Bogwoppit had what Shandy Boberts may have balked at describing as a ‘team‘ because it consisted of two other people who actually did things. Shandy would have probably referred to the three people as an army. One was a handyman who was building – and making an unusually good job of it – the studios. The other was put in charge of us. He bore a striking resemblance to Lou Reed but was in possession of a vocal tic that wouldn’t have been amiss pouring from Worzel Gummidge’s mouth. “Ahh!” he’d say to us, presumably a reasonable response to most of the nonsense that spewed from our collective cake holes. We promptly christened him Lou Gummidge. A lovely chap, we ignored every last word he said. Having management was, I had begun to realise, something that we weren’t especially suited to.
In the rehearsal studio room which had been soundproofed, we went through our set which bore little resemblance to the one that had done us so many favours not so very long ago. For starters The Two Of Us was out. Not because we didn’t like it anymore but because we’d found ourselves incapable of playing anymore. It wasn’t like didn’t know how it went but as once all our parts slotted seamlessly together, now they didn’t and it sounded less like Dodgy and more like a partially dismembered cow that wore a banjo as a hat being dragged up the stairs by a steam engine. What happened? I don’t know, but it might have had something to do with the briefly legalised supply of mushrooms that Moggy had procured about four tons of. That and everything else that we now viewed as normal.
Let It Out And Breathe, Blue, So Many Days, Bread & Butter, Get So Far and many more had gone exactly the same way. Dawson instigated the chop for most of these, insisting that we ought to start afresh. It didn’t seem like a terribly great idea to me. The idea was that we were going to be playing out of Hull mainly and these songs had been road tested and honed to being, well, as good as they were going to get so they would have been new to the audience we were apparently attempting to recruit. In a few cases, the honing process involved Dawson faffing about with the arrangements until they bore no resemblance to their previous states and required an audience with some sort of aural roadmap around their various diversions and twists and turns. By the time he’d finished with them, they were all routinely dreadful and just starting again seemed easier than retracing our footsteps back to when they’d shone and garnered us an exceptional audience for four nobodies with an ever decreasingly firm grasp on reality. On the occasions when we did play rearranged versions of our early material, the audience, whether familiar with the songs or not, didn’t like them in the same way that the world didn’t like things like New Coca-Cola whether it had tried old coke or not.
Furthermore, having decided that maybe everybody who’d told us that we ought to get with the programme was right, we began a process that centred around us chasing our tails or, more specifically, chasing everybody else’s tails depending on whichever band Dawson had decided that week was the new saviours of guitar pop and to write songs that resembled theirs. Most of the new bands were rhythmically twitchy and about as far from the lolloping groove that came so naturally to us as it was possible to be.
New songs in this mould were quickly written and Dawson’s enthusiasm for them was always immense, right up to the point that the next one was written. Once again, it was decided that what we needed to do was record them so as to show the world that the latest chapter in the ongoing once limping although now fashionably stuttering disaster that was Sidewinder was some sort of new dawn. It was new. Providing you’d not paid any attention to what was getting into the charts at that point. What was getting into the charts at this relatively late stage in our ongoing collapse was The Strokes who, to be fair, had sent a lot of guitar bands (mainly a lot younger than we were) to their parent’s Blondie records.
We’d learned that going to record with Zammo hadn’t been a great idea because we knew best and told him what we wanted, even though we’d not learned that recording with John Spence at Fairview had been a very good idea because he was in charge and we were morons. Quantity over quality was still the idea and now we were going to record five songs over a weekend at Paddy’s new studio, nearby on Wincolmlee.
Paddy had been on the circuit for a very long time and was now looking to branch out into recording. He was, mainly, a bass player and he was a very good bass player. Good singer too. His then-current band was a step away from the traditional guitar/bass/drums outfits that most indie bands had been for years. His current band was synthesisers/bass/drums. He played us a recording of his band that he’d done at his new studio and, credit where it’s due, it sounded very good. Very professional.
On arrival at his place, we didn’t set up because Paddy announced to us that, following weeks of experimentation, he’d found the perfect drum sound in his studio and we were going to use that. He’d be recording Moggy’s drums, but with the EQ set up just so – the same as the one he’d played us. I asked him if that was necessarily a good idea.
“There aren’t any guitars on your band’s demo, are there?”
“Recording. Not demo.” Paddy told me, brow furrowed. “But no, there aren’t. So?”
“So, guitars are going to be taking up some of the frequencies that, er, you don’t have to worry about with synths, aren’t they?”
“What are you on about?”
“I mean, what might be a perfect drum sound for a synthesiser band might not be for a guitar band.”
“You don’t know what you’re talking about, mate.” Paddy told me.
I was dubious but, by this point in time, I had long been labelled as the voice of doom. The spanner in the works. The one who looked for and found problems when he’d have been a lot better off just going with the flow. Man. I could have kept my mouth shut and, in some ways, maybe I should have but I didn’t and don’t and it was almost always to my detriment. Here I am, accusing this lot of never learning but the truth is that I haven’t either. I’ve just not learned different things I suppose. Yay for me, eh? No, not really.
Moggy, never the most technical of drummers at least in terms of the practicalities, had taken his snare drum to be tuned by another drummer friend of his. He set up his kit as directed by Paddy and, once it was all miked up, Paddy retreated to his control room and told Moggy to have a play around on it.
Sitting on the obligatory sofa behind the mixing desk above which Paddy’s hands hovered but didn’t touch in case he messed up his perfect drum sound, it was immediately apparent that, whatever sound it was that he’d perfected with his own band’s kit, it wasn’t translating to Moggy’s. For a start, whoever had tuned his snare had tightened it to the point that it sounded like a table tennis ball pinging off a window. Graham and I exchanged concerned looks.
“Er, that doesn’t sound right.” Graham pointed out. Graham was an ever positive voice and probably got away with the odd negative statement. I was a miserable old curmudgeon for whom nothing was ever right. I was pleased it was him saying it because I’d have been ignored.
