I was a founder member of Swell Maps with Nikki Sudden, with whom I was at school, and his younger brother Epic Soundtracks. We were part of a tiny scene that we developed in our home town of Solihull, in the West Midlands. The other important characters in this scene were Phones Sportsman (who performed on the first single), Richard Earl (who who replaced him as rhythm guitarist), and John Cockrill. We recorded our debut single in 1977, and released it on our own label, Rather Records. In 1978, we made a deal with Rough Trade, with whom we developed a partnership to release more records under license. We produced three more singles and two albums, all released under this agreement with Rough Trade. We split up in 1980 after a tour of Italy. More information can be found in my book “Swell Maps 1972-1980”, and on the web-site: www.swellmaps.org
I was invited to join the Television Personalities in 1983, having been an enthusiastic follower of their work since their debut single in 1978, at roughly the same time as the first Swell Maps single. The TVPs career followed an interesting parallel path to Swell Maps, both bands having a “DIY” approach to recordiung and releasing records. We started straight away with a tour of Europe, in early 1984, followed by many more. We also visited the USA twice for tours of the East Coast, and flew to Japan a few times for concerts there as well. I was, and remain, a great admirer of Dan Treacy’s brilliant song-writing, and his attitude. We shared certain tastes in psychedelic musical styles and imagery, and we developed a unique creative chemistry together. I stayed with him in the band for eleven years, until 1994. During that time, we made several fine singles and EPs, as well as two excellent albums: “Privilege” and “Closer To God”.
The Palookas evolved through a few early line-ups in the early 1980s. The founder member was Paul Holt , a ginger-haired former champion cyclist, who was locally renowned for playing wild lead guitar in his previous band Harringay Dogs. He “composed” most of the music, a series of jagged riffs, to which I would add vocal parts. The sound was unashamedly primitive and dark. Paul’s kid sister Trudi joined on keyboards. Richie Bowering was a fearsome-looking presence on drums, with his shaved head and smeared stage make-up. James Rowbottam joined up on bass guitar. Palookas recorded a fine debut single called “Clear Day”, produced with Rico Conning from The Lines, with “Virginia’s Wolf” and “Phantom Of The Gaumont” on the other side. The band made a deal with German label Constrictor, who released a couple of subsequent singles and a few albums. James left after two albums, to be replaced by Joe Forty (also from The Lines) who played on the final record.
I started Househunters in 1985 with my girlfriend Sue Mole, a stylish Marxist who worked as a housing advisor. She had never been in a band, but she had great taste in music. She was also witty and imaginative with words and ideas, so we started writing songs and singing them together. We recorded my song “Cuticles” for a single on Scottish label 53rd & 3rd, and we wrote “Shopping City” together for a B-side. We recruited Lucy Cameron (“The Holey Ghost”) who blew some wild alto sax, and Trudi from The Palookas added some classy synth and piano. Jeff Bloom from Television Personalities joined on drums for the second single “Cooler Than Thou”, along with bass-player Lindsey. We pretended to come from Finland, and wore horned plastic helmets, to look like Vikings! We wrote and recorded enough songs for a wild LP, recorded in 1986 and released in 1987 on our own Hollow Planet label.
Olives Hairy Custard
The core of this band was formed by Heath Stanley, from North Queensland in Australia, and his brother Calan, who’d performed in a band called Fred The Baddy with their other brother Taron in Cairns. I joined in when helping them to demo their songs at my home studio. The music mainly featured heavy mutant riffs, with bizarre lyrics sung by all three of us in rotation. After trying a few different drummers, we hooked up with Andy Kingston, the drummer from a Luton band called Thrilled Skinny. Calan called himself Garlon Hairmungus, and Andy named himself Elliot P. Smoke. Heath called himself Les Miserable, and he devised a set of co-ordinated matching costumes for each show, based on a different concept each time. We would go on stage as Lone Rangers, Olympic Swimmers, Super-Heroes, for example. We recorded enough self-funded recordings for a single for Hollow Planet, and an album released on the Scottish label Topplers. We also collaborated on some improvised pieces (“Project B”), and we were engaged to accompany some silent art and horror films, notably at the local Rio cinema in Dalston. We were also engaged to run a monthly residency of music and performance-art “happenings” at Chats Palace.
