I had a feeling that picture might grab your attention. It’s very typical of the wonderful and extravert Kelly Navarro. I say wonderful and extravert but I’ve never met her. I bet she is though.
Back before Duncan Reid and the Big Heads were even a twinkle in my eye there was no Facebook. Or there might have been but we were all on something called MySpace. And that’s where I met Kelly. She was working in a record store somewhere in the San Francisco area, daily regaling the world with tales of the appalling customers who would come in.
Kelly had a unique view of customer service. People trying to buy records could expect an honest appraisal of their manners and we, the world at large, were given a detailed run down of the revolting specimens who dared to interupt her day and which of them required shooting.
She was hilarious but I often wondered: what if she really did shoot them? And so the song “Kelly’s Gone Insane” was born and featured on our first album: Little Big Head.
Little did I know that Kelly’s fate was sealed at birth when her parents named her, as the following photograph culled from social media (and so it must be true) shows:
7 years after Little Big Head’s release we’ve been through 3 represses, all sold out and so it’s time for a celebratory 2019 reissue. Look out for that in July with a new sleeve, previously unreleased bonus tracks and LP in yellow, splatter vinyl.
In the meantime we have a very limited edition vinyl single (300 copies only) on Crocodile Records (contact them here: https://www.facebook.com/CrocodileRecs/) of Kelly’s Gone Insane backed by 2 songs not previously available physically: “Pretty Little Rachel” and “Baby Baby”, also recorded at the Little Big Head sessions but not included on the album.
You can also order here (post included in the price):
Kelly’s Gone Insane Vinyl EP
A magnificent EP backed by rare tracks Pretty Little Rachel and Baby Baby
You can listen to Kelly’s Gone Insane here on spotify:
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”:
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
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:
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:
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
In punk circles vinyl tends to be king with good reason. It’s a joy to hold something substantial in your hands, read the liner notes and look at the design. The sound on a good system is also the best you can hear. Warm and rich with all the instruments separated.
But the world of music is becoming increasingly streamed and it’s easy to see why. On your phone you have almost every record ever released. I have to admit, as a consumer, I love it.
One particular feature on Spotify has been a joy: Discover Weekly. Every week Spotify sends me 30 tracks it thinks I might like: and they are often right. I’ve discovered loads of bands I’d never heard before who I’ve come to enjoy.
How does Spotify decide what I might like? When I put a song on a playlist, it looks at the playlists of other people who have added the same song, works out which songs are most common and sends them to me.
It works! So much so that the major record companies spend a fortune trying to get people to add songs by their artists to playlists.
So -you can really help us if you have Spotify. Just start making playlists and, in among the tracks you love, add Duncan Reid and the Big Heads songs. It’s that easy and its really powerful. The more you do it, the more people are likely to have one of our tracks sent to them each Monday when they receive their 30 songs on Discover Weekly.
And as an added bonus Discover Weekly will work better and you will be more likely to discover music you didn’t know that you will love.
I don’t know if the same thing happens on Apple Music but it’s been such a hit for Spotify I bet they will be using the idea in some way.
Moral of the Story: Make playlists and add Duncan Reid and the Big Heads songs (and songs by other bands you love and want to help).
Many thanks to Steve Green and everyone at green square design for coming up with a great album cover.
The cd will be a digipak with a 16 page booklet full of pictures, song lyrics and the usual notes on the stories behind the songs. The same information will be on the insert included with the vinyl LP.
For those downloading the album or listening to it on Spotify or Bandcamp we’ll post some of the song notes on this site later on.