Reminiscences 1969-76

Hangin' out

The Summer of Love had passed Southend by - it was still the fiefdom of the Ultra-right Conservatives Paul Channon (Mr. Guinness) and Sir Stephen McAdden, so it wasn't exactly going to San Francisco. After converting to the blues and the Grateful Dead, my immediate circle of friends included Martin “Squirrel” Aubrey, his beautiful, if slightly off-the-wall wife, Jinni, Paul Stannard, and others. Martin became a very close friend - in future years he was to be an invaluable member of the Hot Rods entourage. Jinni was a very good hairdresser - she and her friend, Helen, opened the hippest hairdressing salon in Southend, Grateful Heads, where my locks were often coiffed (I still had the obligatory long lank greasy hair as you can see from the photo opposite). She introduced me to the wonders of henna.

As I've already mentioned, I'd managed to get a place at Brentwood College of Education which kept me out of trouble for a couple of years. It was here that I first met Ed Hollis. He was trying out various careers to see which fitted. At the time it seemed to be “Those without a desire to work in an office, teach”. We both loved music and became friends. Other friends, notably David Bryant and John Power, made sure that it was an enjoyable time for us all. Surrounded by our coterie of rebels without a clue, we tried to behave in true counter-culture tradition. There are one or two names that have disappeared in the mists of time - if, by any slim chance, any of you, especially Susan, Valda and Christine (I'm so sorry to have forgotten your second names!), amongst others, come upon this and care refresh my memories, I would be eternally grateful.

Brentwood C of E had one aspect of notoriety - pissed off with their idea of student entertainment (Trad. Jazz bands) I persuaded the authorities to let me run a gig one Saturday. It featured an appearance by the fledgling Dr. Feelgood. Lee, Wilko, Sparko and Figure dutifully turned up to play to twenty people (in two years time they were to grace the front cover of the NME), after a sublime set by Surly Bird.

Added footnote: I have it on good authority (ie by someone who actually remembers what happened, David Bryant, that he and I were co-conspirators in the quest to get rock music into Brentwood CofE, in which case I stand corrected. We did both get put on report - I think I spent three years on report of some kind there.

Surly Bird was the band that featured Paul Shuttleworth, Will Birch, David Murdock, Stewart Cook and myself. We would support many of the big bands at the local Southend Tech. College, or the Cricketers Inn. Occasionally we would get a gig at the Dagenham Roundhouse, or the Kings Head in Romford.

I've been contacted by a guy who supported Surly Bird in those days, one Phil Johns. He found the poster for Surly Bird, Cow Pie (Paul Shuttleworth's original Country Rock band), High Country (whose nucleus was, I believe, the Morris Boys) and, of course Phil and his band. He has reminded me of one or two people that I've totally forgotten about (some of them deservedly so), but I'll rack the brains a bit more about this period of my history. Phil did loan me his cherished 330 for a set once, where my old Tele had suffered string breakage. I'm much obliged to him because we weren't rich enough for spare guitars in those days.

The early seventies in Southend saw the schism of local tastes in music. There were the Anglophiles, whose taste was pomposity itself - the prog. Rock of Yes, ELP, Genesis, Soft Machine and the Canterbury school, and the rest of us, who had been entranced by the Grateful Dead, the Airplane, the MC5, the Allman Brothers and Little Feat. There was a third wave - the Feelgoods were true to their RnB roots and continued to pump out John Lee Hooker, Buddy Guy et al. That WAS the start of the new wave, and it surfaced in the pubs of London with Eggs over easy, Ducks de Luxe, Ian Dury (Kilburns), the Brinsleys and Chilli Willi and his Peppers.

Pub-rock goes to Europe

The Feelgoods had opened up a floodgate in the U.K. The kids wanted to dance again, not sit back and applaud fifteen-minute drum solos in 7/8 time. The pub basements were sweaty, crowded and alive; Top of the Pops was crammed with Saturday Night Disco, or the first attempt at Glam. How any self-respecting punter could have thought that a sparkly guitarist in Slade, a guitarist wearing a dress in Mud, Gary bloody child-molester and a whole supporting cast of dodgy-looking builders were glam, beats the shit out of me. There were some stars - Bowie being streets ahead of the competition.

One Thursday night in '74, at the Blue Boar Hotel on Victoria Ave, a new band played in public for the first time. The Kursaal Flyers, Southend's answer to the Flying Burrito Bros, played a couple of sets of Country Rock. The line-up of Paul Shuttleworth, Richie Bull, David Hatfield, Vic Collins, Will Birch and myself cranked out I'm a Believer, Willin', Six days on the road, and other country faves. The picture six down on the left, features the Ks, together with Sarah Bluebell, who played Mellotron. Sarah was, in fact, my then girl-friend. She was extremely smart and extremely talented and much too good for a rock n' roll wastrel like me.

