I thought long and hard about how to make this vital story interesting. And the solution came: follow the technique of modern politicians. I.e. pick a segment of society and make everything their fault. So:
Youngsters: don’t they listen to a pile of shite? Justin Bieber with 5 billion YouTube views! Ed Sheeran? I mean ………Ed Sheeran!
And you know what? Their music spreads like a bland, drummer free virus. Allow me to explain how.
You see, you, my cherished and much loved listeners, you buy CDs and LPs which enables us purveyors of guitar rock to make records and play live.
But youngsters, those acne ridden, cloth eared wearers of exercise clothing in inappropriate places, when they drag themselves away from their intelligence sapping phone games, youngsters listen to Spotify. And when they listen to Spotify, they “follow” the soppy, sound the same as everyone else pillocks they like. And Spotify, just like every other form of digital media, has algorithms which think, “oh look, there’s a fuckwit getting a load of followers. I’m going to put that prick in a whole variety of playlists I present to other listeners so they can hear that Nike wearing twerp in unstylish footwear, with his hat on the wrong way round, as well”.
And so it spreads, as a virtual bacteria throughout the inter web, with a whole new generation descending into an abyss of bubonic Ariana Grande black death.
So how can you, the heros and heroines of this story, come to our rescue and put an end to this misery?
Well for a start, if you do not already have one, you can open a Spotify account. It’s free, and it doesn’t mean you must never buy a CD or LP again. You don’t even need to listen to it.
Once you have your Spotify account you click on the Spotify logo at the top right of the box below. This takes you to our page where you hit the “Follow” button.
If all of you do this and follow us on Spotify, there is an infinitely greater chance that, when our new album comes out, it will appear in more Spotify playlists at the expense of pillocks like Coldplay. Having heard this impending work of genius, more people will add it to their playlists and follow us. And so the robots at Spotify will think: “look at those handsome, talented Big Heads. No wonder so many people are falling in love with them. I am going to help this love spread”.
Et voila: digital penicillin!
You could, if you were so inclined, also pursue this policy with other commendable musicians. The more the merrier in the fight against those brain dead, teenage soap dodgers with their tattooed eyebrows, inflicting Little Mix on us in shopping malls with no thought for our sanity.
Come on! Collectively we can reclaim the airwaves a la Joey Ramone. Or it’s modern equivalent at least. Your generation needs you. Let’s make something or other great again!
Postscript 18 Jan 2020
I posted the above in mid Jan and shared it on Facebook and Twitter. 200 people read it. I think most chuckled and we gained a few Spotify followers. I also posted it on the US site Reddit. 4 people from Reddit read the blog which received the 4 following comments there:
So, out of 4 people who read it at least 3 hated it. My sense of humour is either too British or old or I just know nothing about promotion! Probably the latter 😂 😂 😂
I love our uber fans. No, not people who arrive at gigs using mobile phones, but those wonders of the modern age who know more about us than we do, are familiar with every single thing we’ve recorded even if never released, and who will journey to the ends of the earth to see us.
People like this guy who stopped me in the street in Osaka to say he had traversed the length of Japan and here was his screensaver:
But different types of fans present a challenge. At one end of the spectrum there are those who would be happy with an entire set of unreleased rarities and complain if Boys’ songs are included to the exclusion of Big Head originals. At the other end are older hands who will riot if “First Time” and “Sick on You” don’t make an appearance. (It was different in Korea, by the way, where no one had heard of “First Time” and the audience seemed to be comprised largely of Prog Jazz fans! But more of that another time perhaps).
So when, a couple of months ahead of our recent Japan dates, a gentleman messaged to say that “No Joke” by The Hollywood Killers is very popular in Japan and we should play it I thought: “Silly sausage. Thank you kindly for knowing so much about a band I’d almost forgotten I was in, and a record which was never released, but how can that song possibly be known in Japan?”
Now: “Who are The Hollywood Killers?” I hear you ask:
Shortly before moving to London at the age of 17 I hung out with my school friend Neil Aplin in Canterbury. We both liked some pretty dodgy music and would jam for hours on end at Neil’s house on the posh side of town, the council house I lived in being way too close to the neighbours who would have had no truck with teenagers noodling away all afternoon like Crosby, Stills Nash and Young. Neil had a friend, Jim Penfold, whose parents ran a pub outside Hastings and who was a bit of a go getter. Jim was a big MacCartney fan and wrote very Beatles influenced songs. Neil and I joined his band and I remember a few gigs around Hastings including a support spot with The Heavy Metal Kids and a college date promoted by Simon Fuller (who would go on to manage the Spice Girls and create American Idol).
