by Roger Freeman

Chapter 6

Wandering through London like a tourist and looking at the sights went on into spring 1990 before I realised the money was going and had to take action. On the radio I caught a snatch from a segued album with train sounds I think they called chill out, or maybe they were talking about chill out rooms, I couldn’t hang around to find out because my bank account was losing its balance. I grabbed a bag of belongings in one hand and, somehow, a portable TV in the other and staggered through the tube system to Victoria coach station. In Birmingham city centre there was only one person to call and this time Chris Hamlin did not bother to snort with laughter as he thought I might turn up. While dragging my things across town to the bus stop, I saw ‘Good Omens’ – the book that is, co-written by Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman, I’ll have a look at that later. Chris had a break from his art and, through a friend of his, managed to meet bassist Dan. In no time, it was back on a trip to London to practice with Chip, Ollie and Chris Lee but things were just not happening, so the new Birmingham trio remained as such to possibly figure something out themselves. I managed to get a council bedsit and now new-fangled cable television distracted me from any ‘serious’ music-making. We did go and see Stephen and Nick’s new band The Lilac Time who put in an appearance at the Midlands Arts Centre, I told Stephen all about the ‘parties in the truck’ at the warehouse and he looked relieved to have got away from the electronica. I still listened to it on the radio and eventually attempted a day in a recording studio but it was such hard work that opening the door into the fresh air at the end was the best bit. 

     The council upgraded my bedsit later to a flat in the Beatles-sounding Dawberry Fields Road which was so isolated that only saying hello occasionally at the corner shop meant practically losing my voice. More silence ensued when I gave up on the radio as whatever it was that had excited us at the beginning of 1988 had been reduced to a four-four bass drum with hi-hat in between and nothing else, like that film of a gate on the edge of a field at arty college. Not much was sparking with the new Birmingham trio, even when asking others to join in, so Chris returned to his art and Dan suggested trying more later. The one time I did listen to the radio, The Orb’s ‘Little Fluffy Clouds’ was playing with an interview put to music but not the Drinksville one from The Venue. Then, inside the 16th February 1991 issue of Melody Maker was a photo of flappy-eared hat, dark glasses and cigar but not belonging to Dr Calculus. Not much had been sparking with The Raincoats either and Ana da Silva was working in a shop, she could not escape her past, however, as in came someone looking for their first album. The flappy-eared hat and dark glasses look was losing ground until eventually, over in New York, photographer Jesse Frohman took a lot of images. 

     Chris now called round to say a new line-up Raincoats had reformed and were playing in Birmingham, down the road from his, at the Bournbrook Hotel pub. We both went along early and had a great chat with Gina and Ana who may have mentioned why they reformed but I did not take in everything they said, there was talk of their albums also being released on CD in the U.S. and perhaps U.K. In the second half of the 1990s, I spotted a copy of the ‘History of House’ book in the Central Library and thought I would find out all about the past. I turned a page and there was Alex Paterson from The Orb wearing the flappy-eared hat in the Dr Calculus style. It mentioned DJing strange music for fashion show catwalks, and early Orb collaborator Jimmy Cauty who ended up in the Melody Maker hat and glasses image as part of The KLF, which possibly stood for Kopyright Liberation Front. The description of their Chill Out album sounded like that of Dr Calculus’ Designer Beatnik to me. Meanwhile, on TV, I started watching the American sitcom Spin City, set in a city mayor’s office and, this could have no connection whatsoever, but there was dialogue that mentioned something about “brown envelope moment” in one episode and the word moment jumped out, as if from our two track titles Moments of Being. I could see what was happening here – since the ‘coincidences’ in the History of House book, I was now on the lookout for more connections to our album and, watch out – anybody from 1986 onwards could be in on the joke. I thought I heard ‘moment’ in other lyrics back on the radio and there, on people’s track lists, was the occasional ‘Interlude’ in brackets similar to our use.  

Fashion leader?

I tried telling Dan my conspiracy theory but he gave me a seriously worried look and told me to get back to my art like Chris. The ‘moment count’ went up at the cinema when I caught Star Trek Insurrection discussing a perfect moment where time stopped and almost living in that moment. Back on TV, The Pop Group fan Matt Groening had a new cartoon series whose title Futurama made me think of the panoramic ‘photos of the future’ spread across the back of the Designer Beatnik album. Not only that, but the last notes of the intro theme to this series had those of ‘Papa’s Got a Brand New Pigbag’. I had better not tell Dan this and he stops me anyway by suggesting that we try some more music ourselves but please, it was 2001, anything but dance. To shift my mind elsewhere, he lends me Nirvana’s Nevermind album and, on seeing the baby swimming, remember the underwater ‘Perfume from Spain’ track Paul created with the rising bubbles reverb. Kurt Cobain also knowing a dirty word made perfect sense to me and I go back to say something to Dan and then think nah.

Kurt’s journals were lovingly recreated where he lists The Raincoats as a favourite of his and then I noticed the track ‘No One’s Little Girl’ that Chris Lee and me played on had been added to the beginning of Nirvana’s record label’s re-release of The Raincoats’ album Moving. The issuing of all their work on CD had come about from Kurt tracking down Ana working in the shop and would lead them to reform the band with a chance to support Nirvana.

