Dancing in the dark - Maximum Joy Talk

The cult 80s post punk outfit talk reforming, recording with Dennis Bovell, and dancing as a radical act...

Dancing in the dark - Maximum Joy Talk

The cult 80s post punk outfit talk reforming, recording with Dennis Bovell, and dancing as a radical act...

Maximum Joy are one of those British bands that sprung up in the early '80s, released a handful of incredible dance records, then scattered to the wind. Formed in 1980 in Bristol from members of Glaxo Babies and The Pop Group – along with the then 17-year-old singer/clarinetist Janine Rainforth – Maximum Joy represented a break from the dour frown of post-punk. They were a dance band first and foremost, with a raucous disco pulse, blasts of brass and yelping, chanted vocals that lived up to the band’s name. 

After recording three singles, and a lone, Adrian Sherwood produced album, the band went on to briefly work with UK reggae pioneer Dennis Bovell, then that was that. Quitting on a high, they left a legacy that has stood til this day – any one of the Maximum Joy 12"s could still come out on DFA Records and sound like it was made a week ago. This explains why so many promoters have tried to get Maximum Joy to reform. After years of resistance the band have finally acquiesced, agreeing to appear on home ground with a show at Bristol’s Simple Things festival. We managed to round up Janine, saxophonist/trumpeter Tony Wrafter and drummer Charlie Llewellin for a look back over the past and some words on what the future holds; 

So to start off, I just thought I’d get you to talk about the early days of Maximum Joy, how you first met, what the inspirations were, what you were listening too at the time and how it all came together really in those early days over in Bristol.

Tony: We were listening to loads of stuff at the time. We’d be going out to listen to Blues at night and all the beautiful, far out dub stuff that was going on in those days.

Janine: We used to go to Dug Out quite a bit too.

Is that where you guys met each other?

Janine: Well Charlie and Tony knew each other before didn’t you.

Tony: Yeah, we played in the Glaxo Babies together- it was just a very tight knit scene in Bristol anyway in those days, so everybody knew everybody.

Janine: Yeah, it was like that wasn’t it.

Tony: I’m sure we met in The Dug Out though yeah.

How did that turn into recording together?

Janine: Well I think Tony and I met just at the right time really. We were both really keen to start a new project.

Tony: That’s right.

What had you been working on before then Janine?

Janine: I was a little bit behind on that side of things. I’m a little bit younger than these two so I was only 17 I think at the time, when I started talking to Tony about it. I’d just been hanging out and wanting to do it, but not sure how to do it. Tony had already done the Glaxo Babies so that made it quite appealing. Then Tony reached out to Charlie pretty quickly so that was Charlie and Dan, the bassist.

Tony: He was also the guitar player from Glaxo Babies, that was a good move. We got a lot of energy from Janine though, she’s very inspiring, and it was quite easy to bring in other musicians like Charlie and Dan to work just as the four of us together, making a great sound. That was the Silent Street recording that we did and is probably one our best I think.

The sound definitely moved on from Glaxo Babies, whilst you probably aren't going to put on a Galxo Babies track on to really get a party going, Maximum Joy were a lot more dance oriented.

Tony: No, but I guess it depends on what sort of party really.

Charlie: But when I joined Glaxo Babies we did kind of change direction, for better or worse. The record that we put out called Nine Months To The Disco, was quite different to the earlier stuff and was sort of a bridge between the earlier Glaxo Babies stuff and the Maximum Joy stuff. It was super exciting though. We had John from the Pop Group there and Tony and me and Dan and we were all just raring to go. It was fun.

Was the name chosen deliberately to reflect that? Your sound was very joyful.

Tony: It is yeah, definitely. The name is the sound.

Janine: Yes, it is. It was a reaction to the times as well really, which are similar in ways to the times now.

How do you mean?

Janine: Well they were quite hard times, politically.

Tony: As Dennis Bovell said, ‘your music is your politics.’

Janine: It was the Maggie Thatcher years and there were coal strikes, and I seem to remember a lot of other strikes going on as well. For young people at the time there wasn’t much prospect either, which I think is quite similar to what’s going on now.

Do you think, to a degree, the act of being joyful in that period was almost seen as being revolutionary or rebellious?

Tony: Oh, absolutely. A lot of people didn’t get it. I remember doing a session with Adrian Sherwood and the saxophone player from The Wailers was there and I remember him saying that he wasn’t sure about the name of our band being Maximum Joy. I think he got it in the end though.

Janine: It was a bit of a stance wasn’t it. We never said that it was our stance though; we just seemed to know that it was.

Charlie: I hated the name, but I was wrong. It makes senses again now though. I’m in Vancouver and I’ve been sitting here practicing along with the tracks and there’s just so much relevance in the lyrics. There’s a lot of power to the music and we just want to be an inspiration to dance.

Are there any lyrics, since you’ve been listening back, that you’ve been particularly taken with?

Charlie: I like All Wrapped Up, but apparently Jan doesn’t.

Janine: Oh no, I do.

Tony: Good, because I love it. Building Bridges is great too, as well as All Wrapped Up. They’re both really relevant too now.

How many gigs did you get to play at the time?

Janine: We played lots of gigs.

Tony: Yeah, loads - all over the place.

Janine: We toured a lot. Britain and Europe a few times.

What sort of events were you playing at? 

Tony: Back then it was a lot of Rock clubs.

Janine: Universities as well.

Tony: I’m just down the road from a club with played at in Berlin actually. I’m in Kreuzberg and we played in this place called the Musikhalle. We came all the way to Berlin to play at the reopening as it had been closed for a number of years.

Janine: Yeah, it was fantastic playing in Berlin. I remember that, it was pretty mad.

