Voltarol - related music

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!