We are so Boring!

Just to show you how boring we are live, here’s a promo clip from our last show in Buenos Aires:

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A Splattered Classic!

I’m rather ashamed to say that I owned no means of playing vinyl until last year when I was sent the test pressings for Bombs Away. “It is your responsibility to make sure there are no mistakes and all is in order” said the attached note. “Heavens, I’d better buy something to listen to them on”, I thought, and did.

And so I was inducted into the expensive and inconvenient world of vinyl. But – boy do they sound good, with a depth and separation you just don’t find on other means of playing music. Thus, when Steve Metcalfe sent me the recently released “splatter” version of The Boys first album, I had something to hear it on as opposed to just look admiringly, as had been the case with previous Boys reissues.

And it does look great as you can see:

Splatter

Believe it or not I hadn’t listened to any Boys albums all the way through for decades. That may sound shocking and probably is but, to borrow an analogy from the late, great John Peel, the feelings I have toward my career in music are similar to those I have for football: results from 40 years ago have a certain interest but what really consumes me is next weekend’s fixture.

But as I put the needle on the first grooves, the opening riff of “Sick on You” came blasting out accompanied by a raft of memories from those far distant days when we were all young, skinny, leather be-trousered, and blessed with thick, jet black hair topping off undeserved good looks. And with the unshakeable belief of youth that this was the start of world domination, when our current obscure penury would be transformed into fame, riches, and a stream of never-ending hot and cold women carrying all the drinks we wanted.

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The album started in an odd way for me on the sticky bar carpet of The Marquee, after one of our many sweaty gigs there. A beaming, familiar looking, expensively dressed, mature (to my young eye) lady approached through the throng of leather jacketed urchins with smiling husband in tow. In a rich, husky voice, she told me how wonderful the gig had been. “You aren’t the normal type of girl who says hello after a show”, I thought, as I tried to remember where I’d seen that face before and work out why someone who wouldn’t be seen dead at a punk gig was being so nice.

In fact it was Elkie Brooks who was then a world superstar with a huge international hit titled “Pearl’s a Singer” to her name. The smiling husband was a chap called Pete Gage who was forging a career as a record producer. The two of them had previously been in the band Vinegar Joe with Robert Palmer (whose “Johnny and Mary” is one of my favourite electro pop tracks as it happens), and Pete had been put forward by the record company to produce our first album.  “Funny old choice” I thought when I found out later but, “What the hell, it’ll be alright”. I could be relied on to get most things wrong in those days.

And so we gathered at Morgan Studios in Willesden on the first day. This was serious stuff. The studios had been used by Paul McCartney, Rod Stewart, Elton John, Pink Floyd ………. the list goes on (although Wikipedia doesn’t see fit to mention that one of the most important early punk records was made there). Recording was nerve-wracking, especially as engineers at the time looked down on punk bands. We were given a Frank Zappa look-alike who was enamoured with the fact that he’d been working with ex Thin Lizzy guitarist Gary Moore. While he was setting up he played us some recent sessions just to show how technically excellent it all was. Yep, -that certainly set me at ease.

Modern digital recording is the best thing invented since the baby mop (seriously: check it out). If you make a mistake you go back and, in the same way you correct spelling on a word document, you just repair it. You have the freedom to take risks knowing that it’s OK if you mess up. But in those analogue days of huge, two inch thick, reel to reel tape recorders, where edits required an engineer with a razor blade, you had to do it again and again until you got it right. And time was money. It was all a little daunting and stressful.

We set up altogether with drums, bass, guitars and keyboards and hammered out the basic backing tracks. Stifling as the atmosphere was, we had been playing those songs live regularly for months and rehearsing as a collective, playing them over and over until we were tight. When we listened to the first results back on powerful, state of the art audio equipment it was like a rocket in the blood stream. We were buzzing and this was going to be great. Even Frank Zappa was won round and became a willing and supportive accomplice.

And in those days we were quick. I believe it was all done in something like a week. We moved somewhere else for vocals, maybe a studio in Soho. Sometimes Matt or Cas would put backing vocals on by themselves where it was just a harmony on top of the lead but, as often, those trademark Beatles bvs would be a group effort, albeit under Cas and Matt’s direction, with everyone round one or two mikes. I particularly remember Soda Pressing with Matt and I singing a dual lead vocal (very Everly Brothers) and Cas coming in for a three part chorus, all of it doubled up so that three singers became six. “Stunning”, I thought.

And then a pivotal moment. We gathered at the record company, NEMS, to hear Pete Gage’s rough mixes. It was shocking. In place of Matt and John’s dual guitar attack the mix was dominated by a wanky Hammond organ. It was as weak as Theresa May in a determined mood. There were fisticuffs with the record company. To give him his due, Ken Mewis our manager fought our corner like an untamed beast: no mean feat for an effeminate ex-hairdresser more used to carrying a handbag than attacking with it. We wanted to go back in to add overdubs and remix. In the end, Ken won the day.

The album became what it was because of that decision. Most of the band were there most of the time with the occasional exception of John and Jack who were always subject to the pull of the pub and bookie. In one of those absences we discussed how weak the guitars on First Time were. Matt went back in and put down a really loud and meaty overdub which comes in after the first two chords played by John. I know John was really upset by this at the time. First Time was his song on the album and now you couldn’t hear him play. But, in my opinion, the new guitar was totally right for the track and helps make it the classic which John should be so proud of.

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Young, skinny and undeservedly good looking?

