Michael “Olga” Algar
Grand Daddy of Punk rock music and the leader of The Toy Dolls. Olga chats with us about his early years as a musician, cover tunes, guitars, life on the road, Our Last Album?, Our Last DVD?, mojo and more!
February 22, 2006
Guitarhoo!: Hello Olga welcome to Guitarhoo! How are you and where are you?
Olga: Helloooo Guitarhoo! I am very well thank you, a bit stressed out with rehearsals and recording, but loving it! I am in a small village in South East England, called London! North West London to be precise, St.Johns Wood.
G!: Which part of the world are you from originally?
O!: I am from the North East of England, South Shields.
G!: What were your earliest memories of choosing to be a musician in life?
O!: My “choosing to be a musician in life” started when I was around 11, after seeing Mud, Sweet, Slade and Suzi Quatro on Top of the Pops, A UK pop TV show. An exciting time, buying a guitar, sitting in me bedroom for years learning to play it, still am!
G!: Was guitar your first choice of instruments?
O!: No, Guitar was 2nd choice, Bass was first, I saw the bass I wanted in a shop in Sunderland, so I got a paper round for a year to save up for it, I used to drool over it every weekend. It was £14.99. A whole year of delivering the Sunderland Echo! then, when I went to buy it, I was devastated, it has gone up to £15.99!!! I couldn’t bear delivering more papers, so I just bought the guitar next to it instead!
G!: Who were some of your musical influences early on?
O!: Early musical influences were: Dr.Feelgood, Chuck Berry, Sweet, Slade, Mud,…. then SLF, Sham 69, The Jam, The Skids, and loadsa punk stuff. But, I think I am influenced by everyday life, girlfriends, next door neighbours and things, rather than music, when it comes to songwriting anyway!
G!: You play a mean Gazoo, do you play any other instruments as well?
O!: Thank you! I do play a mean Kazoo dont I! But that’s about it! oh, and the Jews harp.
G!: What other lines of work have you done in life aside from music?
O!: Its difficult on The Toy Dolls level to survive only by perfomances, so I have done a number of different things. I buy/sell property, I owned a wedding car chauffeur company. I gave guitar lessons for a few years. I promoted bands, and produced bands too. I did have a couple of proper jobs also, when I left school I worked in a car components sales room for about 6 months, then 6 months as a teachers helper in a school, then one year in a print shop.
G!: What is your main guitar of choice you use on records?
O!: Always Fender Telecaster, though on record I use a Telecaster out the left speaker, and Gibson Les Paul outta the right, just to make it a bit thicker.
G!: How about on the road, can you give us a quick run-through of your guitar and amp set up?
O!: On tour I use a Fender USA standard 1978 Telecaster, with Ernie Ball strings 10-46. action is quite high, in fact its so high I can get me arm caught under it! its hell to play, ya have to work really hard with Telecasters, they dont play themselves like some modern Jackson type guiars, but what you get outta Telecaster is very nice, make me happy anyway! Oh, the bridge pick up is a Seymour Duncan Alnico. As for the amp, Marshall JCM 800 4 by 12 and a Marshall JCM 800 2203 100W amp.
G!: You’ve done so many cool cover tunes, can you give us a quick run down of why you chose these particular songs to put your original spin on, (do the songs have to reach a certain criteria):
O!: Well, to be honest its just when we are stuck for songs to write for an album, we hunt for a cover version, a song that we make ToyDollyfied!
G!: “The Devil Went Down To Scunthorpe” (a take off of Charlie Daniels band “The Devil Went Down To Georgia”)?
O!: Never liked the original to be honest, not so keen on our version either, if truth be told!
G!: Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Toccata in Dm”?
O!: I heard Skys version of Toccata, loved it, and thought we could do a better job, well, faster anyway!
G!: Drooling Banjo’s?
O!: Always loved this tune since seeing the Film Deliverance, again, stuck for another song for the album, so we gave that one a go!
G!: Rickey Martin’s “Livin’ La Vida Loca”?
O!: I know people will cringe when I say I liked the original! but I did! sooo what, I am being honest! The Toy Dolls version is a trifle different, but I think the best cover we have done.
G!: Nena’s “99 Red Balloons”?
O!: Er ahem, I think you are thinkin’ of a different band, we ain’t done that one yet!
G!: Popeye’s Medley?
O!: Oh, that was dreadful! move on…
G!: Europe’s “The Final Countdown”?
O!: Of course this was done to complement the “OUR LAST ALBUM?” theme.
