by Roger Freeman
The first obstacle to negotiate at Newark was U.S. Customs who closed in on our flight cases being wheeled in, Dick had already mentioned the FBI opened a file on every British band that arrived, well we hadn’t done anything anyway. The bad cop immediately opened proceedings by pointedly asking if there were any drugs concealed in that there case of ours. Turning over the script, we got into character and in an over-polite but flustered manner denied all knowledge of whatever he was talking about. Narrowing of eyes, then the good cop enquired as to where the opening night was.
Bad Cop: “Mudd Club? What’s that?”
Good Cop: “Hey, I know the Mudd Club, have a nice day.”
Over to one side, a figure in a suit wearing an earpiece looked at a piece of paper to discover we opened at the Ritz and NOT the Mudd Club, a very long stare followed us this time. Up and down crunching as our yellow cabs went over bumpy intersections to the no-star Aberdeen hotel at the foot of the Empire State Building. The elevator grounded to a halt under the weight of us and all our equipment but when freed we proceeded to channel-hop the cable TV channels while turning into an item ourselves. A news anchor’s final story on what’s coming up in New York mentions a British band’s debut by the name of ‘Peeg Baag’ followed by: “You don’t wanna know.” Eating in Greenwich Village, The Village Voice and New York Times had our appearances in their listings while over on the West Coast Greil Marcus was congratulating us on our nerve in swiping James Brown’s titling for the single if nothing else. Who do we play with at the Ritz but Brummie Berliner Au Pairs – we cannot keep meeting like this. Rumour had it promoter Ian Copeland was ‘positioning a slot for Pigbag on the support roster’ for his brother’s band The Police’s next major U.S. tour, I thought: another U.S. tour already? We were in deep music biz now with a party at Stiff Records’ lower Manhattan office as they were putting out the Pigbag recordings in America. I ended up sitting in a cardboard box filled with waste paper talking to who-knows about the concept of A.O.R. versus Top 40 on east coast FM coverage, the what-now? It was hard to get lost on the Manhattan street-grid so, in between talking hooey, I called into Tiffany’s (no breakfast), NY Public Library, Met Museum and Lincoln Center. Not using the subway yet meant it was too far uptown to go and see where Jack and the Beatniks used to hang out. The band, however had proper transport and we barrelled south out of New York City in a rented Chevy van driven by Dick and Ollie, on the radio, the very latest sounds were blaring out intermingled with “I must be crazy to sell at these prices.” Philadelphia went to plan before we ran into a culture-clash in Washington DC as the 9:30 Club explained that bands played an afternoon matinee, returning in the evening to do it all over again. With everyone distracted by this, we pretended it was a rehearsal at Ollie’s Trinity Hall. No one in Asbury Park, New Jersey was interested in some British brass band so the only audience member was Dick and we were supported by John Otway who repeatedly banged his forehead on the microphone which Simon assured us was all part of the act. Now came our first video-shoot for the next single ‘Sunny Day’ as realised by Ed Steinberg and his camera crew.
Location: (Pier 1, Brooklyn)
“OK, stand right on the edge and throw the timbale sticks UP into the air at the end of your percussion solo.”
(The Bowery, midnight)
Ollie is left on his own to play his tenor sax until we drive past again with the camera for a moving shot, particularly Ollie who looked really moved.
(Peppermint Lounge club)
Live footage to wrap things up which ends with a slow zoom in to me falling asleep while still playing the percussion.
