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The         Sessions

The making of

Kind of Beige

 

by Victoria Pemberly-Strange

aka Suzie Sunburst --  formerly of Homesick Blues magazine and author of Too Out of It Too

Kind Of Beige.png

An invitation to the Caribbean to witness the recording of a ground-breaking new album. The lure was irresistible. A break from the early March gloom of London was welcome, and I packed suntan lotion, swimsuit and dark glasses for a few days of tropical sun and musical magic.

 

So the dreadful misery of the subsequent year is still hard for me to describe: trapped in a caravan on Jaywick Sands with five unpredictable and irascible balding men as days turned into eons, and the wind and rain whipped endlessly across the bleak-grey Essex coast.

 

We had agreed to meet outside the departures terminal at Stansted. All I needed was a passport and a smile, my editor had told me. Kylie was expected to drop by, and I could spend downtime in Jamaica on my Wailers research.

 

I should have smelt a rat when two ramshackle caravans pulled up, and a leather-clad East Londoner emerged to introduce himself as 'Canute'. Two more presentable 'gentlemen' then appeared -- the suave and enigmatic 'Moondog' and the trim well-spoken 'Twitey'. They were followed by a scruffy toothless tramp-like figure they called 'Rantmumble'.

 

These were The Complainers — a term that proved apt for both the band and likely their audiences. While The Wailers really did have something to complain about, with this group it was all lumbago and 1970s colour schemes.

 

A younger man sat at the wheel of a battered landrover with an aluminium Airstream in tow. Stanley Franc turned out to be a caring and decent innocent in the whole scheme. His technical skills in studio mastering could have given him a promising career — had he not fallen under the sway of his scurrilous seniors.

 

Plans had changed, said Canute. The MarlowePhone label was facing legal action for an eavesdropping operation against some dark rival enterprise. (I learned later this enemy was The Cult of Bard). The company could no longer pay for flights or the hire of Geejam Studios in the parish of Portland, Ja.

 

Instead we would take the Marlowephone mobile studio to the English coastal town of Maldon. I remembered the place fondly from childhood holidays, and Canute insisted that the band was so well rehearsed recording would be 'a doddle'. Then we’d have time to visit local pubs and chat about my times with Mick, Keith and Jimi in the late 60s. I’d be back home in Hampstead in a couple of days.

And so, still in the shock of my disappointment, I made a fatal error. I climbed into the passenger seat beside him.

 

Strapped to the dashboard were 50 small jars of foul-smelling liquid. Canute claimed he didn’t need SatNav — he used this more reliable system, 'NasoNav'. I must have passed out from the fetid atmosphere in the vehicle at some point on the A120 heading east. When I came to, we were stranded in marshland with few signs of habitation, and apparently, out of fuel.

In the first of innumerable arguments to follow, it became clear that the navigation system had been incorrectly calibrated, and had followed the path of a long-abandoned 1950s day-trip by the FfyncheAir company, who only ever secured one route — from North Essex to Jaywick Sands. And that’s where we were.

Stranded on the marshes

The first night was a dreadful harbinger of the months that followed. The Rantmumble character, who supervised a larder full of wholefoods and home-brew ingredients, insisted on cooking a porridge of pearl barley and lentils, with Canute frying sausages and handing round jelly babies.

 

The next day, Moondog ventured out in search of a chippy, but returned with alarming news. All the fast-food places were shut and the supermarket was stripped bare — although he had managed to secure the last roll of toilet paper in the whole of Jaywick.

 

Government had imposed a lock-down. I was now in a 'bubble' with The Complainers for the foreseeable future. We had no radio, and I’d sensibly left my iPhone 11 back at home. The group members seemed only dimly aware that mobile technology had been available for three decades, and kept their mobile phones for emergencies, in bedside lockers at home.

Recording began on March 10, 2020, powered by wind-turbine. Stanley Franc set up the microphones and machinery with charming child-like enthusiasm, and tried his best to encourage the others with stories of impending international fame. 'We’re going to be big in Belgium' he repeatedly predicted.

 

But the first track, a highly ambitious cover of Marvin Gaye’s 'What’s Going On?', occupied a full six months of my year in hell.

Stanley Franc mixing -- his profound distress

What's Going On?
00:00 / 03:26

Moondog would disappear for days, locked in his cabin listening to Bob Dylan recordings — backwards. Rantmumble’s mood swung about wildly — at times elated, but more often miserably attempting to reduce errant sibilants in his backing vocals by chewing plasticine. 

 

Twitey remained affable throughout, though worried continuously as to the fate of his 2-acre sculpture park back at home. Canute at least had the merit of seeking some professionalism — an ambition all the more endearing by its obvious futility.