Paddy shook his head. “It should do.”
There was no point me saying anything because I was the prophet of doom and thus everything I said could be put down to my all encompassing misery and negativity.
“Yeah,” Graham said, “It should do, but it doesn’t, does it?”
“I can’t understand it,” Paddy continued to hover his hands over the desk’s faders like he was Superman and it was made of Kryptonite. “Hey Moggy,” he called over the intercom, “Stop. Stop. What have you done to your snare?”
“I’ve had it tuned, haven’t I?” Moggy told him, sounding pleased with his preparations. Like a ship’s captain who’d prepared for a voyage by removing the steering wheel.
“It sounds shit, man.” Paddy said.
“It shouldn’t sound shit,” Moggy said, puzzled, “I’ve had it tuned.”
And that’s more or less how the weekend went. A set of people produced noises that sounded crap and, when someone pointed it out, they told them that they shouldn’t sound crap and then shook their heads in disbelief while they waited for the universe to fix it.
A friend of ours – Steve Walker, yet another television sound engineer – had joined us for shits, giggles and Moggy’s mushrooms. He was going through a Jim Morrison phase which involved him wearing a long wig, sunglasses indoors and leather trousers. He temporarily looked like a twat, but at least his ears worked and he wasn’t under the impression that statements such as, “It should sound alright.” would be remedied by the planets realigning themselves because we thought they ought to.
We went through the first song, Local Hero, which Dawson had written in terms of the basic chords and the lyrics, and I’d arranged by, more or less, nicking the arrangement of the guitars from My Little Red Book by Love and putting them backwards, so that we slid up into the first chord of each line. It had sounded pretty good and none of the rest of the band would have recognised My Little Red Book if it had written their names in it and slapped them around the face. On the other hand, they must have heard Jailhouse Rock and it wasn’t a million miles away from that either.
We were recording live and went back to have a listen to what Paddy had recorded when we managed what we thought might have been a decent take. Meaning, we’d finished at approximately the same time.
In the control room, Steve Walker gave me the eyebrow so I went to sit next to him on the settee at the back as Paddy rewound and pressed play.
“That sounded mint, lads,” Paddy announced over his shoulder. Steve Walker looked at me dubiously. It had sounded alright in the live room, but you tend to focus on your own part more when you’re recording, hence going back to have a listen.
Listening to it, we sounded like we were playing together well enough. There was energy there and there was feeling and all those other difficult to quantify things that make a recording good but what there also was, was a fucking horrible noise where musical instruments should have been. As if we’d been playing underwater in a cardboard box full of treacle. Except for Moggy’s snare drum, which Paddy had managed to stop sounding like a table tennis ball hitting glass and now it sounded a bit like a sound effect from an arcade game in around 1983.
“I can’t understand it,” Paddy said, scratching his head and to turning around. “It should sound great, this.”
“Fucking shit is what this sounds like Middlerabbit,” Steve Walker whispered in my ear.
“What’s wrong with it?” I asked him.
“Can’t you fucking hear it, man?” he asked incredulously.
“‘Course I can fucking hear it. I can hear it sounds shit. What I don’t know is how to fix it, Steve.”
Steve told me something technical and complicated that meant nothing to me.
“I don’t know what that means Steve,” I said.
Steve told me it meant that unless Paddy did this, this and this, it was going to continue sounding shit.
“Go on then,” I told Steve, pointing at the desk, “Do this, this and this,”
“I can’t do that, man.” Steve said, sinking back into the settee. “It’s his session, innit? His gear.”
“It’s us paying for it, man. Go on,”
Steve stood up.
“Paddy,” I announced, “Can you let Steve have a look for us?”
Paddy turned around and looked simultaneously dubious and disgruntled but relented. Steve Walker twisted about four knobs on the desk and instantly everything sounded a million times better. Apart from Moggy’s preposterously highly tuned snare drum, which sounded like it did when he hit it when you were standing next to him – back to analogue ping pong, as opposed to an electronic Pong. I supposed Steve Walker’s evident mixing skills didn’t stretch to altering reality.
“What have you done there?” Paddy asked.
Steve told him something that sounded technical – certainly nothing that meant anything to me and, it turned out, nothing that meant anything to Paddy either because we recorded another song with Steve’s settings on the desk – The Load – and then called it a day. Paddy was going to be recording his band through the night and reset the desk’s settings to his preferred arrangement.
Next day, we recorded three more songs: Money Love, Lucky Stars and Wasteland In My Town. They all sounded dire and not only because Paddy didn’t know how to use his desk unless Steve Walker did it for him. Also, we’d arranged these three under the influence of Moggy’s ludicrous mushroom collection and, well, they meandered somewhat, you might say. They took diversions to what we called Planet Funk at times. And Planet Funk wasn’t a destination we should have been allowed in the vicinity of.
We took home a tape of it and considered what we’d done.
Local Hero sounded pretty good. As good as it was going to sound recorded in that environment at any rate. It still sounded like it was recorded in a cardboard box that had recently had a load of treacle removed from it and Walker had done what he could with Moggy’s ping pong snare, but it wasn’t great. This song really was the last – or one of the last – of the Charlotte inspired songs. The line about “Take your Embassy,” was hardly a very coded message relating to her preferred brand of fags. He was getting over it, but it was still about her. I had quite a lot of guitars on it, doing all sort of things and another brainless guitar solo, seeing as that was what people appeared to enjoy rather more than the composed, melodic ones that I had erroneously assumed they would, which probably suited it. It had some dynamic range, I suppose. Quiet bits and loud bits. We were fairly well drilled on this one. Just prior to Dawson’s obligatory last minute rearrangement consisting of a totally unrelated guitar outro, I stuck in a snippet from Centrefold, the 1980s J Geils Band big hit in order to emphasise Charlotte’s less than honest dealing with Dawson. We also used a Beatles trick, which was to speed up the tape as we recorded Moggy playing a tom tom at the end so that when played at normal speed, they had a lot more oomph, which was certainly required with his snare drum. It wasn’t great, but when you listened to most of the other things we’d recorded that weekend, it certainly felt like a triumph. A bit like eating a particularly poor cheeseburger before you eat a main course of rancid, regurgitated cat food. You know, the first course wasn’t the greatest thing in the world, but what followed it gave the retrospective impression that it had much better than it actually was.
