There was a time, before I grew up and became a child again, when I was no longer a musician. Following The Boys I flirted with mega stardom among the posh girls of Kensington and Chelsea with a band called The Hollywood Killers, but the all consuming self belief and ambition you need to dedicate your life to music had gone.
And so began a difficult period of going back to University (which you may recall I had left previously after a day to dedicate myself to being a punk rocker -much to the delight of my father) and then on to a career in business. Eventually I found myself working for Andrew Lloyd Webber as “business development manager”. It was an exciting job at a time of huge success for that giant of the Musical Theatre. I was part of the team responsible for bringing shows to new countries, which is more complicated than it sounds. If there is no history of Broadway/London musicals in a country it’s hard to find actors who can sing, act and dance at the same time. It was often quicker and easier at first to send British and American cast to a new country and teach them the local language than teach local actors a tradition they hadn’t been trained for.
And how do you get tickets on sale throughout a whole region when no infrastructure exists for that? It had to be created from scratch. Many countries owe their networks of ticket shops to work we put in at the time.
If I wasn’t working on shows I might be working on films of the shows, a new world for me at that time. Or I might be buying and renovating a new theatre in the West End or a new mega hotel/theatre complex in Las Vegas.
The job involved a lot of travelling. For almost a year I would leave on a Monday before dawn to fly to Switzerland where we were putting on The Phantom of the Opera, catch the train to Wiesbaden in Germany on a Tuesday or Wednesday night, where a theatre to house Sunset Boulevard was being built, and return home exhausted late on Friday night to London. If I wasn’t on the road I’d be in the office early on the phone to somewhere like Japan or Australia who were ahead of us on the clock, and then still there late, talking to New York or LA who were behind and for whom my 8pm was their midday.
All in all it was exciting and challenging. But there was an aspect to it which made my heart ache -Lauren. In the middle of my post music life we’d had a daughter, and what a difference that monumental event had made. A little bundle of life who depended on us totally and provoked the most powerful emotions I’d ever felt.
So I worked hard to create a future for her and us. I put up with the trains into London which broke down, were cancelled late at night or went on strike causing a particular type of hell for 10 million people trying to get home for a precious few snatched minutes with loved ones before they went to bed. I put up with the work stress which was intense (oh no, the theatre in Germany is going to be late, so the Sunset Boulevard team won’t get to LA on time which means that show will be late and so will Sydney and then the revamp in London -it’s going to cost millions, it’s going to be a worldwide news story of how the show has failed and it’s all my fault …..help??????).
And ironically the harder I worked to create a future, the more I missed of Lauren growing up. But there were no times better than the times when I’d get home to catch her before bedtime. I’d put the key in the door and the toddler knew it was me. I’d hear feet come running and before I was through the door a little bundle of unquestioning love was there to give me a hug and a kiss. Everything made sense in those moments. We are programmed for it.
Years later I looked back on those earth moving times as inspiration for a song. “Lauren” had one too many syllables for the melody and so became “Jack” in “Little Fingers and Toes”. If you have Spotify you can listen here:
But children grow up. They need to become independent, and they need to make you let go, since you’ll never let go yourself. As for many, it happened when Lauren went to University. New freedom for her, new friends, a new life and no need for parents.
A momentous day, the day she left home for the first time. Packing belongings into the car for a little girl who was the centre of our life, and later, hanging on for calls to hear news of what was going on in hers. A bitter sweet time. A bitter loss in one sense, although not really as I would later discover that, just as a teenager had replaced the toddler, a fantastic, mature adult would replace the teenager. But also a sweet feeling that the hard work had been worthwhile, as the child could stand on her own two feet and make her way in the world.
To hear chapter two of this domestic soap opera here is “Long Long Gone”:
Some people just deserve a break and we want to ask you to help us give one.
Debbie and Carl North are two of the most generous, kind hearted people you will meet. Carl is a big Chelsea fan but for the purposes of this message I would ask you to put that to the back of your mind and forgive him.
Debbie, on the other hand, has absolutely no faults at all.
