Voltarol - related music

Tuesday, 28 April 2009


Richard and me rehearsing. I am probably searching for the right words...

This is definitely the last posting for the moment on the Jugular Vein story.(New readers start

Here, as promised and for what they are worth, are the lyrics of some of the songs that were requested. ‘The Saki Drag’ lyric was written by me in about ten minute at one of our earliest rehearsals. We were trying out various ideas for material and I had this tune that had evolved from the early efforts of my friend Fen and I attempting to fathom out ragtime guitar. I think it was Max that said that it wasn’t bad but it needed some words…Pretty soon, Richard was bringing tunes to the proceedings and I would attempt to provide words. In the case of ‘So Much Trouble’, Rich had the tune and the chorus and I came up with the verses. ‘One of our Film Stars is missing was a solo effort.

The Saki Drag

Well I’m sitting here smoking, watching the sun go down
Sippin’ that Saki till my teeth turn brown
Flies are a buzzin’ and the air is hot
I’m still suppin’ and I’ve got a lot
My head is spinnin’, my mouth is dry
My nose is smiling, I believe I’m high
Yokahama Mama, this Saki’s gonna bring me down

I’ve been a lotus eater for a year or two
And I sometimes have a nibble on a dried squid or two
I nosh noodle by the kilo and I think they’re just fine
And I once had a soup made from an ant-eater’s spine*
I’ve tried supping all things but there’s one thing you’ll find
It’s only that Saki that blows your mind
Yokohama Mama, this Saki’s gonna bring me down

© Pete Turner 1967

*For reasons best known to the other members of the band, this line eventually evolved into the even more surreal “I once had a suitcase from an Uncle of mine”.

So Much Trouble

I motored into Soho, tried to park my car
Didn’t see the warden as I strolled into the bar
I’ve got to move again, Lord! I’ve got to move again
I’m in so much trouble, Lord! I’ve got to move again

I spent an evening boozing, did eleven pints of Brown
I motored like a hell-hound till the coppers flagged me down
I’ve got to move again, Lord! I’ve got to move again
I’m in so much trouble, Lord! I’ve got to move again

I don’t mind getting plastered. Hangovers I can bear
But I spend more than half my life filling bags with air
I’ve got to move again, Lord! I’ve got to move again
I’m in so much trouble, Lord! I’ve got to move again

The moral of this story will make this thing complete
I never saw a man get run-in ‘drunk in charge of feet’
I’ve got to move again, Lord! I’ve got to move again
I’m in so much trouble, Lord! I’ve got to move again

© Pete Turner and Richard Bartram 1967

One of Our Film Stars is Missing

Air raid wardens, Home Guard cordons
Tin hats, gas masks and ration books
Churchill speeches, ‘Fight ‘em on the beaches’
Foreign names and dirty looks
Flying buzz bombs light the skies
Utility clothes, utility pies
Chin-up movies starring war-time smoothies
Animated celluloid lies.

People helter-skelter for the Anderson shelter
Wailing sirens and brewing tea
‘The Siegfried Line’ sung just one more time
Flanagan and Allen keep the spirits free
Embarkation leave and tearful eyes
Newsreel commentaries and wild surmise
Chin-up movies starring war-time smoothies
Animated celluloid lies.

© Pete Turner 1968

Friday, 24 April 2009


Photo taken at Uxbridge Folk Club, The Load of Hay around 1968. From The Hayes Gazette

The continuing saga of the Jugular Vein story. (New readers start here)

Just when I thought I’d finished with this topic I received another contribution from Venlafaxine, AKA Griff. As promised, he has contributed an audience-eye view of the JV, so I guess I’ll have to keep my part of the bargain and post the lyrics to the songs he requested. Given that I haven’t performed some of them for forty years this means I shall have to transcribe them from the recordings. I lost the original manuscripts during a house move years ago. Unfortunately one of those songs was never recorded. Griff refers to it as ‘Hayes’ but in fact its proper title was ‘Purple Hayes’ (a pun that I have no intention of apologising for). The chorus is the only part that I can properly recall and it goes like this:-

Hayes! That’s where the lovely people’s homes are
Hayes! That’s where ten thousand garden gnomes are
Hayes! That’ where everyone’s a saint
And I’ll kick yer bleedin’ ‘ead in if yer tell me that they ain’t

And if that leaves you wishing that the rest of the song survived then you’ve no one to blame but yourself…

By Venlafaxine AKA Griff

Trying to put your finger on what makes one form of music appealing and another not so really taxes the old grey matter. The psychologists would pin it all down to some ruthlessly logical outcome of the individual psyche and life experience, but musicians would be more likely to have little idea as to what constitutes ‘IT’. And how do you assess the impact of a band forty years down the line?

