The timing of The Drummer’s sacking and the recruitment of Moggy was what you might call ordinary. We’d been working towards a date at the end of Hull university’s academic year when they had a festival planned. Demos were being taken in by the organisers in order to establish the lineup and running order of the bands and we didn’t have one. What we also didn’t have was a drummer who’d played with us for more than two rehearsals and any time to prepare for rapidly looming date booked in at a friend of my ex-girlfriend‘s – Dave.
Dave, like quite a few owners of demo studios that I’d met, spent his days working for a television company. His studio was in what you’d describe as a shed at the bottom of his garden. A fairly elaborate shed, but a shed nonetheless. It wasn’t as if his house was on the small side either being, as it was, on Park Avenue in Hull. The houses on The Avenues were generally massive and he had two of the buggers, next door to one another. He’d sort of but not quite knocked them through and getting from one to the other involved crawling through a vaguely circular hole halfway up the hallway wall. He and his wife had millions of kids who clambered across the entirety of their double barrelled, not quite connected house.
Ensconced in the shed, it turned out that Dave was an engineer who had quite definite opinions on the creative process. Some do, many don’t. Those who don’t tend to view that side of things – the writing, arrangement and playing of the material – as none of their business and something that bands ought to get straight long before they set foot in their studios. Or sheds. Not Dave though. Dave was keen to get involved in all of those elements and we were similarly keen that he wouldn’t.
We were going to record three songs in two days: Ghosts, a countryish ramble, So Many Days, a song of two halves, the first part being a fairly standard slowish lament that culminated in a noisy second half and Blue, an indie pop song with a bit of falsetto singing in the chorus.
Running through Ghosts live, it was evident that Moggy wasn’t really up to speed having been with us for about a week. Dave’s wasn’t prepared to countenance Moggy getting his head around the arrangement and got him to hit each of his drums once and once only. He fed those drum hits into a sampler and decided to get the rest of us to play along to a click track. Once we’d done that to his satisfaction, Dave constructed a drum track using Moggy’s singular drum hits which, frankly, left it all sounding rather mechanical which wasn’t ideal for the lilting and, now only theoretically, groovy songs we’d written.
Ghosts, which Dawson had written prior to joining – so was nothing to do with me – had him on acoustic guitar and singing. I played a bit of slide guitar and the other electric guitars on it. Dawson stuck to acoustic. I was going for that sort of late 60s Rolling Stones, lazily countryfied on-the-point-of-collapse thing that they pulled off infinitely better than I managed. It was a pretty good song, I thought. Lyrically it had imagery, Dawson sang it beautifully – as he almost always did, regardless of the material, it had dynamics – it had quiet, calm bits, and it had rowdier parts that went with the lyrics. With Dawson, I thought, we were onto a winner. And he was a good lad, too. Funny, bright, handsome. A touch mercurial perhaps, but that adds to the excitement. Graham, as his his wont, was rock solid on the bass and a totally reliable harmony singer who instinctively knew when and what to sing. Moggy wasn’t actually playing on these demos, but having played with him on a handful of occasions in the practice room, I was already besotted. He had a languorous, draggy feel, more than a touch of Ringo about him – and Ringo was fantastic, so knickers to you if you haven’t worked that out yet – and, perhaps most importantly, he’s the friendliest kid in the world. Wherever you go, there’s always someone who knows Moggy from somewhere and they all love him to bits. He’s one of those kids who gets on with people. He’s not a pushover, and he can talk nonsense at times, but above everything else, he’s kind. And he’s funny, and like the rest of them, even though we fell out a few years later, I love them all to bits to this day.
Blue, which was one of the first things we’d written together, chords, melodies, lyrics, the lot, Dawson did the nicely picked acoustic part at the start as I played through a phaser pedal to, you know, make it sound a bit floating out in space sort-of-thing. I’d never really written with anyone else before, and I was slightly dubious about it, but also I wanted to be like The Beatles or The Stones. We never really much together for various reasons, but when we did, I always enjoyed myself and, perhaps more pertinently, we always came up with something half decent, at least. Dawson, if either of us, was probably more the lone wolf in terms of writing. By choice, I mean. I found I liked writing with someone else – you go places that you wouldn’t ordinarily go – and I’d have liked to have done it more, but we didn’t. Dawson probably wrote a bit more than I did, and as the singer, things had to be amenable to him. I was just the guitar player – which is the second coolest role in a band, I suppose – but if he didn’t like something, he could – like all singers – say, “Well you sing it then”, and that’d have been it. I think Dawson liked the idea of being the main man in all aspects of the band – like his hero, Neil Young – and I liked the idea of being, as I said, The Beatles, so maybe someone with more sense than I had could have seen the way things would end up going. In fairness to me, and with hindsight, it was more surprising that I got as many songs in the setlist as I did. Looking back, I take that as a compliment. Dawson could have chosen to ignore everything I brought in, but – being a bighead for a moment – the songs I was writing at that point couldn’t realistically have been shelved. They were pretty good. For a local band, at least.
