Back in Business

It was just into 87 that I started working behind the scenes as well as playing. Alan Lynch, who I knew from playing football with the ad-lib PA crew, had just started tour managing a band called Jo Jo and the Real People who had Gordon Morgan and Phil Coxan in its ranks. He knew I had played drums, so he and Phil suggested me for the drum roadie job. I would be working for a drummer called Dave Riley, who was a great drummer and very patient with me. Sarah & Tina, otherwise known as the Creamy Whirls, were the backing singers - and very young. Chris and Tony Griffiths were the song writing force behind them. They were a great pop band, and their first single was a cover of ‘Lady Marmalade’, which I had various Stock, Aitkin and Waterman white label versions of, even before any of those fuckers had heard of Michaela Strachen. The second single, ‘One by One’, was turned into a worldwide hit by Cher ten years later. The Griffiths brothers got a nice little studio out of it, and Cher got her cred back…for a bit!

The band eventually split, with Dave Riley joining a band called 2am along with a guy called Mark from out in the sticks and Dave Lloyd, who was a rocker of high calibre and famous for singing on the flake advert “Only the crumbliest flakiest chocolate, tastes like chocolate…….” Anyway, you get the picture. Also by a strange quirk of fate they asked cousin Andor to play sax, and Alan Lynch became their tour manager. Bring it on! So now, armed with a tuning key and a mini maglite I embarked on my first tour - 2am supporting Chris Rea all over Europe on a six week tour. Fuckin’ ell!.....More like “The Road to Fuckin’ ell”. Speaking of which, in my time, I have been on the road to Hull, the road to Rouen (pronounced ruin) and the rocky road (Colorado). Anyway, I’m di-gressing, which is a Welsh name; a bit like di-rea which brings me back to Chris.I learnt the job pretty fast, thrown in at the deep end. Alan taught me the ropes. He used to work for the Q-tips back in the day, who were Paul Young’s first successful band. Andor and I made full use of the queue each night and couldn’t quite shake off our busking roots. Once we went busking outside our hotel in Paris. It was a five star job opposite the Louvre, A stuffy concierge in a top hat came out and tried to move us on. We pulled out our key cards and said “Residents”. He scurried off looking very confused .We had a great time travelling round Europe in a dodgy mini bus with a dodgy clutch. It was our first proper European experience and, when I came back, I was a European Boy. Excuse the fucking cheese.

The European boys were Alan Currie (and his two piece kit) on drums, Dave Murrant on bass, Peter Suffield on guitar, Martin on keys, my friend Sue Forshaw on backing vocals and Jerry Valentine on vocals. I don’t think Valentine was his real name, as Perry Pineapple, which I had recently changed my handle to, wasn’t mine. I had my photo taken in Rudys’ for the Merseymart, and the photographer asked my name. I said the first one that came into my head. It was a plot to confuse the DHSS which may or may not have had a blitz on percussionists earning £10 a night. When I was a kid there used to be rubber people fruit that you put over the end of your pencil -Cecil Corncob etc... There was a Percy Pineapple; hence Perry Pineapple; hence my childhood nickname of Piney.

Karen was the manager of the band and had a vibe of Margaret Thatcher about her. She could have a bit of a temper. You couldn’t stretch your arms in front of her in case she closed your pits. She cared deeply about the band and worked tirelessly to not much avail. There was a lot of talent round at the time. In a make or break move, we booked into Nomis rehearsal studios in Shepherds Bush, and spent two days playing in front of various A & R guys. Nobody came in for us but, on a positive note, next door were Status Quo. I remember phoning my brother Jimmy when Francis Rossi was standing behind me and giving him the “Guess who’s standing behind me” sketch. We were quite the fans in our early life, sad fuckers. We played Rudy’s, Daley’s Dandelion and the Firehouse in Bootle amongst others. If there is one thing I am eternally grateful for, it is the fact I met my wife, Donna, at one of the gigs in the Firehouse. Her brother, Terry, was a mate of Peter Suffield, and Donna had been dragged down to the gig with the lads because a mate had let her down. We have been inseparable ever since. Thank you for that European boys.

When Andor and myself returned from the 2am tour, we found ourselves in an audition with 16 Tambourines who I vaguely knew from practicing in the Ministry. We were both on a high from touring Europe, and turned up with a litre of whisky which we finished during the course of the audition. We hit the last note, collapsed on the floor and looked up to see Steve Roberts shouting “You’re in.” Steve was the singer, with Tony Elliott on bass (‘Welly it Elliott”, as he was called on the football field) Tony MacGuigan on drums, Mike Moran, guitar, the enigmatic Dave Oliver on keys and Sue Forshaw once again on backing vocals. 16 Tambourines were a power pop band who some people would compare to Deacon Blue who were at their peak at the time. With the Tambourines I felt the most confident of any band I have worked with that we were going to make it. We were ready for the big time. We had record company interest. Even though I had heard that line before, I believed it this time. We had sacrificed our jobs in readiness. “Let’s be ‘aving yer” as the great Delia Smith would say in years to come.

