# A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Flatmates - Part 1

  by Martin Whitehead

published: 13 / 1 / 2002

Flatmates - Part 1


Chapter 1: It’s early days yet The Flatmates formed in 1985 shortly after I met up with Rocker, the band’s original drummer at a gig by The Jazz Butcher in the June of that year. It took me some ti

Chapter 1: It’s early days yet The Flatmates formed in 1985 shortly after I met up with Rocker, the band’s original drummer at a gig by The Jazz Butcher in the June of that year. It took me some time to discover why he was called Rocker, but it was a nickname given to him by The Blue Aeroplanes and refers to his style of dancing. As someone who couldn’t possibly be more unlike Gene Vincent or James Dean it suited him in a post modern ironic kind of way. Geographically, the band was from Bristol in the west of England. In that respect we were removed from the Scottish scene that spawned The Shop Assistants, Soup Dragons, Close Lobsters, Pastels, BMX Bandits, Fizzbombs, Dragsters, Jesse Garon & The Desperadoes etc. Our contemporaries in the Bristol scene were The Brilliant Corners and Blue Aeroplanes and whilst we frequently shared the bill with those bands we came from a different musical background. Although not appearing on the NME tape that spawned the genre, The Flatmates were widely regarded as being part of the C86 scene. Rather than being a scene created by one NME cassette, the C86 release merely reflected the explosion in small bands, clubs, fanzines, labels etc that had occurred in the mid 80’s. The early 80’s had been typified by Goth, a dreadful punk sub genre infused with hippiedom that involved dressing up in black, taking yourself very seriously and singing songs about bats. (Compare and contrast with Haircut 100 - an early 80’s band that evidently didn’t take themselves seriously, dressed in white by wearing cricket clothing, which is a game played using bats). It was also a period that required you to have a political manifesto in order to be taken seriously by the NME. That was a trend that never entirely went away, but in the early 80’s Billy Bragg, The Redskins and The Specials were where it was at. All of them fine bands, but not pop in the sense of a celebration of love, life and all things bright and beautiful. The movement that was tagged C86 was a mass reaction to the dreariness of the early 80’s. Cutie accoutrements of lollipops and anoraks was possibly taking the point too far, but 3 minute 3 chord pop and fanzines printed in bright colours was a welcome antidote to miserabalism. The Jazz Butcher gig was one of a series on board The Thekla (a retired cargo ship moored in Bristol docks) that I’d promoted under the title of ‘The Mission Club’. Other bands appearing at The Mission Club included The June Brides, Marc Riley and The Creepers, The Pastels (supported by The Shop Assistants) and The Loft. The Jazz Butcher’s contract had been sent to the venue who had not passed it on to me. Part of the contract was the rider for the bands drinks. If the band didn’t get their drinks, they weren’t going to play. I had to appeal to the audience for a whip round to pay for the drinks and Rocker chipped in a couple of pounds to ensure The Jazz Butcher’s appearance. Whilst later exchanging bootleg tapes I told Rocker that I’d written some songs on my guitar with the intention of performing them as a support slot for a headline band at the Mission Club. After years of trying to get a band together Martin was prepared to go it alone as a solo performer. Rocker mentioned he used to play in a band in Birmingham by the name of The Drain on the Balcony. He used to play ‘drums’, or rather a stool and tambourine. The seeds of a pop adventure were sown! The as yet nameless duo practised a couple of times a week, sometimes at Martin’s parents, sometimes at Rocker’s flat, where Rocker’s flatmate of the time, Kath Beach, mentioned she could probably play bass as she had a guitar that she could play a few things on. The duo was now a 3 piece.Rocker’s other flatmate, Debbie Haynes, would also come along to practises, just to see what the band was like. She started to sing a bit, but after 2 songs Martin decided that Deb was a far better singer than he was and so gave her all the lyrics. The band was complete and late summer and autumn 1985 was spent writing and rehearsing songs and making 4 track demos. For months the band tried to come up with a half decent name, ‘The Mess’ lasted about a week before it was decided that it might be taken too literally. Ann Sheldon, a writer for Bristol’s listings magazine, Venue, and friend of Rocker’s asked who was in his band. "Oh, me and my flatmates". "The Flatmates?" she replied. The name stuck. The world got a taste of what was to come when in autumn 1985, me and Rocker supported the Housemartins, performing one song, ‘Out of Love’, which was written by Rocker in his Drain on the Balcony days. We performed as The Roommates