Jem Penney RIP
12th December 1957 –
5th August 2014

Dick Dale and Jem Penney the Garage London 1995

Today, at 4.00 a.m., my dear friend Jem Penney breathed his last, in this life anyway. A mutual friend called me first thing this morning to break the news, she’d seen Jem’s Ma and Sister and they told her Jem had passed. Whilst I was dreadfully upset, I was also thankful that his suffering had ended. He’d been totally disabled by the last stages of his M.S. for over a year, and as far as I can ascertain he’d contracted Pneumonia, and as is with many people, Alfie Ruffle and Joan McCready included, it killed him.

I came back from the shops around 9.30 p.m. tonight and went out into my garden. It was a beautiful clear blue sky north east, but to the west dark clouds were gathering. I looked into the sky and thought about the traditional idea of the after life and heaven, and wondered what it was like to be dead. Maybe as a free spirit you could fly through the air, like a bird or an angel. Jem would like that, he loved scary stuff.

I first recall meeting Jem around 1980/81. The original incarnation of the Accidents had split and I got invited to a post pub party at his house on the Causeway, basically Ian, Jem and Nigel, sitting on their amps, skinning up like their lives depended on it and playing Shadows instrumentals with a similar passion. It was great fun, they were loud and proud and I’d loved guitar instrumental music since the 60’s.
Sam McCready had recently given me a cassette of Live at the Whisky a go go by John and the Nightriders, a Californian Surf band that played Dick Dale and Astronauts instros with a gusto akin to how Coma played the Shads. Once I turned Jem onto that album, it fired up his life long passion for Surf guitar.

Shortly thereafter I became a member of Carl Seager’s Flying Heroes, who played numerous gigs with Coma, but it was in September 1986, with the Gene Tryp having crashed, that I first sung with Coma, at Burnham carnival. And the rest as they say, is history……

http://terenceruffle.co.uk/20110201-the-surf-rats-part-1

Jem and I really hit it off: we had similar passions, Surf instros, women, cider and generally getting fucked up. He had a seriously insane sense of humour and we’d laugh our asses off on a regular basis.
I tell people we spent longer standing on stage together than the length of most people’s friendships, let alone the times we hung out. Because when the Rats were really firing it felt like we were a gang, and Jem and I were the leaders of the pack.

Jem Penney, Bill Legend, Terence Ruffle and Ken Moorse at the Crown, Broad street green, Heybridge November 1991

Jem was passionate about all the sensual pleasures: Food, booze, women, Rock’n’Roll, tho not necessarily in that order. Jem would never use a screwdriver if a chainsaw would do, he had a seriously destructive side to his nature. Once, at a Rats rehearsal at John and Viv’s on the Benbridge, his 1961 Watkins Copycat simply wouldn’t behave. In a break between songs I was trying to explain to Les and BC the nuances of some track when I became aware of plastic shattering in Jem’s general direction. He’d taken a ball hammer to the Watkins, the cream coloured “Dan Dare” Bakelite knobs. Protective goggles would have been jolly useful to me at that point…….

Intense. That was Jem, although he had a seriously gentle and altruistic side too and loved naturally beautiful things as well as Rock’n’Roll in all it’s forms. He’d get dreadfully stressed out, especially about work which he hated because it took away his freedom. He just wanted to jump into his VW camper van with a horny woman, and his guitar and stash and go and find the sun and sleep on the beach at night……well, a Holiday inn.

He told me to shoot him if he ever married, a request that obviously lay unfulfilled. Jem loved guns: thankfully he never owned a real one, otherwise we’d all be dead.
Jem liked my Punk roots: he adored The Young Ones and Bottom, and we adopted Ade Edmonson’s frequent use of the word “Bastard”, for pretty much everything.
Attitude: Jem had it in spades and our mutual respect was based on the fact we really liked each other’s attitude. He had balls and he knew I had a set too. We Rocked hard……

The not so holy trinity Jem Penny, Terence Ruffle and Ian Linge Mayland July 1990

If a musician’s worth is measured by the people he influenced, then Jem surely has a wonderful legacy, because numerous local guitarists wouldn’t be playing today, were it not for Jem’s inspiration. Surely that is immortality?

Mortality? We never gave it a moments thought. Cane it, hard, end. And that goes for most of my dear departed. I spose I’m getting used to him not being around any more, but just like after all those other beautiful people died, life is a little less bright, a little less fun.

Goodbye Jem, rest my friend, and if there is a great thereafter, see you there and try not to eat it all before I arrive……

 

And here’s the flyer for tonight’s show

Jem Poster

And this just in…….

 

 

 

5 Responses to “Jem Penney RIP
12th December 1957 –
5th August 2014”

  1. Best night ever at the Bewick Terry and I’ve been going there since the 60’s. Met some guys I havn’t seen for 30 years, great atmosphere, no trouble, everyone loved the night. Bet Jem was amazed and proud because his spirit was there and he is now a legend up there with the other legends looking down and laughing at us ‘fat bastards’.

  2. Love the Copy-Cat story, it reminds me of an obsession he had in his teens for smashing anything made of glass. He was one of a group of us who went camping at the age of thirteen, managed to get a few bottles of cider and got ridiculously drunk, at which time some bullies came along and wrecked our tent. We all started pretty early, eh? Anyway, loved his guitar playing and his sense of humor, and you’ve done him proud, thanks.

