Saturday, 10 November 2018

The Split Sofa Archaeology Part Eight - " Last Orders at The Bar"

January 2000 - Febuary 2002

The Rhythm & Blues @ The Top Bell

Kevin Braithwaite had done us proud over the following months, he had got us into some pretty good venues and even securing us at The Colne Blues Festival, which was a total nightmare.

What I had in my mind was tents and stages in a field someplace but in actual fact, we played in the local working men's club and had to haul the gear in at double speed. Everything had to be up in 5 mins and off you go. 

We had practiced this like an army crack SAS team at rehearsals so to watch must have been very entertaining. Keith was another matter as he seemed to wander around while myself and Stret set the PA up,  while Dave seemed to turn into the greatest illusionist in the world and seemed like his kit popped up like a tent!  We were all on the ball and were ready to play without a sound check so you just hoped we all had the right feel and not make a massive shitty entrance...

The band before us had gone down a storm but every song was a 12 bar and every song was the same but with different lyrics. We had some Cream and Freddie King and only one 12 bar, so when we went up there wasn’t much enthusiasm for us coming in from left field. It was a bit of a disappointment really but we lived through it and were soon off onto the M6 back home.

Kevin had got us some good gigs, The Pride Of Coventry, The Queens Head in Lichfield & The Tavern in The Town in Tamworth, but the first gig of 2000 was in Worcester in a pub on the main drag called The Dragon. It was just a normal pub and we always went down well there and the landlord liked us. 

The one gig we wanted was on the horizon and word had come through that we would be supporting ‘ The Climax Blues Band’ at Ronnie Scotts in Birmingham.

Soon the day was upon us and we all managed to get into Birmingham at 6:30pm. We were lucky that we got a parking space right outside the club. Kevin had booked a bus from the Top Bell and a load of folk came to see us & support us, which we were grateful for and soon the club was packed. I think we were all nervous but we were ready to have a go and we were well rehearsed.

The Flyer for our Ronnie Scott's show
The Climax Blues band were a big draw. They were formed in Stafford, England, in 1967 by vocalist and harmonica player Colin Cooper (1939–2008), guitarist and vocalist Pete Haycock (1951–2013), guitarist Derek Holt (b. 1949), bassist and keyboardist Richard Jones (b. 1949), drummer George Newsome (b. 1947), and keyboardist Arthur Wood (1929–2005). They had a UK 10 ten hit in 1976 called ‘Couldn’t Get It Right’  And it was that very song that while we were standing on the steps with Colin Cooper that Keith asked about.... 

“Colin, Do you ever get tired of singing that song?”

Colin smiled & said "Well. it bought me a house in LA”  

The set went well and people seemed to like us, The whole room was heaving and people sat in front of the stage ordering drinks and eating steaks. Our slot went so quick and in the end, we stood on the stage waving and the shouts filled the room,  then something happened that I had never heard before, it was a huge roar for us it was amazing and something I have never experienced since.  We left the stage and went into the crowd where where we watched The Climax Blues band who also rocked the night at Ronnie Scott’s.

After The Climax Blues band had been on, a tall black guy who was sitting across from us held out his hand to me and shook it. He said he had enjoyed our set and told me “Why ain’t you one of us brother?"  This guy turned out to Dion Dublin who at the time was playing for Aston Villa. It was a compliment that floored me and I was so proud of the band. 

Ronnie Scotts was on Broad Street you turned left into a one-way system,  Keith had parked further down and returned to his car & then came up the road the wrong way. This, of course, was illegal but it looked like he was going to get away with it if it wasn’t for the panda car pulling into the road which met Keith head on.  

They couldn’t have timed it better, he was, as they say in the Force, “Nicked”!!
We were all in tears as this played out in front of us. There was a few seconds were neither of them moved and it looked like Keith wasn’t backing up. I really think to this day that he thought that the police would back up but it never happened, until a uniformed officer jumped out and backed him up. It was hilarious!