John Peel once said that he was attracted by outrageous sounding vocals. With me it didn’t matter if ‘it’ came from voice, lyrics or the sound of the instruments, just as long as it felt honest and had elements of the outrageous. This was something of an alchemical mix required if the music was to resonate with my alienated and often angst-ridden psyche.

The late 1960’s, with all that hippydom and radical politics offered plenty for the alienated and angst-ridden folkies. It was a time for ‘letting it all hang out’: Al Stewart rambled on about impotence. Roy Harper sang – no – raved about mental illness, head rocking in time, but also reminiscent of the severely ill. I loved it all.

The JV didn’t fit in with this lot but I loved them too. They had their idiosyncrasies, but in a clean and wholesome way: they had no preoccupations with the tragic and the sordid. And there was no whining on about mining disasters, the IRA, nor getting your balls frozen off on a trawler in the North Sea, nor was there any flowers and fairies stuff.

Pete and Richard looked a bit scruffy, but that of course was de rigueur. Pete had his Kalamazoo jazz guitar, not too many of them around. Max affected a 1920s dress sense, and his was the only cornet I ever heard on the folk circuit. That whopping great jug took so much attention that it was possible not to take in the (outrageously?) restrained character that whoomped into it with such aplomb. Muff could have gone to school in the clothes he wore.

The JV came with guitars, mandolin, harmonicas and kazoo, but it was the jug, cornet, swanee whistle, washboard, cymbal etc which were indispensible to that wonderfully WILD jug band sound. It was uniquely appealing and refreshing, good time music belted out by versatile musicians intent on having a good time.

Jug Band music has its origins in American folk, blues and probably jazz, but the JV also produced original material that couldn’t be more English. Topical, satirical and above all FUNNY, they brought to mind The Bonzo Dog Band, Leon Rosselson and Jeremy Taylor. And what could be more authentic than ‘Hayes’, played at the Hayes Folk Club, by musicians that came from that benighted place? I don’t think that it was ever ‘collected’ by the E.F.D.S.S. however; they weren’t interested in ‘Bovver an’ Agro’ either, but it was the Freeman Syndicate, not the JV that penned that one.

To sum-up, the JV produced good, honest, shit-kicking music which ENTERTAINED. Thanks lads, you hit the spot.

I thank you Griff, for those few kind words. I also thank you for sending me a copy of the newspaper photo that graces the top of this page. Now all I have to do is keep my side of the bargain and transcribe the rest of those lyrics. I’ll post them before the month is out – honest! Incidentally, Griff has also sent me another piece about the Hayes guitar-building fraternity and I shall be posting that soon as part of an entry about the Hayes and Southall music clubs and their various spin-offs.

Friday, 17 April 2009

Music in a jugular vein 8

This is part eight of the Jugular Vein story. New readers start here.

The Album that never was

When Bill Leader had first approached us with the idea of recording the band, I could barely contain my excitement. I had a lot of faith in what we were doing and thought that it might be possible for us to become fully professional. By this time I was supplementing my income from the band by working in a shop that sold the unusual combination of records and motor accessories. The theoretical arrangement was that my employer would give me the flexibility to pursue the band work as a priority, in exchange for me accepting somewhat less than the going rate in wages and being self-employed. In practice this didn’t always work, as I was often given a hard time for taking days out for gigs, despite the fact that during my time in that shop I turned it into the fastest growing record outlet in England – but that’s another story. The immediate effect of this arrangement was that I had great difficulty getting time off to record so most of our recording sessions were on Sundays.

Bill was in the throws of setting up his own labels at this point and was working for both the Topic and Transatlantic labels on a freelance basis. This meant that he was operating on a shoestring and scrounging studio downtime whenever he could. As a consequence the process of making the Jugular Vein LP was spread out of over quite a long period of time and a variety of locations, although thankfully, they were all in London.

