Rikki Flag as he is known on the music scene has been doing DIY punk sounds since the start of the 90’s. It began with Red Flag 77, a punk rock band from Ipswich that formed in 1990; they soon found contacts around the UK and Europe, gigging all over and even getting played on John Peel’s radio show. After that slowed, 2010 saw the formation of East Town Pirates who are often described as a ‘voodoo pirate rock n roll’ band’, also based in and around Ipswich and have equally found great support.
Away from making music, Rikki has been running a small independent business “Know Your Product”, selling punk/rock and beyond music and merchandise since 1996. We caught up with him to talk about how business is going, and to hear some stories of his life with music.
MR: For those who may not know, tell us a bit about yourself and what you do…
RF: Well, I’m a bloke in my 50’s that struggles with the concept of acting your age or growing older gracefully. I am known as “Rikki Flag”, the latter being from the fact I sing in a band named “Red Flag 77”. I also take on the vocal duties for “East Town Pirates”. As it is of course many peoples dream to make a living from music, in reality that is pretty hard for most people; so to fund my old man Rock‘n’Roll lifestyle, I run a little online shop outlet for music, T-Shirts and merchandise called “Know your Product”, which was a shop in Ipswich for a few years (which I ran with my friend Andrew Culture). Until everything stopped, more recently I could be found selling my wares at local record fairs and gigs. I put gigs on as well, usually at the lovely Steamboat Tavern in Ipswich. The last was at the end of February just before Covid-19 hit with The Lurkers and local stars Smart Alex, and I did manage to put on an outside show from TV Smith in the lockdown ease-up.
MR: What is your history with music – has it always been a big part of your life, and what inspired you to be in bands and write your own songs?
RF: I have always enjoyed music, but I’m not from any musical family background. No one played any instruments, and I don’t either. My mum had some good 1950’s 45’s records and Country LP’s, but my dad’s taste wasn’t as interesting; but there was also the radio and Top of the Pops. I got into records when I was quite young, and I was doing a little disco type thing while still at school, doing birthday parties in halls and stuff, I called it “Ricky’s Roadshow” (I know bad isn’t it, but it was the early 80’s).
It was Punk music that really made a mark, along with the other great stuff happening in the late 1970’s and 80’s. It was messing around with mates in Stowmarket pretending to be a band that was the start, then I started meeting people in Ipswich when I was around 16, they would go on to become the likes of The Stupids and Lovejunk; and most are good friends that I’m still in touch with now. The first gig I was meant to sing at was one I organised at Stow Youth Club with The Anihilated, and I was meant to sing for the opening band but bottled it, they went on to release a record as The Space Maggots, and Mickey Trenter who was in them still plays in Red Flag 77. I didn’t actually start in a band properly until 1990 and I have somehow blagged it all the way since.
MR: Where can people listen to your music and find you?
RF: We probably don’t do ourselves any favours really with using modern technology to our full advantage, but we try. We are from a time of putting out physical product, our earliest stuff was on cassette tapes sold at gigs, then on 7″ vinyl, then to CD, but now there are many means of getting your music out there to be heard. Both bands have Facebook pages you can contact us on. We still have music and merchandise for sale by post, so contact me to buy records, CD’s or T-Shirts. I think both bands can be listened to on Spotify or similar though, so take a look.
MR: We all know how tough it’s been for musicians over the past year, so what have you been doing to keep busy, and have you still been able to write new music or stay connected with your bands?
RF: I’ve found myself lucky enough to keep busy by selling my stuff online; people have obviously been taking advantage of their imposed incarceration by enjoying music. Sales have been very good, particularly on vinyl, old and new. It’s great that the beautiful record is having a resurgence; I think it’s so much nicer.
