Ted Chau interview

First published Fodderstompf, July 2001
© 2001 Fodderstompf.com

PiL 1989: John McGeoch, Lydon, Ted Chau © Ross HalfinFodderstompf.Com: Ted played guitar and keyboard's live with PiL 1989 and 1992. We spoke to him about being drafted into replace Lu Edmonds and playing live with PiL. Bringing things up to date with his solo project Candyheads (formerly Tantric)... Interview conducted via email for Fodderstompf June 2001.


How did you get involved with PiL?

Ted: The story begins with me checking an Ad in 'Melody Maker' (R.I.P.), a small classified box-ad saying something like; "WANTED GUITAR/KEYBOARD PLAYER FOR INTERNATIONAL ACT, TOURS TV ETC, IMAGE, ATTITUDE " etc. etc, no mention of who it was. So I worked out the spiel in my head, something along the lines of "Blah, blah, details, details…I'm Your Man!" and left the message on an

Allan Dias was the guy taking care of the auditioning (not management, surprise) and he was the first one of the band I met. There had been just under a hundred responses to the single Ad entry, I apparently said the right things and had a strong enough personality to be given a tape of four songs to learn, I can't remember all the tracks, but they were a couple from '9' and a couple from the generic 'Album' with Steve Vai and Ginger Baker et al. I was one of only five people to audition at Easyhire (R.I.P.) rehearsal studios in North London. John wasn't in attendance, there was John McGeoch, Alan and Bruce Smith. I was shitting it, but never showed it, in fact I was so well rehearsed that I had to settle a dispute about the arrangement of one track and remind John M of the guitar parts! That was a real coup as that left quite an impression.

A few days later Alan called me and said I had landed the job. I was later peeled off the ceiling. The first time I met John was at the Sushi restaurant in the Kensington Hilton, and I remember him being a bit wary of my sense of humour at first. When I got to know him I understood why, he's met more nutters than most of us through his time in punk, and also why he never shakes hands — god knows where they've been!

What did you do previous from joining PiL? Can you tell us a little about yourself?

Ted: Born in Hong Kong, grew up in Sunderland (doing well in the Premiership), moved down to London mid 80's, wrote and performed in fringe theatre show, guested on Video for the Colourfield, mimed with Living In A Box(!), wrote music for TV documentary 'Cockney John Chinaman' and Channel 4 cultural magazine 'Orientations', recorded album with Laibach (I never got release details or a copy, so which album? Know it was on Mute records)

Were you a PiL fan?

Ted: Actually before the audition I had liked 'This is not a love song' and 'Rise' and had a copy of the Generic album (some of Vai's best playing) but wasn't mad on PiL, so when I was first told who the Ad was for, I wasn't that thrilled! Imagine. Quickly grew to really enjoy playing the stuff live though.

Were you brought in as a session player or as part of the group?

Ted: I was brought in to session as the previous guy Lu had left to go round Turkey by bus, I think! The structure of the band was set so I think they didn't want another finger in the pie, as it were.

How did you get on with John and the rest of PiL?

Ted playing guitar; circa 2001 © Ted ChauTed: I got on great with everyone in the band, a lot of drinking time made sure of that. John took a little while to thaw out, as he keeps himself guarded until he kind of knows where your head really is, one of the necessities of stardom/his experience?

What were your impressions of John? Were PiL a band or was John in total control?

Ted: Whenever I'm asked the 64 thousand dollar question, my answer as always this: John Lydon is a great bloke — as long as you're on the right side of him. Larger than life, prone to speak his mind, loyal to his friends, fiercely self-opinionated, very intelligent, changes his mind about anything when it suits, doesn't suffer fools gladly. Maintains he never ever spat at the audience, always the other way round. Yes he is the acerbic character on stage and in interviews but has a deeper, quieter side.

PiL was a band in the usual sense, but John had the final word on some matters, the "major share-holder" I guess, it was his baby!

You played on both the 89 and 92 tours, what did you do in between, did you have any input on 'Don't Ask Me' or 'That What is Not'?

Ted: I didn't play on 'Don't Ask Me'. However, I was invited to LA to play on 'That What Is Not' but due to timing with other things, never came off. After the first tour I was invited to join a German band we played with at the Hammersmith Odeon, "Phillip Boa And The Voodoo Club". I toured and recorded 2 studio albums and a double live album with Boa over the next four years, breaking that up to tour again with PiL in '92 after Bruce Smith left the band to be replaced by Mick Joyce.

Did you play on '9'?

Ted: No, the album was completed when I came along.

The '89 and '92 US tours, with New Order and BAD respectively, were reasonably big tours, what size of venues were you playing? What sort of crowd did you get? Did people know who PiL were?

Ted: The '89 New Order/Sugar Cubes tour was in outdoor amphitheatres also called 'sheds' cause the stage and front rows were covered by a roof and the rest of the seats and grassy banks were open. Capacities ran from around 5,000 to 30,000 (Pine Knob, Clarkston, Michigan). We returned to the states after that and headlined in theatres at around 3,000 capacity and similar sizes again for the B.A.D.II tour.

The world is a big place and I met many people on my travels who'd never even heard of the Sex Pistols, let alone PiL! I guess it puts things into perspective, and the further away from the main media cities you go (New York, LA etc) the more parochial the culture becomes.

How did the other bands get on with each other? Did they mix?

Ted: On the whole there was a pretty relaxed mood on tour with the Brit bands especially, although Rotten would mix hardly at all when the rest of us were partying with the likes of New Order. Other bands like Blind Melon and Live were to the best of my knowledge treated well as we used to talk regularly. On one occasion John McGeoch helped out Live on stage after their guitarist Todd injured his thumb in a bizarre Townsend-esque windmill manoeuvre. Then there was the time when the late Shannon, vocalist of Blind Melon, found out eyebrows are very useful for keeping sweat from stinging your eyes, after turning up to the gig having shaved them off…

How did John and PiL feel about not always being the headline act. Especially considering New Order (Joy Division) and Mick Jones were part inspired by him to form bands in the first place!