There were to be two labels: Leader, for the traditional folk music and Trailer, for the more contemporary material. We were to be amongst the first releases on Trailer – which was somewhat ironic given that we were resurrecting a musical style that dated back to the early 1920’s. However, we were definitely not playing traditional English folk music so we were grateful for the opportunity to record, and it speaks volumes for the ‘Folk’ ethos of that period that folk clubs and a folk music record label seemed like our natural habitat.

The truth was that our music defied categorisation. It included blues, spirituals, original songs, parodies, jazz standards and dance band music from the twenties, and was played on a wide range of instruments both primitive (kazoo, washboards, swanee whistle, jug etc) and sophisticated (guitar, cornet, mandolin, etc). Unlike most of the other jug bands that were beginning to emerge at that time, we never called upon the recorded repertoire of the original jug bands for our material. Our approach was to do what they did, which was to play whatever music we fancied on whatever instruments we could get our hands on. The main thing was that – however you cared to describe our music, there was somebody who wanted to record it.

I think that our first studio efforts were on two-track but we soon graduated to a four track machine and ultimately to an eight track, although all of our efforts were recorded ‘live’ and we never resorted to multi-tracking. Experience soon revealed that some of our material simply didn’t transfer well to tape and we slowly filtered out the less effective stuff and began to focus on those things that worked well in the studio. We made frequent visits to Bill’s home as well as to the various studios, and we would listen to the rough mixes and receive advice and gentle criticism. This seemed to be Bill’s standard operating mode because we often encountered some of the other people that he was recording, who were undergoing the same process as ourselves.

During the course of various visits we encountered Royston Wood, Heather Wood and Peter Bellamy (The Young Tradition), Gerry Rafferty and Billy Connolly (The Humblebums) as well as Henry McCullough (who was at that time playing with a group called Sweeney's Men), Robin and Barry Dransfield and The Boys of the Lough. I have particular memories of Roy, Heather and Peter practically hugging themselves with delight over the playback of the track they had just finished mixing – The Agincourt Carol (from the ‘Galleries’ album) – which was a stunning track and featured The Early Music Consort. It is salutary to think that not one but two of the people that made that glorious piece of music subsequently committed suicide. Both Peter Bellamy and David Munrow (of the Consort) took their own lives – Munrow in 1976 and Bellamy in 1991.

On a happier note, I encountered Billy Connolly a couple of times. On the first occasion - a Sunday – we were having dinner at Bill Leader’s place, along with the Humblebums and The Boys of the Lough. As the front man of the JV I fancied myself as being fairly entertaining, but I was totally outclassed by Billy Connolly, whose comic pyrotechnics kept us all convulsed for the duration of the meal. I don’t think any of us got much work done that day. On another occasion I had to meet Bill for some reason and had made my way over to the particular studio he was working in that day. At this time the Dolby noise reduction system was just beginning to find its way into studios. I was standing in the control room talking to Bill when the door burst open and a loud Glaswegian voice cried out “Hey you! Get off yer arse an’ start Dolbyin’”. It was Connolly.

Eventually we had assembled enough tracks for the album and thoughts turned to marketing. We did a photo shoot for sleeve art purposes early one Sunday morning, down by the water’s edge at Wapping. Two images remain in my mind from that morning. One was a huge sign on the front of a shop that we passed on our way there. It was in Day-Glo orange and yellow and simply said ‘IT’S FLOGGO TIME!’ The other was of Mr Murfet hopping carefully backwards from the tide line to ensure that no filthy water got onto his heavily bandaged big toe (he had recently had an operation to remove an ingrown toenail and the offending foot was clad in a custom-butchered sandal and a large woollen sock). Alas, the photographs have long since vanished into the mists of time.

Bill had stressed the need for us to be out there gigging regularly so as to promote the album as and when it was released, so Richard’s announcement in late 1969 that he was leaving the band rather took the wind out of our sails. To be fair, despite becoming increasingly dissatisfied with what we were doing he had hung on because of the album. But we had started that project early in 1968 and it was now late in1969 and Richard was keen to hit the circuits with his new partner in music, John Coverdale. We parted amicably and recruited Mike Deighan to replace him (see Music in a jugular vein 7).

