Anita Chellamah was lead singer and co songwriter in The Cherry Bombz (the band included former members of The Clash, Hanoi Rocks, The Lords of the New Church and Sham69), released singles and an album, toured Europe and America where they supported Poison, played Reading Festival and performed on legendary TV Show 'The Tube'. Their single was shown on MTV in America during which Sounds magazine voted her 10th best female vocalist and their single 'House of Ecstacy' 16th best indie single.
Our very own Mark Wincott caught up with Anita in a bar in London and chatted about touring with Poison, singing dogs and telling off Mr Axl Rose, here's how he got on.....
Please introduce yourself and your music in one sentence....
I’m Anita Chellamah and my music is a lot like me, a bit eclectic but with a raw rocky edge, I like a lot of different things but definitely music that is raw and comes from the heart.
You were lead singer and co song writer for The Cherry Bombz, what was the experience like when you toured with Poison? Are you able to tell any good stories from that time?
My experience with Cherry Bombz was amazing, from a pop world (Toto Coelo) I landed in the Cherry Bombz totally different, a bit of a roller coaster ride as it all happened so quickly. The Cherry Bombz formed after Hanoi Rocks split up, I had been co-writing with Andy McCoy on a solo album for me. When Hanoi Rocks split up after the tragic death of Razzle (Drummer), Andy rang me and asked me if I wanted to form a new band and The Cherry Bombz was born. I started writing again and hadn’t since I was a kid because of an English teacher who kept putting red lines through my work, which affected me quite a bit.
We toured America for 10 weeks and also supported Poison during some of that tour, a lot of it unfortunately I don’t remember..... My head is really together today compared to back then. It was fantastic doing ten hour trips to gigs with people and their partners as well. Not much sleep, I remembered sitting there with Bhagavad Gita and Hollywood Wives, two books which basically summed me up. I was in a really bizarre place mentally. We had played Reading Festival and I don’t think I really appreciated it at the time, It was the last gig together as The Cherry Bombz, it was such a shame as we had some amazing opportunities.
One thing I do remember while on the American tour was seeing Prince live; who I think is a genius and actually meeting him after the show.
Do you think social media such as Soundcloud, Twitter and Facebook has helped musicians or helped them struggle?
I was all very anti – as I am a technophobe, I prefer to communicate Face to face...but saying that, it has given people to not just rely on a record company, it has empowered people to say look here is my music and you don’t have to conform to a record company, I’m not knocking record companies as they got me where I ended up in the past. Some people were great and some not, I did get ripped off a few times too. But Social Media anyway gives people that platform to get their music out to the world. I do struggle with certain social media activities like booking gigs, I have been told you need more likes on Facebook or followers on twitter...I am not sure if it is true, may be someone can tell me that....
Your track ‘Plaything’ reminds me of early Guns n’ Roses, what was the inspiration behind this and have memories come flooding back from 'Use your Illusion 1 & 2'?
I wrote it with Ian Ritchie – The inspiration was about relationships and issues of control (especially for women) and also the expectation of having to look and behave a certain way. I use to be called the demo queen because I always wrote with so many different people at time, but nothing ever came of it. I almost was signed as a solo artist with Virgin but never was, it never came out, I am not sure why at the time.
Plaything I didn’t plan it, I feel songs when I could be walking my dog down the street, I have melodies and lyrics and record it on my phone – people must think I’m crazy. So it is not always played. Plaything I will re do as an electric guitar, with a really Rolling Stones vibe, which will be on the never ending album I am writing.
But all music and how it is done It is about the freedom, freedom to be what you want.
You were away from music for quite some time, what are the biggest changes you have noticed?
I was away from music, basically my life...there were two reason, my drinking and using got in the way of my life and I reached a rock bottom, I had to go deal with that, also realised there were other issues which I also worked on and dealt with. I kept trying to come back into music but I was frail, very emotional when I first got sober, but I feel strong now in who I am and accepting me!! I have always loved music but three years ago I felt I wanted to perform again and it felt right. I also work as a counsellor at an amazing Abstinent based treatment centre called 1NE (1North East which used to be WACS)
I got married to my wonderful husband and had my son, my life changed and I wanted to dedicate myself to my family – I really thought I did let go of music, but I have always loved it. It was only three years ago that I realised I still loved music in a big way, I am a very creative person, that side of it pushes me to perform and create. I was fearful as I thought I would possibly be too old, that moment that thought came in to my head; I said where the heck did that come from? I am who I am, it doesn’t matter, what’s important, is what you feel and I know what my priorities are in life, my family will always be my priority and me being healthy.
I was free from that restriction from having to be a certain way. Social media (which I did say earlier I was totally against) was suddenly very appealing, I went on Facebook and I got in touch with Timo Kalito (who wrote on a Guns and Roses album), I hadn’t spoken to him for years, I basically said to him, I have some songs, he replied, great come on over and let’s get back in to this. Timo also said Dave (Tregunna) wants to do something as well. I went to Timo’s with my great friend Lyentte Dundas, also Danny Fury came in to it, Terry (Chimes) started to get back in to music with The Crunch who are amazing, so Terry had been back playing the two of us have been friends and stayed in touch for many years. It’s the beauty of doing something I love with the people I love. So what has changed is my love of social media.