The Load was also mainly Dawson’s. Well, mainly it was London Calling, I suppose. I wasn’t a fan of The Clash at all but I knew how to do their stabbing guitars and I made a point of inserting a bit of a psychedelic country and western guitar part into the middle and the end so as at least to retain some elements of that which had gotten us anywhere, even if we’d been doing our best to blow it. Once again, Steve Walker had rescued it to the extent it could be rescued, which wasn’t all that far. Wait until you hear the rest of it. Mind you, wait until you hear what Dawson had us do to them later on because that’s when it really gets bad. In some ways at least, because they were already pretty bad.
Wasteland In My Town was my chord sequence over which Dawson wrote the melody and words. We weren’t working together at that point and I think it shows. There are far too many syllables to fit it and it sounds a bit garbled. I liked what I played but, again, it might well have been all my fault – the garbled sound of it – because in attempting to illustrate a wasteland with guitar lines, I probably succeeded a bit too well. At one point Paddy had managed to lose the bass guitar altogether (at about 4:05 until about 4:15) which opened up the gate for Dawson to suggest rearranging it all completely, instead of having Graham just drop in and replace the ten bassless seconds that Paddy had unintentionally created. Paddy was apparently incapable of dropping Graham in to fix it. Without Steve Walker there, Moggy’s snare had returned back to the ping pong ball on glass sound. Again, we went here there and everywhere in the arrangement and totally ignored everybody who told us to simplify, simplify, simplify. Again, yeah. Five minutes long? What were we thinking? Too much and not enough, as usual. We were tight, but we shouldn’t have had to be, had we judiciously pruned. Still wait until you hear the rerecording of it which makes this one sound like George Martin ran the whole thing.
Much later, Tony Grimes sent this one to some mobile phone companies because he thought the “Calling, I’ve been calling…” lyric might appeal to them. It didn’t. I wasn’t surprised because the impression the lyrics gave was that whoever we’d been calling wasn’t answering – not ideal for a mobile phone company, you wouldn’t have thought. They didn’t call us either and I didn’t blame them.
Lucky Stars took an ill advised diversion to Planet Funk before choosing to go and live there and refurbish its planetary surface in a way that was even worse than it must have been before. And that was before we re-recorded it. In some ways the rerecording at least lopped the bizarre ending of it off, even if it lost a lot of what made this first version slightly more palatable. Slightly. You can tell how mad we’d gone because prior to redecorating Planet Funk in peculiar shades of wah-wah, Dawson and I had worked out harmonised guitar parts. I have no idea why. I really don’t. I hate harmonised guitar parts and always have done. Well, evidently not always, but apart from a brief period of about ten minutes when it must have seemed like a good thing to do, yes always.
The first version of Money Love, I don’t have a copy of. I don’t know what happened to it but I can’t say my life has been significantly worse due to its absence but I can say that my life might well have been marginally better had I also lost the rerecording of it.
The next week, we returned to Paddys, still without Steve Walker in tow despite my protestations that it would be a total waste of time and money without him. “Ah, it’ll be alright,” was the response. I recorded my parts with the rest of them and left them to it so I didn’t end up murdering anybody and because I had a baby at home who was making more sense than the band I was in. When people have babies, they often crave adult company because it can be a bit mind numbing, spending all day with a person who only makes noises and waste products. I had gathered that things might not have been especially normal as the routine in my life at that point was the exact opposite. I was lucky to have a relatively articulate and clean person with whom I could spend time. She was about four months old.
At the next rehearsal, they played me what they’d mixed and my response was, “You’re joking, aren’t you?”
Wasteland In My Town had those ten seconds of lost bass guitar that apparently dropping Graham in to fix would have been more complicated than rerecording the entire thing again, despite the fact that multi-track recording was pretty much created especially so that dropping in and fixing mistakes was possible, but what did I know?
If the first effort sounded like it had been recorded in a cardboard box recently scraped clean of treacle, this one sounded like it had been recorded in that same cardboard box, but now the cardboard box had been put into a metal dustbin lined with aural asbestos. And a lot more treacle put back in it. On the plus side, they’d managed not to lose any of Graham’s bass and it was forty seconds shorter, mainly due to us playing it faster. At least it was all over a bit quicker. Which isn’t really what you’re looking for when you play a recording, is it? Well, it is if you’re playing this I suppose, but wouldn’t it be better to not play it at all? Apparently not.
The first version of Lucky Stars had gone to some strange places where it would have been better left alone to fester, like a rabid monkey in a quarantine pen somewhere dreadful. Like Whitehaven. The plan was to rescue the aforementioned rabid monkey and, instead of putting it out of its misery, Dawson decided to do what the likes of John Spence had totally prevented him from doing, and even Zammo had had some success in moderating – faff with it. Like trying to resuscitate a dead elephant by sellotaping a fridge door to one of its legs and painting it green, using fruit as brushes. In this case, I don’t the there was much anybody could do, but he managed, in my opinion, to make it even worse, which was some sort of achievement, I suppose.
In fairness, the first version was so bogged down with a million mushroom inspired ideas that if you were going to do anything with it, chopping things out was probably the way to go. Ideally, chopping all of it out and pretending it never happened, but apparently that wasn’t an option.
I’d suggested a vocal part that was supposed to sound like ancient greek oarsmen on galleys – deep voiced Ahh-Ahh things, a bit like the backing vocals on Scott Walker’s The Seventh Seal, which probably wasn’t that great an idea for us idiots. I hadn’t mentioned Scott Walker because the other three wouldn’t have known about him and, even they had, wouldn’t have liked it. On the other hand, they wouldn’t have known what Love Boat was either, which my ex-girlfriend from York had said about it, leading me to fall in love with her. What Dawson chose to do was interpret that less than great concept by hiccupping through it, so it sounded like a drowning man trying to drink mercury. At least the redecorating of Planet Funk was excised too.
