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One of the New Year bonuses for us has been the multitude of “best of 2017” reviews where our third album, “Bombs Away”, featured highly. Completely at random, we had the No.15 spot in Vive Le Rock’s albums of the year (total bollocks, of course: we should have been No.1 🙂 ) and even as far as New Zealand that man of taste and distinction, Steve Scanner, had us as one of his highlights (See here).
The majority of retrospectives have picked highlight tracks as “The Man on the Desk” (which I wrote about here) and “I Can Fly”, neither of which we currently play live. So: February will see us in the rehearsal studio trying both out to see if we can bring them into the set.
But in the meantime there lies a spot in France on the border with Spain at the western end of the Mediterranean, where the Pyrenean mountains tumble into the sea. There’s a Spanish flavour to the area. In the local markets you’ll find paella vans plying a brisk trade, selling take away tubs of that rich mixture of rice, saffron, chicken, seafood and chorizo. The restaurants specialise in fish grilled “a la plancha”, palm trees abound in the capital Perpignan, and the locals keep their superb wines to themselves: both sweet and dry muscats, and rich, smooth reds which are better than most wines from more famous regions.
In a place I call the garage (because it looks like one) you can take your own bottle and they’ll fill it up from a pump for three euros a litre. The same wine, if you buy it in a bottle on a supermarket shelf, will be in the expensive section for 15 euros.
The odd graffiti you come across will declare, if you can decipher the language, “We are not French, We are not Spanish, We are Catalan”. Rugby is big in the area (both Union and League) and attending a match at Perpignan (or USAP as it’s known)’s Stade Aime Giral is like being at an international. It’s “Us against the French”. They even sing the Catalan national anthem.
As you might guess by now, I go there often. As often as I can in fact. And not just physically. If I’m having a tough day, if some cad has said something nasty to poor, little sensitive me, if it’s raining and howling outside, if Nottingham Forest have once more lived down to expectations, if Rebellion have ignored my emails , if I have this damn Australian flu that’s doing the rounds and can’t think, if …………….. (you get the picture) off I fly in my mind to the land where the Tramontane blows, where the beaches merge into the horizon to the north and mountains to the south, where the colours are blood and gold, where the exiled Picasso paid for his supper by sketching on the back of cheques so that restauranteurs wouldn’t cash them, and where the days merge into a slow reverie of sun, wine and the rosemary tinged scent of the garrigue.
And so I must thank Anna Donarsky, first guitarist in the Big Heads, and now guitar tech to Ron Woods, Pete Townsend and other sundry superstars, for giving me the musical inspiration for my love song to the “Pays Catalan”. Anna provided a gorgeous, haunting bridge and chorus to which I added intro, verse, instrumental passage and, of course, lyrics.
If you have Spotify you can hear “I Can Fly” here:
Otherwise you can hear it for free on our Bandcamp site (here) where you’ll also find the lyrics.
The Brudenell Social Club in Leeds is a gem of a venue. Perfect size, great stage, proper backstage, great city, lovely Yorkshire people: all was set fair.
We were a bit worried about playing on the first Friday after New Year. Would everybody be on dry January or skint or just recovering from the excesses of the previous week? And in truth advance sales hadn’t been great. We’d even resorted to some promotion which was demanding as there was no way Facebook was tolerating the advertising of a show including a band called The Fuckwits who, along with the witty, quirky and just generally wonderful Pete Bentham and the Dinner Ladies, were our support for the night.
But commeth the hour and the good folk of Yorkshire didn’t desert us. A great turnout was present as we took to the stage.
Now there’s one thing my voice seems not to be able to survive: stage smoke. Just one puff seems to be enough to remove all the moisture from my throat and leave me with a croak where my once mellifluous, seductive, uplifting, honey-dewed tones of a siren used to be. The effect is quite horrible to hear.
And as we stood ready to crash into the opening chord of Can’t Stop, first song of the show, I spied the tell tale trail of deadly, white, puffs of doom escaping from a blower above the stage, drifting toward me like The Fog in that film by John Carpenter.
And so, quite reasonably, I let out a little girly squeek of panic and leapt into the air, waving my arms about in order to grab the attention of the sound and lighting guy, the man responsible for spreading the end of the world (-well my voice anyway) across the stage.
Unfortunately, after decades of practice with a heavy Rickenbacker bass (now resplendantly purple, by the way) slung round my neck, I am rather good at jumping. And so my head went straight into the sharp corner of a pa speaker cabinet hung above the stage.
