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A Basczax reunion?

Like a lot of enjoyable things in life, it was not planned.

In January 2010 I wrote a song called ‘Disco Apocalypse’ – it was an affectionate and droll retro-recall of the Post Punk and early New Romantic era – when you would go to certain nightclubs and come across garage mechanics in make-up and bank clerks in what looked like their Mum’s blouses and table cloths draped over their shoulder. With that song, it was a feeling of coming full circle: looking back on those halcyon post punk days of my young band days. For some strange reason I also went back to listening to bands like Magazine, PIL and Wire. I hadn’t heard them for years. They sounded every bit as great as they did back then.

I was at the time, in touch with Richard Sanderson (a friend from those post punk days, himself in bands: Drop and Halcyon Days, later The Euphoria Case) through facebook, sending some improvised vocal vamps for him to mess around with. We did a couple of things – ‘Your shoes’ – which he put a really cool mash of Kraftwerk and Dr.Feelgood to. And one called ‘Dancing with the martians’ – with suitable Martian disco backing. It was just for fun of course, no agenda.

One of my missives to Richard came under the eyes of a certain John Hodgson – ex-keyboard player from Basczax way back from the late 70s. He asked if we could do some collaboration, so I sent him my basic demo of ‘Disco Apocalypse’. He put some nifty keyboards on it and I was impressed with what he did. I then mentioned that I had some ‘lost songs’ from the late Basczax days that I was thinking of recording for fun. One of them was ‘Sexy Robot’ – a song originally inspired by the German electo outfit DAF – except of course, when it went through my T.Rex and glam-art filter, it came out as something else entirely. John suggested a Basczax reunion – he was already in touch with bass player and founder member Mick Todd and also, suggested getting in touch with Jeff Fogarty – ex-sax player, now a keyboard and guitar player. We were now spread all over the globe: John and Mick in the North East of Britain, Jeff in Australia and me at the time in Manila, the Philippines.

I think it happened in a day. Suddenly, everyone was back on board, apart from drummer Alan Cornforth – sorry, Alan, I was using a drum machine on the demos and didn’t see how a drummer could be recorded over the internet.

‘Sexy Robot’ – a drum machine beat, an acoustic and my voice demo, was sent to the other members. Again, it came out great: this was better than I ever could have hoped. And it felt natural and easy – although we later fretted over a lot of things as musicians always do.

From my point of view, we were maybe recording an EP or mini-album – four or five songs, no more. Three ‘lost songs’ and one, a new version of a Basczax oldie ‘Hollywood Strut’. I also happened to have an idea for doing another old song ‘Neon Vampires’ in a strident acoustic style. To be added to these was the new song ‘Disco Apocalypse’. Oops, that makes six already.

What was a trickle soon became a flood.

I found myself subconsciously tuning into my formative influences from those post punk days of 1978-1981. New songs – and even more remembered ‘lost songs’ started to form in my mind.

I was writing songs almost all the time – about two to three a week average at one point.

This new Basczax reunion was turning into something else. It seemed natural or rather, inevitable to make an album. And that is just what we did.

I had a bit of a panic about using the old band name. Couldn’t we call ourselves something else?

John dug his heels in and insisted if we were four-fifths Basczax, we might as well call ourselves that. I fretted over the spelling of the band name. Couldn’t we change it to something easier to pronounce and google? Something like ‘Bassax’, as that is what we were phonetically called?

But then I realised I was getting far too uppity about this. A Basczax reunion is what this was: so that is what we stayed.

‘Hollywood Strut’ was one song we recorded early on in the making of the album. I had always wanted to record a version with a tempo that allowed the tune to breathe, as I always felt the old Basczax version was played way too fast – but it was post-punk days, then, after all.

Similarly with ‘Neon Vampires’ –I was strumming around with it and slowed it right down, making a bit of a gothic melodrama out of it. I wrote a new chorus for it as I always felt the old chorus was not very good. Some new lyrics were written too – mostly because I could not remember all of the old ones. This was the album’s first ‘production number’. John surprised me by putting strings and effects on it and some very ‘european’ sounding piano. It took it to a completely different musical place to the old version and it works well, I feel.

As the album progressed, there were many highlights. It really did feel like it got better and better as we went along.

The band did a great job on an old song of mine called ‘Velvet and She’. It was far better than the original, which was a new wave pop song back then. Now it had a cool tempo and a Bowie cum Velvets feel to it. It also had a much better chorus as the old one was only really two thirds written and needed that elusive ‘something else’.

Another highlight was the recording of a new song called ‘Automania’. The original lyric for this dates back to the early 80s, but I never got around to making music for it. A simple three chord strum into the drum machine and the tune came straight to me. It felt like it wrote itself; one of those songs that fall into your lap from nowhere.

‘Darkstar 17’ was another ‘instant song’ that happened when I was jamming along to the drum machine. I was originally thinking of using an old riff from a song called ‘Influence Invasion’ – but it turned into something else. I sang the words ‘Darkstar 17…goddess in a limousine’…having no idea what the song was going to be about. Sometimes songs start like this : a line that sparks an idea and is then developed from thereon.

‘In a room’ (originally called ‘someone turn the lights on’) was another new song that came to me quickly.

It was one of my ‘follow the mood of the music’ songs – the riff sounded dramatic and elliptical in some way and the lyrics ended up being loosely based on that horrific abuse case where a girl was kept in a room for years and sexually abused. I didn’t even know what I was going to sing about when I followed the mood of the music – the words just came out and I thought ‘ah, so that’s what it’s about’…

About half way through the recordings, I had the idea of making instrumentals from each member – each one, kind of reflecting our musical personalities in some way. John returned to his prog-rock roots for his contribution: Track XXX, which was meant to be a kind of battle of the bands between Captain Beefheart, The Carpenters and a fictitious punk band. Yes, it was pretty barmy idea, but listen to it and it makes sense.

Jeff contributed a beautiful instrumental piece called ‘The Calm’ – one of my favourite tracks on the album, incidentally.

Mick came up with an update of an old Basczax riff with ‘Mekanik 2010’ – a mash of samples, beats and sound effects.

Me?

I came up with a twangy guitar instrumental for an imaginary spy thriller: ‘Spies in the wardrobe’.

Jeff contributed another instrumental piece called ‘Russian Winter’. By coincidence, it perfectly fit a lyric I had called ‘Siberian Eyes’. This was one of those ‘eyes down, straight ahead’ tracks. Surprisingly, it was the one track that took the longest to nail. I later wrote a separate instrumental opening to it we edited it onto the song. Getting the mix right proved to be tricky and this song probably had more remixes than most – but I think we got it in the end. This was the last song we worked on for the album.

The last song written – but not really intended for the album – was ‘That Dress’. Again, a drum beat and a riff started it and I started to sing the hook line into the mic at the same time. The song was, in my head, a kind of Phil Spector throwback. It also felt off the cuff and throwaway and not at all right for the Basczax album. But everyone loved it when I sent a basic demo, so the song went on the album. John followed my brief of trying to get that ‘epic Spector’ feel to it. The band all did a great job on the song, and their enthusiasm for the song can be heard – at least to my ears, anyway.

It seemed a great fitting ending to the album – a trashy, feelgood pop song.

But it wasn’t the last track.

I had the idea of recording a second version of ‘Velvet and She’ – more in an actual Velvet Underground feel – slowed right down and with a different ‘downtempo’ mood.

We had actually recorded it earlier in the sessions when we were trying arrangements out. I couldn’t make mind up about this song and then thought: why not have two versions?

So that is what we did, and John sang it –his laconic voice suiting it perfectly. He also added some staccato strings that surprised me when I heard them. In a good way.

When we came to sequencing the tracks, it became obvious that ‘Sexy Robot’ should start the album, and that ‘Velvet and She (slow version)’ should end it as a kind of winding down.

The album took six months to make – mostly because of time differences and people’s busy working and personal lives.

If we had had none of these distractions, it probably would have taken much less time.

One thing I found that surprised me with the reunion and the album, is that we still had a chemistry between us: we instinctively seemed to know what songs needed and how to execute them. If I said ‘it needs to sound like a kind of out of control juggernaut in Europe, with Iggy Pop driving’ they knew exactly what I meant.

I feel good about the album –proud even – and I think it is a good representation of where we came from musically and where we are at today.

Yes, it is partly a retro-experience as the music is intrinsically linked to a different era, but I feel that we managed to ‘update’ ourselves in a way that felt natural and with good instinct.

It is also a real ‘DIY’ album, recorded initially on a low budget field recorder and then sent to multi-tracking facilities – all done over the internet.

The spirit of ’79, filtered through thirty years, arriving in a time capsule in 2010.

Rip up the flag and dance.

Again.

It was all over then:  official.

Sometime in April of 1988, the Flaming Mussolinis lost their record deal. We knew it was coming, but probably hoped that they might go for one more single. I spoke to our A@R man and he told me he was sorry how things had worked out, but there was nothing he could do about it: the decision had come from the board room and was a financial one. They didn’t see us as a viable proposition any more.

We continued to demo regardless, around our old friend Don Cox’s house on Oxford Road, Middlesbrough. We had now given up our own rehearsal room as we simply could not afford to pay for it. We still had lots of songs, lots of ideas; the well was far from dry. The Flaming Mussolinis third album would have been a strong album, I am sure. But it was not to be.

Don Cox was someone who let us demo songs around his house; we had all known him going back to the early 80s. He was a generous and accommodating man and we appreciated his ‘no charge’ offer to demo at his home.  He was also a gifted photographer and why we never used his services as a photographer, I don’t know!

He also had an endless supply of ginger nut biscuits I seem to recall!

In the meantime we wondered if we should just wipe the slate clean, change our band name and come up with a new plan. We were worried that the band name had left too much bad feeling in some music business corners as we found out our management had left a trail of unpaid bills in our name. A change of name would give us a fresh start too.

Our agent Dan Silver said no: he could get us gigs if we were the Flaming Mussolinis, but not if we were a new name band, as nobody would know us.

In time honoured career suicide tradition, we didn’t listen to him. We decided to go for a name change. As usual, settling on a name was difficult but in the end we opted for ‘Zoom’ as it was short and dynamic. (There was also an acid house club called ‘Shoom’ that may have been on our minds – maybe)

Music was changing again. Acid house was starting to gain prominence and it was music that to be honest, I could not relate to, although I got used to it. I recall going to a nightclub and seeing people dancing like puppets to bleepy acid house music, arms waving in the air. I also remember hearing of a band called Happy Mondays at the time. A good name, I remember thinking. When I got to hear them, I thought they were rubbish though. Sean Ryder could not sing at all and they all looked like a bunch of car thieves from a rough housing estate. (Which in fact, they probably were!) But I was totally missing the point and later realised how good they were for at least a couple of years. Manchester was becoming the new musical lightening rod, the so called ‘Madchester’ scene was already coming to the fore and the rest of the country caught on to it around late 1989 – 1990.

Rave and cries of aciiiiiiid! seemed to be everywhere within six months. Once again, I felt outmoded and outdated.

I wondered if guitar bands were dead?

No.

The Melody Maker one week ran an article on the Pixies and the ‘new noise bands’ that were coming up. I decided that being a guitar band was not a bad thing after all. I heard the Pixies and to be honest, at first, they went over my head, but I eventually got it: elliptical guitar rock that sounded like it didn’t give a shit about making the radio. A good thing, I decided.

Another band catching my ear was the Sugarcubes. They had a unique sound and of course, a great singer in Bjork. I got to see them the following year at Newcastle Riverside and they were fantastic live.

The ‘new alternative’ sounds were starting to catch my ear, but I was also getting more retro in my listening habits: Led Zeppelin, Cream, Sly and the Family Stone, late sixties rock generally.

There was something in the air, something was coming: you could feel it.

Meanwhile, Clune left the band. It was a big blow to us but he was living a totally different and separate life in London. I didn’t bother to try and persuade him to stay, there was no point. The next time I saw Clune he had turned into a Manchester ‘rave’ clone, with forward combed hair like a choir boy. He went on to get involved with ex-Killing joke bass player Youth, calling themselves ‘The Mouth’ and made an acid house 12 inch that I cannot remember the name of. Clune later – ten years later, that is, went on to find success as the drummer with David Gray. He now doesn’t even drum – he left David Gray in 2007 and has done nothing since, living off his substantial royalties from his co-write of the single ‘Babylon’.

A tragic waste of talent…he should be drumming.

Gradually, over the next few months, The Flaming Mussolinis all started to fall apart, leaving only me and Kit.

Doug went to Australia and Jeff got a job as a photographer on a cruise ship, eventually ending up in Australia too.

In summer 1988, we recruited drummer Paul Lynagh, then of local band signed to Fontana, the Shy Reptiles. Paul was no longer with them. He was thrown out of the band for having the sense to put his share of the record company deal into a house. The rest of the band didn’t find that very rock n roll, and sacked him.

I moved over to bass and vocals, and Kit of course, on guitar. We decided to stay as a trio – something new for us.

It was good because it forced us to strip back the music and use space and tempo as a virtue.

Our set mostly comprised of songs that the Flaming Mussolinis would have done for a third album, had we done one: ‘Ghost Train’, ‘Blank cheque Radio’, ‘Ninety Nine Per cent’, ‘Sweet Deceiver’ ‘Blue Horizon’ and a cheeky little song called ‘Kill the star!’.

