Tuesday, 30 September 2014

Oh No I'm playing in Cambridge on Saturday 4th Oct 2014

31 days 13 hours 26 mins to go

I have been rehearsing today, trying to work out a set to play at my solo acoustic gig in Cambridge at the weekend. It will be a balance of new and old songs and I must say I am really looking forward to it. It is at the Portland Arms,
I have played there before with the Neurotics and I am really looking forward to returning.

'Oh no' was one of my earliest songs with the Newtown Neurotics and it was very much based on the sort of structure the Ramones used for their songs, hence it was very short. We played it for many years and I have always loved its simplicity and melody.

Recently started playing it live again on tour in Brazil and it also works quite well acoustically too.
It was about living in Harlow before punk gave us all a reason to live.
It was about being bored and broke and trying to get some confidence as a young man who was both shy and directionless.
I don’t know what would have happened to me if there was no punk explosion, I dread to think as I don’t think it would have been good.

Monday, 29 September 2014

When The Oil Runs Out - Where did all the time go?

32 days 19 hours and 24 mins to go

I'm now getting to the final stages of recording and mixing my new acoustic album ‘Jenga Society’. The format is (for the most part) acoustic guitar, lead vocal, backing vocals and a bit of second acoustic. I feel very ‘naked’ in these songs without a band to hide behind but I think that, that it is going to be its greatest strength.

Looking back, I released my second vinyl single with the Newtown Neurotics in 1980 after the relative success of Hypocrite/You Said No.
The song, ‘When The Oil Runs Out’ has turned out to be a timeless thing because at its heart it reminds us how dependant we are on Oil and how much it shapes the world and destroys and blights the lives of people too. I am to this day very proud of it and we coupled that for the ‘b’ side with Ohno, which obtained a new vivid lease of life in Brazil at the beginning of 2014 on my tour there. The boys in Sao Paulo that became my Neurotics, in that home away from home, requested we play it and it then, in their hands, became a thing of beauty once more.

At this point in 1980, I still had really long hair (at a time when everyone was spiking theirs up) which was my statement that punk is in the heart not in a hairstyle.
After this single, I did cut it all off but I was undergoing a lot of changes and I eventually I reflected that by freeing myself of hair care and hair care products.
Although ‘When The Oil Runs Out’ has done well over the years, when it was first released, although it got quite a bit of airplay, no-one could buy it because the distributors, Pinnacle, mislaid the stock in the warehouse and therefore none of the discs got into the shops.
By the time I realised it, the single was old news.

Again, much to my delight it was re-released on vinyl this year and has done really well. One interesting thing about this was that I deliberately ordered more sleeves than I needed for the single back in 1980 and thirty four years later I got them out of storage and they were used for the re-release, the original sleeves on identical looking discs.

Below is a link to a video the Neurotics shot with Tony Mottram for the single, on one of the earliest portable VHS recording machines at that time, I think the camera was separate and it connected to a domestic size recorder slung on a strap on the shoulder.

A one camera job it was a triumph of enthusiasm over minuscule resources and embryonic technology. Enjoy!

Friday, 26 September 2014

Yes to You Said No!

35 Days 17 hours  and 2 mins to go

You Said No 


('b' side to Hypocrite)

The ‘b’ side of Hypocrite, You Said No, was also a big number for the band, it was our first attempt at reggae rock, recorded not long after writing it. Later it would be played twice in a row live, we would play it first in a dub format improvising as we went along with only excerpts of vocals every now and then and, without a gap would enter the second version with the lead vocals and backing vocals as it was on record. This was what we called ‘Dub rock’ and it was a favourite with our audiences for many years. It was a high point in our set and we often finished with it.

As a tale of unrequited love, it was always strange in those days, as the girl who it was written about was often at our gigs standing in the audience listening to it. I naively thought it might win her over. But it didn’t.

I was initially disappointed with it on our single because for one reason or another (I cannot recall why) it was quieter than the ‘a’ side. You’d flip the single over, drop the needle into the groove and was underwhelmed with what came out until you raised the volume a bit, very annoying. However we corrected that when it released on the Newtown Neurotics singles album 45 Revolutions Per Minute and on any subsequent release on CD (some of which can be found here).

