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:
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.
On our first album, Little Big Head, there is a track, Rolling On, which contains my most autobiographical lyric to date. In three minutes odd it goes from childhood, through moving to London, falling into the punk scene, settling down, family and now.
For me, the most evocative part is the early verse dealing with my upbringing in Canterbury, a sleepy, provincial town in Kent. Sixty miles from London but part of a different universe altogether.
I grew up at the edge of town on the London Road Council estate. Uniform red brick houses, three small but adequate bedrooms, sporadic traffic, apple orchards out the back and the famous Canterbury Cathedral, founding place of Christianity in Britain, visible from everywhere.
Solidly working class but safe. No one was rich but no one was really poor. And from the rose-tinted perspective of many decades later, the sun, of course, always shone.
The best aspect of growing up there was that, by and large, we were free. A motley gang of 7,8,9, and 10 year olds always playing football in the street. If traffic came by, the ball would be picked up and, once the car passed, the endless game would carry on.
I say “always playing football” but that’s not quite true. There was always time for other escapades.
As July and August approached the apples in the orchards would ripen and it was time for the farmers to be on maximum guard as the “scrumping” season approached. Packs of German Shepherd dogs were bought in to patrol the crops and save them from the gangs of urchins who saw it as a badge of honour to strip the trees of their bounty of ripe red fruit. The farmers themselves would patrol with shot guns ready to fire at any tree infested with monkey like boys who were busy helping themselves to everything they could grab.
The operation was military in its precision. Small boys were sent ahead to reconnoitre for dogs and guns. If the coast was clear a Game of Thrones like charge of older, bigger, better climbers descended and the harvest began. Sometimes the dogs would hear us without the small boys seeing them, and a mad dash ensued with hounds after their quarry and shotgun blasts going off behind.
Usually though, all passed peacefully and a procession of scamps would be seen wending their way back through the estate, jumpers bulging bulbously with their illicit bounty. Mothers would wait at the door to give each and everyone a clip round the ear for being “naughty”, but apple pie was always on for “pudding” at “tea time”. Nothing was wasted.
Or there were the bike trips. “Where are you going?” our mother would ask as bikes were wheeled past the back door. “Just down the road” was the reply. But in fact an expedition was planned to Whitstable, 10 miles away and the nearest coast. The route would involve 20 or so imps often cycling down a dual carriageway to get to the sea. Swimming would follow, then drying off on the way back. No food was packed so we’d knock on the door of complete strangers and ask for a sandwich. An ordinary day dodging high-speed traffic, risking not just drowning but, from the viewpoint of this modern, paranoid age, abduction also.
“Where have you been?”, was the question on our return. “Nowhere”, was the reply.
I could go on with tales of organised shoplifting in the toy shops of Canterbury high street. The aim was to get one over on the security guards who knew exactly what we were there for, but never caught us. Often the booty was thrown away as it wasn’t really the point. Or playing chicken on the electrified main rail line from Dover to London. Raids to let the bicycle tyres down of kids from other streets. “Knock out ginger”, easy pickings fishing in local fish farms, fake dog turds left on the steps of Canterbury Cathedral to shock the tourists, breaking my little finger the one and only time I hit a boy who had just hit my little brother………. you get the picture: a childhood of adventure and “We were all in clover”.
But “time rolled on”, I turned eleven, and for complicated, domestic reasons I was torn from the family home and sent to a middle class world where I needed to mend my ways and hide my roots, else people would think less of me if they knew where I came from. But that’s a story for another song.
So what has bought on this orgy of nostalgic reminiscing?
Well on 23 July we play in Deal, a hop and a skip from Canterbury, in that delightful seaside town, remote enough to be saved from the weekend home buying Londoners that Whitstable has been prey to, but lively enough to enjoy a thriving live music scene. It’s also now my brother’s home and we appear at The Lighthouse, his local and a boozer I wanted to play the minute I walked in.
All sorts of family will be there and, if you want to join us at this free gig, the details are here.
So, in celebration of this rare and momentous return to Kent, may I urge you to give “Rolling On” a listen, either in pure, unsullied audio perfection here or with added audio-visual splendour here.
Thank you for your indulgence and company on this fond meander down memory lane.
And so it begins. 15 songs have been written and now they need recording. Tony Barber has moved lock stock and barrel to New York and taken his shed with him. He’s busy wiring a new studio together in Brooklyn but, even if he was ready, it wouldn’t be the most practical plan to commute across the Atlantic to overdub guitars etc.
So on June 3rd Karen will start laying down the drum tracks with the wonderful Sean Genockey at the helm and on we go from there.
The vocals will be a different matter, though. I’m recording those at home. I lost my voice twice recording Little Big Head as it’s a big strain singing for days on end making sure you get all the harmonies spot on. Much better to do it for a couple of hours at a time when I can pop in and warble when I want.
I’ve bought myself a proper £2,000 studio mike but, here’s the important point, you need to record in a room which is completely devoid of echos or the quality of the recording is rubbish. Something to do with sound waves cancelling each other out which is way beyond me.
Here’s where a duvet, towel and bath mat come in handy.
You see, my home studio is located in our spare room which also doubles up as coat room and houses the noisy central heating boiler. So, rule number one, no heating or hot water on while I’m recording. The wife is delighted.
The room has nice shiny wooden floors, a big glass window and plain walls. Great for making a big reverb sound when you clap your hand. Crap for recording.
So, I started off trying professional “bass traps”, which you can see glued to the walls, and a thing that wraps around the microphone to stop the sound going everywhere. They helped – but not enough.
So, to completely deaden the room I commandeered a step ladder from the garage and hung the duvet off our bed over it. I also took the bath mat from the bathroom and put a towel over it on the floor (we didn’t have a spare rug). I’ve also stuck a sheet over the window.
And now everything is great.
Well, I think so anyway. Liz isn’t quite so convinced especially when she goes in to get her coat and has to manoeuvre round the the duvet or when she gets out of the shower and wants to dry off.
Children. Life changing aren’t they. When they’re young they think you are great. You know everything and, within reason and perhaps after a bit of coercion, they do what you say.
We’re all genetically modified to find them absorbing and would do anything to keep them safe and happy. As Billy Conolly said: “Kids are like farts. My own don’t smell bad at all”.
And then come the teenage years and you know nothing. “What do you mean?” said my 14 year old daughter, “of course I’ll be alright if go down to Camden till 3 am” and I was the fool for not letting her. But they have to do that. It’s part of the process of making you let go and accepting they’re growing up and will soon be gone. (For thoughts on a similar subject listen to “Long Long Gone” on the “Difficult 2nd Album”)
But for all the trials and tribulations, when you’ve got kids you really do have it all.
I wrote a song on the subject and recorded it for “Little Big Head”. It didn’t make the album so I gave it to a charity which supports Michael Sobell House, a Hospice for the terminally ill. They included it on the fund raising CD “A Tribute to Paul Fox”. Paul was guitarist in The Ruts and was helped by MSH before he sadly succumbed to cancer. I’m happy to say the CD, which features TV Smith, UK Subs, Chelsea, The Urban Voodoo Machine and many more, sold well and is worth checking out.
You can hear “They’ve Got it All” on Soundcloud and, if you are quick enough and get there before their free allocation runs out, download it as well.