There was a time, before I grew up and became a child again, when I was no longer a musician. Following The Boys I flirted with mega stardom among the posh girls of Kensington and Chelsea with a band called The Hollywood Killers, but the all consuming self belief and ambition you need to dedicate your life to music had gone.
And so began a difficult period of going back to University (which you may recall I had left previously after a day to dedicate myself to being a punk rocker -much to the delight of my father) and then on to a career in business. Eventually I found myself working for Andrew Lloyd Webber as “business development manager”. It was an exciting job at a time of huge success for that giant of the Musical Theatre. I was part of the team responsible for bringing shows to new countries, which is more complicated than it sounds. If there is no history of Broadway/London musicals in a country it’s hard to find actors who can sing, act and dance at the same time. It was often quicker and easier at first to send British and American cast to a new country and teach them the local language than teach local actors a tradition they hadn’t been trained for.
And how do you get tickets on sale throughout a whole region when no infrastructure exists for that? It had to be created from scratch. Many countries owe their networks of ticket shops to work we put in at the time.
If I wasn’t working on shows I might be working on films of the shows, a new world for me at that time. Or I might be buying and renovating a new theatre in the West End or a new mega hotel/theatre complex in Las Vegas.
The job involved a lot of travelling. For almost a year I would leave on a Monday before dawn to fly to Switzerland where we were putting on The Phantom of the Opera, catch the train to Wiesbaden in Germany on a Tuesday or Wednesday night, where a theatre to house Sunset Boulevard was being built, and return home exhausted late on Friday night to London. If I wasn’t on the road I’d be in the office early on the phone to somewhere like Japan or Australia who were ahead of us on the clock, and then still there late, talking to New York or LA who were behind and for whom my 8pm was their midday.
All in all it was exciting and challenging. But there was an aspect to it which made my heart ache -Lauren. In the middle of my post music life we’d had a daughter, and what a difference that monumental event had made. A little bundle of life who depended on us totally and provoked the most powerful emotions I’d ever felt.
So I worked hard to create a future for her and us. I put up with the trains into London which broke down, were cancelled late at night or went on strike causing a particular type of hell for 10 million people trying to get home for a precious few snatched minutes with loved ones before they went to bed. I put up with the work stress which was intense (oh no, the theatre in Germany is going to be late, so the Sunset Boulevard team won’t get to LA on time which means that show will be late and so will Sydney and then the revamp in London -it’s going to cost millions, it’s going to be a worldwide news story of how the show has failed and it’s all my fault …..help??????).
And ironically the harder I worked to create a future, the more I missed of Lauren growing up. But there were no times better than the times when I’d get home to catch her before bedtime. I’d put the key in the door and the toddler knew it was me. I’d hear feet come running and before I was through the door a little bundle of unquestioning love was there to give me a hug and a kiss. Everything made sense in those moments. We are programmed for it.
Years later I looked back on those earth moving times as inspiration for a song. “Lauren” had one too many syllables for the melody and so became “Jack” in “Little Fingers and Toes”. If you have Spotify you can listen here:
But children grow up. They need to become independent, and they need to make you let go, since you’ll never let go yourself. As for many, it happened when Lauren went to University. New freedom for her, new friends, a new life and no need for parents.
A momentous day, the day she left home for the first time. Packing belongings into the car for a little girl who was the centre of our life, and later, hanging on for calls to hear news of what was going on in hers. A bitter sweet time. A bitter loss in one sense, although not really as I would later discover that, just as a teenager had replaced the toddler, a fantastic, mature adult would replace the teenager. But also a sweet feeling that the hard work had been worthwhile, as the child could stand on her own two feet and make her way in the world.
To hear chapter two of this domestic soap opera here is “Long Long Gone”:
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:
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.
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.
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.
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
Looking out on a freezing London spring my mind drifts back to a day spent with my great friend, supporter and talented artist, David Apps , taking photos for the album cover of Little Big Head.
It was a cold day, then as now, and I had the bright idea of taking snaps on the Thames Clipper, a fleet of boats which pass up and down the River Thames, through the heart of London, as part of the public transport system. If you visit London the Clipper is the best few pounds you can spend. First take the Docklands Light Railway from Bank to Greenwich. This is pronounced grenitch in that illogical way that Londoners invented purely to mystify American tourists -see also Marylebone, pronounced marlibone with no Mary in it, and Madame Tussaud’s, pronounced two swords. At Greenwich wander round this historic oasis of old world charm, a rare South London survivor from the ravages of WW2, and then past the Cutty Sark, a preserved tea ship which looks like it ran aground from The Pirates of the Caribbean.
From there you’ll reach Greenwich Pier and can alight the clipper in the direction of Embankment, to partake of the best near free show in London. The Thames viewed from the river is magnificent. Best seen at night, some inspirational lighting shows off such treasures as The Tower of London, Tower Bridge, Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre, and a host of other beauties too numerous to mention.
Much to the curiosity and amusement of passing tourists (“who are you?”, “What are you doing this for?”, “I love your shoes!”) Dave and I took some snaps around Greenwich, The National Theatre, and on the clipper. But the best was reserved for the jetty at Embankment.
At that casting off point on a Saturday, party boats galore take gangs of Hen Parties and Stag Dos off down the river for bacchanalian nights of drunken reverie. At about 7pm the evening had not yet started so hens were not yet mingled with stags. Rather the two were in separate groups, eyeing each other from their own territory, the boys drinking cans of beer and the girls laughing as they waited for the boat. We took some shots but by this time I was frozen right through to my eyes.
Shivering by the water, we called it a day and strolled across Trafalgar Square and up St Martin’s Lane to The 12 Bar Club in Denmark Street, previous centre of London’s Music Land. Most of Denmark Street has now been redeveloped and certainly the 12 Bar is no more. Back then it was a dark refuge for London’s rockers and home to the highest, smallest and therefore easiest to fall off stage in the world.
And so I thought: “I can’t call another city home” a line which stuck with me and grew into the song “Another City” on “The Difficult Second Album”.
For those of you blessed with Spotify you can hear the song here:
If you don’t have Spotify you can hear it on our bandcamp page HERE
We have had some great times in this band and last weekend was up there with them. Gridlock in London on Friday made us late to The Lighthouse, Deal but the welcome made the 5 hour journey worthwhile. Then thanks to everyone who crammed into The Black Heart for Camden Rocks on Saturday. There wasn’t the same full house for all who played there.
Pride of place, though, goes to the people at Wychwood who stayed in the pouring rain to cheer us on. Not one of you heroes left when the heavens opened and it made us feel so humble. Thank you!
If you want to buy it we would very much like you to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org 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.
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 email@example.com with your address.
Stop Press: The vinyls have now arrived as well so email for your signed copy!
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.
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.