The first time most people may have heard of the band would have been around August 1987 when the indie single ?When the Hoodoo Comes" started to get played on night-time radio, leading to a full session later that year which really got tongues wagging. By late 87 the band had become available hot property in London with the majors all forming a disorderly pack of signature chasers. Overnight sensations? Not really. There had been some formative years grimly holding on to principles while music in the UK was being led by some seriously transparent early-mid eighties "artistes".
In fact strange as it might seem now, the guitars position as the pivotal popular instrument looked to be at an end. There were guitar bands of course and the worldwide success of U2 ensured that record companies were constantly looking for something similar, but the influences of the previous decade (with a few exceptions) had largely been unhelpful. By early '88 however things were starting to change a little and Food records were signed to EMI Records in order for the label to get its hands on the Indies latest band...Diesel Park West. Now with major backing, the band started to record the debut album which was soon to have a considerable impact, "Shakespeare Alabama". Although the album never delivered a huge breakthrough hit single it did generate enough influence on the times and create such a buzz about the band to ensure them a special place in the bigger picture.
Three whole years however were to slip by until the second album "Decency" was to surface. In true major label style there had been a lot of executive positioning ready for the inevitable massive breakthrough. Like all dead certs it never quite worked out the way it was meant, and despite an "almost hit single Fall to Love" in early 92, the band were divorced by the overweight EMI and seemed set to follow the well worn path of other major-label victims...thank you and goodnight. Well no! Not at all, in fact for a variety of reasons the creative rivers were really starting to flow at this point.
The band had forged a strong musical identity onstage, drawing upon its own musical influences which are now acknowledged as being seminal. As rock has grown older with an unexpected dignity, names such as the Buffalo Springfield, Moby Grape, Big Star, the Brian Jones era Stones and Love are mostly free from misguided taboos which had been largely born of ignorance. Free to operate within its own taste Diesel Park West proceeded to release four independent albums which have all maintained a high critique for the band.
* John Butler (vocals, guitar, born 17 April 1954)
* Rick Willson (guitar, vocals, born 1 December 1959)
* Geoff Beavan (bass, born 24 January 1953)
* David ?Moth' Smith (drums, born 23 July 1951).
* Rich Barton (guitar, born July 1957)...Joined Sept.1988 to 1996.
The early years, 1981-1987
The band was originally formed in 1980 as The Filberts (after local football team, Leicester City's former Filbert Street ground), although they would also occasionally appear as The Psychedelic Filberts. Their main influences come from the West Coast sound of 1960s bands like Moby Grape, Buffalo Springfield and Love. The main creative force in the band is Butler, who writes nearly all the band's material. Butler and Moth (who had also played the sticks for local Leicester heroes Gypsy) had previously played together in a short-lived band called The Flicks, releasing one album in 1979 called Go For The Effect. Three Psychedelic Filberts tracks were released - a cover of The Byrds' "Lady Friend" on the Obscure Independent Classics volume 2 LP, a cover of The Beatles "Rain" which was included on Yeah Yeah Noh's final release, the Temple Of Convenience EP, and "Atlantis 1968", which appeared on the He Didn't Even Draw A Fish On My Shower Curtain compilation.
Butler was a mainstay of the Leicester music scene for many years and had toured America extensivley with Mott the Hoople offshoots Widowmaker.
After recruiting Willson (formerly of Heavy Metal band Brooklyn) and Beavan (formerly of Agony Bag) the band started a long period of writing and recording in their Barkby Road studios. During this time they amassed a huge amount of songs, honing their skills and trying to get record company attention.
In 1986, Willson released a solo single - "Help Me" under his own name, backed with a cover of Charley Pride's "Crystal Chandeliers" under the pseudonym Lee Verne.
Though the band released a one-off single as The Come On called 'Guitar Party' in 1984, they were finding it hard for their music to be heard above the din of electronic blips and burps that summed up the mainstream music of the mid-80's. Was the world ready for a Leicester Moby Grape?