But soon I was bored with provincial life and packed my bags for London, where another school friend, Jack Black, persuaded me to drop a job in a posh frock shop in Knightsbridge to join him at a T Shirt Factory managed by a certain Honest John Plain. He took Jack and I to 47A Warrington Crescent where the likes of Mick Jones, Billy Idol, Tony James, Brian James, Steve Jones etc would gather on Sundays to play the intro to Slow Death by the Flamin Groovies (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QU91FmqJZ6w) all afternoon because no one was good enough to move on to the rest of the song. All of this well before they all went off to form the Clash, Sex Pistols, Generation X and Damned.
And as a result of hanging out at 47A Jack and I were in The Boys.
Fast forward from 1976 to 1981, The Boys were in the last year of their first life when I went to see Jim Penfold and Neil Aplin, for the first time since 1976, in their latest incarnation at Dingwalls in London.
It was very much Jim’s band and he decided on the name change to “The Hollywood Killers” which fitted the 60’s Doors type vibe we had. We were a kind of Psychedelica meets Bubblegum pop band (You’ll of course be surprised beyond comprehension that I would be in a band with a poppy bent).
A couple of things happened:
A: we became very, very good, and
B: we became very, very successful -but only in the strict confines of the rich London areas of Kensington, Fulham, Mayfair and Chelsea.
Here’s a clip of us playing one of our psychedelic pop songs recorded at the Golden Lion in Fulham:
We also played a whole variety of very well paid aristocratic Balls. We were a pretty handsome bunch and Jim, in particular, was tall and very good looking. The rich totty went mad for him. It was almost as if he was constantly surrounded by busty, posh birds in ball gowns. What a terrible life.
The biggest and most prestigious of all the Debutante Balls was the Berkeley Square Ball (https://www.montcalm.co.uk/blog/berkeley-square-ball-returns-to-london/), held each summer in the Mayfair location of that name. The theme that summer was the sixties so we were booked to play, together with another psychedelic pop band, being pushed as the next big thing by the music press at the time, whose name escapes me. (Update: I’ve since been informed by the encyclopedic Steve Green of Green Square who did such a fine design job on the covers of Little Big Head 2019 and Bombs Away (https://www.greensquare.me/) that this band was almost certainly Mood Six (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mood_Six)
We played our set, Champagne flowed, busty girls in ball gowns were admired as they chased Jim, chinless wonders in penguin suits were derided and I was plastered as I started my car to head home. Setting off I turned a corner to head the wrong way up a one way street, coming to a stop directly in front of a police car with two of London’s finest staring straight at me.
Now, was it the fact they knew I had just come from the Berkeley Square Ball and might therefore be very well connected which ensured that, while staring directly at me, neither shifted from their seats as I put the car into reverse, backed down the street and headed home, all the time praising my luck? I shall never know.
On another occasion we played a Convent School to two hundred frustrated and highly charged 15 year old girls, who hadn’t seen a male under the age of 50 for two months. We made it through 2 songs before they stampeded the stage, ripping the clothes from our backs and thrusting hands into places their mothers would not have approved of. The nuns came flying to our rescue, like black clad ravens hauling the girls off to bed with no supper amid admonitions of what they could expect in the after life. The Mother Superior was very kind, apologised profusely and gave us a glass of wine.
Suddenly we had a record deal with the independent label, Creole Records. But by that time I had made the momentous decision to quit music, accepting an offer to study Materials Engineering at Imperial College (https://www.imperial.ac.uk/), a very prestigious part of London University. At school I’d been good at English but hated History and all of the other “arts” subjects. I had an aptitude for Maths, Physics and Chemistry and, despite being lazy, ended up with decent A levels. Five minutes after finishing the last exam the headmaster ordered me to go home because he wasn’t having me hanging around with nothing to do, suspecting, possibly correctly, that I was connected with his car finding its way into the aisle of the school chapel with it’s fuel tank siphoned empty.
Hence, with those qualifications, it had to be a science or engineering degree. I had decided, at the ripe old age of 23 that I no longer wanted to be a penniless musician. I had no idea of the impending emotional hit to my self esteem which would come from the transition to student, but I still had a year till it started. When I told Jim of my decision he learned, on the same day, that he had the record contract he had always craved but would lose his side kick, which was what I was.
In The Boys, Casino Steel had always called me the front man, which was indeed my role. This didn’t mean I was leader of the band. I couldn’t be because, in a songwriting sense I’ve always said I was the student learning at the feet of masters. I was co lead singer, but the man at the front of the stage getting the crowd going and visually being the focus. In the Hollywood Killers I had more of a Mick Ronson (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mick_Ronson) role which was very enjoyable and carried a good deal less pressure.
Don’t underestimate Mike Vernon’s contribution here together with his amazing work on records like “Albatross” where, through the guitars and cymbals, you can almost hear a bird flying over ocean waves.