For the first time ever, after many decades of experience, I heard and saw an entire audience, in perfect unison, to a man and women, with shocked looks on their faces, say: “Ouch!”.
Karen, Nick and Sophie had similar looks (actually Nick was laughing, the heartless bastard!). “You’re bleeding”, said Karen, a vegetarian so not used to such things. I rushed into the dressing room thinking: “Shall I put a plaster on” but realised there’s very little you can make stick to your hair. The wonderful Chris Jones, promoter for the night, had left some lovely soft, white towels for us. They didn’t stay white for long.
I thought I’d stopped the bloodflow and so ran back on stage to launch into the show. Completely oblivious, I had no idea I still looked like an extra from a spaghetti western until the next day I saw this photo on Facebook, a testament to the unfaltering bravery, and never say die willingness to suffer for his art, character of your humble bass playing Big (Red) Head!
Most songwriters write about themselves, things that happen to them in their lives or people they come across. After all, what do we all know the most about? Our own lives and thoughts of course.
But I don’t know Jed Lifeson. Like so many people these days he’s just someone I came across on the internet. Not even a facebook friend, just someone on YouTube.
He’s had a hard life. Moved to Hamilton, Ontario from Serbia as a kid and hated it. The people seemed so hard, miserable and cold. It was only later he realised the only hard thing about them was their lives. They were down trodden but capable of great kindness. When Jed was near rock bottom he discovered they would treat him as a human being and lift him up.
And he had hard times. He fell into drugs and ended up in jail sleeping on concrete.
But the hardest time was when he came home to find his mother in a diabetes induced coma, on the point of death. Jed prayed that if God would allow him one last chance to tell his mum how much he loved her he would mend his ways. So when she recovered, Jed ran out into the street, dancing all the way home.
He hasn’t stopped dancing since then. He sees it as an act of positivity to brighten the days of the hard pressed folk of Hamilton. So now, he doesn’t see sad people because everyone who sees “the dancing guy of Hamilton” is smiling. And they see him dancing everywhere because that’s what he does – all the time. Waiting for the bus, at the shops, in the street: he’s dancing.
Here’s a great little film about Jed. It’s well worth taking 10 minutes to listen to Jed telling his own story much better than I can:
And have a listen to this: the song inspired by Jed’s story:
Or if you don’t have Spotify please follow this link:
In 1975 I left school. I’d been to a place where if you didn’t work they beat the shit out of you. That, combined with a bit of ability, meant that, having spent hours smoking in a local cafe, playing pinball and listening to Slade, I still left school with some average to good qualifications. Just about enough to enable me to apply for Cambridge University, one of the best colleges in the world where it was generally considered that graduates were made for life.
So I left the council house in Canterbury I’d grown up in with my mum, to move to London to live with my Dad in the embarrassingly named and therefore to be lied about on all occasions: Ponsonby Terrace. The idea was that I would go to a college which specialised in getting oddballs into Cambridge. But I was sick to the back teeth with school and did no work whatsoever. They didn’t beat the crap out of you there and I duly failed the entrance exam.
Needing some money, I joined old school mate, Jack Black, working in a T shirt printing factory where the boss was a Rod Stewart look a like northerner called John Splain. The day generally started with a cup of tea and a joint and carried on with more joints while listening to the rare decent music on offer in 1975 (mainly the Faces who our leader had modelled himself on).
Our trustworthy boss spent most of the day bunking off, hiding upstairs on a mezzanine floor where he could throw things down onto mine and Jack’s heads, thinking we didn’t know what he was up to even though he was giggling uncontrollably at the hilarity of his actions.
One day, on hearing that Jack played drums and I played bass, the to be renamed Honest (on account of his oft used phrase “I did, -Honest!” while telling porkies) John Plain invited us over to “jam” with his mates Casino Steel and Matt Dangerfield. They were forming a band to be called “The Boys” who were going to be the next Beatles, if not bigger. An antidote of short, catchy songs to blow away all the rubbish infecting the airwaves and concert halls at the time.
And so I arrived, 18 years old, at 47a Warrington Crescent. There should be a blue plaque there. Inside this damp basement, mould growing on the kitchen wall, was a tiny, four track studio. The electricity was hooked up to a lamp post outside, bypassing the meter. Various intimidating (for this youngster) “adults” (none older than about 26) were taking turns to play the intro bars to Slow Death by the Flamin’ Groovies for about four hours at a time. One of them was a curly haired, confident local called Mick Jones. A good looking fella called Billy Idol had made the long way over from Bromley, a quiet Brian James lurked along with various others who would coalesce over the coming months into various bands.