We were back to being a local band, trying to service debts from our record deal, usually failing to meet them. A big ‘ulp’ was getting a tax bill for twenty four thousand pounds. I had to go to an interview with a tax inspector and an accountant and try to persuade them we didn’t owe it, having made an appeal against it. After a few nail-biting months, it was decided that, yes, we did not owe it.

In the meantime, I was selling some of my equipment just to get by

Zoom were a good band – not original, but we had a good sense of rock classicism and went down really well everywhere we played. We once did a gig in London and a band turned up with their own supporters. It turned out to be the Stone Roses, soon to explode onto the scene in about six months from then.

I later saw them play at Middlesbrough Town Hall Crypt in 1989. It was obvious something big was happening around them. I liked them, even though I was a little resistant at first, and soon almost every band in the land had a guitarist with a wah wah pedal and a singer who flopped around, his fringe in his eyes, pretending to be on drugs.

Meanwhile, Zoom – as we were now- got a new manager and a publishing deal too, which allowed us to wage ourselves for about a year, while we chased another deal. Our manager was a laid back kind of guy called Jeff Gilbert. He had once worked at Arista and had ‘discovered’ Lisa Stansfield who had that hit: ‘All around the world’. He liked us and thought he could get us a record deal, although I do recall his annoyingly uninspiring catch phrase was ‘in the music business there is no such thing as a guarantee’.

Still, it was great to have someone with faith in us.

This was the problem for us: always chasing a record deal. We should have just thought ‘sod record companies’ and gone totally independent. But we had tasted the sweet apple of being so close to the big time and we wanted to get back to it, I think is the honest answer to that.

We did see sense the following year when we released our own 12 inch single:  ‘Ghost Train’ backed with ‘Blank cheque Radio’. We gamely called our record label Tank Top Records.

We were now rehearsing a lot in friend Graham Robinson’s studio in Darlington and we recorded a lot of good songs there, mostly live.

We looked different now too. I had long hair, purple dyed jeans and baseball boots. It was, I suppose, an oblique nod to the American alternative scene, soon to explode in the form of grunge and Nirvana.

Zoom of course, were not a pre-grunge band, but we had more extreme elements in our music for sure. We were now rocking out and not caring what people thought. It seemed timely and real.

Speaking of grunge, I remember the first time I heard ‘Smells like Teen Spirit’. It was in Darlington, late summer, 1991. We were packing away after a gig and the DJ put it on. It made me stop in my tracks and listen. It was kind of heavy metal, but somehow punk too. It had an incredible intensity about it. I know it is now one of those ‘oh no, not that again’ records but at the time it was a revelation. I also immediately recognised that it was a bit of a Pixies rip off. Kurt Cobain later admitted that the ‘quiet-loud’ dynamic of a lot of Nirvana’s music was taken from the Pixies.

Zoom did not last very long.

We expanded the line up in early 1990, recruited ex-Jank Mamba guitarist Martyn Alderdice on bass, me moving back over to guitar.

We opted for another name change and became Disraeli Gears. No, we weren’t a Cream tribute band, we just liked the sound of it. I always call us ‘The Gears’ as I got to feel a bit cringed out about the ‘Disraeli’ bit. I should have listened to friend and DJ Alan Rhodes who said ‘that’s a daft name…like calling yourself ‘Sgt Pepper’!’ When I asked him for a suggestion the best he could come up with was ‘Anal Spasm’. Thanks, but I don’t think we’ll go with that!

Alan Rhodes proved to be good connection to new and interesting music. He was always pushing stuff my way: Sebadoh, Pavement, Fugazi and Adrian Sherwood Sound System. I didn’t like listening to these bands though because they reminded me of how musically conservative Zoom was compared to them – but I was not about to pretend to be a 22 year slacker in a noise band from Seattle.

Disraeli Gears again, always went down really well with audiences.

In this band, I wrote what I consider to be one of my best songs: ‘Nothing’s going to get me down’. By now, I was really retro in my listening habits: Dylan, mainly ‘Blonde on Blonde’, Beach Boys: ‘Pet Sounds’ and the Small Faces and the Kinks. I was reaching to the past to try and find fresh inspiration. I didn’t realise at the time that what I was doing was ‘Brit Pop’ before it came about with Blur and Oasis, a couple of years later.

We released a 12 inch EP, this time on our own label Ram Raid Records, which we stole the ‘Rolls Royce’ logo for. But it all felt too little, too late and we just got stuck playing the same old places to the same old faces.  We had played a showcase gig in London for some record labels but they passed on us. This was really the final downturn in our fortunes and despondency started to come into the band.

Disraeli Gears came to an end in 1992 because of me.

I was now feeling like I was banging my head on a wall permanently, I was broke and feeling like crap as my life was just one long struggle and waiting for a change.

We played a gig at the Sun Inn, Stockton, and I remember feeling that I didn’t want to do it anymore. Is this what almost fifteen years in music led to? The back room of a local pub?

I announced I was leaving the band that summer and prepared to go back to University to try and sort my life out. I just gave up on the hope of ever making a living out of music. The wolf had been knocking at my door for a long time and now I was hearing it loud and clear.

I effectively tried to turn my back on music forever. But it took some time before I was totally ready to quit.

I still wrote songs from time to time; it was a compulsive habit that was hard to break. Songwriting comes as natural as breathing to me. I always have songs coming into my head – they just won’t leave me alone!

In fact, in 1994 I wrote a batch of songs that seemed to have a continuity to them and I recorded them, mostly at a studio in Hartlepool over only two days.

 They became a solo album: ‘Songs from the wilderness’, released through Northern Sky, a label set up by old friends Ian Luck and David Thomas. It was a very low budget recording and really, they were demos, but I just could not afford to pay for studio time to make a production of them. It was a mostly acoustic based album, pretty folksy and countryish in parts, and one of the songs ‘The not so great escape’ was very personal for me:  it was me realising I had come to the end of the road with my dreams in music. The album, although patchy, has some good songs on it I feel – one of them, ‘Northern Rain’ was written pretty much on the spot while I was trying to work out a melody for it, recording it around Marty’s flat on his 8 track. It was mostly recorded very quickly and I wanted it to be pretty basic and unfussy. I also recorded a lesser known Kinks song in this session: ‘Big black smoke’ which was one of their b-sides. I cheekily wrote an extra verse for it and seeking permission, Ray Davies would not allow it, so it was kept off the album. I did get him to autograph an old Kinks single though.

The album title said it all: that was where I was: the wilderness.  I felt cast adrift now, my band days getting further behind me.

Still, I wrote a lot of songs in this period, up to thirty I would say, most of which never saw the light of day.

I continued to play solo with my  acoustic guitar for about a year, playing some interesting dates with folk legend Bert Jansch (who was a miserable anti-social git by the way) an also, Roy Harper’s very talented son Nick Harper. But I wasn’t a folkie and I missed playing in a band.

As a way to satisfy my urge for a band, I recorded some rock based tracks as The Reformers: ‘Hey! Jack Nicholson’, ‘I Wanna Sellout’ and ‘Pretty Poison’. The Reformers were a ‘pick up’ band but I could not keep a stable line up. We played only two gigs – one in Darlington, and one at the concert for our good friend and musical journeyman, Dave Johns, then soon to be lost to cancer. The concert was filmed and we played a version of the Byrds ‘So you wanna be a rock n roll star’ at that gig, as well as ‘Success’ – an old Basczax song of mine.

But the Reformers fizzled out. I had a set full of songs for the band too.

By 1996, there were plans for a second solo album, but it came to nothing when Northern Sky ran out of money. Once again, songs I had written just ended up on cassettes on my shelf at home. That old banging my head on the wall feeling was coming back to me.

In 1997, I quit music for good.

Through most of the next decade, I did nothing musically. By 2002, I was a Secondary English teacher and needed to keep my life together. My musical life now started to feel like something I had dreamt.

In 2007 I started to write songs again. I actually wrote a musical play based on the life of Beach Boy Brian Wilson called ‘Surfs Up’.  I also wrote a batch of songs for a kind of folk-rock project called The Satanic Mills. It was the result of discovering Fairport Convention, a band I had previously over-looked. I heard ‘Liege and Leif’ for the first time in that year and loved it. I also started to listen to songwriters that I had heard, but not really stuck with: John Martyn was one, and I returned to listening to quality songwriters like Joni Mitchell, who I had not listened to since the 70s when I had her ‘Hissing of the Summer lawns’ and ‘Hejira’ albums.  I was astonished at how the quality of her music stood up after so long. I kind of re-discovered her in a big way. I also started to get back into contemporary music like LCD Soundsystem, whose album ‘Sound of Silver’ I thought was great. The past was there, with all its richness and great music, but I started to realise that there was still a lot of great music around in the here and now.

I was starting to feel reconciled with my past, realising that it had all been a great, unique experience.

I could now listen to some of my old music with a sense of objective distance.

In 2008/9, I started to think about songs I had written for old bands like Basczax but never completed, or left them unheard. I drew up a list from memory and was amazed at how many I had half-written or just left un-aired.

This all led up to an online reunion with old Basczax members online, in 2010. We recorded some old songs I had meant for Basczax:  ‘Sexy Robot’ and ‘Velvet and she’ being two of them. We ended up making a full album and it felt great to be back making music. I had got my mojo back and started to write songs prolifically. In the first six months of that year, I must have written something like forty songs easily – some in a state of progress, but a lot of them ready to roll.

Later in 2010, I did something completely different: an over the net collaboration with old friend and ex-Drop member Richard Sanderson. There was no real agenda: Richard created mash up loops from samples and I wrote words and sang over them, in a kind of persona. A lot of the songs were about life in Teesside, in a very humourous way: we called the ‘band’ FootPump. We recorded a whole album over about four-six weeks and put it up as a freebie.

In early 2011 (up to now), I wrote songs that harked back loosely to the post punk era. I put them out as a series of free EPS on Soundcloud. I called my ‘band’ Dada Guitars.  I had no idea what the music was going to sound like until I almost spontaneously wrote a song called ‘Juvenilia’. It was the most extreme and uncompromising music I had made for a long time. I followed on from there and got back to my long forgotten experimental glam/new wave pop rock muse, last heard in Basczax way back in 1979.

I have finally reconciled myself with the fact that music is a huge part of who I am, and whether it is an audience of three or three million, it is nice to be appreciated and it is mostly a labour of love on my behalf to make music.

So here I am: back to my 19 year old self in spirit, making music for the right reason: because I love it.

It is mostly a blur now of course, but there are plenty of flashes in my mind of those Friday nights back in ’79-’80 when Basczax played a residency at the Teessider pub.
50p on the door I recall, as we were trying to save money for a PA. Did we get one? I cannot remember.
The Teessider itself was just over the bridge under which the Tees flowed, on the Stockton side of the Thornaby/Stockton border. Thornaby was named after an old Viking settlement and Vikings still lived there except they had lost their horned helmets, shaved off their hair and called themselves skinheads. They would lurk in the darkness after the gigs, making punks lives difficult and making the journey to the train station a scary thing for most. One night, I went to the station with Robbo (Dave Robinson – where the hell are you now?) We were trailed by skinheads out for some bovver. I had my tuxedo and eye liner on. They started to call me predictable things that I need not repeat: you can guess. Robbo, never the most diplomatic person when drunk, faced them off straight away: ‘Oww! What’s your fucking problem then? What-is-your-problem?’ the last line delivered in (drunk) Dalek diction. Me: ‘Oh shut up Robbo, let’s just ignore them’…No chance of that. We ended up running up the railway track in the dark to escape our hunters. I remember trying to climb over a fence and my hands stung: I had grabbed a bunch of overgrown nettles in the scramble to get over it.
Life as a late teenager was scary. Actually I was 19 nearly 20 at the time, but not yet far enough away from that horrible adolescent world that could often turn violent. We got away, and we somehow managed to get back to get the train too. However, the journey back was nervy too, as drunken men peered at us through pissed rat eyes, sneering and saying things like ‘are you punks then?’
Still, not even scary nights like this, or skins outside the pub waiting to cause trouble, stopped punks and post-punkers, bohemians and long mac(kers) denim boys and posers, and curiosity seekers, flocking to the Teessider on a Friday night.
It had been John Hodgson’s initiation I seem to remember. We talked about a regular gig and how it would be a good thing to have a place where other local bands could play together. The Teessider was not really purpose built for a band to play. There was a pillar positioned centre left of the ‘stage area’ – well, ok, floor area and it blocked your view if you were in the wrong vantage point. The floor space was just about enough to set up drums – pushed right to the back, and a mic stand centred, with guitars – lead and bass – on either side. Keyboard player John had to fit in there somehow: it was not spacious is what I am trying to say. To get to the toilets, people had to walk directly in front of the band. It was a squash, but the atmosphere made it feel like somewhere bigger. It was always packed. It started off with maybe twenty to thirty people, most of them in local bands, and their friends/girlfriends but it rapidly grew to a chock full house. I think one night we did a door count of over a hundred people – heaven knows, they were all squashed up at the bar as well as peering above tables (this was a pub remember, tables and chairs not removed)
We brought in good trade for the landlord, so he and his wife were pleased.
The jukebox played punk favourites: ‘Whiteman in Hammersmith Palais’ was one that was always on, ‘Angel Eyes’ by Roxy Music, ‘Are Friends Electric’ by Tubeway Army. These records were suggested, I think, to the landlord, whose musical taste stopped at Elvis Presley.
I distinctly remember setting up equipment to Blondie’s ‘Heart of Glass’. Hearing that Blondie track today, takes me right back there. I really liked Blondie’s singles: how could you not?
We had rehearsal space upstairs too. We recorded the songs in our set up there, engineered by drummer Alan Cornforth. It wasn’t overdub recording, just capturing the songs in their live form. The recordings were released as a cassette album called ‘Terminal Madness’. We sold quite a lot of copies I seem to recall.
We worked out a song called ‘Metal Culture’ up there and played it on the same night. We were never short of ideas, at one point I was writing an average of two new songs a week, either on my own or with Jeff. We were just all flying in the moment.
The landlord and his family lived just across the landing. They had an Alsatian dog that one day, when I had left my guitar case open, shat in it. The landlord’s children were cheeky little urchins and it was revealed one day that their secret name for me – obviously they had seen me in my glam-punk eyeliner – was, ‘the man from fairyland’
Teessider nights were exciting and had a buzz about them. I remember one of the Billingham crew who used to come and see us tell me that it was the highlight of her life coming to the Teessider. I remember well the feeling of impatience as I took the bus there every Friday. If somebody had suggested setting up a band tent outside to live there, I would have given it serious consideration.
The local music scene had exploded after punk filtered through to the provinces, just like any other large town and city outside London. And Teesside had some really good and varied bands at that time.
Apart from the local heroes No Way and The Barbarians (please see other blog on ‘Kirlian’ for more on these bands) there was the dada art punk of Shoot the lights out. There was the tuneful and upbeat new wave of Deja Vu, the fractured minimalist scratchy punk of Bombay Drug Squad, the very interesting and unique Drop, led by Richard Sanderson, whose willowy, fragile stage presence was compelling to watch.

