The Story Behind the Song Part 1: The Man on the Desk

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.

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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

How to Help Us Spread the Word on Spotify

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).

 

 

Bombs Away: The Artwork is here

7600 COVER_RGBMany 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.

Keep an eye out. Not long to go now!

It Was Another Age

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.

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Canterbury Cathedral looming over everything

 

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.

London Road Estate
The London Road Estate with sun “always” shining.

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.

New Album Underway

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.

DIY. It always was the punk way.

They’ve Got it All -A Lost Treasure from Little Big Head

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.

Listen to “They’ve Got it All” here and download for free if you are quick enough