So Many Days was our big set closer and it was pretty much diluted beyond repair on this demo. Dawson had written the first half of it and I wrote the “Oh, my love...” part that was the second half. There were a few guitar solos, the first of which I’d slowed down and nicked from the Theme from Ski Sunday, which I’d always been a fan of but Dave decided that the whole thing was going on far too long, so that got cut. The second was sort of tuned feedback which would have been great except Dave that the amp was too loud for his microphones, so that sounded crap as well. In the spirit of nicking bits and pieces, also helped myself to the riff from Something’s Gotten Hold Of My Heart by Gene Pitney at the end of it.
We didn’t tell Graham what to play on anything because he was more than capable of – and quite adamant that he would – write his own basslines. Moggy took direction here and there, but again, came up with his own ideas, apart from on these recordings. Neither of them had any interest in joining Dawson and me at our flats for writing the basic songs and everybody was happy with that. Arrangements tended to happen at high volume in the rehearsal rooms.
I’d read about bands falling apart when they got somewhere due to the disparity in earnings from songwriting royalties and we agreed, whoever actually wrote what, that all songs would be credited to the four of us: Dawson, Norton, Middleton, Morgan. The order was chosen because the combination of names sounded best in that order.
Having recorded the three songs and edited them down in length as per Dave’s insistence Dave mixed and mastered them in his front room. I managed to leave my Mothers’ Day present and card in his front room on the Saturday night which necessitated me hanging around outside his house from about five o’clock on the Sunday morning as I had no money to buy replacements.
Demo in hand, Dawson gave it to a girl he’d started seeing who was about to graduate from Hull University to pass onto the Entertainments Secretary to book our place at the end of year festival. We were bottom of the bill. Actually, we were second from bottom of the bill but close enough.
We didn’t have a name at that point. Names for bands are hard. Well, good names are hard. We were Roll for a bit – like Rock ‘n’ Roll, but with the emphasis not on Rock, for a change. That didn’t last long and eventually, with time running out, we went with Sidewinder, which we unanimously didn’t like, unlike all the other crap suggestions which one of us probably had. Democratic, you see. Pfff. What we didn’t realise was that it meant that everybody thought we were into REM. You know, The Sidewinder Sleeps Tonight. Which we weren’t. To be fair, I had a couple of REM records. I’d enjoyed a few of their earlier songs when I was at Trading Standards: Fall On Me, Don’t Go Back to Rockville, Orange Crush and few others. While I was at university they released Out Of Time in my first year and Automatic For The People in my third, both of which were their breakthrough releases – the height of their commercial success – but I’d pretty much moved on from them since then. Sidewinder came up because we were all from Hull and the fishing trawlers used here were called Sidewinders because of the method of reeling the nets in. We’d all had family who were connected to the now long gone fishing industry. Anyway, it stuck, even though we all hated it.
On the day of the festival, we set up and played to a busy crowd outside and, much to our delight, went down a storm. So much so that we were invited to play again later, second from top of the bill, in the John McCarthy bar in the main building. That went well and we enjoyed slapping ourselves on our collective backs and having drinks bought for us. We were off, or so we thought.
The organiser had told us that the reason we’d been put so low down on the bill was because our demo was so crap, which we already knew. “If you want to get gigs, you’re going to have to do better than that,” was his considered opinion. We told him about Dave and Moggy’s sampled drums but, as you’d expect, excuses don’t hold much water in matters such as that.
We got ourselves further gigs supporting some local bands at The Hull Adelphi, where I’d played previously with Motorcade to audiences that varied from packed out and delirious to bordering on empty. The hope was, as supporting bands do, to pick up these other bands’ audiences. Jacko, owner and proprietor of The Adelphi didn’t need demos because he’d give anybody a gig which I was to later annoy him about publicly.