Another really good band from that time was The Sines. Frontman Doug Palfreeman showed up solo one night at the Teessider and asked if he could play some songs. He did. And he nearly shredded my guitar strings too as he gave an explosive Pete Townshend style performance, borrowing my Kay Strat. He turned up again with a full band – well, a trio. They played some blistering Who-like songs and never failed to impress with their high energy performances.
There were other bands, very much outside of the Teessider crowd, but still doing their bit for the advancement of local culture: Carl Green and the Scene and Dimmer’s power pop outfit The Commercial Acrobats being only two of them.
Monitor, Jeff’s band before Basczax, developed into a really good band, with a female singer and good guitarist I had worked with before called Alan Hunter. They didn’t last long though – pity, as I remember them as a band with potential.
Then there was the anarcho-smut punk of The Amazing Space Frogs, a band that I occasionally played bass and guitar for. Frontman Bugsy was like something out of a punk Carry on film – gloriously inane and puerile.
Bands, bands….there seemed to be new ones forming on a weekly basis.
The biggest pity, was that the scene went largely unreported outside the area. Manchester, Glasgow and Sheffield had their own scenes going on, reported in the weekly music papers like Sounds and N.M.E, but nobody came to Teesside.
John Hodgson, I remember, was always trying to find an in-road to attracting press to Teesside. He actually achieved a pretty good scoop once: a two page spread in the then new Smash Hits magazine, which highlighted the local music scene. We all waited for the press to arrive. They never came.
Larry Ottaway formed Pipeline Records, on which we released ‘Madison Fallout’/Auto Mekanik Destruktor’ in December 1979. There was a lot of talk of him being the area’s Tony Wilson at the time, somebody to get the music scene noticed, but it came to nothing when he disappeared to Hong Kong. He had to go there for work reasons and that was the end of Pipeline, who were going to release something by Drop too. This was the whole reason the area was invisible: there was no sussed entrepreneur to cause some ripples outside the area. The fight was always the same: against apathy and lack of exposure.
Basczax were causing our own ripples though. We toured with early Orchestral Manoeuvres In the Dark, a tour that came about through Rough Trade putting us forward for the support. Our single sold well and went into its second pressing; Rough Trade was interested in us. So were Dindisc, the Virgin subsidiary label. We had no manager though and were probably very naive when it came to following such interest through. I have no idea what happened to those A@R people or why it all just fizzled out.
Never mind. We had our own thing going on anyway at the Teessider.
One hot summer night in June, Fast Records’ The Flowers came down from Edinburgh to play with us. They arrived for the gig pretty frazzled from the journey. I remember talking to the guitarist Simon who told me that Joy Division’s just then released album ‘Unknown Pleasures’ was incredible and that I had to hear it. He was right: hearing that album was a kind of epiphany moment, as it was for so many people of that time and generation. It is hard to describe the impact that record had. It was not punk but was obviously music that was from the spirit of Punk. It had a wiry and sparse sound to it, like dub in parts. Need I say the obvious? It was massively influential.
The Flowers were a pretty quirky lot and they performed a great set. I can remember Richard Sanderson dancing in front of them quite vividly. I think we raised the entrance price that night as they needed expenses. They stayed in the glamourous location of Redcar at Basczax bassist Mick Todd’s house. I remember singer Hilary asking us if there was a fish and chip shop nearby as she hadn’t eaten since breakfast time. There wasn’t. I think they dropped off somewhere to get some though.
One night, a band played who made me feel we had serious competition.
They were called Savage Passion (Ian Ingram told me the ‘savage’ was after me – but he was a smooth talking gypo and probably lying!)
The band had a very charismatic front man in Ian. I remember some girls next to me nearly passing out when he took his shirt off to stand at the mic in an Iggy pose. One of them laughed, looked at me and said ‘cor…he’s gorgeous!’ I remember replying: ‘why are you telling me?!’…
I am sure Ian took full advantage of his female admirers. But he took too many drugs, lost his focus and ruined himself. Savage Passion fell apart because of Ian’s antics. Maybe he really did think he was Iggy Pop. Pity.
Like any halcyon time, you think it is all going to last forever, but of course it didn’t and couldn’t.
The scene changed drastically I recall with the arrival of ska and then, of all things, a Mod revival. Skinheads suddenly seemed to be everywhere. Most of them of course were all right, but there was always that nasty edge when they were around.
The Teessider landlords suddenly put a stop to the Friday night slot. They were starting to get arsey with us for some reason, I think the landlord’s wife was sick of it all and it was a long Friday night, with a lot of people lingering and staying too late.
There was the sense of the end of an era when it all stopped. In fact, somebody actually said that to me at the time.

To all those who came to the Teessider: cheers and I hope life and sister fate have treated you all well.

Now, where is that copy of  ‘Unknown Pleasures’…and  Gang of Four’s ‘Damaged Goods’ EP?

So the jetpack future, with flying cars and moving pavements to save you walking had not arrived. 1980 sounded so futuristic when I was asked at school, as a 12 year old, to write a story on how the world might be in that then so far ahead date.
We got in 1980, of all things, a Mod revival. This was largely a result of the film ‘Quadrophenia’. Seeing some punks ditch their combats for parkas was a weird thing to see, but some did.
The Specials, Madness and that entire ilk were big in that year. Chrissie Hynde cooed her way to number one on The Pretenders’ ‘Brass in Pocket’. Guitars not yet eradicated, the electronic wave had not yet quite achieved youth cult domination. Synthesisers were used on new wave pop records such as The Cars ‘Just What I Needed’ as a kind of alternative to guitar solos.
The Human League was yet to have a big hit.
Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, up to then, had had a big alternative hit with ‘Electricity’ in the previous year and were continuing their purist Kraftwerk influenced electro pop manifesto. They also had their debut album out, with a sleeve designed by Peter Saville – very 1980, with no band name, hollowed out grids with a lurid orange inner sleeve. It was actually an album that had been poorly produced and the band did not like most of it, wanting to re-record a lot of it. Re-record some of it they did, when a trickle of singles were released from the album throughout that year. Their single for this tour was ‘Red frame, white light’ – a love song to a telephone box. This was 1980 folks, and pop had taken on some strange Philip K. Dick and J.G.Ballard twists: two authors that I too, read, that year. Basczax even had a song about inanimate objects such as furniture and ironing boards turning nasty on suburbia. It was called ‘Metal Culture’, another Ballardian dystopia pop song. What was on my fevered mind in those times? Sci fi sex, definitely. I just couldn’t meet any compatible robots though.
Basczax then, were to tour with OMD, as support in February and early March of that year, pop AD 1980.
We got the tour through Fast Records Bob Last who had a connection to Rough Trade. We had sold our first run of independent single release ‘Madison Fallout’ and we also featured on the Fast Records’ ‘Earcom 2’ 12 inch.
Teesside had been great to us – it was our home turf stomping ground where we had built a pretty impressive following – enough to fill two coach loads of fans that travelled with us when we played the London Nashville rooms in July 1979.
We were ready for the next step up and were thrilled to get the tour.
Off in a rented van, leaving the industrial skyline of Teesside behind, was an exhilarating feeling: we were a proper on the road band at last. Munching on Mars bars and crisps (probably) we set off on that rock n roll horizon to who knows where and what? What was on the band playlist then? Bowie, Joy Division, Banshees, Magazine, some Jam, Blondie, Undertones. Roxy Music of course too.
I was wearing my tuxedo and jeans, with trainers. My stage attire for the whole tour was my skinny silver grey glam rock trousers, my checked ‘ska’ pants, assorted shirts and a flowing red fake silk scarf just to camp things up. Eye liner pencil liberated from those nasty capitalists at Boots, I was ready to take the stage. But I needed some sunglasses. At a service station, I found a suitable pair with a glam butterfly engraved on them.
A road diet is seldom a good one. A hasty sandwich, too much snacky junk food, too many fizzy drinks. Until you start to run out of money and then you maybe miss a few meals and eat later. Maybe chips and gravy. Must have money for booze and fags of course.
I was pretty good anyway at only eating when absolutely necessary in those days, hence my skinny Bowie aladdin sane physique.
We met OMD on our arrival to the first show in wherever it was – Leeds? Sheffield? Liverpool? They were setting up their equipment and we introduced ourselves. The first person I recall we spoke to was drummer Malcolm. He was nice and easy to talk to. The others were friendly too, but seemed preoccupied with the matters of lights and equipment and setting up monitors etc. Touring is a lot a waiting around for things to happen. We went elsewhere, seeking out something to kill the time.
We found it: Space Invaders game machines. Let’s waste what little money we had then…
During the ‘blip’ and ‘bloop’ of invaders being shot to pieces, one of OMD arrived. It was keyboard player Paul Humphreys. We smiled, trying to stay cool but more likely wanting to jump all over him and lick him like over excited puppies.
He spoke: ‘You’re Basczax then?’
He knew us. Wow!
‘Yeah’.
He had heard the Earcom tracks and liked them.
‘Should be interesting to see you play’ or some such attempt at further breaking the ice.
Singer Andy McCluskey arrived, watching Jeff zap those nasty invaders. They chatted about I don’t know what. McCluskey had a drink in his hand – a plastic beaker with tea, I think.
They were nice blokes as it turned out but they had that ‘we are the headliners’ body space aura about them. Still, they were nice enough and certainly not people with an attitude.
The first night of our gigs with them was, I think, at Retford Porterhouse. We went down well, if the audience were a little cool towards us. We probably came across as being a bit tense, as this was a new experience for us. I remember coming off stage and talking to some young lad about Bill Nelson, who said my guitar playing reminded him of. I took it as a supreme compliment as I indeed did like Bill Nelson, having been a sometime fan of Bebop Deluxe, a fag end of glam prog-pop outfit. Bill was now solo and making some interesting electronic influenced music.
On the tour, we got a little silly of course.
We had a system, invented by John Hodgson, of scoring ‘rock n roll points’. You got a point for getting stoned (unlikely, none of us went near dope in those days, a bit of speed maybe) you got a point for wrecking your hotel room (how you wreck the back of a van I do not know, as this was our ‘hotel room’ most nights) and so on. Going with a groupie of course was a top scorer. This rock n roll points scoring – it kept us amused anyway.
We didn’t have much money between us. Mick Todd became Mr.Handouts as I seem to recall he handled a kitty of money and gave us some ‘pocket money’ from time to time. He reminded us all of a football manager in his thick over coat: he was organised and took it all suitably seriously.
Sleeping in the back of the van at first feels like fun but soon starts to become a feeling of dread when the time comes to sleep. After three days, we were all absolutely knackered and the van smelt like the inside of a monkey cage. You feel your humanity slipping away from you, your sense of dignity being stripped away. It becomes not funny anymore.
We managed some nights to sleep on people’s floors. A welcome luxury from the harsh in the van environment. But sleeping on a floor means you constantly wake and have to turn over as your side aches like hell from the hard surface. In such moments, we would often amuse each other before going to sleep. One night, when about three people were asleep, Mick and I made a tape of people snoring with running commentary. We called it ‘Snoring Olympics’ – a Pythonesque mock sport report.
The sleep deprivation became too much.
One night, at a gig, at I think, Leeds F club, I actually leaned back on my amp and closed my eyes. I fell asleep for about half a minute, stumbled up to the mic stand and got to my vocal line right on cue. Somebody down the front noticed this Keith Richards moment and laughed, applauding. I think I got three rock n roll points for that.
On the tour, at Doncaster I think, we met a character that we christened Bik-Bok. His real name was Russell and he lived in Huddersfield.  He was a strange young man, a fan of OMD and also…the Nolan Sisters. Playing along with his prattish taste, I asked him who his favourite one was:
‘Oh, Bernie…she can really sing’…
Sure, Bik Bok. She might be my favourite too.
Bik Bok became something of a band mascot. He let us sleep at his parents’ house one night, for which we were grateful. At that time, the Yorkshire ripper was still at large and the paranoia in Yorkshire was almost something you could touch in the air. We spooked ourselves in case Bik Bik or his Dad was the Yorkshire ripper. I personally didn’t sleep much that night. Silly, but it preyed on my exhausted and now manic mind.
The Yorkshire ripper made us some breakfast and suddenly didn’t seem like a mass murderer at all. He even made my eggs perfectly cooked but still runny, as I like them to this day, folks.
It was the best breakfast I had ever had: I was half starved.
The tour grinded on but we manfully soldiered through the trenches of rock n roll, now seasoned journey men on the root to becoming famous. Well, getting to number 20 in the charts would have suited us fine.
Liverpool University was a memorable gig for me. The audience went mad for us, I camped it up and twirled my scarf, imagining I was Bryan Ferry’s more camp younger brother. After the gig, one of the audience slightly deflated me by saying although he thought I was a good singer, I would get better with age when my voice deepened more, like Iggy Pop’s. Er…cheers, I might have said.
We gained a lot of fan support on that tour: Mick Todd got a steady flow of fan letters for quite a while after. For some now obscure and forgotten reason, we called our fans ‘zoo boys and girls’. Yes, I know – daft isn’t it? But we had our own clandestine band way of inventing things and alternative realities.
OMD at that time had not had their first proper hit. They had a song in their set that was so obviously boppy and catchy as hell: Enola Gay, the electro pop elegy to the plane that nuked Hiroshima. How new wave is that?
Incredibly, they did not really want to release it as a single. I remember McCluskey saying ‘nah, it’s too obvious’. They were seeking the most obscure path to success, trying to keep with the Joy Division vibe of not being visible. They were all huge fans of Joy Division by the way.
Maybe they did listen to us, because they did release it later in the year – a re-recorded version that gave them a big top five hit.
What a funny lot they were, I remember thinking. They had commercial songs but seemed to prefer the more ‘difficult’ aspects of their music. Their manager was not happy I recall when they chose to perform a quirky instrumental for their Old Grey Whistle Test appearance. I think they were torn between pop star dreams and alternative credibility back then. They obviously got over it!
One weird thing I remember is when we played Middlesbrough Rock Garden with them. Or did we play that gig? I can’t remember. Was it someone else like Nash the Slash?
They were all very excited about Middlesbrough being an industrial town and they wanted to see ICI by night. I think Mick Todd took them to sit on Eston Hills and watch the glow of the flare stacks light up the sky. Watch it they did, and the experience seemed close to religious awe for them.
We said our goodbyes to OMD and just after the tour, they had a hit with ‘Messages’. I remember seeing them on Top of the Pops and feeling proud for them. I do admit to a little feeling of envy too: how amazing it would have been to be on that edition with them, with maybe ‘Hollywood Strut’, a song that people kept telling me should be a single, including the drummer from OMD.
We never got to make that single.
The OMD tour had, however, been a great time for us and there was a sense of local pride when we returned to the familiar green, green grass of home.
No, the Tom Jones song was not in my head at the time.
I remember thinking ‘what next?’…
The adventure still had a way to go.