Copper: “ Hey MOVE !, Back it up !, This is a one way”

Keith: “I'm only going one way Officer” 

We did, however, return to this venue again to support a long forgotten artist and we seemed to have our foot in the door.  The guy that booked the bands said he would have us back sooner than later but months after that there was news that Ronnie Scotts was to be closed and opened as a Gentlemen's Club. This was a kick in the bollocks for sure.  Looking back this was our pinnacle we seemed to have reached that something and if anything was going to happen to the band it could have been then.

Our only release ' Last Train Home' 2001
During the Easter Holiday, we all were recording our album ‘ The Last Train Home’ which was being recorded by Jon Broberg in his studio way up in the Derbyshire hills, in a barn/recording studio. It was a bit of a trek up there but we finally had our own CD that we could sell.  Dave decided we should order 1,800 CD’s these I still have piles of them today.  They are everywhere!

While all this was going on I was really into keeping things from gigs, the posters, and other stuff.  I still have Joe’s strings from 1991, Stret’s crisp packet which he folded in a very imaginative way and Dave’s snapped drumstick from 1995. I began to film the band in 2000 and took it to gigs and really went for it. We would film all year and have a premiere night before new years eve. Keith said he hated being filmed but was the first one to play up to the camera.

The Old Mill in Northfield was run by a guy called Bob who was a character.  He had booked bands in the Sixties and knew most, if not all, of the famous artists from Birmingham.  Trevor Burton used to play The Old Mill every Friday night. The pub was on the main drag on a corner near a housing estate. It was a massive pub with two massive rooms.

After we had done the gig I went to his office and he shut the door,  he made some small talk and suddenly got up from his chair and walked out of the room. There by the side of me was £20 on the floor. I picked it up and placed it on his desk, He then came back in and I said to him:

“Bob, You’ll never get rich leaving money about” 

This I know now was a test and I think he’d been watching me on a close TV because the timing of it was amazing.  He gave us a load of gigs so I was glad he I had done that. It never crossed my mind to stick that £20 in my pocket. I would be a terrible thief. One of the best things about coming back from Northfield was if you took a left at the fork coming out of Northfield you would end up going through the Balti Belt. I was like a Kid in a tit
Singing The blues

After Bob Died we returned to the pub a few times but it faded and in the end the pub was knocked down in 2012 and now a supermarket stands in the place where we once played 

Dave mentioned a piano player, Andy Buck, who was interested in joining us, he had taken a trip to see us at The Jolly About In Rugby a few weeks before.   He came to join us for a jam at our rehearsal and of course, with a keyboard player, lots of other avenues open up & you can do songs that you couldn’t do before. He came in and it was brilliant.

Andy was quite a humble chap. He would play something amazing and think nothing about it. He had been playing so long that it was just normal to him but to me, it was amazing or 'Fantastic' as he would often say, this led to him being known as 'Andy-Fantastic'.

Andy made his debut at the Top Bell, It was all too loud and some of it was captured on film. I didn’t really give it much thought then but we were progressing . Things do not stay the same, we don't stay the same. Whether it was for the better or not, it seemed right at the time, but now we had another member to pay.

@ The Fiddle & Bone, Birmingham
By June we were to play ‘ The Fiddle & Bone’ just around the corner from Ronnie Scott’s in Broad Street. Stret couldn’t make the gig and as it was our first we couldn’t turn it down so Guy Jessop Braithwaite stood in for him and he did a great job and part of the gig was filmed.

In December everyone that entered the house was met at the door with a glass of champagne and classical music playing in the background. Before we all settled down to watch ourselves I gave a speech with much heckling we watched the film. 

Dave lay on the floor propped up by a bean bag and focused on the film, never once talking but watching intently at the end he turned and had tears in his eyes, that for me is a special moment.   Everyone enjoyed the film and talked well into the night.
Guy Jessop Braithwaite

2001 will be a year I won't forget as I left Nestle and started a new venture  Live Music Magazine with the help of Judith & Alan Cooke, Guy Jessop Braithwaite, Kevin Braithwaite & Sonja Strode.  We all did articles for it, I had the idea of doing a free magazine with the hope of using local business to advertise in it. 

While waiting for a band you could read through it. I ran it for a year but what really had stopped me from doing it was I was owed money from the couple that run The Derby Turn had taken two massive adverts then did a midnight flit so it really put me out of business and also the pile I had given The Doveridge Blues Club were all over the road the next morning and as I went picking them all up I decided to hell with this and stopped the magazine.