They got their answer on Good Friday 1987, when Butler received a call from David Balfe from the small indie label Food Records. Balfe, who had previously been in The Teardrop Explodes, said that the demos he heard had moved him to tears (of joy, presumably) and they were subsequently signed to Food.
Balfe, however was not happy with the bands name and told them to change it. Eventually they came up with Diesel Park West, based on the fact that Barkby Road Studios was in a lorry park in the west of Leicester.
August 1987 saw the release of band's debut single, ?When the Hoodoo Comes'. It began to get airplay on late night radio shows and word of mouth about the band started to spread. EMI were very interested in the band, and bought Food records in order to get them. This gave Diesel Park West a great boost,they were now part of a major record label. Mick Salisbury joined the band at around this time as third guitarist.
The Big Label years, 1988-1992
With a big label now behind the band, they went into Olympic Studios in January 1988 to start work on their debut album. With Chris Kimsey of The Rolling Stones fame producing, the band were in confident mood that all those years of toil were about to pay off. Soon after the sessions were completed in May 1988, Mick Salisbury was replaced by Rich Barton (b. July 1957).
Their second single, 'Jackie's Still Sad' hit the stores in October 1988. Their take on the life of Jackie Onassis, the song was a stirring number and although it failed to chart it gained a number of positive reviews including single of the week in Record Mirror.
Shakespeare Alabama cover
The album, 'Shakespeare Alabama', was released on 30 January. It was an impressive blend of their 60's melodic influences and ?anthemic' songwriting. Stand out tracks include 'Like Princes Do', 'Here I Stand' and new single 'All the Myths on Sunday'.
The album was well received in the music press and the band were considered to be heavyweight contenders, maybe in the mould of U2. But great plaudits doesn't mean great sales and the album only reached 55 in the charts. However, it was a start and something to build on.
To coincide with the album release the band supported Big Country on tour and then followed that up with a well received headlining tour of their own.
It was around this time that the 'baggy' scene was really taking hold. With The Stone Roses becoming the media darlings and taking up all their attention. This left the Diesel's in a difficult position as although they had many of the same influences (!) as the 'baggy' crowd they were a good deal older and seen by an image driven media as out of step with the zeitgeist.
After the release of a reworked ?When the Hoodoo Comes' in August 1989 the band fell quiet. Although their cover version of Jesus Jones' "Info Freako" on The Food Christmas various artists EP gave them a taste of top 30 chart success in November 1989, it would be over a year after The Hoodoo EP before the next DPW release - a stop gap LP of b-sides, covers and outtakes, Flipped.
During this time ?Moth' Smith parted with the band in mysterious circumstances and the band eventually went to record their second album without a full time drummer.
In September 1990 they headed off to Belgium to work with Laurie Latham. Although recording went relatively smoothly, the lack of a drummer meant that a drum machine was used on many tracks.
Recording was finished in early 1991, but nothing would be heard of it for nearly a year when lead single 'Fall to Love' was released. Although it received some radio play and had their highest chart placing of 48, there seemed to be a lack of interest from the record company this time around. Blur had been signed to Food and they were also having some success with Jesus Jones, as a result it looked as if the Diesel's were getting left behind.
When the album, 'Decency', was eventually released on 3 February 1992, it sold poorly reaching number 57 and was out of the charts within a couple of weeks. This was harsh, as although somewhat overproduced it contains some of the bands best work. Songs such as 'Somewhere in the Afterglow', 'Hot Summer Water' and second single 'Boy on Top of the News' showed the band on top form. On the supporting tour, Dave Anderson (b.27 April 1967) joined the band on drums.
In September a cover of The Beach Boys, 'God Only Knows' was released as a single in various different formats, each with a number of other cover versions including Moby Grape's 'Bitter Wind', The Beatles' 'While My Guitar Gently Weeps', The Rolling Stones' 'Tumbling Dice' and Jesus Jones' 'Info Freako'!