Debbie has been in the wars for a few years now. It started off as a mystery illness which stopped her working and became worse from there. Just recently Carl has been able to take her out of the house in a wheelchair but a stroke kept her prisoner at home for over a year.
I won’t go fully into Debbie’s symptoms as they are just too many but among the worst is that, for a women who likes to natter (and boy does she like to natter), she can’t communicate.
Earning money in this time, with Carl required to be a full time carer, hasn’t been easy especially as Debbie had to give up work as a newly qualified lawyer.
It’s a great little venue with the best sound I’ve ever heard. There are details here on the facebook event page including a ticket link.
So: please try to make a trip to Brighton to support the cause if you can. It’s a great seaside town for a pre-Christmas trip. If you can’t make it, perhaps consider buying a ticket anyway, whether or not as a present for someone who can get along.
So, let’s have a great time and raise some money to give Debbie and Carl a break
Let’s face it. Mainstream radio is rubbish, isn’t it? Commercial radio is like an iPod on shuffle, but with only 10 songs of the same genre interspersed with ads. There are public broadcasters who are a little more interesting, certainly with the odd entertaining DJ, but they are still scared of not being “down with the kids” or of only playing well-known oldies.
The situation is saved, though, by a host of largely unpaid heroes on the internet. This is by no means an exhaustive list but those heroes include:
Keith Newman, Punky Paul and Lisa Etherton – two smutty, 50-year-old teenagers and a sex therapist, masquerading as “New Wave with Newman” on Radio Northumberland.
Diego RJ, or El Sotano who has a national, drive time FM show in Spain playing punk, power pop and garage.
Stephen Doyle on Salford City Radio, Gary Crowley on BBC Radio London and Soho Radio, Paula Frost at Way Out Radio, Mike Rogers with his Tokyo breakfast show on acid, Dave Renegade, Danny Mac, The Alternative Aycliffe Punk Radio Show ………… the list goes on and I apologise if I’ve left you off, there are so many of you. All of these presenters have a passion for music and a particular taste which makes the listener feel they are listening to a curator who loves what they play, rather than an ego with a playlist. They are, however, islands on their particular stations, isolated hours on say a Monday evening or a Tuesday afternoon.
But in Jersey City there is a whole FM radio station, funded by its listeners so it has no ads and therefore no pressure to deliver particular listener demographics and where the DJs just play whatever they like. WFMU can be heard across the whole of New York, a large part of New Jersey and online here.
And what a weird mixture it is. A bit like having a whole station of John Peels. And, like that long missed purveyor of the obscure, parts of it are unlistenable. But much of it is exciting especially if, like me, you seek good new music.
It was the saturday afternoon presenter Todd-o-phonic Todd who made our recent shows on the East Coast possible and we played a set on Evan “Funk” Davies’ Wednesday evening show. Both of these fellas have impeccable taste and are afficianados of glam, punk, garage and power pop.
Underneath the station they have a fine venue, Monty Hall, which, like the radio station, is staffed by volunteers. It has no liquor licence so people bring their own beer and as part of the service they film the whole show, edit and mix it to a professional standard and give a copy to the band. That is worth thousands of dollars to those who play there.
Here’s a couple of excerpts from our show:
So, long may WFMU continue, a bastion of the weird and individual in this increasingly uniform and corporate media world.
PS: There is a footnote to our show at Monty Hall.
The traffic from Manhatten to Jersey City is horrific. About 10 roads converge into 2 lanes as you approach the Holland Tunnel to pass under the Hudson to New Jersey in a frustrating and nervewracking crawl, hoping against hope that you’ll move forward more in the next hour than the 400 metres you managed in the last. Cops with improbably large backsides lurk as you approach junctions, happily awarding you a $100 dollar fine if you get caught inadvertently blocking the route of cars approaching in another direction. If you need to be in Jersey City at 7pm it makes sense to go there at 3pm when the traffic isn’t quite so voluminous.
So Sophie, myself and Camille Phillips (stepping in for Karen Jones who couldn’t make the trip) arrived in Jersey City at 4pm with a few hours to spare and headed for a local bar.
