The Surf Rats part 1.

After the Gene Tryp imploded towards the middle of 1986 my world fell apart, but I guess like a long term romance that wasn’t going anywhere I knew it had to end. Suddenly to not be gigging with the intensity that the Tryp had been was a shock to the system. Life on the road, tho’ not a daily thing, was such fun and the Tryp lived and breathed Rock’n’Roll. It was a come down, and one that I was thankful to have Emma by my side to get through.

In September of that year Em and I decided to visit Burnham carnival. It was a warm late Summer’s eve and as we made our way through the crowds, who should have their float parked under the clocktower but Beachcoma. I think they were playing “Into the Coma”, a number Jem, Ian and Nigel had put together at one of their all night jams. Nigel beckoned me over between songs, thrust a mike into my hands and said “sing!” as they launched into “Move it” by Cliff and the Shadows.

Beachcoma

I’d known Ian(Linge)and his brother Neil since I was a very young lad, and they ran with the Fitch’s crescent gang. I remember we’d swap toys occasionally, one of my better deals being a Corgi SPV! A more affable, sweet and gentle man you’d be hard pressed to meet, and I’m proud to say this year will see Ian and I having played together for 25 years. I’d also been close to Nigel as a kid though he ran with a far naughtier crew than I, and of course Nigel was head roadie for the Tryp. I thoroughly enjoyed my warble with ‘Coma, and the feeling was obviously mutual, and we decided to try putting something together at a rehearsal. But what to call ourselves? Surf Cats says Jem. More like Surf Rats says Emma! And the legend was born……

My roots are 50’s Rockabilly, specifically Buddy Holly and Elvis, who were on constant rotation in the Ruffle household when I was a small child. And I loved Surf music via the Beach Boys and knew about Dick Dale having watched the Annette Funicello beach movies, and of course I turned Jem and Ian on to “Live at the Whisky a Go Go” by the very wonderful Jon ‘n’ Nightriders. To “Get Back” to my roots suited me and I was surprised how well I could sing the material. I didn’t think for one minute it would turn into any thing serious or long term, I just thought it was a little gig to tide me over until another pro opportunity came my way……

Being something of a perfectionist, and having had a good deal of musical experience I simply had to get the band into better shape, and with Nigel’s departure to the Highlands, it was time, once again(!)to call on my old mate, Nick Fisher. Nick and Chas,(Dave Chaplin) Beachcoma’s outrageously excellent drummer,were a formidable rhythm section, and they hammered the hell out of various Surf and English instrumentals, along with our numerous covers ranging from Elvis to Cliff Richard to Dwight Pullen. We did a very fast version of “Apache” by the Shadows, but to keep a balance we also covered the “Bonanza” theme(sounding for all intents and purposes like Meek’s Outlaws!). Well we couldn’t have Indians and no cowboys……

As seems to be a thread(!)in the Summer of 1987 Nick told us that he was going back to pro work, this time advised by Alfie(“you wanna get your arse on a cruise ship!”)so it was time to look for another bassist . At an outdoor gig in Sandon in June 1987 we announced the vacancy, and no sooner had we finished playing when John Tuck approached me and said he’d really enjoyed the band, and offered his services. John came with his own drummer, a certain Mr Bill Legend, from Marc Bolan’s TRex!

With Chas also departing to the Highlands, Bill quickly filled the drum spot. Bill and I got along very well, he’s another very gentle person and his tales of life on the road with Bolan were wonderful. We spent a lot of time hanging out together and I told him he ought to write a book about Marc, and call it “Marc Bolan, the Elvis of the Blank Generation”, perhaps he thought the title was too wordy……? He told me lots of wonderful stories, like when TRex toured Japan in 1972, him and Marc were hanging out in his hotel room in Tokyo, and Bill started playing a drum riff with his sticks on the bed. Marc joined in with his guitar,  and hey presto! “Solid gold easy action”! Bill also said that via Tony Visconti, David Bowie had asked him to join his band for the “Diamond Dogs” tour in 1974, fantastic!

Bill was a meat and potatoes drummer, that is to say a no frills, dependable rhythm maker. And boy did he hit his kit hard, he’d usually nail it to the floor of the venue! And after a gig, behind his kit it looked like someone had been whittling pegs, thousands of tiny matchsticks everywhere! Him and John were a solid team, and they allowed me to wander into the 60’s and 70’s material wise, which was great fun. In the late 80’s there were 3 venues in Heybridge alone, so work always seemed plentiful and regular, tho’ our spiritual home became the Mill Beach hotel. In the vicinity of the pub there are 3 caravan parks, so the Mill was the hub of all social activity in that area and our regular crew, plus the ready-to-party Cockney weekend visitors, made for some of the most brilliant and appreciative audiences I’ve ever experienced. We’d lift the roof off the pub, with sheer volume and enthusiasm, and the crowd just lapped it up, we could do no wrong. Some of the witnesses of those heady days still come to see the band(you know who you are……Roy Saywood/Chris Pryke, love to you both!)and if I had a pound for every time someone has said “remember those times at the Mill Beach?” I’d be a very rich man! The sound then, as I hope it is now, and always has been, a hybrid of Rockabilly, Surf, Punk and 60’s sensibilities, with my keen ear for a good tune, plus the attitude I was given playing in the Punk days: fast, furious and kick ass!!!

