Interview by Sarah Williams.
After twenty three (twenty three!) years as a band, notorious Kings Lynn punks Vanilla Pod decided to call it a day in late 2018. They chose to go out with a bang, completing a long run of live dates around the UK, releasing a final farewell EP Goodbye My Love and hosting one final Podstock event as a hometown send off.
It was quite the fanfare for a band who, while remaining relatively humble, have had a major influence on many people within the UK punk scene (and further afield). One of my earliest punk rock memories was catching Vanilla Pod playing a glorious grotty venue in my seaside hometown at approximately the age of 14, by which time they’d already been going for nearly a decade. I remember finding them on a Rock Sound compilation and being impressed that they were playing down the road for only £3 on-the-door.
Since then there have been many memorable (and some perhaps less memorable!) experiences with Vanilla Pod involved – chaotic club nights, quieter acoustic sets, celebratory, nostalgic weekends at Podstock and that-one-time-at-WonkFest that no one forgets.
Before the split, I spoke to guitarist Steve Pitcher (who, as far as I’m concerned, shall always be known as Steve Pod) to document some of the bands’ history.
Vanilla Pod have been going since 1995. How on earth have you managed to put up with each other for that long?
That’s a very good question! We really can’t stand one another.
Seriously though, I guess because we have always been friends from day one. The idea of being in a band is fun, so how can that happen if you don’t actually like someone?
Whenever anyone new has come into the fold it’s never been through auditions or anything like that, we’ve always asked our mates and fortunately they have all said yes. Besides Steve [Campion], our first bass player, the only reasons that anyone left the band was because their work or career lives had become demanding or they’d actually moved away, not because they wanted to stop playing with us. I’m still good friends with everyone. It’s kinda been like a messed up family I guess.
We have always done things on our own terms, and fun and enjoyment have been the main goal throughout the life of the band. That has kept us stronger and closer.
Why did you decide to call it a day in 2018?
I can only speak for myself on this and the reason I felt it was the right time. I’m sure if you ask everyone else, they will say something different.
I’ve been constantly playing in bands for 33 years now and I’ve been in Vanilla Pod for just short of 24 of those years. In that time I’ve pretty much exceeded all my expectations of what I thought that I would achieve playing in a punk rock band from Kings Lynn, Norfolk.
The one last goal I had was to go to Japan and play. We finally had the opportunity to do this in April this year so, to be honest, that was the last thing I really wanted to do with it. I had made my mind up that once I achieved that then it would be nice way of putting the whole saga to bed and going out on a high, and hopefully while we still had a little bit of interest in what we were doing.
I also felt that it would be nice to do a few gigs simply to give us the opportunity to say our goodbyes to the many, many friends that we have made over the years. You know we have met some of the most amazing people over the last 24 years and we have enjoyed hanging out and socialising with those people. Without them we would have never been anything so it was a very important thing for me to do it that way, rather than just calling it quits and disappearing into the wilderness.
If you had to make an estimate… how many pints do you think you’ve collectively sunk, directly as a result of being in Vanilla Pod?
Well, as you know, we do like to have a tipple. I would say more than 40,000 but less than a billion.
Let’s get a bit into the history of the band. Tell us how you first got started.
In February 1995 the band got started by me and original bass player Steve Campion. I had Gary Colman playing drums in my old band, so we all decided to get together. He knew a guy called Paul that would be up for singing a bit so we got started practising together. Paul quickly decided he wanted to concentrate on his college education, so we got a 15-year-old Robert Bunting to come along and give it a go. That was the start of Vanilla Pod as we know it now really.
The main objective for us was to get away from Kings Lynn as quickly as possible and play as many towns and cities as we could.
We did a demo and sent it out to as many places as we could. We had made friends with Goober Patrol who had just got signed to Them’s Good Records. We sent it to Them’s Good and they offered us a three album deal which was mind blowing for us, so we signed our names on the dotted line.
Not long after, we released Trigger. That was a combination of the demo and some new tracks that we recorded with the master Ian Whetherall in Corby. That sort of pushed us there to being a punk band with an actual record deal. Next up we recorded Faster Disco. Again, where we started to find our sound. That propelled us up there, and off the back of that we toured a lot and managed to get over to Australia and Hong Kong.
During the Australia tour Steve Campion decided that he had enough of it all and quit when when got back.
Enter Leon Muncaster to step in on bass duties. We started writing quite quickly again. Them’s Good agreed that we could leave without doing a third album, and asked the guys from Big Cheese magazine if they would be interested in releasing our new album. They took us out for dinner and we agreed that it would happen with them, seeing that they paid for it!
We became the first band to release on Deck Cheese Records with Third Time Lucky. After a while we decided to use Leon’s talent of actually being a good guitar player: we added him on guitar and drafted our original bass player Steve C back in.
It didn’t take Steve long to realise why he quit in the first place and he left us half way through a tour. Within two days we had Tom Wickes playing his first gig for us at Derby Vic.
With that line-up, we did a lot of touring which included a huge tour with Capdown, Twofold and Antimaniax. The Capdown tour was an incredible achievement, having three UK bands playing academies and 500+ venues every single night of a two week tour. Looking back it was a massive thing.