Rock Garden, late 1978. I am standing at the bar talking to someone when a record comes on that stops me in my tracks. Big bass, big spacey, reverberated drum sound…’’ello…’ello…’ello…
It was Public Image Limited: ‘Public Image’.
If one record heralded in the post punk era, it was this. For one it was nothing like the singer’s previous band, the Sex Pistols. For two, it took elements of dub and made a virtue of space and there was just no going back to three chord thrashes after this. Ladies and Gentlemen: presenting the genius that used to be John Lydon. And Jah Wobble and Keith Levine of course…
This band called Basczax I had just joined: we had to at least try to be a bit different, so my instinct told me.
Forward wind…
Basczax were into the first quarter of 1979 and already, things were happening for us. Need I repeat myself those things I spoke about on previous retro-musings? No.
Having done a live broadcast from Radio Cleveland, we were ready for the next step.
Girls who looked like Siouxsie Sioux and lads that looked like members of the Clash, and other assorted strange boys were coming to our gigs. We were a buzz and we felt like it too.
That next step came.
Larry Ottaway, then a DJ on Radio Cleveland, provided it for us.
We were to record ‘Madison Fallout’ and another song, ‘Auto Mekanik Destruktor!’ for his Pipeline label. It was not at that point actually a label, in fact I don’t recall he had settled on a name for it. I remember suggesting Deaf Lampost Records as a name. Couldn’t have that – too flippant!
The month I think, was April. It might have been May or June though, I cannot honestly remember the exact date (doubtless another member will supply it) was it August or later?
‘Madison Fallout’ was a live highlight, as was ‘Auto-Mekanik’…I remember Dave Johns mentioning some German progressive rock band and that I had stolen the ‘Mekanik’ title from them. I didn’t. But it is highly likely it sank into my mind from some advert perhaps in the music paper weeklies, of which I was a regular buyer. (Friend and Kraut rock aficionado Richard Sanderson also recently asked me a similar question by the way)
‘Madison Fallout’ was originally worked out around Berwick Hills studio, or rather, Jeff Fogarty’s parents’ house. The original lyric, which I had written about 2 am in the wee hours of the morning (as I did with a lot of songs, sitting up alone with a guitar) was originally called ‘Dancing with the Disco Clones’ – a much better title actually – but I could not make it scan into the music that Jeff and I were working out. I feel pretty sure that the intro music was inspired by Roxy Music’s morbid meditation on vacuous materialism ‘In every dream home a heartache’. I still played early Roxy a lot. Eno too. I loved his ‘Another Green World’ album, a favourite of mine at the time. The Roxyisms on that song are glaringly obvious if you listen to it with even a little concentration. Jeff being a huge fan like me, made it inevitable that Roxy were going to be there in our music.
The lyrics are in a persona. It is not really me, but I am in there somewhere. It is about disposable attitudes to love and sex. It might have something to do with my love life at the time but I doubt it.
I was too shy and self conscious and a girl had to almost pass me a letter to arouse my interest. Besides, I was too much in love with music and girls at that time were just an occasional fling. That sounds awful I know, but it is the truth. I was happy to be without it. Well. I think I was. Jeff was pretty much the same, except he was a lot more relaxed in female company. (God, I am re-living those angsty times as I type this!)
The Madison was a real nightclub in Middlesbrough that I sometimes went to. The Smiths song that goes ‘so you go on your own…and you leave on your own…’ was my life being sang there.
The music of ‘Madison Fallout’ was an instinctive process. Somewhere in my musical brain I knew that the best type of songs took unusual turns. For students of song craft, the song leaves its home key and resolves back to it. Tension and release I think it is called.
The sax part was I believe, worked out in the rehearsal room later. We knew we had something special, all band members locking into it, grappling with the quite complex changes. It was not a three chord wonder song that is for sure. John as usual brought his synthy finger magic to it, Alan Cornforth drummed very creatively on it and Mick manfully navigated the maze of chord changes. Jeff played great sax on it.
We were Basczax and we wanted to be different. We didn’t always achieve this, sometimes lapsing into traditional new wave pop rock, but this song and ‘Auto Mekanik’ sat nicely alongside Mick’s ‘Kirlian Photography’.
Impulse studios Newcastle was where we recorded it. Paul Gardner of No Way kindly let me loan his Fender Telecaster and his amp too, I seem to recall. I loved the sound of the Telecaster. I loved Syd Barratt’s clanky free jazz improvisation on ‘Interstellar Overdrive’ and my first instinct on plugging in the Telecaster was to play the riff from this early brilliant Floyd track.
‘Wye aye man, that’s hippy music’ said the engineer.
The other song we were recording ‘Auto Mekanik’ was all my own song. I had written the riff when I borrowed Mick’s bass to take home. It was prog-punk: time changes, dreamy middle eight bit, stop start dynamics. The words were written after I read a ‘future shock’ type article on how the microchip was going to drastically alter our lives. I pictured the future as a computer called Adolf. It was pure sixth form twaddle, but hey, I was only 19 and in love with the strange fascination of sci-fi sex in moonboots.
I was a Bowie freak in other words.
The recording session itself went like a dream. I do not recall any tensions, any objections or anything approaching an argument. We were united in the common aim of advancing the local music cause and we really wanted to break out of Teesside too. Except Mick still worked shifts at British Steel and John worked at HMV in Stockton. He also had a mortgage I think.
The recording of ‘Auto Mekanik’ proved to be difficult. We ran through a lot of takes before we nailed it. Even then, Mick went out of time on his bass at one point. It was too late to do anything about it. Besides, I reasoned, Trevor Bolder from Bowie’s Spider from Mars goes to the chorus too early on ‘Jean Genie’. We were in good company then.
I even remember what we all wore.
Jeff had on his Ultravox ‘Systems of Romance’ T-shirt, John had brought his long mac, Mick was in his ‘Undertones 12 year old boy with jumper’ look and I was in my khaki short sleeved Ian Curtis shirt.
My hair was cold parade short back and sides. I had left the eye liner pencil at home that day.
I smoked like a nutter in those days. But more than often, had to cadge my fags.
Drummer Alan was Mr. Jeans and T-shirt and Adidas trainers.
Both songs in the can, we returned to Teesside, feeling like Post punk Caesars back from the wars against bland pop music.
An amazing thing happened.
John Hodgson sent a copy and a letter to John Foxx, then having just left Ultravox and embarking on his solo career. (Hate that word! A career is something lawyers have isn’t it?)
John Foxx, to our astonishment, replied with a hand written letter.
He liked the record but suggested I watch those Ferryisms in my voice.
No chance of that, I was too much under the influence, although I did modify it after this.
‘Madison Fallout’ eventually came out in December 1979. The thrill of hearing it on John Peel is one of those ‘never to be repeated’ feelings.
It got distribution through Rough Trade and sold out of both its run of 1000 copies.
We even made an appearance on the alternative singles charts in early 1980.
I remember ‘Echo Beach’ by Martha and the Muffins was on the radio in the van when we were all going somewhere, I can’t remember. Was it to do a gig outside the area? Was it to do the OMD support tour?
It is all a misty paned haze now, but there are some things that glow in your mind forever.
Recording that single is one of them.
I hated the cover by the way. Factory wannabe pretention.
But it was 1979 and I wanted us to be part of it all.

