". It's all about debts piling up; it's very
subversive in it's own way.
Is it of direct relevance to the
Sam. No. Most of the songs are
knocking the system in a way. That song is certainly knocking the
system: not necessarily policing, but there is a bit of that in
there, to my knowledge. As with any lyric it's down to
interpretation. That one seemed to fit more than any of them;
also it's a horrible noise.
Who wrote it?
Sam: We all do the writing. The
singer wrote the words but the music is written by the band. His
commitments mean he has to be an unknown quantity. He is one
fifth of the band and therefore anything he writes has to be
through his publishing. They know that he's on it, but at the
moment it's one of those secrets, possibly down to the fact that
it's more enigmatic to not know who's in the band, which is why
on the single no one gets a mention at all. I think he's the best
singer we've ever had, he writes lyrics that are closer to my
heart than anyone else as a Transmitter ever has. He's
Will Count Your Blessings be
Sam: No. We may re-record that
song, but there's no way that version would be available anywhere
Would a re-recording be much
Sam: Oh God yeah! Every time we
ever play anything it always sounds different, it's the nature of
the way The Transmitters have always worked. There's so much
improvisation that goes on around the basic structure that even
if we re-record something on the same day, the mood will always
be the same but the instrumentation will always be completely
Would you be able to re-do it
Sam: No, no way. A lot of what we
do is down to our own mistakes. When you're improvising you lose
yourself; there's no way you can repeat what you do when you lose
yourself. That is largely one of the things that we're trying to
achieve as a group: losing what we're doing but still managing to
work within a structure. A lot of the writing is purely by
You don't use samples, do you?
Sam: We prefer in a live situation
to use tapes. There's something a little bit clinical about
sampling, especially for The Transmitters. In a studio it works,
but live it becomes difficult. We've sampled Stockhausen, Bartok,
Ligeti, a lot of classical people, a lot of world musicians. We
use voices from all over the place. Turkish. We tend towards
Islam in voices. African. We're in for the steal, basically.
Howlin' Wolf. Flute solos. We will manipulate them a bit, put
them backwards, put effects through them, put echo on them.
Ultimately, if people start sampling from us, that's brilliant.
In its own right, the band's
most recent release is a four track 12": The Mechanic /
Testosterone / The Wrong Clothes / Ferryboat Bill released on
there own Craving Company label. Ferryboat Bill is a Velvet
Underground song; a strange choice of material:
Sam: It fitted in so much with what
we were doing that we made it our own. The song is completely
unfinished. I first found it on a bootleg called Velvet
Underground Etc., but it's since been released on an album called
VU, I think, on Verve. We almost play it note for note, apart
from the guitar solo that I have mutilated somewhat. Through the
single we wanted to show the diversity of the group: the noise of
The Mechanic; the organisation of Testosterone, the looseness of
The Wrong Clothes and then have this quirky little song at the
end that wasn't ours at all. John Peel played it; he probably
hated everything else on it.