Without realising the effect we would have, we entered the establishment in V formation. Myself at the apex: purple/pink suit, red shoes, floral shirt. I was flanked by Sophie to my left: leather jacket, T shirt, long black hair, hot pants, black tights and Doc Martens, and to my right, Camille: leather jacket, tatoos, boots and chains.The bar fell silent. The security fellas checked the bulges in their inside, jacket pockets. From the party of older ladies having a birthday celebration in the corner we heard:
“Check the pink guy!”.
“What is he?”.
“He’s a pimp!”.
“No, he’s a gangster, stay out of his way”
“They’re the worst”
We chose a table and sat down. A very kind waitress brought over some water and placed a glass in front of Camille. As a joke I said: “She’s not allowed that!”.
“I’m so sorry, I’m really, really sorry”, said the waitress,”I promise I won’t do it again”, quickly removing the offending item. “What is she allowed to have?”, “Scotch”, I said which arrived in approximately 30 seconds flat.
So, moral of the story: if you are a shortass wimp in New Jersey and want the respect of security guards, to strike fear into the hearts of matrons and lightening quick service from terrified waitresses, dress up in pink and get yourself a posse of striking looking women.
Last week we played Bristol, Boardmasters Festival (to huge acclaim I must add) and Abertillery in the beautiful valleys of Wales. A fella called John Lovell was in Bristol and Wales. We had a chat at both shows and afterwards he sent me this review. “Please rewrite it”, he said, “and don’t mention my name”. Clearly a man of great confidence.
In fact, I enjoyed the piece which evoked the evening so much I didn’t change a word. And, as for not mentioning his name, …………. Ooops!
Here it is:
A Lunchtime Superstar and his Big Heads…
Without being labelled a stalker this was the second time I’d seen Duncan Reid and the Bigheads over the August weekend.
Abertillery met me with a greeting of typical Welsh sunshine. It was pouring down!
I eventually found The Dolls House via the satnav and surprised myself by the location and surroundings.
Houses and mountains. Loads and loads of big Welsh wet mountains with lashings of rain.
Third gig for the band and a very different view.
Bristol with all the shops and road works and, I expect, Boardmasters with sunshine and blue sea.
Paid a few quid to a guy on the door and got a nice black stamp on the back of my hand. No ticket stub to add to my memorabilia.
The venue was downstairs, a compact area with a small stage, bar, dance floor, tables and chairs at the back which the bands used as a set up for their merchandise.
Met and had time to chat to Duncan who always finds time to talk. Usually the chat is after the gig.
The first of the two support acts went on and one song didn’t half sound like Honest John Plain’s “New Guitar “…
When they completed their set, Duncan chatted about songs he had written for his forthcoming fourth Big Head record.
The second support act (Plague UK) played and that’s when it struck me that The Bigheads wouldn’t be on till way past 10pm.
I’d put some pics on facebook from Bristol with the title “First Time I’d seen Duncan Reid and the Bigheads sober”: very ambiguous.
This time we all were sober (all driving home after), and first time I’d had free drinks in a pub even if it was only soda water.
The band opened with “Can’t Stop”, straight into “Montevideo”, “Soda Pressing” and “C’est La Vie”.
Then came “Baby Doll”, ”Let’s Skip to the Good Bit”, “Thinking” and “Just Because You’re Paranoid”.. but for the love of me can’t remember the banter during the pause in “Thinking”..
They were speeding through them and it wouldn’t have been believed that they had previously played the West of England and traveled hundreds of miles.
“Rolling On” was next and there was some banter which included new lyrics featuring tequila and almost a version of rawhide!
It was hot, humid and sweaty. Duncan took his jacket off and chatted about the travels of the Welsh flag seen at many a gig.
He was going to speak some Welsh taught to him by Sophie, the non-rude translation being “I love to eat cornish cheese bell quays”. The literal translation is not fit for a family publication!
An introduction of the band members followed and somehow they all became Jones or Evans: quite apt for Abertillery.
The venue like many others is under threat from residents which seems a little unfair as the wedding party from upstairs joined in, but to the disappointment of the band, failed to bring down any food.
Looking round there were wedding guests dancing in the hall and children’s faces pressed against the doors’ glass windows.
