January 1996 - December 1996
On the twelfth we played for the first time Sgt Peppers inDerby. It had been the pub that I had shown up to play a few numbers with Stoney Ground in 1987 and it was then called ‘ The Duke Of York’. In the late 80’s it was always packed, it was a meeting place before you went into town & is was always packed over the weekends. It was a good warm up gig for our debut at the Top Bell.
Now that we were well off the cabaret circuit, we now were a pub band and a Blues Band. The Top Bell was the place to aim for. It was Blues up close. There were regulars that were part of a family and we were lucky to be apart of that family, but respect is earned and when we got the chance we went for it....
It was a small pub on a hill looking across the fields of Barton-Under-Needwood that captured something. Run by Kevin & Margreat Braithwaite and Guy, who became a rather good bass player with local bands in the area. The place became a mecca. A Blues Mecca.
The place was always packed people pushed up against one another but nobody cared, all they wanted was first class Blues. Bands such as The Razors, ZZ Birmingham with their leader Arthur Billington, with raised arms saying ‘ Good Night Sweet Prince’. Duke La Rue plus many many more great bands played at the Top Bell.
We were all nervous but we went down really well. Kevin was happy with what we had done. We were Blues virgins. We didn’t want to do all the Blue’s standards everyone else did. That stood us apart. If you want to do something make it original and come from left field.
Many hours were spent searching for the right song. In my mind I took this back to the cabaret days of Tun To Red. If a song’s got a great melody then it can be likeable right from the start. So I looked at album tracks and B sides and tried to pick a song with a good melody. There were plenty to go at and many artists which I came to love: John Mayall, Lonnie Mack, Peter Green, Eric Clapton. Joe had already heard of these artists so it wasn’t new to him. I could always tell what Joe had been listening to because it came out of his playing style. We were all learning.
February came and we were at an old venue near Coalville called ‘ The Griffy Dam’, we debuted the song ‘ I Just Wanna Make Love To You’ with me on the harp. We were then back at the Top Bell on The 16th March. There was a band table near where we played where you would be guaranteed a good seat & we got talking to a lovely couple Alan & Judith Cooke from Ashby. They would talk to us and we made friends very quickly with them & everyone at the Top Bell. Caravan Ken was another friendly guy and Graham who used to tap the back of his hands to the rhythm of the music. Lovely bunch of people there. A chap to get respect off was Robyn who was a great harp player who would always sit in if you needed a solo. It is reported that he played Harp on the Hollies song ‘ He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother’ and he brought Bobby Elliott, the Hollies drummer, into the Top Bell many times.
One of the weird gigs we used to regularly do was ‘ The Britannia’ in Nottingham. I have no idea how we got this gig but it was well run down. It was a long pub and at times hobos would wander in and be marched out in the middle of a song. The bar was run by a husband and wife and he was a mad David Bowie fan. When we had set up we walked over to the empty bar and he asked us what we wanted, then on the radio came on David Bowie’s ‘Starman'. He put the pint pot down and seemed to go into some kinda trance. We stood there and watched him sing the whole song note for note until it finished. “three pints wasn’t it” and carried on, a real weird scene, I should have filmed it!
If The Top Bell was the Blues Mecca for Derbyshire, The Running Horse in Nottingham was the top Blues pub to head for next. A guy called Barry ran it. He had a long grey Mexican moustache, we used to all go up and see whoever was playing. There was a kebab shop across the road so I knew we had to get a gig there! Despite trying to get a gig there we heard nothing back, it was really hard to get in there. The only difference with them was they had they own sound man so you were mic’d up.
My songwriting continued while all this was going on and I would ask Joe if he would play lead guitar on my songs so he was well used to hearing some of my shit songs which I had written. As we entered May, Simon Bates (not the DJ) an old school mate who I had met on the first day of school and I had kept in contact with after leaving school in 1984, bought up one of our old school mates in a conversation on that May night. His name was Paul Cook, aka Cookie.......
Cookie was the younger brother I always wanted, we knew each other even before we started school. His Mother knew my Mother so they would stand outside in the street and talk while we pissed about. We were thick as thieves and would take great pride in disrupting the whole class.
One of the great things that Cookie could do was to break wind on cue. And very loudly. The times I found myself in the corridor after being thrown out yet again after pissing myself laughing at one of his loud farts. The cleaners knew me more than the teachers ever did at Hatton Secondary Modern!
School for me was a total waste of my time. I clowned my way through never tried much never did home-work. I had a desk named after me in the detention room. The problem was nothing went in. Maths was totally confusing when we got to cutting a pie in half and so on.
I got the first detention in our year by declaring to the French teacher that;
“We won the war so they should be speaking English!”
The only thing that really intrigued me was words and the sound of them. So as the school life went on I started to like English. I loved the words of John Lennon and Jim Steinman. I loved melody and it stuck.
Cookie & myself were kept apart because the fool who taught us at Hatton Heath Fields Primary told Deputy Head Bubble Brown that were were like a Morecambe and Wise show and to keep us apart at the new school. However we had options in the 3rd year & we began to have lessons together again......
Through the 6 week holidays we would muck around each others house and make up songs and listen to Beatle records. I was just bouncing along, always loud and having fun. I would be buying records and got Paul McCartney’s Tug Of War Album. I used to have headphones at night and would have the windows open, but the pig farm at Foston used to stink like hell and also we had the Turkey farm at Scrpoton so it was double shit stink.
I was spending more and more time with Paul Cook and Clive Sayers, who was a new lad who had moved into one of the new house at the top of the road. His family was the first family who would watched telly with their socks off. I had never seen this in anywhere. My Dad didn’t sit there without his socks on in fact none of the family did. So I always thought that was odd!