Amazing what you think is a break when you are young. Getting a support slot to the Damned was a big scoop in my mind. But I wasn’t in awe of them. After all, they had not at this point had a decent sized hit record. Support them we did: twice. This is an account of those two gigs.
Middlesbrough Rock Garden – perhaps a more geeky ex-band member of Basczax can supply the date – was the venue that we were supporting them at. The Rock Garden was, of course, one of those venues that a lot of punk bands visited (heavy metal ones too) in the late 70s up to the very early 80s. It was small, rather squalid and suited the spit and snot ethos of punk perfectly. It was a great night out and I looked forward to going there most weekends as I did, between late ’78 and up to mid-1980.
So, there we were, all eager but trying to look nonchalant: too cool to boogie, punk was one big sulk for a lot of bands. Not that Basczax were a glum bunch. We had our stupid goofy moments too. Like the time we exited a stage, ran back on for an encore and Laurel and Hardy-like, I banged heads with bassist Mick Todd. Basczax: we fancied ourselves as Roxy Music if they had met in a British Steel work hut. We were pretty good, had a strong local following and we may or may not have had that whiff of ‘going places’ about us. I was having the time of my life, not realising it at the time of course.
So, the Damned were late. We of course, got there unfashionably early, bag of chips in hand and ready, oh so ready, for the gig. When they finally did arrive they were mostly in a bad mood. Their bass player, a grumpy git in a leather jacket called Algy Ward (had to look it up actually) had no bass amp. It had been broken/ stolen/whatever. We of course, being benevolent spirits said he could use ours. He looked at Mick Todd’s Carlsboro Bass Combo like it was a piece of shit. In fact, he might have even said ‘what’s this facking piece of shit?’ (note the southern pretend cockney vowel)
Singer Dave Vanian actually seemed an ok chap. He kept himself pretty much to himself but remember boys and girls, vampire lead singers need to be enigmatic. However, he was quite nice. I seem to remember him asking about us and being at least half interested in what we had to say.
Captain Sensible. CU next Tuesday is a word that springs to mind. He was carefully cultivating his cuntiness for all to be appalled at. A professional nasty, a bit of a punk clown of the unfunny kind. He picked up my cheap Kay Strat copy, pulled on the strings and nearly broke them and then contemptuously almost threw the guitar back at me. I might have said something like ‘there’s no need for that’. Rat Scabies, scurrying around, bumming cigarettes from Mick Todd (or was it John Hodgson? Certainly not me or sax player Jeff Fogarty – he was as skint as a rent boy, like me. Drummer Alan Cornforth didn’t smoke if my memory serves me well) intervened: ‘come on captain, less of that, leave the lads alone’…Shock horror! He was that anti-punk word: NICE. But of course, the next minute, he was back to being a professional nasty, like his punk chums.
We soundchecked. Or rather, sat around for ages while the Damned arsed around, deliberately taking as much time as they could. Regular ‘that sounds facking shit! ‘Turn up the monitor!’ (screeeech!) no! You facking moron…sort it out’..and all manner of bad boy language spewed from the stage. Vanian was quiet. Very quiet. Like the eye of the punk rock hurricane, he was a persona of calm in the riot of nastiness around him. Professional nastiness of course.
When we did soundcheck, we did a song we used to open with: ’Success’. It sounded crap onstage, but sheer excitement for the gig made me overlook this small detail. I felt a surge of adrenalin as the indescribable buzz of playing a ‘proper gig’ always gave me.
One song.
That was all we had time to do. As we got off the stage, Rat Scabies said to me ‘good one mate, like that, catchy stuff’..or something similar. I noticed he did not use the ‘fack’ word, which made a change. He must have been going soft on me.
The gig itself? To be honest, it is a blur. I was half drunk as always and our set whizzed by. The place was packed. The punks down front jumped up and down, heaved about, we got spat on. They liked us then.
What I do remember was sharing the toilet sized dressing room with the Damned. ‘What are you facking doing in here?’ snapped Captain Nasty. ‘We’re in the dressing room with you’ I answered dead pan. ‘no room to strangle a facking cat and we have to share this?’. I think someone might have said something like ‘now…now…don’t act like a pop star’…We were not fazed by the Damned. I thought they were fun, but shit actually. Yes, ‘New Rose’, ‘Neat Neat Neat’ were classic punk singles but live, they were a punk panto-act – all of them ugly sisters in a parade of panto-hate. (actually, my revisionist self now likes them for this very reason)
By now, I had decided that Captain Sensible was a tiresome bore and avoided trying to talk to him. A punk lass and friends came into the dressing room. I was astonished how Middlesbrough hard lasses acted like fawning groupies. Well, not fawning…but something like a ‘I’m not interested but yes I will sleep with you’ way. Captain Sensible wasted no time in living up to his professional nasty status ‘what do you facking slags want?’….Rat Scabies ‘a good knobbing…fnaaar fnaar’. Such backstage exchanges were not uncommon dear appalled reader. The girls, to give them credit, gave back as good as they got as all good punks should. None of this sissy fluttering eyelashes stuff…
The Rock Garden gig had been a triumph on an obscure local flapping fish in the pond sense. The night faded into the drunken blur of being young and not giving a toss about the future. The Damned, horrible lot that they were, provided us with at least the memorable spectacle of a naked Captain Sensible pissing on the front row of the audience. Punk gigs were not the Carpenters, that’s for sure
Now forgive me if I got this the wrong way around, but we also supported the Damned at a place called Cleethorpes Winter Gardens. This was the gig where Captain Sensible stole my blue teddy bear jumper (actually Mick Todd’s, I borrowed it for the gig) and then wore it on the cover of the ‘Love Song’ single.
Anyhow, this gig was another punk nastiness packed event. I had a pint of lager thrown on me while on stage. Except a salty taste in my mouth betrayed the fact that it was not lager: it was human piss. Well, I hope it was human – if it had been dog piss that would have been going too far.
At this gig the dressing room was bigger and we could mercifully almost avoid each other. I remember however, walking in on Captain Sensible while he was groping a punk girl’s tits. He didn’t flinch when I walked in: in fact, he nibbled on her nubile nipple, her punky baggy jumper hoisted over the top of them. She looked to me to be about fifteen. Sorry parents, but sometimes your naughty daughters go to gigs where they really should not. She might have been sixteen. Oh well, that makes it all right then (!)
This was the night that Captain Sensible surprised me. He gave me a glimpse of the ‘nice bloke’ he could be underneath the punk panto facade. He sat at a piano backstage and played a Barry White song. ‘I love Barry White’ he said as I stood there, admiring his musical prowess, obviously well hidden in the Damned. Of course, I expected him to revert back to the ‘fack this, fack that’ persona as soon as a fan appeared. But this time he shocked me again by ticking off a part time punk (probably dressing up for the weekend) that there was a lot of good music before punk. It turned out that he was quite a fan of Gong and all that weirdo jammed out hippy stuff. I think Grateful Dead might have been mentioned too.
Of course, I suspected this. Not everyone was into the Stooges and other pre-punk bands before punk. In fact, the blackmail pictures of long, lank hair and flares, Yes albums under the trench-coated arm, were hidden in the attic, that’s all.
Professional nasties, then. That was a side of punk that nobody ever talks about, because there was a music hall/vaudeville element to it that has been bricked over by retro-intellectual sociologist takes on Punk rock and how it blew all the dinosaurs away. (It didn’t: Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, ELP all sold truck loads of records in this period)
And Boney M and Abba were massive during the brief summers of hate that was Punk.
What I am saying is: don’t believe a word of it: punk was about being young, reckless, feckless and having a good time all the time – just like any other musical movement that catches you at a certain age.