It was back in the Chevy for New England’s ‘fall foliage’ display as leaves turned every shade on the way to Boston via Northampton, MA. This was at Rahars’ big free-standing house of a place and a run-in with a punter who rightly pointed out that he had just paid ten dollars to hear us play for half an hour, we had either missed out some numbers or were in a tour-happy frenzy. If you’re going to San Francisco, it means an early start and there we were, on the Bullitt car chase streets with cables racing along in the ground. Rough Trade had a Californian branch of their shop there with hand-drawn pigs on paper bags in the window and inside, West Coast two-tone revival fans flipping through the vinyl. Another eighties-look continued in the I-Beam club with Hi’s from members of the Go-Go’s band sitting at the bar. After this, the scale of venue increased as we stepped onto the very wide Old Waldorf stage to rehearse a near-total collapse of concentration which will be pulled-off magnificently at the end of the year. Finally, the Berkeley Squareclub rounded things off to leave Chip, me and new San Francisco friends time for some sightseeing including Haight-Ashbury and Half Moon Bay, far out! In fact, there was not time as Rough Trade staff handed over our tickets and explained that everyone else had already left for London. Sheepishly we sat in a coffee bar looking for short-life milk, we kept searching all the way back with the others joining in from Los Angeles onwards. At great expense Pigbag had one chance at Irving Plaza’s New Year’s Eve celebration in Manhattan and the signs were not good, a remark in the Roseland Ballroom suggested our new twelve-inch single Sunny Day would make a good ashtray if melted. In the opposite to everything clicking into place, it all unclicked and fell apart spectacularly, Simon was so embarrassed he snatched the bass jack plug out of his amp and jumped off the front of the stage. What shall we all do now? Escaping back into bumpy yellow cabs with Californian security keeping lookout, I spot wads of dollar bills paid to me falling out of my pockets. Next day, spiralling out of control is the Guggenheim Museum where all those paintings in textbooks are actually hanging on the never-ending wall in front of me. Traipsing into the Manhattan Soho record office after a week, I had obviously missed several meetings when there was a communal “Where have you been?”
Back in London it was Dick’s turn to capture a live clicking-together at King’s College, off the Strand, with a cassette shoved into his sound-desk. Our little number ‘As It Will Be’ grew into one of those monsters Chris H probably tried to warn us about as Chris L decided to lean on our latest keyboard addition to take it way past a wall of sound. Ollie, who was about to play a planned sax solo went off on the highest, loudest wailing of all time (and space), I watched as he also dived down onto frying pans below for a manic back-up of a drum break as the atmosphere ignited. ‘As It Was…(Live)’ ended up on the twelve-inch ‘Brand new disco mix’ of Papa as the B-side, recorded by ‘Disc O’Dell’. Performing shows with The Raincoats meant Gina Birch, Ana da Silva and Vicky Aspinall balanced up our racket for that complete evening and coming off stage one night, we were confronted by a line-up of suits against one wall which made us form a line against the other. It was the whole of a major record company’s A&R department making us an offer we could not refuse, this being Pigbag we refused. A year later I called into a big music publishers’ office wearing my filthy donkey jacket, after a cheque, to be asked in reception if I was the taxi. Proud of our business decision-making we dived back into Berry Street studios to turn our setlist into an album, the works canteen being an egg and chips café opposite the Barbican. With New York’s Irving Plaza and their New Year’s Eve turned into a shambles (anything we can do to help), 1982 saw the Y Records empire unveil its plush new premises on Uxbridge Road overlooking Shepherd’s Bush Green.
