UP AND DOWN WITH THE JEFF HILL BAND 1977 – 1980
9 Jeff Hill, guitarist on his way back on a National Express coach from recording for Chiswick Records in London meets Dave Buckley, drummer on his way back from auditioning for the Downliners Sect along with 142 other hopefuls.
29 First rehearsal as a band with Ray Humphries on bass.
19 First gig at Burtonwood base club. Gary, the sole punk in the audience and therefore the only person who likes us joins as our roadie and stays till the band splits.
20 We blag a gig at Eric’s in Liverpool and meet the Yachts and Bill Drummond.
8 The band meet up with Ted Carroll of Chiswick Records in London.
14 Dave Warwick (later to manage Rick Astley) is interested in managing us.
24 We play for him and he decides to manage us, but is baffled as to what to do. He suggests we slag off Jim Reeves at gigs. It is an ill omen.
26 Recording demos in Warrington.
28 Recording at Pathway studio in London for what is supposed to be the follow up to Jeff’s solo single, “I Want You to Dance With Me” on Chiswick.
12 Ted Carroll likes the Pathway tapes and aims to release the next single after Christmas.
13 Jaws column in “Sounds” reveals Jeff’s Chiswick single is now deleted.
15 Recording more demos in Warrington.
29 Chiswick decides against releasing another single, so we lose a tour with Motorhead and an appearance on Granada TV’s “Lift Off”
3 Interview on Radio Manchester.
10 Manchester’s Rabid Records are interested and we meet Tony Wilson, Martin Hannett and Tosh.
27 Banned from playing at Padgate College due to language and attitude problems.
4 The Rabid Records Tour begins in London with us, Fast Cars, Giro, Ed Bangers Group Therapy and John Cooper Clarke.
11 Support gig with the Buzzcocks cancelled due to a petrol strike.
15 Rabid want two tracks for a forthcoming sampler album.
2 Rabid cancel the sampler album.
19 Recording at Revolution studio in Manchester laying down the tracks which would have been on the sampler for potential use as a single.
25 Tour of Norway cancelled.
12 EMI are enthusiastic and want to sign us.
27 They change their mind.
9 Martin Hannett wants to produce a Rabid single of a cover of the Byrds “Why?”
19 The bands own DIY label “Balloon” is mentioned in Sounds and we are snowed under with demo tapes.
20 We finally get the single back from the pressing plant. It is the songs we recorded for Rabid in February, now on our own label, but with no distribution deal…..
17 Virgin turn down our offer for them to make us famous. Our new manager, Keith “the hairdresser” Roberts, unknown to the band is pushing Jeff as a solo artist.
13 We sack Keith as manager.
10 Single played on John Peel. None of us hear it.
21 Gig in London with NWOBHM band Toad the Wet Sprocket supporting us. None of the numerous AR and journo persons invited turn up to a killer gig.
12 We decide to split.
22 Final gig at the Brittania pub in Warrington. Recorded on a mono cassette recorder by Gary the roadie. Dave trashes his drums and in the process cracks a top of the range Paiste crash cymbal. You can hear it go on the tape.
In between all this we did a huge amount of gigs with and met people like the Lurkers, Punishment of Luxury, Jilted John and a wide range of oddballs at Erics.
Post gig at Erics. The JHB and roadies are about to get the gear down after a particularly sweaty set. A bloke with a huge greasy quiff, black satin jodhpurs and cheap makeup sulkily tiptoes over and addresses Gary, main roadie:
Pete Burns (for it is he): “Can me and my band borrow your gear to play my set? All the other bands who play here think we’re great.”
Gary: “I don’t think so my good man.”
End of conversation and brush with imminent greatness and pioneering lip surgery..
