Voltarol - related music

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Music in a jugular vein 7

Me, Nobby and Max by the van in Halifax, just behind the Upper George. A minimalist pointing picture (note ubiquitous Melody Maker)

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

It’s grim up North

One person who frequently popped up at some of our London gigs was a red-haired and moustachioed Northerner who was no mean hand in the blues department, wielded a tasty guitar and went by the name of Roger Sutcliffe aka Ginger Blues. We enjoyed each other’s performances and shared a very similar sense of humour. Roger decided that his part of the world needed to see the Jugular Vein and suggested that he might possibly be able to get us a gig or two. As a consequence we were soon winging our way up the M1 with a week’s worth of Northern gigs ahead of us. We were to do two tours - one in late 1969 and one in May 1970 - before I left the band, and I acquired a fondness for that part of the world that has remained with me to this day.

At some point between the first and second tours, in about April 1970, Richard Bartram left the band. He had been getting together with another of our friends – John Coverdale – to play guitar duets and they had decided to take their music out into the world at large. They were to be quite successful during their time together. Wizz Jones, who had helped the JV by recommending us for gigs, now did the same for Rich and John. The ‘Bartram and Coverdale’ heading was soon appearing in the Melody Maker Folk Forum as often as ‘The Jugular Vein’.

Richard’s replacement was Mike Deighan. Mike – who was himself of the Northern persuasion - joined us at short notice just before our second tour but fitted in to the band ethos and general sense of humour almost seamlessly. He was a long-standing friend of Max’s, and had sat in with us a few times. Mike was a good songwriter, played excellent guitar, banjo and ukulele and sang. He was also not averse to the odd glass or two. As well as bringing new material to the band, he brought the skills of a highly effective weaver of scatological fantasies (“I’ve invented a new cocktail. It’s called a Badger’s Nose. It’s a pint of Guinness with a saveloy in it”) – good – and a penchant for self exposure when thoroughly in his cups (turning both his trouser pockets inside out, unzipping his flies and announcing “I shall now do my celebrated impersonation of the famous Pink-Nosed Trouser Elephant…”) – bad.

The first gig of the tour was at The Upper George folk club in Halifax and during the course of the evening we met the man who was to put us up for the next few nights. His name was Derek McEwen and his day job was as a reporter on the Halifax Evening Courier, but he had built a small stable of up and coming Folk acts and was attempting to further their careers. He offered this service to us, too. With the exception of the J.V, all his acts seemed to be Irish. There was a guitar duo – Sam and Dave (Sam Bracken and Dave Shannon),a female singer/songwriter – Gillian McPherson and a male singer/songwriter – Christy Moore. We were to spend a lot of time in the company of Sam, Dave and Gillian, and jolly good company they turned out to be. (Here are links to two articles that appeared in The Halifax Evening Courier about Derek and Christy)

Derek’s flat was on the seventh or eighth floor of a council high-rise in Mixenden, near Halifax and 83, Jumples Court was a legendary address within folk circles. Many of Derek’s protégés had stayed there at one time or another and Christy Moore was a co-tenant for a while. Christy was never in residence at the same time as us but his favourite drinking vessel – one of those hospital-issue Pyrex urine bottles for bed ridden male patients – took pride of place on the sideboard.

The tours tend to blur one into another but various images remain in my mind. Not the least of which is the band – half way through a song – suddenly noticing a camera being aimed at us, stopping mid-chorus and pointing randomly. One evening, Derek had showed us a scrap book which he had assembled. It consisted entirely of photographs from local papers, in each of which dignitaries, celebrities and other people in the news were to be seen pointing at some unlikely object or other. In common with local paper photographers everywhere, the Halifax variety were much given to trying to make pictures more interesting by having the subjects point at something. The resultant wooden postures and selections of fixed grins and stern grimaces were a source of huge amusement to Derek and to his mind, well worthy of collection. We were so taken with this concept that, for the duration of that trip, whenever anybody pointed a camera anywhere near us, we would all instantly assume the face and the pointing pose, regardless of what we were doing at the time. As a result I suspect that there are some people out there who are still trying to work out exactly why their attempted study of the Jugular Vein in concert came out quite the way it did. Having recently rediscovered a box of old slides I now know that this was on the second tour.