Ahead of us was second tour of the North, which we did in April 1970 and a booking for a big festival which was planned for August of that year, so it looked as if we might be moving up a league at last. The tour was a success and the work continued to roll in. Derek McEwen had become our manager, and it was he and his partner Brian Highley that were organising the festival, which was to take place on the outskirts of Halifax at a place called Krumlin. Between May and August Derek was a regular guest at my house, requesting use of the spare bed whenever he came down to London for negotiations with various bands and their management. What had started life as a small folk and blues festival slowly grew into a monster as Derek became more and more adventurous with his bookings. At one point he was talking about booking the Rolling Stones and came down to London for a meeting with the legendary Chip Monck.

By the time August arrived I was certain that we had a chance of going professional. Mike was bringing a whole new bunch of material to the band, and had a track record as a published songwriter. There was talk of a single being released featuring one of Mike’s songs, The Krumlin festival was growing in significance every day as more and more names were announced for it, and we had an LP ready and waiting to go. Alas, the best laid plans and all that. A few days before the festival my marriage – which had been in a bad way for some time – went into meltdown, and I was left with two small children to look after when my wife left me without telling me where she was going.

And that was it for my ambition. As my children were aged 5 and 6 respectively, I had no choice but to resign from the band there and then and take on all the domestic chores and childcare duties. I went to the owner of the record shop and asked if he could take me on full time and he replied that he no longer needed my services at all as he was bringing his son in to his (now) successful business. In 24 hours I had experienced an across-the-spectrum reversal of fortunes. I will draw a discrete veil over my marital and employment adventures. Those stories are for another day.

The band did attend the Festival but the event itself was to go down in history as one of the great promotional disasters of the times. Even as I write this blog a book is being written about it. The band went on without me but the Bill Leader-produced LP was shelved. All that remains of it is a tape of tape of a mix from the master tapes. The originals disappeared when Leader and Trailer went under and their entire library of master tapes ended up in the hands of the bailiffs, subsequently being sold at auction to the somewhat mysterious Celtic Music label. There is much debate on the web about the ethics (or lack of them) of the proprietor of this label but all my attempts to track the tapes down and buy them back have ended in failure.

The Jugular Vein did go on to record an album that was actually released, and I rejoined the band in the late seventies to help with promotion, even though I didn’t actually play on it (although it does include one of my songs – The Saki Drag). The band actually survived – with various changes to the line up but retaining two of the original members throughout right into the new millennium and made its last appearance at a Young’s Beer Festival in2002. But fate plays some funny tricks and there is now a strong possibility that the founder-members will reunite with Nobby the Roadie for a One-Off Gig sometime in August 2009. Watch this space!

Thursday, 2 April 2009

Entr'acte II

An intriguing (yet relevant) interruption to the Jugular Vein story (New readers start here.)
Life throws up (if you’ll pardon the expression) some surprises from time to time, as well as some strange coincidences. Regular followers of this blog will know of my long-time friendships with luthier (and ex- Jugular Veinist) Richard Bartram, and fellow blogger (and ex – Blue Fiveist) Leigh Heggarty, therefore it should not surprise you to learn that these two know each other. However, a few weeks ago Leigh was doing one of his regular stints in Pro Music International, the Ickenham music store, when a customer came in with a guitar that needed repairing. The customer said that this was a guitar that he had built himself, and added that he had been friendly with the well-known luthier Richard Bartram when he was making his first guitar. Within a short while the conversation had got round to The Jugular Vein and my blog. It soon became apparent that the customer had been an avid follower of the JV, as well as being very active on the same political scene as me, and that we knew each other.

Today I received an email from Leigh, attached to which was a note from said customer (see top of page), and a short essay about first attempts at guitar building which I now reproduce here verbatim. I have since spoken to the customer - or ‘Griff’, to give him the name I knew him by and I have promised him the lyrics of the songs that he requests in exchange for further reminiscences about the JV so – watch this space!