Tom decided to go to University, so we drafted in Tom Goober on bass. We recorded Surrounded By Idiots – it was at that point that we decided to make a go of it and quit our jobs. Well… four of us did. Gary decided that it wasn’t for him, so we replaced Gary with John Waterfield who, to be honest, had been filling in for Gary a lot due to his already large work commitments.
After that it was tour, tour tour… phew! That brings us to around 2003.
In 2004 I became a Dad which was a life-changing thing. I didn’t want to tour so much anymore. The thing that sealed that deal was going away on a three week tour when my son was about four months old… It was shit as I missed so much in that three weeks that I didn’t want it to happen again. We we turned the touring right down.
Eventually, after 12 months in the making, we released Poets on Payday in 2009. It kinda gave us a new lease of life, but not too much. After that Tom moved to Germany and settled there. In 2010 Matt Clarke stepped in then, not long after that, John went away to Uni. In stepped our oldest pal Towie from One Car Pile Up.
So here we are with the current lineup.
In 2015, we went back in the studio and released Seeing Out The Sunrise. We did some touring but kept a lid on it and only did things that seemed like fun. That just about brings us up to our final gig in 2018.
What story are you most likely to wind up telling your grand-kids?
Oh my goodness, I’m not sure if I can really tell them too many stories of what we got up to.
When you look back on your history as a band, what moment do you view mostly fondly?
Oh, there’s so many things. I think Out Of Spite weekenders were genuinely some of the best times we had. It really was a big family. All the bands knew one another and it was a weekend of spending time with awesome people. Our first Euro tour with MU330 was a laugh as well.
Another really great time was when we played Fistral Beach in Newquay. It was part of a VW and surfing festival called Run To The Sun. It was Pod, Goober Patrol, Consumed and One Car Pile Up and we travelled down together and stayed for the weekend there. It was such a laugh and, as you can imagine, there weren’t too many sobering times that weekend.
Is there anything you really regret doing?
Not a single thing. I can honestly say that. We’ve always done things for the right reasons.
DIY ethics have always been a huge part of what have made us the band we are, and I think that has stood us strong for so many years
I imagine you’ve come up with some impressive in-jokes in 20+ years as band. What’s your favourite?
What’s’ brown and sits on a wall?
What are your past band members up to now?
To be honest, I keep in touch with them all, if only briefly. Steve C never really did anything else music wise. Gary, our first drummer, works for the NHS as a systems programmer or something like that. Jon Waterfield who played drums on Poets on Payday went to Uni and became an anaesthetist.
Tom Wickes went to University and ended up being an animator. Can you believe he now lives in LA and works for Disney Studios? He’s worked on Wreck It Ralph and Frozen to name a few. He deffo made a huge mistake in quitting us.
Tom Goober lives in Germany and obviously still does Goober Patrol now and again. He’s in The Toy Dolls; it’s brilliant to see all the incredible gigs that he goes and plays all over the world with them.
The music scene must have changed a lot in your time as a band. In what ways do you think it’s improved?
Oh my, it’s changed a huge amount. I guess the improvement is the accessibility and the ease of contact. We used to actually send letters in the post to write to bands, or fanzines and promoters. Now you can e-mail or use instant messaging, or whatever you like. Getting your music out there is a much quicker process now as well.
You made it out to Japan and you did a big run of UK dates, and you’re finishing with Podstock. You’ve definitely done your best to go out on a bang – what’s highlights have you had in your final year?
Japan was the one thing left that we all wanted to do, so that was an incredible experience and we had so much fun over there. Maybe a little too much fun… but it was the first and last time for us to go there, so who can blame us for making the most of the Japanese hospitality!
The main point about the final run of dates was to go and hang out with our mates one last time, as we won’t cross paths [as much] again. Our final gig was just so perfect; it was the best way of finishing everything off. We managed to sell it out, thanks to the brilliant lineup of bands we had playing, who just happened to be all our mates too.
You’re also leaving us with one final EP: Goodbye, My Love. What was your aim with releasing the EP at that time?
It was just something we wanted to do, really. We had these four songs and we thought they were pretty good, so we figured it would be nice to get them recorded and put a line under Vanilla Pod. We’re very pleased with the production and the artwork on it, and it’s a good representation of where we are at the end of the Pod.
What are your hopes for the future, now Vanilla Pod’s reached its end? Pop your feet up on the couch and stick the kettle on? Lucrative solo careers? Just never having to play Waterdown again?
Yep, I plan on doing pretty much nothing musically for a while. I’m in no rush to get out there at the moment. You never know what comes along, but it would need to be something special to get my attention, and inspire me to get me into a practice room on a Wednesday night between 9pm and midnight again for a while.
I’m looking forward to going to see some great gigs without the hassles and strains of having to play. I’ll probably be seeing you at one or two of those gigs as well.
If you could give one message to all your fans at the end, what would it be?
Thanks so much for everything and sticking with us for so long. We would have been nothing without everyone’s amazing support.
I think one of the best thing in this DIY scene is meeting and talking to amazing like-minded people, which is the one thing I will miss. I plan on going to see many more gigs this coming year, so I will be having a good old chinwag and putting the world to rights while watching some amazing bands. I really can’t wait.
Interview by Sarah Williams.