Voltarol - related music

Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Mutt and Jeff

I've been having some problems with my hearing recently, and was finally driven to visit my GP. He duly dispatched me to the local hospital's audiology department and I ended up sporting a couple of hearing aids. During my sessions with the audiologist it had emerged that I was a musician. "Oh, that would explain it then." she said. "There's some evidence of damage to the eardrum. It's quite consistent with the effects of very loud noises. You know, Pete Townshend and all that. You get the same sort of thing from industrial noise or constant exposure to the sound of gunfire or explosions". I was quite taken aback at the time. Very little of my working life has been spent in heavy industry, I've never been to war and (and my good friend Leigh can certainly confirm this) I don't play like Pete Townshend. I continued to puzzle over this for a week or two and then it suddenly hit me. I bet it was that gig at The White Hart, Southall! Perhaps I should explain.

I was a founder member of 'The Jugular Vein', a fairly successful jug band that operated from the late sixties on into the early nineties. At the top of our fame we were a regular fixture around the British folk scene and appeared fairly regularly at the famous Troubador club, under the auspices of the late Red Sullivan and the equally late Martin Windsor. However, as you might guess from reading some of the other entries in this blog, we didn't exactly conform to a strict definition of a jug band and we definitely weren't folk musicians (other than in the sense of the famous Louis Armstrong quote -"Folk music? I ain't never heard a horse play no music...")

If I might just digress for a moment -It has to be said that the Folk Club scene of the 1960's was one of the most vibrant musical environments to be in. For the most part the organisers and audiences would consider anything as long as it was more or less acoustic - blues, jazz, poetry, comedy and experimental music all found a home in the folk clubs. Many folk musicians transmogrified into other things (Billy Connolly, Jasper Carrot, Mike Harding, Tony Capstick, John Martyn, Gerry Rafferty and Ron Geesin to name but a few) but it all came to an end when the Arran-sweatered, tankard-clutching, finger-in-ear traditional music fascists took over for a very long and sterile period. Today though, thanks mostly it seems to the offspring of some of the original traditional music enthusiasts, the scene is bursting with life again. And here is another theme that I will undoubtedly return to. Meanwhile, back to the White Hart...

The band had, under the influence of the very splendid Bonzo Dog Band, been experimenting with explosions and smoke bombs.We had purchased a selection of theatrical maroons and had been using them to some effect during our act. It was our habit, when we arrived at the venue, to hide a small maroon somewhere in the audience. Said maroon was then connected by a long, concealed cable to a foot switch, which in turn was connected to a car battery which was kept out of sight behind the band. The routine went something like this - at a convenient point in our performance (often to stall whilst someone changed a broken string) I would start to rummage around in a large bag that I kept by my side. This contained my harmonicas, kazoos, penny whistles etc that were used in the act. It also contained various bits and pieces of the 'flags of all nations, knickers, rubber chicken' variety, that I would pull out on to the floor as I continued my search. Finally, I would produce a toy plastic hand grenade, pull the pin and - with a slightly bewildered expression - lob it into the audience in the direction of the concealed maroon. Short pause. Step on foot switch. Startling bang. Much hilarity.

On this night we realised as we set up for the gig that we were down to our last maroon and it was a bit bigger than the ones that we had previously used, so we decided to take some precautions. Instead of placing the maroon in the audience we put it in a waste paper basket, placed a small sheet of asbestos on top of that and placed the whole lot under a table which was to one side of the stage. Now, the room used by the Freeman Syndicate club (I can't give you a web link but you can read a bit about the Freeman Syndicate in Jeff Nuttal's excellent book 'Bomb Culture' - if it's still in print,that is.) was, and may still be for all I know, long and low ceilinged. The bar had a hatch that was kept closed during performances and the stage area was in front of French Windows that were kept covered by heavy drapes when not actually in use.

So - comes that point in the act when the hand grenade is chucked. I hit the foot switch. Nothing happens. The audience (one well noted for its cynicism) lets out a loud groan of derision. Nobby the Roadie (aka Dendron) spots the fact that a wire has become disconnected from the battery terminal and makes a hasty repair.
The maroon goes off like the crack of doom. Doors open, people rush in to find out what the hell has happened. A worried landlord throws open the hatch and peers in from behind the bar. The smoke slowly clears. Desperately pretending that that was what we meant to happen, we launch into our next number but the audience can't hear us and we can't hear ourselves.

At the end of the evening, and with our ears still ringing, we inspected the waste paper basket - or what was left of it. It had been blown open like a tin flower, and shards of asbestos were embedded in the underside of the table. To the best of my knowledge, nobody was actually hurt by the explosion, but if there's anybody out there that was present on that night and remembers it then I'd love to hear from you. In fact, I'd love to hear anything! Pardon?


The other members of the band at this time were: The Rev. B. Sprules Murfet (jugs, recorders, concertina, leg), 'Fingers' Bartram (guitar, mandolin, kazoo and vocals) and Fred Kettle (guitar, cornet, ukulele, harmonica, kazoo and vocals). I played guitar, washboards, harmonica, kazoo and ukulele and also contributed some vocals. I shall be returning to the doings of this motley crew from time to time - and I really would like to hear from anyone that remembers the band, or has any photographs or recordings.