The System / Kez Reason & The Still / Aaah! / Artistic Control
System (Original Line-Up)
Ronnie Wignall (Drums)
Buttz Mulvey (Bass)
Gary Raikes (Vox/Vocals)
Kez Stone (Guitar)
Thanks to Kez Stone here is the story of St Austell punk band The System, as well as 80s rock band Artistic Control.
The seeds of The System were first planted in 1976 when punk rock was just starting to grip the country. Kez Stone (who was calling himself Kez Reazon at the time) got together with the Mulvey brothers, Buttz and Steve and they started bashing out a few songs together. At the time Poltair School, where they were students, had just come out of being a grammar school so it was still quite traditional, disciplined and old fashioned. This of course gave the teenagers something to rebel against!
There was lots of excitement in the early days. With so few punks in the area everybody knew each other and now they had an outlet for their youthful enthusiasm. To many it was like bringing London to Cornwall! They had about sixteen songs at the time and managed to put on a high energy show. On one occasion at St Ewe Village Hall Buttz fell through the flimsy stage after his pogoing caused the boards to collapse!
Kez had been writing songs since the age of 14 so it felt very natural to co-write with his fellow band members. Although Kez took the lead with composition and arrangement, each band member had their input. They were a very prolific unit and between them produced a repertoire that really got the crowd going. With songs about St.Austell life, current affairs and even friends of the band, they quickly amassed a sizeable follow. Young Punks were springing up everywhere and their presence began to have a huge impact on St.Austell.
By the late 70s Roche Recording Studios was under the management of Martin Griffin and he took a liking to the band. He offered the chance to record at the studio for about £60. They duly set about charging 50p at the door at gigs to raise money for the session. In 1978 they entered Roche Recording Studios and true to the punk spirit laid down five songs in about five minutes! These included "Giro Generation" which was a slow (by punk standards) song with lyrics very much of their time, "Savage innocence" which was more experimental, sounding like a cross between punk and disco ( written by Kez as a piss take on the disco fraternity). They also recorded "Bullshit Radio", which can be heard below;
The plan was to use the songs to help secure gigs or maybe sell on cassettes at their shows, although neither came to fruition. Martin was especially impressed with "Savage innocence", spotting potential in Kez. He offered him free solo recording time if he wanted it. The experience gave Kez a taste for the recording studio. The rest of the band liked to rock but Kez was more interested in creating and the artistic process. To him the studio was like heaven and it was a real eye opener.
After Kez's 16th birthday he got together with a hippy which was an out and out no-no for a punk! He also started to get attracted to parts of the hippy lifestyle. There was always a violence running through punk and he didn't like that. He also began to see music as a potential career opportunity and had ambitions to put Cornwall on the map. He became disillusioned with the current formulaic punk scene. He was now writing very original material and had the impulse to front his own band.
Finally Kez decided to leave The System and by April 1979 the band called it a day with a typically chaotic gig at Cuddrah Hall, which can be partly experienced below.
The System had a profound effect on St. Austell. After all here was a band that wrote all its own material and clearly identified with its audience. This wasn’t some watered down covers band that played the odd Boomtown Rats cover 3 years later, this was the real thing, it was current and it was in your face. Its legacy was a hundred fold increase in punk presence and their ethos was clearly visible. If there wasn’t a venue, then you create one, if no one wanted to help then you helped yourself. The System came and went with one almighty bang and its impact is still remembered today.
Kez along with Ronnie Wignall and Phil Majors on Bass (who couldn’t play a note until they started rehearsing) formed Kez Reazon & Still. The band was very much in the post-punk mold. Kez appeared on stage with platinum white hair, heavy make-up, clothing adorned with electronic circuit boards and an aerial strapped to his chests. Even the punks were shocked!
They played a handful of gigs around the St Austell area but quickly dissolved when things were clearly going nowhere. Kez was still writing prolifically at the time and was encouraged to develop by Martin Griffin, who was becoming something of a mentor for the young songwriter. Martin would teach Kez about arrangement and also show where a song written on an acoustic guitar could go. At Roche studios he was also supported by Dave Quinn of The Mechanics. Around this time he wrote songs such as "Time Design" that used a Slapped Bass technique that wouldn’t become popular until a few years later -"Little Thoughts" and "We Are Golden" which was quite a hippyish track featuring Martin and Harvey Bainbridge from Hawkwind, although Kez had no idea who Hawkwind were at the time!
In 1980 Buttz, Kez and Ronnie got back together and formed an early version of what would become Artistic Control. They did some gigs at the Polgooth Inn, one of the few venues at the time that was prepared to put on the new bands and as more venues became receptive to the new music they began playing around the St Austell area and even ventured as far as Penzance.
After they performed a handful of gigs it was clear that things were not working out and Buttz left the line-up. Mike Fuller, who was roadie with The Mechanics, came on board, as did James Halliwell. Both were incredible musicians. The classically trained James also had a Moog, which would become an important part of their sound, a sound that Kez had been striving to achieve.
