Sunday, 15 July 2018

The Split Sofa Archaeology Part five - 'Grounded'

September 1994 - December 1995



The following few days after Turn To Red had split I was elated. This big black cloud had simply disappeared. I didn’t really know how unhappy I was until I had stopped doing it, but I knew there was fuel in the tank and so did Joe & Stret.

Our manager wasn’t happy with contracts still to be done. I told him that we would be more than happy to carry on with Turn To Red,  we had found a new drummer and we were ready to go knowing the trumpet guys wouldn’t do it, So we got out of any legal stuff &  we were free and I was so fucking glad.

Without skipping a beat,  the following Sunday carried on as it would have but the other three had gone and into the Sofa Story steps Dave Shipley, who carried in his drums and set them up in the same place Jason once had.

Dave had a sort of very posh speaking voice and would say just as Leslie Phillips would “Bang On” or “OOOOH Yes Matron”! I found him a breath of fresh air and liked his humour which that room had been lacking over the past year. 

@ Branston Waterpark

One thing I loved straight away we gelled and jammed which Turn To Red never did.  It had to  be the same as it was on the record which was the totally wrong thing to do.  Why not make the solo longer?  Add another verse,  we never did that but with this new untitled band we did from the start.

We looked at Turn To Red’s set and I shuddered.  In Big Black letters ‘Mustang Sally’.... if you don't mind me going off on one for a moment, that song’s followed me round it’s so uncanny.   It’s haunted me wherever I went for years and I mean years.   20 odd years.   I walk into shop in Wales and what comes on the radio! I stop at the services and that song again comes out of the little speakers while you pee “I bought you a brand new mustang”, although while no one was looking I did belt out “It was a 1965”!!
I am not writing this as a joke but it's true....  I'm driving along & pull up at a roundabout & a bloke next to me has on the radio and yes, radio 2 plays Mustang bloody Sally. I looked over at the bloke and noticed that he wasn’t in a Mustang but in a panda and not the furry type!   And another song which haunts me is that bleeding ‘My Girl’....but I'll leave that there......

Sorry, back to the story..... We were a bit lost though at what we wanted to be. One of the first songs we did was ‘Cant Get enough of your love” which suited my voice and ‘Born To Be Wild’ & ‘Smoke on The Water’.  With three gigs already booked we began to build up something of a set and made our debut at ‘Doveside Club’ on 12th November 1994.  With a following gig the week after at the famous Ind Coope and the bowing out the year at ‘Doveridge Club on Christmas Eve.

1994 had been whirlwind of emotions but to finish with a party at Sofa HQ was brilliant. Dave had really settled in and became one of us and we were excited at what they following year held for us. 

A bikers club which held festivals and in the winter used ‘Doveside Club’ to help raise funds,  asked us if we would play a gig in March 1995 and we used this to really work on a great set. The Stallions Of Steel were a great help in helping us get back up to steam but we had one thing we hadn’t done..... named the band. 

Martyn 'Big Ted' Stretton
At the start of 1995 we had no direction we didn’t want to become a band who played second rate police songs or go back and become what we had been before. We finally had a meeting and decided we needed to really project what Joe was brilliant at. The Blues. We always had put a little Blues in the set but this gave us an identity and also put us in the pub scene and out of the social club bracket. “You're on after the bingo” was now a distant memory. Thank god.

On July 15 1995 we became ‘The Roadhouse Blues’ band and I began to comb through Blues records and find ones that no one did. There were millions to go at.

We had heard of the Top Bell In Barton Under Needwood and made that our target. You had to be really good to play there and Joe said we were way off yet, but it was fun that there was a challenge before us.

Joe’s Dad, Bob Nicklin, who I always got on with and had a cheeky smile when I always spoke to him, was a lovely man who sadly is no longer with us. I was always popping into Tutbury Crystal which the Nicklin family ran as a family business. I stood with him on the steps and we spoke about the band. I remember the conversation as if it were yesterday

“So Lewie, what’s happening with this band”

“We need to make a demo to submit to the Top Bell”

“Well, what’s stopping you?“

“About £250, that’s for the studio”

Bob gave me £250 in £20 pound notes with a yellow elastic band round it. I was knocked out. I couldn’t thank him enough and I am so glad that I thanked him again and again through the years. What an amazing man to do that and help out four scallywags.

We did the Stallions of Steel gig and we had added more and more Blues and back to Doveridge Club again building up the money with the books taken to practise so everyone wouldsee what we had in and what was going out.

No more would one person look after the books and keep everyone in the dark. We had pay outs, meals out,  massive nights out and drink-all-you-could nights. I got fuel allowance and was now not dipping into my own pockets for nothing. Guitar strings were now paid for and the PA was updated all paid for by us.
Joe, Stret, Dave & Keith

Keith Wheeldon now comes back into my story, you may recall in Part 1, I was in his band Stoney Ground in 1987. He used to come round and listen to the songs I had written and just hang out. I used to record the rehearsals and would play them to him. When he heard we were doing Blues he wanted to come and have a jam. So with guitar in hand he came to one of the rehearsals August 1995 and kept returning every week. We only asked him once but he kept turning up,  but he was adding some depth to what we were doing so in the end we asked him if he wanted in and by October he was a new band member to pay. 

If you have ever done a 15 hour recording session it’s a tiring experience. Whatever possessed us to record, mix & master all in one day I will never know.   We recorded the demo for the Top Bell at Square Studios in Nottingham.   It was a massive place and i just wished I had some pictures. Dave was in a booth to himself.  The engineer fucking stank. I don’t mean he was a bit smelly, it was awful in the control room. Tom stood by the studio door he reminded me of a hedgehog.  Not because he had spiky hair but because he smelt like one which had been run over a few weeks back.

Joe & Stret were in the middle room with Dave and myself in booths.  I didn’t like it as we were all separated.  Keith wasn’t in on the recording for some reason he had only been coming into the band a few weeks so we knew all the songs, but he knew about it and he was the link to the Top Bell,  he knew the landlord Kevin Braithwaite.   Just how this small pub captured many people a tension is absolutely brilliant. I will let Kevin tell it’s story;

“The music started at the Top Bell when Margaret suggested we have a piano. Regular, Don Burnell knew where their was a piano available, and with other regulars, Paul, and John Frampton and his dog Nigger, we set off to purchase it in Walsall. It was painted white so I stripped it and had it tuned.
Darryl Bottrell was the first pianist to play the Top Bell on Sunday nights. He was later joined by a fine local singer Colin Latham, and together we called it "Something Different "
Many others used to turn up and join in and we had some great nights. Colin had an excellent covers band "80 In the Shade" and said they were willing to play a gig at the Top Bell. This proved to be very very popular, and so they played the last Sunday in every the month,  with 'Something Different" playing the other Sundays, the rest as they say is history.
This was the start to music snowballing, but the fact that the audience was so attentive, and appreciative, made all the difference to other bands wanting gigs there”

In the meantime we had cards done and 30 T Shirts printed which sold well we ended 1995 in better shape than we started. We finished the year at The Rock Island Club in Derby which is no longer there. It was a rockers place and i felt we wouldn’t go down well but we did the Blues they loved it.

I got a fantastic phone call on Boxing Day from Keith. He’d been down to the Top Bell and had given our demo to Kevin to listen to and he really liked it and had booked us for 13 March. It really made my Christmas that we had been asked to play at the Midlands top Blues Mecca, with also a gig debut at Sgt Peppers in Derby the night before. We used that as a practice for the real deal.

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