Voltarol - related music

Thursday, 19 February 2009

Music in a jugular vein 3

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

Mama Don’t Allow

As our performances became more professional and assured I began looking further afield for work. I had by this time lost my job at the record shop (see (High) Street life)when the company that ran it decided to close that branch, and was struggling somewhat to make ends meet. Having tasted the pleasure of earning a living by music I was very reluctant to do anything else, but ‘needs must when the devil drives’. I had a wife and two small children to support and one or two gigs a week did not provide enough income for this purpose. In addition to this, the atmosphere at home was becoming increasingly strained as my marriage began to slowly unravel.

I managed to get a job in an office, working as a stock comptroller (I’m still not quite sure what that means) for the NestlĂ© Company, but it drove me to distraction and I only lasted about three months. At this point it became obvious that full time employment of this nature frequently caused me to turn down jobs for the band because I couldn’t get away from work early enough to make it to gigs on time. As a result I became - in quick succession – a petrol pump attendant, a council garden labourer and a food packer on an assembly line. I had resolved never to let a ‘real’ job stand in the way of musical employment.

The other band members were all in full time employment. Rich was a bricklayer, Max was an advertising executive and Muff did shift work as a store keeper at Heathrow Airport. Despite this their jobs rarely impinged on our ability to accept gigs, except when Muff was on night shifts. We solved this problem by adding another – occasional – member to the line up. This was Alan Bridges, another guy that I had met through the music shop and who, by coincidence, had also been in a rock band with Rich – the splendidly named 'Sound of the Baskervilles'. Alan was (and still is) a guitar player but could play the jug if required, and it was as a substitute jug player that we used him. He was also something of an extrovert to say the least, and added a certain amount of edginess to performances whenever we used his services.

We began to employ friends and acquaintances who owned vans, and would transport us to and from gigs for petrol money and a percentage of our earnings. Ron Bartholomew, who was part of an organisation called The Freeman Syndicate and ran the club at The White Hart, Southall, frequently drove for us on London gigs. We had arranged for him to take us to a gig in Brighton one day and were awaiting his arrival at the pick-up point. A Bedford Dormobile van pulled up at the kerbside with two people in the front, one of whom was Ron, the other being unknown to us. “I’ve got a bit of a problem with the van so I’ve brought you a new driver”. “Are we going to Brighton?” asked the driver. This was our first meeting with Nobby, the Demon Roadie, aka ‘Dendron’, who was to be our regular driver and a frequent part of the act for the next few years. We got on well with Nobby. He was a non-drinker and was happy to work for a fifth portion of our take after expenses. As the expenses included the band’s intake of alcohol - which was considerable – I thought this extraordinarily reasonable of him, especially as we were now beginning to work further afield and he often spent many hours at the wheel.

Eager to find more work I looked around for opportunities outside of the folk club world. We had had limited success in the network of traditional jazz clubs as these had dwindled rapidly once the ‘Trad Boom’ had ended. Nevertheless, we were always welcome to play in these clubs even if there was rarely a fee involved. But I was looking for paid work and to this end answered an advertisement in the ‘Musicians Wanted’ columns of the Melody Maker’. It said “NORTON YORK AGENCY REQUIRES BANDS” and gave a phone number, which I duly called to make an appointment for us to see them. A week or so later we turned up at their offices in – I think – Turnham Green, full of anticipation.

Our inquisitor was somewhat puzzled by the concept of a jug band but when we made apologetic noises and prepared to leave he hastily told us that it shouldn’t be too much of a problem. “You just need a demo. Have you got a demo? Don’t worry. We can fix you up with a demo”. Of course, with hindsight I realise that they must have made an awful lot of money by steering lots of enthusiastic wannabes and no-hopers to their demo studio, but I admit that I walked out of the Norton York office with a big smile on my face, convinced that we would be full-time musicians in no time at all. As a consequence, two weeks later the band turned up at the studio address that we had been given and peered somewhat dubiously at the entrance.

It was a rather scruffy doorway located between two shops on Turnham Green Terrace, just a few yards from the Tube station. If this was the recording studio, things did not bode well. We were shuffling around, half in and half out of the entrance and not quite believing what we were seeing, hearing - and indeed, smelling (the entrance hall was somewhat er…cat haunted), when a scruffy figure emerged from a door a few yards down the hallway and shouted “Oi! Come inside, yer warmin’ the street already!” in a voice that was pure Bethnal Green.

He ushered us into a largish room that had some acoustic tiles on some of the walls. There was a wooden cubicle the size and shape of a phone booth in one corner of the room, which had a large red light bulb mounted over the its door. Inside it we could see a reel-to-reel tape recorder and what must have been an extraordinarily primitive mixing console, consisting as it did eight knobs and four faders if my memory serves me. We were a band that always performed sitting down, so the absence of any chairs caused us something of a problem until our ‘engineer’ reluctantly went and found us some. We were ready to go.

We had decided to record two songs – ‘Doin a Stretch’ and ‘Mama Don’t Allow’. The first of these was a Blind Blake song that Richard sang and played guitar on. I played rhythm guitar and sang choruses, Muff played jug and Max played cornet and sang choruses. After a solemn lecture by the recording maestro during which we fought hard to keep a straight face -“Now don’t forget. Watch the red light, watch the red light…” (He had a habit of repeating everything he said) “…and once that goes on you don’t speak until you’ve finished recording and the light goes off. That’s your signal to begin. ‘Ave you got that? ‘Ave you got that?” The fact that he was only three feet away from us and we could see and hear him quite clearly even when he was inside his booth, did not seem to occur to him. Once he was in the ‘control room’ he continued to address us through the rather tinny intercom which was almost drowned out by the actual sound of his voice.

‘Doin’ a Stretch’ had been one of the first songs we learnt and was our regular opening number, so we performed it quite well and confidently. After a couple of choruses for levels and basic microphone shuffling we were ready to roll and soon had the first track in the can. We turned our attention to ‘Mama Don’t Allow’ – an old warhorse from the twenties which lists the number of things that ‘mama don’t allow’ and then proceeds to demonstrate them with a solo, as in ‘Mama don’t allow no washboard playing here..’ closely followed by a solo chorus on said instrument. This was our encore number and during my time with the band I think we must have played it on every single gig we ever did – I know that we were all heartily sick of it by the time I left the J.V. for the first time. On this tune Rich played mandolin, Max played guitar and kazoo, I played washboards and, with the exception of Muff, who took a multi-jug solo (‘Mama don’t allow no multi juggin’ here…’) we all sang. The maestro looked somewhat put out at the fact that there was a change of instrumentation to be dealt with and bustled around somewhat grumpily, rearranging microphones. Eventually he retired to his phone booth and switched on the red light bulb. A silent count took us into the first verse. We had got no further than ‘Mama don’t allow no jug band mu…’ when he through the door of the booth open and shouted “What’s that scratchin’? What’s that scratchin’?” in most aggrieved tones. We indicated that it was the sound of my washboards. “Well it’ll ave to stop! It’s ruining the recording…Ruining!”

We finally compromised with me rattling out the rhythm on the metal plates instead of scraping the corrugated surface of the washboard in the normal way. And that, dear reader is why if you’ve ever heard the Jugular Vein’s first and only demonstration disc, The song ‘Mama Don’t Allow’ appears to be accompanied by a small group of demented, tap dancing mice.

When we eventually took delivery of the four copies of the disc that our thirty pounds ( a bloody fortune in those days) had purchased, there was a brief period of excitement at having actually ‘made a record’, but nothing ever came of the Norton York connection and the demo discs - which were acetates – eventually became so worn as to be almost unplayable. We’ve all still kept them though…