Chapter 11: Name drops keep falling on my head
Following dismissal from Pye, I went to see Alan Cowderoy at Stiff Records. I was windy. Stiff had a reputation for sending the most abusive rejection letters. Alan asked me to leave a tape. Later he sent me a charming rejection. Kevin McPhillips arranged a meeting with producer/composer Irving Martin. Irving told me I was an ordinary-looking bloke with a big conk, but he'd do his best to make me a star. He asked me to re-write some material on his lines. With similar concerns about the commerciality of my songs, EMI Music wanted to put me to write in an office for a day with Barry (Delilah) Mason. This did not come to pass. I did some jingles for Noel Edmonds with Radio 1 producer David Price. David invited me to prepare a demo tape for him, to see if I had the 'radio voice' for a Radio 1 DJ. Nothing came of it.
Gigs included Charing Cross Hospital with Racing Cars. They didn't play their hit They shoot horses don't they?, only good time Saturday night dance music, similar to Little Feat and the crowd responded warmly.
There were two dates in Sheffield, interspersed with a session for Radio Hallam. While having drinks with Colin Slade, the Hallam DJ, we were joined for a very pleasant afternoon of joke swapping, by Micky Dolenz and his publisher Terry Oates.
I took Dad to a Warwick University gig. On the way home, we stopped at Watford Gap, with the early-hours-of-a-Sunday-morning musicians. Dad enjoyed the sub-culture of a white-tie and tailed orchestra, Ray McVay's band and Status Quo's road crew, all with their tea and two toast. Afterwards he was pensive and said he didn't know how I got away with playing all that rubbish. The act had included some old pub sing-along stuff which Dad referred to as 'The cavalcade of crap'. He had a point, so I didn't take him again.
I supported Chris Rea at Sheffield University. We didn't meet this time, but I doubted he'd have remembered playing on my Flamenco. On this gig, a young local band called The Parts had a disastrous sound check but, on the night, they played fine and went down very well. I was pleased and stayed to hear Chris and his mates. They created a great atmosphere playing very pleasant, undemanding music. One of the students showed me a piece she'd written for a music paper. It was about a new local band called Def Leppard. I asked why she was writing about heavy metal, which I'd thought was finished. She assured me it wasn't.
College gigs were seldom well-organised. Contracts invariably required me to arrive by 7.30 pm, but frequently I was not on stage until 2 or 3 next morning. Sometimes no audience turned up. However, Sheffield University was consistently good. I played there again with The Pretenders headlining. However, the crowd was largely non-student. I did less than well and, when I'd finished my set, I wandered upstairs to see the jazz band. They hadn't turned up, so I offered to play some jazz songs For about four hours, sitting down with a pint, I did my jazz songs and all the old pub stuff (what Dad had called "The cavalcade…"). They bought all the records I'd brought with me and paid me the jazz band's fee. I went home a happy man.
In August, Phil Sutcliff gave the Wivabandon LP a favourable three star review in Sounds magazine, although I've often wondered what he meant by "The boffs are from the belly". Unfortunately, by this time it was too late and Pye were deleting the album.
I became a student of Librarianship at Brighton Poly. One Thursday, after a full day's lectures, I drove to Gatwick and boarded the evening flight to Aberdeen to support Iron Maiden, with The Monos. By the time I'd paid the fare, the taxman and the agent, I had ten quid left and hadn't sold an album. I dossed in the airport and took the early morning flight to Gatwick, picked up the car and arrived two minutes late for the 9.30 lecture at Brighton. At the coffee break, they said I looked a bit tired. Where had I been the previous night?. When I said Aberdeen, it all seemed daft. It had been a good gig and I had enjoyed meeting Iron Maiden (who, like Mud, heckled me through the stage monitor speakers). However, it wasn't economic and I wasn't progressing.
The agents were becoming restless in the absence of a new recording contract. Sound checking at Warwick University again, I was approached by an unfamiliar haircut who said 'Excuse the barnet'. Pete Kircher, who had drummed on my Pye sessions, was now playing with The Original Mirrors and had his hair cut to match. It was good to have a drink with him again. I shared the bill with John Otway on dates at Sheffield and Leicester (twenty years later, I worked with him again at Redhill and Crawley. As his T-shirt said, "The set remains the same"; so did mine). After a Saturday night in Liverpool, I took the interminable "milk" train to arrive home at 7.30 am, because I was accompanying The Edwardians in "Songs from the shows" at 2.30 that afternoon. After a lengthy first half, I saw an old friend, Porl Thompson, approaching. He had played with The Cure at school. With Mick Dempsey we'd all jammed blues after a previous Edwardians show. Porl had again come with his girlfriend (Robert Smith's sister) to see her parents performing. 'How's the world of Rock and Roll?' he asked with irony. In the circumstances, I could think of no suitable reply (I was delighted when Porl rejoined The Cure and last time I saw him, he was shaved bald and playing with Jimmy Page and Robert Plant).