I learned so much about production from Tony Barber when we came to make “Little Big Head”. At the outset, in typical Tony fashion he said: “We can make this record like a Ramones record or we can make it interesting”. Tony wasn’t being rude about The Ramones. Their early records are straight forward. The sound is almost the same on each track. The end of the track sounds the same as the beginning with no variation in between and they have almost no harmonies. The Ramones can do that and make a great record because they are so perfect and their songs are so superb. Thousands of eager young punk bands have since taken the same approach and made boring records because they don’t have the same genius.
Compare that approach to “Man of the World”. The genius of Peter Green, the artist, is not imposed on or hindered in any way, unlike for instance Phil Spector or Trevor Horn who dominate their records by producing their sound (and a great sound it usually is). But in “Man of the World” listen to how the sound and the instrumentation changes. A little bit of Spanish guitar then it’s gone. Heavy reverb on an electric guitar then it’s gone. Heavy reverb on a vocal then it’s gone. Heavy distortion on a bass then it’s gone. A distorted guitar line then a clean guitar line and on and on go the variations, being “interesting” indeed. All the modern technology in the world could not make that record any more perfect than it is.
And Mike didn’t disappointment with us. Time with him in the studio was an easy going joy. We decamped for a few days to his mansion in the Cotswolds where he had a studio in a barn and a barrel of beer in the recording room. The Boys wouldn’t have made it to the end of the session.
There was something so professional and calming about this man with the country bumpkin accent. He did a great job, the results of which are here:
And for good measure, showing what a great live band the Hollywood Killers were, here is a live version of “No Joke” from that Golden Lion show:
Dan says he has to close his club when he’s on tour because the Japanese can’t cook pizza. I couldn’t possibly comment.
Remember the kind man who had reminded me of “No Joke” by the Hollywood Killers and who I had dismissed as a well meaning but delusional soul for telling me it was popular in Japan?
We’d played our set at Pop Pizza and were mingling with the crowd, signing albums and bowing back as they respectfully bowed at us in that shy Japanese way which is so beguiling. Nick Hughes gave me a tap on the shoulder and shouted above the music: “What’s this song the DJ is playing. It’s really Elton John but I’ve never heard it”. I listened. “Fuck me”, I said, “It’s me!”.
I rushed over to the DJ shouting: “What is this, where did you get it?”. “It’s a 7 inch released in Spain” he said, “It’s very popular here”.
And the same thing happened in Okayama the following night, then in Osaka and then at our first gig in Tokyo. “No Joke” was everywhere.
Our second, smaller gig in Tokyo was an acoustic affair in the intimate Poor Cow bar, a wonderful place run by Fifi, a great singer fronting a great band in his own right. The bar is based around his vinyl collection and, of course, he had a copy of “No Joke”. The clamour to play the song was too great so we learned it in the sound check. When we played it a huge cheer erupted and at the end of the set, instead of the traditional Japanese communal shout of “One more song” the shout was a collective “No Joke”.
So we played it again, largely messing it up but still getting a resoundingly positive reaction.
Across the Sea of Japan the Koreans didn’t know the song, of course. They were busy listening to jazz. But what an unexpected bonus from the trip. A song, forgotten in the mists of time, restored to its rightful owner, together with memories of a couple of happy years, my last as a musician before the transition to student, businessman, husband and father.
Some time in 2017 I was searching through the folders on my computer looking for a particular photograph, when I came across 5 mastered tracks. “What the hell are those?” ran through my head as I clicked to listen. They were 5 songs recorded for Little Big Head I’d promptly thrown away when putting the running order together.
“What was I doing?”, I thought. “These are amazing”.
Unusually for these posts you probably haven’t heard April Fool (unless you already have the reissue of Little Big Head) and usually I wait till the end, having explained the song, to show where you can hear it.
But since you probably don’t know it, here’s a funny video by my good friend Stuart Diggle of the band Litterbug (https://litterbug.bandcamp.com/music) with the song as sound track.
So, a simple song about a guy who takes his girlfriend for granted and then doesn’t understand why she’s gone off “with the other guy”. A lot of fun to write, especially the middle 8.
I’d just seen the musical “Jersey Boys” (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jersey_Boys) about Franki Valli and the Four Seasons which I really enjoyed. So hints of “Rag Doll” with “Ooh Ahh Oohs”. Compare and contrast with the original for yourself here: It’s a great song:
Lyrically there’s an interesting story as well. Back when I was in The Boys Honest John Plain (https://www.discogs.com/artist/342569-Honest-John-Plain) was working on a solo album but needed some songs. So he asked me to contribute and play on the record. It was a major moment in my life because, for the first time ever, I found writing easy and enjoyable. I’d written a few songs for The Boys before but it was always a struggle. This time, and who knows why, the songs just flowed. So I played on the record as did Casino Steel and Vom Ritchie (drummer for The Boys at the time). As all the Boys except Matt Dangerfield were there, John had the idea of calling it “The Mattless Boys” which gave us both hours of giggles in the studio. I think the idea was later attributed to me but I can’t take any of the credit for it.