Angel Racing Food
In 2001 I formed a trio with with guitarist Lee McFadden and drummer Mick Frangou. I nicked our band’s name, Angel Racing Food, from a seedy-looking shop in Hoxton which sold special food for racing greyhounds. We made a seven-inch single for the Topplers label. I wrote “Venus Big Foot” for the A-side. It was lyrically a fantasy about a cross between a mythological Amazon and a Yeti: an “urban jungle queen”, to quote the chorus in the song. We recorded this with four other tracks at a remarkable studio called Toerag, which specialised in using antique analogue recording equipment. Mick brought along his four-year-old daughter Elsie, who shrieked along with the chorus. We invited two guests for that session: cellist Zoë Gilmour, from a fine band called Gertrude, and Chlöe Herington who played alto sax and bassoon. ARF went on to record more tracks for an album, and the line-up evolved gradually: Rob Mack came in to play sax, Jeff Bloom joined on drums, Nick Smith came in to play the bass, followed by Marina Young. The final ARF line-up went to perform in Berlin in 2008.
After Angel Racing Food, I decided to form a new live band, to create a more experimental sound with some aspects of folk music. It was a fluid line-up with various multi-instrumentalists and a few different singers, featuring electronics and more exotic instruments. One person who was a constant element was Catherine Gerbrands, from Queensland; she sang and played a few of the more unusual instruments like bowed saw, autoharp and harmonium. We also had Jane Ruby (ex-Naked Ruby) singing with us for a while. We also had Phil Martin on violin and viola from time to time. Trevor Davies was our first percussionist; he used an electronic kit. Lee McFadden or Marina Young contributed on bass guitar at various times. Chloë Herrington brought two of her friends from Chrome Hoof to contribute to a studio session. After many line-up changes, Demi-Monde settled as a quartet for a few years, featuring Catherine and I, with Ravi Low-Beer on drums, and Cathy’s future husband Tim on cello. We recorded some great material together, released on two albums called “Diabolical Liberties” and “Tales From The Twisted Tower”, and also a 5-song collection of songs about some of my favourite visual artists, on an EP called “Visionaries”. The later line-up featured Tim Bowen on cello, and a drummer called Ravi Low-Beer.
The Demi-Monde evolved into a more stable line-up called Infernal Contraption, with Lee McFadden and Ravi Low-Beer and Catherine Gerbrands developing their previous roles with bass, drums and voice. Catherine also started contributing Theremin, and analogue synthesiser, and xylophone. Cos Chapman from Rude Mechanicals joined us to contribute experimental guitar sounds. We performed for many events at Hundred Years Gallery in Shoreditch, improvising and collaborating with other experimental musicians. This band also played at a few more conventional rock venues like 100 Club and Dublin Castle. This band’s first recording session included two pieces commisioned for a project about the poet Gerard Brenan, the late British poet who was based in Andalucia, for a Spanish cultural foundation based in Torremolinos, which was devoted his work. The band set two of Brenan’s poems to music, and recorded them for a compilation released by the foundation. An entire Infernal Contraption album has been recorded, and is awaiting release at the time of writing this.
Eleventh Hour Adventists
I first encountered Jasmine Pender at a concert by Einsturzende Neubaten, the experimental noise-makers from Berlin. She told me about her work with electric cello and voice, which was soon to evolve into her solo project Rotten Bliss. We bonded immediately, and decided to start a collaborative project, combining our shared interest in revitalising traditional material from folk and blues genres with experimental sounds. We also set about writing some fresh material especially for the project. The material thus generated was recorded with Jonas Golland, a maverick individual who combines his background in drama with music, especially his unique approach to drumming. Notably, Jonas has toured around the world and recorded with Tiger Lillies, whose theatrical approach to live performance, often involving literary adaptations, is widely respected. We also recorded a session with Ravi-Low-Beer, with whom we often performed on stage. The album resulting from those sessions was released on vinyl LP by an American label called Emotional Response.