The Jeff Hill Band came together in September 1977. We rented rehearsal rooms at the aforementioned hovel and got stuck into as much playing as we could. Jeff had an AC 30 and a Gibson SG, Ray had a bass, a Marshall head and four by twelve speaker cabinet, and I had my Ludwig. We were full of energy and ambition. Jeff’s solo single “I Want You to Dance With Me” had been released on Chiswick and Ray had recently been in a band called Buster who had fronted a single made by some session musicians which had got a lot of radio play. As things seemed about to happen, the bass player Dave had left and blown the whole thing leaving the remaining members in a state of musical coitus interruptus
Jeff had recorded his single in London using session guys. The drummer was remarkable in as much as he was member of an exclusive short list of drummers starting with Moulty out of the Barbarians and ending with Rick Thing out of Def Leppard. He only had one arm. At least Moulty had a hook and Rick had electronics. This guy had one stick and a lot of determination. Sadly, it wasn’t matched by his ability to play at the pace required by Jeff and the drumming on “I Want You To Dance With Me” is, to be kind, eccentric.
Our cunning plan was to finance our careers as New Wave stars by leading a dual existence as a gigging Social Club band playing covers and getting paid well in the process. This would enable us to earn a meagre living while our alter egos blew into as many new wave venues as possible and destroyed all comers with our original songs. These were written for the most part by Jeff, who had a gift for sharp hooks and catchy melodies all played at breakneck pace. Imagine the Ramones in a fight with Buddy Holly. There, you get the picture. Good isn’t it? At that time we were all unattached (relatively speaking) and living with our parents as opposed to real punks who were cold and hungry and living in a toilet somewhere grim. Actually, in 1977 there wasn’t the typical punk scene as tends to be imagined now, certainly not outside of the capitol. We came to run into a lot of the names and none of them looked anything like the modern stereotype of punks. No mohicans, no safety pins, and in the early days, no spitting at gigs. The Jeff Hill Band were all respectable middle class boys. We had no particular axe to grind hence the lyrical lack of vitriol in the songs. We simply loved music and playing in a band. A cliché, but true.
By the beginning of October we felt confident enough to get our first gig at Burtonwood Air Base, and debuted there on the 19th. We had no PA, so I spent a lot of time begging and borrowing equipment, mostly off the ever-helpful Mike who had inherited a lot of Moonshine’s gear including the first pair of PA bins on the local band circuit. I eventually bought them from him and years later sold them to Rick Astley before he danced on TV.
The Jeff Hill Band was not intimidated by the frosty reception at Burtonwood. We were ahead of the pack and we knew it. There were no other bands doing what we were doing this side of Manchester and Liverpool and we felt confident we could stand toe to toe with almost anyone and give them a run for their money. Being misunderstood and ill received was an accepted part of being genre trend-setters. First rejection, then recognition, then acceptance, then a very large bank account, interesting offers from attractive women and a small island off Greece. So far it was all going according to plan, we were being rejected. But not by everybody. At the gig was one solitary bloke dressed in narrow trousers, Hawaiian shirt and pogoing for all he was worth with a few other less adventurous dancers with more regular hair and jeans. Two of them were Steve and Sandra who became great friends when I next became acquainted with them ten years later. The punk was Gary. He came up to us at the end of the gig, sweaty, exhausted and happy to have found like minded souls in this wilderness of Kansas and Abba. He demanded a list of every gig we had in. It wasn’t a long list, in fact it wasn’t really a list at all, unless two dates can be called a list.
On a personal note I was pretty unhappy with my lot and the band seemed to be the only thing that was going right. The girlfriend was off in foreign parts herding goats on an Alp or something (she had “Shepherdess” as her occupation on her passport.), all my friends seemed to have jobs and girlfriends and here I was, still living at home scratching a living and having several weird dreams a night. I’ll demonstrate by recounting the events in my tousled head on the night of October 14th:
Dream One: I was visiting the girlfriend. She was drunk and asked me to teach her how to smoke.
Dream Two: I was in a caravan with Dad. All the drawers and cupboards were on the outside. We were watching TV when swarms of insects suddenly emerged from behind the set. Other people entered and started stamping on them but I couldn’t find any footwear so I wasn’t able to join in.
