Friday 5 January 2018

Tours: Paul Slattery reports on the long-awaited reunion of the New Wave/Power Pop legends

Tours, photographed Summer of 1979 by Paul Slattery (L to R: Richard, Ronnie, Mark & Steve)
Tours "Language School" heard live again for the first time in almost 40 years! I went down to Poole with writer Dave McCullough back in 1979 to photograph the band Tours for a feature in Sounds magazine. They were unusual because there were two songwriters and two lead singers, Richard Mazda singing his own songs and Ronnie Mayor singing his. However unusual, they were a really excellent band with great tunes and a fantastic sound. The following is from journalist Derek Hammond’s sleeve notes for Tours "Album of The Year That Never Was": "In 1979, there was a buzz about Tours that made them one of the hottest properties in the music industry. John Peel played the self-released "Language School" single for 50 consecutive nights on Radio 1, declaring it at the time his second favourite 45 of all time behind the Undertones "Teenage Kicks". The band were tracked down to Poole, Dorset by labels including Virgin, Polydor/Fiction, EMI, Sire and others – and a feeding frenzy ensued. "The songs are the best you’ll see this side of the Undertones for sweet melodic genius…reincarnating the spirit that the Beatles early singles" (-Sounds 1979). Signed personally to Virgin by Richard Branson on a £225,000 six-album deal, the dual singer-songwriter attack of Ronnie Mayor (rhythm gtr/vocals) and Richard Mazda (lead gtr/vocals) led Virgin CEO Simon Draper to describe the pair as "the Punk Lennon-McCartney".

Tours, Autumn 2017 (L/R Mark, Richard, Ronnie, Steve & John) - Photographed by Paul Slattery
Tours, Summer 1979 (L/R Mark, Richard, Ronnie & Steve) - Photographed by Paul Slattery
1980 should have been Tours’ year. Boasting a killer live show and incredible strength in depth, they had a seemingly endless collection of two-minute pop classics. Yet the band were doomed never to make it to 1980, torn apart by a conflict of egos and by a deep mistrust of industry dabbling with the band’s line-up and sound. Only one single on Virgin was ever released – the mighty "Tourist Information". Having sold 13,000 copies of "Language School" under their own steam, it seemed obvious that a company like Virgin would do better. In the event, their efforts to promote "Tourist Information" were pathetic. The unreleased songs were lost – the band mythologised on countless compilations and, more recently, the internet Power Pop scene – until 2009. Derek Hammond spent 18 months sourcing the the long-lost Tours tapes and getting the album into production. Derek tells me that right from the start the project was a labour of love, Ronnie was somewhere in Australia, Richard didn’t want to talk about the band, Virgin wanted cash up front for the tapes before even searching the vaults and Iain at Cherry Red turned the idea down flat. Until Derek got a no-fi CD of some of the songs and played them to him – then he couldn’t resist. "The Album of The Year That Never Was" was finally released at the end of 2009 – this is the review from Record Collector August 2009. "For anyone into gutsier, hook-heavy, modpunkpowerpop, get ready for the unleashing of Peel faves’ the Tours’ (remember "Language School"?) long-lost holy grail of an album. Talk about '30 years of hurt'. Ker-pow! This definitive collection of singles and previously unreleased demos recreates the album that Tours might have produced, had the band survived the pressure and the fall-outs, and come out fighting fresh for a brand new decade".

Tours, Rehearsals Autumn 2017 - Photographed by Paul Slattery
Steve and I have played many of the tracks from this album on our Retrosonic podcasts over the last few years, the album is one of the the most played on my iPod and I continue to tell friends what a really great band Tours were and what a superb album they produced. Each song is a two minute Post-Punk Powerpop gem. I was always gutted that Tours life was so short – these songs were great and this band really could have been contenders for greatness so it was with great excitement I heard from Ronnie Mayor that the whole band would be getting back together to do some rehearsals so at the end of October in preparation for maybe some 40th anniversary gigs I headed down to Absolute Music in Bournemouth to see them. Richard lives in New York now so it’s quite a commute for him! They may have changed a bit in the ensuing time but I was left in no doubt about their ability to play or their enthusiasm, after only a day of rehearsal some of the songs sounded excellent. It’s the first time that the band have ever played as a five piece as John Hole the original member of the band who quit and was replaced by Richard, is back. There’s no Tours song that goes past three minutes, they’re short and sweet. You would not have known that Ronnie had not played an electric guitar in some years and the three guitarists created a jangling wall of sound. Basher (Mark Spiers) and  Steve Jeff on bass creating an excellent rhythm section. I was in my element as the band went through eight songs TWICE. It was like being back at The Hope and Anchor in 1979!

Richard Mazda, Tours - Photographed by Paul Slattery
Mark Spiers, Tours - Photographed by Paul Slattery
Dave McCullough said in the Sounds Magazine review of that gig: "...the songs themselves are the best you’ll see this side of the Undertones for sweet, melodic genius. Tours songs concern themselves with slightly more intricate human problems, though examining them with a directness and profitable naivete that has until now been the sole property of our heroes from Derry. The songs are unashamedly directed at the feet, care of Mazda and Mayor’s melodic flair and gilt-edged musicianship that has range and scope above the remarkable rhythm foundation of young Mark and Steve, a precocious drum and bass pairing. I can’t see anything thwarting this potent rural uprising".

Steve Jeff, Tours - Photographed by Paul Slattery
Ronnie Mayor, Tours - Photographed by Paul Slattery
There are more rehearsals planned for the new year and the band will see how it goes from there, the hopes are to do some gigs. There are things to overcome - the album is now out of production and the usual difficulties of re-licensing tracks will have to be sorted out before any re-release. There is already interest though and I’m sure that if there was an album worthy of re-release it’s "The Album of The Year That Never Was". These superb Powerpop gems need to be heard again live, and maybe it’s going to happen. Watch this space for more developments. - Paul Slattery 2017

You can hear "Tourist Information" and also listen to Paul talking about Tours before the reunion was announced in Episode 26 of Retrosonic Podcast here.

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