  3. Hi Terence
    Only just became aware of Jem’s passing, thanks to your blog here. I was born and grew up in Tollesbury, and I was lucky enough to see the Surf Rats play there twice at the Kings Head, must have been 87 or 88 I guess from memory. I still have the hand drawn poster that went up in the pub window to promote the first gig, its ‘filed’ somewhere in my loft. I was also lucky enough to see the performance at the 1994 Pipeline convention, and got the Surf ‘n’ Burn album. I knew Jem had been unwell for a while, but didn’t realise the severity. Anyway I’m still a Pipeline subscriber , and I couldn’t see that they had mentioned Jem’s passing, so I’ve written them a short piece based on my albeit limited personal recollections. Just a few random scribblings but I’m sure they will publish it if no one else has beaten me to it. Unlike the Mud City Rockers, the Blackwater Five, or any other of the tentatively named rockabilly/surf bands I could have been involved with back in those days that never made it past the front room jam stage, you guys did make it out there in the big wide world of music, and with a great deal of style. Something I’m sure you…and I hope Jem…were rightly proud of. Actually I blame my lack of dedication on being born just downstream of a nuclear power station, but that’s another story…just couldn’t resist those 2 headed cockles. Anyway thanks for some great memories, and the music that lives on. Regards, Simon Lewis ( a different Simon Lewis to the one commenting on your FB page, there are a lot of us about apparently)

  4. This is the letter/piece I submitted to Pipeline magazine:
    It has just come to my attention that Jem Penney, the former lead guitarist of Beachcoma and the Surf Rats, sadly passed away on 5th August last year. I’ve had a look back through the last 3 issues of Pipeline and couldn’t see any mention of it, of course you may have been informed about it since. Anyway I thought I would write something about it, just in case it has slipped under the radar.
    From my own perspective, I was lucky enough to see Jem play live on at least 3 occasions. The first 2 were when the Surf Rats were booked to play my local pub in Essex, about 10 miles from their home base in Maldon. This was around 1987/88 from memory, somewhere I have a written set list from the gigs, and also a hand drawn poster they used to promote the show, but at the moment both are ‘filed’ in a box in the loft somewhere, I must try to locate them. Anyway on both occasions the band put on a brilliant show, a mix of vocals and instros. After the first one I was able to have a brief chat with Jem, I told him how amazed and impressed I was that a local band had such a great act, and one that included so many excellently delivered instrumentals, particularly what seemed to be obscure surf ones. In return he seemed interested to hear that I had the Jon and the Nightriders Live at the Whiskey album…which was a big influence on the band as we know…also the Surf Beat 80 album, and especially that I had been lucky enough to see Jon and the Nightriders live at their Dingwalls gig on their winter 1981/82 European tour. Based on that brief conversation Jem struck me as an unassuming, approachable and friendly guy who obviously had a deep enthusiasm for the music, in addition to his outstanding talent.
    After those two gigs I didn’t see the band perform again I think until 1994, this time memorably at the second Pipeline Convention. I also later became aware of their great Surf ‘n’ Burn CD, again thanks to Pipeline. I can only echo Dave’s excellent review…’every single track is a knockout’…vocals as well as instros. Just listen to the subtle and haunting Johnny Guitar/La Comparsa medley, then contrast it with Surf Party with its power and dynamic ending, to see why Jem should be regarded so highly.
    I moved away from Essex in 1998, and didn’t really hear much more about the band I think until 2011, when the CD was reissued, this time by Terence Ruffle, lead singer of the Surf Rats. As Dave’s updated review noted, by this time Jem had serious health problems.
    So to more recently. I had been looking on You Tube, as I knew already there were a few videos of the band there from some rehearsal sessions they did back in the 80’s. So when checking for any updates I also took a look at Terence Ruffle’s own website, TerenceRuffle.co.uk, from where I learnt the news about Jem. Seems he had been suffering from MS for some years leading up to his passing. Terence’s website has his own piece about Jem’s passing, as well as a good history of the early days of the Surf Rats. His You Tube page also has an upload of a radio show that Tony Gowing ( a fellow Pipeliner I think? ) put out on The Bridge radio station, where Tony pays a thoughtful personal tribute to Jem as well as playing tracks from the Surf ‘n’ Burn CD. It can be found at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sif8bUZKerY.
    Way back in Pipeline 22 from 1994 Dave asked Jem about their future plans and ambitions. Jem replied that they wanted to knockout everybody out with their performance at that year’s Convention, get a release out on vinyl or CD, and tour Scandinavia. They achieved the first two, and in some style. Don’t know if they made it to Scandinavia, but there is a pic on Terence Ruffle’s website of a smiling Jem (holding a seemingly well thumbed copy of a certain instrumental review magazine) in the company of a mean and moody looking Dick Dale, so I would guess that meeting Dick was another ambition achieved.
    Lastly, back to Dave’s review of Surf ‘n’ Burn again….’it’s one of those rare CDs that you can put on anytime to give you an immediate lift – it’s just bursting with such energy and life’. Well I just did…and it still does, although now obviously that’s a bittersweet feeling. And also it brings back a poignant memory for me of nearly 30 years ago now when I was fortunate enough to hear those tracks like Surf Party, Banzai Washout and Mr Moto being belted out with such precision, power and excitement in the unlikely setting of a rural Essex pub. I certainly count my blessings. RIP Jem Penney, and thanks for the music.

  5. Hi,

    Only just seen the sad news that Jem has passed away with MS back in 2014. He was a great guy. Found out by chance checking out BeachComa on Youtube and getting to your site. Just been down to the archives and unearthed the vinyl EP of Shotgun etc. Original pressing!!! Such a shame I missed the tribute back in 2015, would have loved to have been there. I remember Jem and the Bark Studios recording of the SHOTGUN EP very well!!!

    Dave Jones

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