Money Love, the first version of which I can’t find, had always thematically stuck in my craw. It sounded a bit capitalistic for my liking and certainly not the sort of thing that a guitar band should be extolling the virtues of. In interviews – which we did quite a lot of, oddly – I told them that it was against the love of money, like Jesus would have wanted. A character driven, so therefore sarcastic, dismantling of greed. I’m not sure that one ever held water as Dawson was also singing about playing the guitar and sounding cool. The worst lyrics in the world, I thought. I fucking hated it.
This one wasn’t actually rerecorded so much as remixed. As we’d played live, what Dawson wanted rid of – primarily my guitar for a change – could still be heard leaking through other channels because I played loud and filthily on it, which was what I thought his sentiments were best illustrated by. Well, at least my disgust with the concept of it. My favourite bit was, unusually for me, my guitar solo and the fast tremolo picking (about 1:48). Another Bigsby addled one to emphasise how unhinged I thought the whole thing was. Other than that, I fucking hated it. I know I’ve already said that, but I can’t say it enough. More hiccupping as well. What that was about, I have no idea.
I fucking hated it. Have I mentioned that?
Apparently, everybody apart from me thought it was great. I say everybody. Dawson, Graham and Moggy liked it but Bogwoppit and Lou Gummidge were about as impressed as I was. At least by the recording of it. I think they were into making money off us but I had other ideas.
“You can’t put that out, lads,” Bogwoppit announced in his office at The Chocolate Factory.
“Why not?” asked Dawson, incredulously.
“Because it’s shit,” Bogwoppit answered, like he was telling us that water is wet. Like that one’s your elbow and that one’s your arse.
“No it isn’t,” Dawson told him, with an equal sense of righteousness.
“Fucking is, mate,” He told us. “Middlerabbit, you can’t think this is any good, can you?”
“Are you kidding? I fucking hate it. It’s the shittiest load of shit I’ve heard in my life. I’m embarrassed to be part of it.”
“See? He knows.” Bogwoppit looked back at Dawson.
“He thinks everything’s shit all the time,” Dawson told him, not entirely unreasonably.
“Nah, you’re going to have to do better than that, lads. Don’t put that out, honestly.”
Naturally, we put it out.
We had cds printed up again, with covers for the first time since The Two Of Us and the other three took it to HMV – I wasn’t prepared to be seen in public with it. On the basis that The Two Of Us had done pretty well – at least for a local band – they took a handful which they handed back to us a few months later.
Radio Humberside had by this point programmed a regular, weekly slot for local chap Alan Raw to promote local bands. Live sessions happened every week in the new, shiny building on Queen’s Gardens and there were interviews with local kids in bands. It was called Raw Talent. Clever, see?
We’d been on it fairly regularly and I’d pissed Jacko off by announcing on air that The Adelphi was a pile of crap because he put anybody on, hence nobody went most of the time because most of the bands who played were inevitably dreadful. Maybe they were, but it wasn’t a very intelligent thing to say. Alan asked me which bands on the local scene I liked and I announced that I didn’t like any of them. I told him that I was, basically, a very, very lazy kid and if there were any bands who were playing music I liked, I wouldn’t have bothered forming a band of my own. That wasn’t a very good move either.
Months later, our last gig at The Adelphi was an acoustic one, on musicians night – Mondays. Bogwoppit told us that Paolo Nuttini was playing it – this was before he had a record out and he’d arranged it with his manager.
We turned up to The Adelphi and Jacko told us we’d have to wait because he had regulars at musicians night who had first refusal. He was pissed off at us because all I’d ever done was slag the place off, all we’d ever done was hire the place for £30 and raked money in when we sold it out – which we’d done regularly, at least until we began to lose it, whatever ‘it’ was. And here I was, expecting him to do us a favour. I deserved it, even if nobody else did. We didn’t think we’d get on, so we got pissed. By the point at which we were totally plastered, we were shoved on stage and made dicks of ourselves by being totally incompetent. I deserved that, even if the other three didn’t.
We were invited in again to Raw Talent not long after we’d put the Local Hero ep out to talk about what we were up to and we were due to play live, but just Dawson and me this time.
Dawson had by this point got himself a new girlfriend, Kelly – not the same Kelly that Graham was seeing. I went round his new house on Sharpe Street on the day to work out what we were going to play in about four hours time, and how we were going to play it but there was no answer. I rang him but again, there was no answer. Straight to voicemail. I sat in my car outside his house and waited. And waited. About three hours later, he and Kelly rolled up and I asked hm what he was pissing about at. He apologised, sort of and said that it was too late to go through anything now, we’d just have to wing it. I wasn’t happy.
We turned up and, as we waited to be ushered in, sat on a bench outside to work it out. Dawson wanted to play a new song that we’d not actually finished writing yet. I told him he was daft. If we were going to play on the radio – live – we’d better not made bigger tits of ourselves than we had gotten into the habit of doing.
“Ah, it’ll be alright,” was his considered response. At that point in time, there was no talking to him. If an idea entered his head, he’d just do it and damn the consequences. I figured that was alright for him, but I wasn’t about to be dragged into it.
Inside Radio Humberside, they asked if we would play for a bit longer – perhaps a Christmas song, as it was that time of year.
“Yeah, no problem,” Dawson told them as I looked at him aghast.
“Are you off your tits?” I asked him, genuinely.
“Nah, let’s do that Slade one,” he said.
“Do you know the words to it?” I asked him, “Bearing in mind that you don’t seem overly familiar with the title at this point in time.”
We were live on the air, me working out the chords for a good two minutes before Katy, the producer caught our attention to point this out. We stumbled through Local Hero and, fortunately, without anybody needed to make it explicit, the offer of the second, Christmas song was just never mentioned again.
