The internet has been both good and bad. The bad? More than ever truth is a thing of the past. Newspapers were bad enough but social media is worse. It has been shown that false, made up stories are seen by five times as many people as true ones. Facebook and Twitter algorithms make sure we tend to see things we agree with. So the chances are we see false stories which reinforce our prejudices and make us more extreme in our views. It’s like the Daily Mail (a right wing UK rag) on steroids.
Today I saw a post that said John Lydon is worth $175 million and owns a chain of UK burger bars. The article had made up his worth and a quick trip to Google shows that the burger bars don’t exist. But a huge swathe of people now think that is true.
But on the plus side the internet has bought us its radio. Programmes put together by people who love music and which don’t play the same, narrow playlist of songs, targeted to maximise listener numbers in a narrow demographic in order to make the station efficient, and therefore more valuable to advertisers.
One such show is Danny Mac’s Testifying Time. Most night’s you’ll find Danny in his cab delivering the sensible citizens of Glasgow from bar to home. On Wednesdays you’ll find him on Village FM playing music he loves and interviews he plans a year in advance, plotting questions he can intercut with particular songs from an artist’s career.
The result is well thought out, expertly edited, and, the highest praise I can give, interesting.
It was an honour and delight to be the subject of one of Danny’s labour of loves. I hope you’ll honour him and have a listen here.
If you grew up in East Kent the word “Dreamland” will mean only one thing –Margate. And Margate means excitement!
You know how it is: when you look back on summer days as a kid every day was sunny. And so the whole family, Mum, step dad and three brothers would cram into the tiny family car and head off to the coast from Canterbury. There would always be traffic jams on the tiny country roads because everyone else had the same idea. The farmers had always just cut their crops so the whole journey smelled of cabbage!
But what a treat when you finally arrived. Three little boys digging holes in the sand, burying someone’s dog and anything else our parents didn’t keep a close eye on. Swimming in the sea or in the huge stone pool craftily constructed to capture a load of pea green sea water so bathers didn’t have to wade out miles to get up to their knees when the tide went out.
But it was in the evening the fun really started.
First up a local delicacy. A type of shellfish, usually so badly cleaned it was still full of tooth crunching sand, liberally dowsed in face scrunching malt vinegar, going by the name of -I kid you not – cockles! British cuisine is not what it was.
Roller Coasters, candy floss, bumper cars and penny cascades. You’d feed your pennies into the top of the latter, they’d drop down, bouncing off various pegs and, if you were lucky, land in a way that made a load of other pennies be pushed over a ledge and fall in a flash of lights and loud music to a place where you could pick them out. But we’d spent all our pennies on the rides. So one brother would keep a look out for the attendant while another gave the machine a good nudge with his shoulder in an attempt to dislodge the pennies without putting any in. It never worked. The machines were set like the Rock of Gibraltar into the floor of the penny arcade and all that happened was the alarm was set off which brought the attendants running to shoo us out with threats of the jails we would reside in should we show our faces round there again.
When I became a teenager the attraction of Dreamland changed. In London a world of David Bowie, Roxy Music, T Rex and Slade existed. No one ever came to Canterbury but they did appear at Dreamland. Only one problem though. I was banned from going.
Ever since the sixties Margate equalled danger in the eyes of parents for unaccompanied teenagers. It started with mass fights between Mods and Rockers and carried on with dark tales of the worst possible danger prowling the known universe at the time -DRUGS! Evil men lurked in Margate, luring the innocent into a lifetime of addiction in order to relieve them of all hope and pocket money.
But we sneaked off anyway. Especially when Hawkwind were playing. They had a young Lemmy on bass and vocals but, more importantly, a female dancer with huge knockers whose shirt and bra would go missing on a good night. For 13 year old boys nothing could possibly be better than that.
Dreamland closed not long after. Margate became a victim of the cheap beer and sunny weather on offer in Spain and fell into a state of deepening decay.