Recording ‘Kirlian Photography’ and ‘Celluloid Love’ with Bob Last, Cargo Studios, Rochdale, May 1979
(I think it was that month)
..and the formation of the ‘classic’ Basczax line up.
Bob Last (Fast Records label owner and manager) first took an interest in Basczax (then called Basssax) before me and Jeff joined in late ’78. He had seen them supporting the Rezillos at Middlesbrough Rock Garden and was intrigued by their weirdness: kimonos, pancake make up and strange avant-electro sparse music that sourced from both punk and Kraftwerk. Since then, founder member and bassist/songwriter Mick Todd had kept in touch albeit on an ad hoc basis. It was not until me and Jeff joined that things really took off. Mick Todd knew he needed to get some better musicians to play with and I guess me and Jeff fit the bill.
Let’s rewind shall we, to the night I met Jeff and was lured into Basczax?
October 1978. Local bands including No Way, The Barbarians, Shoot the lights out (or was that another night?) and Monitor were playing the Wellington pub in Middlesbrough. Jeff was the sax player in Monitor. I was playing too – only two songs, one of my own called ‘Trends’ – which was crap – and a New York Dolls cover ‘Personality Crisis’. The band I was in that night had the terrible name of Original Sin. Not my idea by the way. They were really a working man’s club band. Indeed, I had got stuck playing the workies clubs as I had left my boring soul destroying job at British Steel earlier in the year with the mistaken belief that I could make a living playing music. We were a mediocre, third division club band and I wanted out. I liked the lads in the band – we had a good laugh most of the time, but I think they all knew it was a matter of time before I jumped ship. I just didn’t know how to leave as I did not really know any other like-minded musicians who were not playing the clubs.
When we arrived to set up our equipment – I was using a borrowed amp- the Barbarians were there, running through their sound check. There were no monitors of course – there would have been no room for them anyway. A tall scraggly hippy looking man came over to us and said ‘Hi…you can use our equipment if you want…it might be better, there’s no space really’…It turned out to be Dave Johns, leader of the Barbarians. He was very open and friendly and had a great benevolent sharing attitude. I liked him straight away. I also liked the fact he had a Burns Guitar that sounded really trebly, like the guitar sound from the Beatles ‘Revolver’ album. He had a way of hunching over his guitar, his face in concentration, his long lank hair obscuring his face from time to time. He had an insectoid, quirky stage presence.
Standing at the bar later, I got talking to Jeff Fogarty. I had run into him in rehearsals at the local youth club down the road at Easterside/Grove Hill and we hit it off, sharing a mutual like of Roxy Music. I thought Jeff was quite exotic, playing the saxophone. I knew no other sax players and he really stood out. He had a charisma about him. (Don’t let this go to your head now Jeff!) Suffice to say, we really hit it off.
This was the night that destiny called for me, that’s for sure.
I remember being really impressed with both the Barbarians and No Way. The Barbarians sang songs with local subject matter like ‘Binns Corner’. I remember talking to Dave Johns about the song. He was very obliging and seemed happy to talk about nerdy things like lyrics. I was too scared to talk to Fran, their singer: he looked really scary to me! (Of course he turned out to be a pussy cat once you got to know him)
No Way came on to big cheers. They sounded bloody great: really powerful, having an orderly sound that begged that admittedly awful word: professional. Their singer, Matey, was a great fitting front man – leaning over the mic stand, pint of lager in hand, off hand leery beery attitude- he was an instant local hero. They had a great guitarist in Paul Gardner too: minimal, droning string riffs and he used a proper guitar unlike all us el skinto copy guitar owners – he had a Fender Telecaster. Oh, their rhythm section was great too by the way. They were simply a very good local band who maybe could have done something outside their immediate back yard.
I remember standing there watching them, and watching the crowd going mad for them. It was the first time in my so far short life as a musician I felt a terrible feeling: envy. It made me even more determined to get out of my club band. (Paul Gardner might be surprised if he reads this!)
Get out I did.
Jeff actually joined the club band I was in briefly. I am not sure why he did this; he was more like a guest player on a couple of songs. I think he was trying to look for an opportunity to get me out of the band. I could be mistaken of course, but looking back, that is my impression.
I phoned Jeff regularly from the phone box up the road. I didn’t actually have a phone back then, being a council estate skint bastard. He was very excited one day and told me I had to come and see him immediately as he had in his possession a cassette of a band that was looking for new members. It was Basssax (remember, that was how it was spelt then)
I distinctly remember hearing that cassette. The quality was pretty bad, but there was something on it that sounded unique: it was ‘Kirlian Photography’. Now I was pretty hip to Kraftwerk and recognised straight away that it was a bit like ‘Radioactivity’. But that was exactly what I liked about it. I remember thinking that the singing was out of tune – but it had a strange charm, almost sounding oriental in its atonal between notes atmosphere. Plus the lyrics were strange and being from the Bowie school of pretentious art fops from Jupiter, I loved it.
It all happened very quickly. We joined bassist Mick Todd, with synth player Nigel Trenchard and drummer (and old school friend of mine) Mick ‘Cog’ Curtis. Rehearsals were intensive. We thrashed around in a place called the Gables on Marton Road. I remember it was always freezing there and when we got a Calor gas heater in, it became more bearable. The first songs we tried out were ‘Kirlian Photography’, ‘1999’ and a song that Nigel Trenchard had written called ‘Detached Houses’.
Nigel was a character – he fancied himself as the Eno of the band, which was cool by me. He was a very funny man and a practical joker. I remember once, when the band picked me up from my house in Easterside, he leapt out of the car and kissed me full on the lips in front of my mother. He was like Iggy Pop – recklessly impulsive!
I remember another time we were dancing at some new wave disco night in Middlesbrough. He was with a girl and every time he came into my view, he got his willy out and shook it for all to see. He was outrageous and there was never a dull moment in his company.
Why was he ejected from the band in favour of John Hodgson? I cannot actually remember the reason.
Ego clashes perhaps. Pity we didn’t go a bit further down the line with Nigel…
Jeff in the meantime suggested we changed the spelling of the band name to Basczax. It was a kind of ‘Ultravox’ (John Foxx not the man with the Clark Gable moustache) sounding name – Jeff was really into these at the time as was I briefly. (though not as much as Jeff) My main bands at that time were Wire, Magazine and The Banshees. ‘The Scream’ was a terrific album at the time. I was still very hung up on glam rock of course. I got a guitar because of Marc Bolan. His spirit was never far away from me. Bowie and Roxy Music were the other two obsessions of mine. I also liked Bill Nelson, his Red Noise album was impressive to me at the time. (but I found it irritatingly quirky on hearing it years later)
Basczax we were then. And we got two new members: Alan Cornforth on drums (Mick Curtis, lovely lad that he was, couldn’t keep up with the fast evolution of the band, bless him )
And John Hodgson on Keyboards/synth and occasional vocal.
Both had been drafted in from Blitzkreig Bop. One of Teesside’s first punk bands who released a brilliant single with ‘Let’s Go’. I mean the original version on Mortonsound by the way.
I remember the phone conversation with John Hodgson really well.
He said ‘I’m looking for something cold, something more synth based’. I remember thinking ‘he’s on the wavelength’ and he joined pretty much straight away, as did Alan Cornforth. I think he did one last gig with the Bop and then he and Alan joined us.
Our first rehearsal had John introducing a keyboard riff to us that became ‘Translucent Tales’: our mock psychedelic epic set closer. We were a band that was not self conscious about bringing in then unfashionable musical influences. John never hid the fact that he was a huge fan of Genesis. He was actually a prog rocker in punk disguise. (your secret is out now John!) Me and Mick Todd loved psychedelia too – one of Mick’s favourite albums from the past at that time I remember was ‘Their Satanic Majesties Request’, the Rolling Stones’ ill advised but strangely fascinating 1967 acid blues album.
Basczax thus became the ‘classic line up’.
We were a band with one foot in the trashy punk/glam camp, and one foot in the emerging electronic wave of bands about a year in front of us then. I felt we were in tune with the musical zeitgeist, if only for about six months.
I wrote songs like I had two weeks to live. Jeff and I came up with ‘Hollywood Strut’, ‘Neon Vampires’ and ‘Madison Fallout’ around his Mum’s house. Jeff would vamp at the organ, I would direct chord changes, Jeff too putting his musical diversions. The first song we wrote together eye to eye was ‘Celluloid Love’. It was Jeff’s bass line I seem to recall, that sparked the song. I wrote the music on the chorus. We shared lyrical duties – writing a line each. It happened quickly, had that ‘Roxy’ atmosphere about it and I distinctly remember taking it to rehearsals to work out. John Hodgson came up with the great keyboard hook on it. He was very handy like that, always embellishing the songs with hooky parts.
Alan came up with the unusual drum beat –a kind of military shuffle. We were all mindful of trying to approach things a little bit differently.
It was to be a track we were to record for Bob Last’s Fast Records, along with ‘Kirlian Photography’ which was Mick Todd’s song.
Bob Last was producing a 12 inch ‘musical magazine’ as he called it: Earcom. There had already been one released and we were to be on the second one, alongside tracks by the Thursdays and Joy Division. I have no idea how Bob Last managed to scoop two out-takes from the ‘Unknown Pleasures’ sessions, but I do remember thinking: ‘Wow! We are sharing a record with Joy Division!’ (even that early on, already a legendary band)
Now a lot happened in the run up to recording these tracks. Basczax had amassed a large-ish local following, we were playing a Friday night residency at a pub on the Thornaby/Stockton -on-Tees border called ‘The Teessider’. We had by now, a full set of songs, we had a quickly evolving sense of who we were and we had a buzz about us, that even extended to some of the major record companies like Virgin, who I seem to remember were briefly interested in us. (if this is delusional hind sight, please correct me, ex-band members)
1979 was a year that was a white heat of creativity in pop/rock music. There was a pioneering spirit in the air as bands like PIL released the brilliant punk/dub/German prog rock influenced ‘Metal Box’ album.
Joy Division led the way from thrashy punk to somewhere altogether more moody and atmospheric.
There was plenty of good new wave pop around: Blondie went from strength to strength.
Disco was big in the charts and was starting to become assimilated into some of the post-punk bands music. The most obvious example was ‘Heart of Glass’. It was a great record that made disco seem cool.
Chic were big in this year. I loved them and anyone with a sense of great dance grooves and hooks loved them too.
On the scratchier side of things you had The Slits and The Pop Group – both using dance rhythms in their music and the explorative dopey vibe of dub reggae (which John Peel played a lot of on his show)
The electronic vanguard was upon us: Gary Numan, love him or hate him, led the way with ‘Are Friends Electric’ – the first proof that men in black shirts and make up with synthesisers could make Top of the Pops. The Human League and all their ilk, followed in Numan’s steps about a year later. (Remember, it took the Human League quite a while to have a proper hit record)
But there was one album and band that blew me away that year, more than even Joy Division. It is still one of my favourite albums: ‘Fear of Music’ by Talking Heads.
‘Fear of Music’ was the sound of a band really hitting their artistic stride: it was an album full of great ideas and it set a benchmark for me. I loved – and still love – the album’s sense of experimentation, while still retaining a sense of song craft. ‘Heaven’ was a sublime track and ‘Life During Wartime’ was funky as hell. Welcome to the post punk disco party.
Even old hero David Bowie made a decent album, now somewhat overlooked I feel – in that year, with ‘Lodger’.
Basczax, 1979: we were in there somewhere, we felt sure we fitted the post punk synthy pop /rock bill.
So there we were – barely six months together and we were recording in a proper studio with a producer in the glamourous location of Rochdale, Cargo Studios.
Bob Last looked cool in shades and a combat jacket over his Human League ‘Being Boiled’ T-shirt. He had the air of a young Phil Spector about him I remember thinking. Of course, I wouldn’t have dreamt of telling him that. He was also eating apricots. Lots of them almost constantly. He was trying to quit smoking and this explained his rabid munchies syndrome. He had the air of someone quite calm and in control about him. He wasn’t exactly chatty, the kind of person who only spoke when he really had something to say. He didn’t really do small talk. I didn’t really know how to take him to be honest, but he was genial enough to get along with. I was young and still suffering bouts of adolescent self-consciousness. I was pretty insecure back then, coming to think of it, and my aloof exterior was a coping mechanism for my shyness. I also had a debilitating negative side to my nature that I still struggle with today to be honest. It didn’t take much to send me off at the deep end. Enough of this navel gazing now…
I remember setting up my guitar amp. It was a small practice amp and not the Marshall stack or decent guitar combo that maybe the session engineer expected. It was all I owned.
‘Is that it? You are using that?’ he said incredulously.
I felt a bit embarrassed.
Bob Last intervened: ‘It will be fine when we mic it up’.
I had brought my only guitar: A Kay Fender Stratocaster copy, purchased from Gratton’s catalogue. It had that scratchy Strat sound, had a five way pick up selector and was not a bad sounding copy coming to think of it. (In fact many people said it sounded better than my next guitar, a Columbus Les Paul copy)
I remember thinking I hope I don’t break any strings because I didn’t have the money to buy any more. I was always chronically broke back then. I have no idea how I managed. Sometimes I didn’t even have the bus fare to rehearsals and walked. I was a rock n roll pauper. Once, I went two days without eating hardly a thing. No wonder I was as skinny as a rake. Mr. Bowie – I blame it all on you.
Bob Last was a pretty hard task master I seem to remember. He made us run through ‘Kirlian Photography’ loads of times. Drummer Alan Cornforth got fed up and was not happy with his drum sound. He went into a sulk and a bad atmosphere started to descend on the session. He went out for a walk, well actually, went off in a huff and I remember John having to talk him around. I just felt embarrassed more than anything as the session ground to a halt. I half expected Bob Last to say ‘forget it, just go home’ but he didn’t. He tried to talk Alan around and in the end, Alan did come around of course. Bob Last was trying to get us to hit a steady groove for the track. We were used to tear-arsing through songs live, and it was hard to pull back and let the music breathe. But time was up against us now: we had to nail these tracks; we had no choice, no luxury of time. We had to do a lot in eight hours.
Then, it was my turn to get stroppy.
Bob Last said to me ‘Oh come on…stop those pretty guitar solos will you?’ when I was overdubbing my guitar for ‘Celluloid Love’. I hardly had any time as John had spent ages overdubbing his keyboard lines. The atmosphere was becoming panicky now as time was running out and I hadn’t even done any vocals yet, apart from the guide tracks when we were recording the basic bass and drum track.
In a fit of frustration, I whacked the hell out of my guitar, running my fingers anywhere on the fret board. I got art rock rage in other words.
Bob Last was (at last) pleased with what I was doing.
‘That’s great…let’s go for it now’…
So, the manic guitar on ‘Celluloid Love’ was done in the second take. I was actually scared of snapping strings, I remember.
I fully expected Bob Last to give me the third degree again when I overdubbed my guitar for ‘Kirlian Photography’ but he liked that guitar line.
‘It sounds good; psychedelic’ he said, looking over his shades at me, probably sensing my nervy insecurity.
I wondered if the song was too long and should we cut it down? After all, who did six minute tracks in those ‘quick get it over with’ post punk days?
‘No’ said Bob Last. ‘It’s good as it is’.
I also remember Jeff doing his sax parts quite vividly. We piled on the Roland Space Echo, an effect that Jeff liked to use as it made him play spacey, more random notes.
As for my vocal, I had to do them quickly. And I did. I seem to recall that ‘Kirlian Photography’ and ‘Celluloid Love’ were both second takes after an initial run through.
We did some backing vocals quickly and I seem to recall we had a fit of giggles doing the Mr. Gumby sounding backing vocals for the chorus of ‘Kirlian Photography’. I remember John getting a little impatient ‘Come on Sav, get it together maaan’ he joked in his best mock hippy voice.
The session went a little over time as the tracks were mixed. The thump thump thump of the bass drum seemed to go on for ages, as the sound was tweaked and the drum sound worked on. Some of us went out to look around outside to get some air.
I remember hearing my vocals isolated in the mix and cringed. I wanted the music back in to mask them. I also remember thinking my guitar sounded tinny and wishing I could get it to sound fatter somehow.
I also remember the thrill of hearing the mix come together. ‘Celluloid Love’ sounded great with all of John’s keyboards textured. I also remember saying ‘get the guitar up’ on the chorus and Bob Last obliged.
The mix for ‘Kirlian Photography’ came together quicker. It was all there in the performance or take we had done and just needed the levels setting. The echo on the guitar and on Jeff’s sax was added in the final mix down I seem to recall.
The time came for playback after what seemed like ages.
We were really pleased with the results. Except I got a bit hung up about my rhythm chops going out of time at the end of ‘Kirlian Photography’. ‘Nobody will notice’ said Bob Last. Pretty soon it was forgotten about and even I didn’t notice it.
It seemed to take ages for the record to come out. In fact, it got to a point where I thought it wasn’t going to happen. I remember getting our copies of the 12 inch Earcom very vividly. They were sent to Mick Todd’s house in Redcar and that bus journey to his house that day just could not go fast enough for me.
Mick had done a nice collage for the inner sleeve that represented us in a graphic sense well.
No band photos. This was becoming less the norm in those days. It was more about images and graphics. I always thought it was a pity. Some decent band shots would have been a good thing.
I did not like the cover of the record: a picture of someone abseiling/rock climbing. ‘What the hell for?’ is one thought I had at the time.
I was not even that impressed with the Joy Division tracks. They sounded just as they were: shelved out takes that did not make the ‘Unknown Pleasures’ album.
The Thursdays tracks were shambolic fun. Only in 1979 could a band of twelve year olds make a record in the name of alternative prankery. At least that is the impression I got.
So there you go. It was official: Basczax was now a proper band who had a proper record out on a proper (and cool) alternative record label.
Even John Peel liked it.
Which of course, made it all worthwhile.
We drove back to Teesside that day knackered but buzzing with the adrenalin of it all.
Then I remembered, the next morning, I had to go and sign on the dole.
It’s a mighty long way down rock n roll as a certain band once sang.

It is sometime in early 1982. Basczax – the band after John, Mick and Alan left, not the ’79 line up – were playing the Knebworth alternative festival. It was something arranged by Henry Lytton-Cobbald, the son of his aristocratic father, who owned Knebworth House, in Hertfordshire. We had got to know him through a farmer (and friend of the Lytton-Cobbalds) called Simon whose farm we used to rehearse at. We were in the court of rich people – very nice they were too, very much fun people to be around, treating us well, feeding us and letting us stay in the splendour of their mansion.

Our music had now changed – no real punk traces, more keyboards.  Very po-faced is what we had become.  It was the time of New Romantics (really mostly all Bowie and Roxy kids in new ridiculous clothes) and we were more the ‘Vienna’ side of things. I looked like an over made up twerp and wore a gold lame waist coat over my bare chest. Marc Almond might have befriended me and bought me a drink. If he had met me, that is. Iron Maiden fans would have spat on me.

The crowd was expectant: they had just been having a great time dancing to hits of the day like ‘Just an Illusion’ by Imagination, ‘Mirror Mirror’ by Dollar and ‘Love Plus One’ by Haircut 100. Pop was cool, the post-punk party was now mostly over and everything was lightening up. ABC was at the height of their big screen glossy pop. I liked them actually – this so called ‘New Pop’ was getting to me, making me cheer up from the Joy Division glumness I had been consumed by for too long now. Production on pop records was now sounding lush and had a promise of the glamourous life in its grooves. Grace Jones made wonderfully hip sounding 12 inch singles with Sly and Robbie at the rhythm helm: life was becoming funky.

Writers like Paul Morley in the NME also gave the signal that New Pop was the thing: please, let’s move on from that horrible post punk gloom like Bauhaus and Echo and the Bunnymen in their more dark moments. Let’s have fun and party, bring some froth and frivolity to the stage. Orange Juice crossed over at last to their rightful place on Top of the Pops with their bouncy bubbly single ‘Rip It up’. The pop world looked interesting and full of characters again.

Back to that gig…

We started the gig with a slow funereal song called ‘The Search’. I looked out at the audience and a feeling came over me.  I felt boring: something I had never felt before. We trudged through our set and I could not wait to get to the faster songs, of which we had about five. The night blurred into insignificance. I felt I was a relic of another pop age at only 22 going on 23. I felt like Mr. Misery sitting on the stairs of a great party that I was not part of.

Actually, I think this was the night I may have imitated Bryan Ferry eating a bag of chips. But I really cannot remember if it was. Still, plenty of laughs off stage – we were really not the sullen people we presented ourselves as on stage. So why was our music so turgid and ponderous? And grey?

We needed some colour, some excitement, and some pizzang (!) in our lives.

Back in Teesside and our drummer Dave Palfreeman came into rehearsals and announced that he wanted us to change. He had seen people having a great time at a gig he had seen by the Thompson Twins, then a pretty funky ethnic dance outfit. ‘Why can’t we just make music that people can dance to?’ he said… ‘with an upbeat vibe?’…

He was right and it was great timing. I think we were all feeling bored with Basczax Mark 2 and wanted to get in on this growing feeling of fun and frivolity that was becoming the dominant ethos of pop at that time.

Within a few weeks, we decided to leave our glum past behind and become a fresh, punky funky outfit: Jank Mamba. The name means nothing; it was just a ‘sound’ name, trying to create a feeling of rhythm and dance. We had beats that grooved, guitars that went all Chic-choppy, bass lines that rolled and snaked, vocals that became almost chant-like in places. We had a song called ‘Dice man’ in which I played random slide guitar with a drum stick. It felt daft and fun. And yes, you could dance to it.