As it happens, including the joint effort on Soda Pressing, I sing lead on half the album. But First Time is the only vocal I’m really happy with. I hadn’t yet found my character and it shows as I too often try to be the hard young punk I was not. Something a good producer would have spotted and put right? Who knows? It’s frustrating in hindsight that by the time I was capable of great vocals (check out the version of Terminal Love with my voice, Jimmy Brown on Odds n Sods and Silver Bells on The Yobs Album) singing opportunities were rare in The Boys. But First Time was just right.

However, we made one crucial, huge mistake. All of the vocals were mixed too low. It’s generous of Matt and Cas to take the blame for this by being listed as producers on recent editions of the album. They really shouldn’t be so tough on themselves,  😉 , because it was a group decision. We were all there in the mixing room. There is one exception to this. To his great credit, and how I wish we had listened to him at the time, Jack Black fought till he was in tears to change everyone’s’ minds and make the vocals louder.

At low volume on a deficient system you can hear them. But I remember the first time I heard the record at the Speakeasy, with big speakers in a big room. The singing had disappeared. All the people on the night looked at me as if to say, “have you made an instrumental album?”.

There was one meeting where Jack argued furiously for a remix. Our publicity guy, a man renowned for locking himself inadvertently in the toilet, countered Jack’s arguments by pulling out a copy of “LAMF” by The Heartbreakers. “It’s alright”, he said, “Listen, this is how punk albums sound”. And so the day was won by listening to possibly the worst produced album of all time and deciding ours was better and therefore OK. And anyway, Jack was a drummer so he wasn’t to be taken that seriously.

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Jack trying to persuade the rest of us the vocals should be louder

But, modern digital mastering techniques have managed to bring the vocals a little more to the fore and there are so many great things that make this album the classic that it is:

First, the song writing by Matt, Cas, John, and bits by Andrew Matheson, is beyond compare.

Second, the ensemble playing is as tight as the bra on a “before” picture in a Weight Watchers ad, and as hot and powerful as South Carolina’s Reaper Pepper. To add to this, Matt’s lead playing is right up there. Check out “Living in the City”. The most efficient solo ever?

Thirdly, Matt’s lead vocals, my vocal on First Time and all of the backing vocals are inspired and inspiring. The element that set The Boys apart from all other punk bands at the time and which, whether they know it or not, was imitated by a whole generation of Pop Punk and Power Pop bands.

So: a classic album, flawed certainly, but a classic nonetheless. Probably bettered by Alternative Chartbusters but an album which, together with other ground breaking albums of that year, changed the course of music forever.

The “Splattered” version of The Boys’ first record is available on Fire Records

Hear the first album on Spotify:

The Story Behind the Song Part 2: Wouldn’t Change a Single Thing

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).Ponsonby Terrace to Venetian House - Google Maps-1

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.

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The young author far left: Dream realised?

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!

 

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

Duncan Reid and the Big Heads send out Disgraceful Spam email

If you have been foolish enough to give us your email address over the past few years this email will have popped up in your inbox already. For everyone else I hope it gives you a chuckle

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     We’ve Got a New Album Out!

We’ll make no bones about this email. It is disgusting spam whose only aim is to relieve you of your hard earned cash. Therefore we’ll keep it short.

Duncan Reid and the Big Heads have a new album out called Bombs Away. Everyone who has heard it says it’s our best one yet including the critics who are going mad about it.

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If you want to hear it you can go to Spotify or our Bandcamp site: https://duncanreidandthebigheads.bandcamp.com/album/bombs-away

If you want to buy it we would very much like you to email us at duncan@littlebighead.co.uk since we are greedy buggers and that way we don’t need to pay all the other thieves in this business like Amazon/Paypal/Apple etc. However, the album will be available from all those sources, as well as our Bandcamp page, and we will still be delighted if you chose to buy it that way.

Apologies for this unwarranted intrusion into your inbox. Actually, let’s not be two faced about this. We don’t actually give a damn as long as you pay us which we very much hope you will do.

Lots of love

Duncan Reid and the Big Heads

https://duncanreidandthebigheads.com/

It’s Here: Order Bombs Away

Our third album Bombs Away is released on 19 May. At that point it will be available for Streaming and download. Additionally CDs will be available worldwide on Amazon etc, and all the best record shops.

If, however, you would like to order a signed pre-release CD please email us at duncan@littlebighead.co.uk with your address.

Stop Press: The vinyls have now arrived as well so email for your signed copy!

Hands Up
Hand Up if you want one!

It’s Testifying Time!

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.

It’s Definitely not Grim Up North!

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.

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Sophie and Mauro

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.

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Audio Glasgow: Brilliant Venue

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.

And so to Middlesbrough, home to Stephen Harland and his Riverside Rebellion. Well at least there’s one Rebellion festival which will have us 😉

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Riverside Rebellion

And that is what you call a line up.

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.

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Man in ABBA Pyjamas

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).

Back in London the next day I discovered that the first band on in Nottingham, Bones Park Rider, had kindly sent me a recording of our set. In celebration of this deliriously wonderful jaunt we offer a 15 minute extract for download here. It’s completely free (subject to Bandcamp’s monthly limit) although you can pay a little if you want to.

London, Brighton, Sheffield, Grimsby, York and Nottingham again in the first quarter of next year do you say? I can’t wait.

Post Script (3 Jan 2017) Following this post a number of people contacted Rebellion to say we are great. Rebellion have contacted us and we have been offered a slot for this summer. I love you all!

 

 

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.

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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.

In Praise of Bandcamp

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.

If you are interested, our Bandcamp shop is here