But largely through an influx of European money things are looking up. You’ll still see a fleet of teenage mothers pushing prams up the high street, dodging the shoplifters desperately running away from overworked store guards. But now Margate is also home to The Turner Gallery, named after the painter who admired the North Kent skies so much and who was the subject of Mike Leigh’s wonderful film. There’s a charming Covent Garden like centre of antique shops, boutique hotels and restaurants and, best of all, Dreamland reopened a few years ago as a vintage recreation park.
At 9pm on September 8 2017 the wheel will turn full circle and I will be there, not as an excited teenager slinking off for illicit pleasure, but as a fully fledged performer appearing at Mick Moriaty’s wonderful Undercover Festival. It’s one of a number of festivals we are playing in 2017. Since we blew people’s socks off at Riverside Rebellion they haven’t stopped coming in!
I’m told by regulars that Undercover is a seriously good time for all who attend. To say I can’t wait is an understatement.
There are some heroes on this small island of ours. Fighters who keep the flame alive and give a platform to those of us who plow our furrow in the unfashionable and underloved arena of melodic, tuneful, punk rock, – heroes who enable weekends as fun-filled and fulfilling as the one just passed.
We’ve been guilty of ignoring the Northern end of Great Britain for a couple of years. Those Germans, Scandinavians, Spanish, Irish and even Americans are just so damn welcoming. And I don’t know what we’ve done to Rebellion but they never answer our emails. We started to put that right this week though.
So step forward Mr Joe Maddox and his band The Breakdowns. We needed a stopover between London and Glasgow and up they came with our salvation. The Chameleon Arts Cafe: smack bang in the middle of Nottingham on a thursday night. Run by two very friendly fellas who are determined to enjoy their work and make sure their wares are up to scratch before offering them for sale. If you ask nicely they are also not backward in coming forward with the Jaegermeister post show.
Heated to a level just a few degrees below St Petersburg on Christmas eve, the Chameleon still has a warmth only the good people of Nottingham can engender. I lived in this town for a couple of years when I was helping to run Nottingham Forest FC (twice Champions of Europe!) and I love coming back to hear the dulcet tones of the local OAPs telling me: “You’re blocking the road and breaking the law”! Well I was, but only because we had to stop somewhere in the car to telephone the venue which is hidden down an alley and up some stairs. A great crowd, a great thursday night and we were bloody good too.
And so to Glasgow. Last time we were there was a Saturday afternoon matinée. Bold idea and a good one. This time it would be a friday night proper, promoted once again by the charming Alex Mainy Main, a man of many entertaining opinions, as evidenced by his blog –“Itsaxxxxthing” (Warning: do not read if you like your point of view filtered by the Daily Mail, or are of a Trumpish disposition). He is also a general doer of good deeds for struggling musicians through his local collective The New Hellfire Club. The venue, Audio, is one of the best in the UK as were the two support bands, Media Whores and Heavy Drapes.
I love a big stage. Give us a Big Stage and we’ll show you how to use it! Sophie K Powers threw her best poses, thrashing away with no regard for life or limb, a blur of hair, white Les Paul Junior and legs.
Mauro Venegas strutted his patch, a wild mixture of Mick Ronson and Steve Jones. Our own Jones (Karen) whacked away behind. How does someone so light hit those drums so damn hard?
And me? You know what I do when you give me a bit of space.
We were shit hot that night. It was worth the long drive just by itself.
Afterwards we headed off to sample the bars of Sauchiehall Street. Glasgow late on a drunken Friday night? Well why not? You only die once.
Actually it wasn’t threatening at all. We arrived in an establishment full of young bearded fellows, quite clearly off their faces on MDMA, throwing karate poses to each other in time to modern music of indeterminate quality. The girls, clearly also floating in another dimension, were together enough to be pissed off at the lack of attention from the blokes who, despite their lack of terrestrial presence, seemed to be quite aware that they looked like a bunch of bearded Craig Revel Horwoods.