We were interviewed again. Beginning with our usual inane implication that Alan was naked in the studio and we refused to let that particular ancient chestnut go throughout the entirety of the interview. I told Alan that, as far as I was concerned, The Local Hero demo was the worst thing I’d ever heard in my life and, were I Joe or Josephine punter, I wouldn’t touch it with a bargepole, let alone inflict it on my ears.
Having made tits of ourselves in terms of our horrendous lack of musical preparation as well as my slagging ourselves off to a far greater extent than anyone else would have been prepared to, Dawson and I bickered further in the car.
Bizarrely, at the end of the year, Local Hero was voted Track of The Year, by Radio Humberside listeners. None of whom we’d mobilised to vote for us because we were too fucking useless. I gathered that, whatever it was that my brain did, it was never going to be in harmony with the majority. I also realised that, having slagged it off at length to the Radio Humberside listeners, my views were evidently ignored as much by the population in general as they were in the band.
At the next rehearsal, I was late because I had a Parents’ Evening where I taught. Walking into the room, the other three burst into laughter.
“What?” I asked, not in the mood in general any more and specifically not following twelve hours at work.
Dawson turned to me and, through spluttering laughter, asked me, “If I was to tell you I was going to get a tattoo, what would you say?”
“I’d say don’t get any writing and don’t get it anywhere you can’t cover it up.” I told him, good advice if you ask me. It’s like having crushed velvet flares surgically attached to your legs in 1975 and having to live with something you temporarily thought was a good idea for about a week, isn’t it? “Why?”
“What would you say if I told you I’d done both of those things?”
“I’d say you were a fucking idiot,” I told him, taking my guitar out of its case.
He showed me the inside of his wrist, which bore a cursive, scabrous text that read, Kelly Of The Cosmos. Moggy and Graham laughed.
“What the fuck is wrong with you?” I asked him, by now surprised only that the tattooist had managed to spell all four words correctly and not add any superfluous apostrophes. “How long have you been seeing her anyway?”
“Two fucking weeks, man,” Graham spluttered.
“Have you traded your brain in for a bag of chips or summat?” I asked him. “What are you going to do when it all goes tits up, man?”
“It’s not going to go tits up, Middlerabbit.” Suddenly very calm and serious. Like the moment you realise that you’re dealing with someone who has completely taken leave of their senses.
I shook my head at him in wonderment at his apparent and total lack of prescience.
When they broke up, about a week later, he didn’t seem overly concerned.
“So what?” he said. “Big fucking deal, eh? I’m not arsed.”
“No,” I said, trying in vain to locate some semblance of sense in his glazed expression, “I don’t suppose you are. But whoever you go out with next might find it mildly off-putting, don’t you think?”
That didn’t seemed to have occurred to him.
“Oh, I don’t know. Maybe.” It was like having to explain what rain was to someone you thought was a weatherman. Who the hell was this kid?
Bogwoppit and Lou Gummidge remained unimpressed with our demo but still arranged gigs for us out of town. The first one was in Leeds which Bogwoppit told us he was going to drive us to.
We were playing a Saturday night at some venue along The Headrow, the main drag. We set up, went to somewhere classy like Greggs for our tea, went back to the venue and sat with a drink as the local support act played to a packed, enthusiastic house. Moggy opened up a tin and offered the contents around. Mushrooms.
“What the fuck are you doing?” he laughed. “Are those magic mushrooms?”
“Yeah,” Moggy told him, “D’you want some?”
“I’m fucking driving you home, aren’t I?”
Moggy shrugged, as if he’d told him that his living room carpet was blue. You know, “So what?”
“Are you off your fucking tits?” Bogwoppit laughed. “You’re on in half an hour.”
“That’s why we’re having them now,” Moggy told him, like it was the most obvious thing in the world. “They’ll kick in as we’re getting going.”
Bogwoppit put his head in his hands and shook it with despair.
So it was, on our first decent out of town gig that had been arranged for us by the first competent management outfit that had actually done something useful for us, we found ourselves onstage, out of town, in front of a big crowd, kicking off our set, in the words of Bogwoppit, “Like a fucking train, man.”
Everything was going well, we’d clicked, the sound was good, we were motoring. Right up until about fifteen minutes into the set when the effect of the mushrooms took hold and we all looked at each other couldn’t stop laughing. Personally, I have no recollection of what happened. I asked Bogwoppit about it later.
“You were fucking amazing, man,” He told us as we sat, sweating backstage afterwards, eyes on stalks, swivelling independently of each other. “From the minute you started off – bang! – you were fucking ace. Then I could see, at exactly the same time you all just started vibrating and it was like wooooommmmbbbb!”
I don’t know if woooommmmbbbbb meant it went especially badly or even better – I’ve never managed to get him to explain it reasonably to me but whenever I see him now, a good fifteen of so years later, he still tells me that it was the best gig he’s ever been to. Whether he means ‘best‘ as in, we played really well, or ‘best‘ like films that are so bad that they’re good, I don’t know and I’m still too scared to ask for clarification. Maybe he doesn’t know. Maybe it exists in its own universe or something. I can’t think about thing like that these days; my brain’s recovered significantly but I suspect it bears wounds that I don’t fancy reopening.
We had to load our gear across The Headrow at about eleven that Saturday night, when the traffic was busily ferrying punters around in taxis. Driving on rainbows, pulled by magic bunnies probably. I don’t recall much about it apart from standing outside the venue with Graham, him shouting at Dawson, who was on the other side of the dual carriageway that, “Hey, Dawson, you look really small!” Like Dougal in Father Ted, but for real. Then he fell over.
On the way home, Bogwoppit got a speeding ticket which he blamed us for so we had to pay it for him. We also had to stop for a wee, God only knows where, but I do remember us running up what appeared to be some vast hill in order to was against some sort of castle that was at the top of it.
