Look out for a series of exclusive interviews with a slew of big names and we’ll be bringing back our Download: The ‘Load Down features where we handpick the must-see acts and give you what you need to know.
Kicking off this year’s Download preview is comeback king Toby Jepson with the Little Angels set for a fabulous reunion show on Friday June 8 – on a stage featuring fellow Brit rock legends Quireboys, Terrorvision and ex-Skin/Jagged Edge hybrid Red, White & Blues.
Jepson talked to RUSHONROCK editor and self-confessed LA fanatic Simon Rushworth about the most unlikely reunion of 2012…
rushonrock: After years of stalemate how did the reunion finally come about?
Toby Jepson: The situation changed regarding a Little Angels comeback because we all found a place in our heads and a place professionally where we felt it was actually possible to discuss it.
rushonrock: From your perspective was it something you’d hoped for?
TJ: I had been thinking about it for a while. In fact I’ve been trying to push for a reunion for a couple of years now. But until now other members of the band couldn’t find the time or simply didn’t want to do it. In the end it just came about as a result of a few conversations and a meeting of minds.
rushonrock: Is it the right time to revive the band?
TJ: If we were going to do this then it had to be now. From my own personal perspective I’m incredibly, incredibly busy but there was a chance to do something this year. Then Bruce contacted me by email and said he was having a break from work – he said ‘do you fancy doing this now?’. You could have knocked me down with a feather! He’d always been too busy to even think about it before. I didn’t need to think twice and said I’d love to do it.
rushonrock: Were there any specific stipulations before the reunion could go ahead?
TJ: Only that we all agreed that we needed to make sure we could get back to the highest level possible and retain the great reputation that the band has with its British fans.
rushonrock: Can you expand on that?
TJ: The Little Angels never had massive success globally but at home and on the continent our fans mean everything to us. We held that support as a beacon during the early days – we had a huge fan base and fan club and, in the days before the internet, that was how we interacted with the people who liked the band. We knew our fans were solid and that they were real and so, if we were to reunite, we owed it to them to do something special.
rushonrock: Did a Download slot fit the bill then?
TJ: Andy Copping, the Download organiser, had said to me a couple of years ago that he’d like to have us on the bill. And there were murmurs about it happening. I pulled in my manager Steve Strange and he confirmed Andy was still really up for it. So we all sat down and agreed that’s where Little Angels would make their comeback.
rushonrock: How excited are you to play the hallowed turf of Castle Donington?
TJ: We never played the Monsters Of Rock at Donington and so to come back in at that level is a dream come true. To be able to play at the biggest and most well known rock and metal festival on the planet is just perfect. We all agreed it was the right thing to do. It keeps us at the level we went out at and gives us the chance to play in front of a lot of people.
rushonrock: Will Download be the beginning of the end for Little Angels?
TJ: In terms of whether this will be about more than Download – we’re talking about all sorts of things right now. I think so much water has passed under the bridge and we’re all involved in so many different walks of life that it’s impossible to know.
rushonrock: Would you like there to be another chapter?
TJ: I’d like to do more. And there are other things we need to do before we play Download – we’re playing some warm-up shows. Beyond that we just need to talk about where everyone thinks it could go.
rushonrock: After the initial response to the reunion surely it’s a no brainer?
TJ: We don’t want to come back and then it be something that the fans don’t expect and don’t want. We’re realists and at the end of the day the music scene has changed dramatically since we called it a day. Back then we sold out the Albert Hall and bands still sold records. We need to garner opinion and talk to the fans about what their expectations are.
rushonrock: How are you approaching Download?
TJ: One thing is for certain – we’ll all work our nuts off to make sure that Download is the best Little Angels show you could imagine. We had a rehearsal in London – Mark Plunkett flew in from Thailand – and it was like we’d never been away. In fact it sounded even better! We’re all a lot older and wiser. Mark Richardson has been playing with Skunk Anansie so he was on top of his game and the rest of us just brought our A game to the rehearsal. We all enjoyed it and looked at each other and it was like we’d only just stepped off the stage at the Royal Albert Hall! It was extraordinary. There was a reality to it and we wouldn’t be doing this if we were fooling ourselves. It just felt so great.
rushonrock: How did it feel to play the hits again almost 20 years after you called it a day and did it inspire you to do more?
TJ: Those Little Angels songs were the architecture of all of our professional lives. To have fun with those songs again and to be able to say a thank-you to our fans is just a brilliant opportunity and I for one would welcome the idea of more shows of some description.
rushonrock: At your peak your brass section was a key feature of the Little Angels sound – are they coming to Download too?