And then things got weirder. The besuited DJs played first “War Pigs” by Black Sabbath, then Whitney Huston, Dolly Parton, Sheena Easton and a whole host of guilty pleasures from the 70s and 80s. By this time the place was heaving with hipsters all getting off to music they probably wouldn’t be seen dead owning up to on Sunday morning.
We’d been joined by Guy Jardine, boss at Rebel in Print T Shirts (Check them out), a man who wouldn’t be seen dead on facebook (cough) and unmistakably: A PUNK! “This isn’t Punk” grumbled Guy, “Punk was invented to get rid of all this”! “Don’t be a silly sausage” I said. “Yes, come and have a dance” said Sophie. So off he sheepishly trotted to have a bop whereupon the DJ took Lionel Ritchie off and put on Billy Idol to save Guy’s blushes. Hospitable people these Scots.
We were on at the perfect time: about 8 pm. But: we followed Church of Eon and Cyanide Pills. Watching them both I was thinking, “This is going to take some serious showing off to keep up with”. Church of Eon even had a portly local jump up in his ABBA pyjamas during their cover of Mama Mia.
Cyanide Pills were simply magnificent: everything you want when Leeds meets Lager.
So we really did get up to some serious, world-class showing off. There weren’t the wide open spaces of Audio so we crashed into each other a lot, I couldn’t hear a word I was singing and the mike kept flying off its stand. But I think we pulled the largest crowd of the night and kept them there to our glorious finale.
On the way back to the hotel Mauro stopped to pick up a local delicacy: the Chicken Parma. He had a half sized one which was about 4 kilos of breaded, fried chicken covered in 3 litres of melted cheese and a bucket of fries. I share a hotel room with him and was worried (having seen Monty Python’s Meaning of Life).
In 1977 The Boys appeared in Leicester with Generation X. We’d played our set and gone down a storm underneath a shower of beer, thrown onto the stage by an enthusiastic, although not entirely empathetic crowd. Next up were Gen X to navigate the surface which resembled an aromatic, melting ice rink.
Key their intro tape and big build up to an entrance by the most image conscious of the early punk bands. Billy Idol made it on with aplomb. This couldn’t be said of Tony James who skidded from one side of the stage to the other ending up on his arse.
“You’ll never be cool”, shouted a wag from the crowd.
Oh how we laughed but, as they say, those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.
Some years later, on a cold midwinter’s day myself and the family were staying with Vom Richie, ex band mate from The Boys and drummer with German punk superstars Die Toten Hosen. They were finishing up their latest mega tour with about 10 sold out nights at a 15,000 seat arena in their home town of Dusseldorf. On hearing I was coming to the show they invited me to join them in a cover of The Boys hit First Time. At the appointed time I ran on in front of a colossal crowd, onto a colossal stage which contained a colossal, eye catching drum riser.
“Oooh”, I thought. “What an excellent idea it would be to jump off there. That’ll look cool”………………..Wrong!
The thing you have to understand is that bass guitars weigh a bit. If you jump with one round your neck you fall much faster than usual. So, at the end of the song I ran up the steps to the top of the riser, pumped my fist into the air with my best rock star pose, waited as the penultimat guitar chord rang out into the night, jumped high into the air as the cue for a last triumphant final kerrang and fell flat on my face in front of 15,000 people.
This being the YouTube age it’s now impossible to be a prat and not have it recorded for posterity. You can therefore witness my clowning glory in all it’s awfulness Here.
All was not lost though. My wife and quite a few of the public thought I’d fallen over on purpose. I didn’t argue.
The same tactic couldn’t be used next time though.
Date: July 2016. Occasion: triumphant return to my home county of Kent for my first gig there in eons. Opening song: Can’t Stop, a new one we are recording for the as yet untitled 3rd album.
Boisterous crowd in the Lighthouse in Deal, all ready to have a great night. What more could we want? Well have a look at what happened here.
