The Early Years

I had a phone call off my old friend Tony Potter in December 07. He was on a drunken night out with the No Exit boys, and I spoke to Tony, Graham and Dave Evans. I was touring at the time with pop combo Take That and was surprisingly sober, wishing I was with them. Some of the sense I managed to get out of them was that Tony was still involved in Health & Safety in Dubai, which always makes me smile because Tony was never healthy and definitely not safe. Dave was still a laird on the banks of the North Sea and also there was a new No Exit/The Vow website and the release of the ‘Songs from the Wilderness’ cd which Graham kindly dropped off the next day or so. A few days later I had a spare couple of minutes, so I had a look at the website. 3 hours later I was still there, looking at 25 year old photos and reading Graham’s and the band’s history, which was absolutely fantastic and only a few pages short of ‘War and Peace’. I was surprisingly pleased to come out of it in good stead and not the treacherous ship jumper I probably was.

Seeing the pictures of all of us looking young and trim, had me holding back the tiers. I wasn’t upset. I was in a wedding cake shop and there had just been an earthquake. We were pretty lucky having Dave and his camera around to capture the moments - photos of a young Leon, who is still my closest friend, but especially photos of my mother, Rosalie, who died in 1984. We haven’t got too many photos of her. Thank you for that. During my conversation with Graham, he asked me what I had been doing all this time, and I thought “Fuckin’ hell - what have I been doing?” 25 years - age 20 to 45. How do I begin to remember? Graham said to write it down; so here goes. I’m making a start now. Let’s see how far I get……..let’s see how far I get. Let me know if I start to repeat myself.

I got my first big break with Graham and Martyn - no doubt about it, my first band that played its own material. Late teens, early twenties, walking tall, you felt special. You never knew what was round the next corner, didn’t care about money, didn’t care about the outside world. You were in a band and it sounded fuckin’ great. Graham poured his heart into every song, pumping bass lines, great choppy guitars by Martyn in his dodgy shirts, and me growing up and learning about life behind a drum kit. I loved it all.

I had been in a band called Protégé, playing mainly covers with old school friends John Widders, Ray Shepherd and Sue McCormack singing, and a big bass player with an Orange amp whose name I can’t remember - although I remember the name of his amp. Our first gig was in Morrison school hall (now Tesco’s, Mather Avenue) in January 80. I just missed out playing in the 70s by a month (the decade not the temperature). It was like a school talent show, even though we had left by then. Equal Temperament, who were the early Christians, played on the same bill but, unlike us, their amp never blew up mid gig. We played ‘Brown Sugar’, ‘Dizzy Miss Lizzy’ and a version of ‘Purple Haze’ that was way beyond our musicianship. Maybe the amp blowing was an act of God or the vibrations of a shocked Jimi Hendrix turning in his grave.

I went along to the Ministry studios for the audition with No Exit and was immediately impressed with the proper rehearsal studios, even though in months to come I was to get the band into trouble for covering the freshly painted walls with No Exit graffiti. Don’t know how I intended to get away with that. The guys and I had to repaint the studio to avert a hefty charge. Previously, with Protégé, we had rehearsed in a room above Ray Shepherd’s dad’s pub in Tuebrook. Auditions were hard for drummers. A guitarist can generally walk up 2 flights of stairs with a guitar in one hand and an amp in the other. You’ve passed or you’ve failed. “OK. Goodbye”. The poor drummer has four trips up the stairs with drums, hi-hats, stands etc…Then he’ll take 20 minutes to set the kit up. If he fails, its another 15 minutes to take it down, four journeys back down the stairs - all in an uncomfortable atmosphere of nobody knowing quite what to say. “You were a great drummer, but we have a strict no mullet rule” etc….. I think that’s why someone invented Simmons kits - those little hexagonal electronic things favoured by eighties legend Kelly Maries’ drummer who, if you remember, stood up (which is very wrong) when the line ‘my heart it beat like a drum’ came in the single ‘It feels like I’m in love’ and bashed his Simmons kit to simulate a heart beat. Why do I remember this and forget important things? Anyway, I passed the audition and was in a proper band.

Graham documented the gigs we played really well in the No Exit band history on the website and has a far better memory than most. I remember going from a clean cut young man to wearing a scarf around my head, make-up, leather trousers (well, plastic - I couldn’t afford leather) and dodgy string vests. Also during my No Exit years I went from a not very good motor mechanic living at home to having a flat in Lark Lane, having my first taste of proper freedom, parties, girls, clubbing, smoking pot (even though Zammo advised me not too). Good times!