The Debbie McGees talk to Digestive Press
Brighton’s new uke heroes The Debbie McGees give an exclusive first ever interview to Digestive Press and talk about biscuits, killer plants and big pencils.
Digestive Press: What is The Debbie McGees’ favourite biscuit?
Hilary Hotfeathers (ukulele, vocals): That’s a very hard question. I am partial to a pink wafer myself. I generally like anything with ‘Crunch’ in the name. Fox’s Cream Crunch, Country Crunch, Crunch Bunch, etc.
Barry Allen (ukulele, vocals): Rich Tea has always been my default.
The Thomas Ferguson Band (ukulele, vocals): I think if I could only eat one type of biscuit for the rest of forever I’d choose the humble digestive. It is the biscuit equivalent of air. I’m not entirely sure if that means it’s my favourite, for sake of argument I’ll hand it to the bourbon, it’s the king of biscuits, hence the name.
DP: Please wax lyrical about three (perhaps one each) major influences on the Debbie McGees be they bands, books, films, food, places, people or items of clothing.
TTFB: I’d like to talk about a song, which is ‘Two Of The Beatles Have Died’, written by a three-year-old girl called Olivia. She might be four years old now, I don’t know. Tracy Is Hot & The Clap did a good cover of it last year. It is possibly the perfect pop song; it’s certainly a song that informs a lot of what we do. It’s not really surprising that a child would write the perfect song as innocence in pop music is incredibly important, and the problem is that if we ever attempt to claim that, for instance, all of The Beatles were brothers, most people would know that we didn’t think that, so it would look contrived. Maybe it’s just because I like songs that mention the Beatles. Like the ones by Daniel Johnston and Devandra Banhart. And maybe songs aren’t the sort of thing to wax lyrical about in case it dampens their magic or whatever. Maybe I should have just talked about banana milkshake.
HH: My polka dot dresses. I have a collection of about ten dresses with polka dots on, ranging in colour, weight, durability, circumference…I think Thomas borrows them when I’m not in the house, I keep finding them strewn on my bed smelling of Co-Op Dutch Lager, and nobody else would drink that. They make me feel mighty real. They make me feel like being twee doesn’t have to mean being a jangly Jane.
With their painted faces and ukulele-heavy sound The Debbie McGees sound like a made up band, the kind that you could imagine featuring in a comic strip. It’s always the best way. Friends before they formed, they acquired some instruments and hey presto! As Thomas describes it, “it’s like a gang mentality without any knives.” Instead of knives they wield ukuleles at plants (see below) and play gigs to audiences of one. “Our second gig had one person turn up, our friend Kathryn. Barry wasn’t even on the stage, he was sat next to her, we ploughed through ‘Richard Aston’ and then just decided to have a conversation instead.”
In an age where most bands don’t even have one ukulele, The Debbie McGees have three.
DP: Do your ukuleles have names?
TTFB: Terence Trent D’arby.
HH: Mr Claude Atkins. He’s a bluey.
TTFB: My granddad used to have a habit of naming absolutely everything, so it’s put me in good practice. I think we still have his rubber plant, Colin, and his portable heater called Cedric. Or maybe George? I can’t remember which one.
DP: Would you ever consider adding different instruments or would you be more likely to add a fourth uke?
HH: The first thing I’d add would be a xylophone or some woodblocks.
TTFB: I’d be more interested in adding more vocalists really. Maybe sticking a choir on one of our songs, that what I imagine happening to our songs in my head. I like us being a trio though. Sense of the trinity and everything.
BA: We could set up a uke or two as a drum set.
Of course, to those who follow the fortunes of bands-who-play-ukulele-and-have-‘McGee-in-their-name, The Debbie McGees may cause some confusion with twee, Brighton-via-Glasgow duo The Bobby McGees. As Thomas explains, it is all going to be ok: “I thought it was appropriate to call ourselves The Debbie McGees as Debbie McGee is known for being Paul Daniel’s wife, and we’re known for copying somebody else’s name. So I was worried that they would think we were taking the piss out of them, but I got a MySpace message from them saying that they saw one of our gig posters up and it’s now on the wall in their front room so we were completely flattered.”
With that sorted out lets move on to the subject of The Debbie McGees’ first single, ‘Richard Aston, keep it under your hat,’ the video for which can be seen below.
DP: In ‘Richard Aston’ you unsuccessfully battle a killer plant with a ukulele. In retrospect is there a better way you could have tried to deal with the situation or would you do the same again?
BA: Our demise was inevitable.
TTFB: Indeed, so, same again all the way. I have strength in my convictions. I realise my problem this time was that I grabbed the neck and tried to whack it with the body of the uke, and the leaves would just bend every time I made contact with the plant. Whereas if I’d grabbed the body of the uke and jabbed at the leafy bastard with the machine-head end then i’d be more likely to maim its scrawny green torso before it devastated me.
HH: I would use a popular weed killer or some slugs. Or a combination of the two. Maybe slugs armed with pipettes of weed killer. And a back-up army of snails with aphid ray-guns.
TTFB: As it happens we only write about people we know as it’s the thing that inspires us most. We wrote ‘Richard Aston’ because we’d just bought our instruments and Richard was in the room, so it seemed like the natural thing to write a song about. I’m a big fan of songs where the title is just somebody’s name. My favourite at the moment is ‘Tracey Emin’ by François & The Atlas Mountains.
HH: I’d like to write about Julie Goodyear as I’ve already made a video for the song.
TTFB: But yeah at the moment we’ve got about four songs completed for the EP, one’s ‘Richard Aston’ which is about Richard Aston who, as we’ve already established, makes films about killer plants. One song called ‘Lucy Roberts’ is about our friend Lucy Roberts who is one of those people who is spectacularly lovely yet spends a lot of time worrying about things, so we wrote her a song about how, if she ever decides to become a mother, her offspring will be sunshine children. Another song, ‘Alice Kelly’, is about Alice Kelly who used to be a member of the band Tracy Is Hot & The Clap. The song fundamentally explains that she is my favourite tambourine player.
BA: Hemel Hempstead in 2005 was a blast.
TTFB: The second-hand record shop I used to work at in Southampton would be a constant source of wonderment to me, in that it was a building where every room would be full of records and somehow a large number of them would be quite good. It had a certain smell about it, not quite like the musty smell you get in most charity shops, but enough that after a day of shuffling through old James Last LPs i’d come home smelling like a sock that had been wrapped in newspaper in an attic for twenty years. Plus some of the clientele would often be bottomless troves of information, in a slightly alarming way. One guy would ask you what day you were born when he met you and would proceed to immediately tell you what was number one in the charts that week, the record label, sometimes even the catalogue number. Mine was ‘Take My Breath Away’ by Berlin, which is good, as I like that song.
HH: Cumberland Pencil Museum. It’s got the biggest pencil in the world. It’s really big, its bigger than me.