Another local band – The Raywells, named after the campsite that Guides and Scouts from the Hull and East Riding area all went to – did us a favour by inviting us to play with them at The Cavern Club in Liverpool.
At the Cavern we were told that we had a lunchtime slot and, depending on how that went, we might get another slot on the evening. The place was packed, although mainly with Japanese tourists. On the plus side, we went down well with them too (technical note: the last chord I played on our opening song, The Two Of Us, was a major sixth which is sort of instant early Beatles final chord, so that was a bit contrived, but I wasn’t arsed) and were given a night-time slot.
Immediately after we’d finished the lunchtime performance, pretty much everyone we’d brought with us to Liverpool (we and The Raywells hired a coach and flogged tickets at £5 a pop, making it worth going even if you didn’t want to watch any bands) joined us backstage where we lolled around for most of the afternoon. The Raywells, who were going on after us, tolerated it briefly before Pedgie (their singer, whom we ‘cleverly’ referred to as Pingu) asked Moggy if he’d ask everyone to get out because The Raywells needed to meditate before they went on. I made a point of stirring things up slightly with the manager of The Cavern by implying that Pedgie (Singer with The Raywells) had made out he was in charge of everything, so I enjoyed watching him shouting at Pedgie as he was midway through a bit of light Om-ing.
The evening show went alright although it was notably quieter due to the crowd mainly consisting of our over-refreshed, overtired and underfed crowd, and no Japanese tourists. I noted, during our second performance’s playing of Call to Arms, Pedgie and (much more pleasant and down to Earth) Raywells guitarist Baz peering from the wings to see how I was doing my cello impression on a guitar. I didn’t use a bow or anything. They didn’t say anything, but I gathered they were impressed. Well, perhaps impressed is a strong term. Curious, perhaps. Mildly curious.
We also booked ourselves into a demo studio that was generally used to create jingles for, for local television in Gilberdyke – Mayfield Studios. Mayfield was – and is -run by father and son duo, Colin and Gary. In a step up from Dave’s shed, Mayfield studio appeared to be housed in a converted garage. In yet another improvement, Colin and Gary had zero interest in writing, arranging or playing songs or, more specifically, sampling Moggy’s drums to construct a robotic drum track more suited to Kraftwerk than Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young style country and western songs.
Surprisingly, with hindsight, we’d not written any songs that were redolent of Kraftwerk, although it wouldn’t have surprised me if we had, bearing in mind our habit of chasing our tails.
What we had written were songs that we’d now played a few times in public and had gone down particularly well. We’d refined and rearranged parts of them and – in a surprising display of prescience – held them back from our first demo because we knew these were better songs. Well, more poppy at any rate.
Ever the optimists, we’d decided we were going to record four songs in two days this time which Colin and Gary were dubious about but we thought we were pretty well drilled and would be alright.
Colin, it turned out, was more or less completely blind which we thought might be a good thing in terms of getting the best possible sound. you know, not being distracted by looking at things. Colin also made all the tea, which fascinated me – a blind man making tea. How did he know when the cup was full? I got him to show me how he did it. Dawson made a nuisance of himself by leaving equipment lying around all over the place which Colin, inevitably, tended to fall over. Dawson also displayed what was to become a regular feature of being around him, the tendency to make inappropriate, if unwitting remarks to those around him. He kept doing the visual gag of pretending to was down stairs when he was behind the studio glass. Colin said, “Ah, I’ve seen it all before. Oh no, I haven’t, have I?” I didn’t know where to look and began to develop some retrospective sympathy for my ex-girlfriend who’d spent her time with me complaining about the stupid things I said and did all the time.
Moggy had a nickname – his surname’s Morgan. Graham preferred to be called Knocker, after Knocker Norton, the Hull FC Rugby League player. At that point, Dawson was known as Chris, but he earned the nom-de-plume of Luftwaffe on grounds of his Teutonic looks and tendency to faff. He was constantly arsing around with his amp settings, never playing the same thing twice and wanting to change arrangements around every two minutes. Luft-Faffer, geddit? He was a bit of a perfectionist in some ways, and incredibly sloppy in others. Which, with hindsight, was an accusation that could realistically have been levelled at all of us, except probably Graham, who’s the least faffy person you could meet.