Dream Three: I died and came back to life, however my body had been buried. My Uncle Frank and others were dancing on it and shouting, “It’s time for rehearsals!” Dad asked me if I minded and I said no, but I’d like a photo of me to be buried with my old body. We looked through some old snaps but couldn’t find anything suitable.
After having these dreams I went to see my GP who hid behind his desk while he used the phone to have me forcibly incarcerated in the local asylum and drip-fed Chlorpromazine for a year and a day. Honest. Actually, I gigged with a country band called Cherry Tree in Wigan, an absolute treat for a sex starved frustrated rock n roll star, but it was a regular depping job and brought in some well needed funds. I suffered for it though; they hated me putting in any fills and above all things I loved fills, but they were paying me, so bum chick, bum chick, bum chick it was. The highlight of that week in October was rushing back from the pub and seeing “So it Goes” featuring Elvis Costello playing at Eric’s.
And so to gig number one on our extensive list. The Tow Bar at Egremont in Cumbria, a venue I had played at a couple of times previously and which was well known amongst the local bands as a hell of a trek. It was and probably still is located close to the coast between Whitehaven and Sellafield. The day started off well enough, I woke up with all limbs still functioning and the house had not burned down during the night. No doubt I ate my habitual bacon butty and was ready for Ray when he and Jeff picked me up in the inevitable blue Ford Transit he had inherited from his last band. This legendary vehicle drove Ray off on a road leading him to vast amounts of money, insolvency, then more vast amounts of money, none of which involved rock and roll. For the time being though the Transit was stuffed full of the three of us, Gary the punk and a selection of shabby equipment. Being seasoned travellers, it occurred to us that the longest journey starts with a piss, so we stopped at some public lavvys, emptied our collective bladders and got back in the van to set a course for the M6 and Cumbria. Just before the motorway on Winwick road, we were pulled over by a squad car. What had we been up to in those public toilets? In deeply masculine tones we assured the officers our motives had been purely connected with pre journey waste disposal. They gave us a funny look and let us go, bloody musicians and their pervy ways.
Several hours later after a trip through bleak countryside and even bleaker weather we arrived in Egremont. The Toll Bar was a social club come pub located on a caravan park. Yes, a caravan park. In Cumbria. The North West of England, synonymous with shit weather. And people stayed there, really. Perhaps I have gone mad and my memory is playing games, but no, it really was that way.
Outside it may have been threatening snow, but inside gig the radiators were working overtime. The place was like a sauna and packed with bodies when we went on for our first set. The possessors of these bodies did not take to us one bit and we were greeted with indifference at best and hostility at worst. They didn’t even appreciate Ray’s sole vocal number, a two chord epic played at breakneck speed called “I’m Waiting For My Bus” in which he improvised any lyric that entered his mind and ended by bellowing “I’ve got it sussed, I’m waiting for my bus!” as often as he felt like with Jeff and I joining in.
We weren’t the first new wave band to enjoy this lovely venue as I seem to recall being told by a local that the Buzzcocks and Stranglers had played there a few weeks before and suffered the same fate as us. Jeff’s SG wouldn’t stay in tune due to the heat, which didn’t help. Neither did the antique Victorian strings. We came off and retired to the back bar to watch “Rosemary’s Baby” which I missed the end of and have never seen since. The second set was better, thanks to the musicians’ secret weapon, alcohol. This wonderful substance disguised as lager got them all pissed and by the end of the night Gary had the whole audience up and pogoing with him. On top of this we were paid £65! Jeff could buy strings! I could buy sticks! Ray could buy paint so we could paint his truck yellow! Gary could buy the new Television album!