They had quite a strong scene themselves in that area didn’t they, when it came to these Dance Punk bands, I guess you could call them.

Janine: Yeah, they did.

Tony: They did and they still do.

How would people react to it in England? Would they get it? Would they dance or stand there with their arms crossed?

Tony: Oh no, they danced.

Janine: Some. I depended on the audience. The thing is, at that time the bills were normally really mixed up. There’s a poster going round at the moment and it’s got us on it, Aswad on it, and Spear of Destiny. That was at the Lycium. Do either of you guys remember that one?

Charlie: I do remember that yeah.

Tony: I don’t, no…

Charlie: The Aswad fans didn’t like us very much.

That’s when Aswad were doing the heavier sound as well wasn’t it?

Charlie: God knows what we looked like to them.

Tony: It’s like I was saying about Shotgun Headly, he really didn’t get it at first, but in time he got it.

Charlie: Is that who that was? That’s so cool.

Who’s Shotgun Headly?

Tony: He was the saxophone player for The Wailers.

Ah ha.

Charlie: He’s one of those musicians you’ll never really have heard of unless you’ve played with him.

Tony: We did an East London Workers Against Racism gig in the East End and one of the singers from On Your Sound, Pete Holsworth, asked me if I’d come to a session the next day with this guy called Adrian Sherwood. The saxophone player ended up being Headly and it was just a bit like, ‘What? Oh, okay!’ You can’t beat stuff like that. Stuff like that doesn’t happen anymore unfortunately.

Charlie: Working with Dennis Bovell later on was really cool. We did a show with Aztec Camera and Orange Juice I remember that.

Janine: I’m still in touch with Dennis. It was good working with Dennis.

He’s quite a towering figure in English music. Did he bring a lot to your sound?

Janine: We recorded with him on the last couple of tracks, and he certainly did. He brought a lot to those two tracks. He really got off on producing them and he contributed to them greatly. I think he sang on both of them as well.

Charlie: The backing vocals on those are pretty much all just Dennis.

So what happened with you guys? You produced quite a modest body of work, but it’s really strong.

Charlie: We were young and stupid.

Janine: Yeah. We went in different directions I suppose you could say.

Tony: Yeah. I ended up going into the Jazz world and doing Trip Hop with Tricky and selling millions of records with him.  

Were you playing on Maxinquaye Tony?

Tony: That’s my flute on Aftermath.

Wow, really?! That was a big track for me when I was growing up.

Charlie: I ended up moving to Texas and playing Country Rock.

Really?

Charlie: Yep.

Wow. So there’s a pretty wide disparity there.

Tony: You’ve got the accent for it.

Charlie: I’ve been in Canada for three weeks now and I’m already starting to sound like them.

Janine: I haven’t really stopped writing but I got into making radio for a bit and using music as well and more recently I’ve been working on some solo projects as well. We’ve all just gone off and done our own thing really, but now we’re coming back together.

Charlie: For me, it’s just really really great to have the opportunity to do this again. It’s really fun and it feels like we’re picking up where we left off. It’s just really great and I’m really excited about it and the chance to make this music again.

So how did this come about then, as you’re living at opposite ends of the earth?

Janine: With a lot of gumpf.

Tony: Well I got a call from Janine and she just said that they keep on putting us out, so maybe we should look at it, and that’s what we’re doing.

Charlie: Yeah, Janine called me and I was like, ‘Sure!’

Janine: The licensing side of things has been great as people have just not wanted to stop listening to Maximum Joy, despite us not having played for over 25 years together, live. I get the odd little email saying about if we ever think about it, but then I got one that really seemed serious and made me think quite hard about it. I think it’s certainly the right time.

Tony: You’re going to have to eat your hat.

Janine: Did I really say that? I said it in Berlin didn’t I…

Charlie: It’s in Bristol too. I was there last year for The Pop Group show,  and I was talking to people that I hadn’t seen for 35 years. So it was easier having seen that to go, ‘Yeah, we can do this.’

Is there an urge to make any new music together do you think?

Charlie: Yes.

Janine: That would be an obvious step. That’s our aim and that’s what we hope to do.

Tony: You’ll have to hold me back here, because I’m really keen.

Janine: We’re going to be doing some re-releases as well with some DJ’s doing remixes. That’s probably the first thing.

Can you say who’s going to be remixing you at all?

Janine: I’ll have to double check, I’ll have to come back to you on that one if you like.

Is there any unreleased stuff that never saw the light of day that you’re thinking of bringing out?

Janine: Not that we know of.

Tony: It all got squeezed out of us. It’s all pre-YouTube.

Janine: There aren’t even any videos. Maybe that’s not a bad thing, my dress sense in those days wasn’t great.

Tony: We were never part of the MTV thing either; we’d have rather spent the money on the recording than the filming.

Have you discussed what song you’re going to open with?

Janine: No, but we have more or less worked out the set list. Our aim is to make it a monumentous event as well and really bring out the best of what’s there and even build on it further.

Tony: I’m looking forward to hearing how it fits in with today’s sound and mixes.

Charlie: This isn’t a nostalgia trip. At least for me it isn’t anyway. Yes, we’re going to be doing old songs but it really feels like something relevant that we’re doing now. We’re not just getting back together to relive old times and have a beer, we’re excited about this as a current thing.

Janine: Yeah. And bringing our own experiences to date into it musically as well. We’re not going to be completely transforming the songs on that level, but I’m sure we’ll be adding rather than taking away.

Tony: I can see it being a rendition of what we did before, but with a view of what we can also do in the future.


Maximum Joy play the SImple Things Festival on October 23rd - 24th. Tickets and more info here. The original Maximum Joy recordings are now available digitally - you can download them at Maximumjoy.org 

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