G!: The ever so classic and rare “They’re Coming To Take Me Away Ha-Haaa!”, from Dr. Demento’s Delights by Napoleon XIV?
O!: A trifle infantile, is it not!
G!: What inspired you to name your band The Toy Dolls?
O!: Nothing, Our first singer thought of it! I think its crap! but there ya go!
G!: Unless I’ve mistakingly overlooked things, I don’t beliive I ever heard a ballad from the Toy Dolls. Have you guys done ballads before or if you ever decide to do one down the road, what would a Toy Doll ballad sound like?
O!: Awful, my singing stinks, its bad enough when I sing fast, in a 2 minute song, twould be even worse to suffer it for 7 min ballad!
G!: As with any style of music or music in general, there are no boundries where an artist can take it, and yourself and the Toy Dolls have covered some amazing ground!!! There are many faces of Punk Rock music out there, but more so in Punk than other styles it seems die hard fans really enjoy the “real thing”. How would you describe the official meaning of true Punk music, do you feel you are a true Punk band and if so, do you feel yourself and the Dolls have stayed true to it’s roots and culture?
O!: We always call our music “TOY DOLLS MUSIC” rather than “PUNK, however, Punk is biggest. most influential thing on The Toy Dolls. We dont do or play anything that we dont want to, theres no point. We are completely happy doing this style and have always been. Punk is about doing EXACTLY what you really wanna do. I am doing exactly what I wanna do!
G!: Do you have any extra commentary on how Punk music has grown into the more pop styles of what is labeled as Emo etc.?
O!: Not sure on what comments to make actually! I really prefer all early UK Punk Bands, like UK SUBDS, Angelic Upstarts etc, not coz I am English! I just prefer to listen to The Buzzcocks rather than Blink 182. Though I do love Greenday!
G!: What is cool about what the Dolls do and maybe what sets you apart from other Punk bands is your guitar work. You really are a great player, with very creative song writing abilities and that’s a bit of a contrast to some of the more straight forward power chord songs. Do you feel this seperates the Dolls apart from the rest in the Punk world and/or did you do this intentionally to be a bit different from the rest?
O!: Hey, cheers for the compliments! I dont know! Some of my favourite guitar players play only chords, the Ramones guy, Steve Jones, Pete Townshend, I am not really into all the widdly widdly guitar playin to be honest, though I do like like solo which compliments the song, like er, Hi Ho Silver lining by Jeff beck, for example, then again lots of songs dont need any solos!
G!: Are you more of a Monty Python, Faulty Towers, On the Buses, or a Benny Hill man?
O!: I am not really into slapsticky stuff, so I would go for Faulty Towers. Not many things make me laugh to be honest, I like natural everyday funny things that can happen.
G!: Your speaking voice is much different from your singing voice. Do your vocals on songs come out naturally this way or was that a conscious effort you made there?
O!: Ha, Good question, people always ask “oh, my god, whats happened to your voice!?” when we come out to say hello to people after the shows, so yeah, It’s not my natural voice! I dont go around talkin an octave higher, I am not Orville really!
G!: Your vocals really are cool! Do you go through any special warm ups or anything to keep the pipes up on the road?
O!: “Cool”?!?! Wow! That’s not what me girlfriend says! No special warm ups, other than not speaking in the van between shows! and maybe a hot honey and lemon now and then.
G!: All of the Toy Doll records have an “intro” and “outro” theme, at the top and bottom, to introduce and end the record. Why is that?
O!: Not all ot them! but yeah 99%, I have just always looked at albums as a kind show, like on the TV, you have a them tune at the start and end, so why not!
The Toy Dolls : Our Last Album? – Our Last DVD?
G!: Let’s talk a ‘lil about your latest babies; your new record “Our Last Album?” and “Our Last DVD?”. Do you view your music as your children or little science projects?
O!: I guess more as my children, but usually children I wanna abandon! especially Our Last DVD? !
G!: How long has “Our Last Album?” been in the works?
O!: I guess you mean how long it took to write? about a year or two, same as they usually do, for me anyway. Its been released over a year now.
G!: What is different about this record from Toy Doll albums of the past?
O!: The songs arent as good! really, there’s are about 3 really nice ones, but that’s it.
G!: What are some of your personal favorites on the record?
O!: The best songs are Barry the Roofer and I caught it from Camilla.