Our business-prowess was now top notch as we released the album without Papa which was still playing on UK radio. Time for an organised tour around the country, the largest venue being Hammersmith Palais, by which time a 1940s song had crept into the set, something I could not compute and stepped to one side for a sip. According to Simon, Swing would be the next big eighties thing and sure enough, in 1989, along came Jive Bunny’s ‘Swing the Mood’. Cheltenham had been rather overlooked in all the hoo-hah ever since the band turned up to play at the art college, causing some confusion with staff who asked why I was not attending anymore. We did dive in to film the latest ‘Getting Up’ video compèred by Hollywood A-lister Julian Firth and now it all ended where it began with a grand extravaganza at the town hall, no less. Dick looked like he was using his sound-desk as a raft on a sea of heads as we stepped out to a cheer and proceeded to sail through our numbers. For some reason an encore was decided against, so me and a friend jumped on percussion and drums for a ramped-up version of hitting bongos with sticks of doweling. At the end I grabbed a microphone and shouted “Thanks very much – it was worth it all”, as though my subconscious was trying to tell me something. Afterwards, Dick invited Chris Lee and me down to Berry Street studios to play on The Raincoats’ latest recording ‘No One’s Little Girl’ where a really good mood pervaded throughout. I calmed down and adjusted the timbale-playing to the great side-to-side rhythm already laid down, followed by Chris doing his lark ascending on the trumpet. Dick also corrected the absence of Papa on the album by re-releasing it as our latest single – see what he did there? He had done it now, more like, as up the charts went that tune and no mistake. This attracted the attention of the behemoth BBC TV Centre in Wood Lane with a directive to appear sharpish on Wednesday 7thApril to record an appearance for the following day’s edition of Top of the Pops. However, there was the small matter of a week’s break beforehand and word was Chris Hamlin had resurfaced in Birmingham after going off on his travels. The location scout had chosen The Crown pub of all places for the reunion scene as wary punks and skinheads thought they recognised us, extremely drunken businessmen on their lunchbreak were brought in as extras aaand… ACTION:
Randomly whacking pool balls into pockets that you just know are going to go in was encouraged by completely plastered office staff as the temperature went up, it was so funny we did not want it to stop but eventually all staggered off including those workers we spotted trying to find the entrance to their office. This would have been the end of it except the crazy pool-playing, office-drinking, punk-recognising continued for the whole week and I arrived on the Tuesday at the brand new Y Records headquarters a changed person. Before I could focus, we were all sent to a musical instrument store on Regent Street for a Smash Hits magazine photoshoot posing with a lot of brass, the back cover image ‘in full colour’ captures perfectly the state I was in as I was about to exit the picture. Back at the office, phones were ringing, people were pointing and wall calendars were being blocked in. The intricacies of how to mime to music on television was lost on me but I did pick up that immediately after this was the major U.S. tour and possible support-slot with The Police. I did not want to do this anymore and as panic set in I noticed my passport on top of a pile so, with no one looking, slipped it into my donkey jacket pocket – as we wandered off Dick shouted: “Make sure we have all your passports by tomorrow.” Luckily, I was on my own as I tried to walk at a slow pace to Shepherd’s Bush tube station to connect with Euston, Birmingham, a phone box and The Crown pub. Chris Hamlin snorted with laughter once again as the pool-ball pocketing continued where we left off until, in a proper lager-prepared state, I phoned down to Dick to explain my party was off. Magnanimous in his reaction, he laughed as well and just said OK. In no time, The Raincoats got a message through to Birmingham asking if I would like to join them for a big date at The Venue, Victoria later in the year. I called down to a London rehearsal room with trombone and attempted to negotiate the intricate time signatures developed by Gina, Ana and Vicky with Richard Dudanski on drums. Still not knowing what notes exited the trombone, I started my old trick of sliding and bending everything back into tune, keeping this going all day, until I could feel my ‘doing a runner’ tally was about to go up. Finally, I stuttered:
“I’m sorry, but I can’t do this – I have to… head off into the sunset.”
As I skulked out of the practice-space door Vicky shouted HIPPY! And she was probably right.