Any musician who is down the worn rungs at the bottom of the ladder of success will tell you the worst bit about gigging is usually after the gig. The adrenaline wears off, people are going home to their nearby houses for a takeaway and a shag, leaving you to take the gear down and load it into the van in the rain whilst some jobsworth looks at his watch and tuts. Tucked up under a table in a corner somewhere, the keyboard player (if you had one, which we didn’t) is unconscious, having consumed fourteen pints of Drambuie shandy. He is therefor unavailable to help his jolly band mates avoid rupturing interesting muscles as they cheerfully manipulate his seven ton Leslie cabinet and Hammond into the back of the groaning van. This was the seventies, remember. All that keyboard gear now fits in a suitcase. Of course there are and were times when the musicians got the takeaway, the shag and also got paid, but this wasn’t one of them. We were tired and had a long trip home. It was beginning to snow, and some helpful soul who had no doubt had his girlfriend shagged by Jean Jacques Burnel while Jet Black ate his curry had gained his revenge by snapping off the drivers side wing mirror from our transport. Thus, every time Ray needed to make a manoeuvre, one of us had to lean over the back seat, wind the window down and try to hold the detached mirror out in the sleet so Ray could get a glimpse of what was going on behind. Three of us developed frostbite in our left hands. We were freezing, tired, hungry and Top of the Pops never seemed so far away.
We had to stop several times for a mug of tea and a rest, finally getting back home at 6.30 in the morning. All that, and after expenses and agents fees we each received the princely sum of £11.00. Except for Gary. He did it for the love and Marquee Moon.
The next gig was the following Monday. You’d be hard pressed now to find a pub that puts bands on at the beginning of the week, but once upon a time it was not unusual and they pulled a healthy sized audience too. The Britannia, or the Brit as it was better known, was a pub housed in the bunker like edifice of New Town House, a hideous modern building successfully designed to show off how unpleasantly concrete weathers. We were quite excited as Jeff’s manager, a bloke I had never met called Keith, had arranged for the band to go to London to meet up with Chiswick boss Ted Carroll to talk about a follow up single. Up to now Keith had been useless, so this seemed like he was finally pulling his finger out. We were waiting for him to call and give us the go ahead as Ted was apparently in Japan on business, so there was little point heading for the Smoke until he returned.
Mike had recorded the gig at Burtonwood, which wasn’t too good quality, so he repeated the exercise at the Brit with rather more success. The tape still survives and though sonically muddy, it reveals a band not quite fully committed to new wave, as some of the covers we did were definitely old wave. Jeff’s stuff was right on the nose, very fast, punchy and catchy. As we didn’t yet have a following and Disco was still boss, we failed to make much of an impression yet again, but for an enlightened few who drifted to the front to twitch and grin as we revved up to amphetamine like velocity. How much did we get paid for two half-hour sets? £25.00.
It could have been worse. About then I was told by a friend of mine, an excellent drummer called Steve, that he’d recently bumped into a band he’d often seen advertised doing support slots for touring name bands in the Melody Maker gig guide. Called Gygafo, they had put an album out called “Legend of the Kingfisher”, which is rated as a very collectable record nearly thirty years later. Steve was curious as to the origin of their unusual name and was informed that in their formative days they were so appalling they were regularly thrown out of venues with the immortal phrase echoing in their ears: “Get Yer Gear And Fuck Off!” So now we all know, nothing to do with Tolkien at all.
The next day was memorable. I got a letter from the girlfriend telling me it was all over. In low spirits I met up with Jeff for a couple of pints at lunchtime. Frustrated at Keith’s lack of information he’d phoned up Chiswick only to find Ted had never been in Japan at all. It was a ploy by Keith to stop Jeff finding out how seriously inactive he had been I working on his behalf. It was the end for Keith. Jeff and I went round to settle the score with this evil industry suit. Breaking down the front door of his indulgently furnished penthouse suite in Orford, we hauled him screaming from behind his cigar, tied his loathsome scented body to a passing tanker on the ship canal and cheered as it floated off with his distended carcass bobbing in it’s wake. I then signed on and bought “Never Mind the Bollocks”, which I had to put off listening to till the next day due to a power cut.
The next day was better. “Never Mind the Bollocks” was brilliant and Ted had phoned Jeff asking us to go to London the following week with a view to starting work on a follow up single to be recorded in December. Things were looking up.
This article is reproduced by kind permission of the author © Dave Buckley 2003
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