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High Tide and Green Grass

A Complete and Utter Canute

Actually, an incomplete Canute — time scales get a bit hazy and details get fuzzier. I can’t remember everything and everyone. But over the years I’ve played with scores of people in ever evolving line ups. 70 odd at last count as I remember, most of whom I sacked. Sorry. That’s what you get with control freaks.

 

My first band was called Cerberus — after the mythological 3 headed beast who guarded the gates to Hades — and we 14 year old schoolmates were destined for immortality. After all, we had a logo and everything. What we didn’t have was a good drummer. We had me. Still, onwards and upwards.

Straight outta school in 1976 and by this time I’d been playing guitar and writing songs for about 3 years. Me and my mate Neil, budding bassist, got together with a couple of guys from Epping (a guitarist and a real drummer) and successfully advertised for a vocalist to form Trial By Fire. We were pretty heavy — although it wasn’t really what I was into. We did a fair few gigs and recorded a couple of demos before the inevitable split.

Ok, they kicked me out — and although I’d been on the point of leaving it still rankles that I didn’t get in there first. They wanted to fully embrace the New Wave of British Heavy Metal. I can’t stand all that studded leather posturing. Anyway by this time I was writing songs that didn’t work for the band (songs without riffs?!?) and I needed a fresh outlet. The songs below are from our first demo.

Night Journey
00:00 / 04:40
Eastern Sun
00:00 / 06:02

It was while rehearsing with TBF that I met my best mate Phil. In the room next door at Allan Gordon’s Rehearsal Rooms (in Leyton under the railway arches) there was a band called Acyd making a helluva noise -- and not always in a good way (sorry Phil). Suddenly there’s a knock on our door and there stands Phil. “I’ve just broke the E string on my bass. Anyone got one?” I still don’t know how anyone can break an E bass string. Anyway we became firm friends and have remained so ever since. Through Phil I got to meet a wider group of mates and TBF took second place to drinking, festivals and crazy adventures. We were all musicians and I realised I’d found an outlet for the new material I was writing. I’d also found some like minded souls who happily have been a part of my life ever since.

So Phil and I formed the Romford Slags — punk with a pop edge, nurturing a small but devoted local following through a succession of gigs in East London and Essex. Much credit to frontman Russ -- our magnificent showman. It was the time of our lives. We even played at my wedding (to the affectionately known ‘Mrs Slag’).

1st gig for the Slags at The Green Man in Stratford, East London

Scaring the bejesus outta the new in-laws

We did a couple of demos in the hope we’d meet an A&R man who didn’t say 'come back in a few months with fresh material' and funnily enough that kinda happened. An independent producer heard and wanted to produce one of our songs. With international stardom beckoning we dropped the Romford link and became the Slag Sisters (so much classier) for the release of 'Soul Butchers' — a little dig at Paul Weller who’d suddenly discovered Motown. Unfortunately the original single mix has been lost in the mists of time, but here's the more indulgent 12" mix. That's what you did in 1980.

Soul Butchers 12" mix
00:00 / 06:09

I must mention Hack Villius & The Blue Jets, an occasional band that I guested with on several memorable occasions over a number of years.

If the Slags were a bit wild then Hack Villius (later, Vic Lurgy) were anarchic, with cross-dressing, heavy make up, confetti cannons and a fire eater featuring regularly.

 

This rough collective included various collaborators from the Slags and the bands that would become Tigerfish, Turbo Diddley and Blackhole Monsters. But more than that, these are friends that I've known and loved for decades. We have a shared history and if I ever get the chance to play live with any of them again, I'll jump at it.

Gimme a call, eh?

Onstage with Hack Villius & The Blue Jets. Yes, there is a stage under there somewhere

For the Slags, what seemed like the beginning of something was actually the end, more or less. My fault. I got carried away with possibilities in the studio and wanted to move my songwriting into another area, away from pop punk and into something different. I didn’t really know what. We’d drafted in a sax player towards the end of the Slags and we augmented this with trombone and trumpet. Then we added our mates Al & Trev from Hack Villius on keyboards and piano respectively together with ex-Cocksparrer and Little Roosters frontman Gary Lammin. The Neighbourhood was born.

The thing about Lammin is — he’s a blagger. A blagger with a bit of a name, which meant we played some great gigs, supporting Eddie & The Hot Rods among others. He made us fearless, so when the DJ at the Greyhound, Fulham Palace Road asked a packed Anzac Day crowd if they wanted to kill the English band now or later, we weren’t worried. We went on full of attitude and arrogance, fronted it out and won them over. We played like our lives depended on it. Which they probably did.

Some kids from The Neighbourhood

The other thing about Lammin is — massive ego. He had to go. You can’t have two massive egos in one band.

At that point we briefly became iSpy, drafting in a new singer, Bill: I think there were 11 of us in the band at that point including the 3 piece brass section and a couple of girl backing singers -- as you'll hear in 'Chemistry'.

Chemistry
00:00 / 02:53

Happy The Man was the next incarnation; new material and a few different supporting players, including a truly great drummer — always the hardest position to fill. We ditched the brass and the girls — it was just too difficult to manage the logistics of gigging with such a big line up. Now we were tight. We had good songs. 'Tonight' was co-written with Trev.