The pockets had worn a bit thin from all the pool balls dropping into them so Chris suggested crossing over town to Beaumont’s wine bar: red-velveted, bamboo-framed seating and looking definitely from the 1970s. Having no security on the door helped as our clothing now consisted of multiple layers tied around our waists in the ‘charity shop discarded pile look’. I was introduced to Stephen Duffy who had not that long ago done a runner himself from Duran Duran, and after all that work he had put in, as well. A question headed my way: “Didn’t you want to go on Top of the Pops, then?” We were so pompous it was decided that the foundation course in pop music had just been completed and time now for the degree, what could possibly etc. Only one person could take us to this next level – operatic, avant-garde singer and performer Diamanda Galás, dressed all in black with black hair, I had already met her when Dick was lining up a deal for Y Records. With Diamanda about to appear at the Barracuda club, London, there was a mad scramble to present ourselves as the obvious candidate for her support band. Looking back, it would have been advisable for her agent to have done a bit of research into just who this band were as there wasn’t one. To make up for this, an upgrade in instruments might do the trick and so into a Golden Square shop we go to splash our first Pigbag royalties. Chris bought a bass clarinet, a gigantic stick with silver bell at the end and an amazing range from low to top. To fool listeners into thinking my trombone-playing had improved, I swapped the cardboard case for a luxurious professional-looking one. Another missing element might possibly have been the music, no problem, we could do avant-garde along with the best of them and free-expressionism would cut out the need for practice. On the night a slight refreshment beforehand shouldn’t have gone amiss except this started too early, with the Plastered Office Workers Union passing on the mantle to us. As a confused Diamanda looked on I decided I could not go through with it, barged past to send tables and chairs flying and off the top of my head informed her “I had found a bee in my bonnet.” The surprisingly favourable review explained that ‘former-Pigbag Chris Hamlin explored the full range of solo bass clarinet while Roger Freeman juxtaposed the music with a deconstruction.’ By this time Dave Jary had stopped top-range lamp design so, before he could pick up his acoustic guitar, an electric bass was substituted. A grand plan formed as our duet became a trio, and then who-knows, a quartet. The discovery that free-expressionism needed no thought or work whatsoever was a revelation and to realise its full potential would be a great honour. Ends of summer terms for art schools were approaching so the bigger, better, still-unnamed trio landed a date at the Cambridgeshire College of Arts’ final bash. With a subtle spin on the proceedings, gigantic PIGBAG posters adorned the walls and the place was packed with very refreshed art students. Their liquid consumption meant our old equation involving alcohol had a big green for go as we unleashed everything they were feeling right there and then. They did not care about carefully-constructed compositions – they’d had enough, joining in with screaming as loudly as possible. Sensing no one wanted us to stop, we didn’t. Finally, in an echo of Bristol’s Granary, someone joined in on an unused drum kit to applause all round, out went over-intellectualising regarding arty self-expressionism as it suddenly got real (no review for this one, only wide-eyed stares).
Back in Birmingham, a large industrial unit opened selling discount beers, wines and spirits with the snappy title Drinksville, this name could be seen proudly flapping up poles on luscious burgundy flags, thus attracting our attention as we drove past. The recent shindig with the worse-for-wear art students meant there was no denying alcohol played a part in pushing those musical boundaries, as a spare flag mysteriously appeared, folded, on our car back seat. ‘Trio’ didn’t quite have the right ring about it and so Drinksville Quartet it was. Not at the intensity of Pittville Park, our one band meeting cut out any talk of rehearsals and got straight to the action plan – a few aperitifs followed by as much noise as possible until the bouncers threw us out. Pigbag had been very serious in what it did and so were we, but being ‘not altogether there’ began to slip into our method of operations. Rough Trade Booking had arranged some Pigbag concerts and their reply buoyed us up no end, “We were wondering how long it would take you to form a new band.” For starters, they got us a support date at The Venue in July followed by the ICA Rock Week towards the end of August, this had not gone unnoticed by the rest of Pigbag who all attended the July date with their popcorn. On stage, a large Drinksville flag stretched across the microphones which would be endorsed by ‘Mr Booze’ from the Robin and the Seven Hoods film being played over the PA as we went on. The pre-show refreshments certainly did their job as I found another bee in my bonnet and headed for the front door. Out in the street I thought I can’t go and do another ‘Diamanda Galás’ and leave everyone in the lurch again, but returning to the foyer, the staff did not believe I was in the band so I had to fork out the price of a ticket to see myself perform. My disappearance went unnoticed back at the bar before Bing Crosby started singing from the film soundtrack causing us three to crawl unceremoniously onto the front of the stage to try and stand up. The music industry’s great and the good immediately dropped their popcorn and fled for the exits, not unlike the reaction to the singing of communist propaganda songs. Having no one there to throw us off stage was a relief and bumping into bouncers who did not recognise us an extra bonus, we remarked how awful that last band had been while sidling past, carrying covered instruments. Before returning to the Midlands, Dave used a payphone at Euston station to ask Rough Trade where our money was, a string of expletives could be heard from the earpiece before the call was cut off. We were still booked in to play the ICA, however, and they could not stop us now. If this was not confusing enough, things were about to get really complicated.