We got a new bass player too as Martyn Alderdice moved over to guitar after our bass player Rob Fawcett left.  His name was Doug Maloney and he brought a much needed sense of modernity to the band.

The music was mostly democratically produced: we would often jam around a few riffs or a rhythm and create something out of that. This is certainly how one of our songs: ‘Animal Tactics’ came about. It was a riff and a rhythm before it was a song. We brought in a kind of Afrikana funk to our music. It was not hard for me to make the change. I already loved Talking Heads, was a big fan of Nile and Rodgers – Chic, and also, I loved Bowie’s ‘Young Americans’ phase. Plus I was big on Disco generally and the new dance of the new pop was a blend I found fresh at the time.

We changed the way we looked too: I got my hair cut into a new tousled and gelled funky style, no makeup now: ridiculous baggy green trousers and a ‘pirate’ white shirt, threaded with a leather choker.  On my feet were green suede brogues. I was an instant re-invention of an early 80s New Pop Star. And Pop was now hip. Rock was a nasty thing of the past, at least rock of the Spinal Tap type. Everything felt fizzy , fun and modern.  Punk rock? What was that again?

Boy George was bringing the glamour back to Pop. Unfortunately, I couldn’t stand his music, but he was a character nevertheless, and he brought back a sense of androgyny to pop, not seen since the early 70s.

My lyrics became more straightened out, more declarative. I even sang about love. But left out the dove and above. I sang about sex. But left out the T.Rex. I was now a fully paid up member to NOW and the past was feeling like…well, a thing of the past.

Jank Mamba then, were the new contenders, the new jive, and Joy Division and the pale, frowning boys in overcoats were put in the bargain bin.

Zing!

We got ourselves a pretty cool manager. His name was John Andrews and he was a fireman from Darlington who wanted to be a band manager, get involved in the music business. He saw us play at Black Cats after we were chosen for a showcase gig of local talent through the local Tees FM radio station. John was cool, smoked Marlboro and was pretty hip to what was going on in music. I liked him. I got into Prince through him too – he lent me his copy of the album ‘1999’ and I was instantly hooked. I remember buying the 12 inch single of ‘Little Red Corvette’: it was the start of a decade long admiration of Prince: endlessly creative, funky, and a great producer and performer too, in that decade. Everything felt sexy and on the make again. Plus people actually enjoyed themselves at our gigs, getting up to dance. The number of girls in our audience increased dramatically. The feeling was up; the feeling was good.

Our manager financed a recording session for us and also paid for a 7 inch single and 12 inch EP release. He was putting his money where his mouth was, which told us he meant business.

We recorded some songs at Fairview Studios in Hull and also, did a session at Spaceward Studios in Cambridge.

The 7 inch single was ‘Animal Tactics’/Standing in your light’. The label was our own: Loyalty Music.

The 12 inch single was an EP called ‘The way things are’ with ‘Animal tactics’ alongside ‘Show me something’, ‘Time and the Prize’  and an instrumental called ‘The Rumble’.

We even got an appearance on the 80s pop programme: ‘The Tube’. In fact, we got invited along to be in the Tube audience quite a lot, as we had VIP passes. I remember standing between Paul Weller and Pete Townshend. I also chatted a little bit with Green from Scritti Politti, who then had out their great ‘Songs to remember’ album – one that was always on my turntable back then, together with Talking Heads ‘Stop Making Sense’ and Simple Minds ‘New Gold Dream’

Interviewer Muriel Young did one of her first ever interviews with us. She was nervous and it showed. It also made us nervous and I recall the interview being pretty embarrassing and, well, crap.

But we played a stormer set on ‘The Tube’ and Jools Holland really liked us.

Of course, nothing happened for us, and that old devil ‘what next?’ started to make us restless. Plus our drummer Dave was becoming more and more erratic and unreliable, due to too many nights smoking weed and getting blasted.

John Andrews could not finance us forever, and his wife started to give him a hard time about spending money on us when his family maybe should have been the priority.

We also did a session for London’s Capital Radio I recall. Again, nothing followed on from it and we started to get restless.

A gig at the ICA in London was something of a non event. We went home quite deflated I seem to remember.

Towards the end of the band, two new songs gave a hint of a different direction: one was ‘Ember Days’ a moody song with an anthemic chorus, and the other was ‘My Cleopatra’ – the latter of which Jank Mamba never performed, it was recorded as a demo only. I also had another song called ‘Attraction’ that was demoed but never performed by the band.

Then, the inevitable end came. Relations in the band became a bit fractious and it no longer felt like fun anymore. The New Pop – once exciting and sometimes quite experimental, had now became the Same Old Pop, with a new conservatism sweeping the pop world: Culture Club (really musically bland when you think of it) Spandau Ballet (‘Chant Number One was cool but ‘True’ sent them to wine bar muzak hell) and Duran Duran (actually made some great singles I thought)

Jank Mamba ended, just at the dawn of this New Pop Aristocracy.

Drummer Dave Palfreeman quit sometime in late 1983. Then Marty decided to call it a day with us.

So that was the end of Jank Mamba – an ‘in between band’ in the middle of the Basczax era and the soon to come Flaming Mussolinis.

But I do not feel any shame at that era of my musical life. In fact, I feel quite proud of it and really enjoyed it.

Jank Mamba was a really good band in a really fresh time in pop music.

And even New Order ditched the glum long mac image for music you could dance to.

So we were a band then, in tune with that time, I feel.

And of course – OF that time.

Yowsa!

It’s time the tale was told…of my club land days – being the act between the bingo, cheap beer and sharing dressing rooms with strippers…oh yes folks, the world of workies clubs can be rather saucy!

In 1976 and 1977 – the key Punk rock years, was I in a hip and happening band? No – I was playing the working man’s clubs, first in a duo and then in a band. Sure, I was filling notebooks with my own songs at that time – plotting a glam punk band called The Wild Mutations that came to nothing because I simply didn’t know the right kind of people to form it with. My guitar playing buddies were all strictly bedroom players: one of them heavily into Led Zeppelin and a couple of others, just swapping riffs and song chords. I remember my friend from back then, Gary Watson asking me if I could help him work out the solo to John Mile’s ‘Music’. I said no, because I hated it. But work out riffs I did: from Beatles to Stones to Bowie songs, I went through them all. My biggest achievement in 1976 was finally working out the chords for ‘Life on Mars’. There are loads of them and it moves to some really strange places, but that is the greatness of a lot of Bowie songs: they are full of clever musical twists. It is a lesson I took for my own songwriting.

The duo was called Sheridan and Dean and I cringe when I tell you this. I had befriended a kind of Brambles Farm Elvis lad called Dave Woodhouse – he was really into fifties music and the idea was we were going to form some kind of rock n roll group but we ended up a duo as the people we auditioned with were hopeless. One drummer called Nige turned up with a moustache and a Status Quo t-shirt on. He played the drums like he was building a garden shed. No thanks! A potential bass player was actually quite good – I cannot remember his name but he wanted to join a band that was ‘more complex musically’ -the cheeky sod!

The duo name came from Dave. He took his stage surname from James Dean. I took mine from the forties actress Anne Sheridan. I saw it one night on TV as the credits rolled up on a film I cannot remember now.

Our set was fifties stuff like Everly Brothers and some Elvis. We even did a stupid version of Sweet’s ‘Blockbuster’ – imagine a duo doing that, if you can!

Our debut gig was at Brambles Farm Social Club sometime in early 1976. It was a disaster. We opened with the Beatle song ‘Help!’ and somebody shouted ‘aye, you need it too!’ when we galloped through a feedback crap version that I played too fast. Dave glared at me on stage as if to say ‘slow down!’

When we came off stage, totally deflated, I hoped that was the last of it.

But Dave got his mojo back and got us some gigs – even a proper agent.

It was a charity ‘try out’ gig for the agency. If we were any good, he would take us on was the deal. We played alongside a rock n roll revival group called Switch. My vivid memory of the gig is walking into the dressing room and one of the band members was having it off with his girlfriend, who he had on the dressing table. She screamed ‘God!’ when I opened the door. He threatened to punch me later, despite my ‘but…I didn’t mean to walk in’…pleas. Rock n roll misbehaviour happens in workies clubs folks, more than you think.

I should have been crafty and sabotaged our chances but we played well and drat!-we got some gigs…

So began my imprisonment in rubbish working man’s clubs where one night we were forced to be accompanied by an organist.  He kept hitting bum notes and I glared at him, leaning into the mic and saying ‘is this man blind or something?  He keeps playing Chinese notes’….a cringy face down the front nodded ‘yes he IS blind’…Cue, hole in the floor, which I fell down.

One night my Dad and his mates came to see us. It was all going well until I attempted a Pete Townshend style leap, got my legs caught in the PA leads and nearly killed people on the front table as the speakers fell off. My Dad cringed and shook his head as his mates were almost on the floor laughing. I also had lurid green trousers on, which one of my Dad’s mates took the piss out of:

 ‘Who did you get those from Al – Larry Grayson?’  These ex-Teddy Boys were pretty merciless you know.

Another gig, we shared a dressing room with strippers. It was a Sunday and the blokes were all there waiting for the two girls to come on. Dave and I were the nuisance act they had to tolerate in between strippers. Some of them booed us and jeered ‘get ‘em off!’…another wag shouted …’your clothes he means!’….they were torturing us for amusement. We played on regardless.

The strippers themselves were not shy girls. They did not say ‘leave the dressing room’ or anything like that. Dave later got off with one of them. He was like that: Mr.Casanova. He had a way with the girls that was one of life’s great mysteries with me. One night a girl in a nightclub told me why:  ‘He has a really nice bum’ she said with an evil glint in her eye.

I didn’t have one. So that was the real reason for my lack of success with girls. Lads – pack the back of your trousers with a discreet thin cushion if you want to get off with girls!

The duo came to an end mainly due to the fact I got fed up with it and gradually built up the nerve to say ‘I’m leaving’. I felt a strange sense of loyalty to Dave. Despite our obvious differences in personality and tastes, we were really good friends for a good 18 months of my life.

He later joined another club band, got married, had two kids and then left his wife. He just wasn’t the settling down type and if I had known he was getting married, I would have said ‘no, don’t’…

For the last part of 1977, I did nothing. I wrote songs as usual, thought again about how great The Wild Mutations could be, but they stayed in my head, like about twenty other day dream fantasy bands back then. I just didn’t know anyone to make it happen with and lacked initiative to seek other like minded musicians.

In early 1978, I befriended a good guitar player called Alan Hunter. He lived at the bottom of my estate. We got together, usually at his house, and played songs, traded riffs etc. Alan was in a band called Speed Machine. They were a club band. It is hard to explain why young musicians play the clubs but when I think about it, it is because there is usually nowhere for you to play when you are on original material band, at least there wasn’t until punk started to spread. Plus, it is part of the working class culture you grow up in. My Dad was always ‘down the club’ and talk of bands playing there was, believe it or not, a mildly exciting thing. Also, you got paid. So, if like me, you could not hold down a day job, you at least had money to survive on. Plus it was good experience. And most of the time, a good laugh.

To cut to the chase, I joined that band with Alan in it after they invited me to. I wasn’t doing anything else at the time and it got me out of the house and having a good time with friends.

Speed Machine had a good bass player and singer called Tom. He had an impressive McCartneyesque voice and he played a mean bass too, like Macca. He was the main singer, although I sang a few songs. I introduced a Bowie song: ‘Ziggy Stardust’ and a Roxy song ‘Love is the drug’ into the set, so at least we had a bit of a hint of some credible material. The rest was pretty standard stuff – The Beatles, Stones, all the usual clichéd club band stuff. Speed Machine also covered a Hot Chocolate song and a lesser known Slade song called ‘In for a penny’. Alan was a really good guitar player, he was always practising and he got better and better. He later joined a punk band called Monitor. (Jeff’s old band)

Speed Machine were kind of like the Hartlepool united of club bands and did not make a lot of money, playing lower division clubs. We had some great laughs though and getting the odd tenner here and there was welcome to me as I did not have a job, having packed my job in at British Steel because I hated it. I drifted for while, crashing at different friends’ houses, trying to find a way to land.

We lost our drummer and got a new one. His name was Bruce. He was very full of himself was Bruce and fancied himself as a bit of a Keith Moon. But his sense of tempo was rubbish and we kind of got stuck with him mainly because I was living at his house at the time, having left home. Plus he had a van.

By late 1978, I was really fed up with the club band life and wanted out. I was listening to Magazine, loved the Buzzcocks and wanted to do my own thing. My Bowie and Roxy muse was aching to do something interesting and cool.

To appease me I think, the band agreed to use the name Original Sin (Alan Hunter’s suggestion) and back me on some of my songs as they knew I was becoming more and more frustrated. But it was all just wind in ripped sails and I knew it was only a matter of time before I left. So did they I think.

In October, 1978, as Original Sin, we played some of my songs. They were not very good actually, but we did a version of the New York Dolls ‘Personality Crisis’ and it went down ok with the punks at the gig we were playing: The Wellington in Middlesbrough. I felt excited to at last, have found a scene that maybe I could be a part of. It was a scene I did not know existed at that time as I was living in a different world.