Soundtracks & Head
After the demise of Swell Maps in 1980, I started a project with my pal Epic Soundtracks, who had played drums and piano in that band, and we started developing some unique compositional ideas together. We had already experimented together back in Solihull in the early 1970s, so we decided to start recording tracks for a collaborative album. For one of the first pieces, “Rain, Rain, Rain”, we recorded a hypnotic dance-style groove together. I asked a friend of mine from Manchester, Carmel McCourt, to contribute vocals. She was the partner of bass-player Jim Paris, with whom I’d played in a band called Bee Vamp. Carmel went on to have a few fine hit singles later in the 1980s.
We decided on Soundtracks and Head as the name for the project, and in 1982, Rough Trade released a 12-inch single, “Rain, Rain, Rain” / “Ghost Train”, from those sessions. We went on to record more tracks, influenced by a bizarre cocktail of what we were listening to at the time: Field recordings of African Burundi drummers, primitive country-blues, German band DAF, The Residents, some sleazy jazz, a Japanese Olympic theme tune, and so on. No rock and no punk! We managed to record enough raw material for an album. We even decided on a title: “Daga Daga Daga”. However, we ran out of money, so we couldn’t finish it off, and we got distracted by other projects, so the project got shelved. Sadly, Epic died in 1997.
After four decades, in 2019, I rediscovered our unmixed Soundtracks and Head 8-track studio tapes from Woodbine Studio. Like many old tapes, they needed technical restoration, so this project is back in the production stage, and it’ll hopefully get released some time in 2022. This shall be an excellent album, and a testament to Epic’s talent.
I remember my pal Lee McFadden recommended a band called Rude Mechanicals to me in about 2006. Sexton Ming had released a record by them called “Glass Eye” on his label, the glamorously named Rim Records, and he decided to organise a kind of launch event. It was in a sinister subterranean labyrinth called Shunt, located in a grimy old grotto under London Bridge station. I was fascinated by an array of peculiarly debauched looking characters: a pirate on the drums, a cowboy on bass, a demented violinist in drag, a bearded wizard frenziedly playing guitar, and a pink-haired cherub in a silver jump-suit performing on an oboe. As for the vocalist, Miss Roberts, she seemed to me like a depraved chanteuse from a glamorous Hollywood musical film of the 1920s, sporting a white chiffon robe, long evening-gloves, smeared make-up, and a platinum bob hairstyle. There were songs about alien mice on the underground railway, gruesome instructions about concocting a perfect child from cadavers, and various kinky invitations to excess, including one piece about foot-fetishism. I was immediately captivated!
I continued to enjoy their performances at every opportunity; it is as much of a theatrical event as a musical experience. Eventually Guy the flamboyant bass player left, and I was invited to replace him, which was a daunting prospect for a start. The guitarist Cos Chapman and the vocalist Miss Roberts were founding members of the original band in Cambridge, and compose most of the material. I have collaborated with both of them, together and separately, on various projects. Jo is also a wonderfully gifted painter and illustrator, and we have exhibited art-work together a few times. I have performed with Cos in a few different musical projects including Infernal Contraption; he is adept at manipulating fascinating sounds from guitars and electronic gadgets and found objects.
Gradually my rôle in Rude Mechanicals changed, and I started playing some lead guitar and some synthesiser. These were rôles I wasn’t accustomed to playing in a band before, so it is brilliant to have an opportunity to test my versatility. I enjoy being an accompanist, lurking in the shadows, watching Miss Roberts strut her stuff! I continue to perform with them at the time of writing this.