In my pocket, next to the passport, was a scrap of paper with New York telephone numbers scrawled on it. These belonged to East Coast musicians I had met on that U.S. tour who said we must keep in touch and so why not speed things up? Telling everyone in Birmingham that I was just going down the shop for a pint of milk, I paid £99 for several hours of cramp plus a sandwich to arrive in Manhattan mid-July. Weather conditions made me think it was mid-August for years to come but nope, July it was. The good news: my plan to expand our franchise with a larger New York-based band, how cool can it get, I thought. The bad news: mid-July was too hot to be cool. The sun roasted tourist-packed Broadway as I ran back into the Aberdeen hotel for an anxiety dream about trying to join a band called Pigbag who had already been there and left a year ago. For all the loose change I needed for the phone booth, I crossed Herald Square to Macy’s to buy something but a child actor straight out of Charlie Chaplin glared up at me and stood on my feet. No luck there then, so next stop, a coffee bar for a burger and sit down – don’t panic yet.
“Would you be able to spare enough quarters to phone the numbers on this list?”
“Who d’ya think I am, Einstein?”
OK, panic NOW – At first light, my rapid departure out the Aberdeen had reception explaining I could have used the phone in my room. “I’m sorry, but I could not possibly ring anyone in America right now, Ha Ha Ha.” The subway snatched me away and at that hour, first-class was the only option. But it wasn’t over yet, U.K. Customs spotted amongst the high-class arrivals someone in builder’s jacket, ripped jeans and tennis shoes, carrying what looked like a machine gun in a musicians’ case. They went through searching for who-knows-what: it was bound to be here, but, exhausted to the point of no return, they stood silently as I put everything back on a trolley to squeak away down the corridor. Chris and Dave did not believe a word of it when I told them “I went to New York yesterday” and wanted to know where the pint of milk was. This discussion took place at The Traitors band’s house down the end of Chris’s road where preparations for a possible concert of theirs had swung into action. In fact, these had been going on for several years as we noticed they never left their front room and had aged considerable – asking us to join in must have weighed on their minds for years to come. Incredibly, it was to be held at The Venue, scene of our first crime, but now the magnificent return of a Drinksville big band was envisaged, this could even be the rise of swing bands again that Simon had predicted although you could have fooled me. Of course, we would have to be on the lookout for angry Rough Trade Booking staff but we’ll wow ‘em over. Also at the latest band meeting was German-born Eva Engel a.k.a. present-day singer-songwriter Zeebee who claimed to be a long-lost relative of Friedrich Engels, co-author of ‘The Communist Manifesto’. Our pattern-recognition soon had that one nailed with a large spreadsheet showing inescapable politics, propaganda songs, music and alcohol. Phones rang, people pointed and wall calendars were blocked in, I shouted “Make sure we have all your passports by tomorrow” and nobody knew why. Rough Trade were nowhere to be seen as a quizzical sound technician on the desk wondered why we didn’t need a soundcheck. Instead, the core of Drinksville indoctrinated the others into the fine art of timing when it came to imbibing so as to be at peak performance readiness, or ‘for when it all kicked off’, which ever came first. It all kicked off as the curtain rose to a scene of utter devastation, I was slumped on the drum riser staring into space, microphones were being knocked over and the sound of several car crashes began to descend. I forgot to play my trombone and picked a mic up off the floor in what I now thought was a talent show. Seeing a nervous Eva Engel at the back, I started a very loud interview with her over the PA as the ‘music’ now made Diamanda Galás Top 40 Album-Orientated Rock. Unbeknown to us, Nick Duffy was in the audience taking notes on the proceedings, especially ‘the girl being interviewed’ section and would report this back to his brother Stephen for future reference.