The mention of Mellotrons and Kursaal Flyers is a joke, just in case anyone is in any doubt. The Kursaals.... Mellotron....DUH!

I had been playing in a band that had reached the final of the Melody Maker Rock Contest, the infamous Eddie & the Blizzards. The line-up was Barrie Martin, who had graduated from drumming to guitar, Andrew Farrell on bass, Phil Aldridge on drums and myself. We played the hard rocking boogie of the Allman Bros and Johnnie Winter, with a touch of Boz Scaggs and theGrateful Dead thrown in. Although technically proficient, we were lacking in image and original songs, and didn't really have what it took to be genuine contenders. When the Kursaals started to get work in London, championed by the Feelgoods, it became too hard to concentrate on both bands, so I said goodbye to the Blizzards with some regret.

Two weeks into the Kursaals first London residency at the Kensington Hotel (one of the pubs on the pub-rock circuit, beloved of Brinsley Schwarz), a rat-arsed Frankie Miller and Henry McCullough accosted us. They wanted to jam, but were unable to achieve verticality. I wasn't about to entrust my Strat to the pissed-up Paddy and told him to shove his head down the bog to sober up first, which he declined to do. (I met Henry McCullough years later, in Northern Ireland, doing a guest set by the Hot Rods at the Agent's wedding reception. He was still pissed and still obnoxious, taking exception to the fact that he wasn't the biggest star on the bill. Didn't we all know that he was friends with Paul McCartney? After 30 mins of screaming feedback, I think someone introduced him to a bourbon intravenous drip, which, at least, allowed the guests some relief from the noise.)

The Kursaals were playing a Sunday night residency at the Newlands Tavern, up on Peackham Rye. One week, a couple of girls in ra-ra skirts and Japanese schoolgirl socks demonstrated to the audience that the Art of Jive was still alive. With our tongues dragging on the floor, we finished the set. Next week, we played Yellow Sox to great acclaim, but, sadly, without our Jive Bunnies in attendance.

The Kursaals were attracting some attention from the Rock Press. We had been adopted by Paul Conroy, an agent who became Manager, and came to the attention of Jonathan King. Although we were slightly too old for his normal tastes, I think he was taken with Will's pop knowledge (possibly his boyish charm and floppy hair-do?), and signed the Kursaals to UK Records as a replacement for 10cc. This was heaven for the Ks. Having quit our jobs and turned professional, we were surviving on 15 squids a week, living at home, and travelling the motorways of the UK. I'd just achieved fully-qualified Teacher status at Belfairs school, so it was an immediate pay cut of some 300%. Many times during the preceding months, I'd got out of the van at 8am after an all-night drive home from Newcastle or some such, and tried to remember how to teach Science to unwilling pupils. I think I used to bribe the class to keep quiet by giving them ciggies, while I grabbed 40 winks. They all deserve an unmitigated apology.

Someone had found a record producer Huw Murphy, who was entrusted with the job of making the Kursaals first hit record. I think he had a track record, of sorts, with the GT Moore band (?) exactly!!!!. Booked into somewhere in the wilds of Kent, owned by genetic mutants whose brains had been rotted by consumption of home-brewed methanol, we tried our best to make Chocs Away, our pun-drenched debut album. This was the first recording studio we had been in. Our only previous encounter with tape machines was when Surly Bird had attracted the attention of Peter Meaden, one-time manager of the Who, so we had no idea of how to make a record. The result was a tragedy. The Press found it difficult to find anything good to say about it, and it bombed. By chance, a BBC documentary producer, Mark Kidell, was about to make a program about Life on the Road with a touring band, for Arena, to be introduced by Melvyn Blagg. There were a few decent shots of the band on stage at the Chalk Farm Roundhouse or the Marquee, and some shots of arseholes in our Transit van (not mine, I hasten to add), and mind-bendingly dumb conversations about landing in the USA. (Sorry, I almost forgot the compost!) but that was about all. So you want to be a Rock and Roll Star has since claimed cult status as the progenitor of Spinal Tap.

We were criss-crossing the UK when a chance came to tour with a version of the Flying Burrito Brothers. Sneeky Pete Kleinow and Chris Etheridge were the only familiar Burritos, but Gene Parsons (Byrds), Gib Gilbeau and Joel Scott Hill were roped in for a money-earning tour of Europe. I've been informed by the manager of Joel Scott Hill that he, Chris Etheridge and Gram Parsons WERE the original FBBs, but, when someone refers to the FBBs they, generally mean the one with Sneeky Pete Kleinow. I apologise to JSH however, and wish him good fortune.