As Colin and Gary’s garage wasn’t all that big, even if it was a touch roomier than Dave’s shed, Moggy and Graham (I wasn’t prepared to accept Knocker as a name because I considered it a bit puerile) would record the bass and drums live as Dawson played a guide acoustic rhythm guitar in the control area, where Colin and Gary sat. I parked myself on the settee at the back and kept my ears pinned back for mistakes, timing and what have you.
By around teatime, we had the basic bass, drums and Luftwaffe rhythm guitar down and I was allocated my usual ten minutes to record guitar parts in before calling it a night. I was, as I tended to be, fairly well rehearsed – I knew exactly what I was going to be playing, even if nobody else did because I’d decided that I was going to get into layering guitar parts, like I read about Johnny Marr doing. Colin and Gary were mildly irritated by my treating their garage like it was studio 2 at Abbey Road but, bless ’em, they went along with it.
Next day, vocals, percussion and mixing. The final product was, we considered, pretty good. Especially in comparison to what Dave had dredged up in his shed. We got it copied onto cd, sent it off to various record labels and waited for EMI and all the rest to hammer our doors down and fight each other in order to sign us up. And we waited. And waited.
The reason I’ve got a pair of weimaraners humping on The Two Of Us is because the original cover had one stood on the other’s back, which was all well and good but it was an image that was copyrighted – and quite a famous one too. I mainly like the look on the male dog’s face of this, somewhat pornographic canine image.
The Two Of Us was what we opened our sets with in the very early days and it was one of the songs that people often talked to us about as being the one that would get us noticed. With several years’ hindsight, it sounds a bit like Dodgy – Britpop also-rans – to me. I don’t mind Dodgy, but they were never the coolest band in the world, were they? I really like about three of their records and I’ll happily defend them, knowing full well that it does me no favours. The Current Mrs Middlerabbit mocks me by referring to them as my all-time-favourite-band-of-all-time. Dodgy aren’t the sort of band who are anybody’s all-time-favourite, are they? I suppose that’s the joke. It’s a bit less funny when you realise that your supposedly biggest hit sounded like them though.
Dawson had written all the words (which were later considered by those around us to be slightly premonitory, in terms of Dawson’s attitude to girlfriends) – and the chords, to be honest. I struggled to find anything suitable to go with it for weeks. My perspective was that you always needed a great guitar introduction and something other than strumming during most of the song. For quite a while I had this sort of Isley Brothers’ Summer Breeze sort of thing that never really sounded right. In the end, I found a Johnny Marr-esque highlife twiddly bit that I followed with, what’s probably the Dodgy-esque part. So, I suppose it’s probably my fault, the Dodgy thing. It’s a fair cop. Be careful what you listen to might be the moral of that story for budding musicians. Like I’d have listened to anybody who told me that then. Yeah. Right.
Painful Is The Sun was written in Dawson’s flat on Pearson Park one evening shortly after his girlfriend, Charlotte, had moved in with him. It was also the night I realised that Charlotte was fairly unlikely to be letting Dawson out on a very long leash anytime soon. It’s hard, pouring your heart out in front of someone else. I felt a bit self-conscious. In bands, you can feel a bit like it’s you and your bandmates against the world. People who come to see you, girlfriends, managers, all the rest of the people who are in some way connected – that’s great – but when it comes down to it, it’s the four of you and introducing somebody else is like inviting your friend in to watch you have sex. Which is an odd, probably poor, analogy for having one of your girlfriends around you as you’re writing, but that’s sort of how it felt. Girlfriends often get labelled with the Yoko thing and I can dig it, even if it seems cruel. You know, you love your mum, but you wouldn’t want her watching you in bed with your girlfriend, would you? It’s sort of like that. Which, as I say, isn’t the best comparison when it’s somebody’s girlfriend getting in the way with four lads in a band.
Anyway, I’d already come up with the riff and the chords and preferred it if the singer had a hand in writing the melody, bearing in mind he was going to be the one singing it. Plus, as I said, I liked writing with Dawson – more than he did with me. We wrote the melody and not all that many words as Charlotte was breathing down our necks all the way. I went home and finished the lyrics off over the next few days. It was about staying in because it was too hectic outside.
