Management ‘team‘, as Shandy Boberts liked to describe the set up in the box room of his house in Northallerton in place; an unusually large local following and songs flowing thick and fast in my living room, we were “poised,” as he described it, to start making it into “The Big Time“. Nothing could have been further from reality.
At a meeting in our soon-to-be-demolished-because-it-was-derelict rehearsal room in an old warehouse on the west side of the River Hull, our management team told us that we needed to start playing more viable venues outside of Hull. That made sense to me. I’d been proven wrong – so everybody told me – in my assertion that there was practically no point playing in Hull, certainly not at a shithole like The Adelphi because we’d rapidly gathered a few hundred people who regularly came to see us no nyer-nyer to me, eh? Our trip to The Cavern had been a success but, as Shandy Boberts pointed out to us, The Cavern was just a tourist destination and the only reason we’d done so well there was because we’d bussed in a load of Hull lunatics with us. What we needed to do, according to Shandy, was start playing credible music venues out of town and create a following in those other places too. Finally, I thought, somebody agrees with me. Still, easier said than done, eh?
“Well, no, actually,” Shandy told us. “I know a great place and I’ve booked you in there.”
“Where?” we asked.
“It’s only a little place, but you need to start small. This place is perfect, I go in all the time. I know the manageress.”
“Where is it?” we pressed.
“It’s near Northallerton,” he said, “But don’t let that put you off. They’re a very knowledgeable crowd.”
We were dubious, frankly. Still, give the man a chance we thought. Shandy told us to bring a support act – ideally one that we could fit in our transport which consisted of my car and Dawson’s car, which, to my irritation, he had recently downsized to a sort of mini. Notably, he’d chosen not to downsize his enormous amplifier, also to my chagrin.
We’d been supported a few times by a local three piece band called Wyndum Earl who were much noisier than us and in very much in thrall to Nirvana, Pixies, that sort of thing. We couldn’t fit all of them in our cars, and certainly not all their equipment so Nick, their singer, agreed to support us on his own, on an acoustic guitar.
Arriving at the venue we looked at each other with dismay. It was near Northallerton, that was true. It was small, which was also true. Credible it might have been, but it sure as hell looked more like a country pub than some groovy cutting edge venue largely populated by hungry A&R people with large chequebooks burning holes in their pockets.
Inside, speaking to the manageress who propped up her bar that was festooned with horse brasses, we were directed to a raised area at the far end of this schmaltzy pub that resembled nothing so much as The Woolpack in Emmerdale Farm, circa 1978.
We set up in front of a group of people who were, presumably, the regulars. We should have just gone home and sacked Shandy Boberts straight away but we didn’t. Regulars. Like anybody who wasn’t a regular would ever set foot in there, or if they had, they would have left on a stretcher. It might have looked like The Woolpack, but the regulars would have fitted right in among the regulars in The Slaughtered Lamb from An American Werewolf In London. Friendly, they weren’t.
At the manageress’s behest, Nick took to the stage when he was told and lasted around forty seconds into his planned half hour set as she dragged him off, “For his own safety,” she said. It turned out that a load of farmhands from a rural area west of Northallerton weren’t all that thrilled with acoustic renditions of original songs inspired by Seattle grunge rockers. We were swiftly ushered on.
First song: The Two Of Us. If anything was going to break the ice, it was that. Even though it sounded a bit like Dodgy. People from Liverpool to Hull had loved that song, but it appeared there was a significant, if small, area who remained immune to its charms, roughly west of Northallerton in The Slaughtered Lamb/Woolpack.
As the final, redolent-of-the-early-Beatles-major-sixth-chord rang out to precisely no applause whatsoever I hoped that we too would be dragged off the ‘stage’ as it had been laughably described to us. Sadly not. The manageress must have thought we were doing just fine. Or possibly she was distracted by Shandy Boberts, who was handing over a cardboard tube, presumably containing graphic and unpleasant ‘art’ depicting tied up, naked women having unpleasant things inflicted on them. He was wiggling his arse and, it dawned on me, was merely using us to advance his standing with a country pub’s landlady whose knickers he was evidently eager to explore. Oh, yeah, I don’t just shove my hand up cows’ arses and paint abusive images, I’m the manager of groovy bands too. Oh yeah. Bebeh. Probably.
“You bastard,” I muttered ineffectively at his chubby back.
“Do you know any Quo, mate?” hollered a man with arms like hydraulic pistons who stood a little bit closer to me than than I’d have preferred.
“What about the one that goes der-der-der-der-der-der?” I asked, making the sound of every single Status Quo record since about 1969.
“Yeah,” he glared at me. “That one.”
“No. Soz.” I answered, with as much spritely sarcasm as I could muster. “We don’t do covers.”
“What?” he demanded.
“We don’t do covers. We only play songs we’ve written.” I shrugged.
“Dickhead.” he stared me down until I turned to fiddle with my amplifier, like that was going to help.
We continued our set to the continued and increasingly apparent annoyance of the regulars.
“D’you know any Sabbath, mate?” shouted my personal heckler with his arms that would have made the industrial revolution redundant had he been present in the workshops of late Victorian Britain.
