Voltarol - related music

Tuesday, 6 April 2010

Back in the Jug (Band) Agane*

Around about the end of 1975 I was working in a music shop in Uxbridge (prior to starting my own music business there) when I received a visit from Max Emmons, who was still playing with the Jugular Vein (new readers can catch up with the JV story here). He informed me that the band – which had increased its strength to four members again with the addition of a fine Welsh double bass player called Tom Edwards – had finally secured a recording deal and had cut an album at Abbey Road studios. In the spirit of the first version of the band the material mixed vintage tunes with originals, including one of mine - The Saki Drag – and several songs by Mike Deighan, who had already had a minor hit with ‘Waterloo Road’. I believe that it was this success that helped the JV get a recording deal in the first place, with Mike’s publishers playing a significant part in securing the deal. (I could be wrong about this. Feel free to correct me if you know better.) They also include some unlikely material such as ‘Lady Madonna’ and ‘MacArthur Park’, the latter with some truly inspired lunacy from Mike, who assumed the character of Eddie Waring for the song.

Whoever was responsible for their publicity had done a fairly good job, and when the album – Waterloo Road -  was released on Plastic Fantastic Records (a subsidiary of Pye Records) the band was lined up for an appearance on the then popular ITV children’s programme, Magpie (a slightly funkier version of Blue Peter). A couple of weeks ago Tom Edwards emailed me a link to two YouTube clips of the band in action. Here they are.

Anyway, Max’s mission on this day had been to entice me back into the band again. A number of gigs had been booked to promote the album and then Mike had received an offer of work from The Temperance Seven that he would have been crazy to refuse. The idea was that I would ‘dep’ for Mike but on those occasions that he was available the band would become a five piece. It took me about two seconds to make up my mind. By this time my first wife and I had parted company for the last time and she had custody of our children. I had a new girlfriend (who was eventually to become the Mrs Voltarol known to these pages) but she had no objection to my returning to the gigging world - on the contrary, she positively encouraged it!

So it was that I rejoined the fold and spent a happy year performing with the lads in and around London (an extraordinary number of which gigs were in pubs which sold Young’s bitter). Since my original departure from the band its centre of activities had relocated to Balham, with particular reference to The Duke of Devonshire public house (a Young’s pub needless to say). This was the invariable pre-gig assembly point (just in case we were NOT due to perform in a Young’s house that night), rehearsal room and general watering hole for the rest of the lads.

The band had a residency at the Candlelight Folk Club at The Nags Head, York Road, Battersea (long since demolished). Every Sunday night I would trek over to this most insalubrious of venues and take part in an evening of mayhem. Most of the staged, sub-Bonzo Dog Band, props based humour had gone from the band, only to be replaced by the beer fuelled shenanigans of a truly dedicated bunch of drinkers. My ‘ten pints a night’ days were behind me and Max was a relatively modest beer consumer, but Tom (known as ‘Welsh Tom’, possibly to distinguish him from ‘Belgian Tom’, that well known associate of ‘German Nick’ in an old Goon Show script about POW camps) was a formidable artist, as were messrs Deighan and Murfet. The Candlelight Club was no stranger to the pink nosed trouser-elephant, and constant heckling was positively encouraged by the band and responded to with much glee – the worse the put-down the greater the band’s joy.

I would generally miss out on my dinner so as to make it to the gig on time – I didn’t drive, and the journey from Hayes to Battersea by public transport on a Sunday was a time consuming one. Nobby the Roadie had parted company with the band by this time and Max, with his recently acquired van, was now the driver. But like many a cab driver before him, Max didn’t do ‘that side of the river’, so it was always up to me to make it to ‘The Duke’ as my starting point for all gigs. Unfortunately there was little in the way of edible food to be had at The Nags Head. Indeed, some of the meat pies had been on display behind the bar for long enough to acquire their own names. I can remember one unsuspecting guest performer having a pie snatched from his hands by one of the club regulars with a cry of “You can’t eat Fred!”

It became the band’s habit to congregate after the gig at a rather disreputable Indian worker’s café that had originally been known as ‘Elrazako’ but was now known as the ‘Shalimar’. Mrs Voltarol-to-be accompanied us to the Shalimar on a number of occasions, but only ever ate there once. After that she was strangely never hungry when we went there, and to this day will shudder involuntarily when the place is mentioned. The Shalimar didn’t have a menu as such. It had two or three vats of violently coloured curries and a selection of kebabs. There was also an extremely fiery raita (surely defeating the point of that yoghurt-based dish) on offer. You pointed and you were served. As far as the hotness of the dishes was concerned we employed a scale of two that started with ‘Etna’ and ended with ‘Hiroshima’.