People started to drift in after hearing the music blasting onto the street.
Not sure but maybe those living nearby opened their windows. Rain or no rain, I would have. Maybe the Bigheads saved the Doll?
“Rolling on” was followed by “Bombs Away” which saw Duncan throw in some well-rehearsed choreography moves pointing to each guitar player.
Some more “Boys” tunes followed in “Brickfield” and “First Time” which got the crowd singing and jumping, and “Terminal love”, the Old Grey Whistle Test guitar version, my favourite.
Duncan joined the crowd during “First Time” doing well to avoid the water on the floor from the air conditioning unit above the front of the stage.
After a few more it was into the encore: “That’s the Way it is”, “Shortest Song in the World” (three times), “One Night in Rio” and “Sick on You”.
One of the best performances from the band I have seen and, looking at their smiles and the body language between them all, they did as well.
At the end they looked exhausted. I took about five photos of the evening: unknown for me to take so few, and the reason why? It’s hard to snap when you’re singing and jumping.
I know they went down well with a good Welsh crowd from seeing the people round the merchandise table at the end of the gig.
They liked The Kid and hope he comes back with his Big Heads sometime in the future, and there is a future for The Dolls House.
So, a fourth album in the pipeline, the songs are gonna have to be belters to get any chance featuring in any future Big Heads sets..
Sorry Duncan you’re going to have to play the set faster or longer 😉
We have just a handful of the following shirts left so we are giving them away for the price of the post (which is about £2).
If you would like one please email email@example.com with the model and size you would like and your address. We’ll give you the amount of post to pay by PayPal and send it to you. Simple as that! There aren’t many though so get in quick.
Here they are:
Purple “Thinking”: Sizes available: XL (Now SOLD OUT), Small, Ladies Large (All Gone!), Ladies Medium (All Gone) and Ladies Small
2. Black “Thinking”: Sizes available: Small and Ladies Large (Ladies Large now SOLD OUT)
3. Black “Action”: Sizes available: Ladies Medium and Small
I’m rather ashamed to say that I owned no means of playing vinyl until last year when I was sent the test pressings for Bombs Away. “It is your responsibility to make sure there are no mistakes and all is in order” said the attached note. “Heavens, I’d better buy something to listen to them on”, I thought, and did.
And so I was inducted into the expensive and inconvenient world of vinyl. But – boy do they sound good, with a depth and separation you just don’t find on other means of playing music. Thus, when Steve Metcalfe sent me the recently released “splatter” version of The Boys first album, I had something to hear it on as opposed to just look admiringly, as had been the case with previous Boys reissues.
And it does look great as you can see:
Believe it or not I hadn’t listened to any Boys albums all the way through for decades. That may sound shocking and probably is but, to borrow an analogy from the late, great John Peel, the feelings I have toward my career in music are similar to those I have for football: results from 40 years ago have a certain interest but what really consumes me is next weekend’s fixture.
But as I put the needle on the first grooves, the opening riff of “Sick on You” came blasting out accompanied by a raft of memories from those far distant days when we were all young, skinny, leather be-trousered, and blessed with thick, jet black hair topping off undeserved good looks. And with the unshakeable belief of youth that this was the start of world domination, when our current obscure penury would be transformed into fame, riches, and a stream of never-ending hot and cold women carrying all the drinks we wanted.
The album started in an odd way for me on the sticky bar carpet of The Marquee, after one of our many sweaty gigs there. A beaming, familiar looking, expensively dressed, mature (to my young eye) lady approached through the throng of leather jacketed urchins with smiling husband in tow. In a rich, husky voice, she told me how wonderful the gig had been. “You aren’t the normal type of girl who says hello after a show”, I thought, as I tried to remember where I’d seen that face before and work out why someone who wouldn’t be seen dead at a punk gig was being so nice.