If anyone from Rough Trade was there, they must have dreaded the looming ICA Rock Week. The ICA themselves probably had doubts of us appearing as, by now, the sleek Drinksville machine included not even turning up beforehand, but going straight on stage when arriving. For some reason the larger forces provided by members of The Traitors declined the extra date which we said was by public demand, so it was back to bass, trombone and bass clarinet. These fell onto the ground as the taxi door opened, to be topped with a heap of bodies as imbibing-timing once again succeeded brilliantly. Going way past our expectations of a West End appearance, here we were on the top-class Mall with Berlin tipping-off Buckingham Palace to warn the ICA to keep the noise down. But word had got around and the place was deserted, so making a racket in the background hardly registered with those daintily partaking in wine and nibbles at the bar. An actual review in the New Musical Express for 21st August 1982 described the Drinksville Quartet as a ‘polite whisper’, but fair do’s – the word juxtaposed was not used. Exhausted backstage and soaked in sweat, we had ‘let it all out’ but it had been a damp squib, they thought it was art.
Birmingham-bound Dave thanked us for making him play avant-garde bass guitar with a promise to think twice next time as Chris and me decided to call round Sharon’s in Clerkenwell. Her Exmouth Market flat was busier than usual as Italian guests Paola and Francesca were over from Turin to catch the London sights. They offered an evening of Torinese cuisine to which red wine from the shop below was added and music being provided by hauling down a 1960s radiogram from the room above to squeeze into the compact kitchen. As the night wore on, the choice in mood music was questionable with the latest Sun Ra Arkestra double album starting up, nearly ninety-minutes’ worth of the craziest big band music you ever heard. He may have originated from Birmingham, Alabama in one universe but it was obvious Sun Ra was from Saturn in another. It was a race between the red wine and the meal as to which would finish first but half way through it was realised the radiogram record player still had a 78 rpm setting to which the Sun Ra Arkestra now sped up to. If their music was not ‘out there’ enough, all the extreme, abstract kettle-singing soloing now went into warp speed along with our heads. It only slowed down when food caught the vinyl but Sun Ra was too tough for this and flung it off across the kitchen. Afterwards, Greek-style washing-up came into practice with plates neatly stacked in pieces on the floor, it was at this point that Pigbag drummer Chip entered to discuss doing some work with Drinksville but couldn’t quite comprehend what he was seeing right now. In a final summing-up of English culture, Chris and me also took the ‘charity shop discarded pile look’ to the extreme by wearing everything we could find and bursting into Paola and Francesca’s room to wave frantically to the accompaniment of an imaginary new language. Chip could have made Drinksville a proper Quartet and brought some much-needed discipline and structure to the proceedings but having lent too far over in the ‘free’ direction meant the putting in the hours work ethic had gone. New band members were being added to Pigbag with Kofi Adu eventually taking on some of the drumming from Chip, Simon-connection Brian Nevill adding more drums and sax while Oscar Verden played trombone. As you do, I was in the middle of a laughing fit at bands in the Lyceum, Strand when Oscar passed by and tried to introduce himself. Instead of technical discussions on the merits of certain trombones, I could not get a word out as the door staff kindly asked me to leave, I have been trying to get an apology through ever since. As if there was no escape from The Venue, new line-up Pigbag had a December date to be caught on video so I took the Italians along to show them what all the fuss was about. There were a lot of hellos including to Angela Jaeger who was adding vocals and Dick O’Dell, later to get the drinks in and persuade me to join in a drum break, thus ruining part of their video (anything I can do to help). When the dressing room emptied out, me plus Chip carried on where we left off in the Exmouth Market kitchen by throwing everything everywhere in a salute to old-school Rock ‘n’ Roll behaviour, why do bands do that? Before heading back to Italy, Paola and Francesca made the terrible mistake of pointing out where Turin was and giving Chris and me their telephone numbers.