With Rock’n’Roll being a fickle animal, and me having introduced John and Bill to Timmy Chandler, thereby innocently putting together the Nightriders(who would go on to great successes in their own right, and with Daryl Reid)after the heavy onslaught that was the Tuck/Legend rhythm section, perhaps it was time to get back to our roots.

Enter, the Hellbillies!!!

The Hellbillies live at the Half Moon 12-1-91:-

9 Responses to “The Surf Rats part 1.”

  1. For many of us The Surf Rats/Beach Coma and The Mill Beach will always be synonomous….it really was THE place to be! The Achilles’ heel with The Surf Rats was, and still is, that they could never be pigeon-holed…they’re performances aren’t just note for note covers, there’s always an extra portion of venom injected, which I think is largely down to Terry (I can feel his head expanding as I write…but it’s true!)

    Not just for me I’m sure, but some of the best nights EVER were at The Millbeach. It really was an unmissable night out especially when the weather was fine. Always busy, always friendly and always such a hearty hoot! From the obligatory plate of cockles before you went in to courtesy minibus back to Maldon at the end of the evening (often continued at Wentworth Meadows as my carpet seems to recall).

    The pub is still there, the band are still playing….so wouldn’t it be wondrous to mark the re-release of The Surf Rat’s CD with a gig there? It would be gracious if pettiness could be pushed aside for a moment and perhaps invite some of the former members along, and in view of the current circumstances raise some money for the Multiple Sclerosis Society too?

    I’m sure that a lot of former and current band members will read this, so what do you think?

  2. My gigs with the band were memorable events, but the rehearsals more so. I remember sometimes playing tunes like ‘Hawaii-5-0’ as fast as we could play them, and they still sounded great. It was music as music should be…live, sizzling fun. Thanks mates. Great blog Tev.

  3. In October 1989 I had probably my closest encounter with the Angel of Death.
    It was at a gig with the Surf Rats in a pub called the Queen’s Head, in Heybridge street, now renamed the Heybridge inn. The Queen’s was run by a brilliant character, Paul Taylor. It would take a whole other article to fully explain his idiosyncrasies. He was almost a John Cleese doppelganger, a master practical joker(he’d break open small fireworks and empty the gunpowder into the pub ashtrays, so that the first people in the pub late morning, usually well hungover, alcoholic types, would stub out their cigs and produce pyrotechnic flashes and bangs, much to their great fright and Paul’s great delight!) a music lover of some taste, an outstanding cook and generally all round good egg and mad bastard.
    The Surf Rats played many, many gigs there, and this particular evening I’d come back from the US several weeks previous, under a very dark cloud as I’d split with the then major love of my life, Emma Dickison.
    We’d been through hell and back, a thoroughly harrowing break up for me, Emma was my world, a huge influence and inspiration, probably the first actual grown up woman I’d had a relationship with. She was drop dead gorgeous, blonde and leggy, intelligent and feisty, sexy as hell, and losing her simply broke my heart.
    In those days I played more electric guitar with the Rats, mostly a Strat copy, through Roy Saywood’s Peavey Bandit, tho’ I was wont to pick up E’s Burns Double Six when the mood took me, a beast of a 12 string, a green sunburst beauty.
    I don’t think we were very far into the 2nd set this particular Saturday when I decided to put the Strat down and pick up the Burns. Going into my usual rant and dedications I grabbed the mike, whilst holding onto the Burns with my left hand.
    It’s really hard to explain the next sensation, but I could feel the electricity flowing from my left hand, through to my heart, and into my right hand. My heart felt like it was cramping, a thoroughly horrible sensation, probably how a minor heart attack feels. I was receiving a massive electric shock.
    But it was what was going on in my head that was really strange. Firstly, my vision was completely tunnel , no peripheral sight what so ever. And the world went slow motion, like a video tape that had been slowed down, real time. I told myself that I probably wouldn’t see Emma any more, and it was because I was an asshole. Our years together seem to be playing on fast forward in my memory, the proverbial “Life flashing in front of my eyes” experienced by people in near death scenarios.
    But after what seemed like a few minutes, my vision started to fade to black, as did my thoughts, and I suppose at that point my heart was ready to give out, and I began to die.
    The next thing I knew I was lying behind the drum kit with a big fellow standing over me who said “Christ I think he’s dead!” I opened my eyes and said “No, I’m not!”
    Bill Legend, our drummer, was laying opposite me, I’d hit him flying backwards over the drum kit, and the shock from me had knocked him out. I felt battered, but worse still I had no flesh on the knuckles of my right hand, I’d bashed them on the drum kit as I flew through the air, tho’ the electricity had cauterised them, I could see sinews and bone, it was ghastly. And my left hand was burnt, especially my finger tips, I’d literally left my fingerprints on E’s Burns, skin and all. Thankfully Jem had kicked the mike out of my hand and broke the circuit, then E had shut down the power. It seems someone had come to the play area in the break between sets to talk and inadvertently stepped on the power lead of the p.a. amp, causing the earth wire to short on the live.
    Somebody had called an ambulance, and luckily a Nurse(Tina, a lovely Welsh woman and Rats devotee) was in the audience. She stopped me from going into shock by putting a wet tea towel on my back, it sounds daft but it worked! And I told Paul to cancel the ambulance, hey I was alive!
    I was “friendly” with a Scottish gal at the time, June. She was concerned about my wounds and wanted me to go and get them checked at the A&E the following day, I declined assuring her I was fine. However when I woke on Monday morning my right hand was 3 times it’s normal size! I felt awful and happily agreed to visit the hospital.
    When I got there after the Doctor had examined me she explained that she was glad I’d visited the hospital that day, as Gangrene had started to set in on my knuckles. Great, I thought. And after a shot in my bum and my wounds dressed I was sent home, tho’ for a month I had to go to the Doctors every 3 days to have my knuckles redressed. And because there was quite a lot of flesh missing, the nurse filled my wounds with what looked like rubbery Polifilla! It took an number of years for my hands to return to normal, and what did Paul Taylor have to say to me?
    “Oi Sparkie, me bloody meter spun round like mad whilst you were getting your shock! Any chance of a couple of quid for the bill?”