“Not on Fridays, my man.” I ‘wittily’ and stupidly answered.
Blank, aggressive stare.
“We don’t do covers.” I repeated.
“Well you fucking should, you cunt.”
I shrugged and looked once more to my amplifier for answers that I already knew it didn’t have.
We rushed through our set in about half the time it normally took, packed down as quickly as was humanly possible and drove off without speaking to Shandy Boberts.
It was our first setback, really, and it hadn’t even been our fault.
Ignoring Shandy Boberts we decided that, having impressed Ugly Man Records with our last demo, the best thing to do would be to go back to Colin & Gary’s. This time, we were only going to record three songs and focus on getting those right. We chose three songs that we thought would be most likely to appeal to the tastes of the people we’d spoken to there. What we didn’t do was make a point of recording songs that bore some sort of resemblance to each other so that they were nearly all marketable together. like everybody we were trying to impress hd too us to.
The songs we picked were Bread & Butter, a song that had been in the set from the start, written entirely by me. Dawson, perhaps feeling a bit threatened by that, declared that we needed to re-record Ghosts – perhaps as that was one he’d written independently. Finally, the third song was a new one we’d written, although mainly Dawson’s again, called Get So Far. I’ve said that Dawson was always most enthusiastic about the latest thing he’d worked on. We had another song that had been in the set since the start called Let It Out And Breathe. This song was Charlotte’s favourite which didn’t go down very well with Dawson as it was another one that I’d written in its entirety. Bread & Butter was very popular, as was Let It Out And Breathe. Dawson regularly tried rearranging the former, much to its detriment but at least, I suppose, he felt he’d had something to do with its creation.
We regularly played a venue (Moriarty’s – on Baker Street – get it?) in town run by a pleasant, encouraging promoter whom we referred to unpleasantly as Nigel-The-Pot-Bellied-Punk-Pig. Once we headlined there and were supported by a Sheffield band whose name escapes me. They were alright, decent enough. After we’d played, their singer approached us and said, “When you first started playing, I thought you might be the most amazing band I’d ever seen in my life. Your first three songs were fucking ace – your last four were great too, but in the middle of your set, I realised you were only human.”
Dawson had taken umbrage at that and I thought I had an idea why. The first three songs were, in order, The Two Of Us, Let It Out & Breathe, and Bread & Butter. What followed were Ghosts, Today World, Living Is Easy and Get So Far. The end of the set comprised Blue, Call To Arms, Painful Is The Sun, finishing off with So Many Days. What that meant was that Dawson had written by himself, according to this Sheffield lad, one great song and co-written three. I’d written two great songs and co-written the same three. The worst part – according to someone who actually gave us some independent advice were mainly two he’d written alone and one co-write and the drummer’s song. Dawson was apoplectic. We never recorded Let It Out & Breathe.
Anyway, back at Colin and Gary’s, recording went well. We were well rehearsed and we’d played two of the songs in front of audiences since we’d begun. Get So Far, far less often. When we listened to the playback at the end of the first day, it dawned on me that Bread & Butter was much, much too slow – never a fast song at the right tempo, now it was a dirge. Ghosts sounded better than the version we’d done with Dave and Robo-Moggy drums. Get so Far was okay. Bread and Butter also took a very long time to get going because Dawson had insisted on playing an acoustic introduction to it. I wasn’t happy.
The version of Bread & Butter below is the one we ended sending out and selling at gigs. People who bought it, having heard it live regularly had exactly the same complaint I had: it was far too slow. I began to harbour thoughts that Dawson had sabotaged it by setting the tempo deliberately slow with his imposed acoustic introduction. Apart from that it was alright, although he’d cut out a couple of lines from the verse that gave it its title so, like Ghosts, the title was nowhere to be found in the lyrics. I didn’t mind that so much. But I was unhappy with it.
Later, when I finally got a PC with some software that allowed you to speed up or slow down songs without reducing the singers to chipmunks, and edit them, I chopped the acoustic introduction off and sped it up so that I at least had a recording of it that didn’t make me want to spit. That one never got put out, but better late than never, here it is…
It’s a bit of a whine, I suppose, but it was also meant to be taken as sarcasm which often doesn’t come across very well in songs. I was influenced, shall we say, by mid-period Beatles, and their descending chord sequences. The Beach Boys too. The middle 8 was a fairly poorly disguised adaptation of See Me, Feel Me, by The Who. As was my particular wont at that time, my Leslie emulator was all over it, again both speeds at different places. I wrote it when the current Mrs Middlerabbit had left me to go and work in fucking Surrey so, to be perfectly honest, I was half moaning at her and half trying to give myself a kick up the arse.
Get So Far was another Dawson song about the rapid and violent escalation of arguments between him and Charlotte. Once again, Dawson insisted on having a slow introductory guitar passage he played himself on the demo but, especially irritating to me, was the fact that, apart from some aimless burbling for the first few seconds, his acoustic intro consisted of him playing the introduction I’d written for it, before I came in and played it on my Leslie’d guitar. I was starting to get the impression that Dawson was concerned about credit, especially in terms of songwriting and playing the guitars. I kept my mouth shut but I figured that sticking a superfluous 25 second intro onto a demo probably wasn’t going to do us many favours in any A&R departments who were notoriously impatient. His insistence on adding a further outro at the last minute was similarly annoying. Again, I kept schtum.