Buttz would leave Cornwall in the early 80s for London, where he would have some success playing in a number of high-profile band in the live circuit, playing raucous, dirty rock and roll, initially with his band The Babysitters and later Last of the Teenage Idols. The Idols had a formidable reputation on the live circuit, playing alongside contemporaries Hanoi Rocks, selling out venues such as the Marquee Club, and gaining much praise from the press. Despite this they never managed the lucky break so often needed in the business and called it a day around 1991.
Meanwhile in Cornwall Kez and Artistic Control were starting to make waves of their own. They were playing a unique blend of punk, funk and psych, mixed in with eastern flavours and electonica. This current line –up quickly enabled Kez to push boundaries and with each musician having their own very distinctive style it was inevitable that the end result would be very unique. Although they rehearsed constantly, it came together very easily. Kez was now firmly ensconced in Roche Studios and the band used the studio to help develop their own style. Roche provided them the creative environment to develop and grow as a band. Just as they were starting to come up with their own sound, the band (excluding Kez) bowed to pressure from Dave Quinn, Tony Cox and Al Hodge to move to the newly formed Sawmills studio in Golant.
First recording session, Roche. January 1981
By now Kez and Martin Griffin had become good friends and Kez still saw Martin as a mentor figure. He assumed the bands Manager had agreed the move to the new studios with Martin, but this wasn't to be the case. The move would cause great friction and upset with both of them. The band had been lured somewhat by the brand new studios with its fantastic facilities, but Kez found the sound it produced rather bland and stale. Tony Cox was a good producer with an impressive catalogue but looking back the results sound very much of their time and it hasn't dated well.
It was very much a ‘muso’s paradise’ recalls Kez ‘where sometimes too much focus was place on technique rather than content’. It helped hone their skills further and gave Mike a chance to enhance his slap & fretless bass techniques which were undoubtedly ground breaking.
Simon Fraser came over to Sawmills from Roche a bit later on and brought some of the old Roche magic with him, making the recordings sound similar to what they had at the previous studios.
Always the prolific songwriter Kez was always creating music and involved in other projects. Around 1981 he briefly played with Aaah...! who were the experimental synthesizer duo Barbie Allmark and Henry Kent. Kez was brought in to sing lead vocals and write the lyrics, later encouraging Henry to take on the role. The sound they created was years ahead of its time and there’s was nothing else like it anywhere. The band self produced two singles, one of which ‘Slip Away’ (recorded at Roche) features Kez and was actually BBC Radio Ones’ Kid Jensen’s record of the week. It received a huge response. Only 1000 singles where pressed initially which quickly sold out so a further pressing needed to be arranged quickly. Unfortunately due to finance and distribution problems the second batch hit the shops late, air play had ceased and so did sales. This single is seen by many as one of main influences of modern electro-dance and has become highly collectable. One recently sold on Ebay for $200!
Aaah! Recording at the Sawmills, 1984
At the start of the bands career Artistic Control were managed by Phil Bassett. Phil had played with bands in Cornwall in the 60s, including Bent Cement and Jason's Mind. He got them a few gigs around Cornwall and started to raise their profile a little. He was also getting back into playing himself and his band included James Halliwell. James had a Moog and Phil suggested he might like to join Artistic Control, which he did.
Artistic Control secured a residency at The Par Royal. They set up a deal with the landlord, they’d have the door takings and he’d have an extra bar, they’d also have the use of the back room as a rehearsal space. It quickly became their ‘home base’ and was the place they tested out new songs, set orders, lighting and even set design. They encouraged new bands to support them and in the post-punk era there was never a shortage of young bands hungry for a gig. This was a fantastic example of a ‘do it yourself’ venue, managed by a group of likeminded people all dedicated to delivering the best entertainment possible. The Par Royal quickly became the place to be and was jammed solid for almost 3 years running.
First gig at the Par Royal. 1981
By the early 80s they had grown to become one of, if not the, biggest band in Cornwall. Around this time they took on a new manager, Bob Sanderson, who was also ENTS manager at Cornwall Coliseum. The Coliseum was by the now the largest venue in Cornwall and drew in some of the biggest bands in the country. Bob secured the band a lot of gigs supporting the headline act.
At the venue amongst others they supported The Stranglers, Haircut 100, Hazel O'Connor, Hawkwind and Adam & the Ants on his only UK gig that year. The Ants gig was a real eye opener so early in their career, playing to 3500 screaming teens certainly put them under pressure but the band handled it with well and it seemed to lift them into another league. By now they had become a very professional outfit and only ever playing their own material which was quite unique in Cornwall at the time as most bands were playing covers.
Supporting Adam and The Ants
Despite regularly playing in front of crowds of over 1000 people Kez was still a very shy individual and rarely socialised off stage. Despite this he still had plans for stardom and the band started to travel further afield, getting lots of gigs in Bristol, venturing into London and also doing the UK University circuit.
On one trip to London they played in the Cabaret Futura Club, run by Richard Strange. Richard didn't like Kez, he saw him as Martin Griffin's 'baby' and was clearly jealous. He didn't allow the band to sound check along with all the others that evening and put them on at 11.45, assuming that everybody would be leaving to catch the last tube home. This backfired. The audience stayed to watch their set and Artistic Control wowed the crowd, leaving Richard less than impressed!