Band wise, Red Flag 77 are not really working on new material; we just played from time to time for a bit of fun. We were supposed to celebrate our 30th year with a special gig last year, and we had a few surprises planned, but obviously we couldn’t do anything. We might now be looking at recording something new. As for East Town Pirates, we had gigs booked and our most recent release “Ship of Fools” that we were still promoting. Some gigs have been rescheduled which are a case of watch this space, as are most things now. We had hoped to perform at the wonderful John Peel Centre in Stowmarket for Independent Venue Week, but we will just have to do that when we can safely. There is a good link there too, as I am from Stowmarket, and the late great John Peel played Red Flag 77 on his show and said nice things about us. For now though, we are about to make some East Town Pirates music videos to put up for a bit of fun, they will be new versions of a couple of old favourites of ours, including the local historic tale “The Ballad of Tobias Gill”.
MR: What do you miss most about performing and being part of a live show?
RF: The social aspect! For us, our gigs really always are a bloody-good get together. We have been going a long time and are really lucky that both bands have very loyal support. People seem to want to come out and travel long distances to see us. These people then become your friends, which makes it all worth doing, so you can continue to get together and catch up and pick up new recruits along the way.
MR: You are in local bands, but you’ve toured all over – do you have any favourite venues or places you’ve played?
RF: We are a local band here as it’s where we live, but we were lucky to network with people to get gigs outside of East Anglia early on (even before mobiles and internet) and both bands at some point made that essential “we are for real” commitment of getting a band van! Getting records out led to us getting shows and tours in Europe, the first of which was as a support to Colchester’s Special Duties. We have done many tours and played some wonderful places in France, Germany, Holland and more over the years. The hottest gig we’ve done was in Paris, the smallest in Rotterdam, the scariest in Germany, the wettest in Diss and there has certainly been plenty of moments to remember (and a few to forget).
We have played some lovely venues and some dirty squats. It was great to get to play famous venues like the 100 Club and The Hope and Anchor in London, where a lot of the early punk bands played. I got to play alongside many of the bands that were a massive influence on me as a young teenage punk such as Stiff Little Fingers, 999, UK Subs. With all that said though, we still love a local gig at The Steamboat as much as anywhere, Ipswich has a lovely gig-going crowd.
MR: In your opinion, what do you think the future of the music industry holds?
RF: I just really hope live music can get back to something like it was. Socially distanced performances will be okay, but doesn’t really suit the kind of live atmosphere we like to try and create. Industry wise, we will carry on as we do, working in an easy to deal with and largely DIY way. Doing things the way we like it.
MR: I know you mentioned you have an online independent shop, and you’ve been selling vinyl records and band merchandise in Lockdown – how has business been going, is the interest for such items still there?
RF: I touched on that a bit earlier, but yes the new vinyl revolution is great! The whole process of a record; sleeve, art, inserts, playing it, reading the notes/lyrics and such is unbeatable. When I had the shop with records on the wall, some teenagers didn’t even know what they were which was shocking to me that records had become like that. It’s going okay, but I can’t wait to put my boxes of goodies and rail of shirts out again for people to peruse in public.
MR: What would you suggest the local community can do to continue supporting the music industry and independent bands like yours in these times?
RF: I think artists and bands are trying to find ways to keep a connection with audiences and fans, be that with live streams or making videos to upload- which can bring a little bit of fun and joy. That is what we are currently planning for East Town Pirate, a couple of little videos to put up to keep people entertained. Buying a bit of merchandise always helps as that income from selling your music, t-shirts and such at gigs is a very important part of keeping the cogs turning – so grab a CD or a t-shirt to help out your favourite local performers.
MR: Lastly, tell us why you love what you do, and what would be your message to those who love and miss live music as much as you do?
RF: It’s something I have done for a long time, and this is the longest I have gone without gigging, it may even end up being hard to do again by the time we get back to proper live performances for bands like ours! Of course we can only hope that the venues we love and so desperately need to help all get through this. It’s going to be a long road to that old normal we took for granted up until March 2020, but where there is a will there is a way, so in the words of the wonderful old Captain Tom – tomorrow will be a good day.
A big thank you to Rikki Flag for taking the time to chat to us. If you would like to know more about the bands or shop, you can visit the Facebook pages for East Town Pirates, Red Flag 77 or Know Your Product as linked.