On Any Trouble’s new double album, Present Tense, longtime fans “will recognize our typical hallmarks — jangly guitars, melody, mostly uptempo tunes,” bandleader Clive Gregson says.
“It's perhaps a bit more reflective and mature [than previous albums] in the writing and performances, and there is no outside producer,” Gregson says about the release on London-based label Cherry Red Records. “I think those are the major differences.”
It was eight years between original albums for Any Trouble, which released Life in Reverse — a reunion album — in 2007. A 3-CD anthology of Any Trouble’s early 1980s recordings on Stiff Records was released on Cherry Red in 2013.
Why eight years between albums?
“We were all doing other things,” explains Gregson, a Manchester, England, native. “And then, once again, we had a window of opportunity, and I had a batch of suitable songs. So off we went!”
Any Trouble’s 1980 debut album, Live & Alive, was critically acclaimed — as were follow-ups Where Are All the Nice Girls, Wheels in Motion, and Live at the Venue. Though the media touted Any Trouble as the next Elvis Costello & the Attractions, commercial success didn’t follow, and the group broke up in 1985.
“We had no record label, no gigs and no money,” Gregson recalls. “We thought it better to quit while we were still friends. We always stayed in touch and got back together in 2007. It just seemed like a fun thing to do. I had a slew of new Any Trouble-style songs and a little budget, so we thought we'd give it a go.”
Gregson, guitarist Chris Parks, bassist Phil Barnes, and drummer Martin Hughes performed live for the first time since 1981, but Barnes had work commitments and was replaced by Plainsong bassist Mark Griffiths on Life in Reverse. It, too, was praised by reviewers.
Critics described Any Trouble’s music as new wave, pop, punk, rock and roll, and pub rock.
“I think all those labels fit us a little bit — punk probably the least,” Gregson says. “You could also throw in country, folk, power pop. On the whole, I think we're essentially a pop/rock band with some soul leanings, playing guitar-based music that is mostly uptempo. If there was a difference between our sound and other '80s bands, it's probably that we always had a really strong melodic emphasis.”
During the years Any Trouble wasn’t a working band, Gregson fashioned a distinguished solo career and a duo with Christine Collister. The duo also joined Richard Thompson’s touring band and were backup vocalists on some of his best albums.
“I'd always admired Richard as a player and a writer,” Gregson says. “I was a huge fan. Getting to play with him was amazing. He's a wonderful guy, and I learned so much about all aspects of making music. I don't know that I was especially influenced by him. I tried to cop his guitar style and failed miserably!”
What were the most important and best songs Gregson wrote during his career as a solo artist and a duo?
“It's hard for me to be objective about that,” he says. “I’m not sure that anything in pop music is really important in the big scheme of things. As for best songs, I just know the ones that I really like, mean something extra special to me, and I can feel proud of. They're dotted throughout my career — 'Touch & Go,' 'As Lovers Do,' 'Open Fire,' 'Home Is Where the Heart Is,' 'It's All Just Talk,' 'I Love This Town,' 'Fred Astaire,' and 'Comfort & Joy.' No doubt, you'd get an entirely different list from pretty much anybody who likes my music.”
Gregson says the best concert he ever attended was a Marvin Gaye performance at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles in the early 1980s. The show was “truly awesome” and a part of Gaye’s Midnight Love tour. Midnight Love was Gaye’s final studio album and the most successful one of his career.
The concert that most influenced Gregson was held a decade before in his hometown of Manchester at the Free Trade Hall, an 1850s building where Charles Dickens once performed and Bob Dylan was called “Judas” for choosing rock and roll over folk music.
It was Oct. 7, 1970, and the Who took the stage of the historic hall. It was one of the group’s last dates showcasing Tommy until the brilliant double album was played in its entirety in 1989.
“I was still at school,” Gregson recalls. “I had been playing guitar for a couple of years and was putting together my first band. The Who gig was brilliant. They played all of Tommy. I was completely sold, and I knew that making music was how I wanted to spend the rest of my life. Simple as that.”