Halfway home Moggy, in the front seat, got the fear because Bogwoppit was driving like a lunatic. I don’t know if he was or not, it was hard to tell. Bogwoppit told us he was doing about 25 mph but the speeding ticket told a different story. Later he admitted that he couldn’t see properly because he was crying with laughter at the gibberish we were spouting.
Back at The Chocolate Factory Studios Bogwoppit informed us that the lift was broken and we’d have to carry our equipment up the stairs there, which were at a preposterous angle, even when we weren’t hallucinating. I looked at him and told him he was joking because there was absolutely no fucking way I was capable of carrying myself up stairs at that angle, let alone while carrying a Vox AC30. He told me he wasn’t joking.
Apparently I managed it. I must have because it was there at our next rehearsal.
Offering us a lift home, Moggy asked if we could be dropped off at The Welly instead. I was dubious about that too, but was in no mental or physical state to protest.
Inside The Welly, where we still had free entry, we went upstairs. It was busy. Moggy bought us drinks and we sat down on these very high stools which turned out to be a mistake because my brain informed me that the wooden floor had become some sort of liquid in which I couldn’t float and I had to remain where I was sat, bobbing around on my buoyant stool. The other three went off to dance.
Trying to find some sort of route back to planet Earth, my ears told me that a group of kids behind me were slagging me off for wearing a Beatles’ Yellow Submarine t shirt on. Some infinitesimally tiny part of my brain that had held on to rationality told the rest of it that I was probably hallucinating that as well. Dawson returned. I stared in wonder at his feet which somehow floated on the liquid wooden floor.
“How are you doing, man?”
“Aye, I’m alright,” I told him, “My brain keeps telling me those kids are calling me a cunt because I’ve got a Beatles t shirt on, but I don’t suppose they are.”
He cocked his head to one side and turned back to me. “Oh no, you’re right, they are.” He told me brightly.
“Oh, thank God for that,” I said, a bit happier, “I thought I was hearing things as well as seeing them.” Whatever dread they hoped there were instilling in my mind was small potatoes in comparison to what my brain was doing to itself.
Walking home, Moggy did his usual, which was to express a desire to call the police because he was hallucinating. I’d learned that the best way to deal with this was to tell him that we should leave it for five minutes and see how felt then. Every five minutes for a couple of hours. I was used to that scenario by then.
At our next rehearsal, Bogwoppit and Lou Gummidge called us into their office, which actually was an office, unusually for our management up to that point.
“I’ve heard about Leeds,” Lou said.
Bogwoppit was laughing his head off.
“I’ve told him. You were fucking amazing,” Bogwoppit said. I don’t know, maybe we were. “I’ve got you another gig at York in couple of weeks – do exactly the same thing.”
“Are you sure?” I asked him.
“Fucking too right, man,” he said, deadly serious. And we did. We did exactly the same thing at every single gig we played from then on which means I don’t have any further clear memories of anywhere we played or anything that happened. Probably for the best. I’m told that they happened and who am I to argue? I do have memories, but they all consist of us doing stupid things and, often, ending up hiding somewhere preposterous because aliens were coming to get us.
Seven or eight gigs out of town later, wherever they were, however they went, Bogwoppit told us we should go back into the studio and record a better demo now that we’d regained the fire in our bellies. He told us we should give consideration to going back to Fairview, where our best demo by far had been produced but as long as we didn’t go back to Paddy’s, he supposed it would be fine.
We went back to Paddy’s.
“Why the fuck are we going back to Paddy’s?” I asked Dawson, when he told me we were booked back in there the following weekend.
“He’s sorted it out now,” Dawson told me, “And he’s letting us have it cheap because the last one was such a mess.”
“For fuck’s sake,” I said, “At least tell me Steve Walker’s coming.”
Steve Walker wasn’t coming, naturally.
This time, we were only going to be recording two songs.
Bogwoppit had introduced us to his manufactured indie band who were a four piece, bass, drums, guitar and (girl) singer. He’d invited them in to watch us rehearse like Shandy Boberts had with Torsohorse. To show them how it’s done. I don’t know what that meant. Maybe these other bands felt bad about themselves and our public rehearsals existed in order to mainly make them feel better about themselves.
I found that surprising. How we did it, and had always done it involved us rolling up separately, drinking tea, pissing about and getting shitfaced until we decided we ought to do something. Something involved going through the set a couple of times, telling Dawson to shut up because we weren’t going to be rearranging anything. Then we’d have another break, shout at each other, get shitfaced to the point at which we couldn’t stand up or see properly, and see if anybody had written anything new. At that point, Dawson had entered another fallow period and it was me who was doing most of the writing.
Bogwoppit had his manufactured indie band in again so that they could watch and see how ‘…a proper band…‘ wrote and arranged a song. Which was odd, because Bogwoppit and the partner who was the builder were writing their songs for them.
“Look at them,” Bogwoppit said, “They rehearse like they’re playing playing live: they don’t piss about.” We did rehearse like we played gigs, but only in as much as we always played gigs off our tits and we always rehearsed when we were off our tits. I suppose what that meant was that we were just always shitfaced at that point. Maybe we were a sort of warning – like the spirit of lonely water on the old public information films. you know, Donald Pleasance intoning, “Sensible children! I have no power over them.”
Years later, when I finally decided to make a point of getting one of my guitars back from the luthier who had premises at The Chocolate Factory, Bogwoppit told me, “You’re pretty shy, aren’t you Middlerabbit? I always thought you were a total lunatic.”
I told him that he’d probably only met me when I was battered during that time and he seemed surprised. I suppose that’s what happens when you’re eating acid for breakfast. With hindsight, I don’t recommend it.
Mind you, I think I must have been the most normal one of us because when we played my girlfriend’s birthday party, he would only lend us his microphones if he lent them to me, as opposed to the band because I was the reliable one and I made a point of doing what I said I would.