1976 was a hot summer. I remember it being the USA’s bicentennial and a bunch of Americans held a large party in the communal garden to the back of 47a. All the nascent punks gatecrashed this feast of free booze and burgers and I ended up passed out on the grass dressed from head to toe in white which by 4 am, when I woke, was various shades of green.
But the summer ended and a deadline I had been pushing to the back of my mind approached. In September I had a place to study Chemical Engineering at University College London. Not Cambridge, but a very good university all the same.
So I left the job printing T shirts and went to register for my course. At the end of the first day I went back home and told my father I had made a decision. With all of my 18 years of worldly experience I had given University a look and didn’t like it. I wasn’t going back because The Boys were going to be a big band and being a punk was what I was going to do.
My Dad was delighted (Ummmm – no he wasn’t).
So, off I trotted to the dole office to see if I could get any money to live on. They decided that, as I had left my job voluntarily and was living at home, they would give me the princely sum of £5.50 per week. Not unreasonably, and as an incentive to get a job or go back to college, my father decided to charge me £5 per week rent. So I had 50p per week to myself and had to get to Warrington Crescent every day to rehearse with The Boys in that little studio, as well as play cards, drink tea, and see if anyone was generous enough to buy me the odd pint in the pub.
So, no choice, I had to walk there and back every day, a round trip of almost three hours as the following Google Maps screen shot shows (it appears that 47 Warrington Crescent is called Venetian House now that all the old Italians, squatters and church property renters have been moved out to make way for the rich of London).
Through sun, wind and rain, in the morning and in the dead of night, a young man, head full of dreams of fame, fortune and women, looking like a star but still on the dole (to paraphrase Ian Hunter) would make his trek to eventual, hoped for success, past some of London’s most famous landmarks and richest neighbourhoods, with not a penny in his pocket.
Sometimes I tried hitching but had to ask to be set down immediately as most of the rides were given by old men who wanted something in return I wasn’t inclined to give. Boy I was innocent.
One day on my trek up the Edgware Road Mick Jones came running up behind me, ruffled my hair and shouted “Hello Dunc, Alright?” as he ran on and jumped on the number 6 bus which would pass near Warrington Crescent, the place I was headed to. The Clash had just signed to CBS and so he was on a weekly wage. “You rich bastard”, I thought, “Being able to afford a bus” as I trudged on.
But good comes from everything, and forty years later, thinking back to those days of penury a song emerged. A song of hope and dreams.
You can hear it here:
If you don’t have Spotify listen here on Bandcamp: Click here
I hope you like it. I’m particularly proud of the last chorus with its answer vocals. And with the guitar riff, if Led Zeppelin played power pop this is how I imagine it would sound!
I had to share this with someone so I thought I’d share it with everyone.
You know, when you do this writing songs, jumping around and singing lark, you sometimes think: “Am I really any good?”. Well, we all have doubts from time to time.
And then, out of the blue Dave Bundy from Lincoln, Nebraska sends you an email which says:
Gotta tell you how much your music resonates with me. I can’t stop playing it. Tunes about growing up with regrets, tunes about growing up without regrets. Great characters. Love Not the Kind of Guy. All the rockers rock. Just Because You’re Paranoid was so funny I woke my wife up to listen to it, and she wasn’t even mad.
So here’s a little back story about why great music matters so much to me. Thirteen years ago, just as my twins were born, I beat Stage 4 colon cancer. Last fall I was diagnosed with a new, inoperable and rare cancer. Bile duct cancer. I’m being treated at the Mayo Clinic in Minnesota. So I do a ton of driving. And I listen to a ton of excellent power pop on the road. Your music is my cancer soundtrack. And either I beat it again or I die trying. And I won’t feel bad either way. I got 13 bonus years with my family. But when I’m not feeling as fearless or philosophical great music like yours lifts me up. I probably owe you as much as I’ve paid for three weeks of radiation and 18 chemo treatments. I’ve got great insurance, so that’s one less worry. But the music has its healing power, too. Thanks, Duncan.
