Interview: Dean Cook of Briar and the Hard Times

Dean Cook

Dean Cook of Briar recently took some time with Decibel Geek‘s The Lionsheart to reveal the truth about their “new” release and the story of behind it!

Hello Dean!

Hope you are doing great! Fantastic to hear that the Briar album Hard Times from 1992 and a whole bunch of bonus tracks will finally see a CD release. Thanks for talking to us. In this interview, we would like to focus on the later part of Briar´s history.

1. In 1988, Briar released Crown of Thorns through major label CBS/Sony but things seemed to go quite fast downhill after that. Can you tell us a little more what happened?

Dean Cook: Yeh Crown Of Thorns should have been a much different beast to what it turned out to be! We had written a lot of new Briar material, which eventually turned out to be our Reach Out demo’s…and our business manager at the time, Jonathan King, wanted us to go into the studio and record a load of ‘unusual’ cover versions, kind of in the same vein of what Faith No More were doing, we were young, enthusiastic and we loved recording so we were happy to just go into the studio and record a bunch of weird covers….and unfortunately before we knew it Crown Of Thorns was out there cram full of the covers we had recorded!…and, to be hones,t we weren’t best pleased! It’s just how it happened! To make things worse, we then found out the powers that be at CBS/Sony loved our Take On The World and Reach Out tracks and that was the reason they signed us in the first place! But sadly that’s what happens in the music biz! Generally, when the band goes up to next step in the biz is now out of the band’s hands, but it’s true to say the band was pretty deflated about the whole affair.

Dave Dean
Two Briar guys rocking out with Bogus Blooze. Dave Fletcher and Dean Cook Picture courtesy of Dean Cook´s Facebook page.

2. After recording the Reach Out demo and releasing a single (“Gimme All You Got”) on your own, there was a large change in the line-up. How did the decision come about that Kevin Griffiths would focus solely on bass duties and that Briar would recruit a new frontman in Kevin Billington?

DC: As I say we were deflated after the CBS/Sony deal and we were keen to get something else out there to try and help restore our reputation as a solid original band, “Gimme All You Got” was written as part of Reach Out so that was our next 7” self-financed single!! We got that out there on our manager’s Shotgun Charlie label, it gained us a little interest, but sadly didn’t get us an acceptable record deal, which is what we needed at the time, which is a pity! Basically, Kevin Griffiths was always more interested in playing bass than singing, so at this point he decided he just wanted to enjoy himself on stage and just play bass…so we got a new singer in for a while! It was as simple as that really!

3. The line-up swelled to a six man band with the addition of keyboard player Jez Posser. What was the purpose of adding a full-time keyboard player?

DC: Again at this point we were just trying to add sounds a slightly different angle soundwise to the band, our manager had bought a Korg M1 keyboard for his studio and we had been experimenting with that for the band, so getting a regular keyboard player was the next step!! Jez was a great player and a great guy! So he fit the bill perfectly.

4. Tell us a little more on new man Kevin Billington. How did you find him? Did Kevin play in another band at the time?

DC: Yes, Kevin Billington was somebody we had known for many years from The Railway in Birmingham, he was a big part of the live band scene at that time, he was a mate and he had played in a number of bands we all used to go and see at The Railway, China White & Shadowlands are a couple I can remember off hand and we always felt he had a great solid live voice and we felt he was perfect for what we were doing at the time.

Briar 1991
A line up in transition. Fletcher and Underwood had left, but Billington was still in the band. Picture taken prior to the recording of Hard Times and post Cleveland House demo. Picture courtesy of Briar Facebook page.

5. The new six-piece band entered the studio to record the 1990 Cleveland House demo. Three of those tracks are included as bonus tracks on the reissue of Hard Times. Where was the demo recorded and what are your memories from the recording process?

DC: It was recorded in our rehearsal space in Cleveland House on Tyburn Road in Birmingham with our live sound guy Den York & manager George Bond, it was recorded completely live on our 8 track Tascam tape machine, as far as I can remember it was the only time we recorded live with Kevin Billington, it turned out well.

6. This line up was to be short lived and soon important pieces of the ”classic line-up” left the band. I´m thinking of  both guitarists Darren Underwood and Dave Fletcher. Tell us what happened and why they left the band!