The Kursaals were quite popular in Holland, but hadn't tried the rest of the continent yet. We got the gig for the simple reason that we were cheap, and would supply road crew, PA and back-line. Opening night at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw saw a ramshackle 1kW system, with rudimentary foldback, presented to the Burritos. The shit hit the (understandable) fan, especially when the front-of-house sound was to be mixed by Stewart Cooke, our driver. This goes to show that the fine print in all contracts should be checked and re-checked. Robert (Meatie) Harding and Colin Tuck comprised the only road crew, and they, as always, worked themselves into the ground to get the shows to happen. Colin Tuck managed to die in a moptorcycle accident some years ago - he was a total sweetheart and a fiercely loyal friend to have. I hope he found his Happy Valley.

I was contacted recently by Mike Lawson, boyfriend of Stewart's sister, Hilary. He was an addition to the road crew for this tour and he writes reminding me of incidents which I had totally forgotten. I'll add a bit more about this at a later date.

The Burritos were able to fill large venues, however, and it was a bit of a shock after the Tour to get back to our normal size club venues. By this time, a second album was requested by UK Records, and Jonathan King himself was to produce. This was a choice made by the Kursaals inner core management. The studio was a cheap residential gig in the wilds of the Cotswolds in a village called Chipping Norton, since made very famous by housing the domicile of Jeremy Clarkson, the well-known Nazi and petrol-head. It had been used by the Bay City Rollers, so hordes of ten year olds would congregate, hoping to catch a glimpse of Les's underwear. They were very disappointed by the Kursaal Flyers and the lack of bragging potential.

Will and I had assembled a bunch of songs that seemed satisfactory, but eclectic, ranging from an Eagles rip-off Ugly Guys to a cod-reggae Hypochondriac. Two weeks was allotted for the construction of one, or more, hit singles. Now Jonathan had not heard any of the possible songs, as the day of demos was yet to dawn in the Kursaals lexicon. We were still sent, by the Core Management, to the studio. Jonathan made fleeting visits rather than produce. The hat was assigned, by Johnathan, to Will. Even with musical contributions from Bob Andrews and Brinsley Schwarz, the resultant Great Artiste album lacked any drive - there were definitely potential hit songs there, but the final result was not all it might have been. Jonathan went ape-shit - he decided that, although he was forced by urgent financial need to release the album, a re-recording, with a decent producer, of Cruising for Love was necessary in order to get the elusive Hit. Mike Batt showed an interest. Now Mike was, and is, a very talented producer, arranger and artist, even if his track record does include the Wombles, Katie Melua and other unmentionable joke hits. I'm afraid that he and I didn't see eye to eye about many things, especially his approach to music - all he wanted was to work with a singer who would give him a performance. The rest of us could go play with ourselves and keep out of his way.

I made some caustic comments in a later press interview, where I allowed my emotions to get the better of me. I still think that I was right, in terms of the Kursaals consequently being regarded as a comedy act. The most telling memory that most people have of the Ks is that they appeared on TOTP with a bunch of washing machines and the machines stole the show! But that's getting a bit too previous - back to the story.
An English tour with the up-and-comiing Eddie and the Hot Rods found me hanging out with Ed Hollis and the boys. I was quite taken with their youthful enthusiasm.

The Golden Mile and other journeys

Jonathan King decided that the Kursaals were not going to happen, so he sold us to CBS, saddling us with a BIG DEBT. The immediate requirement for CBS was a HIT SINGLE. We were told that we had six weeks to come up with the next album, and it had better contain a Single.

At a derelict hotel, wall-to-wall with reeking guard dog shit, and in a mini-heat wave, we started rehearsing. Will had given me some lyric sheets. One, Little does she know, became a hit. The album, called Golden Mile, wasn't in the same ballpark, having the Inner Circle's choice for the followup single as Radio Romance, a sickly twee song that would have given Brotherhood of Man diabetes! . The Golden Mile tour was my last with the band in that incarnation. Afterwards I got a call from Paul Conroy, telling me that my services were no longer required.

I've just discovered some press from those days, when I was interviewed after the sacking. I let the band, Conroy and Mike Batt have a good earful as I vented my spleen. To be honest, I was getting cheesed off with the loss of rock and country from the repertoire, to the extent that the Ks seemed to be aiming full-tilt for the MOR market and my opinions were to be tolerated but ignored. In the interests of veracity, I will copy some of the select pieces to new Press reviews pages.

Time was right for a change; Ed Hollis had mentioned a job with the Hot Rods, so I gave him a call.