We got a gig at The Adelphi, supporting Aziz, which comprised Aziz Ibrahim, who’d made a poor job of replacing John Squire in The Stone Roses and Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce from The Smiths. Andy Rourke and Mike Joyce were absolute darlings. Andy Rourke was enormously enthusiastic about us and mentioned us in interviews but, by that point, nobody really gave much of a toss about what he had to say and even less about us. Mike Joyce told me stories about Morrissey and the court case he’d been embroiled in with him. Aziz was, frankly, up himself. He played with lasers attached to his fingers. At least I think he did, it was difficult to tell what was real and what was hallucination at that time.
Dawson was in the throes of, what I had gathered by that point was, some sort of mental breakdown. As evidenced by his alarming tendency to go through with whatever popped into his head at any given moment with no thoughts of long term consequences – like his Kelly Of The Cosmos tattoo which, incidentally, had been covered up by a vast crucifix that extended the length of his forearm.
“Why didn’t you just wear a fucking watch or something?” I’d asked him when he told me he was getting it covered up because his new girlfriend didn’t like it.
“I don’t want to wear a watch,” he told me. When he wore long sleeves, the end of the cross, which looked like it had been done by a right handed three year old with their left hand, using a thick felt tipped pen, poked out and resembled nothing so much as the bulbous bell end of a badly rendered penis.
Then he started wearing a watch.
Anyway, in the mood he was in, which was generally pretty bullish, there was no way he was prepared to countenance me bringing in completed songs, so I’d taken to writing full songs and leaving the lyrics to him, which might not have been ideal, given his mental state, but it was all I could do.
In the spirit of paying attention, I’d made the effort to write concise, fast, snappy songs. I say I’d attempted that, but I still needed help making them more concise and, unusually, Moggy helped me cut down the riffs so that they were short and snappy. I figured Moggy – or somebody – might as well have a go seeing as Dawson’s and my attempts at brevity had turned out to be not all that brief.
Back at Paddy’s, Moggy had gotten Bogwoppit to tune his drums for him so at least they wouldn’t sound like chipmunk drums. That was the idea, although Paddy miraculously managed to replicate the ping pong ball on glass sound of the previous disaster. Presumably he thought that was what we were going for.
Paddy might have learned something about his setup in comparison to last time, but it still wasn’t great. I had very little hope of anything turning out any better than the last load of shit had and I wasn’t too disappointed, bearing in mind my lack of expectation.
First up was what Dawson had imaginatively entitled 1,2,3,4. He sounds plastered to me. At least a bit loony. I suppose we had all lost the plot by that point, at least chemically, but as he was singing, it was easier to tell with him. I thought the lyrics were doggerel, just there for the sake of it, but I suppose we’d tried and failed to incorporate words that worked on a couple of levels, or had a sliver of literary merit in the past and we were throwing the baby out with the bathwater. I managed to keep my Leslie emulator to a minimum and, although my truncated riff sounded a bit repetitive to my ears, presumably that was the idea. I didn’t love it, but I thought it was a step up from the previous one at least.
The second and final track was Dawson, yet again, showing his tendency to not bother including the title in the lyrics. I was past caring by this point. This was called The Taxman & The Union and it demonstrated to me at least that whereas I had been under the impression that he and I were on the same page philosophically, it was only because our attitudes were similar only in that they were the total opposites of one another. I wasn’t against paying tax and I was in favour of unionisation. Ideally, I was and am in favour of total nationalisation of everything, including us.
I’d more or less helped myself to a riff from relatively little known Liverpool, marijuana influenced beat combo of the early 1990s The Stairs. As The Stairs evidently had little to no compunction about ripping off riffs from most of the sixties bands I was into, I figured there would be no problem, especially as they’d been monumentally unsuccessful. That they’d achieved a total lack of commercial success with this attitude to ‘borrowing’, apparently didn’t register with me.
It might be somewhat rich, coming from me, as I have been, explicitly stating that Dawson had lost the plot because I too, with hindsight, had absolutely no idea at all either.
To be fair to me, I didn’t nick the riff note for note, it was more the feel of it and I’m not sure that anybody who was familiar with The Stairs would notice either. We’d given the songs decent dynamic ranges, even if I wasn’t exactly excited about them, the others seemed pretty keen.
You might notice that the tracks are numbered 2 and 3 which implies I’m pretending that 1 didn’t happen. 1 was an introduction by Paddy, speaking through a vocoder that we put as the first track because it must have seemed a good idea. It consisted of him saying, “The fabulous sound of Sidewinder. They’re totally gay and I know them.” Biblically, presumably. Here you go. And that’s the best I can manage in terms of what we must have thought was a good idea at the time. Like the songs don’t make it clear enough.
Don’t take drugs, kids. Unless this sort of thing’s what you’re going for. And if it is what you’re going for, maybe it shouldn’t be.
We played more gigs and my interest and enthusiasm waned even further than it had previously. Oddly, our gigs, which weren’t as well attended as they once had been were still lively affairs. After one, a chap called Tony was enormously enthusiastic about us and offered to help us out. Bogwoppit was pleased that and gave him free rein.
Psychedelics were out and cocaine was in, in a big way. Well, it was for the other three and that went on for years. Personally, I’ve never touched it. My perspective was this: watch other people try things and see if they look like they’re having a good time. And that’s why I’ve never been tempted. My excuse – because I needed one – was this, “I already think I’m fucking great, can you imagine me on that?” The others seemed to view this as quite wise on my part. Plus, I suppose, it meant that there was more for them.
Tony arranged a gig at The Brixton Windmill, which was probably the closest thing we ever played to an A&R venue. Arriving there on a Tuesday night, in Tony’s transport, without having brought anyone, the owner told us we were fucking idiots and would have to pay to go on. Which we refused. Tony spoke to him and got us on the bottom of the bill. We were told to go on.
“But the doors aren’t open yet,” we pointed out.
“So what’s the point?”
“You fucking tell me,” the manager said.
We dug our heels in and waited for the doors to be opened. They opened and nobody came in. Nobody was queuing because we’d not advertised we were playing. I say that, but realistically, our fanbase in London was totally non-existent anyway. There was no point.
