Here’s Red Guitars drummer Matt Higgins’ interview for Your Take video magazine, autumn 2022.
Your Take: Can I ask you, when and where you were born? Can you give us some background on your parents and what they did for a living? Do you have any siblings?
Matthew Higgins: I was born in Leeds in 1961, my dad worked in Textiles and my mum was a teacher. I have 3 brothers, two older and one younger, and 2 of them are very musical.
Your Take: Do you come from a musical background and what music was being played around the house? What music went onto inspire you and what made you all decide to choose music as a career option?
Matt: My younger brother is an excellent pianist, and trained classically while one of my other brothers is a really good acoustic guitarist. I took up drums at aged 12ish, and it was always useful, because everybody I knew at school who wanted to be in bands was a guitarist or singer, so even if you were a crap drummer, just having some drums of any sort guaranteed you a place in at least one band!
Your Take: How did you join the Red Guitars? Can you talk about the early musical chemistry you had and why you gelled as a band?
Matt: When I went to Hull Uni in 1980, I wanted to carry on drumming. My brother introduced me to Hallam who was a friend of his. I first met Hal one October afternoon in his house in Hull. It was so cold that he was sitting in bed in an overcoat to try and keep warm. He got up to say hello, felt for his slippers but as he put them on there was a squelching sound and a smell. Unfortunately the cat had crapped in one of them! That was our first meet and from then on, we started to rehearse in the attic of that same house, where the meter would often run out and the call would go out, “anybody got 50p?”
Your Take: What are your recollections of recording the band’s debut album, Slow to Fade? What are your memories of the early tours and supporting, The Smiths and appearing on John Peel’s radio sessions?
Matt: Recording the album was great. We’d been playing the songs live for a good while so we were pretty polished. We recorded at Fairview in Hull so we could go home every night and that was great!
The album was co-produced by a guy called Roy Neave who actually taught me a great deal about the discipline of drumming, not least keeping time, not just pretty well, but very well. We worked with click tracks for the first time, really, and it was hard but really rewarding. If you can hear the click, you’re out of time!
Supporting The Smiths was so timely! They released their first album during the tour and they were right on the verge of becoming huge! Because they invited us on the tour (Johnny Marr, really), it worked well financially and the fit was really good. We went down generally really well as a support band and I think we double-encored at Nottingham Rock City which was unprecedented. Doing the Peel sessions was new for us, in that everything is recorded very quickly and you completed 4 tracks in about 6 hours, I think, which meant that knowing the songs very well beforehand was a blessing. We met John Porter who produced one of these sessions as I remember; John also produced The Smiths first album, and in a world where you meet a lot of people who promise much and deliver little, John was a breath of fresh air. It was only in later years that I realised the vast amount of really superb work he has done, as a member of Roxy Music, but also as a very big blues producer in the States.
Your Take: Can you discuss phase 2 in the band’s musical journey?
Matt: Phase II of the Red Guitars after Jerry left produced, for me, 2-3 really good songs, like “Be With Me,” “National Avenue” and “America & Me.” We were courted by lots of record companies and eventually signed to Virgin who offered the best deal, but also seemed to be interested in our music as well, what a bonus! However, unfortunately the album we did with Virgin was more of a series of riffs, bits of lyrics and half-completed songs. Recording it was therefore difficult and the result was, in my opinion, disappointing. Nevertheless, we did it, and we were grown up enough not to get too pushed around by the industry. We did lose a bit of control on the production side and that, in hindsight, was detrimental. It’s easy to be wise after the event!
Your Take: After your departure from the Red Guitars what did you go onto do and why?
Matt: When the band split, I went back to Uni to train and then jumped on the job bandwagon, including 25 years working in Marketing for a bank! Clearly this has boosted my credibility enormously. Subsequently, I’ve worked for charities, been a van driver, and in the last 2 years have become a qualified psychotherapist which is, along with the renaissance of the Red Guitars, my big thing these days.
Your Take Can you summarise your thoughts and feelings from the recent reunion tour? Do you have a favourite moment or memory? Can you describe the audiences and fans you met on the tour?
Matt: The recent tour was absolutely brilliant and I enjoyed every moment. Here I was, back with my bandmates and friends, almost 40 years on, and the impact was just fantastic. Loads of in-jokes, playing better than we did in the 1980s and playing to people who were genuine fans who seemed delighted to see us again. Every gig was very different but all had something unique. Playing again in Hull was obviously special, but they were all great. We’ve re-kindled the spirit of what we were about and while we’re all considerably older, the spark is still there. Hallam & Jerry’s songs are as relevant as ever, and we all have our strengths which means we work really well. It’s a pleasure and a privilege and while we’ve never been about international fame and acclaim, we’re pretty comfortable and confident that we’re not at all bad!
Look out for the full Your Take video interview with the band coming soon!