Another strong memory is of the Mixenden folk festival, a one night event promoted by Derek at the Mixenden community centre and for which we were the headline act. This was another one of those occasions when we came on to the stage without having to go through the audience. In fact there was an actual green room and an actual stage, rather than the empty area at the back of the pub function room that was our most common performing environment. We had all tuned up in the green room before trooping on stage, where we took up our positions behind the closed curtains. We heard the compère’s voice announcing “…so without further ado, Ladies and Gentlemen, I give you – The JUGULAR VEIN!” and the curtains opened to reveal us to the audience and a row of beer glasses to us. Our reputation as a ‘drinking band’ had once more preceded us and in front of each footlight stood a foaming pint.

As a consequence of this generosity we were all (with the exception of Nobby) three sheets to the wind by the end of the evening. We had managed to pack up and load the van when somebody asked us if we would like to go back to his place for a drink. After a brief consultation we agreed, and were soon being driven through the night as Nobby followed a car through the Yorkshire countryside. Eventually the van stopped and we got out in what appeared to be a car park that was dominated somewhat surreally by a huge anchor. We stumbled after our host who led us to a door and opened it. Dim light bulbs flickered in our sodden brains. Surely…no, it can’t be…bloody hell. It is! The lights were switched on and revealed that ‘his place’ was a pub. Result! Our host was in fact one Brian Highley, the landlord of the Anchor Inn just outside Sowerby Bridge.

Another memory is of recording a programme for Radio Leeds. We had returned to our Mixenden base somewhat late the previous night, and had stopped off for supper on the way. We had been in the company of Roger Sutcliffe, who had introduced us all to the wonderful ‘Pie Herbert’s’ in Bradford. This pie shop specialised in hot pies of all meat varieties – mutton beef and pork – black pudding, mushy peas and pig’s feet. Most of us had ‘pie, black and peas’ but Max had a penchant for the trotter and left the shop with a large bag of pig’s feet, which he proceeded to munch on with great relish. The following morning saw us sitting in the van outside Radio Leeds, having got up early and left base without breakfast. We had arrived a little ahead of schedule thanks to some nifty driving by Nobby, and were now bemoaning our lack of breakfast. Suddenly Max’s face lit up and he reached under his seat. “I’ve just remembered” he said, “I’ve still got some left. Anyone want a pig’s foot?” and he surfaced with his treasure – a cold and greasy bag of cooked porcine extremities. The rest of us - somewhat hung-over with the exception of Nobby – declined somewhat vehemently and suggested some novel ways in which the aforementioned feet could be disposed of. Despite all this – or possibly because of it – Nobby remembers the four tracks we played for the radio programme as being the best performances that we ever recorded. Needless to say, they have not survived.

Another Radio appearance was at Radio Sheffield, where we were interviewed by the late Tony Capstick, who had a Folk Music programme there for many years. His style was wonderfully anarchic and we felt instantly at home there. We had made friends with Tony on a previous trip to Sheffield and he knew how to get the best out of us. Once again we recorded four tracks and then played them in as if performed live during the course of the interview. When the show was over we all went out to lunch together and much ale was consumed, then Tony took us around some of the Peak District – Bakewell, Castleton and the Blue John Cavern. I don’t remember much about the rest of the afternoon but photographs indicate that both Derek and Gillian McPherson were present on this jaunt.

Inevitably, when you are spending every waking hour in each others company for a week at a stretch, little things start to irritate one. Woe betides the band member that made an unguarded remark. The ensuing teasing was merciless. We were sitting at the breakfast table one morning when Max suddenly announced “That’s a coincidence. Here we are sitting in 83 Jumples Court and my Gran lived at 83 Rectory Grove.” There was a stunned silence. Richard looked up from the pages of the Melody Maker and said “I see there’s a new chart entry at number 83”. Nobby was already on his feet and counting the repeated motif on the wallpaper. “Who’d have believed it? What a coincidence. There’s 83 flowers on this wall” Muff had spilled the contents of a box of Swan Vestas and was busy counting them back in. “…eighty one, eighty two - yup. Who’d have thought it? It’s uncanny”. And so the mickey taking continued relentlessly as the tour progressed.