Recently, Hypocrite/You Said No was re-released on vinyl (link to it here)l but both tracks had been re-mastered and enhanced to improve the quality and so on that version, the volume was same both sides. So now you know how to tell an original copy from a re-released one.

I always loved playing You Said No and this early version of it, now with enhanced sound is a joy to me now. BTW, the YouTube is not the enhanced one. 

Wednesday, 24 September 2014

I finally make a proper record and vinyl euphoria ensues.

37 days 19 hours and 20 mins to go

Ten years after ‘A Portrait of Time, I finally got a release out that was a proper record, one that was heard on the radio and was available in the shops (in some at least). After I fell in love with punk at the tail end of 1976, I dragged my neglected guitar out from under my bed and dusted off my three chords. I then went in search of a band. Filling the bass spot was easy (well relatively easy, I did play with a few people for a year but we never had a drummer or got out of school halls).

After seeing the Ramones live at the Rainbow, New Year’s Eve 1977, along with my mate Colin Masters, I asked him, as we drove back from the gig, if he would be my bass player. He told me he had never even touched a bass (he lied, he had a bit) and I told him, you’re tall skinny and good looking; you’ll do perfect for a bass player. That settled, we looked for a drummer, but that was very hard, as all the drummers that were available wanted to play in the Eagles or do David Bowie material.

Finally we found Tig Barber who lived far too far away from us to make the process of rehearsing easy, but we put up with the journeying (we always had to go to him, he didn’t drive) because of the drought of stixmen. (ah yes, I remember it was in the time of ‘The drought of Stixmen’ when the dearth of unpretentious banging laid waste across the country. It was the time of the Great Percussion).

After a year or more of playing, I decided that we should form our own label and put a single out. So we created No Wonder Records (a nod to the then, very influential Small Wonder records), then, with the aid of  some money borrowed from Tiggy’s Dad, we pressed up a 1200 copies and headed off to London to press one into the hands of John Peel. We hung around outside Broadcasting House waiting for him to come back from lunch, I don’t remember seeing him, I don’t remember why not, but I seemed to remember handing a copy in to reception to be passed on to him.

A few nights later, during a break in rehearsals, standing in Tig’s kitchen, talking loudly to compete with the radio swalking out the John Peel show in the background. It seemed that someone had dropped a stylus onto our single, on a record player that we knew didn’t exist in the kitchen.

After a few, short, sweet moments of disorientation had passed, we realised our music was coming out of the radio, on John Peel’s show and was reaching every corner of the United Kingdom, in real time, as we stood there! To the accompanying sounds of euphoria filling the kitchen, had come the opening riff of our single, our music, my song. It was called Hypocrite and personally, 

I would never be the same again. 

I would always be Neurotic. 

Below is what we heard.

Tuesday, 23 September 2014

The Second coming: The one in which I turn up in the heart of the Beatles empire...without a camera.

Back cover of  'A Portrait of Time'
Front cover of  'A Portrait of Time'
38 days 23 hours 2 mins

After the success of my first album which completely sold out within 15 minutes (there were only three of them remember), I turned my mind to the follow up. Having released every song I had been able to write, this might have been a problem. I solved this by deciding to do an, avant-garde type of album inspired by the Beatles ‘Revolution 9’ off of the White Album. I then got together with John Mortimer again and put together a recording of, sound samples, effects, crazily played guitar, bird song and other equally abstract delights. In this audio landscape I attempted to document the rise of human civilisation from the proto-swamps of the early earth, right to the present day, all in 45 minutes.

I called it ‘A Portrait of Time’ again by the Seminal Vesicle Band (which obviously had a fluid personnel now, comprising of only me).

John and I then hatched a plan to have the acetate for this album cut at 3, Savile Row, London, the heart of the Beatles Empire and after booking the session, took off one day in January 1969 to arrive outside, facing the shiny metal plaque that declared ‘Apple Records’.

As we passed a handful of ‘Apple Scruffs’, I said to one of them, “If you wanna get in, book to have an acetate done, it’s easy”. We were heading for Apple studios in the basement. Once inside, we were taken to the cutting room by the ‘soon to be legendary’ engineer George Peckham who was polite enough not to diss the 45 minutes of abstract noises of my work, presumably because he had heard it all before.