We went on in front of the obligatory three men and their dog and packed up. The other three decided to make a night of it, which irritated Tony because he was hanging around for them. We drove home and talked about anything other than the band. I told him that, now I had a baby, it was either being in a band or going out. I couldn’t do both.
We put a bus on to go to Preston, Lancashire and played a packed out pub that we’d not advertised. Nothing seemed to make any sense to me anymore. A kid who stood in front of me as we played took me to one side and asked me if I fancied joining his band. I turned him down.
At the next rehearsal, I was told about the party that they’d blagged their way into before getting booted out and hitching home. It sounded stupid to me.
The rehearsal after that, I set my gear up and sat in the room with the coffee machine where we always waited. After an hour, with no sign of anyone, I asked Bogwoppit where everybody was. He told me they’d gone to The Queens. Nobody had told me.
I went to The Queens, where I’d been dumped years earlier by my first significant girlfriend and, at the exact same table where I’d been dumped by her, I was told that I wasn’t into it and I was surplus to requirements. I was getting sacked. Again.
I was enormously pissed off about it. Even though they were right because I wasn’t into it and I couldn’t be arsed anymore.
The final straw had been a couple of rehearsals previously when they’d been enthusiastic about The Kings Of Leon, who’d just released their first couple of singles. I’d heard them and thought they were shit.
“There’s nobody better than them at the moment, Middlerabbit,” I was told.
“Who’s better than them then? Now?”
“I’m more into Girls Aloud than the fucking Kings Of Leon, man,” I told them. And I was. And I still stand by that. Not to be controversial either. I know they were a girl band who didn’t play their own instruments or write any of their songs, but I didn’t care about any of that. They’d released some of the best singles in years as far as I was concerned. Biology in particular, I thought was outstanding and I still do.
They were horrified.
In fairness, I think we were all a bit frazzled. By being in each others’ pockets for so long, by the diminishing returns we’d been on the receiving end of for so long and, not least, Moggy’s vastly depleted supply of now illegal magic mushrooms. We’d just grown apart. They were into stadium rock and I was into a manufactured girl band. Not too much common ground there. Not that we could see anyway.
I angrily told them they’d be a covers band within six months and they told me they’d do better without me. We shouted at each other in the pub – well, Dawson and I did. Moggy didn’t. Graham mainly stood outside because his Kelly had given him the push that night. At least he’d not permanently tattooed himself with her name, and he’d been with her for years.
I went home, where my girlfriend was in our living room with her best friend, Sarah – now Dawson’s girlfriend.
“You’re home early,” she said.
“I’ve been sacked,” I told her.
Sarah said, “No!” and I was too tired to start accusing her of knowing – which I assume she did, although we’ve never mentioned it since. Why would we?
I went to bed early and couldn’t sleep because I was upset about it. The other three were now, realistically, my best mates and I felt much too embarrassed to hang around with them any more.
Having had practically no sleep, I decided I might as well go to work, where I sat outside and smoked continually for about three hours until the caretakers opened up.
So, that was that.
I couldn’t help myself from keeping my eyes peeled for them, even though I had no intention of going to watch them, it would have been too embarrassing. They were interviewed by the usual local media who’d always interviewed us and their story was that I’d left because I wasn’t into their new direction. Which I wasn’t, even though I’d not actually walked out, I’d had to be pushed because I was just stopping them from getting anywhere. That was their perspective and I do have sympathy for that.
Anybody who asked me, I told them what had actually happened – I’d been sacked and I wasn’t thrilled about it. I wasn’t going to lie. They were trying to save me from blushes, but I just felt patronised by it and wasn’t prepared to play ball. For a change, yeah…
They played a few gigs as a three piece but it didn’t last long.
Baz from The Raywells, who’d taken us to The Cavern in Liverpool joined them and they changed their name to The Riffs and entered a competition that was being run on one of the satellite television channels. I watched it and hoped they’d lose. Which they did.
I found their website and listened to their demos. That was particularly galling because, having told all and sundry that their new direction was one I wasn’t interested in, two of their songs were ones I’d written. I asked Moggy about it, he told me Dawson had said he’d written them, like he’d written all of our songs. I wasn’t happy about that either and told him how I felt: pushed out and my contribution, which had been somewhat greater than significant, completely ignored now, as opposed to sidelined.
They didn’t turn into a covers band in six months as I’d predicted, it took about eight months before they decided to become a Kings Of Leon tribute band. And they did well with it. I was going to write and record my own music on my PC and I did, to an extent, but I missed working it out with other people and ended up procrastinating so much that nothing ever got finished. Nothing. I enjoyed doing it for quite a while but, really, with no deadlines and infinite possibilities on PC music recording stations, no wonder.
I ended up deciding I’d rather spend time away from making music and packed up my keyboard, my guitars and amps to be an ordinary Joe. I was hardly going to immerse myself in work or anything, but I thought I’d just be a civilian for a bit and see how I felt.
After a couple of years, I found myself going a bit mad, frankly. I realised that what I got out of being in a band wasn’t anything to do with getting recognised around town, which we were, oddly enough. Not like Duran Duran or anything, but a little taste of it. I didn’t mind it, but it wasn’t my raison d’être.
What I loved about being in a band was the creative element of it and the reason for that, I realised, was because it stops me from going crackers. Left to its own devices, it drives itself daft and having songs and arrangements to think about was a good distraction.
Having realised that, and having realised that I was much too old to be in bands in any creative sense, I decided that the main avenue open to me now was writing.
And that’s what I do now. I don’t do it in the hope of anybody digging it, as I didn’t ever really write songs with that at the forefront of my mind. I have exactly the same problems with writing prose as I did writing songs. A total lack of a concise approach, far too many diversions, and it all goes on much too long.
But that’s alright because I’m not doing it for anybody else. I’m doing it for the same reason I ever did anything remotely creative: so I don’t drive myself insane. And that, I reckon, is as good an excuse as any.
Like I ever needed one.