By now I had started to write songs. I would write reams and reams of stuff that wasn’t very good but Cookie, Clive and myself would take turns to be round each others houses and play records. Clive discovered Jimi Hendrix and Rod Stewart, Cookie found Marillion and Meat Loaf. I on the other hand had discovered The Who. I would sit there writing stuff and would read it out.
We formed The Breeze and Clive bought a Les Paul copy and Cookie ordered some guitar out of Kay’s Catalogue. I was going to be the drummer but Dad put a cosh on that. I seem to remember “Not in this bloody house, you're not”
We never actually played together as a band but myself and Cookie would mess about, but Cookie’s attention span wasn’t very good so he really went off and on it. I however kept writing little songs and would sing them to the guys.
As time went on we all left school. Cookie was always there and we had many nights of side splitting times around Michael Hassent's house (a neighbour of Cookie’s) who would buy records then toss them out the window like a
It’s hard to image now but nothing happened on a Sunday. Everywhere was shut. The BBC seemed to transport everyone back into time with repeats of Victorian programs like ‘Upstairs Downstairs’, Just William, and that Edward whatever. I hated it all. The only light at the end of this dark tunnel was the radio chart show from 5. Trying not to get the DJ saying anything while you were recording. It was a pretty dismal time. The only change in Hatton & Tutbury was that ‘Kangs’ shop was open all day and Hatton Chippy started opening on a Sunday night so way hay!
Over the years Cookie would drop into my life now and again and by 1996 I hadn’t seen or heard from him in all that time. Simon asked the question that night “ Whatever happened to Cookie?”
So I wrote him a letter and within a few days he rang up and we decided a night for me to pick him up and bring him over to the studio. To my surprise he too was playing guitar again and was messing about, as he calls it. I too still played but not in the Blues band. So we were in the same boat.
So here we were. We had a play around and I instantly fell into a groove with him. We ended writing a song called ‘Jennifer’ which evolved over time but to write a song on the very first meeting is a special thing indeed. Having that spark with someone doesn’t come around much if at all. I can only write with people I have a connection with. If it’s there it’s there.
So back to the band....
Our band was flourishing. We had all clicked and now were all enjoying meeting up and playing the Blues. My collection of Blues was expanding but Joe had all the songs you could shake a stick at. I was a Blues virgin in 1995 and like everyone else who joins and loves a new genre you find new artists.
After a while I could tell who Joe had been listening to by the way he played. Buddy Guy was one of my favourites heused to do and Freddie King was another. You could always tell a muso guitar player fan by the way they were checking out what amp he had. Joe wasn’t a lover of effect pedals. He didn’t like them at the time saying that he was after the raw sound of the guitar.
Over time though, as I might of mentioned in past posts, the amount of Amps he would go through was amazing. You would get used to one and then he’d turn up with another one. I think though that his true heart lay with Eric Clapton. Many a time he would be talking to someone who also was a guitar player telling him he sounded so much like Eric. How many times did we hear that one? So his true roots lay with him and expanded out and much to my delight saw the same thing as I did with George Harrison. Although Joe’s not a massive Beatle fan he can see a great artist in George and I can see that In Joe.
Stret he was like a younger brother. I had watched him grow as a solid bass man. He now kept us in a straight line down the middle of the road and to me was the heart of the band. Stret used to stay over sometimes all weekend. He would come over for the gig on Friday and be gone after eating a massive Sunday dinner to meet up at 7 in the Stretton rehearsal room then we would all pop up to the Top Bell to finish the weekend off.
You could always hear Dave turn up in his car. 9/10 it would be Death Metal but on occasions it would be classical. He listened to everything and loved it. When I discovered Muse it was no surprise Dave had the album before I had even heard of them. One of his great traits was structuring a song and taking it away from what is once had been. Dave was also part of an operatic group and he was part of the orchestra and also part of a brass band so he seemed to be always busy which showed his passion.
Keith was a character he would endure people to him. He was a loveable rogue (his words) he was really good at working songs out and would make his own guitars. Ofcourse if you have been reading this blog you would have known that I had met Keith in 1987. He was the one that went out and got us gigs. He would spent time hunting down the person to get the gig. There were quite a few he got for us. The Derby Turn, St Helens, The White Hart, The Fountain, The Griffy Dam, The Fishpond in Matlock Bath.
On one occasion I went with him around Derby on a Monday afternoon. We went into a few bars asking for gigs. Walking down Sadler Gate heading for the boom club Keith pressed the intercom button. He let it buzz more than he should have. The guy comes on;
“Yeah, Yeah, what you want?”
Keith then pushes the button again and speaks keeping his finger on the buzzer
“Hi my names Keith I was wondering….”
"Keith take your finger off the button"...... At this point he does and we are met with
“STOP, pressing the…”
Again Keith does the same and starts to talk again
‘Mate get your finger off the buzzer”
This he does and again we are met with
‘Will you stop pressing the pissing buzzer!, what do you want?”
His name was Jim and he had took over The Boom Club a few weeks before. He was a northern soul DJ and by the sound of it had his fingers in a few pies and this was one of them. He played some great classics and I loved his style.
To my surprise he gave us a gig on December 30 which could be a curse but it wasn’t it was rammed. I liked it in there it was done in a sort of old jazz club style and with that genre really fitted in with the music that was being played. Jim seemed happy in what we had played and offered us a months residency for January. Every Monday night till 2:30. This would make us work harder and we began to learn songs by the bucket load. No sets was the same which was brilliant because it kept us on our toes.
Another step up for us and 1997 was looking promising