One of the Songs I contributed is called “Any Old Time” which John loved. And he had written “Romanian Girl” which I, in turn, adored. So we shared writing credits on both as a gift to each other though John had nothing to do with the writing of Any Old Time and I had no hand in Romanian Girl apart from playing bass and harmony vocals.
Romanian Girl is about a time, according to John, when he tried to pick up a girl in a bar who was way more interested in a road digger also vying for her attention. John has always been great at self deprecation.
And so the lines “Never thought I’d be the one to end up, moaning like John Plain ………….writing songs about the girl who’s gone off with the other guy, getting drunk in the pub and wondering why”. It’s a direct reference to the song I love: Romanian Girl by The Mattless Boys.
So here it is: “April Fool”, a song which was nearly confined to the dustbin of history, never to be heard, but which was rescued by a stroke of luck when I opened the wrong computer file eight years later to find it sitting there. Hope you enjoy it as much as me.
“April Fool” appears on “Little Big Head: 2019 Reissue” by Duncan Reid and the Big Heads:
I don’t know whether you saw recently but there was a post on Facebook by the singer of Slaughter and the Dogs (https://www.satd.band/) berating his band members for being greedy and unthinking, saying that he was sacking the lot of them and threatening legal action if they used the name.
Now Wayne clearly feels hurt and wronged (I can’t say if that’s reasonable, I wasn’t there) but do you feel that Slaughter and the Dogs fans want to know about this?
You see, bands tend to be made up of selfish, egotistical people who live in each others pockets for way too long. Those people are called musicians and to be one you have to have a bit of an ego. Normal, sensible people wouldn’t put themselves through the stress of getting up on stage, especially in the early days when you aren’t any good and the whole exercise is a bit degrading. It takes a bit of thick skinned determination to carry on after a bunch of overweight men in Middlesbrough have just told you “you’re shit”, as happened to me in The Boys after our second gig (mind you, we were shit at that early time, so they were only telling the truth).
In my experience fights within bands are commonplace and always about something stupid. It’s summed up by the best definition I have ever heard of a band manager: “Someone who looks after a bunch of children until they sack him/her”.
And so, with no desire to join the ranks of the immature (but I’m going to anyway), I have never spoken about the circumstances of my leaving The Boys (http://www.theboys.co.uk/). It was a result of the usual mixture of petty stupidity, with blame on all sides and who needs to know about that? I remember sitting with Charlie Harper just afterwards who asked why I’d left. As I was mid explanation, I could see the look of incredulity on his face and felt pretty daft. It really was all nonsense.
It might have been embarrassing foolishness but that didn’t stop it being almightily painful at the same time, and the proof, I believe, can be heard in the song “All Fall Down” from Little Big Head.
Tensions had been building up for a while but in typical Boys fashion we laughed them off. We called a tour of South America the “We All Love Each Other” tour which cracked us up in between the bickering, and helped paper over the cracks. But not for long. During the next tour, in Spain, things boiled over and went past the point of no return.
And so “We all came running home again, to go our separate ways. All left losers in the game, with those who loved and gave us praise”, I.e. you the fans lost out, as well as us in the band.
And “Nothing really lasts forever” although I had previously thought it would. The sense of loss in the song was heightened in the recording by my losing my voice, a result of overwork from singing all lead and backing vocals in too short a time. The fragility of the vocals brings out the hurt, I believe.
But I did get a damn fine song out of it and another on the 2nd album “Not the Kind of Guy Girls Hug” which is also in part about the same subject.
So the pain/hurt/loss lasted a few years, but at about the time of the release of “Bombs Away” I suddenly woke up and thought: “Wow. Look at this! Look at the reaction at these gigs, look at what people are saying about the records, look at the promoters who are ringing me up!”
And for the new (fourth) record (due out later this year or early next for those of you quite reasonably asking where the record is you have already paid for!), we have a song in contention called “Can We Stop Having Fun”. This has the line “I don’t know where I’d be today, without some fisticuffs along the way”.
And that sums it up really. A painful episode leading to a song which is just one of the building blocks behind the most fulfilling part of my career.
Sometimes the worst things just turn out to be for the best.
“All Fall Down” can be heard on the “Little Big Head 2019 Reissue” which is being distributed by those fine people at Cherry Red Records (https://www.cherryred.co.uk/). You can buy it through their Website here: Link to Cherry Red and also on Amazon and all good record stores.
For those of you with Spotify you can hear “All Fall Down ” from the original release here:
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!