with me playing guitar and Rocker singing and playing the melodica solo. Chapter 2: Martin, Rocker, Debbie and Kath Rocker found us rehearsal space in the basement of the offices of the Bristol branch of the Communist Party of Great Britain. Virtually all our rehearsals with the original Flatmates line up were on Monday night with the communists. There never seemed to be anyone else in the building, the basement was massive and half the price of any other rehearsal space. The basement was where all their banners and placards were kept that were dusted off for demos once a year, together with the Revolutionary Vegetarian Worker’s Bean and Cereal Wholefood stand. The first gig as The Flatmates was on January 21st 1986, supporting Half Man Half Biscuit at ‘The Bunker’ at The Tropic Club in Bristol. Since the previous September me and Rocker had been promoting gigs together every Thursday at the Tropic Club in conjunction with Mark Simpson, another local promoter. Martin and Rocker being the promoters, The Flatmates got the pick of the best support slots at The Bunker (including their 2nd gig, supporting The Wedding Present). The gig was the first that the newly discovered Half Man Half Biscuit had played south of Manchester. The capacity of the Tropic Club was just over 300, and twice as many people were turned away as were admitted. People even travelled from London for the gig including Radio 1 DJ John Peel who arrived too late to see The Flatmates. When he did turn up, Deb gave him a badge and told him he "didn’t miss much, cos we weren’t very good anyway". A message which was relayed to all his listeners the following week. Thanks Deb. Also there to see Half Man Half Biscuit was a minibus full of students from Bath University. One of them, Rosey, was actually impressed by The Flatmates, especially their bubbly singer. She didn’t notice the guitarist too much though. Chapter 3: Martin, Rocker, Debbie and ... After 8 gigs, mostly support slots around Bristol, Kath left The Flatmates, just as they were staring to get regular gigs and thinking about releasing records. Kath’s last gig with The Flatmates was a headline gig on board The Thekla. On the poster we had used a picture of The Ramones and the line "Take it d.d.", a double reference to both Dee Dee Ramone and Debbie Donut, our inband nickname for Deb, originally her childhood family nickname. The Ramones themselves were due to commence a UK tour and unintentionally we became responsible for starting a rumour that this was to be a secret gig by The Ramones. The owners of the venue wanted to know why we’d put The Ramones on our poster and caused them dozens of phone calls from curious, but disappointed Ramones fans. Following Kath’s departure a new bassist was urgently sought. One of the candidates was a Ramones fan named Olly, who turned up to many of the Flatmates gigs. Fortunately it didn’t really work out. Martin mentioned to a long standing friend of his, Sarah Fletcher, that his band really needed a new bass player. Sarah, although she’d never played bass before didn’t think it could be too challenging as she already played several instruments with a good degree of competence. Sarah came along to a practice, borrowed a spare bass guitar of Martin’s and everything fell into place. She picked up the songs quickly, got on with everyone and looked great. There was a satisfying symmetry to a 2 girl/2 boy line up. Later on we would also rehearse in the basement in Sarah’s mum’s house. We would carry the amps and drums in though the basement door, then barricade ourselves in with a couple of old mattresses to deaden the noise. Sarah played her first gig at The Tropic Club on Friday 27th June 1986. The Flatmates spent the next 2 days, Saturday and Sunday the 28th and 29th June, in S.A.M. Studio in Bristol recording their first single. Over a sweltering weekend three tracks were recorded; ‘I Could Be In Heaven’, ‘Tell Me Why’, and ‘So In Love With You’. Deb’s laugh at the end of ‘I Could Be In Heaven’ was recorded over 2 takes. The first a spontaneous laugh whilst the tape was running, the second a laugh at the first laugh. Whilst accidental, the engineer, ex Vice Squad bassist Sooty, decided to leave it on the tape and it undoubtedly contributed to the success of the recording. In the summer of 1986 The Flatmates were booked to play at Bristol’s annual free festival at Ashton Court. The time they were given was almost the last slot on the Sunday afternoon, when the only people left would be those picking up the litter and the hippies too stoned to go home. En masse the band turned up at the Ashton Court organisers office, which was in a corner of the offices of Venue magazine on Jamaica Street. Presenting the argument of having had press coverage and a forthcoming single on Subway, they demanded a better slot, and got one, the middle of Saturday afternoon. The set itself was the not unfamiliar blur of dodgy chords and broken strings, but given