  4. Just wanted to mention that Ricky Nelson was Bill’s favourite Rock’n’Roller, and Eddie Cochran was Marc Bolan’s.
    Sadly Bill seems to have erased the Rats from his history……

  5. I can call myself computer illiterate and came across your blog by accident Terry, but ah yes it doesn’t take much to get us reminiscing about the good old days, the Mill Beach being one of the great venues and yes the lovely Emma, gorgeous leggy blond, once met never forgotten, rather like Clare leggy but not blond but gorgeous. Keep on rockin man. Chris.

  6. I received this email on 5/11/2011:

    Hi Terry
    You won’t know me but I am a presenter here in Stourbridge on our local community radio station
    The ‘Bridge. We have an internet link at http://www.thebridgeradio.net so we are capable of being heard anywhere.

    I am aware that you were the lead singer with the Surf Rats and back in the 90’s when your terrific album Surf ‘N’ Burn was first reviewed in Pipeline I bought a copy of the original CD. I later bought a copy of the Dutch Rarity version. What reminded me of the album was that you have reissued it and it was again reviewed by Dave Burke in Pipeline No 86.

    I present a rock’nroll show on the ‘Bridge every Monday at 23.00 – 0100 called ‘ Shake Rattle & Roll – the Rockin’ 50’s’ which covers all types of music mainly from the 50’s and the roots of rock’n’roll. However I do like to keep an ear to ground as regards the current scene, and therefore I’ll play all music that I feel fits my show, from the last 50/60 years.

    I love this album, it is one of the best British albums from the rock’n’roll revival era of the last 20 years (althogh it covers much more than that musically) and should have sold by the bucket load – but I doubt it did? However that doesn’t diminish it in any way, as the the great lead vocals and superb backing led by Jem, who must be one the best UK lead guitarists of the last 20 years, make this album something of an iconic British release in my opinion. .

    I thought I would lend what little support to it that I can, and so I’ve decided to play the album in full bar one track on my show this coming Monday 7th November, and I invite you and all local Surf Rats devotees down there in Maldon to listen in. By the way back in the late 70’s I was living in Boreham just outside Chelmsford so I consider myself an honoury Essexonian (or whatever the correct term is).

    Please pass on my best wishes to Jem Penney and tell him I rate his guitar playing up there with the best, and I wish him a speedy return to health.

    Best Wishes and Kind Regards
    Tony Gowing

  7. http://www.thebridgeradio.net is the link to Tony’s station, enjoy!

  8. It is with great sadness that I have to report the passing of our Jem after a decade of that horrible disease known as MS he has finally joined the other legends in the next world.
    Your pain has now gone but what a pleasure it was to have known you and to have been intoxicated by your haunting guitar, turn the volume up high Jem and give them a dose of ‘PIPELINE’ Surf Rats style.

    Chris.

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