Hygiene in this establishment also left a lot to be desired and it was a great source of entertainment for us whilst waiting for our food to peer through the always-open kitchen door and watch the mice playing amongst the sacks of rice. Indeed, during the period of our regular attendance there, the café was prosecuted for 21 separate offences under the Food Hygiene Act. Alan Swainston Cooper – founder member of the Temperance Seven, mentor of The Jugular Vein and writer of the sleeve-notes to the JV’s ‘Waterloo Road’ album – was also a regular habitué of the Shalimar (and indeed, name checks it in the aforementioned sleeve- notes). To say that he had a voracious appetite would be something of an understatement. Woe betide anyone sitting within a couple of tables of him who paused for more than a moment over their food. ‘You leaving that?’ he would murmur as he deftly transferred the contents of your plate on to his. Mike Deighan claimed that all the dogs in the Battersea area had taken to carrying Cooper bags.
Click to enlarge

Occasionally we did get a ‘trump article’ of a booking. We were approached on one occasion when we were playing at ‘The Nags’ by some one who asked us to to perform at his daughter’s wedding-reception in Sutton. Weddings were not amongst our favourite kinds of gigs for a variety of reasons, and I for one was hoping that we wouldn’t accept the gig because I had tickets to see Ry Cooder (supported by a great band called Meal Ticket that featured another old mate of mine with a jug-band background, Steve Simpson) at the then Hammersmith Odeon ( now the Apollo) on the day in question (which a little internet research reveals to have been in January 1979). None the less, Tom duly got stuck into the negotiations as we never liked to actually turn down a gig. “Well,” said Tom, sounding particularly Welsh on this occasion, “It’ll cost you at least £100.” This was an astronomical fee for us at that time and had been tendered in the hopes of putting the booker off, but to our amazement he accepted that sum quite happily. “…and of course” added Tom, hastily, “It’ll have to be a barrel of Young’s for the Lads”. This too was agreed to and the gig was duly accepted so I reluctantly gave my Ry Cooder ticket to someone else. Tom was somewhat scathing when I bemoaned this fate. “Why in God’s name do you want to see a bloody Country and Western singer?” he enquired (although I believe he has subsequently amended his opinion). The then Mrs Voltarol-in-waiting told me afterwards that I had missed a great gig, and still sometimes refers to that night as one of the best concerts she has been to. I think ‘…she only does it to annoy, because she knows it teases…’

Playing again with the band for that year and a bit was great fun, but I began to tire of the emphasis on the booze and was increasingly frustrated by the frequent lack of professionalism. With hindsight I realise that – with the exception of Mike, who was already catered for by The Temperance Severn - it was only me that aspired to a full time career in music. For the others music was a passion but none the less a hobby that helped pay for the beer. So it was inevitable that there would eventually be a clash that resulted in my re-departure from the band. It came over reluctance by the other members to get down to Battersea Town Hall in time for a sound-check. We were playing support to someone notable (I forget who) and I was keen that we made a good impression. The others wanted to stay on at ‘The Duke’ for one more beer. I threw a strop. Tom accused me of ‘just wanting to be a bloody star’ and I resigned. I played the gig that night and then didn’t see any of the others again for the next thirty years. I did meet up with Muff and Max again one afternoon about five years ago. We had a few drinks and I went back to Max’s for dinner and that was that – until I started writing about the band last year.

Nobby the Roadie had tracked me down a few months before I started writing, and had come down to Cornwall for a flying visit. A great many memories were stirred up and he mentioned the idea of a JV reunion. One thing led to another and – thanks to the wonders of the internet I was able to contact many people from the ’glory days’ of the band whilst I was writing its history. I floated the idea of a reunion to the original three – Max, Muff and Richard Bartram – but after some consideration Richard decided against it and the idea was shelved. Then Ron Bartholemew – the man that had introduced us to Nobby the Roadie in the first place – and his partner, Hilary, decided to throw a shindig to celebrate forty years together. Furthermore, as Ron had been a prime mover in the original Freeman Syndicate club at The White Hart in Southall (where the JV played many a gig), he decided that the aforementioned shindig should reflect the spirit of ‘The White Hart Fun Club’ as it became known.

And so, dear readers, the weekend before last I made the journey up to Isleworth from my West Country retreat and played with Muff and Max for the first time in 35 years – and here’s the proof.

The funny thing is, I've got a taste for this reunion lark now, so on the 18th April I shall be doing a gig with Leigh Heggarty at the Load of Hay in Uxbridge, Middlesex. Yes, as frequently threatened over these postings, The Blue Five is all set to ride again!