I’d gotten myself a pretty good valve driven Leslie speaker emulator which I used on this – both speeds, fast and slow on different parts for dynamics – and turned off for the solo at the end which I mainly had planned out. Mainly, I wasn’t into guitar solos but everybody else in the band was so I figured that, if I was going to have to play some, I was going to adopt a Beatlesy attitude towards them, which is to say that they were all composed, as opposed to improvised. Mainly composed, anyway. My perspective was and is that you should pretty much be able to sing along to a guitar solo, and not just go bibble-bibble as fast as you can. There’s one section towards the very end of that one where I just went with it and, unusually for me, it turned out quite unhinged, which was what I was going for. I was never a great improvisor. I didn’t like jamming and I still don’t, although I can see the benefit in terms of feeling, of not having over-rehearsed. The very first time you play something, it might be rough around the edges with the odd clanger being dropped here and there, but there’s also something else about it that you can’t get through practising it. Ah well. This one, at least, turned out alright. It didn’t sound like Dodgy, even if it had dodgy moments.
All of these songs had been written when The Drummer was still with us and Call To Arms was, I suppose, the straw that broke the camel’s back. Never happy with his own contributions at the best of times, he wasn’t taken by this song in the slightest. Dawson, always most enthusiastic about whatever we’d written most recently, took umbrage and I was inclined to agree with him, although it had been building up for much longer in my case. His not liking this – and being too into hip-hop – was given as the reason why he got the boot. Dawson wrote all the words to this one – about Charlotte’s tendency to go berserk during disagreements they had. She carved ‘Fuck You Cunt’ with a kitchen knife into his favourite Neil Young record during one fit of pique. Sometimes he had bruises. We pretty much held Charlotte responsible for all of it at that point although later questioned whether or not we’d been rather unfair in terms of what we had assumed was her possessiveness. I’ll get to that.
Anyway, Call to Arms had, like The Two Of Us, a few major 7th chords in it which I enjoyed as it was a bit of a throwback to Forever Changes, which I love and loved, even if the rest of them didn’t. The major 7ths in The Two Of Us and this were inspired, I suspect, by The Bluetones’ use of them on Slight Return, which Dawson was a big fan of. I never got his love for them which, bearing in mind my unconscious tendency to walk the Dodgy road, was perhaps a bit rich coming from the likes of me. Still. Dawson brought it in pretty much written as a basic song. Graham joined in with that gentle, almost baroque sounding bassline and I was looking for an excuse to stick my cello impression on something. We also walked the Pixies/Nirvana path of quiet verse/loud chorus on this. There were always people who wanted to know how I did the cello thing and, to be honest, it was easy. My wah-wah pedal was, when not turned on, a volume pedal. I turned the tone right down on the neck pickup, put a slight tremolo wobble on top of fuzz and used the volume pedal to cut out the attack from each note and swelled it up. I still had to come up with the notes and I was quite impressed with what I came up with. This was the only song I ever used it on which, in hindsight, made it a bit of a gimmick. What would the alternative have been though? Doing a cello impression all over everything? On one hand it would have given us a sound, but I didn’t really want that anyway. On the other hand, we might as well have sacked me and just got a cello player in instead. Sometimes I think I just wasn’t cut out for being in a band. I should probably have just focused on writing songs and let other people worry about arrangements and whether they all sounded similar or not.
And that was the other problem, really. I only started playing the guitar properly when I’d finished university and, to be frank, I wasn’t a natural. I wanted to be a proper guitar player and I spent a lot of time working on that because that’s the way I wanted to be viewed. To begin with, I was easily the worst musician of the lot of us. I had to spend a lot of time at home, listening to our taped rehearsals, working out what would sound good on the lead guitar, because I wasn’t capable of jamming it, or spontaneously coming up with parts that would have been good enough. I simultaneously wanted to be a great guitar player, and not a muso. How do you do that? It’s hard, isn’t it? These days – now I’m far too old for bands – I can do it. I improved throughout my time in Sidewinder, and continued to work at it after I was chucked out for being a pain in the arse – which I was, frankly – and now, I’m better than I ever was. If you were to stick me in a band situation now, I’d have no worries about looking like a crap guitar player because I’m pretty good. People are impressed these days, and the ironic result of that is that I don’t feel I have to try to come up with something that goes all over every part of the song – making it a bit “look at me, I’m a great guitar player”, because I’m less uptight about it now. Then, though? Listening back to the demos, what strikes me is how stilted I sound – not the rest of them – and how I’m trying too hard. We had pretty good songs, we had a decent groove going – we never had a sound, so to speak, because we were always wanting to play different stuff – but if there’s a problem with Sidewinder’s demos, I think it’s probably me and my neurotic guitar playing, mainly.
