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.
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:-