As the year rolled on we kept hearing the news that they thinking of knocking down our practice room and turning the sports field into a Marina. With us hearing more and more about it we started to think of where we could move to and we ended up turning the old cowshed in Doveridge into a rehearsal room come recording  studio at my home.

It all needed to be emptied and through June- August the Cowshed became The Shack, Dave wired the main electric supply from the house and did an amazing job, Except the dimmer switch to this day trips the whole supply off. The roof was soundproofed and we did want we could do and new carpet was laid and even today looks as good as the day we bought it. 

Dave 'the hedge' Shipley
This is where Martin Gilman comes into the story. While working at Nestle I used to be on a packing line and worked with his Mum, Janet. Some days I would be working with her on the end of the line stacking coffee and she would mention Martin always being in mischief and having visits from the police.

Martin eventually started work at Nestle and I got to know him he was into music so used to pop over to my studio and listen to the songs I had written. He really got into it and bought an acoustic off me and started to learn bits and bobs. His influence was Oasis and Coldplay, he just wanted to learn to play the songs but he also liked to mess around on the guitar as well, which led him to coming over more as he found writing bits of songs interesting.  Martin is also very practical where I am not. I cannot do bloke things. I am useless at building things. 

Destroying things is another matter. My woodwork teacher at school would not let me take my mug tree home and flatly did not want me to take it out of the woodwork room. He told me he didn’t want him or the school to have nothing to do with it. This was said in front of the whole class. What a wonderful man he was.

So when Martin offers to build a sound booth in The Shack I take him up on it and he did a great job and is still used today.

Kevin Braithwaite Landlord @ music Lover
We didn’t know it at the time but we played our last gig at the Top Bell on November 30, 2002, after that gig I went up to see Kevin Braithwaite he made me sausage, egg, and chips and we sat in the pub and watched the late morning traffic pass the pub.  It was then that he told me that he was moving on and would be closing the pub after so many years of being there. I was in total shock.

The Top Bell was home for me and loads of other people, but you had to respect Kevin & Margaret's decision to leave. It is hard work running a pub and even harder today than it was then. The loss of the pub would ripple out not only through the village of Barton but also ripple out across the country. Make no mistake  The Top Bell was a well-respected venue. Kevin used to be inundated with phone calls from Liverpool, Manchester and all over asking who was on that night.

Build it and they shall come. That’s what happened to the Top Bell. Such a small pub which was close to our hearts. The music was rocking and the family were close, there were some great moments in there.

Again we didn’t think at the time that the Blues Doctors Gig on New Year's Eve 2001 would be the last one and also the last one to see the new year with all the family.  As fate would have it the final night of the Top Bell should have been a Rhythm and Blues band gig so The Blues Doctors were counted in on it.  It was a very sad night with musicians from other bands wanting to play or be featured as a tribute to the
Inside the Top Bell with Margaret Braithwaite 
Top Bell. It was rammed. You couldn’t move but the beer flowed and as the night went on the bitter went first,  then the lager and then slowly the pub ran out of everything but not before we all had our fill so the timing was right.

The musicians that played that final night; Pete Smith, Emmet Till, Dave Onions, Trevor Burton, Gut Jessop Braithwaite, Jack Poxon, Keith Wheldon, Mick Strode  and of course the Blues Doctors finished the set. 

I wouldn’t be singing backing vocals with Mick Strode again on Big Cadillac, No more Walking the Dog, Keith singing Born Under a Bad Sign no more tripping on Mick’s pedals. It was kinda sad. Not only was it the last night but it was the end of the Blues Doctors which was fun to do.

The Top Bell sadly missed
At the end of the night, I crossed the road at looked back at this amazing pub. A place which we had worked hard to get into and also to meet the family and be a part of something.

Times were changing, and I didn’t like where there were heading. Things would never be quite the same again. Every New Years Eve I think back to those days with a smile I was honoured to play there and honoured to meet those guys who played the Blues, to the most loyal and appreciative audience around. 

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