Instead of following the normal route and going to London to chase the deal we got the record company to come to us, instead of booking the premier venue in town, we chose my local, the Botanic pub in Wavertree. We put a lighting rig and a pa system in, and nearly blew the fucking roof off. The man from Arista loved it, and we had a deal. We’d made it! No more rehearsal fees. New equipment all round. We had Andy Docherty doing the sound (who was and still is one of the best around) and Woody, (aka Mr Fantasy) who we knew from the party circuit, on lights. We went to The Chapel studio in Lincolnshire to record the album - the first time any of us had been to a residential studio. We came back with ‘How Green is your Valley’ which still sounds good when you play it today.

We toured the country 88/89. We supported Dion at the Old Town and Country club in London. We toured with Squeeze - the last tour Jools Holland did with them. We toured with Hue and Cry and we toured with Wet Wet Wet on an arena tour. We played the NEC in Birmingham three times and the SECC in Glasgow five times, as well as Wembley arena twice. Looking out to crowds of 10,000 was an amazing experience. One of our claims to fame is that we were the first band to play at Aberdeen Arena. It was Wet Wet Wets’ gig but we were the support band. So, technically…….

I had one of my rare TV appearances with 16 Tambourines on Granada reports, the local evening news show hosted by the legendary Bob Greaves. We mimed along to ‘How Green is your Valley’ on Fort Perch Rock in New Brighton. I nearly missed it because I was returning from one of Jimmy’s legendary parties in Yorkshire, and got the call as soon as I got back to my flat in Botanic Road. I had half an hour to get to New Brighton. I put on a daft shirt, hopped on the bus to town still smelling of Yorkshire. I just about made it but I looked rough, which wasn’t all bad. We came across really well and Steve looked like a pop star waiting to happen during the interview. At least it gave out parents something to video, although you had to edit out the bit where Bob says something about 76 trombones. I think there was a writers strike or something!

Touring was a joy; all crammed into our tour mini bus with Kathy, our Manchester tour manager, at the wheel; a new adventure every day. It was a very ‘Smokey’ bus, and we had to cope with Woody’s magic tree addiction, but we laughed hard every day and played some great shows. We also had some great parties in the basement rehearsal room. Woody would set up his solar 250 projectors and we would have almighty jam sessions. We once came back from a gig to find the basement under 3 ft of water, with all of our equipment floating around. The porn cinema next door had burnt down, and all the firemen’s water had run into our basement. Never did smell the same - the rehearsal room as opposed to the porn cinema.

We released the singles ‘(Baby) There is Nothing Going on’. At least I think ‘baby’ was in brackets (what does that mean in a song title?) and also ‘How Green is your Valley’ (no brackets) to great critical apathy, and one of them peaked at number 87 in the charts - I can’t remember which. Unless you were a subscriber to industry magazine, Music Week, you might have missed our climb up the charts, but still, we recorded and released a bloody good album. I think in hindsight, or foresight, (Bruce foresight) the timing was all wrong. Musical tastes were changing, the whole Madchester scene was happening, nobody wanted nice clean pop bands anymore. But hey, what a great time was had while it lasted, and great friendships were forged - especially with Steve and Tony. We still meet up regularly. Steve is still singing and writing amazing songs and has a very successful acoustic network. Tony Mac is drumming with the Real People, Dave is a pilot (flying planes, as opposed to singing ‘January’) and Tony Elliott runs an acoustic night and is also in a U2 tribute band and he’s living close to the ‘edge’.

The musicians’ hangout at the time was Rudy’s on Cumberland Street - a venue that could possibly squeeze in 150 people. Les and Sue Quail ran the place, and there seemed to be bands playing on most nights of the week. Being one of the only percussionists in Liverpool, I was asked to play with quite a few of them. As I wasn’t signed to the Tambourines or Arista, I had the freedom to play with other bands - sort of session musician status but without the talent! I must have played Rudy’s twice a week with various bands. I played with Look out Oscar with my old mate Tony Potter, One More Story with Dave Goldberg, Andy Zsigmond and Mark Roberts. I also played with Blue Prelude with my good friend Guy Davies and the Everett brothers. Guy was six foot two and the smallest member of the band by far. The band were unofficially christened “The Big Lads”. Their manager Paul Beecham (aka Spike) was a local photographer and an all round good bloke. He took us once again to Nomis studios in London to showcase for the lazy London A & R, again to not much avail. This time, next door, were Bros - Matt and Luke Goss. We got a guided tour by Luke around their equipment, and they turned out to be ok blokes. They had a few crates of champagne that had been bought by their record company in celebration of hitting the top of the charts, and they said we could help ourselves to a bottle. We helped ourselves to a crate and ran past the Brosettes outside with a blanket over Phil’s head, pretending he was Matt or Luke. I don’t think we fooled them due to the fact that Matt wasn’t six foot nine and would be the least likely to be jumping into the back of a Leasowe Van Hire transit with a case of stolen champagne. We ended up drinking the crate sitting on the roof of the infamous Columbia hotel. If you’re reading this, Bros, we owe you nothing!........ or maybe we do.

