Michael Algar [Olga] - guitarist / vocalist, The Toy Dolls
On the phone with David Lee Wilson - 1999
Do you remember how fun it was to listen to those snotty English punk rockers back in the seventies? Well, I am not old enough to have experienced that either, but, I do understand the idea via a couple hundred viewings of "Sid & Nancy" and The Great Rock N Roll Swindle." Tenuous experiential knowledge at best but as it would happen I was invited to attend a concert by The Toy Dolls and if this show was any indication, the London punk scene of 1976 remains the cultural high point of the twentieth century. Actually, truth be told, The Toy Dolls were not quite around at that time either but they were as close as I or you will ever get so sit back and let your eyes listen to my inane questioning and the barely contained contemptuous replies by one really great rock and roll band that just happens to be English and Punk. Lead singer/guitar player Olga [Michale Algar] did the talking.
DAVID WILSON: Well, That was fun! Has every night been as much fun for you?
MA: It has been so far. For the last twenty years. As soon as we stop enjoying it, then we're finished. Sometimes it get's a little bit too hot, say in Europe in the summer, where you can't breath. That's when the fun goes out of it a little bit.
K2K: You say twenty years...
MA: Nineteen really.
K2K: I read in your biography that for that whole time you have really only released records as a means to be able to tour.
MA: Yeah. That's not a very good thing to say when the record company is knocking about but I mean it's just the most important thing. When we started the band we had no record deal. We practiced at home and in the garage and things like that. We still played gigs so, that is obviously the most important thing.
K2K: For the last five or six years the type of music that you have been playing has really been very popular in the U.S. which is very different from what this scene was all about in the beginning. I guess this would be two questions but, Is it different in Europe? And has it changed your outlook on the music when you have groups like Rancid and Green Day being successful with a bastardized version of punk rock.
MA: I think in Europe, we have done Europe so many times, it is going down a little bit. We've never been in fashion at all anyway. Green Day and all that are really really popular and we are not. Ours is just a tiny little thing. We have always been out of the trend altogether. In Europe it is going down a little bit but it does seem a lot newer here for some reason. Maybe because Green Day, Rancid and The Offspring come from here, but I don't know. It relatively the same for us anywhere in the would, outside of Europe maybe it's because we have been so many times and have only been here twice.
K2K: When was the last time that you were in the States?
MA: We did do a very short appearance last year but this is the first one that we've done right across America. The first time ever.
K2K: How many dates total?
MA: About fifteen or sixteen.
K2K: So it's still relatively short.
MA: Yeah. The thing is that we really can't do any massive tours because I lose my voice and it's really hard work! Sometimes where you don't have all the jumps and the movements, you can get away with it for like six weeks. In Europe we do like two months.
K2K: It's all very high energy and you must jam at least 20 or 22 songs into a set?
MA: I think it's 24 but, I mean they only last about a minute!(laughs)
K2K: A song is a song.
MA: That's it. True, true.
K2K: The record is the same way. You have just over 30 minutes of music and manage to get 14 songs in.
MA: Yeah, we try to keep it about 14. It's just that the guitar solo's are so short. I hate guitar solo's that go on for ever and all that sort of thing.
K2K: Which immediately brings to mind the song "John Williams". Could you please tell me the story behind that song?
MA: There was a fella next door and he heard us practicing in the house one day and instead of coming around to complain he had an acoustic guitar. He's not named John Williams but he knocked on the door and said "Can I come and sit in with you?" He was really nice actually. Every song is based on the truth. It's all about truth.
K2K: It's seems as though there is a story to every song including the two that are not yours.
MA: Yeah, the covers, I don't pick them because of the stories. I think that the reason that we picked these cover songs is because we think that they could be made into a Toy Dolls song rather than just making a copy. It's just a coincidence that they are stories. We just use songs that we think we can inject some of our own thing into it.
K2K: Each story seems to have a particular person at it's center.
MA: Yeah, you know, the set list there is just all peoples names!(laughs) It's like "Keith, Bobbie, Fred" it's just got names all the way down!
K2K: Does it become a problem when you have two songs about a Bobby?
MA: Sometimes it does! We've got a few different Bobbies and a few different Keiths.
K2K: Where is the group from originally?
MA: A place called Sunderland. Newcastle, right in the north of England. Industrial, run down, poverty stricken place.
K2K: How did you manage to escape all that for twenty years?
MA: We don't make a good living out of it. We just survive. We do other things as well. The drummer has a record shop. I give guitar lessons. The other guitar player gives guitar lessons as well. If you can do other things as well as your main job, you don't completely rely on the group. I think that the reason that we have been going for twenty years is that we do exactly what we want to do all the time. We haven't signed to a major deal or any of that.
K2K: If a major record deal was offered to you would you pass it up?
MA: No, I wouldn't say that. That is being completely honest. I think if it was a subsidiary of a major company and there was one man completely dedicated to the band and we kept complete control of production, artwork and everything, then we would consider it. But 99% of the time it doesn't work. We signed to EMI once, in the early days, and it was just hell.
K2K: That also brings to mind that there was another English punk band that worked, briefly, for EMI that toured last year, The Sex Pistols. The thing that disappointed me about seeing them was the fact that the songs were all very crisp and immaculate. It completely blew away the image that I had held of "the greatest English punk band." Your set was good but it was very lively, if you know what I mean. There were mistakes that added to the atmosphere of the whole show, if that makes any sense. Is that something that you strive for?
MA: No, were just crap!(laughs) We do try our best to make it crisp and clean. I think maybe because you are jumping up and down you just don't play as good. I mean it's obvious. In a studio, there is no way that you are going to go into a studio and put a pair of glasses on and jump up and down! I think it's just the movements and stuff that gives it the raw edge. You just can't keep it perfect, but, we do try and make it really good!(laughing)
K2K: I do a lot of heavy metal shows and I have seen roadies fidget with things for an hour and make the audience wait while they tinker. Tonight I know that there was a problem with something but it was like, "Fuck it! Close enough!"
MA: You know people have to get on the bus and get back home. We did have a couple of problems actually but we just had to get on with it. People traveled all this way and even if you've got the flu and you feel really ill, you can't say "I am not going on." You just have to get on and sing badly! People don't really care they just want to see the band.
K2K: I saw a good amount of people singing along with the band. Even the older songs, seemed, to be familiar to them. Is that surprising to you at all?
MA: Yeah, a lot. It really does. I mean it's flattering but I really am surprised.
K2K: I spoke with a couple of guys who had come down from Canada to see the show and they claimed to have all 14 of your records. Is that amount of dedication something that you have noticed in a great many of your fans?
MA: Yeah, especially in Europe and Spain and Japan. It's really a small audience but they are really really dedicated and very loyal.
K2K: Do you tour South America at all?
MA: Not much. We have done it a couple of times. It's just doing places like North America and South America, you have to be able to save up in between times just to be able to do it. We've done it a couple of times but not recently.
K2K: Alright, thank you for taking the time to speak with me. Tonight was more fun than I have had in quite a while.
MA: Great. Hope to do it again soon!
Written by David Lee Wilson

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