Ted: John never made his feeling that vocal. The rest of the band never talked about it, I guess it was good to be playing to the amount of people that we did and because the crowd were well into it, it didn't really matter.

Ted playing guitar; circa 2001 © Ted ChauLooking back the tours had great line ups, especially '89. Do you feel the "Monsters" and "MTV" tours were forerunners to the success of the Lollapalooza tours? It certainly didn't harm the careers of Bjork or Live.

Ted: I've heard it said that it's true that Lollapolloaza wouldn't have been if not for the 'Monsters' tour. It brought the idea of a 'Moving Feast' to another generation of music fans and introduced all the bands to a lot of ears.

Did JL give many indications on the '92 tour that he wanted to put PiL on hold? What do you think his reasons were?

Ted: At the end of the tour in '92 things started coming apart, Virgin Records sold the roster to EMI! I don't know what John wrote in his book (haven't read it) or said in interviews, so maybe it wouldn't be in the body politic to give details of that period.

I really enjoyed the gigs I saw, and I didn't really notice at the time, but looking back on the '92 performances John seems bored, a lot of the time he's just going through the motions, do you think the rot had set in?

Ted: Perhaps the job element of some shows was creeping in, the ironic, sarcastic cry of "Sing along with Johnny!" to a stadium crowd not lost on anyone least of all John. Throughout the time I always enjoyed playing right up to the end.

Why did Allan Dias quit? Was Russell Webb brought in just for Reading and the 3 South American dates, or did he play more dates?

All things have a finite life, the chemistry in PiL had changed quite a bit, I personally missed working with Alan, who brought me into the fold. He disappeared amongst rumours of spent publishing advances and mounting debts. To this day I don't know what became of him but would love to find out. Alan, where are you? Russell Webb also played on the South/North American leg of autumn '92 tour...

Russell was an old mate of McG's and I feel, was brought in as a stop-gap. I'm afraid to say I gave Russell a hard time during rehearsals when I felt he hadn't learned his parts. I doubt he's ever forgotten it. Upon our parting he shook my hand saying, "It's been a pressure".

Had Virgin already announced they were dropping PiL before the start of the tour? Did they have to do it off their own back?

Ted: The news from Virgin came near the end of the American leg of the tour, an evening I'm not likely to forget.

I noticed on your site you mentioned John McGeoch had a punch up with Mike Joyce after an incident with a fire extinguisher, what's the story there!!

Ted: This is a real Rock'n'Roll story this is. We were partying in Philadelphia or somewhere in the bands manager's room and all was usual when there was a knock at the door, and when opened Mick came in brandishing a chemical fire extinguisher. He had set it off in the hall and was now gushing totally out of control as he walked in. Within seconds we were choking in the dust trying to get to the door and the next thing I see is McG punching Mick in the face and they both rolled out into the corridor rucking. We pulled them apart and had to get to another floor to catch our breath as the whole floor had been gutted. The manager's laptop was ruined by the chemicals and had to be replaced and the hotel posted damages of about $3000 to clean up the mess, and was just persuaded not to call the old bill. Groovy.

Do you still see JL, or any of the other members? Would you work with him again?

Candyheads / Ted Chau montage; circa 2001 © Ted ChauTed: I haven't spoken to John since I saw him last in Easy Hire Rehearsal studios in Islington. A man of his word, he said he would never speak to me again when I left him on his own in the bar after my cab arrived before his ride came. Yes I would work with him again as it was a great learning experience.

I've spoken with some of the others since but the nature of the business being what it is we all move on with new projects and hardly ever look back.

Any fave gigs/stories from your time in the band?

Ted: The most memorable high/gig was Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Denver, Colorado '89. It had been raining and water had collected on the stage's canvas roof. When we opened with 'Warrior', the backline went down as water hit the power sockets. Only the PA which was on a different circuit was working, so you had the drums and mics still on. Bruce, by the book, didn't stop playing, and Rotten after an "Oh, we seem to have a technical problem!" launched into the first verse anyway. The crowd start clapping and cheering.

Meanwhile the back of the stage is going mad with activity, roadies drying plugs and techies resetting trips etc. Then the backline starts coming back on and it was like having God on the mixing board, as the bass guitar came on perfectly in time and a couple of bars late the guitar came in almost dead on the beat and then the keys come back in with a thick string pad swelling up into a crescendo. The crowd went mental. The crest of that wave carried us through to the end of the most memorable gig ever!

What have you been doing since you left PiL?

Ted: I decided to strike out on my own again and to write again for myself. Needless to say, it's incredibly hard to make it in this business and not for the faint-hearted, but if you always believe in yourself and never give up something worthwhile, you can achieve anything. I started Tantric in '93 and have played on British TV on a number occasions, toured Germany a few times, Turkey too, and written music for satellite TV.

We recorded a 12 track album at Chapel Studios in Lincolnshire at the end of last year and at present beginning negotiations for a release later this year. The name has been changed to Candyheads (www.candyheads.co.uk) because of a US band called Tantric bringing out an album in February.

What are you doing now?

Ted: Rehearsing the album and putting together a set for live gigs happening soon.


Picture Credits: (Top to Bottom)
Picture Credits (top to bottom)
PiL 1989: John McGeoch, Lydon, Ted Chau © Ross Halfin
Ted playing guitar; circa 2001 © Ted Chau
Ted playing guitar; circa 2001 © Ted Chau
Candyheads / Ted Chau montage; circa 2001 © Ted Chau
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