Tonight
00:00 / 04:52

We did showcases, photo calls, met more A&R bellends, released a single (got loads in the loft — want one?) But it was all a bit half hearted on the ‘desperately-seeking-fame-and-fortune’ front. For me it was all about the songs and the gigs. Still is. 

 

'Looking For The Golden Boy' is a reworked Slags favourite and shows off drummer Mitch at his technical best; 'Where Is Your Halo?' is a favourite composition of mine. It's quirky.

Looking For The Golden Boy
00:00 / 03:26
Where Is Your Halo?
00:00 / 04:38

The band collaborated with a few more people — all good musicians — trying to keep the interest up. Too many really, to the point that we were more a collective than a band. And good musicians come with baggage: more big egos. They all had to go.

 

It was 1990 when I got the chance to write music for cartoons — something I did for the next 20 years. During that time I wrote the music for about 40 series, honing and developing my writing in every conceivable genre on titles like Friends Of The Forest, Around The World With Willy Fog, a Garfield remake, Rocket Boy and my personal favourite (I studied 1930s Chicago jazz for 3 weeks in preparation) — Elliott Mouse & The Untouchables.

Ok, in cartoon land I was mostly bottom feeding. The animation was generally poor and often I was reversioning in English for sales purposes. But the soundtracks were always of a quality far and above what the animation deserved. Watch 10 minutes and tell me I’m wrong. And there were other opportunities on wide ranging projects: live action films, documentaries, audio books, interactive tv, relaxation music and best of all, original songs for kids. I contributed dozens to about 20 different albums. There’s a few I’m proud of: I settled on 'Jungle Jazz'.

Jungle Jazz
00:00 / 03:59

I reckon my best work remained unused. I was commissioned to write pieces for a planned series that never happened — ‘The Invisible Man’. The brief was to produce music that echoed the distinctive style of George Gershwin. Being a flash bugger I presented this in the form of an overture.

Overture For The Invisible Man
00:00 / 06:55

There was another bonus too: unlimited downtime in a professional studio. Recording an album with my mates was too good an opportunity to pass up, so me, Phil, Al & Trev started work — but there was a problem. No lead vocalist. I’d never considered myself a lead vocalist and still don’t. I do bvs. I’m good at ‘em. Lead vox not so much. Enter ex boy band singer Lee to fill the void. It kinda changed the songs and not always in a good way, nonetheless the album had some highlights. This first track from the Tigerfish album is called 'Five Minutes' and was again co-written by me & Trev.

Five Minutes
00:00 / 05:33
Kiss Of Life
00:00 / 02:27

The second track, Kiss Of Life is one of mine. The album’s entitled What’s That Ripping Sound? because apparently I tore the arse out of everything (cheers Trev). We ended up with a cast of dozens, bringing in people not because they were necessarily a great fit for the material — but because they were great people. Friends. For example, another Hack Villius cohort, Paul, came in on a flying visit from Belfast. ‘Come and sing’ we said. He brought his girlfriend with him — she plays accordion on one track. Unplanned, unnecessary, but satisfyingly inclusive.

 

But we missed gigging. We couldn’t perform the studio material live because we’d need a band of Polyphonic Spree proportions. So covers band Turbo Diddley sprang into life, with a penchant for punking up the unexpected: 'Mamma Mia', 'Country Roads', 'Jerusalem' and 'Without You' all fell victim to our 2 fingered chordal attack. It was pure pleasure to be gigging again and thanks to Phil and Pete, our tour de force drummer (miss you mate, rest in peace) we were loud, proud and as tight as spandex underpants. The picture at the top of the page illustrates our finest hour, basking in the applause of a big outdoor crowd on a big stage, supporting the legendary Geno Washington. Michael Jackson’s song 'Ben', written by Walter Scharf and Don Black and given the Turbo treatment, was included on our next album project.

Ben
00:00 / 02:35

That project was Blackhole Monsters and the album was called Bellyache. Why? Because I was lyrically bellyaching from the first song to the last. Me, Phil & Al were ever present and at the heart of the project, but again we brought in our mates as and when necessary. I’d decided to sing lead vocals on this one, as the distortion of my lyrics and melodies on the last album had been kinda depressing and it was not gonna happen again. I also imposed a ‘no double tracking’ rule on myself (muppet), cause that’s more rock ’n’ roll, right? In retrospect, it was a rule that should’ve been compromised on at least a couple of occasions. Hindsight’s a bugger. Nevertheless I’m excruciatingly proud of this album so I’m gonna give you 3 tracks. Sorry, I don’t feel I can leave out any of these. It was difficult enough leaving out the rest. Tough it out if you can.

Stand Back Superman
00:00 / 04:25
Soldiering
00:00 / 04:18
Camden Rock
00:00 / 04:31

If you're a glutton for punishment and want to hear more, click here

 

 

I wouldn’t have had a musical career — or such a great life — without these beautiful reprobates: 40+ years of friendship and still counting.

I now collaborate with my fellow Ffynche Cultists in music and Ritual. They seem quite nice, so long may that continue.

My hero. He was the Nazz

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