Of the bands I played with, Blue Prelude were big but The Persuaders were bigger - bloody millions of us. I think eleven at the last count. Full Soul experience, all original songs with a big big sound - brass section, backing vocals, percussion, led by John Jenkins and John Kennedy. We also had Siobhan Mayer and Paul Speed in our ranks who later found success in River City People. We played some great gigs at the Royal Court and Devonshire House, among others. The gig I remember most was the night of the Hillsborough disaster when we played over the water and nobody wanted to be there. “The show must go on” and all that, but it was painful, heart breaking especially as my brother was at the match and had just told me over the phone what he had seen that day.

We played a few times at my local, The Botanic. Desi the landlord was into his music, and we had some great nights there. The Tambourines got signed there. The Persuaders somehow fitted onto the tiny stage and blew the roof off again. I even had my engagement and 30th birthday parties there, with The Tambourines, Rain and The Real People (among others) playing, as well as some almighty jam sessions with a full Hammond organ set up and Guy Davies going mad playing it with most of his body - all in a tiny local. Desi went on to buy Chillies on Wavertree High Street, and still supports the musicians. Guy, at the last count, was musical director for Australian musical royalty Jimmy Barnes, co-producing with George Martin’s son, Giles, and recording with Kevin McAlmont. He was even on Top of the Pops playing with Elton John and Marcella Detroit - not bad for a ginger!

In my time, I played with more bands than Paula Yates but, between gigs, since meeting Woody, the lighting designer with 16 Tambourines, I took an interest in lighting. He had a relatively new lighting business, Mr Fantasy, and a collection of solar 250 projectors which were really popular at the time .He would take me out on jobs and let me operate for the support band which I really enjoyed, and I found that I wasn’t too bad. My timing was good and, thanks to watching Woody, I could use light really well. Woody was a great teacher. I learnt about colours, mood and programming .He kept all his rig, at the time, in his flat in Kensington and we would trundle back there at 3am after a job, crashing the lights through his communal hallway.

After a while I could take the rig out on jobs on my own - Hardman House, Krazy House. It was a job I really enjoyed and I got a lot of creative satisfaction. Woody was tied in to the Manchester scene and was working with James and Happy Mondays. The business was expanding and Woody had quite a few commitments by now. The jobs were coming thick and fast. The time was approaching to send me out on my first lighting tour. I was sent along to International 2 in Manchester to join up with The Charlatans on the first day of their tour. Admittedly, I had never heard of them. They were hanging onto the shirt tails of the Manchester scene, even though the singer was from Northwich and the rest of them were from Wednesbury, in the Midlands. I was setting up the rig, programming, focussing & general problem solving for their lighting designer Ian, who had a very unfortunate tattoo of Donald duck on his upper arm. He said he got it when he was very young. I thought that sounded about right! This was my first time on a tour bus, and I thought it was fantastic - ten beds, two lounges, kitchen, games consoles and videos and a fridge full of alcohol, leather seats, even a sandwich with your name on it after the load out (fucking great!) and chefs travelling with you on the road. Heather Mills would give her right leg for this job!

We played a show at the old Town and Country club (later The Forum) in London, and I remember we were all crammed into a van in the back parking lot, listening to the chart rundown - ‘The Only One I know’ had been released a couple weeks previous. We waited and waited, realising it must be top ten. It came in at number 8. With my track record, I remember being pretty impressed but, most of all, it was just good to be there, watching their faces, happy for them. The Charlatans got bigger and eventually changed lighting companies. Mr Fantasy didn’t have the rig to do a theatre sized tour. I got talking to the drummer, Johnny, and eventually got the drum tech’s job on their first album tour. Thing were going well, the tour was sold out and I was off again round Europe with my new mop haired Midland Manc mates. The album did well worldwide, and we were about to leave Europe and tour the world for the next six months but, alas, I got a phone call off a band called 25th of May offering me another shot at fame. What was I to do - world tour with all the financial security that comes with it or join another bloody band? Of course, I joined the band.

The 25th of May was a rap/rock sort of band, led by the very right on Swindelli. They had just signed to Arista, and they offered me part of the record deal and also part of the publishing deal, which I thought was very kind of them since I have never written a song in my life. Ed was on guitar, Nigel, a very fine fellow from Middlesbrough, played bass, DJ Jimmy Jazz on the decks, Jabba playing drums and Swindelli on vocals. We released the singles ‘Solid State Logic’ and ‘What’s Going on’ - one of them getting to number 87, funnily enough. I was getting a name for myself with the Music Week readers. They also released the album ‘Lenin and McCarthy’, which I think was a pun. But by then I had been sacked - right on. They wouldn’t have sacked me if I was a lesbian coalminer. Never again! I was finished with being in a band - the bullshit, the politics, the way the record company brown nose round the singer and ignore everyone else. The love affair was over. The charlatan had been discovered. I was never that good and I just couldn’t be arsed anymore. Thank you 25th of May for putting me out of my misery. I would have taken the sacking really hard had they gone on to succeed and conquer the world. But luckily they disappeared up their own arse!

Never again.