No conning my way out of that one. Full blown backward stumble taking out Tommy Lorente’s full set of guitar pedal cables and crashing into the drum kit, causing major damage. Reminds me of the time I backed my car into my wife’s, giving both a great big expensive dent. Luckily no one shouted “You’ll never be cool”, though it would have been no less than I deserved.
Moral of the story? I may, in my always humble opinion, be one of the best jumper arounders in the long history of modern music but it doesn’t come without its risks.
Will there be a third time? I’ll do my best to prevent it but I’ll keep you posted.
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.
Here’s a few tips and info I’ve learned for new bands who want to get their music out there. It’s also hopefully interesting for those who like to know how these things work.
If you don’t have a record company to look after you, and these days if you aren’t a karaoke solo singer that’ll be nearly everyone, you have to make and distribute your own music. It’s quite easy to have worldwide digital distribution on ITunes, Amazon, Spotify and Apple Music etc. You just need an aggregator.
We use AWAL which stands for Artists Without A Label. They are owned by the large, relative newcomer, Kobalt. You upload your music and artwork to the account you create on their site and, voila, everyone can download or stream your music worldwide. (The depressing thing is you’ll find your music will also appear on loads of sites which steal it and offer it cheap without paying, but that’s another subject and not AWAL’s fault).
AWAL will also try to make sure that, if someone uploads one of your songs to YouTube, an advert runs and you get something at least. YouTube is a problem at the moment. (It’s owned by Google who believe they own the internet. Actually they do own the internet because governments allow them to own over 90% of internet search advertising which means they are a monopoly and richer than the rest of the world put together. Again, that’s another subject). YouTube pays out far less than the pennies others like Spotify pay so please bear that in mind when you rip a track by an artist to post on YouTube without their permission. (I’m not talking about clips you film at gigs btw. They only help spread the word IMHO).
AWAL works very well. They do the job they say they will for 15% of what you earn and a transfer appears in your bank account every month along with a very clear and interesting statement of where the money was earned.
If there’s one drawback it’s that you don’t have any influence over how things appear on the various platforms. For instance on Spotify if you listen to “Little Big Head” by “Duncan Reid”, there’s nothing to show that there’s an associated album, “The Difficult Second Album” by “Duncan Reid and the Big Heads”.
The other drawback is that while AWAL take 15% of what they receive, Apple, for instance, also take 30% of what they receive before paying AWAL, so you end up with just over half of what people pay.
If you want to offer LPs and CDs on Amazon the costs are also high.
For unsigned bands there is an alternative where you sell downloads, CDs, LPs and merch direct to fans. It’s called Bandcamp. You set up your shop yourself making sure fans get the highest quality downloads (yes there is a big difference in sound quality between a download based on a so called WAV file and one based on an inferior MP3). You can give tracks away for free, set a price or ask people to pay what they want.You can make sure fans also get lyrics and song notes with their downloads and add photos and bonus tracks.
And Bandcamp just make the one charge of 15% for downloads and 10% on physical items, so you get the majority of the money.
I’m sure there are other sites for bands to do this but this is the one I know and if you are searching to buy stuff from an unsigned band you have discovered I would urge you to check Bandcamp first. Every little helps.
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.
Oh Boy, will you take a look at this! Dunc the Hunk as they quite rightly called me. Why oh why did I do it? Publicity of course. The age old young musicians, desire for fame, fortune and girls. I wasn’t the only one either. Billy Idol and Paul Weller were regulars at the time in teen girl magazines like this and Jackie. The latter had a “Hunk of the Week” chart which we all featured in regularly with David Hasselhof and Jason Donavon.
I remember this photo shoot well. I went there with a young lady from our then management company who took along a bottle of vodka which I may or may not have sampled beforehand. In any case I had blood shot eyes the whole afternoon which caused near panic with the people from the magazine. Hunks don’t get wiped out apparently. Gallons of eye drops were bought from the local chemist and, true to the traditions of The Boys, I was never asked to be a hunk again!