Ghosts, I thought was pointless. We’d recorded it once before, it was the third track on a demo consisting of two songs that were already pretty slow, one of them much to its detriment. Still, it was recorded better, even if Dawson insisted on the removal of a couple of sections of my guitar playing. I was definitely beginning to wonder whether he felt a bit threatened by me and was trying to minimise any control he might have perceived me having.
I thought it odd. He was the frontman, the lead singer and we credited everybody with having written everything anyway. Publicly, we presented a united front but, like a husband and wife who do the same thing down the pub on Saturday nights and barely speak for the rest of the week, it was just that: a front. Dawson had – and has – a great voice, but I think he wanted people to think it was all down to him.
What he did like was one of the guitars I’d put onto the recording of The Two Of Us which was in Nashville Tuning, which I’d learnt about from Johnny Marr. It’s the high set of strings from a 12 string, but not the normal strings. He was keen to have those on these demos and, by that point, I viewed it as a sort of tainted olive branch, because Nashville Tuned guitars should never be too high in the mix.
We didn’t bother getting a cover done or trying to get HMV to stock this latest demo because, I suspect, we knew it wasn’t good enough. We needed to get back into the studio and record something much better, very quickly. Jez and Shandy Boberts were very much in agreement. We’d ballsed up.
Our second, possibly third, setback occurred shortly afterwards when we were finally chucked out of our rehearsal space in order for it to be knocked down and turned into luxury apartments that nobody would ever live in because the smell from the river at low tide wasn’t conducive to loft apartments for gentrified, high flying executives who didn’t live in Hull anyway. We could live with the smell, as it wasn’t for all that long and the windows didn’t so much as not open as not exist. What we struggled with was the prospect of having to do what every other band in town did, which was lug their equipment in and out of one of about three carpeted rooms across the road from The Odeon cinema, and only practise about once every three months as it was generally booked solid.
Kelly, Graham’s girlfriend, knew somebody who ran what we described as The Dirty Shit Club, a working man’s club on Beverley Road and we’d been offered their back room as a rehearsal place we could use a couple of times a week for free, provided we left the place as we found it and made ourselves available to play there once a month. Playing covers. Graham, Moggy and, to a slightly lesser extent, Dawson were happy with this arrangement. Graham and Moggy had played in a covers band for a few years previously and, Graham said, they knew loads of covers and it wouldn’t take us long to learn an hour or so of them. Beatles, Stones, The Who, Elvis, The Kinks. Things like that. At least it wasn’t Status Fucking Quo or Black Sabbath I thought, but I wasn’t happy.
Rolling our gear in past the ancient clientele, we endured the usual, sarcastic, “Rock Stars, are we lads?” comments.
Our first rehearsal lasted about ten minutes because a) we were too loud for the geriatrics in the snug, and b) we blew their PA system up. Through being too loud. We scarpered but when it was discovered that we’d wrecked their speakers – apparently provoking the considerable irie of the already hard of hearing bingo crowd that Thursday night, we were told we’d have to play a couple more Saturday nights in order to pay for them.
Despondent, we bemoaned our fate to Mark, the ebullient and friendly manager of The Welly Club one night out. Mark offered us use of The Welly.
“Anywhere you like, lads. You can use the PA.”
“What’s the catch?” we asked.
“Well, I’m looking for DJs for Thursday nights,” he twinkled. “You could do that, couldn’t you? you can play whatever you like.”
Moggy was delighted at the opportunity to play at being DJs, Graham less so, Dawson not at all and, as I’d done a – remarkably poorly received – DJ-ing stint while at university and I knew how DJ desks worked, I had no choice. We could even store our gear there, even though we couldn’t leave it set up, as we had at the old warehouse. We’d have to pack it down and stick it above the toilet in the dressing room after practising on Tuesday and Thursday nights.
Our first rehearsal went badly. We set up on the stage where we’d played our showcase gig to (Fucking) Shandy Boberts. But the lack of audience meant that the sound just bounced around and all over the place, rendering us incapable of working out which part of any song we were playing.
Next rehearsal, we moved around, here and there until we worked out that the best place was in the Chillout Room, which was also the smallest part of the club. Unfortunately, this was also downstairs. It was unfortunate because our gear had to be stored upstairs, at the other end of the club, which was a very big building indeed, leaving us somewhat knackered before we’d even played a note.
After we packed down, Moggy and I took up residence in the DJ booth where I played whatever I felt like playing and nothing I didn’t fancy regardless of the wishes of the clientele, much as I had at The Winning Post in my second year at university.
That went on for several months and it turned rapidly into a drag. The club did;t finish until 2am, which meant that I didn’t get home until about 3am. I was also working as a teacher, which meant a 7am start so I could drive the 15 miles to the school I taught at in time for registration. Four hours sleep wasn’t ideal for the likes of me, who ideally aimed for a good ten – ideally twelve – or so hours sleep a night.