Would you rather live with a dog that sings lullabies or a gorilla that can do sign language? Explain your answer
A dog – because they are gentle creatures, feeds off your love!
In your opinion, what is the BEST album/record ever released and why?
Oh my god I cannot think of one! – I love too many people, I struggle with this, I can give people that have affected me. I started off dancing, so what really moved me was Elton John’s first album, I used to dance to it in my mum’s flat.
I screamed when I saw Marc Bolan drive past the premier of his film 'Born to Boogie' (which I was going to see the first showing to the public) and was told to be quiet by a man in a bowler hat on Regent Street. I also bumped into him when I was thirteen as I walked in to Harrods, he was walking out, I basically screamed, he smiled and said hello, the man is a legend.
David Bowie - I was rehearsing with Legs and Co for Top of The Pops at The BBC rehearsal studios at North Acton when I stepped into a lift with the late great choreographer Flick Colby and saw David Bowie.
Then In the canteen David Bowie walked back to the line, he looked at me, my mind wandered and I imagined him telling me how he liked my dancing and all that. He then said “excuse me can I get to the cheese”. I looked at him and just said 'Yeah', I spent the rest of the time imagining the different conversation we could have had, so David Bowie asked me if he could get to the cheese.....
The next person is Bob Marley, seeing him at one of his last shows, in Birmingham, my friends’ brother drove us to the gig and basically was the most amazing experience seeing him live.
My mum, when I was young had a black & white photos of The Stones and Hendrix she would dance around to 'Satisfaction', the thing is she’s a classical music fan and my dad was into his rock n' roll and jazz. So I was brought up to like an eclectic mix of music.
I love David Bowie, such admiration for him, at the time he really gave the message of "be who you want to be, be individual", that’s what I love. Because I never felt I fitted into any particular way. I remember when I came to London one day being a hippy and the next day a skin head. I’d be in Holy Cow fishnet tights with a Travera skirt and brogues, the next day a long maxi skirt, my hair flowing and both would feel like me. I related to so many things, I just couldn’t be one and that is what I love about David Bowie, he seemed to say, and I noticed this today, he was saying whoever you are then just be, he just kept transforming himself. I just saw it as they are different parts of him and that is what I love. You don’t just have to be one thing, it’s ok to evolve and change and change back to that look, it was what he felt he wanted to be and that is what I love about him along with his music. God I love his music.
Throughout your music career, where has been your favourite venue to play live and why?
You know I think there are two...the two are the old Marquee (London) I’m very blessed to have played the Marquee, oh three venues, CBGB in (New York) a really renowned rock n' roll place which they made a film about it, everyone has played there. It’s so much like the Marquee, as you walked in, you could just 'smell' rock n' roll. Reading Festival I have to say, even though my head at the time wasn’t really with it, I was still aware of the place, it was such an awesome thing to do, just looking out at all those people and knowing that I was there doing what I love to do. I would love the chance to do that today. They are the three places that have affected me.
I sorted of started backwards, back in the day with Cherry Bombz we had managers, everything seemed to fall in to place. Now I am doing it myself, trying to get gigs, I sort of started up there and now I am doing it in a different role, I took so much for granted back then and now I so appreciate it. It is so lovely to perform again. One gig we did, two young guys from Birmingham came down on a bus from Birmingham to support us, they played to nobody, so we all just got up and danced away to their music, they finished and jumped straight back on the bus back to Birmingham. Because I am there and been where all of people want to get to, I feel like I should, and do encourage them to strive to be where they want to get to.
Guitarist Timo Kaltio has also worked with Izzy Stradlin, any chance that he may be working on a future record or live show with you?
Ha! I don’t know, I don’t know him but there is a story though, when we did the tour of the U.S with Poison, we played a few places in L.A, because Hanoi Rocks was such a big band and Cherry Bombz was after that so there was a lot of people from Kiss, Guns and Roses coming to see our shows. A good story – I collected all our memorabilia as much as possible even though I was all over the place, I reckon the ego kept me going as I collected anything the band and I was in. Backstage at this gig there was an LA magazine about what’s happening in L.A and all that and the Cherry Bombz was in it, this guy in the dressing room tried to take that magazine. I said no, no excuse me that is mine and we are in it, he said but I am on the front page. It was Axl Rose of Guns and Roses at that they hadn’t hit the big time. But I refused to let him have it because Cherry Bombz were in it. (so Anita actually told Axl Rose from G n' R off....legendary!!)
Then, I can’t remember which member of Kiss it was, but I used to throw myself around on stage and I injured myself, one of them was running all round the venue trying to get a plaster. So many amazing artists use to come to our gigs, sadly I don’t remember any of them, but I have been told who since.
Tell me a fascinating fact about you or one of the members in your band?
Oh I don’t know any fascinating facts really, all I know is that all of us are very creative and what I love is that they are all really down to earth and very supportive of each other. Don’t think that is a fascinating fact, but I love it. Dave, Timo, Lynette Terry, amazing people, I’m not saying that lightly, really good people and incredibly talented.
