With Will and I being so close as teenagers, it was inevitable that we’d form a band. We’d been to many gigs together in the early 70’s. We’d seen Hawkwind, the Pink Fairies, Humble Pie, Wishbone Ash and many other great Freak bands at numerous venues like the Kursaal, the Roundhouse and both the Sundowns in Brixton and Edmonton. After seeing the Ramones on July 3th 1976 at the Roundhouse, which completely changed our lives, we were totally motivated. With a few chords and a loud amp, hey ho, lets go! And as a result of a series of alcohol related mishaps, Jed informed us that we were “accident prone”, which was our light bulb moment. Of course, in those Punk rock times we were the Accidents!
I guess Will found our first drummer, known only as Johnny, whilst he was still at Colchester tech, in late ’76. Johnny looked great, styled his own hair with a cut throat razor which made it spikey and unkempt and rumour had it he was an ex junkie, which gave him immediate Rock’n’Roll credibility in our naive minds. He also worked at the Golden Egg, a kindof up market version of the Wimpy if you will, on the corner opposite the Headgate pub, a jolly good place for a quiet cheap scoff, or somewhere quiet to take a beau.
Only trouble was, he couldn’t play for shit! He made Moe Tucker look like John Bonham bless him. We’d attempt rehearsals at John Bissel’s cottage in Hazeleigh(with John usually taking an extended bath whilst we made a dreadful noise!)but it simply didn’t pan out.
And a word about Sir John Bissel of Hazeleigh wood. We must have met originally at the Queen’s head on the quay in Maldon, around ’74/’75. John looked like the original “Wild man of Borneo”. A shock of long curly black hair, psycho eyes, usually barefoot, with an appetite for booze and fun unmatched by his peers, and physical strength and stature that belied his intelligence and sensitivity, John, along with Jed, nurtured our attempts at Rock’n’Roll noise, nay positively encouraged them. Bis and I had a duo for a while(the Howling Johnny Biscuit experience), playing “gutbucket blues”, which was an education in itself. John always walks it like he talks it, when he says he’s going to dig a wreck of a fishing boat out of the Blackwater mud and restore it, you best believe he will. Like my Dad John knows his wood. Like my Dad John plays the blues harp(tho’ Alfie preferred the mouth organ) and again like my Dad John loved and spent much time in Australia. Alfie and John together was an overwhelming riot of worldliness and humour. He has always been, and continues to be, an inspiration to me and many others. Thankyou John!!!
So anyway, after we’d pinned an ad on the notice board at Colchester tech Paul Sullivan spotted it and told our mutual friend Veronica Peyton that he could play drums. Despite the fact that he wasn’t really a drummer Paul passed our audition, and we were a properly functional band. For the most part. Will and I wrote Ramones inspired minimalist gems like “Life oh yeah!” and “Euphoria”, and Veronica suggested “In the shower” as a paen to my personal hygiene. My favourite “I’ve finished with Finland” came about at a rehearsal in Little Baddow village hall, me playing a nifty discord with Will’s Highly inspired lyric. But despite Jed’s (and then Paul’s)best efforts, I realised I’d never be more than a capable rhythm player, and with Paul’s more sophisticated song writing we needed(gulp!)a lead guitarist! Will and I were pretty Punk rock purist, 2 minute songs as fast as f**k and definitely NO guitar solos. But Paul’s clever New Wave before-their -time 60’s influenced Power pop gems demanded it. And so it was time to call on another old friend of mine, Mark Robins.
Mark and I had been friends since junior school, 1966/67. Mark says he remembers me coming into assembly one day, telling him that Brian Jones had died(3-7-69)! I have a vivid memory of Mark around 1973, meeting him in the stairs of the new block of Maldon comprehensive school(the Plume as it’s now called)asking me where I’d got my “Hippy gear”( loon pants and scoop neck t-shirts no doubt! s)and telling me he had learnt to play guitar via Bert Weedon’s “Play in a day” book. After that he whizzed through the Ivor Morant guitar tutor. Mark’s Pa Norman was a jazz player extraordinaire, and whilst in the English army in the 2nd World war had played with both Spike Milligan and Jim Dale. He played fretless bass fabulously(and inspired Nick Fisher to do the same)and also played the “vile din”(violin)brilliantly. Norman was a gentle, funny, intelligent man, and Mark obviously inherited his musical virtuosity, and then some. Apparently a member of Stephane Grappelli’s camp saw Mark playing with his Pa and the legendary Terry Snell at the Grand Junction arms in Harlesden in the mid 1970’s. So impressed was he with Mark’s Django Reinhart inspired playing he asked Mark whether he’d like to play the up coming European tour with Grappelli. Mark declined, as he did a later successful audition with the Pretenders in the 80’s, never one to be predictable in either his playing or life choices.
Mark played a Gibson L6S guitar, just like the guitar Johnny Thunders is playing on the New York Dolls “Too much too soon” album cover, through a Marshall head and 4×12 speaker cabinet. It sounded marvellous and Paul and I had found a brilliant foil, Mark being able to play just about anything, with Hendrix/Django stylings. And Mark was/is a great singer, capable of lead vocals and great harmonies, tho’ like Hendrix he hated the sound of his voice.
The pact was sealed with a gig at the Rock club, at Chelmsford football ground, on New Years eve, 1977. With Mark in the band Paul’s songwriting went from strength to strength, but that wasn’t very well recieved by Will. Sure Will was a Beatle boy (all snowy white)but he was still very firmly rooted in the Punk basic, which I still adored but I knew we could achieve so much more with Mark’s playing and ideas. The New Wave beckoned.
If we’re all honest, Paul and Will always had ideological differences. We used to travel to the rehearsals in Baddow in my Pa’s old Bedford truck, and conversation between them would get so heated Will would stop the truck and offer Paul out for a punch up! Which would occasionally see fruition! Will was my best mate, we went through everything together and I loved him dearly(and still do!)but I realised if we were going to have any chance in succeeding we’d have to progress and move away from the Punk archetype.