Today World was – technically – Moggy’s first and last attempt at writing a song for us. It contains a total of two chords – possibly three, I can’t remember exactly, but not many – and that was unusual for us as we had a tendency to overcomplicated things. I helped him put it together and wrote the riffs that jangle through it. Live, I played it on a Burns 12 string guitar because I’d made it a bit Byrdsy. In the studio, the 12 string sounded limp because I hadn’t realised at that point that, in order to make an electric 12 string sound like it was cutting it on record, you need to use a compressor. I was the only one into The Byrds but thought that if Moggy was pushing to get a song into the set, then this was the way I could probably have the best chance of success. He wrote all of the lyrics which, to be honest, suffered in the way that songs and poems do if there’s too much emphasis on simple, overly structured rhyming schemes. Still, we liked to think of ourselves as being a democracy, at least ostensibly, and letting the (new) drummer write a song did that idea no harm.
One thing that we were keen on, which turned out to not be in our favour, was making a point of not writing the same song twice. We went a bit far, I suspect. Having, on a four song demo, one song that sounded like Dodgy, another that was probably a bit Radiohead via Neil Young, another that had the dynamics of Pixies/Nirvana with a baroque bassline and a guitar doing a cello impression and yet another that was more or less The Byrds made it difficult for us to slot into any particular genre. Which suited me, at least. I had no intention of being a one-trick pony but A&R people from record companies told us that our eclecticism would made it difficult for them to market us. Make your minds up who you are, was what we were told more often than anything – although there were other issues too. I see their point. It was perhaps sort of like someone like David Bowie putting out an album with one track from every year he released an album. It didn’t really work together. Like Space Oddity followed by Sound & Vision wouldn’t, not that I’m claiming we had anything up to the standard of either of those two records
The other big issue that we struggled to get around was in the arrangement of songs. Almost every song we wrote had a couple of verses, a different bridge, a different chorus, a different middle eight, a different solo section and a different outro. There was far too much going on. We needed to simplify our arrangements. If we’d done that, we’d probably have ended up with about four times as many songs too. Not that we we ever short of material – that was problem. There was far too much, if anything. In terms of everything, too. and that was all of our faults, not least because of our, erm, herbal intake. We were always – always – stoned out of our gourds. And while that can lead to creative inspiration – and it can – you’re better off having moments when you’re not absolutely battered, so you can pick out the good bits, and put them together concisely. Weed never made us lethargic, it made us open to possibilities. What it also did was give us the idea that everything could go on for ten minutes, with three different middle eights, two guitar solos, a breakdown, and any number of avant-garde inspired diversions. We were all at fault for that. We were, basically, a guitar pop band with no idea about how to put a three minute pop song together. If I was neurotic on the guitar – in terms of wanting to leave no-one in any doubt that I was a good enough player to work with the other three – I suppose all four of us were neurotic in terms of wanting to make sure that our songs had enough going on in them to keep anyone’s attention. And our answer to that was the opposite of what we should have done – you know – making songs linger instead of shorter. Durr.
Deciding that perhaps unsolicited demos might not necessarily be the way to attract the attention of major record labels, we sent it to various indies and had a bit of interest, particularly from Ugly Man in Manchester, which had released early singles by I Am Kloot, Elbow and Black. Just as we were about to get somewhere with them, they temporarily folded. Well, that’s what they told us. What they’d also told us was that we would be difficult to market to a specific audience because, musically, we were all over the place. Also our songs went on a bit and needed editing. We were a bit precious about our art and ignored that, even though we knew it was true. What we needed was a grownup, ideally one who wasn’t off his tits every waking moment, to shout at us and tell us what was right and wrong. Anyway, Uglyman, in dealing with people who looked like adequately functioning human beings (us) presumably thought it would be best if we did it by ourselves. Which we should have done, but didn’t. Deep down, we always thought we knew best, even though there was never any real evidence for that. I suppose we thought that, at some point, everything’d just click into place and we’d be proved right. Naturally, as you’ve never heard of us – it didn’t, and we weren’t.