I felt that I couldn’t just resign as I was only doing it so we could have a rehearsal space, even though I was sick of that too. I decided to do my best to get sacked which turned out to be quite straightforward. I started off playing By The Time I Get To Phoenix, the Isaac Hayes version that goes on for twenty minutes at a slow snail’s pace. The first ten minutes consist of Ike setting the scene for the song, over a single sustained organ note. About eight minutes into that, one of the bouncers complained about it. I’d already queued up the next record, which was Pharoah’s Dance the opening track on Bitches’ Brew, Miles Davis’ allegedly difficult jazz fusion album, another twenty minute opus. I got through about seven or eight minutes of this before another bouncer came to inform me that I was sacked and could leave now as they’d rather have silence than what I’d chosen to inflict on them. Mark, lovely as he is, told me it was alright, we could still rehearse there.
Our third setback came very swiftly after the first two. Charlotte had applied for and been accepted onto an MA in Bradford. Dawson was going to go and live with her.
“Don’t worry lads,” he assured us, “I’ll be back twice a week for rehearsals.”
What he wouldn’t be around for would be songwriting sessions at my flat, which made me think that it would be even more difficult for me to get songs into the set now that I was going to be in competition with Dawson who, I had begun to think, was feeling threatened by songs I’d written and the acclaim they received, not least from his girlfriend, instead of just viewing them as being ours, hence our writing credits. I thought we were a band, you know? Sort of like The Three (Four) Musketeers: all for one and all that.
Dawson was as good as his word and, every Tuesday and Thursday evening, he would drive from Bradford and back again to rehearse with us at The Welly. It cut down rehearsal time because we still had to hoof a load of gear to and from the upstairs dressing room and be finished by nine, instead of about eleven.
Shandy Boberts told us that, as we’d fallen out with him, Jez would be dealing with us now. In any case, he’d found himself another band, this one was called Torsohorse and they were goths. They’d had a notice in one of the monthly music magazines as being up-and-coming. They wore costumes and had elaborate stage makeup. Dawson was immediately rechristened Dawsonhorse.
Jez would ring us up every week and ask us how we were getting along in terms of gigs – which he expected us to arrange, songwriting – which was slow going now, and everything else – which wasn’t very much. I questioned why we bothered with the Shandy Boberts/Jez thing but I think the idea of having management must have been appealing, even if all they did was complain that we weren’t writing songs anymore and how were we supposed to record a better demo quickly when we weren’t writing?
As Dawsonhorse now lived in Bradford Moggy, Graham and I would socialise together, but he couldn’t really. Our perception was that Charlotte had got her claws into him and was prizing him away from us.
Gigs fell away and we hardly played any for months. Rehearsals were spent largely bickering and Dawsonhorse was often on the phone, placating Charlotte who obviously wasn’t thrilled about him commuting back to Hull twice a week. Jez kept telling us we had to write commercially viable material for a better demo that he could work with.
As Dawsonhorse’s well had run dry for the time being, it was at least easier to get everyone to work on what I produced. Making a point of avoiding writing too many lyrics so that Dawson would at least feel involved, one week I brought in a waltz with a melody and some temporary words about Bluewater Still. I’d read about Bluewater shopping mall somewhere down south and thought it sounded mildly exotic. We went through it and it sounded good. The next week, Dawsonhorse announced that he’d written a new song – a waltz. His new song was exactly what I’d written, with new words. I kept quiet again but I doubt I kept the look from my face. Moggy and Graham appeared to either not care or had forgotten about the Bluewater Still song they’d played the week prior.
Feeling aggrieved, I wrote an entirely new song, with words – although not entirely finished that I presented the at the next rehearsal. Bleed Me Dry.
When Jez rang next we told him that we’d written a couple of new songs.
“What are they like?” he asked, enthusiastic.
“We’ve written a waltz!” We told him.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake,” he replied and hung up.
The only gigs we’d been playing had been at The Dirty Shit Club, supporting the meat raffle and the bingo. The old duffers who frequented the place, in the main, didn’t like us all that much. It was alright, but it wasn’t really what I’d joined a band for. It wasn’t much like being in Motorcade, playing Suspicious Minds and Day Tripper to a load of pensioners who thought we were too loud and might have upset the vast pile of sausages and pork chops that glistened in front of us.
The best recording studio around Hull was – and is – Fairview Studios on Great Gutter Lane in Willerby. Run by a beautiful chap called Andy Newlove, we decided to play our Dirty Shit Club covers set in a few pubs in and around town, save the money and record Bleed Me Dry and the waltz, which was now called Blind Faith. I was mortified. I was the only one of us who viewed cover bands as being a cop out, what with my holier than thou indie sensibility and them all having come from the cover bands scene. This was a shitty idea, if you asked me which they didn’t. Indie bands need credibility like teeny pop bands need Saturday morning television appearances. I told them and they told me I was daft. We did it and I cringed throughout the performances. The others didn’t seem to mind. In fact, they seemed to like it better because covers bands, provided they’re not totally incompetent, tend to draw a bigger audience than original bands and go down pretty well in pubs. They get paid better too. I thought it was false economy and they told me to shut up because it was funding the next demo.
