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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.

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Posted: April 1, 2011 in Uncategorized

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