G!: Are most of your songs, such as “The Death of Barry the Roofer with Vertigo”, “Cheatin’ Chick From China”, “I Gave My Heart To A Slag Called Sharon From Whitley Bay” and “Yul Brynner Was A Skinhead” to name a few, based from personal experience or story telling?
O!: Yes, 99% the songs are either 100% true, or based on the truth. these people actually exsist!
G!: Your latest DVD, “Our Last DVD?” features live footage from shows, a special 40 minute interview, and behind the scene’s with the band at rehearsal and on-tour. Was the making of the DVD a lengthly labour of love and do you feel it successfully crystalizes the essence of what the band is all about and what are some of your personal fav’s from the DVD?
O!: Our Last DVD is poor, too dark and weak sound, I cant watch it! we have done much better shows, and made better videos from Tommy Goober (our bassist) and his little home video camera, from the side of the stage! We will make a good DVD, ONE DAY!
G!: Are you still touring in support of “Our Last Album?” and “Our Last DVD?”?
O!: We never tour to support records or DVDs, the records are there to promote the tours, thats whats important, but, yeah, we are still doing the OUR LAST TOUR? tour!
G!: Will you be touring the U.S.A., Canada and other countries outside of Europe in the future?
O!: Indeed yes, this year (2006) we have plans for North USA, South USA, Russia and Japan.
G!: You’ve been through so many obstacles throughout your career, keeping the band going when all seemed to be doomed, which is so admirable and a true testament to your passion for creating music. What keeps you going through the tough times?
O!: Cheers for saying that, sometimes, when you are on a really long tour, exhausted, night after night, in the van ALL day! ya sometimes feel a bit low, but when ya get home, after a week or two, the yearning to be back in the van creeps back again! it always has, seems crazy, but it always does. guess I just love it… ahhh “puke” I hear ya say, but do you have a better answer!?
G!: Looking back at your career in music, what were some of the most challenging aspects of it?
O!: Loadsa challenging aspects, one main challenging aspect is when my first bass player “Flip” and drummer “HAPPY BOB” decided to quit, 2 days before a national tour with The Angelic Upstarts in 1982. to be offered a national tour, and to get away from playing ONLY in the area we lived, was pricless, ya cant turn down opportunities like that in this business, so I had to find a bass player and drummer , and practice to learn a whole set in 2 days! certainly a challenge, but that was one of many!
G!: What were some of the most gradifying parts of it?
O!: All the gigs when we have played really well, and travelling to all the places where a normal job could never have taken us, and writing a really nice song, very satisfying, its only happened once or twice mind you!
G!: Musically speaking what brings you the most joy: writing, recording/producing or performing?
O!: Writing is the hardest mentally, its hard work sitting infront of a blank piece of paper, but when ya think of a nice tune, that’s soooo rewarding! recording is heaven for me, I love it, epecially if ya recording something that you think may turn out nice, recoding is relaxing, and seeing hearing everything being put together is great fun. Live is a different thing altogether, there’s nothing that can compare with it, its what its all about, to play a really good gig, and be proud of your performance, and have a great audience, is the best thing for sure.
G!: What brings the most pain to the arse?
O!: Interviews. Ha! really, can’t really think of anything. Days off on tour! Boring!
G!: What kind of music do you listen to relax and unwind?
O!: I usually turn the record player OFF to relax! but I do listen to Classical sometimes.
G!: What are some of your hobbies and interests outside of music?
O!: er, mmm, er can’t say I have done anything apart from writing, practicing, recoding and touring! oh, I like watchin’ the Telly!
G!: Olga, where does your mojo come from?
O!: Oh! I guess I just capitalized on what I looked like, I knew I could never sing with Bon Jovi, not looking like an anorexic toilet brush! and with the voice of a strangled ferret, so I just accepted that and made the most of what I could offer!
G!: Do you have any advice for aspiring musicians out there on how to find and use their mojo?
O!: I would play exactly what you like playing, don’t let anyone cramp your style, don’t let anyone force you to play things taht you are not happy with, and get out there and play as many LIVE shows as possible, eventually yer own style will develop. You can practice in the rehearsal rooms forever, but doing live shows is the answer! BUT above all, ENJOY IT ALL!
G!: For the record – will your new CD “Our Last CD?” and new DVD “Our Last DVD?” REALLY be the Toy Dolls last?
O!: Maybe! ?
G!: Olga, Thanks so much for taking out some time for this, mate. We’re all looking forward to your next record (in case you decide your present won’t be your last)!!!
Keep rockin’ it!
O!: My pleasure! Cheerio.
Interview © 2006 Guitarhoo!