The next demo was recorded in a studio that was purpose built with a lot of equipment and even special booths for recording drums and vocals in. The engineer was John Spence, who’d recorded records that had got in the charts. Ours wouldn’t, obviously, because we weren’t releasing them. But this was it, if we were going to get a very good recording, it would be here at Fairview.
John Spence was an entirely different proposition to Dave or Colin and Gary. Colin and Gary were easy going, Dave was mainly interested in Dave but John Spence would shout at people who didn’t know their parts, he brooked no dissent and the bands were kicked out once they’d finished recording so that he could mix in peace. John Spence had recorded (with the famous Martin Hannett) Happy Mondays’ Bummed in Driffield. Along with Sisters Of Mercy, The Mekons and a bunch of other bands who got much bigger than we ever even approached. The (previous) Drummer had recorded with him in one of his old bands and had told me that he’d made their guitarist cry when he told him he couldn’t play and should fuck off and learn to clean toilets. I didn’t care for Sisters Of Mercy or The Mekons, but I was into Happy Mondays and that made it exciting for me. Spence told me that they were fucking useless which was the extent of his stories about them, which excited me much less.
Having said that, the routine was similar to at Colin and Gary’s, in that Moggy and Graham would put down their parts together first, with a guide acoustic guitar. Then it would be me, then Dawson’s singing.
I enjoyed it in most ways. Graham was always rock solid, so John had no issue with him. Moggy tended to speed up and slow down here and there. John made him play to a click track, which Moggy struggled with before that was abandoned. Much sighing from John. Dawson kept trying to rearrange the songs on the hoof, which John would also abruptly stop him from doing.
I got my guitars down quickly and Dawson, credit where it’s due, never had much bother singing, except for the times when he decided he should try something different. Again, John wouldn’t have it.
“I’ve heard the melody and that’s not it. Sing the melody, stop fucking about.”
Blind Faith, the waltz was the lead track. Largely because Dawson appeared to believe he’d written it even though, as Jez said, maybe a waltz wasn’t the ideal first track for a band like you to put on a demo. To be fair, Graham had the idea of the syncopated end section, which always went down a storm when we played it live.
Again, we never actually bothered doing a cover for these songs. The one I’ve put on it, on Soundcloud is a painting that I used to be obsessed by when I was a kid (it’s in Ferens Art Gallery in Hull, where I would stand and gawp at it until my parents dragged me away from it), Saint Sebastian Tended By The Holy Irene by Niccolo Ranieri. I thought it suited both songs and I’m a bit of a ponce.
Bleed Me Dry was, to be fair to Dawson, his title and his line at the very least. To be even more fair, he sang the shit out of it. It was yet another sad song. The guitar riff bears some resemblance to both – and it pains me to say it because I genuinely didn’t intend it – some Chris Rea record and True by Spandau Ballet. It’s not the same chords as either of them and, to be a bit fairer to me, it’s just clipped chords played high up on the neck of the guitar. On a slightly more credible note, I took inspiration, shall we say, from the guitar parts on Sexy Sadie for the middle-ish calm before the storm part.
We sent it to Jez and Shandy Boberts who were both thrilled with it. John Spence was similarly impressed by the results. We sent it to venues to get ourselves gigs out of town and ended up with several in Manchester, Leeds, York, Sheffield and London as well as the Silhouette Club in Hull which had started putting local bands on, on Saturday nights.
We played several times with another Hull band called Still Life who were nice lads, if a little bit in debt to shoegazing bands of a few years previous. Their guitar player was into Suede, but the only clue you’d have about that would be that he always wore a red buttoned up shirt when they played.
They supported us as we were still hanging onto our reputation as having pretty much sold out The Welly but by that point, frankly, our moment had been and gone. Another band who’d supported us in the early days – Turismo – had picked up a lot of our crowd and had their fingers on the pulse to a far greater extent than we did. They also didn’t write waltzes and mainly sad songs, as we seemed to now. They’d gone a little bit ska and were a good dance band, even if they succumbed to the Hull curse, which is quirkiness. Quirky’s alright, but it’s never going to get you anywhere much further than the Humber and it didn’t. The same thing could be said for perpetually-on-the-brink-of getting-there-apparently Fonda 500 who are still going. I saw them a few times and they had some songs that were two thirds great but which they always ruined by sticking some quirky bollocks in halfway through. It just seems like a bit of a cop out to me. Not really sticking your neck out. Still, like I know any better, eh? Pfff.
One Saturday night backstage at Silhouette just before Still Life were due on, Graham and I were having a fag and a natter, standing with with Still Life’s drummer, who was tap-tap-tapping away with his sticks on a table. Stopping our conversation as we were transfixed by this, I eventually asked him what he was doing.
“Warming up?” he replied, as if it was the most obvious thing in the world. You know, doesn’t everybody warm up on their instrument before they go onstage?
Graham and I looked at each other in wonderment. It had never even occurred to either of us to ‘warm up‘ prior to playing a gig. Not that we learned from him, of course. We never learned.