It was a gamble by EMI and turned out to be the last throw of the dice. Big changes were afoot at the label. Having acquired Virgin Records, EMI went through a clean up of their roster and the Diesel's found themselves without a label.
The Small Independent years, 1993-1995
It wasn't too long, however before they were picked up by Demon Records, who also had Elvis Costello on their books. The Diesel's wasted no time in getting in the studio to record their third album, 'Diesel Park West vs. the Corporate Waltz'.
As the title suggests a lot of the album dealt with their treatment at the hands of a big money record company. Songs like 'Here on the Hill', 'Six Days to JuJu' and the title track, 'The Corporate Waltz' took a swipe at the hard headed bosses and lily livered executives. The album had a much rawer sound than Decency and it benefited from the quick recording.
Corporate Waltz cover
Unfortunately, despite some excellent reviews, the band had seen the last of their chart appearances and the record and it's accompanying singles, 'Six Days to JuJu' and 'The Cat's Still Scratching' failed to make an impact.
Once again the Diesel's were dropped and searching for another deal. In stepped another small independent label, Permanent Records and in 1995 they released 'FreakGene', the Diesel's fourth album.
This was their best album since their debut and showed how Butler's songwriting had grown. They had their trademark songs such as 'There's No Mercy On The Ground Tonight' and 'The Natural Things' (which was to be the single from the album but was withdrawn) but also showed the humour of the band in 'Get Ready' and their sensitive side with 'Your Perfect Face'. Belinda Carlisle even took it on herself to cover 'I See No Ships' from the album! Geoff Beavan had left the band prior to recording this album and was replaced by Ian Michie.
Despite the quality of the album there was little money to spend on promotion and the time at Permanent was only temporary. The band was homeless once more.
FreakGene era DPW From L to R: Rich Barton, Dave Anderson, John Butler, Rick Willson, Ian Michie
The Split, Solo and Re-formation years, 1997-present
It seemed that time was up for Diesel Park West and, after a farewell concert in Leicester, the band split. They had slid down the label food chain and although the songwriting was never in question it looked like the bands moment had gone. Each album had met with fewer and fewer sales and the large crowds that had gathered to see them in 1989 had pretty much disappeared.
EMI sought to get some attention in early 1997 by releasing a best of called 'Left Hand Band' (Butler, Willson & Michie all being left-handed!). Gathering together the best of the first two albums plus a sprinkling of b-sides, it showed how well these songs stand up even eight years after their release.
John Butler had by this point signed to Chrysalis Records for a solo deal. He signed to them in the same week Robbie Williams signed as well, but while Robbie went one way Butler went the other!
His album, 'The Loyal Serpent', was released on 3 November 1997 and gained a 4 star review in Q magazine that month. Although it was a solo album, the rest of the Diesel's all had a hand in playing on it.
Then out of the blue in 1998, Diesel Park West returned with a new album 'HIPReplacement', although 'new' may be overstating the case as the album was made up of songs recorded before the band split, during their 'FreakGene' sessions. They had signed to very small indie label, Thunderbird in Oxford and it came with a bonus CD made up of the 'Shakespeare Alabama' demos.
Though the album contained some good songs such as 'Bloody As Fur', 'All Your Birthdays' and 'The Last of The Silent Friends' it was their weakest one to date and sank like a stone.
Perversely although the band toured in support of the album, they never played any tracks from it and rarely mentioned it at gigs. Instead they played the whole of 'Shakespeare Alabama' from start to finish with one or two covers thrown in.
This was because the original line up, from 'Shakespeare' had reformed. Beavan and ?Moth' coming back to the fold. However ?Moth' would only play the songs on which he had played originally. Rich Barton did not return for the gigs but is on the album.
During 1999 the band played one off gigs in Leicester and London, showcasing some new material and playing Shakespeare Alabama. But the fractious relationship between Butler and ?Moth' meant it was always touch and go if the drummer would ever turn up. Until one day he didn't and was never heard of again.