In fact it was Elkie Brooks who was then a world superstar with a huge international hit titled “Pearl’s a Singer” to her name. The smiling husband was a chap called Pete Gage who was forging a career as a record producer. The two of them had previously been in the band Vinegar Joe with Robert Palmer (whose “Johnny and Mary” is one of my favourite electro pop tracks as it happens), and Pete had been put forward by the record company to produce our first album. “Funny old choice” I thought when I found out later but, “What the hell, it’ll be alright”. I could be relied on to get most things wrong in those days.
And so we gathered at Morgan Studios in Willesden on the first day. This was serious stuff. The studios had been used by Paul McCartney, Rod Stewart, Elton John, Pink Floyd ………. the list goes on (although Wikipedia doesn’t see fit to mention that one of the most important early punk records was made there). Recording was nerve-wracking, especially as engineers at the time looked down on punk bands. We were given a Frank Zappa look-alike who was enamoured with the fact that he’d been working with ex Thin Lizzy guitarist Gary Moore. While he was setting up he played us some recent sessions just to show how technically excellent it all was. Yep, -that certainly set me at ease.
Modern digital recording is the best thing invented since the baby mop (seriously: check it out). If you make a mistake you go back and, in the same way you correct spelling on a word document, you just repair it. You have the freedom to take risks knowing that it’s OK if you mess up. But in those analogue days of huge, two inch thick, reel to reel tape recorders, where edits required an engineer with a razor blade, you had to do it again and again until you got it right. And time was money. It was all a little daunting and stressful.
We set up altogether with drums, bass, guitars and keyboards and hammered out the basic backing tracks. Stifling as the atmosphere was, we had been playing those songs live regularly for months and rehearsing as a collective, playing them over and over until we were tight. When we listened to the first results back on powerful, state of the art audio equipment it was like a rocket in the blood stream. We were buzzing and this was going to be great. Even Frank Zappa was won round and became a willing and supportive accomplice.
And in those days we were quick. I believe it was all done in something like a week. We moved somewhere else for vocals, maybe a studio in Soho. Sometimes Matt or Cas would put backing vocals on by themselves where it was just a harmony on top of the lead but, as often, those trademark Beatles bvs would be a group effort, albeit under Cas and Matt’s direction, with everyone round one or two mikes. I particularly remember Soda Pressing with Matt and I singing a dual lead vocal (very Everly Brothers) and Cas coming in for a three part chorus, all of it doubled up so that three singers became six. “Stunning”, I thought.
And then a pivotal moment. We gathered at the record company, NEMS, to hear Pete Gage’s rough mixes. It was shocking. In place of Matt and John’s dual guitar attack the mix was dominated by a wanky Hammond organ. It was as weak as Theresa May in a determined mood. There were fisticuffs with the record company. To give him his due, Ken Mewis our manager fought our corner like an untamed beast: no mean feat for an effeminate ex-hairdresser more used to carrying a handbag than attacking with it. We wanted to go back in to add overdubs and remix. In the end, Ken won the day.
The album became what it was because of that decision. Most of the band were there most of the time with the occasional exception of John and Jack who were always subject to the pull of the pub and bookie. In one of those absences we discussed how weak the guitars on First Time were. Matt went back in and put down a really loud and meaty overdub which comes in after the first two chords played by John. I know John was really upset by this at the time. First Time was his song on the album and now you couldn’t hear him play. But, in my opinion, the new guitar was totally right for the track and helps make it the classic which John should be so proud of.
As it happens, including the joint effort on Soda Pressing, I sing lead on half the album. But First Time is the only vocal I’m really happy with. I hadn’t yet found my character and it shows as I too often try to be the hard young punk I was not. Something a good producer would have spotted and put right? Who knows? It’s frustrating in hindsight that by the time I was capable of great vocals (check out the version of Terminal Love with my voice, Jimmy Brown on Odds n Sods and Silver Bells on The Yobs Album) singing opportunities were rare in The Boys. But First Time was just right.
However, we made one crucial, huge mistake. All of the vocals were mixed too low. It’s generous of Matt and Cas to take the blame for this by being listed as producers on recent editions of the album. They really shouldn’t be so tough on themselves, 😉 , because it was a group decision. We were all there in the mixing room. There is one exception to this. To his great credit, and how I wish we had listened to him at the time, Jack Black fought till he was in tears to change everyone’s’ minds and make the vocals louder.