     Dan got his friend John to join in with our latest musical get-togethers which all sounded fine on any home-recordings but there was no mention of getting an actual band together again. One day I called in and had a go on Dan’s latest keyboard connected to a computer containing a thousand sample sounds and all accessed with a click, incredible that you did not have to think about going to the shops for another instrument, we joked. But then I just stopped thinking all together and went blank as I was about to touch the keys, I wandered into the other room to sit down and watch television where a doctor was saying he would never play the violin again. The years pass and in the supermarket checkout queue, I thought I saw Pepper PIGBAG of fun, oh – Peppa Pig Bag o’ Fun. With the wonders of science, I went onto the tangled web and discovered one of creator Mark Baker’s earlier cartoons was ‘Jolly Roger’, containing a heroine that sounded just like Françoise with her French accent and also snorted like a pig. I sent a message to Ollie about all of this who replied “It’ll be fine”. Eh? What will? What did Ollie know that I didn’t? 

     In 2014 Classic Pop magazine ran an article on Stephen’s career that included Dr Calculus so I sent in my theory on The KLF’s ‘inspiration’ and they thought I might be onto something. Up next for Radio 4 was an adaption of Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman’s book Good Omens, the one I had been meaning to read. I did not hear it all but thought I caught a Brummie accent so eventually go to the bookshop. To me, of course, it read like one long description of the Dr Calculus album with the ‘buzzing bees’ sound effect translated to Beelzebub’s buzzing fly voice along with our deep low rumbling frequencies making an appearance in one of the book’s scenes. Words in phrases were switched around similar to Françoise’s speech pattern, for example, she would say “What it is?” instead of “What is it?” In the book, ‘Like a duck off water’ replaced ‘Water off a duck’s…’ etc. When I read the character’s names Pigbog and Pepper echoing our Record Mirror headline, that clinched it. Indeed, the subsequent TV series had David Tennant and Michael Sheen re-enacting the Record Mirror photo while a teaser video by the Chattering Order of St. Beryl entitled ‘Brand New Baby Smell’ was a brand new Pigbag clincher. In the bookshop window was a photography publication that had Kurt Cobain wearing what looked like a vintage U.S. Forces Korean hat with the earflaps down and white-framed oval sunglasses, this was Jesse Frohman’s book of portraits of Kurt and the band taken in New York. 

A YouTube video suggestion I had noticed before popped up again over to the right, while watching nothing in particular, and so I now clicked. Entitled ‘Doctor Who – The Last Chance Saloon’, it was a special about the last years of the original series. At two minutes and twenty-four seconds in, a letter from creator Sydney Newman appeared, it was dated 6th October 1986 and had his ideas on how to revamp the programme. This included the Doctor metamorphosing into a woman – now, amongst the speech samples Stephen and me threw onto the Dr Calculus recordings was one of a male radio presenter talking about music to impress girls and he ended by saying: “Well, I must say, if I was a young girl, I think it would have made quite an impression on me…” So, Sydney’s letter was written a few weeks after the Designer Beatnik release and my way of thinking equates this to him being in-the-know, joking about different doctors and male to female regeneration. A few lines down under ‘The Earthlings’, he also suggested there should be new companions, one of which wore ‘John Lennon type Dickensian spectacles’ and played a trumpet back on Earth plus, right at the end of the clip, an older brother who ‘graffities the heavens.’ The first companion ticked the box for Dr Calculus dark glasses and brass instrument while the second tied up the graffiti and Weetabix connection mentioned in the Record Mirror article if Sydney was ever shown this. But there is more, the new Doctor Who seasons from 2005 onwards eventually picked up the fez hat and passed it around several actors, also David Tennant had previously put on the pinstripes and tennis shoes similar to the Designer Beatnik inner sleeve photo although ours were actually corduroys. Finally, Doctor Who showrunner Russell T Davies added to the moment count by coming up with ‘The Moment’ weapon.

     Back at the cinema, the 2019 film Yesterday imagined The Beatles not existing or at least being put out of a job, in another Record Mirror article reference. There was also the bonus of train sounds in the recording studio scene and a quick check of the soundtrack CD had plenty of ‘Interlude’ titles like Dr Calculus’ Moments of Being. Star Trek pushed the moment count up again with a trailer for season two of Picard and ‘their moments that haunt them, moments upon which their history turned’. In season one, Patrick Stewart’s ‘Jean-Luc Picard’ had, for the first time, broken into an extreme French accent like Françoise as well, if you ask me. That is the trouble with asking me, I would say all of this, wouldn’t I? So, to conclude my report, other conspiracy theory contenders that include: 

Tin Tin, Dream Machine (Dr Calculus dirty word track), underwater, telephone ringing to rhythm (Dr Calculus ‘Just Another Honey’ track), (Pig) bag, cigar, Freeman, flappy-eared hat, House, Medical Doctor initials, train (sound interludes), Egypt flavour (Dr Calculus ‘Perfume from Spain’ track) are: 

Tin Machine band, Trainspotting film (with underwater toilet scene), Spaced TV series (phone ringing to rhythm scene), ‘Teenage Dirtbag’ song, ‘Clint Eastwood’ song (cigar / sunshine in a bag lyric), About a Boy film (Will Freeman character / flappy-eared woollen hat on character), House m.d. TV series, and the Egypt Station album (with sound effects of real train stations).  

But finally, the best conspiracy theory is – Harry Potter (1997 etc) hints at Neil Gaiman’s Good Omens (something for J. K. Rowling to read while stuck on a train in 1990) and The Books of Magic, all nicely nodding to the Dr Calculus “Magician of the century” rap on Perfume from Spain. Hogwarts and Hogsmeade might doff their hats to the hog-print carrier pig bag or Pigbog character AND the Yesterday film ends with a search online for any evidence of Harry Potter existing like The Beatles,