Nobby took us all to one side after a few days and asked us to back off for the time being. “Why?” we said. “Trust me” he replied. So we did. And a few days later we were driving along in the van when Nobby suddenly stomped on the brake and pulled in to the side of the road. “Look at that!” he shouted. “What a coincidence!” and he pointed at the mileometer, which clearly displayed the numbers 83838.3. Max’s response was what it always was when taunted to the point at which any of the rest of us would have broken and lashed out. He chuckled gently, grinned and said ‘You rats.”

At the start of that first tour we had been beset by snow, resulting in some very perilous negotiations of the steep and icy country lanes that surrounded our Jumples Court base. On one occasion we had made several attempts to find a more manageable route back but were still no closer to warmth and conveniences than we had been fifteen minutes previously. As we had, as usual, been consuming beer for most of the evening, the ‘convenience’ part was becoming more and more important. Finally, Max, who was wearing a rather fine hat with a feather in it, succumbed to hydraulic pressure and requested that the van be stopped so that he could hop out for a pee. We coasted to a gentle halt on the icy road and Max leapt out and hastily unzipped. “Oi!” shouted an indignant Nobby. “You ain’t pissing on my wheel” and with that the van started moving again, leaving Max fully exposed as a car came round the corner in the opposite direction and illuminated him with its headlights. As the rest of us burst into fits of unkind laughter, Max cried “You rats!” snatched the trilby from his head and did his best to cover his dignity. The hat never smelt quite the same after that…

Max had also discovered to his horror that he had not packed enough socks to last him the week. To be precise he hadn’t packed any socks apart from the ones he had travelled in and so resorted to going sockless most of the time and washing the one pair whenever the opportunity presented itself. Much to his surprise he was spared the ribbing that he expected and was lulled into a false sense of security. A few weeks later The Jugular Vein performed at the 1969 Freeman Syndicate Christmas Party at the White Hart Southall. Unbeknownst to Max we had arranged for a special guest to appear with us and at the conclusion of our first set I announced the arrival of Santa.

Enter Nobby the Roadie, clad in a red PVC mac, sporting a ‘Crazy foam’ beard and crying “Ho fucking Ho”. He was accompanied by two strange and capering, bizarrely dressed figures who announced themselves as ‘Santa’s helpers but were actually Alan Bridges (see A leg end in our own lifetime) and my younger brother, known to these pages as Ganja the Dwarf. Between them they carried an array of garishly wrapped Christmas presents which ranged in size and shape from the small and square (matchbox sized) to the huge and multi-faceted (an elaborate confection created by Rich, which was based on a two foot by two foot cardboard box and had many extensions and protuberances grafted on to it with packing tape). There was also one, somewhat flagon -shaped package that made a distinct slopping sound as it was carried to the stage, and was large enough to contain at least a gallon of liquid.

Each package in turn was inspected by ‘Santa’ who then announced “Why! It’s another one for Mr Emmons!” before handing it to Max, who unwrapped each one in turn to reveal yet another single sock. At last it was time to unwrap the flagon. Surely there would be beer or cider as a recompense for this ritual teasing. The paper was scrabbled away from it to reveal a pickled sock – an effect achieved by stretching a sock on a bent coat hanger and suspending it in blue liquid (thanks to the food dye left over from the Band Box Barry prank). Max’s reaction was predictable. “You rats” he said, mildly. “Still, they’ll come in handy”. However, he had obviously acquired a taste for the sockless mode, because all the pictures from the second tour show him either barefoot or wearing flip-flops.

Derek McEwen and Brian Highley had been hatching an idea for a Festival to be staged near Halifax, and by the time of the second JV tour they were well under way. We were booked to appear at it as were the rest of Derek’s acts, as well as a number of luminaries from the folk and blues world. When we finally headed back down the Motorway at the end of the trip, it was in the expectation of returning in August that year for a nice little folk festival in the lovely Yorkshire countryside. However, things were not to work out quite as planned for any of us – but that, like the first JV LP, is another story.