TJ: The plan is to have the Big Bad Horns on stage alongside us. We’ve already contacted them and it’s more than likely that Dave (Kemp, saxophone) and Grant (Kirkhope, trumpet) will be there but at the moment we’re trying to tie down people from all over the world. Right now they’re really gung-ho about the whole thing and that’s hugely important because if we were going to do this we wanted it to be like people remembered a Little Angels show – with all the big songs and all the stuff we used to do. That’s what we want it to be.
rushonrock: Do you feel there are high expectations for a band that’s been away for so long?
TJ: People can still remember how great that period of time was and there’s no point doing half a job. In fact if all of us weren’t going to get back together then I don’t think there would have been any reunion and we probably would have considered doing Download. So many bands come back under the same moniker but without the same personnel. We can’t have poor Mike so it has to be Mark on drums. But this is the real Little Angels.
rushonrock: Was the passing of Michael Lee pivotal to the reunion?
TJ: Mike’s funeral was definitely a turning point. It was very, very difficult thing to meet up with people who were your closest friends for so many years in those circumstances. Me and Mark Plunkett had been friends from the age of 18 but I hadn’t seen him for 15 years. To talk to him against the backdrop of Mike’s funeral was difficult to deal with but it threw us all together in a most unorthodox fashion. It was a poignant event. We were all mates together again and we realised that it could have been any one of us in that box. We did reflect on all of the time that had passed and all the time that we’d lost. We reconnected and felt a bit of a kinship again. The greatest moment’s of the Little Angels’ career was when we were all mates – especially in the beginning. There was no management or big record company ruling the roost – it was just a bunch of mates playing music together.
rushonrock: And you were never entirely rock n roll…
TJ: The thing about the Little Angels was that we were never drugged up or debauched. We weren’t guttersnipes and didn’t really fit the rock n roll mould. We were middle class boys from reasonably good backgrounds and we all liked each other! It wasn’t really the blueprint for success and at the start I think that’s why the rock press didn’t really take to us. We had no idea of what we could achieve together but it was our positive energy that counted in our favour. Because we were all at school together and we all got along we approached things very differently to other bands. I accept we didn’t have the edge that other bands did – born out of frustration and a need to get out of a bad situation. What we had was this massive ball of positive energy and power. And I remember when we first started out that I was thinking none of these other bands have our energy or passion. Even so we were quite surprised that the public reacted so positively to what we were doing. But our energetic approach didn’t do us any favours with the media – a lot of the rock magazines thought we were a bunch of foppish idiots and that was unfair. We could play. Bruce has always been a stunning musician and the rest of us weren’t that bad.
rushonrock: You ended up cutting your teeth alongside some of the biggest names of the era as the go-to opening act in London…
TJ: Playing with bands like Guns N Roses, Faith No More, Tesla and Vow Wow in the summer of 1987 meant we had a very fast education. But we realised we could also stand our ground alongside these bands and we worked very hard to stay at that level.
rushonrock: Twenty years down the line do you look back at that period and realise you were part of a special Brit rock scene?
TJ: The late 80s and early 90s were a great period for young British rock bands breaking through and a lot of those musicians are still playing now. The Skin boys are back with Red, White and Blue and Thunder are still the prime example of how successful the bands of that era really were. It was a great scene and you think back to that period with a smile on your face. We’d all been heavily affected by the success of Bon Jovi and Def Leppard in America and it was very easy to go out and play to fans who just wanted to party. Before that rock had become a dirty word but it became fun and I hold those memories dear to my heart. It was a brilliant, brilliant period.
rushonrock: Can it be brilliant again for the Little Angels?
TJ: After we were confirmed for Download live on Radio One – in the same breath as bands like Anthrax and Soundgarden – we became cooler than we ever were before! It’s going to be an incredible experience.
rushonrock: Aside from Little Angels you were involved with one of the finest albums of 2011 – Fastway’s Eat Dog Eat. How was that experience?
TJ: Doing the Fastway album was just such a joy. Working with Eddie on that record was fantastic as he felt he hadn’t made a really serious album for some time. The plan was to go in there with no pressure – we didn’t have a record deal – and make a solid blues rock record. We just wanted to make songs in their simplest possible form. We discussed where our hearts and our heads were at that time and wrote a record reflecting that. We’ve just been blown away by the reaction to Eat Dog Eat and we never anticipated it – in fact we never anticipated releasing the record! We just wanted to make it. But then I suppose when we listened back to some of the songs we realised it had something about it. I just wanted Eddie to be Fast Eddie Clarke again – I just pressed record and let him go. It was always a record to showcase his great guitar playing and I think it did that.