I mean, where the hell is Lincoln, Nebraska anyway and how come someone there is using my music as a soundtrack to fight cancer? I can tell you, it certainly makes all this malarky worthwhile and makes you even more determined to carry on the fight to bring Heavy Melody Power Pop Punk to the world!
Thank you Dave and you carry on your fight too. It’s much more important than mine!
PS: Dave is actually a great writer and writes amazing blogs about his life. Well worth a read. You can find a couple of his pieces here:
We have had some great times in this band and last weekend was up there with them. Gridlock in London on Friday made us late to The Lighthouse, Deal but the welcome made the 5 hour journey worthwhile. Then thanks to everyone who crammed into The Black Heart for Camden Rocks on Saturday. There wasn’t the same full house for all who played there.
Pride of place, though, goes to the people at Wychwood who stayed in the pouring rain to cheer us on. Not one of you heroes left when the heavens opened and it made us feel so humble. Thank you!
Do you ever have times where you feel you pass through life with your eyes shut? Do you ever feel you make subconscious assumptions about people, underestimating them due to the setting in which you meet them? Well, I know I do.
As little boys we used to play little boy games. Often it was football where the rebels would all pretend to be George Best, tearing down the wing with their shirts out. No thought then of what George was up to in his spare time with Miss World. The good boys, shirts tucked neatly into their shorts, would pretended to be Bobby Charlton with his bald head and rocket shot.
On other days we would be motor bike racers pedalling furiously on our bicycles round the pavements where we lived, three abreast with no concern for little old ladies on their way back from the shops with pull along baskets.
Or we played soldiers and often some of those soldiers were Gurkhas. We picked the Gurkhas because they were the meanest, hardest, most dangerous soldiers in the history of soldiers.
The Gurkhas come from Nepal. The Victorians called them a martial race and the head of the army in India once said: “If a man says he is not afraid of dying he is either lying or he is a Gurkha”. Their own motto is: “Better to die than be a coward”.
They carry large knives called Kukris and, although they are now said mainly to be used for cooking, the legend was that once removed from its sheath the Kukri had to taste blood. During the two world wars 43,000 Gurkhas were killed. To put that in context there were only a maximum of 112,000 of them at any time. They number a few thousand now but every year 28,000 young Nepalese men apply to join. Only 200 pass the test.
There is a 100 km long annual race in England which takes place over hills called the South Downs. The fastest time ever recorded by a Brit is over 12 hours. The Gurkhas, who come from the high Himalaya mountains and so consider these hills as almost flat terrain, regularly enter the race and always come in under eight.
A Gurkha once applied to join the regular British army and went on the basic training assessment course. He broke his leg but still finished top ahead of everyone else.
You get the picture? We are talking hard, fearless men. That’s why the Queen has two of them as her personal bodyguard. It’s said that when they fight, they fight for their families for whom there is the tightest of bonds. That fact is relevant to my story as you will see.
So, many years later and no longer a boy, I would pass through the doors of a shiny, smart office in the heart of London’s Soho. The centre of media land in a country which punches way above its weight in that field. And I would pass into a world kept going by the efforts of immigrants. In general, the local population doesn’t want to clean those offices early in the morning or stay up all night keeping them safe, not least because the wages for those jobs would make it hard to live and bring a family up in London if they did.
If I was early or late I would pass a smiling man on the reception desk. “Hello sir. How are you today?”, he would say, this nice man with a smile, obviously Asian but not Chinese, Indian or Thai. I would usually have some preoccupation, replying “OK, thank you”, and smiling back before passing on with not a thought for him. He was just a nice man with a smile, not particularly interesting and not worth me stopping to find out more about him and his world.
Then one evening he wasn’t there.
An earthquake had ripped Nepal asunder. The devastation was terrible, many were dead and many more were trapped alive in one of the poorest regions of the world under the rubble of whole towns and villages which no longer existed. Getting machinery through mud tracks over the worlds highest mountains where the air is so thin it saps your strength in minutes was impossible. You had to be born there to help and our man was once a Gurkha. Yes, the nice, smiling man was a trained killer, capable of snapping my neck if he felt so inclined and now he was in Nepal using his training, skill and resourcefulness, with whatever tools were to hand, to rescue his family from the catastrophe they were the victims of.
And he did rescue them.
Then he returned to London where he continues to greet everyone coming into the building with a nice smile, and a cheery hello, a positive influence on a world which takes him for granted and knows nothing about him.