Yet another label hop in 2000 brought the Diesel's to Hypertension Records a label maybe even smaller than Thunderbird!
Their sixth album, 'Thought For Food' duly arrived in August to national ignorance. It gained a couple of positive reviews in music magazines but could hardly be found in shops. It was a return to form, although some of the songs were many years old, it showed they still had it if anyone was prepared to listen.
In early 2001 John Butler unveiled his second solo album, snappily titled 'Worthless Bastard Rock', which has it's moments but is a bit of a mish mash. With that he and the Diesel's fell into hibernation only surfacing for their annual gig at the Borderline in London or a do in Leicester.
During this time Geoff Beavan fell ill with cancer and had to undergo major surgery. He has made a good recovery since and still plays the bass wonderfully.
To complete their deal with Thunderbird Records, a compilation of the demos from 'Shakespeare Alabama' and 'Decency' called 'King of Ghosts' was released in 2002. With the demo versions of the 'Decency' tracks outshining the overproduced commercial effort.
A re-release in August 2006 of 'Shakespeare Alabama' brought the band some welcome attention. The remastered CD gathered some excellent reviews, with critics pointing out how well the album has stood the test of time and that maybe back in 1989 the Diesel's were just ahead of the game.
A DVD of the Diesel's in concert over the years was released on April 23 2007. The disc called 'Damned Anthems' features footage from 1988 to 1992 of the band in Germany, Switzerland and Sweden as well as some Butler and Willson acoustic gigs.
The Diesel's new album 'Blood And Grace' was released on June 11 2007 preceded by the single 'There's A Grace' on May 8, on their own Danville Records label. This is the first time that the band has recorded specifically for a new record since 'The Corporate Waltz'. The follow up single 'Personal Lives' came out in August. Rob Morris (ex Crazyhead) joined on drums.
The album has proved to be their strongest since 'FreakGene'. It's certainly their most outright political with songs such as 'Men of Blood', 'If They Ever Turn the Lights On' and 'Indian' poking a finger in the side of the Labour Government while 'Tony's Garden' is Butler's scathing view of Tony Blair. The Diesel's even got radio play for the single 'There's a Grace' for the first time since 1993, albeit on late night radio. Janice Long invited them onto her BBC Radio 2 show for a session.
Next up for the Diesel's is a tour of the UK in 2008, with a slight difference. They'll be on 'The Marrakesh Express', hitting the boards with a mix of their West Coast influences and original material. Bringing UK audiences full blooded interpretations of the magic of The Byrds and CSN&Y.
Though their journey has undoubtedly been a tough one, and perhaps even a cautionary one to other bands of the perils of the record business, one thing has always shone through and that is their quality. Regardless of fashion or musical taste of the time, the songs live on.
? Shakespeare Alabama (January 1989) UK #55
? Flipped (b-sides, out-takes etc, August 1990)
? Decency (February 1992) UK #57
? Diesel Park West vs. The Corporate Waltz (June 1993)
? FreakGene (May 1995)
? Left Hand Band (Best of, February 1997)
? HIPReplacement (September 1998)
? Thought for Food (August 2000)
? King of Ghosts (demos, March 2002)
? Blood and Grace (2007)
? "When The Hoodoo Comes" (1987)
? "Jackie's Still Sad" (1988)
? "All the Myths on Sunday" (1989) UK #66
? "Like Princes Do" (1989) UK #58
? The Hoodoo EP (1989) UK #62
? "Fall to Love" (1992) UK #48
? "Boy on Top of the News" (1992) UK #58
? "God Only Knows" (1992) UK #57
? "Six Days to JuJu" (1993)
? "The Cat's Still Scratching" (1993)
? "The Natural Things" (withdrawn, 1995)
? "Love It" (1998)
? "There's A Grace" (2007)
? "Personal Lives" (2007)
? "Damned Anthems" (2007)
 John Butler solo
? The Loyal Serpent (September 1997)
? Worthless Bastard Rock (February 2001)
? "Wings of the Morning" (withdrawn, 1997)