By Venlafaxine aka Griff

When I walked through Pro Music’s door clutching a guitar wrapped in a blanket tied with electrical wire, I didn’t know I was walking through a portal in to the past. Leigh took the box which I explained was hand-built by me way back, but had run out of steam to finish properly: “I had big trouble working the ebony, the fretting is all over the place, can you sort it out?” I mentioned that I had known Richard Bartram when he was playing with the Jugular Vein. We fell into conversation; he showed me the “Voltarol” blog, and suggested that I might like to write something…
It would have been about 1966 that Richard sought me out at a local folk club. He had heard a very tall friend of mine – who he dubbed “Fred Length” – play an unusual guitar. Length told him it was built by me, and that he too was building one. The box had a mellow sound and various faults, but looked immaculate in its French polish. Richard would have taken in the too-shallow rake on the head straight away; intrigued, he got me talking. But I’m getting ahead of myself.
I was never really a musician, but then I’ve always had the feeling of not being cut out to be anything specific; more an observer who indulged his passions for this or that, until they were exhausted. But I had a useful background for such a project: father was a cabinet maker, mother was an artist; both preferred to make if possible rather than buy; we had a neighbour who was a French-polisher.
Length lived close by too, had played in a rock band as a bass player, and of course knew how to play in tune – a feat which at that time I found hard to master. We shared a common interest in Bert Jansch, John Renbourn, Bob Dylan et al. Length had a great ability to pick up and play near faultless copies of accompaniments and Instrumentals, from the above heroes.
Thwarted by financial cramp from having Martins, it was Length who first suggested that maybe we could build our own. I dismissed this at first but then got down to reading “Make Your Own Folk Guitar” by John Bailey, a well known specialist builder, and was soon won over. It didn’t seem so far removed from model aircraft (another faded passion), and I had some knowledge of engineering. I got started building a mould in plywood, Length craftily keeping a step or two behind, so he could use my experience.
Mahogany and cedar for the box appeared when prompted by a 2oz tin of Golden Virginia. Mahogany for the neck came from a Southall timber yard, rosewood for fingerboard and bridge was donated by a double bass playing uncle. My father took the materials in to work, where he got it thicknessed (illegally) on a drum sander, saving loads of work.
Mama did allow the temporary red-staining of our bath, while the sides soaked prior to bending. She also allowed Length, a gas fitter, to partially dismantle her gas cooker and connect it to a home-made gas poker. Thus we had variable heat for a steel tube appliance, made by me, as a bending iron. We spent ages coaxing the sides into shape, the wood steaming and popping, sometimes charring(!) if not kept sufficiently wet. With the sides held in the mould, everything else followed -eventually…
Getting back to Richard: Like us, he was no doubt inspired not just by a shortage of cash, but also by the thought of producing a unique instrument built to his preferences, and in defiance to mass production; this is romance with a capital “R”. At a more basic level he probably thought that if Length and I could do it then nothing was going to stop him! The only trouble he had was in marking out the fret board; I showed him how to use my vernier callipers, and soon after, the first of many Bartram guitars appeared.
Having passed on my limited knowledge, Richard reciprocated by showing me how to play better, But all that “diminished ninth” stuff failed to penetrate – still at least by now I could play in tune: Progress! And I could appreciate also that the neck on my box was too thick and the action too high. Beautiful finish notwithstanding, I took the spoke shave to the neck and filed down the saddle. I was getting to feel like an expert, luthier even. (romance!)
Interest in music waned when I became involved in an ill-starred marriage, but after her passing it revived. The early 1980’s saw me at Touchstone Tonewoods, buying at vast expense, pukka materials for my fourth guitar, which I fondly thought would be a magnum opus:
I’d spent a lot of time thinking about keeping the neck straight; pre-stressing from a truss rod seemed to be the thing. My analysis assumed that the ebony fret board would easily handle the direct compressive forces, whilst the inclined truss rod would counter the tendency of the neck to bow. The tapered infill piece (also ebony) over the truss rod, formed an ebony T beam with the fret board, providing additional stiffness. I chose a head tapered towards the end to keep the strings as close to the centre as possible, to limit any torsional forces arising from unequal string tensions. Voltarol, by the way, sold me machine heads from the shop that he once had in Uxbridge.
Setting aside sporadic work stretching across fifteen years(!) all went well until the fretboard, the very last thing. As mentioned, I just could not complete the job, so I wrapped it up and put it away. That was in ’98. It was not until this year I decided that even if I never play again, I wanted the box sorted out. It is symbolic of those years when I felt I could do anything. Stewart duly sorted it out. And yes, I am playing again – sort of…
To Voltarol: On the JV blog, could you please provide the words to Saki Drag, Hayes, Got to Move Again and the WWII air raid warden’s songs?
To Richard, Length: Please get in touch. You can email me at Mike Hopkins care of