Interview / Album Teaser: Cassie – The Light Shines On

Cassie - Hugh Kim Lewis

  • December 2020
  • lockdown

In these times of streaming platforms and instant downloads, audience reach can be somewhat easily tracked and measured. There’s an immediacy to ‘success’. What, then, if you had to wait 30-odd years for people to catch on?

It’s the unlikely (but then again, is anything in 2020?!) premise behind the re-discovery of Cassie, a late 70’s power-pop quartet hailing from the Isle Of Wight. Enjoying modest local success, the band released the single ‘Change My Image’ in 1982 through AKA Records. Everything else recorded during those sessions never found its way to the public, and Cassie disbanded in 1985 after coming close to signing a major label deal.

Fast forward 30ish years, and Jeremy Thompson of New York’s Reminder Records hears something he likes in the choppy, female-fronted bubblegum-punk track, spending 3 years seeking out drummer Hugh Kim Lewis in order to work out a re-mastering and re-release to a fresh generation of ears. Such has been the reception, that the band, sadly minus guitarist Nigel Hayles who passed in 2002, are now incredibly on the eve of issuing their ‘debut’ LP ‘The Light Shines On’ – made up of material originally written by Hayles and vocalist Debbie Barker (now Coles).

thepunksite was fortunate enough to catch up with Hugh Kim Lewis, and get a taster of what to expect from this time-capsule of an album.

2020 has been a crazy year for everyone. You’re about to release material with a band that hasn’t been around for 35 years. How does that happen?

I know, really crazy..It’ll be remembered for us as the year of COVID & the Cassie comeback! Jeremy Thompson from the label had the vision and drive to do it. Thanks to modern technology, and the technical nouse of Tim Warren in Germany, there was actually the ability to take tapes ranging from 1980 to 1983 and totally give them a new lease of life.

Let’s assume that many readers may not have even heard of the Isle of Wight..Give us an insight into what it was like during ‘the scene’ – What did you guys listen to? What kind of exposure was there for music?

The IOW is an island around 4 miles from Portsmouth off the southern coast of England. It was originally musically famous from 68-70 when it hosted 3 major rock festivals –  people like Dylan, Hendrix and The Who all played there back then. The council (in it’s wisdom) banned them after 1970. When Cassie were starting out in 78 there were loads of small venues all over the island where bands could play. Punk bands like The Lurkers, Generation X and The Damned all came over. These bands were a massive influence on us.

The IOW Festival was re launched in 2002 and is now one of the biggest in the world! Literally everyone has played it..People like Bowie, Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen and Queen. In terms of punk bands..my favourite, Sex PistolsBuzzcocks, Stranglers, Iggy Pop, Joan Jett, Billy Idol, Stiff Little Fingers..

What was the aim with Cassie then? I mean, every band wants success – What blows my mind is that it took over 30 years for you to get ‘discovered’..What was the breakthrough?

We wanted what every band wanted – people to like our music and maybe get some records out. Our first record label went bust without releasing anything, the second got ‘Change My Image’ out in 82 but only a few copies ever saw the light of day. Our third released ‘The Light Shines On’ as part of an IOW compilation album, to limited release. In December last year Jeremy Thompson managed to track me down and said he’d heard ‘Change My Image’, and would we be interested in him re-issuing it? We said “Yeah, go for it!” and we signed to our 4th label. The single came out in May this year, and now we’re waiting excitedly for the release of the album.

Reminder Records is out of New York, right? It amazes me how something ‘lost’ in time can find its way across oceans and decades..

Yeah, they’re from Brooklyn. I know, it’s crazy..the power of the internet!

How’s the new found success going to impact your regular life? What have you been up to in the years in-between?

Haha! Well if the money rolls in, I’ll let you know! There’s been loads of stuff to be fair. I’m married to Colette, got two great kids – Daniel & Joseph –  have lived and worked in London, West Africa, U.S.A, Turkey and India. My other big love is football (soccer). I was an average player, but after retiring I was lucky to earn a living as a  coach. Currently I’m retired, I guess, dividing our time between our houses in Turkey and Portsmouth.

Where do you think the release will sit in the current scene? Is it just for nostalgists, or is it relevant?

Initially I thought just for nostalgics, but listening to the songs again now the messages stand up. All upbeat and full of hope and feel good factor. they’re catchy and at the same time raw. The lyrics have a strong female empowerment theme, it’s still very relevant. We just need enough people to hear them..

Which seems an appropriate point to tune into the 4 teaser tracks that the label has made available ahead of the album’s release. ‘Fallen’ has a jangly, vibe, built around Eric Briggs’s buoyant bass line. Barker/Coles’s clear, attitude-laden vocals shine through on the catchy chorus. ‘Keep In Touch’ starts with a snarl, before the poppy melody takes over: “Remember when you’re far away, the love you left behind. There’s the more straight ahead ‘Boys Will Be Boys’ – immediate, and familiar. “They live their lives in separate worlds,”  notes Barker/Coles, those universal themes carrying weight into ‘She’s a Flirt’, underpinned by its tight, punchy drumming. “She can steal men for a dare,” we’re warned..

If anything is uncertain, it’s the future – What would you wish for going forward? A chance to tour? Head back into the studio?

We’d love to tour, COVID willing! As for recording new stuff..that would be a possibility also. We’d all love to do it, if there was a demand for it. Hopefully the LP will be well received and who knows? We could do with good management who might be able to open more doors..

And finally..What are you listening to at the moment?

Right now, I’m very eclectic. But on the punk scene, I love The Dinz, from Portsmouth.

Like your punk straight from the source?‘The Light Shines On’ has a Christmas Eve digital and vinyl release through Reminder Records. There’s also a Facebook Group for those wanting to keep up with the latest Cassie news.