Thursday, 18 October 2018

The Split Sofa Archaeology Part Seven - ‘Walkin’ The Dog’

January 1997 - December 1999

After the Christmas holiday we began our residency at ‘The Boom Club’ in Derby, which was situated halfway down Sadler Gate. It once had been called ‘The Blue Note’. I always thought that the club was really cool and had a great atmosphere which Jim the owner helped by blasting out Northern Soul dance classics and little gems which I came to love over time.

We added other songs to the set and it amazes me now to think that we played from 10:30pm - until 2:00am with breaks every monday for a month and not once did we repeat a song. We worked hard on a Sunday night and would learn 2 or 3 songs and play the next night straight off.

I remember this one night, we had packed up the stuff & everyone had gone home, apart from Keith & I.  We looked over to Derby Cathedral which was lit up with a brilliant white light, which made it look medieval. We were just chilling looking at this great monument & I said to Keith:
“Look at that Keith, it looks brilliant doesn't it?’

Just as the words were leaving my mouth it was plunged into darkness and left us looking at blackness!  It was a sure sign for us to go, so we headed home. 

Keith came over one night to tell me that Kevin Braithwaite from the Top Bell was interested in getting us some gigs which I thought was really nice of him,  he seemed to like what songs we were doing and I was grateful to him for giving us a little push we needed. One of the first few gigs he got for us was The Fountain in Nottingham which was an odd place as you were playing to a brick wall, I always thought it was a bit odd that they wanted a band because it never was that packed but we got quite a few off them and they always were on a Thursday night.

I don't know how he did it but he managed to get us at the famous ‘Ronnie Scott’s Club’ in Broadstreet Birmingham. In the fantastic July sunshine we played outside at the front of the venue we even stopped the traffic who had now slowed to a crawl to catch where this Chicago blues was coming from. It was an amazing experience which we would do again outside the venue, but the main room was where we really wanted to be. We had a look at the main room which was decked out in little tables with lights on them and the room had a great feel. 

One of the gigs I always liked was "The Vaults’ in Leicester which Kevin had got us. It was a right ball-ache to get to being smack band in the middle of Leicester,  but it felt like the Cavern as you descended the steps into the cellar. It was always packed and had a real vibe to it much like the ‘Boom’ Club. Joe also liked this venue as it sold ‘Scrumpy' cloudy cider which was lethal, he had a few one night but played amazing!

By the winter of 1997 we finally got a date for The ‘Running Horse’ in Nottingham.  Barry who ran it did a great job of publicising us and we went down really well. Everything was miked up which was strange for a small pub but it sounded great and we were glad that Barry had given us another return date for February

It was a great time to look back on and sad also that it would never happen again. As the years went on I watched all the band members leave home, get a house, now children were on the horizon and time was moving on fast. It was a special kind of bond that the music entwined with our lives and would continue to do over the following months.

Sometime during 1998 Kevin had the idea to do a sort of
The Fantastic Mick Strode @ The Top Bell
scratch band with different musicians  involved who I had not met socially. Mick Strode was on guitar he had his own band called Duke La Rue, He was an amazing player and his slide work was excellent. He really knew how to bend those strings and to hear notes that soared and wobbled as they came down again I was in awe of the man. Of course I didn’t like him when I first met him,  he seemed aloof but I came to like him every time I met him and soon realised under that front he was quiet shy and humble. 

Pete Smith was a kind of a celebrity and he played the guitar, full time teaching and driving his truck. Tony Tipper was on the drums I hadn’t met him either so I don’t know much if anything about him.
Gareth Williams was on bass and he was out of The ZZ Birmingham Blues band who were very popular on the blues scene.  Alan ‘The Stork’ on keyboards cannot remember his full name, he was so low we couldn’t hear him, but when you did he played lovely bits and wish we could have had more volume, but it was what it was.

We were to play The Top Bell the following Saturday and we worked up a few numbers but never bothered how to finish a song. I was to sing 5 numbers dotted about the set. It was great that I just had to turn up and sing and not to hump gear about with this in mind I decided to hit the vodka before I went so when I finally turned up I was in a good mood and rather pissed. 

We did a great set and what was absolutely brilliant about it was that because no-one really knew the songs everybody held back which gave the song a wonderful bounce and relaxed feel. No-one knew how the endings were going to end, so they all sort of melted into silence. It certainly was a relaxed night and I loved it and so did the people in the Top Bell who had tuned up on spec and witnessed something.

And so 'The Blues Doctors' were born. Before long we started playing regular which was good but also bad. We could or would never get back that relaxed sound as we had done a few gigs before because we all knew the songs by then and volume crept up so it lost the chill out. But
nevertheless the band really worked welll together & Kevin’s son Guy Jessop Braithwaite joined us on bass. We would have also have various drummers along the way, Keith Wheeldon joined us on rhythm guitar and soon enough Dave Shipley was in the band.

My songwriting partner Paul Cook had been popping over regularly now for a few years. We learnt together and we had wrote many many songs and played well into the night. He started to stay over, so the songwriting sessions would go until 5AM and we would crawl out the studio on all fours!

On one of these sessions we started to write to a theme and I called it ‘ A Three Piece Suite’, songs would run into each other and that is where the name Split Sofa comes from I bought it up in a joke which wasn’t very funny, but was at the time. So the name Split Sofa originated from May of 1999.

Cookie also decided to move on and so I was left to build Split Sofa and started to write an EP through the Summer and into the Winter of 1999. I missed Cookie and his humour but I bought in Dave Shipley and Martyn 'Big Ted Stret' from the band to give it a punch and we began to record the EP ‘ Angelistic Pillow’ Sofa’s Debut.

I would always ask Kevin if the Blues Doctors could play either Christmas Eve or New Years eve. I wasn’t bothered about the little extra money because I would have done it for free and I think we all felt the same. As we we leaving the 20th Century behind we were booked to see in the new Millennium at the Top Bell....

It was kinda special night for the human race not alone us who stood outside the Top Bell on that magical night. With The Top Bell being on a hill  we could see the colour that filled the sky that night with fireworks bursting out all across every inch of the sky. It would never be seen ever again not on that scale. As the year 2000 struck it was like being on a trip. There wasn’t a blackness in the sky it was now a psychedelic maze of beautiful colours.

As we all went back inside I announced “Ladies & Gentlemen welcome to the 21st Century” and we broke into ‘Walking The Dog’ I was of course was very merry and giggled through most of it and then it was all over.

The year 2000 so much had changed and what would happen? Would we still be together in 2 years time? Would the Top Bell be still entertaining the people that travelled out to Barton to see bands? Would Keith ever break into a sweat?

 It was all to be seen but the future looked good....

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