So what do I know about people? Perhaps in London there are just too many to be interested in. I’m reminded of that scene in Crocodile Dundee where the man from the outback walks down a New York street on his first day saying “G’day” to everyone. You just can’t do it. But at the same time, I know I should pay a little more attention and live a little less in my bubble.
What’s more, the nice, smiling man gave me a song. You can listen to it here.
So what would I have been able to do if I had been in this man’s position and my family had been trapped beneath a mountain of rubble in need of being rescued? Sing them a song?
“The Man on the Desk” is taken from our third album, Bombs Away. To listen to the whole record please follow this link HERE
If you have been foolish enough to give us your email address over the past few years this email will have popped up in your inbox already. For everyone else I hope it gives you a chuckle
Some places are just magic and Ireland has a fair few of them. It had been another raucous night at Fibber Magees. Drunks had been ejected, Brazilian beauties had samba’d, Irish lads had talked quickly to each other in a tongue which was supposedly English but which no Englishman could decipher, and we had not been allowed off the stage until six encore songs had been played.
My great friend Peter Jones of Irish punk rockers Paranoid Visions told me: “You are all playing the Stags Head tomorrow night right? You’ll have the time of your lives”. Dublin’s cheeriest and most loveable rascals, Charlie Higgins and John Farrell, chipped in: “You’ll not stop us coming up. It’s the best boozer in Ireland”.
And so we took the train north to near the border, on a cold day with the wind blowing specs of rain through our clothes as we walked from the station to our hotel.
But our hearts and souls were warmed to the core as we later stepped into the Stag’s Head to be met by Skinner, organiser of shows and contender for most generous barman in the world. He was assisted by a host of regulars with warm handshakes and kind smiles. Some places just ooze friendliness.
The Stag’s Head has three main areas. There is a front bar, where the older, more restrained element tend to drink, a back bar where the bands play, and an outside smoking area. Now, of great significance to our story is the fact that, when bands set up, the door to the smoking area is to their side meaning smokers need to walk across the stage and through the performing band to feed their craving for the devil’s weed.
With most bands this presents a minor obstacle. The elderly gentlemen drinking steadily and quietly in the front bar can enjoy their seven or eight pints of Guiness while occasionally tottering, in a less and less steady manner as the night wears on, through the din and mayhem of the back bar. They then wend their way between the musicians and exit stage right to enjoy a peaceful smoke with their friends.
Those of you who have seen us live, however, will testify to the fact that there is a fair degree of movement going on by three characters holding guitars, each of whom therefore represents a moving barrier approximately four feet wide (that’s 1.3 metres for our European friends) on a stage, in this case, with a total width of 15 feet.
And so the evening’s entertainment progressed. We all agreed we were having the time of our lives. The audience were completely drunk and sang along to the songs, including a number of glamourous, exhuberent, long legged ladies in cinderella high heels and party dresses. Nick was excited.
Every now and then one of the aforementioned elderly gentlemen would come tottering from the front bar toward the stage in contemplation of a relaxing smoke, to be met by the sight of three dangerous, axe wielding maniacs, the most deadly of which was Welsh and female. Imagine, if you would, a line of desperate, Irish Walter Matthaus waiting by the side of a motorway/autobahn/freeway (call it what you will), hopping from foot to foot, occasionally advancing, then thinking the better of it, while trying to judge the opportune moment to make a dash through the speeding traffic to reach the sanctuary of the far side. If you can imagine that you can picture the scene in Dundalk’s finest pub that night.
So did we slow down to allow safe passage for the elderly gentlemen in their time of danger? Did we hell – we sped up! It became a badge of honour that none should pass. We fought a losing battle, of course, since periodically we had to pause for breath between songs, or one of us would be rooted to the spot while on keyboard duties. On these occasions a flood of relieved nicotine junkies would grab their chance of safe passage through the deranged rabble, leaving for later the challenge of how they would make it safely back to their drinks.
The evening ended with Irish retribution of a kind as Charlie and John joined us on stage, frightening Sophie into joining Karen behind the drum kit. The cheers of elderly men in the front bar could be heard above our din.
After the show the night flowed on into the early hours and much Guiness flowed with it. More unintelligible english was spoken at high speed by our wonderful hosts and even more laughter was to be heard mixed in.
A large 21st birthday party was in full swing when we arrived back at the hotel. We hadn’t found any food on our way but were warmly encouraged to help finish off the birthday buffet, which we duly did.
Ireland: it’s full of the Irish and, because of that, you can’t help but have a good time.