This was the night I met Jeff Fogarty, who lured me away from the clubs – I had to honour some last dates on the books with Speed Machine- now called Tarragon –  I forgot to mention.

And you all know the rest….Basczax beckoned and destiny took a turn for the better that night.

Thanks Jeff – if we had not met that night, god knows what would have happened! (or not happened)

The Wild Mutations did in some small way happen. A song I had written back in 1977, was resurrected for Basczax in 1979. It was called ‘Success’ and we used to open our set with it.

So my punk glam fantasy self was in some way, gratified by Basczax.

1974 was a significant year in my teenage years. I was passing through 14 to 15 in that year, and I recall, something in me changing when I became fifteen in June of that year. I started to feel more at ease with myself, was making friends a lot more easily and everything had the feeling of falling into place. I now viewed some of the Glam rock pop stars as just daft and ridiculous. Gary Glitter, Mud, Sweet – all now seemed to be relics from another era – although I did like Sweet’s ‘Teenage Rampage’ in that year. Marc Bolan had the promising start with ‘Teenage Dream’, but then lost the plot as T.Rex started to sound too samey, with no real promise of a musical change on the horizon. Not so with David Bowie, who released his last glam masterpiece that year: ‘Diamond Dogs’. Of course, I loved it, poring over the sleeve and memorising lyrics. ‘Rock n Roll With Me’ from that album, is one of my favourite songs by Bowie.

In that year, other more witty and inventive tail end of Glam bands started to appear: Sparks, whose ‘Kimono my house’ I played to death and Cockney Rebel, whose singles I enjoyed. There was also another band I was reading about, but not yet heard. I loved their name: Bebop Deluxe. They had an album out called ‘Axe Victim’, which I didn’t get to hear until the following year. John Peel played a now rare single by them on his show ‘Teenage Archangel’. I wish to hell I had bought it. So, these were the so-called ‘wilderness years’ between Glam and Punk, and contrary to popular belief, there was plenty going on in this over-looked year of 1974. It was the year I first heard Mike Oldfield’s ‘Tubular Bells’ too, in the common room at school, were mostly lads brought in their albums: Deep Purple, Led Zeppelin and some cool lad brought in a copy of Kraftwerk’s ‘Autobahn’ album, that I remember really enjoying because it was so novel and different. I could kick myself for not going to see Kraftwerk when they played the Middlesbrough Town Hall. I had also missed Bowie as Ziggy at the Middlesbrough Town Hall in June 1972. My parents wouldn’t let me go, saying I was too young to go somewhere like that on my own, which I would  happily have done. Roxy Music in 1974, were still making great music, even though many thought they had become too ‘straight’ after Eno had left them the previous year. ‘All I want is you’ was a fantastic record and Bryan Ferry as usual looked cool on Top of the Pops when he most uncharacteristically wore a black cap-sleeved T-shirt and jeans. Ahead of the pop stylists, as usual.

10cc were a very interesting and innovative band too. Never mind all that later 70s MOR sophisticated pop they made, in 1974, they released a brilliant album in ‘Sheet Music’, an album I borrowed and was amazed at its scope and musical inventiveness. Intelligent, witty and quality pop had not died with the Beatles splitting in 1970: here was the evidence. It really was that good, and I urge you to check it out sometime soon.

Queen were about to surprise everyone with their inventive take on pop too. ‘Killer Queen’ was a fantastic single, taking surprising twists and turns. It also had a great production sound. Their album of that year ‘Sheer Heart Attack’ was one I bought. It was like a Beatles album: ranging from full on rock, to music hall whimsy, to gorgeous balladry, to anthemic ‘stadium’ (a word not actually used then, it just was ‘big concert’) swayers. Queen were a cool band folks, never mind their penchant for bombast and camping it up, or their grandiosity. In 1974, they made some great music. So get over it,  all you dinosaur band hating old punks, who seem to think that the Sex Pistols were the exterminators of bands like Queen. They were actually more radical and inventive than a lot of punk bands, so shove your Punk dogma where the dog can’t get the bone.

My musical palette was broadening thanks to borrowing friends’ older brothers’ albums, and from reading the music papers every week, like Melody Maker , the NME and Sounds. Writers like Nick Kent in the NME had directed me to bands like the New York Dolls and I remember reading an article on a band called Dr.Feelgood, who were part of an up and coming scene. Kilburn and the High Roads (Ian Dury’s old band) were another name I remember from that year. Pub rock in fact, was the new buzz in 1974. This was also the year I discovered the psychedelic genius of Syd Barrett, thanks to an article in the NME about him. I bought ‘Relics’ by Pink Floyd, from Alan Fearnley’s record shop in Middlesbrough. I talked my mother into buying me it: a bargain budget release at, I think, only 1.49 at the time.

Another album I enjoyed this year, second hand from Fearnley’s, was Eno’s ‘Here come the warm jets’ and the Fripp/Eno album ‘No pussyfooting’. I was short of about twenty pence to buy them both, but the guy at Fearnley’s let me have them. ‘No Pussyfooting’ was the weirdest music I had ever heard and to be honest, I couldn’t make my mind up whether it was a musical joke, or something brilliant. I came to appreciate it later, when my ‘art rock’ musical ear was opened, thanks to Bowie doing ‘Low’ and ‘Heroes’ – two albums that radically shifted my musical perspective, three years later in 1977.

It was also the year I developed my guitar playing skills, having got my first guitar – a white dunno wotsit with f holes in it for Xmas 1973. By mid 1974, thanks to the NME, who ran a free supplement on how to be a rock n roll guitar player, I could play The Rolling Stones ‘It’s only rock n roll’ and also most of T.Rex’s songs – easy three chorders most of them – and some throwback stuff like Buddy Holly’s ‘Peggy Sue’, as my Dad had two albums to his name: The Best Of Buddy Holly and Jerry Lee Lewis live at the Star club. In fact, I think he borrowed them from an old Teddy boy mate.

I remember being at a party sometime in late summer of 1974 and playing my small repertoire to a group of amazed friends, and other people I didn’t know. Someone asked me if I wanted to form a band – it was old school friend Kevin Jones, who had started to play the bass. I said yes but then nothing happened. I don’t think he could find a drummer.  

I did jam with some other players. I used to from time to time go to the youth club down the road and this is where I met some older lads who were in a band called Blue Velvet. (not after the David Lynch film of course!) They played covers and I remember sitting with their guitar player as he showed me the chords to Bowie’s ‘Life on Mars’. There were far too many of them and I couldn’t yet manage it. But I went home and tried to recall it all.

I also wrote my first songs in that year. They were of course, rubbish, mostly imitating current musical trends. One of them was an Alice Cooper type of song called ‘Mama Knows I’m Sane’ which I had actually written in the previous year. I played it to some friends at the time and they were flabbergasted when I told them I had written it, so it must have been pretty good. I also played it to my first girlfriend – it lasted all of about two weeks – and she thought it was ‘not very good’. But then again, she liked Barry White. There was another one I remember, called ‘Rock n roll Loser’. It was a very Mott the Hoople type of song – a band I was really into, that year. I also wrote a song about a transvestite, highly likely influenced by Syd’s ‘Arnold Lane’ called, hilariously, ‘The Ballad of Sidney Strange’( Cringe!)

I even remember some of the words. But they are too embarrassing to recall here.

Back to Mott: Mott the Hoople in fact, were supposed to be the first band I was to see live. I loved Mott, their singles were brilliant and I had been into them since ‘All the Young Dudes’ when I think about it. In 1974, they seemed like a band unstoppable, releasing a really strong – and better produced – follow up to their 1973 ‘Mott’ album. It was called, somewhat unimaginatively: ‘The Hoople’. But it was a great album, so let’s forgive Mott that crappy album title. Ian Hunter was a bit of a ‘street cred’ front man. ‘The kids’ and ‘street cred’ being two growing concern of rock critics, who were perhaps sensing that young audiences really needed their authentic rock n roll ‘gang’ bands – and Mott were it. In the post-glam comedown, Mott the Hoople had emerged as the most likely to survive glitter and move on. And they did. How can I explain the magic of Mott the Hoople? It is all there in the line:  ‘I can’t erase that rock n roll feeling from my mind’ from one of their songs. Mott were the coolest rock band on Top of the Pops in 1974.

Kevin Monty and me could not wait to see them. Mott the Hoople, our first live band – how cool was that to tell your children in the distant future?

 But the bastards cancelled.

And me and my sometime friend from school Kevin Monty exchanged our tickets to see the Welsh band, Man.

I had only heard of their name. Kevin had very generous parents who actually bought him an album every month, so he went out to buy one of their albums. It was ‘Rhinos, Winos and Lunatics’ and we listened to it in his bedroom, drinking cider and pretending to be grown up. He opened his bedroom window and we smoked a cigarette between us. He had taken it from his Dad’s packet. I think they were Player’s Number 6. His mother came into the bedroom, sniffed the air, and then ordered us both out.

‘Oh Mum, I ‘m really sorry…I won’t do it again…can we go back to my room?’

He obviously had her wrapped around his finger: the perks of being an only child. She agreed. So we went back to listening and chatting, eagerly anticipating the gig at the Middlesbrough Town Hall.

It is really hard to describe that first live gig experience. I remember standing in the queue to get in – girls with tight jeans on, a lot of checked cheesecloth around that year, skinny leather chokers and some smock/lacey top hippy type clothes too. Oh how I wanted one of these exotic looking creatures for my girlfriend. They were just another class and another world compared to the girls I went to school with. I had no idea where they lived and they seemed to only come out at things like gigs.

Me? I had on my recently purchased from Oxfam, purple smoking jacket. It was made from fake velvet and I must have looked a bit of a fop, with my Charlie Chaplin print shirt underneath, cuffs strategically pulled out beyond the jacket sleeves, and my baggy jeans, with ‘gangster shoes’ – black and white brogue type things, with a wedge heel. My hair was long and now an outgrown Bowie cut, more like Bryan Ferry when he had long hair on the first Roxy album. I felt like the bees knees, the cat’s pyjamas.

I must have looked young as they would not serve me at the bar when I asked for a pint of lager and lime. Kevin did get served though (he had a pretty convincing moustache and sideburns) and we gulped down the only drink of the night.

Man was supported by an acoustic singer and songwriter, who I cannot remember the name of. I think we found him pretty boring to be honest.

People started to shout ‘rock n roll!’ and ‘boooogie’! during his set. These carried on intermittently up to the main band coming on.

The cheer leading up to Man coming on stage was very exciting. We both felt a surge of adrenalin: it was the feeling of getting to the top of a rollercoaster and anticipating the steep drop. Then, the PA music was turned down, the lights went down, and spotlights hit the singer’s mic stand and the drum riser. There was even some dry ice, which was really exciting as it coiled into the coloured lights, making a druggy, psychedelic plume of dragon’s breath.

Here they came: Deke Leonard (the only one I could remember the name of) and four other pretty cool looking long hair musician types. They had proper guitars like Gibsons and Fenders. I was slightly awe struck.

Deke raised his glass to the crowd, like a rock n roll Caesar, and the crowd cheered even louder.

God, it was too much. I felt an urge to leap out of my seat.

They opened with a track from ‘Rhinos’ that I cannot remember. But it was brilliant. The guitar playing was superb. It was just fantastic to hear some expert playing like that, and really loud too. The boom of the bass and bass drum surged through my stomach. I was experiencing the strange slightly erotic feeling of sonic seduction. I looked at some girls behind me. They smiled at me. I felt incredible, like I had been accepted into this hidden world of gig going, where all the long hairs and freaks turned up to. The smell of joss sticks was in the air. ‘I think that’s cannabis’ said my friend Kevin Monty. I then said something naive like ‘I wouldn’t mind trying some drugs’…he nodded. I was really enjoying his company, this was a rites of passage moment: I just didn’t know it yet.

Man played a stormer. Me and Kevin ventured to the stage side down at the front, where we watched the head shakers and more impressively, the tit wobblers, down the front, freaking out to Man. It felt sexy, that is something I distinctly remember feeling at the time.

Man encored with a rifftastic boogie type of song. It might have been called ‘Bananas’ as I recall this was one of their famous songs that people kept shouting for. But I don’t know and by now, didn’t care what they played: I was boogying like a dude, carrying the news. Except this was 1974 and the dudes were now mostly in denim. I ripped a sleeve off my fake velvet jacket in excitement. People looked at me like I was a lunatic. And I was. I threw the sleeve above the heads of the crowd. I suddenly felt really stupid and had no idea what came over me to do that.

End of jacket.

But I got over it quickly and carried on boogying. The twelve bar amped and ramped up blues riffs took me out of myself: I forgot about school, home: everything. It was almost a nirvana moment.

Then, the next thing I knew, the band had left the stage.

The gig ended and the lights coming up felt like a cruel torture method to get you out of your rock n roll dream state. It felt like a slap on the arse when you come out of the womb.

Time to come back to reality then…

We came out of that gig that night, high as a kite on the sheer excitement of it all.

We then went for curry sauce and chips and walked home, having spent our bus fare on the aforementioned chips.

A perfect night.

Man are a band that hold a special affection for me, as they were the first to initiate me into the wonderful, mad, bad, and sometimes dangerous but always thrilling, world of gig going.

Cheers Deke and the rest of Man: 1974 was a vintage year for me!

*And RIP Man lead guitarist Mickey Jones, who I just found out, died last year.