I am sitting there watching my disc being cut on the lathe, shit scared to move, I am overwhelmed, I am even more overwhelmed to know that Lennon is in the building in an office on the ground floor directly above my head!!!! I had often attempted to move objects across tables using only the power of my mind but disappointedly never succeeded, now I attempted to use psychic osmosis (which may exist as a concept or I made it up that day, I don’t know) to try to drain some of that talent from Lennon, only a few feet above me, into the empty vessel that was me. I obviously didn't succeed in that either but it did cause a peculiar grimace type of look on my face whilst doing it.

Apple studio label (with spots)

While we were in there, another engineer entered the room and for a few moments he talked to George Peckham about running audio cables from the studio, up the stairwell, to the roof. I was puzzled as to why you would want to run cables up there, but before I could ask, George left the room temporarily with the other guy, whilst my acetate continued being cut.At this point I realised that neither John nor I had a camera with us, I don’t think I even owned one at the time, In those days, we didn't have mobiles or camera phones to fall back on and so I became desperate to get some sort of memento of our visit.

Portrait of Time record with Apple label

How could we possibly have come here without a sodding camera???

In front of me were a bunch of virgin Apple Studio labels that were for putting on the acetates the studio worked on, so I grabbed I handful of them.I was desperate for Lennon to pop his head around the door and hear my masterpiece but he didn't and without meeting a single Beatle, John Mortimer and I eventually left the building clutching three copies of my next release, whilst inside, the Apple engineers continued to work on a rooftop concert.

If only I had asked that question! 

Never mind, my second album (all three again) sold out in 15 minutes, something the Beatles never managed. 

As proof of this record, inserted are images of the album sleeve, again by Kathy Baxendale and the Apple label on my disc. Incidentally, the spots on the Apple mysteriously appeared once the Beatles split up!

Monday, 22 September 2014

Worms reproductive organs???

39 days 20 hours and 21 minutes to go.

I've been thinking about my new album ‘Jenga Society’, which I hope to have out in November and I cast my mind back to my very first ‘album’ which I made in 1968 (yes, you read that correctly, 1968, let me explain).

I was so into rock ‘n’ roll, I so wanted to be a songwriter, I so wanted be in a band and have an album out, that even though I didn’t have a clue, and only basic skills on guitar, I decided I would do it anyway. In this era when you either needed a degree in music or that you could play Led Zeppelin’s (you know what I am going to say here) ‘Stairway To Heaven’ note perfect, to ever be able to show your face on a stage. I, in what would later become the norm in punk rock, created an ad hoc band, wrote some songs with the three chords that I knew so far and created an Indie label (albeit with zero distribution) in which to bring my music out.

The album was recorded with the aid of John Mortimer who had some rudimentary recording equipment and virtually all of  the album was taped in his bedroom. The resulting collection of songs included the occasional electronic crackle of his parent’s fridge turning on and off, that bled through the mains and into the music.

I had a bassist called  Mark Knockles, Pete Hollis played a bit of lead guitar ( he told me not to put ‘clever chords’ in my songs to sound ‘clever’, keeping them simple was the best approach for a good song, I was somewhat relieved to hear this, as it was the ‘clever chords’ I was having the most trouble with). Micky Howard (later to take the drum seat in the legendary Harlow Punk band ‘The Sods’, among other musical accomplishments), contributed a bit of bass and some drums.

Long before the Sex Pistols decided on their name, because it described the sexual organs of the human male. I decided to call my band after the sexual organs of the common worm.

Now I am sorry to say, I have forgotten why I chose to do that but nonetheless I called my band of merry musical travellers, The Seminal Vesicle Band and after persuading local graphic designer Kathy Deeks (now Kathy Baxendale) to create a cover for my album, It was released, not on vinyl but on acetate (acetate discs comprised of an acetate coating on both sides of a metal platter into which the grooves were cut on a lathe. The discs were just to check the ‘cut’ of the album before committing to the stampers that were made to create mass produced vinyl albums.

I wasn't signed and only had pocket money, so could not afford to make any real records but I could stretch to three acetate discs and so came into existence, my first and ultra-rare album ‘Acetate Memories’ (see what I did with the title there?) by the Seminal Vesicle Band and I felt I had ‘arrived’.