 

Evidence of more serious behavioural problems steadily grew. Only later did I work out that these psychological disturbances became particularly alarming in the days following a meal prepared by Rantmumble, or after a heavy drinking session of his home-brewed ale.

Canute developed a habit of throwing off his clothes and marching naked off into the wilderness singing Motown with nothing but a pair of Ray-Bans. He often returned in a more sober state, and learned in time how to cover every inch of his body with marshland burrs to retain his dignity.

Moondog became increasingly reclusive, and developed a sparse style of communication through rare pithy aphorisms in the manner of a north Yorkshire Twain or Bierce.

 

I have only one half-page of Moondog utterances from the entire 12 months: 'You’re always behind the person in front'. 'Take me to the haggis orchard.' 'Have you come far?' 'Subjunctivism is nurtured within'. 'No-one needs mirrors'. 'It’s downhill from here'. And perhaps the only

Canute covers his embarrassment

sentiment with which I could concur: 'We’ve gone far enough to know we should never have started.'

Our unkempt and toothless brewer would launch into extensive animated monologues about the reproductive habits of monkeys and lemurs. Stanley Franc would repeatedly pine for happier days conducting traffic surveys, and even began to lament the absence of poorly silenced Harley-Davidsons in our barren isolation.

 

I found solace in the company of Twitey during those difficult weeks. His affectionate and flirtatious conversation was a pleasure as things fell apart around me. He was always the gentleman, and discussed his charitable work in feminist organisations as well as giving me helpful advice on annuities.

 

Our descent into madness made me recall the days at Keith’s place in Villefranche-sur-Mer in late 1971, where a similar lack of band cohesion was traced to psychoactive substances entering the food chain due to poor kitchen hygiene.

 

I discovered a blueish-grey mould growing on the pearl barley and buckwheat supplies, made damp by a leak in the roof. Ergot. The cause of fabled outbreaks of insanity in medieval times.

 

I took charge of the cooking, and slowly some semblance of sanity returned by October. But, while the naked rambling and plasticine chewing declined, darker forces rose to the surface.

 

All five revealed a disturbing allegiance to an organisation called the Cult of Ffynche, a subject that now occupied every minute of conversation. Twitey confided that drinking and obscure rituals lay at its core.

 

The recording of 'Purple Rain' is a denunciation of those who added blackcurrant syrup to perfectly good beer.

Purple Rain
00:00 / 04:10

'Gravity' is a woeful cry of fear -- uttered when entering a pub for an intensive ritual session, only to find there is nothing on the pumps below 5% alcohol. 'It's wanting more that's gonna send me to my knees'

Gravity
00:00 / 04:26

'Revolution' refers to the circular balancing steps required if carrying five pints after receiving a 'sudden barge' from someone desperate to get to the gents.

Revolution
00:00 / 03:46

I suspect that the cover of 'Valley Of Tears' stems from a collective misreading. The only 'explanation' I received was that old men’s trousers can often slip down over an evening as baler twine loosens, risking a rip along the gusset-seam during a sashay. Your guess is as good as mine.

Valley Of Tears
00:00 / 03:46

Despite my efforts, domestic life in the caravans inevitably became damp and muddy during the heavy rains around the New Year. Rantmumble took to drying his socks over the paraffin stove, which caught fire one afternoon. 

 

Our attempts at fumigation sent a cloud of smoke towards the good folk of Jaywick, who called the emergency services.

When Special Forces broke into our accommodation that afternoon, we were all arrested for suspected marijuana consumption and trafficking. It was hours before officers finished their searches -- ripping panels off the flooring and roof. 

They finally accepted that the band were abstemious regarding drugs, and that Rantmumble’s poor hygiene and hapless fire control were indeed the 'sole source' of the stink.

After searches by Special Forces CO19

I shall be eternally grateful to Commander Forsythe for his offer of a lift back to civilisation. Police and social services determined that neither their budgets or health and safety standards permitted them to offer any assistance to the bedraggled menfolk.

 

Surprisingly I retain no animus towards the band members, and occasionally practice the sashay. My therapist says my Stockholm Syndrome diagnosis may persist for many years.

 

My lawyers also advise me to state that Marlowephone Recording Artistes Corporation has fully settled my claim for compensation by supplying a herd of singing goats, and negotiating rights for me to raise them on Hampstead Heath. I am in no way acting under duress in providing these sleeve notes.

 

I have no idea whether the band ever found fuel, or recalibrated their navigation system. For all I know, they may still be out there on the marshes.

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