that Ashton Court is the one time of year when Bristol catches up with what’s going on, even if only 10% of the audience liked the band, it was worth holding out for. Later that summer the WOMAD festival was held in Clevedon, near Bristol. I was writing for Record Mirror at the time, doing occasional live reviews and so got asked to review the WOMAD festival. I was asked to cover The Housemartins, Siouxsie and the Banshees and The Shop Assistants. As well as words I also supplied photographs and having previously supported The Housemartins they recognised me hanging around the side of the stage and invited me onstage to do a photo session mid set. On the compilation album that followed the festival the Housemartins track is preceded by Paul Heaton announcing "There’s a bloke out there called Rocker who’s holding a microphone in the air because he’s taping this gig. On the count of 3 I want everyone to shout ‘Hello Rocker’, 1,2,3…" Even though we didn’t do anymore gigs with them we still stayed friends with The Housemartins and The Flatmates received a mention on the sleeve of The Housemartins Greatest Hits compilation. One of the bands that Martin and Rocker had put on at the Tropic Club was Mighty Mighty. Hugh, gangly bespectacled singer of Mighty Mighty recommended to Martin a young band from Birmingham, The Sea Urchins. The Sea Urchins, later to be the very first band released by Sarah Records, played support to The Flatmates at a gig on The Thekla in Bristol on 30th July 1986. In The Flatmates set, Deb jumped on stage and slipped and fell on her backside, but the gig was notable for the support band. Several of the band got very drunk before going on and one of them started stripping on stage. As he got down to his Y-fronts Deb leapt on stage and bundled him through the stage curtains to save his modesty. Although the audience were deprived of a Full Monty performance, Deb qualified for a Humane Society award for kindness to defenceless support bands. On the 2nd August 1986, 3 days after the gig with The Sea Urchins and through an invitation of one of The Chesterfields, The Flatmates played a small open air gig in Evercreech in Somerset. The Evercreech Concert for Africa was where Simon Barber of The Chesterfields first showed the band his sleeve design for ‘I Could Be In Heaven’. It was also the first time anyone associated with The Flatmates or Subway saw Rodney Allen. Rodney was at the time a 16 year old singer songwriter who would take to the stage with only his songs and a Rickenbacker for company. Although Rodney’s critics would accuse him of being too much in the mould of Billy Bragg, Rodney wrote songs that his age notwithstanding, were touching and amusing. The next Flatmates gig was on the 22nd August at The Western Star Domino Club in Bristol. Rodney was extended an invitation to play support, and after only seeing Rodney play twice Martin offered him a recording deal with Subway. On 3rd September 1986 The Flatmates played their 16th gig and the first that wasn’t local (Evercreech being an hour or so’s drive away). Everything was piled into Rockers green Renault 12 estate and driven to Lincoln where The Flatmates were supporting Riot of Colour at a club named The Balloon Farm at Lincoln Oasis. In a display of self deprecating cheek The Flatmates attached a rider to their contract. Most bands would request copious quantities of good food and strong drink and frivolous entertainments on their rider, but The Flatmates requested 2 Mars Bars and 2 Marathons (Snickers). The club owner was so impressed he bought them 4 Mars Bars and 4 Marathons! The following night we played with Stump, That Petrol Emotion and Pop Will Eat Itself at Bay 63, at our first ever gig in London. Having already put "The Poppies" on at the Bunker in Bristol (and paid them £20) we’d struck up a friendship. When Richard’s guitar strap broke he didn’t look to his own band for a replacement but called out over the mike in mid gig if Martin from The Flatmates could lend him a guitar strap. Later in the evening I went out to the car only to find ¾ of Pop Will Eat Itself gathered round the back of their van giggling. I went over to see what was up, to discover that they were watching Debbie Flatmate and Clint Poppie "making out" in the back of their van. Back in Bristol on 11th September 1986 The Flatmates were headlining at The Tropic Club when they were passed a note by the management of the club. "Can you please finish your set early as we are closing due to the riots outside". By the time the equipment had been packed away everything seemed pretty peaceful outside. Stokes Croft, the local main road had been closed to traffic and was full of cordons of fully equipped riot police which we had to carry our guitars, amps and drumkits through to reach the car. It’s an unusual experience to have a dozen riot police step aside to let you carry your drumkit through.

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