The agency and I parted company. I became Monday resident at the Half Moon, Putney. The highlight was supporting Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee who had first inspired me to perform twenty years previously, when I saw them on a Sunday afternoon TV programme. In the "dressing room" Brownie and Sonny weren't speaking, but it was still a thrill to be there.
A folk club I used to visit was at Dorking Hospital. When Hamish Imlach was guesting, he turned up with two friends. In response to Hamish's query, the door person said the friends didn't have to pay if they were performing. The friends said they would play if they could borrow guitars. Two acoustic guitars were produced and the friends duly performed with Hamish. They were Eric Clapton and John Martyn.
At about that time, I was to play a PTA dance at our children's school in Crawley. John Standley, who had played in the 1960s band "The Others" and Kevin McPhillips were to play lead and bass guitar respectively and, before he set off on a US tour with Jethro Tull, Barrie Barlow had agreed to play drums. Barrie's tour culminated in a run of nights at Madison Square Gardens. Back home and briefly rested, he loaded his drums without cases in the back of his Volvo and drove down. He hadn't had to set up or pack away his own drums for years. We ran through some numbers in the staff room beforehand, with Barrie using a knife and fork for drum sticks and banging them on tables, chairs and walls all round the room. Our amplification was rudimentary, and Barrie was a very loud drummer. I had to put my rhythm guitar amplifier next to his ear, to act as monitor. It was probably more fun for us than the audience.
My last "major" gig was at Sheffield University supporting Gary Glitter. I was pleased to share the bill too with Tony Capstick, who had had a big "hit" since we'd met at The Chequers years before. Next morning I left on a Brighton Poly study tour of Soviet libraries. With a regular Intourist group, I shared a room with John Gee who I'd last seen introducing The Nice and Love Sculpture when he managed The Marquee. John's friend, Vadim, a broadcaster and USSR Jazz Journal correspondent who had been responsible for USSR concerts by Duke Ellington and Elton John, took John and me to dinner at The Astoria in Leningrad. The hotel band played heavy metal with very nasal vocals, but were the best that Vadim could provide.
Back in Brighton I played some dates with The Back o'Town Stompers including one at The Concord, Brighton behind the veteran jazz clarinettist Cy Laurie. The car had played up on the way down and was dead when I returned to it. There was no one about to help. I put my head under the bonnet. A bloke appeared, opened the boot and jacked up the car. I asked what he was doing. He said 'If you're having the battery, I'm having the wheels".
I did some of Richard Digance's shows on Capital Radio. The first, in the foyer, was a lot of fun, with a "live" audience and people peering through the windows of Euston Tower. Later shows were recorded two at a time in a studio. The audience was inhibited and I felt I had become stale.
By now, Pete Kircher who had drummed with Honeybus, Englebert Humperdink and Shanghai had left The Original Mirrors and joined Status Quo. We met up before their gig at Brighton Conference Centre. Naively I had thought we might have a quiet pint afterwards, but this was the world of anonymous after-gig clothing and getaway cars. He seemed happy, but at the sound check, the volume of the drums was making my diaphragm vibrate in painful sympathy. Later, there were head shakers only inches from the speakers.
Quo were predictably good and sounded like their records, but I remembered more modest expectations of the 60s. Guitar amplifiers were 30 watts and the P.A. was 50. When I first saw The Who on TV, Pete Townshend was using the extra volume of a Fender P.A. to play guitar through. On another occasion, a friend saw the side fall off Townshend's Fender column speaker, when he banged feedback out of his guitar against it. My friend Bob Harrison, who had played in The Marauders, told me how he was blown away by The Big Three with their 50 watt amps. The Big Three also had a very professional set up on a wheeled platform, which enabled them to roll into place and kick off as soon as the support act had finished. Sadly, the Big Three did not achieve the fame they deserved, but their contemporaries The Searchers claimed that they could reproduce the sound of their records on stage. They couldn't, but no one really expected them to. The advent of affordable hi-fi and bigger venues eventually led audiences to expect more. But Quo at Brighton and bands playing The Half Moon or Marquee with equipment and volume suitable only for much larger venues, were not entirely pleasurable. It was depressing to recognise that I was too old because it was too loud.Copyright © John Scott Cree 2001
Click here for Chapter 12: On the rebound.
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