We were invited to play live on Radio Humberside, which wasn’t a regular occurrence for local bands. The odd one for bands who’d just been signed, maybe. For idiots like us, no chance. However, it was starting to look like we were going to be, as Jacko referred to us on the Adelphi flyers, “The Next Stone Roses” which delighted all of us except Dawson, who had no truck with them. We were selling venues out, playing original material, and getting interest that, we and most other people in the know assumed, would continue to grow and we would be going places, as they say.
At the old Radio Humberside building in town, we played live in a cupboard that wasn’t really conducive to a four piece with drums, including a song from our set at the time that we never ended up recording anywhere else: Living Is Easy which was another one that Dawson and I wrote in my flat on Westbourne Avenue. He’d moved in to the house next door to me with Charlotte and, what could have been – probably should have been – perfect turned out not to be because I wasn’t allowed in their flat when Charlotte was there. After gigs, my flat was party central and it was mainly good except Charlotte didn’t really seem to like what happened there which tended to border on slightly debauched, at least in terms of everybody there being totally off their tits and lolling around chatting in little groups – as parties tend to be. Charlotte sometimes bemoaned, “Can’t we do something all together?” and everybody ignored her, mainly I suppose because that would have required a degree of organisation that was completely beyond anybody present at the time. Except her perhaps. In any case, nobody was in any fit state to follow any instructions more complicated than, “Collapse where you were standing.” Ozzy Osbourne described Black Sabbath – who none of us liked – as starting off as “musicians who dabbled in drugs” before turning into “drug addicts who dabbled in music“. And that was us. We were daft. We should have concentrated on working out how to be functioning musicians who could write three minute pop songs and then, when we’d got somewhere, we could have started off on the road to my drug hell. As it was, we played at being in a band and couldn’t wait to develop drug habits, which prevented us getting our shit together. We were as bad as each other in that respect. We wore it as a badge of honour, too. Over the years, various practice room managers, band managers, promoters, other people in bands, people who came to see us – everyone we ever met, frankly – commented that they couldn’t believe that four people who consumed the quantity of drugs that we did good sound so good. Imagine if we hadn’t been off our tits? I suspect part of our appeal as a band was that we were more of a freak show than anything else. You know, like a talking dog. It’s not that the dog has to talk especially well, or has anything to say that’s impressive, it’s the fact that it’s doing it at all that people are interested in. And that was us, really. Four talking dogs.
Perhaps with that idea in mind – but probably not – Living Is Easy was an attempt to write something more straightforward without any complicated chords or arrangements. Verse-Chorus-Verse-Chorus -Middle 8- Guitar Solo – Chorus -Outro. So that went well. It didn’t go all that well because we couldn’t really stop ourselves and we had nobody that we were prepared to listen to who’d tell us otherwise. As I say, we were battered. We thought it was big and clever, and it’s not. It was falling into a stereotype. Being impressed with Keith Richards because he was a mumbling junkie, as opposed to worshipping Jumpin’ Jack Flash. Idiotic, really. And we didn’t help each other either. The drummer who we sacked previously would refuse to even smoke a doobie at practices – and we were like three Nick O’ Teins encouraging him to fall off the wagon and get shitfaced with us. Maybe that was the problem with him. Maybe it wasn’t even his fault at all – maybe it was us three. It wouldn’t surprise me.
That session was repeated a few times as people’d ring in and request it – sometimes it was even people whom we’d not specifically asked to. We were good. We were shitfaced, but we still held it together. We were a bit raggedy, but but it wasn’t somnambulant, as you might have expected from people who spent as much money as we did on Rizlas.
Deciding that what we really needed was management, we asked around the local scene but it turned out that nobody had any. Well, some of them had their mates doing bits and pieces for them, but our sights were evidently set higher than these other people’s.
After about six months we realised that there was no point getting Jacko to put us on at The Adelphi to get paid about £50 when we could just hire the place, put our big – in all senses of the word – mate The Beast (because he was called Burton. Beast of Burden. Beast of Burton. No? Ah, knickers then) on the door, buy him drinks for the privilege and make about £400 a night instead. We were getting big in Hull.
