Tyla J Pallas (AKA Tyla) is a prolific artist, author, songwriter and musician. It is 30 years since he recorded his debut album The State We’re In with his band The Dogs D’Amour and below, in his own inimitable style, he tells the story behind that debut.
The State We’re In (Dogs D’Amour)
by Tyla, Dec 2014
1. The Deal
Back in 1984, my band The Dogs D’Amour had been going for a year. We had played a handful of gigs and even supported Lords Of The New Church on a UK tour. For a fee of £36!
We recorded two demos. The first one was in Tin Pan Alley in Denmark Street, London. I remember it well. It was the same day I drank four tins of Red Stripe and met my mother for the second time ever … at Waterloo Station. I tried to get her to come to the studio but she said she had to get the train back. I never saw or spoke to her ever again. She died in 1996 and I didn’t even find out until a few years ago.
Our second demo was in a run down 8-track studio in Battersea. I’d recently acquired a taste for amphetamine sulphate and I’d spent the previous night speeding out of my head and writing songs. One was called ‘Wired and Wide Awake’ and the other was what Ned Christie (aka Robert Stoddard) called my first ‘proper’ song, ‘How Do You Fall In Love Again’. My girlfriend had recently chucked me for my best mate. I didn’t half miss him! When we were in the studio the next day, Ned suggested I should sing it. I hated my voice at the time – it sounded like I was on helium – but I sang it anyway.
As fate would have it, the cassette copy of these demos somehow included a version of me writing ‘The State I’m In’ on a 3 string open-tuned acoustic guitar I’d bought for £10. I wish I still had that guitar – a black handmade water damaged Jumbo – a forerunner of my black Gibson. As far back as I can remember I’ve been fascinated by the shape, look and sound of guitars. On listening to the demos a Finnish record company liked this home made – to me terrible sounding – recording and offered us a record deal. Sorted!
In no particular order I called the band. Ned was first.
“We have a deal in Finland. They want us to go there for a month, record the album and do a tour”
“That’s great news Tyla BUT I can’t go. I’ve got a solo deal myself and I don’t think Bam can either as he is going to be playing drums for me!”
He was right Bam couldn’t come. Great. After what seemed like years looking for a record deal (probably because I’d been through all this before with my first band Kitsch, demo after demo, gig after gig, until finally the bass player Paul Raven – who went on to play in Killing Joke – and myself were given the boot for being ‘too rock n roll’ and not the direction the band wanted to go. The band we had all started!) I now had a deal but no bloody band. Well, apart from Karl and myself. No drummer and no singer and only 2 weeks to find replacements.
As luck would have it, that very week I had word from the grapevine – quite amazing as I had no telephone, and of course no internet. A band called The Gunslingers (cool name I thought) were playing the Clarendon Ballroom basement bar. Karl and me went along and I asked one of them (Jon ‘Lord’ Hall) which one of them was the drummer. With a round of drinks in hand, I followed the direction in which he pointed his nose. Within seconds I had introduced myself and explained our whole situation. I offered Hornby the job there and then without even hearing him bash a drum. His audition was even shorter.
After a week of meeting potential singers (one bloke insisted that his dog was to be on stage with us, he also had a completely tattooed face, the bloke not the dog) Karl suggested that I become the singer and we look for a second guitarist instead. It might be easier he figured. After all, I’d written all the songs and presumably knew all the words. We had actually done a gig with me singing at the Batcave and called ourselves The Unconscious Boys.
Nikki Sudden had auditioned for us that week. He didn’t fit, him playing an acoustic guitar didn’t really go with our image and music at the time, but he mentioned a friend of his from Birmingham, Dave Kusworth, who was coming to London that weekend to help him promote his new single ‘Big Store’. They were playing at the Rough Trade shop off Portobello Road and he asked me to go along. I think Hornby played a snare drum. All we did was play ‘Big Store’ for 20 minutes outside the shop to bemused passers-by and about half a baker’s dozen standing to attention and then we all got very drunk.
The following week we all met in a pub in Waterloo. Me, Karl, Hornby & Kusworth. We did a photo shoot, a load of coke and played ‘How Do You Fall In Love Again’ once in rehearsal. We were set. Cab!
We would all meet up at Hornby’s flat in Earls Court for a drink, spend the night there and be up bright and early for the flight to Helsinki. To help us through the hard day’s night we went out for a few early evening drinks at a pub in the Kings Road. At closing time we stopped off at the off-licence to buy booze. A bottle of Jack was top of the list. Back at Hornby’s a bloke in a crash helmet dropped off a few wraps of white powder – some uptown, some not so uptown. The bloke in the crash helmet stuck around to sample the goods and, as the powders and vino and Jack took hold, we travelled through the story of our lives and discussed our grand plans for the future. In the wee hours another soul adorned Hornby’s gaff by the name of ‘Special Brew Sue’. I walked her home about half-a-mile down the Brompton Road past the cemetery where her pimp, who was painting the whole flat in gloss paint, thanked me and gave me a line of what turned out to be smack as a way of thanks. The rest is, as you can imagine, a blur. But I do seem to remember Heathrow Airport.