Putting buses on to out of town gigs wasn’t anywhere near as successful as it had once been. On one occasion, we had a fifty odd seater bus to York that contained four of us and five other people. The venue in York – Fibbers – was reasonably full but it wasn’t down to us.
Moggy got us into a Battle Of The Bands contest, which also dismayed me. You shouldn’t play Battles Of The Bands because it can’t possibly go well. The best that can happen is that you win, which is no big deal. The worst that can happen is that you’re judged to be quantitively worse than your competition.
Even though I never learned anything, I was beginning to realise that there was a downside to joining a band with people who’d been in non-credible bands who could play a lot better than dos too the kids in credible indie bands but who obviously had no idea at all about what you were supposed to do to be cool.
We were at The Springhead Pub in the first round, pitted against a comedy band who had one song that went, “I am the butt-banger” and a cover of “We Could Have Been Anything That We Wanted To Be” off the Bugsy Malone soundtrack. We managed to drag a fair few of our old drug addled lunatics down in support. They were on first and, frankly, they had more people there for them than we had which was embarrassing in the first place, especially considering where we’d been a year or so previously. We figured it would be alright though because the scoring was going to be mainly from the three judges and then an audience vote. You got a voting slip as you paid to get in.
At the end of the night, we’d scored something stupid like 98% from the judges and the comedy band got about 50%. Unfortunately, our crowd had gotten themselves so plastered that they not only forgot to vote for us, but gladly gave away their voting slips to anyone who asked. We got one vote. We were no better, the four of us, because we hadn’t even voted for ourselves. Lynn, the compere admonished us for being such fucking idiots.
“You only needed three votes to beat them and there are four of you in the band. What the fucking hell are you playing at?”
Good question, Lynn.
We responded to this humiliation by sacking Jez and Shandy Boberts who, to be fair to them, hadn’t encouraged us to enter a Battle of The Bands contest, hadn’t signed us up to one and hadn’t been present when we ballsed it up.
What prompted us doing that was Ashley, a local businessman who’d witnessed and been our sole vote at the Battle Of The Bands. He told us we were a fantastic band and also a set of fucking idiots. He was half right, I suppose.
We went round to Ash’s house where, on looking through his records, I was delighted to find that he had a lot of relatively obscure psychedelic records that I also had – Love, Spirit, 13th Floor Elevators, Buffalo Springfield and the like, as well as the more common – although not in Sidewinder, apart from me – The Byrds, Jimi Hendrix and The Beatles (to be fair, everybody had Beatles records. Actually, they didn’t because Dawson wasn’t very impressed with them – whatever was I thinking?)
Ash told us that we needed to write some faster songs that were less obviously miserable and more obviously at least a little bit positive sounding. We’d given him all our old demos and he pointed out to us that we’d shifted quite obviously from exuberant beginnings to jaded songs which, he also pointed out, coincided with our declining popularity.
He had contacts in that London. A recording engineer who had downtown in a London studio and also some promoter who put on bands at venues that were actually attended by A&R people. At last, eh?
So, first job, get writing some faster songs that weren’t all about how bad everything was. Oh, and maybe try listening to some contemporary bands to see how we might slot in alongside them. I could dig it. To an extent. What Ash said made sense, at least in terms of correlation between our rise and fall. Faster songs, I could dig. Maybe even positive ones. But looking around us to try to fit in with what everybody else was doing seemed like a load of toss to me. To be fair, we didn’t really like what Ash had told us; it pissed us off a bit, but at least that was better than us just whining about going slowly down the toilet.
Our last demo had been a definite step up from the previous ones and, frankly, I didn’t have any problem with a bit of misery either. Maybe up the tempo here and there, but chasing the zeitgeist? I wasn’t keen. Again, we felt ambivalent about it and what we came up with was as much a reaction to Ash telling us how it was as actually paying attention and doing what we were told.
Dawson regained his mojo and began to extoll the virtues of some contemporary bands who had a harder edge than the slightlydelic pop we’d been peddling for our entire lifespan. We had a definite groove which came from Moggy and Graham having played together for so long and, were I to attempt to describe that groove, I’d call it a lollop. Twitchy they weren’t. Especially Moggy. But I liked the lollop, I thought it was one of the best things about us.
I brought in songs, some of which were rejected for not being contemporary enough and too much like our previous material and some of which weren’t. The one we didn’t record that I mainly remember was called Come On, Feel The Love which was at least a bit more positive. One of the hooks was, “There is no them, only us,” which our mate and supporter Shaun had told us he’d seen spray painted on a bridge in Amsterdam. It was never recorded. Again.
Dawson split up with Charlotte and returned to Hull. We started writing together again. The eventually-to-be-current-Mrs-Middlerabbit announced that she was pregnant. Graham already had a couple of kids from a previous relationship. I was concerned that our forthcoming bundle of joy would mean that I was going to have to grow up a bit. I decided it did, went full time at school and we stared looking for a house to buy in order to develop a bit of security in stead of renting a party flat. Houses around the Avenues were well out of our price range and we bought a semi in West Hull, away from everyone else in the band who had mainly lived within about two hundred yards of each other, apart from Dawson who’d been living in Bradford.
