Janine Rainforth ‘Stretch’

Maximum Joy’s Janine Rainforth recalls the making of the Bristol post-punk band’s 1981 debut ‘Stretch’, a dub-inspired single which became a surprise hit on the dancefloors of NYC

“I remember going to my first punk gig. It was Television, Blondie and The Cortinas. I was about 15, and it was like a lightbulb moment. I had been singing and performing already, but when I went to that gig, I just had this very strong feeling of, ‘Yes, I can do this too’.

“There was a big scene in Bristol – or at least for us it was a big scene – with a lot of chopping and changing between bands. I met Tony Wrafter, who became the sax player of Maximum Joy, when he was coming out of Glaxo Babies. We both had that similar drive, so we formed Maximum Joy and recruited Charlie Llewellin and Dan Catsis – ex-players from Glaxo Babies – and the guitarist from The Pop Group, John Waddington.

“As teenagers going into young adulthood, everything was centred around a couple of clubs. One of them was The Dugout, which played a huge range of great music, predominantly funk and soul and then later hip hop and disco. We used to listen to disco a lot, and I think that surprises some people. I wasn’t aware of being called post-punk then, and I don’t really know what a post-punk band is. I mean, we liked mainstream disco – Chic, Odyssey, Patrice Rushen.

“Free jazz was a big influence on us too, as was reggae. There is a huge reggae scene in Bristol, and it really rubbed off on us. To me, it was just natural that we found all that music really fantastic. We revered it, we danced to it, we went to shebeens and to blues clubs.

“We had a house on a street in St Paul’s which became the Maximum Joy hub. I lived there for a couple of years. The Black & White Café, where the St Paul’s riots started, was at the bottom of the road. It felt very pertinent and real and completely understood. It was part of where we lived, part of what was going on for people that we were close to, for people that lived with us. It was all happening around the time that we started as a band. We were developing our music during 1980 and got our first single out in 1981.

“For the B-side, ‘Silent Street’, we didn’t consciously think, ‘Let’s make a dub track’. Most of our songs evolved in the rehearsal room – it was pretty organic in that way. Somebody would play a riff and then we’d build a song around it. It was communally made, but the actual words for ‘Silent Street’ were written by Tony, and he clearly wrote them as a reflection of living in St Paul’s. It was probably slightly by osmosis that the sultry reggae feel came through.

“What was interesting was that it was almost natural for us to do a dub version of all our tracks. We did a seven-inch which was more radio length, and then we’d do a 12-inch extended mix with a dub side, which was what you’d often find on a reggae dubplate.

“In a way, ‘Stretch’ was the punkiest tune we made, although that bassline was pretty funky. Again, it evolved in rehearsal. The words were collaborative – you might just have a concept or an idea and then you’d build on that gradually, and it could take a few weeks. We’d also play the tracks live before recording them, so the arrangement would be tweaked.

“It was unspoken, but at the time, the feeling we had was to make this about stretching things to the limit, about standing up in the face of adversity and how you stay positive. It went contra to some of the other orators around then who had a more protest-style approach. For us, it was a protest but in a slightly more roundabout way, saying, ‘Come on, let’s do things differently’. It was basically just about dancing!

“We had links with Dick O’Dell via The Pop Group. He signed us to his label, Y Records, and we recorded that first single on 6 and 7 July 1981 at Berry Street Studio in London. It was pretty state-of-the-art for that era, with a big mixing desk and a good clean sound.

“We’d do one day per track, and that’s including mixing. We didn’t start until 11am, but with the understanding that we wouldn’t leave until it was finished. We’d work long hours, until two, three, four in the morning, but generally, nobody would leave. Everyone would be part of it, so it was a very collaborative production.

“I couldn’t quite believe how fast things took off from the moment the single came out. John Peel really liked it and plugged it a lot. To have something endorsed by Peel was immense for us, and we did a session for him on the basis of the single in October that year. Dick was liaising with 99 Records in New York about some of the other Y stablemates, and they wanted to put out ‘Stretch’ too, which was great. It became a bit of an underground hit in the nightclubs of New York at the time.

“Jamming around tracks in the rehearsal studio created an energy. We each brought in something slightly different, but the main cohesive thing was that we all loved the same music and were united in wanting to evolve. I think we got two more singles and an album out by the end of September 1982. We didn’t want to stand around. I mean, what band does?”

‘Stretch’ b/w ‘Silent Street’ is out via Bandcamp.
‘Joy Again’, an album by MXMJoY – the new incarnation of Maximum Joy – is also out on London Field Recordings

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