We were all standing around wondering where the hell Kusworth was. (Turns out he was travelling back from Birmingham where he’d gone to sign-on. He got to Heathrow ten minutes after we’d taken off!) In my hallucinogenic haze, I thought Kusworth had finally arrived. I’m about to launch into ‘where the fuck have you been’ when Karl, the only one sober and drug free, pointed out that I was in fact looking at Sam Yaffa, the bassist from Hanoi Rocks. Taggin’ along with him was the band’s guitarist Andy McCoy, trying to score smack at the airport.
“Got any?” he says.
“Nah, but I’ve got an excess of speed if you want it.”
“Nah,” he declined.
Charmin’ I thought. Mind you, Hornby and me couldn’t even persuade the toilet cleaner to take it off our hands.
We left Kusworth’s ticket and passport for him – how we got that is a mystery – and headed to the terminal. Of course the gate was shut but, as lady luck would have it, we managed to persuade someone to drive us out to the plane on the runway. Bosh, up the ladder steps and we’re away. I spent the entire flight being sick into duty free carrier bags. We arrived in Helsinki minus a Dog.
2. To Hell And Back – well, Tampere
I kid you not, Kusworth managed to miss the same flight at noon the following day. And this time he only had to travel from Wardour Street! Our mate Pedro managed to get him on the next flight though. Unfortunately, it involved changing planes in Frankfurt. I can tell you from experience that Frankfurt Airport is not the easiest place to navigate – and Kusworth had removed his moccasins and drunk a quarter of his litre bottle of Bells. Amazingly, he arrived in Finland and the studio – only a day and a half late – with a quarter of a bottle left. We celebrated by drinking the remains and recording an abysmal version of whatever. We erased it the next day. Unfortunately. I bet it was classic bedlam.
We were getting on quite well in the studio. Every day would start with a hard-boiled egg, some black tea, and Hornby telling me a story of woe. Karl would be bouncing around all keen and Kusworth would wake up and immediately down a can of lager or beer. ‘Roger’ would then drive us to the studio. It was March but heavy snow still lay on the ground and our 20-minute journey was always nerve wracking as ‘Roger’ fancied himself as a rally driver … in the snow! By the time we arrived in the studio we were ready for a livener or two. We set up live and just ran through all of the songs. Miettinen was in charge, so to speak, so he arranged interviews and also the making of our promo video. From one of the interviews we managed to grab frontpage news in a Finnish national newspaper. Quite impressive! We had barely got past patting each other on the back when there was a knock on the door of the studio. It was two local police officers. And they had a copy of the Finnish Times tucked under their arm. We were marched off – well driven off at high speed – to the local nick. We were all interviewed individually and then asked if we’d pose for photos with all the policemen and women before being driven to the airport.
We were being deported for lack of work visas!
3. Finnish Embassy
Armed with our duty-free and a member of our Finnish record company we were ushered straight from Heathrow to the Finnish Embassy. We applied for our work visas while all manner of madness took place in the waiting room. Kusworth attempting to wee in the ashtray while Hornby obtained oral gratification from his lady friend were just two of many incidents.
Remarkably we got our work visas after the standard four hour wait. And immediately insisted we go to an Indian restaurant in Earls Court to blow the top off a few. Hornby paid. “I’ll put it on me card”. I always remember him saying that, it was like his catch phrase.
Next morning, feeling rather wobbly, we made our way to Liverpool Street Station. The album recording costs were now officially ‘over-budget’, so our route back to the recording studio was via train, ferry, and car across Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and finally Tampere.
This of course did not go without incident.
As we sat in the bar at Liverpool Street Station we were approached by a male and female police officer and asked to accompany them to a makeshift police station – a portacabin on the station concourse – where Kusworth and I were strip-searched. Apparently someone had reported us for smoking ‘strange-looking and smelling cigarettes’. It turned out to be my Gitane Internationals – a long, white, king-size French cig. Now, alas, extinct.
Underpants and socks dusted we were allowed on our merry way to Harwich where we caught the ferry to Denmark. To economise we decided to forgo a cabin (for an extra £12) so we’d have more money to spend on ‘refreshments’. Not such a good idea in hindsight. The journey was 18-hours long and by midnight, and pre-disco, we had peaked. We were all horizontal across whatever chairs we could find. The bar had closed to re-stock.
During the voyage I noticed we’d somehow acquired a fifth Dog and drinking partner – a Spanish flamenco guitarist. Due to misplacing his passport, he told us he’d been living on the ferry for a number of months and that he was recently divorced from his Spanish princess bride. For overdoing the Malugeuna with one of the dancers no doubt! After he mysteriously produced Hornby’s lost silver cigarette case and my passport, he swanned through customs, guitar on his shoulder, and bid us farewell. Wonder how he got on?