At one of these Adelphi gigs, the manager for Hamell On Trial – an American solo singer-songwriter who was more Bill Hicks than Paul Simon, briefly notorious at least in the music press – came along, ostensibly because he was looking for a low key gig in between big music festivals (Reading and Leeds, I think) and was scouting out The Adelphi. He was very taken with us. To be fair to him – and us – like most bands, we were a lot better when there was a full house who were into it and he saw us at a point at which we were pretty good. Anyway, he said he would like to manage us and we said maybe. Hammell said no because he didn’t want to share a manager and anyway, they all lived in America. We got a support with Hamell On Trial at The Adelphi and drew an entirely different crowd who weren’t taken with us at all. So it goes, I suppose. Whatever else we were, politically charged and angry, we weren’t.
However, we got a phone call from someone who said he was looking to get into management and that he’d been at the same Adelphi gig that Hamell on Trial’s manager had been to and he would love to see us again, perhaps somewhere bigger, with a view to signing us up and investing in us.
I’ll call this prospective manager chap Shandy Boberts. He turned out to be a veterinary surgeon from Northallerton which didn’t have quite the same ring to it as Hammell On Trial’s manager from New York, but we figured we’d take Shandy Boberts for what we could get and move on to something bigger and better after he did whatever it was he thought he was going to do.
We booked The Welly which, while not all that far physically from The Adelphi, was mentally and emotionally an entirely different world altogether. The Welly was – is – a nightclub. An alternative nightclub owned by notorious Hull wide boys and impresarios The Mayes brothers. It was also about five times bigger than The Adelphi which I thought was potentially an issue, even if nobody else did.
Calling in all our favours to our mates, people we vaguely knew, friends of friends and confused people on the streets, we sold some tickets but mainly gave them away which isn’t the best idea. If you’re going to give tickets away, you need to give out around ten times more tickets than there are places because most people just won’t bother turning out. You’re better off charging really, but we didn’t know that.
We were lucky. The Hull Daily Mail ran a story on us in which we overstated our Ugly Man connection, overstated the Hammell On Trial management and really overstated Shandy Boberts who, at that point, I don’t think we’d actually met. We gave them the most recent demo, which we’d had played on local radio quite regularly and they reviewed that in glowing terms.
On the night, we didn’t sell the place out, but we got in maybe 500 people: still some going for a local band. Local bands never headlined The Welly.
At the end of the gig, Shandy Boberts came to the dressing room – the very existence of which was unusual – and expressed his delight and desire to manage us. To my disgruntlement, the other three were very excited about this and showed it. I was more into playing it cool. I didn’t see what a vet was going to be able to do for us but, as I tended to, I was prepared to go with the majority. Shandy told us he was going to take us out for a meal at some country pub he knew of where we’d make it official.
At this meal we all pushed it and ordered far more food than we had any intention of eating, just to see if he’d go for it and, despite looking dubious about it, he did. Then events went slightly more peculiar and alarm bells rang in my little mind.
Having asked about what we each did and who we were into and all that, he evidently worked out that it was Dawson and me who wrote the songs and he decided that we were the arty, creative ones. He bought Graham and Moggy another drink and ushered Dawson and me to his car.
“I’m into art, you know,” he told us. “I’m a bit of an artist.”
And he opened his car boot from which he pulled out a couple of sketch pads on which he’d painted – I won’t say nicely because that’s incongruous, perhaps effectively illustrated would be a more pertinent description – images of a naked girl tied to a chair with a gimp mask on.
Dawson and I looked at each other.
“Oh look,” Dawson said, “You’ve even painted her toenails red.”
Shandy Boberts nodded vigorously at us, mouth agape. I might have imagined the strand of saliva between his upper and lower teeth, but then again maybe I didn’t.
“Don’t say anything to the lads,” he urged us as he shut the boot on his pervy paintings, “They won’t understand. But you two…you’re artists, aren’t you?”
I gave him a look that was intended to convey dubiousness. Dawson gave me a sideways glance.
We didn’t sign anything, but he told us he was setting up an office with a lad he’d hired – Jez – who would be delighted to procure for us the things we needed. Despite not having met Jez, I felt pity for the poor kid. And I still do a bit.
We were all getting along famously and enjoying what we did – we practised twice every week and Dawson would come to my flat to write a couple of evenings too. Our trajectory had been consistently upwards up to this point and, while we continued in that direction briefly, our long, drawn out plummet from potential pop stardom to palpably past it wasn’t too far around the corner.