At low volume on a deficient system you can hear them. But I remember the first time I heard the record at the Speakeasy, with big speakers in a big room. The singing had disappeared. All the people on the night looked at me as if to say, “have you made an instrumental album?”.
There was one meeting where Jack argued furiously for a remix. Our publicity guy, a man renowned for locking himself inadvertently in the toilet, countered Jack’s arguments by pulling out a copy of “LAMF” by The Heartbreakers. “It’s alright”, he said, “Listen, this is how punk albums sound”. And so the day was won by listening to possibly the worst produced album of all time and deciding ours was better and therefore OK. And anyway, Jack was a drummer so he wasn’t to be taken that seriously.
But, modern digital mastering techniques have managed to bring the vocals a little more to the fore and there are so many great things that make this album the classic that it is:
First, the song writing by Matt, Cas, John, and bits by Andrew Matheson, is beyond compare.
Second, the ensemble playing is as tight as the bra on a “before” picture in a Weight Watchers ad, and as hot and powerful as South Carolina’s Reaper Pepper. To add to this, Matt’s lead playing is right up there. Check out “Living in the City”. The most efficient solo ever?
Thirdly, Matt’s lead vocals, my vocal on First Time and all of the backing vocals are inspired and inspiring. The element that set The Boys apart from all other punk bands at the time and which, whether they know it or not, was imitated by a whole generation of Pop Punk and Power Pop bands.
So: a classic album, flawed certainly, but a classic nonetheless. Probably bettered by Alternative Chartbusters but an album which, together with other ground breaking albums of that year, changed the course of music forever.
The “Splattered” version of The Boys’ first record is available on Fire Records
Looking out on a freezing London spring my mind drifts back to a day spent with my great friend, supporter and talented artist, David Apps , taking photos for the album cover of Little Big Head.
It was a cold day, then as now, and I had the bright idea of taking snaps on the Thames Clipper, a fleet of boats which pass up and down the River Thames, through the heart of London, as part of the public transport system. If you visit London the Clipper is the best few pounds you can spend. First take the Docklands Light Railway from Bank to Greenwich. This is pronounced grenitch in that illogical way that Londoners invented purely to mystify American tourists -see also Marylebone, pronounced marlibone with no Mary in it, and Madame Tussaud’s, pronounced two swords. At Greenwich wander round this historic oasis of old world charm, a rare South London survivor from the ravages of WW2, and then past the Cutty Sark, a preserved tea ship which looks like it ran aground from The Pirates of the Caribbean.
From there you’ll reach Greenwich Pier and can alight the clipper in the direction of Embankment, to partake of the best near free show in London. The Thames viewed from the river is magnificent. Best seen at night, some inspirational lighting shows off such treasures as The Tower of London, Tower Bridge, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, and a host of other beauties too numerous to mention.
Much to the curiosity and amusement of passing tourists (“who are you?”, “What are you doing this for?”, “I love your shoes!”) Dave and I took some snaps around Greenwich, The National Theatre, and on the clipper. But the best was reserved for the jetty at Embankment.
At that casting off point on a Saturday, party boats galore take gangs of Hen Parties and Stag Dos off down the river for bacchanalian nights of drunken reverie. At about 7pm the evening had not yet started so hens were not yet mingled with stags. Rather the two were in separate groups, eyeing each other from their own territory, the boys drinking cans of beer and the girls laughing as they waited for the boat. We took some shots but by this time I was frozen right through to my eyes.
Shivering by the water, we called it a day and strolled across Trafalgar Square and up St Martin’s Lane to The 12 Bar Club in Denmark Street, previous centre of London’s Music Land. Most of Denmark Street has now been redeveloped and certainly the 12 Bar is no more. Back then it was a dark refuge for London’s rockers and home to the highest, smallest and therefore easiest to fall off stage in the world.
And so I thought: “I can’t call another city home” a line which stuck with me and grew into the song “Another City” on “The Difficult Second Album”.
For those of you blessed with Spotify you can hear the song here:
If you don’t have Spotify you can hear it on our bandcamp page HERE