DC: We had done a lot of gigs with this line up, at this point we were more into gigging and getting out there as opposed to recording, we were just enjoying playing, but I know Darren was more into the recording process and probably wasn’t happy with the direction of the band so it just happened that Dave & Darren felt that the band had run its course at this point, so again…time for a change!

8. Kevin Billington also left the band and Kevin Griffiths again took on the lead vocalist duties. Fast changes in a short period of time!  Can you tell us a little about why Kevin Billington left and why Kevin Griffiths decided to take up lead vocalist duties again?

DC: Yes! Kevin Billington’s vocals were very different from Kevin Griffiths and although Kevin Billington was great live, we were struggling to get those great vocals down on our new tracks. It was a frustrating time and Kevin Billington eventually decided to move on and do something else, it was at that point Kevin Griffiths put his vocals down on those Hard Times tracks, it was as simple as that!!

Dean young
Promo picture of Dean from the Briar days. Picture courtesy of Briar Facebook page.

9. In 1992, Hard Times was recorded and it represents a change in style for the band. The music became more like Bon Jovi and other ”hairbands” that were quite successful at the time. What was the reason behind this change in musical direction?

DC: That’s what we were listening to at the time! Everybody was using keyboards and everything was pretty AOR! So our new stuff represented that style…

10. The recording of the album took place in manager George Bond’s own studio. What are your memories from the recording process?

DC: We had set up that studio with our manager, it was so we could go in and record demo’s when we wanted to! In hindsight Briar always sounded best when we recorded live, we weren’t the type of band who were happy to record and re-record! We rehearsed a lot and we sounded great live and, in my opinion, that’s how we should’ve always recorded.

11. Can you tell us a little about the songwriting process in Briar. Did you write the songs together as a band (the whole band is given songwriting credits for the songs) or did the songwriting duties fall on certain members to come up with ideas/songs?

DC: We always wrote in our rehearsal space together as a band. Yes sometimes somebody would come in with an idea, a guitar riff or a vocal idea and sometimes our manager would come in with an idea, he’s a musician too! So sometimes he would come in with a bass line or drum groove and we wrote a lot of songs like that! as a band, we were a total democracy, everybody in the band got a credit for everything, irrelevant to who had the original idea!! We had decided from day one that was going to be the case!

12. How do you feel about the Hard Times album and parts of the Cleveland House Demo now being available on CD for the first time?

DC: It’s great, Hard Times has been going around on tape and bootleg for a while, so it’s nice to have a great version out now for fans. I am a big fan of demo’s and live stuff being available for fans to hear. When I buy my albums I like all that bonus stuff. I love the demo process…and feel it is wasted if people don’t get to hear it at some point! Even though sometimes the recording process is limited…demos normally have a spontaneous groove that finished recordings sometimes lose, they capture a moment in time…I like that!!

13. You have been busy and active in the music business with your bands Bogus Blooze, Tiny Rockets, and Tenboy among others. Can you tell us what the other guys from Briar are doing today?

DC: Yeh I have many projects and I’m always playing in lots of bands, it’s just my thing really! I’m only happy when I’m playing! Dave is currently in a couple bands, I also play with him. He is in Bogus Blooze and Ssex PistolsS (tribute). Dave’s my fave guitarist ever! He’s the most natural rock player I have ever played with and I have played with many players! Kevin Griffiths still plays, I’ve played in a number of projects with him over the years since Briar split up, he played bass in my solo project for a while called Ten and we also played together in a band called This IsKev also still plays occasionally with a few covers bands. Darren, I still see occasionally but he doesn’t really do much of the band stuff nowadays, I think he was and is still more interested in the recording process as opposed to the live band thing!

Thanks Dean for taking your time to talk to us and good luck with your future endeavors! It will be very interesting to listen to the reissue of Hard Times and the bonus tracks that are available in any format for the first time! For those of you who are fans of the band already and those of you yet to discover Briar – do yourselves a favor and pick up the new Hard Times album that is loaded with bonus material and an 8-page booklet with lyrics.

The Lionsheart e-mail: thelionsheart@decibelgeek.com

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