Over the years the band had several personal changes and spent a lot of time in the recording studios, both at Roche and Sawmills. Kez was a very prolific songwriter and always keen to experiment in the studio environment. One of the new band members was Sam Williams (brother of classical guitarist John Williams)a very gifted multi instrumentalist, who would go on to manage Supergrass. James left the band to join the Tina Turner touring band with Al Hodge. Chrissy Quayle joined the band for a sort while on saxophone before leaving to join the all girl band Amazulu. Steve Mulvey also joined the band on synthesiser. Steve had previously played on drums with Kez in the early pre-System days, he later left to play synth with 70’s idols ‘The Sweet’
The band had a lot of record company interest, including many independent labels and some of the major players like RCA and EMI. RCA would eventually chose H2O from Scotland, partly due to it being somewhat hipper at the time to come from Scotland than Cornwall. Kez feels that the band’s name may have put some labels off, thinking that they would want too much control over their own music...which they did!
Inner Vision was another label that was very keen on signing the band. However they wanted the band to ditch the keyboardists and drummer and relocate to London. Kez refused to do either of those things and despite management pressure he didn't sign.
The other unknown band they had on their books was Wham and they wanted Artistic Control to be their Rolling Stones to Wham's Beatles.
Kez remembers the 80s as being a horrible time in the music industry, with especially nasty show biz people in the big cities happy to step on anybody to get where they wanted. A notoriously hedonistic and self centred decade, he didn't enjoy being around the people and the atmosphere of the business. He was also a Cornish boy through and through. ..a true ‘Son of Kernow’.
Despite this they continued to go from strength to strength, performing on TV. They played "Dance the Technique of Life" at Plymouth Hoe for local TV as well as performing on the BBC’s Spotlight.
Ronnie decided to leave the band in 1983 which devastated Kez. They quickly asked Dave Stone to step in on drums, adding Phil Pickering on Synths and gigged out the remainder of the year.
The new line-up was incredibly tight but for Kez it just didn’t feel the same without Ronnie.
Kez was writing more and more solo material, some recorded at the Sawmills with Simon Fraser. In particular a track written over a year earlier ‘Echo’ which was about a boys love for his mentor, clearly aimed at Martin (amongst others) and delivered with an eastern guru/disciple flavour was to signal a new direction. Cementing Kez’s unique way of playing guitar as well as introducing new recording processes it felt like anything was possible.
By late 83 Kez was starting to get somewhat demoralised with the whole thing and spent most of 84 writing and recording material. He left St. Austell behind and headed for the countryside of Lerryn moving into a cottage at the river’s edge. This had a rejuvenating effect on his creativity. He continued his experimental streak, recording a more adventurous album under the moniker Imago. During this period he also produced a studio Artistic Control album ‘Bless it all’ inviting many musicians to join in with the sessions. Throughout the time with Artistic Control Kez would always be recording and performing, if Artistic Control were on a break he would enter the studio to try out new ideas or even perform solo slots live with backing tapes and synths.
In 1985 BBC1 hunted Kez down and insisted he appeared on their new nationwide program The Matrix. So Kez gathered together a group of musicians and before he knew it was back on the road with Artistic Control and a new line-up, which included Terry Hendry (Bass) and Dave Stone (Drums) both of which had played with Smack, Clive Goodwin (Guitar), Steve Mulvey (Keyboards) and Lisa Arcari on backing vocals. They toured the South West overwhelming venues with audience numbers even performing to almost 20,000 people at the Elephant Fayre Festival but before the year was out Kez called it a day folding the band for good.
Days Gone By, Matrix. BBC TV
He then formed ‘Art Con’ which consisted of backing tapes, drum machines, synths and Karen Kay on backing vocals. They gigged extensively during 86/87 but Cornwall just wasn’t ready for something so radically different. Kez yet again retreated to the studio. Ironically this material which was received with such confusion in 1986 has really stood the test of time and still sounds fresh today. Indeed collectors fight over the recordings from this period and there are current negotiations for a future release in the USA.
After a short break from bands he was playing again, this time in London based modern psychedelic band Webcore. Kez played a series of live gigs with the band as their guitarist. In the 90s he started a solo project called Trip, performing ambient house music, which gave him the chance for his experimental side to really flourish. Under the Trip banner, Kez attracted much record company interest, especially from Virgin but Kez refused a deal which he again felt was full of compromises. Trip lasted five years before he played his final gig supporting of all people, Hawkwind in 1997.
After his youngest daughter was diagnosed with Autism, Kez decided to dedicated his life to raising her and his family and retire from gigging. The onset of Crohn’s Disease has now left Kez virtually house bound but his passion for music continues and he still writes and records regularly in his home studio.
Buttz from the System left the life as a performer in 1991 and set up an antique shops in the Edgeware Rd in London. He has now returned to Cornwall and runs a memorabilia shop in Mevagissey. Another member of The System, Gary Raikes, now holds a high position in the BNP party.
Did you play in this band? If so please get in touch!