Any Trouble were an underappreciated bright spot on Stiff Records, a label that had no shortage of talented artists. Bandleader Clive Gregson’s appearance, hardened love songs, and vocal style may have led to comparisons to Elvis Costello, but they were no second-rate ripoff — each of their albums revealed a songwriter of unique talent and a more than capable band to execute the songs.
Manchester native Gregson formed the original band in 1975 while attending teaching school in Crewe, taking the group’s name from a misquote from the Mel Brooks film Blazing Saddles. After a brief moment as a folky trio, by 1976 Any Trouble had changed to a four piece rock group, speeding up their repertoire in response to the punk movement — by this point the lineup was Gregson (vocals/guitar), Chris Parks (guitar), Phil Barnes (bass), and Mel Harley (drums). They built a strong following playing the pub circuit and released “Yesterday’s Love” as an independent single, catching the attention of Radio 1’s John Peel, who quickly took to the band and played the song on his show. This exposure started a small scale bidding war from several labels and in 1980, the group signed with Stiff Records.
Stiff enlisted John Wood (Nick Drake, John Martyn, Richard Thompson, Squeeze) to produce Any Trouble’s first album. “Where Are All the Nice Girls?” had all the makings of a new wave classic and was met with some rave reviews and widespread airplay in the UK, Europe and the USA but failed to rack up the big sales that were expected of it. After the record failed commercially, the band decided to replace their drummer and Martin Hughes joined. They began work on a follow-up album immediately.
“Wheels in Motion” (1981), while certainly more accomplished, lacked the spark of the first album and the record simply didn’t catch on in the UK, despite extensive airplay on the single, “Trouble With Love”. Any Trouble took a stab at stateside success. Halfway through a US tour in support of the album, the band members heard that they had been dropped by Stiff and were left stranded in America. Eventually they found their way back to England, but the stress of the situation broke up the band temporarily.
A new deal was arranged with EMI America in 1982. Hughes left the band and was replaced by Andy Ebsworth and Steve Gurl was added on keyboards. Chris Parks left shortly thereafter. Essentially a new band, the four-piece recorded “Any Trouble” in 1983. Again, the same story — should’ve been a hit; somehow overlooked. Gregson, sensing the band couldn’t last much longer, talked EMI into letting Any Trouble record a double album, essentially as a parting shot. Gregson and company stretched out for “Wrong End of the Race” (1984), a sprawling album that allowed them to show their diversity and influences over 19 tracks comprising new originals, a handful of remakes of earlier Any Trouble songs and a few covers. “Baby Now That I’ve Found You” saw some airplay on MTV; the reviews were good, but the band’s cult status didn’t change. In 1984, the band played its last gig and called it quits.
In 2002, re-issue specialists Cherry Red released a compilation of the band’s Stiff recordings: “Girls Are Always Right”. Clive, Chris and Phil were all involved in the compilation process and the idea of a band reunion was first floated around this time. In 2007, Clive, Chris and Martin finally got into a studio to record Clive’s new songs. At this point, Phil was running a very successful film and video production company which sadly allowed him no time to participate in the reunion… so Mark Griffiths was recruited to play bass. John Wood was back in the producer’s chair and “Life In Reverse” was released on a newly revitalised Stiff Records in 2007. The album was warmly received by fans and critics alike. The band played a handful of UK shows to support the release, had a thoroughly good time and then got on with the rest of their lives.
In 2015, Any Trouble got together one last time to record and release “Present Tense”, containing 18 brand new Gregsongs. “Glen Campbell”, an affectionate tribute to the great man, was released as a single along with an award winning Nigel Dick directed video. Once again, the album got the thumbs up from fans and critics. The band played shows in the UK and Spain… then went their separate ways once again. There are currently no plans for further reunions… but there’s certainly no shortage of great memories!
With thanks to Chris Woodstra/AllMusic