We were greeted by Miettinen with the same face he had on when we arrived in Helsinki as a trio. We all piled into the Mercedes estate and set off for the opposite side of Denmark where we would get another ferry to Sweden. We then drove across Sweden to get yet another ferry to Finland. All I remember in those three days was Kusworth waking up in the back, rear-facing seat next to me and opening the back door to take a piss. We were travelling down a motorway at the time. At night! Very fast!
Eventually we made it back to the studio in one piece. And continued to record the album.
4. Helsinki Headquarters
Now we had melded ourselves into a tight drinking unit, apart from Karl who preferred coke – no, cola – we now had to prove our worth by doing some live shows. We started off in Helsinki at Lepakko.
Kusworth was, well, Kusworth. Planet Kusworth, where he resided after a selection of fine wines and spirits. I was still going through my ‘leaping around like a madman’ stage. Blood, sweat and beers. I managed to break my arm in the process. Due to lack of funds we couldn’t afford to get a cast so we constructed one out of a wooden wine box, gaffa tape and an old crepe bandage.
The gigs were a shambles. We mainly played all our eight songs twice and ‘How Do You Fall In Love’ – our single – about four or five times in the set. Each time it would be different. But it did the job. Unbelievably the single reached No 9 in the Finnish rock charts.
Each day was a misadventure. Well, when I say misadventure, I use the term loosely. It was in fact a day-to-day nightmare. We would check into hotels in the middle of nowhere to be confronted by an English bloke and his secretary on some dirty weekend. Imagine thinking you would go somewhere quiet and off the beaten track to have us lot next door. I was arrested at Helsinki railway station for fending off muggers and spent the night starkers in the cell, bloody freezing! We didn’t have many hotels so if you didn’t ‘pull’ Miettinen would find someone to put us up. One time these girls who had agreed to put me up suggested I sleep not on but behind the sofa as the last bloke who stayed there got bottled with a milk bottle when the jealous boyfriend popped over unannounced. Nice! I went to hospital one night after the club owner would not pay us until a doctor had proved I wasn’t mentally ill. I had to give a sample of my urine, by way of an injection straight into my bladder!
There were all sorts of shenanigans. It culminated, or should I say peaked, at me losing my top teeth in a marathon drinking-contest not far from the North Pole. I did win, though Miettinen will dispute this fact. The pride of the Fin versus the madness of the Englishman. So, for the record, I will rule it a tie.
5. Re-recording The State We’re In
It’s now 2014. 30 years since we originally recorded The State We’re In. I was living in London at the time and, though I’ve lived all over the world in the intervening years, here I am again, back in London.
I didn’t really fancy re-living the previous pages but, apart from a few songs – ‘Heroine’, ‘The State I’m In’ and ‘How Do You Fall In Love Again’ – I felt the album had been left in bad recording hell for the last three decades. As it’s the 30th anniversary, I thought why not dust ’em off and give ’em a new coat, or two? At the time we were offered the original deal I wasn’t even the singer and, looking back, I think my only ambition was to try and make a good enough record to tour with.
It was interesting recording the album again. I think the songs came out OK. If they’re not semi-autobiographical then they’re about something I’ve read, be that books or newspapers and magz, or watched on the telly or heard on the radio. So in many ways they still resonate in the same way now as they did 30 years ago.
I’ve no idea how well the original album did. I fell out with the label* and came back from Finland with my tail between my legs – my teeth stayed over there. Hornby, the drummer, went on to be the unluckiest man alive. He’s been battling cancer for three years now, but I always say to him, if it wasn’t for bad luck, he’d have had no luck at all. Keep goin’ mate, we do talk quite a lot on the blower. He will be available to go on mastermind with ‘English Comedy Telly Since It Began’ as his specialist subject. Karl, bassist, moved to Germany and is a sound engineer. Kusworth has continued to write and record and do gigs to this day, looking exactly the same as he did back then. He was partners with Nikki Sudden on the Jacobites releases (I play slide guitar on some tracks).
I rebuilt and rebuilt the Dogs from 1985 until 1988 when – with a line-up of me, Bam, Jo & Steve – we signed a long-term deal with China Records.
* Not the last label I was to fall out with unfortunately. I always felt I was being ripped-off until I had a ‘eureka’ moment in 1996 when I decided to take control and do everything myself.
As a musician and performer he is still writing, recording and touring. Since his debut album he has recorded and released 25 solo albums, 12 albums with The Dogs and numerous album side-projects. He has written songs for TV, Movies & other artists and he runs his own record label and publishing company, King Outlaw Records.
As an artist his clearly distinct painting style has earned him countless accolades. His work is often exhibited in galleries around the world and he has participated in many global art, film and installation projects.
As an author he has written and self-published numerous autobiographical books (and audio books) including ‘Dogs Tales,’ his most recent collection of dysfunctional and hilarious anecdotes.
Find out more about Strata’s Debut Series.