If you had a chance to put together your own ‘super group’, who would be in it?
I love who I am working with, they are my supergroup! I can say who I admire, loads, Elton John, Hendrix, Stones, so many people. I so struggle with those questions, Peckham Cowboys, the Crunch, all these people I think are amazing.
I love Tina Turner, Kate Bush, Dolly Parton, Barbara Streisand, Bette Midler, so many people out there, Stevie Nicks.
The Quireboys I remember they supported us at their very first gig, I love them. The List will just go on....Zara Phillips my friend is so talented. ...Janis Joplin...
What classic song would you have liked to have recorded and why?
Janis Joplin, 'Take a Little Piece of my Heart', but there are so many, Angie by the Stones.....Your Song by Elton John. I love raw music that moves me. Rolling Stones has that, Gimme Shelter, I’d love to have recorded that song with Angie as a double A side
First gig you ever went to?
In my first job performing in American Black Musical in the west end "Bubbling Brown Sugar" at the Royalty Theatre, we were invited to go and see and meet Count Basie and Lena Horne performing together with the Count Basie band....AMAZING!!!
My first gig was Bob Marley in Birmingham and it was amazing, just WOW that is all I can say about the gig. I carried a life sized cut out of Bob Marley from one side of London to the other, no idea where I got this, I hope I am not making this up, but I know I was on a train.
Recently I took my son to his first concert and that was Eminem – the only artist he has wanted to see for a really long time. What a brilliant performer, that man has so much talent. I am so grateful I got to share that experience with my son.
Do you ever read your Wikipedia page or did you even know that you had one?
Ha Ha yeah of course, I’d love to be humble and say of course not, I haven’t a clue who set it up or where it all comes from. But I haven’t looked at it in years.
Name three people (alive, dead or fictional) that you would like as dinner party guests?
Stephen Fry, Maya Angelou & Robin Williams
There are many good bands and musicians out there, who would you ask the readers of musicmuso to look out for?
Peckham Cowboys and the Crunch and my friend Zara Phillips use to be backing vocals for Bob Geldof. She also did a song with Run DMC ‘I’m Legit’, go on her website and you will see the song. Pobl Y Bryn Cler Fach the lead singer and husband Matt Deighton (Mother Earth, Oasis) an amazing guitarist, also the Babooms.
Mark Olivier is part of the band Prude, their album launch is on 23rd September at the Hope and Anchor in London celebrating the release of ‘Plastic Heroes’. Last year I went to a gig and heard this amazing artist, you know those moments when you hear music and it stops you in your tracks, that is what happened to me when I saw Matt Woosey, to me an AMAZING artist and superb live.
Do you think we can ever live in a world where a chicken can cross the road without having its motives questioned?
I think we’re all headless chickens so the motives may need questioning
Have you had any ‘Spinal Tap’ Moments? If yes, please share!
I love that film, errrm yeah so many, I remember in L.A. we did a gig and this girl was backstage, there were always people back stage we didn’t know any of them. She sat next to me, she had a neck brace on and she yelled, very loudly “I’m doing a film the next day...with Jack Nicholson”,. That was a spinal tap moment, it was about people being attached to what someone else is doing, that is also the sad side of things as well that tapped in to that insecurity. Another time after a gig there was a swimming pool for of women and I was asking if they were friends or family of someone, I just didn’t realise what was happening. One more...this isn’t that funny, well it isn’t, I was a bad head space and someone said to me ‘How are you?’ that moment I just let it all out and broke down, the poor guy spent ages trying to find the rest of the band to look after me.
What are your plans for what remains of 2014?
I need to record, as I’m financing it myself; my husband has been so gorgeous, he helps as well. I started doing a few songs to get more gigs, and then I wanted to do an album. I was doing it acoustically, and then I decided I wanted to do it electrically so I’ve decided I cannot have an album with 5000 songs on. So the rest of the year, hopefully making sensible decisions and recording and making the decision what songs will be on there. Recently I rehearsed with Terry Chimes, Timo Kaltio and Dave Treganna, It was to record two of my songs with bass, drums and electric guitar, that was the first time we had all played together since The Cherry Bombz and It felt great!!
But the main thing that is important is to do what I am doing, I love and enjoy it; I got called 'The Singing Counsellor the other day, which I found hilarious. I just want to keep stretching me and be there for people I care about, to just feel good about what I am doing.
Prior to letting Anita go on her way, Mark threw a few quick fire questions at her....
Coffee or Tea?
Coke or Pepsi?
Drum machine or the real deal?
Mac or PC?
Whispering Bob or John Peel?
Fry up or Sunday Roast?
Lemmy (Motorhead) or Ozzy (Black Sabbath)?
CD or Vinyl?
Live Show or Recording Studio?
Car or Motorbike?
Acoustic or electric?
Shower or Bath?
Tattoos or Piercings?
Robert De Niro or Al Pacino?
God or Google?
We'd like to thank Anita for sparing her time to sit and endure our questions and for providing some great responses, we wish her every success with her 5000 track electric/acoustic album and look forward to seeing her on the live scene in the near future.
Interview by Mark Wincott