We drove down to London one Friday night to stay at our mate Mike So’s flat, with Ash who, we’d recently discovered, was into the fetish scene. He spent his weekends snorting amphetamine, wearing a PVC vest and a dog collar, being dragged around on a lead by a woman called Deirdre for money. He paid Deirdre, naturally. Equally naturally, once we found this out, we rechristened him Fetash which worked pleasingly on several levels.
At Mike So’s flat, Moggy, Graham and I shared his absent flatmate’s bed while Dawson and Fetash took his sofas. Nobody slept, well Graham did but nobody else managed any. It was too hot with three of us in a double bed, Moggy went on the floor. Graham clasped me uncomfortably and it wasn’t possible to top and tail with him because of the legendary stink that emanated from his feet. Fetash slept, but his snoring shook the room so that Dawson didn’t get any either.
At the recording studio – another TV jingle place – Fetash’s contact whose name I’ve also forgotten because we called him Zammo after the Grange Hill character that he didn’t particularly resemble but sounded like, set us up and recording began.
We were going to be recording five songs this time, because recording two with John Spence had been seen as a bit of a rip off, despite it roundly being acclaimed as our best sounding demo by far. Dawson had borrowed an amp that he was entirely unfamiliar with and spent hours fiddling about with.
On Saturday night, Zammo took us all out to some pubs and clubs in that London and asked us about musical taste and whatnot. He and I found common ground in Nick Drake which might not have been ideal as Zammo broke down as he told me his girlfriend had recently left him and he’d listened to nothing but Pink Moon for the past three months. I sometimes have that maudlin effect on people and I’m sure I didn’t really help by sending him a copy of the then recently released documentary on Nick Drake – A Skin Too Few. Still, I thought I was being nice. Zammo was extremely subdued in the studio all Sunday and his mood worsened as time dragged on and on. And on. We’d recorded far too many songs and had to leave him to it by about seven o’clock.
Fetash had been spending the day in a pub outside which the four of us pulled up in our two cars, me driving one, Moggy the other. A couple of very good looking girls brightly sashayed to Moggy’s car, who I observed in the rear view mirror pointing to my car, which was the one which would be transporting Fetash back to Hull. We were all knackered and lacking patience.
One of the girls flirtatiously tossed her hair from her face and leaned through my window, explaining in a ludicrously posh, southern voice that Ashley was so funny, and so generous and having such a good time that maybe we’d like to join them all.
In no mood for pissing about with exceptionally good looking, flirtatious London girls, I told her bluntly that we’d been grafting all weekend while he bought good looking girls’ company and either Fetash dragged his fat arse over here now or he could get the fucking bus home. I noted Graham and Moggy laughing their tits off behind us.
All traces of flirtatiousness having vaporised from this girl’s face, she told me I was an arsehole as she stomped back to Fetash and his wallet. Within a couple of minutes, Fetash stumbled – absolutely plastered – across the road, deposited himself on the backseat and announced that I was a fucking killjoy. I told him he was dopey cunt and set off before he’d managed to actually get the entirety of his considerable backside into the car, which prompted a minor accident as he fell out and was dragged a couple of yards along the pavement.
“You’re a fucking animal, Middlerabbit,” Fetash admonished me once he’d strapped himself in and begun leaning as far over to the other side of the backseat as he could manage, among the various guitars and amps that occupied it in order to avoid further road based carnage.
I ignored him and his pronounced snoring as we drove home in time to go to bed to get up for work at seven the next morning.
Zammo finished off work on it over the next week or so and posted us the finished result, which was a marked step down from what John Spence had done as Fairview. Never mind the quality, feel the width, eh?
The song that Dawson was happiest with was another countryish song – Holy Roller – about being a destitute alcoholic, so no points for being contemporary or positive there, apart from on some sort of autobiographical level. We wrote this one nose to nose, like in the old days. In addition to co-writing the basic song, I made a point of writing guitar ones that would sound like a drunk staggering about. I was happy with it, but it was never going to set the world on fire. It was, however, slightly more rapid than we’d been managing for some time, which isn’t an accusation that too many chronic alcoholics have levelled at them. Another co-write with me, Dawson sent it to a Radio 2 songwriting competition with just our names on it which I though was a bit of a shit trick. It never got anywhere, so I suppose it didn’t really matter.
All In Your Mind was one of mine, written when Dawson was living in Bradford. Lyrically, it had a more positive message I suppose, being about the idea that what was stopping people getting where they wanted to be was themselves and they all needed to have a bit more faith. That was the idea. Well, that was the chorus. The verses painted a picture of indolent resignation which is probably a fairly accurate representation of my then state of mind. I was probably trying to kick myself up the arse again but I think it fell down somewhere between the bed and the toilet, at least lyrically, if not literally. For a change.