I still to this day have a copy (see the attached images) but I have no idea who ended up with the other two ( you lucky, lucky sods you).

Friday, 19 September 2014

Cruel to be kind in the right measure

It’s funny to recall that way back in 1979 I created the ‘No Wonder’ record label to release the Newtown Neurotics first single ‘Hypocrite’. In those days the major labels were completely clueless and pretty much relied on Independent labels to indicate to them who they should be signing.
Creating an Independent label was a great thing, as you had complete artistic control, it stretched your capabilities and showed you what you were capable of given the tools available at the time. Getting the means of production is a very empowering thing but the one flaw in it all was distribution. You could have a great looking single or album, the music could be fantastic and you could be getting considerable airplay but the limited shelf space in records shops meant that, at this level, the majors squeezed you out. The life blood to independents then was independent record shops that would stock your product rather than major label releases.

35 years later I am creating another independent (Cruel Binary), to release another set of songs I have written and recorded but some things are the same and some not.
The major labels are still clueless, spending little money on nurturing new talent and are propagating a sterile music scene whose sum total of its ambitions seems to be to promote X factor style corporate pop. Crucified by the internet and downloads it still hasn’t recovered its former glories.
The problems the internet has brought to the music industry paradoxically is liberating for people wishing to sell their music independently because you can now do everything yourself plus the distribution is phenomenal, you don’t have to rely on shelf space entirely now, you can sell via mail order or by download and there are other revenue streams now to via streaming and income from YouTube exposure.
The market is global and it is at your fingertips.
Ok, the royalties for downloads, streaming etc. are not huge, but the potential is.

The best thing about creating your own Independent label is that you can do it all yourself.

The worst thing about creating your own Independent label is that you have to do it all yourself.

I've got to get on,

speak later…

Thursday, 18 September 2014

My first album release since 1988

It has been a long time, I know it has. I have reasons for this and they are legion. One of the reasons I gave up music in 1992 or thereabouts was I had lived rock 'n' roll for every waking hour for 15 years and I felt I had to come up for air and experience the world outside my self-created bubble. I was holding down a full time job and writing, playing, rehearsing, recording, organising and touring at the same time. Every holiday I had available from work was used playing at home and abroad so now I wanted to go away, relax and not think of a band anymore. I wanted a less exhausting and less complicated life and I didn't want to be angry anymore.
So I quit, completely and forever, and I found life was good (despite my still being angry at injustice in the world). I lived, loved, laughed, settled down and had a family but the guitar remained in the cupboard.


I knew that if I played at home, I would write songs and If I wrote songs I would want to play songs and If I played songs I would want to record them and If I record them I would want them to be released and then I'd end up back where I started. So I figured, if I don't play the guitar at home all will be well.

And so it was...until I was contacted in 2004 and asked if I would like to contribute a Neurotics track to a new CD collection called 'The Stortbeat Collective' which I happily agreed, but that then led to a suggestion that I might reform the Newtown Neurotics purely to play the launch party due to take place in November 2004.

I refused and then relented, the reasons for this are quite involved too and because of that I documented my move back into the limelight in a Kindle book called 'You're Always Alone With A Neurotic' which in a nutsell is a A tri-timeline, bi-navigational odyssey. 50 blogs of hate, self loathing, death, rock ‘n’ roll, politics, the War On Terror, anxiety, illness, frustration, hope, happiness and the exhilaration of being a cult punk rock star. This can be bought from Amazon by following the title link. 

I then played for a number of years with a fine reformed Newtown Neurotics to play our old material but stayed away from writing new songs. Eventually after I had wrangled out as much fun as I could from that, I then decided to do something else.

That something else was to play, not only solo but acoustically too.
I started playing at home
I started writing songs
I started playing live
I then wanted to record those songs
I then wanted to release those songs.

So after all those years, here I am with a new set of songs and I am now attempting to record and release them on my own label Cruel Binary (freshly created) by the beginning of November.
I hasn't been easy and I don't know if I'll make my deadline but I am working like the devil to try to.

I am now a full time musician and I celebrate my 60th birthday this year, what a fitting way to do that by releasing a new album.

It is called Jenga Society
It will have a single released from it called 'It's Christmas Time!
Strange eh?
Yes it is, you heard it here first.