Big Parade was, in a way, the big reaction to Fetash’s direction. You know, I’m not joining in with all these other people because I’m doing my thing. Man. On the other hand, you could argue that it was a bit of a rehash of Living Is Easy because it does sound like it. On yet another hand, you might argue that we were belatedly trying to develop a sound, as opposed to trying to make every song we played sound like it was a different band, albeit with the same singer and musicians playing on it. We also made a conscious effort to simplify the arrangements. I’d enjoyed Bernard Butler’s playing recently and was getting into using the Bigsby, which you can hear on the wobbly sounding guitar. For the solo, I tried doing the opposite of what I normally did by just being fast and noisy as opposed to my usual melodic, composed things. This was one of Dawson’s babies. I helped with the chords, but the words were all his.
Spent Time was, I suppose, the last of Dawson’s Charlotte songs, written prior to their final split. Same theme as always. Unfortunately, he sang the first verse twice instead of using the second verse. Gormless twats that we all were, nobody noticed, including Zammo. People were into this one; it was described as being early sixties, which I never understood. Personally, I was going for The Stone Roses’ Shoot You Down, via a riff I’d copped from Keith Richards when we’d learned You Can’t Always Get What You Want. I had a pink paisley telecaster that I generally took along as a spare to gigs. I enjoyed how it upset people, being about the least macho guitar you could get and a lot of people like to think of guitar playing as a bit of a manly pursuit, which is odd, bearing in mind it’s something that you do by yourself when you’re learning. Anyway, I used that on this song, apart from the solo, which I wanted to introduce with a burst of howling feedback, again using the Bigsby on my red, semi acoustic which is what I generally played live. Zammo bemoaned the fact that I hadn’t played my pink paisley tele on everything, but I thought he was daft because it sounds much too thin and trebly on Zammo’s recording of it. I also used a wah-wah pedal on the second verse which was unusual for me. I like a bit of wah-wah, but it never really seemed to suit our songs. The song was the thing, mainly. I had a lot of gear – amps, guitars and pedals but if they didn’t work for the song, I didn’t inflict my collection on them for the sake of it. Serve the song was my motto and this song was Dawson’s. I didn’t have anything to do with writing the chords or words. The picture on the video below was inspired by Shelley, who came to see us and her nickname for Charlotte which was Tiny Teeth: a bit mean, especially as they weren’t anywhere near as tiny as the ones depicted, but it stuck.
Living Is Easy, we’d just never previously recorded properly except on that Radio Humberside session a couple of years previously. I don’t know why we bothered here – it was only just hanging on in our set. Another co-write, we disagreed about what the last line of chorus should be after “Brushing it all off with a smile requires…” Dawson wanted “…a fool with a kind of style,” and I preferred “…a liberated mind”. I didn’t like his line because a) it was a bit close to a song by The Bluetones’ (them again), the name of which escapes me, and b) there was one syllable too many in it. We compromised by him alternating them. A bit of a cop out. It always got a mixed reception, this one. Some people thought it was perfect guitar pop, others thought it a bit trite. I can see where both sets of people are coming from. A bit nunty, maybe. Yet again, Dodgy could have written this and that’s not a great start, even though they’re my all-time-favourite-band-of-all-time. N.b: sarcasm.
Fetash, having had his critical faculties returned to him – perhaps by having his head dragged along a fancy arsed London street by my car – decided that we needed exposure and, to his credit, got us our biggest audience ever. Twenty odd thousand people.
Some improvement, eh? Well, yes and no. Twenty odd thousand people watched us mime at half time in a mid table clash between Southend United and Hull City, to Big Parade and Holy Roller on the centre circle at the KC – Hull City’s football ground. Miming. I didn’t mind it, it wasn’t hard and I pulled out my Pete Townshend impression by windmilling pretty much all the way through it.
As the final notes of Holy Roller died away, I was shocked to hear the crowd roar with appreciation. I hadn’t been expecting that. I’d also not provoked it, it turned out because the end of our song had merely coincided with the return to the pitch of the players which was, quite possibly, a relief to the East stand which we faced as we ponced around on the pitch.
For the next few weeks at school, kids windmilled their arms as they passed me in the corridors. I don’t know if they were taking the piss or not but if they were, fair dos, eh?
Fetash announced he was going to go and live in Thailand for the next four months where, presumably, his fetishes would be seen as something approaching normal, as opposed to fair game to four belligerent musicians with absolutely no collective idea at all.
So we sacked him, moved our gear out of The Welly and drove back across town to the warehouse next door to the one that refurbishment had stalled on due to lack of investment. It had been rented by Simon, who ran the drum shop next door to Antone’s on Beverley Road. Simon, whom we referred to as Bogwoppit for no reason other than he looked like he should be called Bogwoppit is a truly lovely fellow who, at that point was setting up a rehearsal studio that bands would actually want to play in, with enough rooms for enough bands. He was also in the process of putting together a band with some kids who he and his team were going to write songs for and promote. As we were floundering but, according to him evidently needed guidance, he offered to manage us too. We gratefully accepted and set up our gear in his best room.
“Don’t worry lads,” Bogwoppit assured us, “You’ll go places with us.”
And we might have, had Bogwoppit’s reign as our manager not coincided with a recent explosion of psychedelic drugs in the city that Moggy found himself close to the centre of…