# 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 7

  by Martin Whitehead

published: 13 / 1 / 2002



Flatmates - Part 7

intro

Chapter 15: Fantasy pop stars We had a 7 week break from gigging between 19th July and 7th September 1987 for Joel to get rehearsed properly, to have a break from the physical and emotional strains


Chapter 15: Fantasy pop stars We had a 7 week break from gigging between 19th July and 7th September 1987 for Joel to get rehearsed properly, to have a break from the physical and emotional strains of the preceding 6 months and to record our third single for release in the following October. Although Rocker had left the band, our choice for third single was a song he had written - ‘You’re Gonna Cry’. Ironically he never played on the one Flatmates single he wrote. By Rocker’s own admission it owed a nod of recognition to Holly and The Italians ‘Tell That Girl To Shut Up’. We demoed it on 4 track before going into SAM studio with Sooty to record it for the single. On the demo we used a really cheap Casio home keyboard to play a repeated piano note throughout the whole song. It worked so well we kept it for the single version. I played the single piano note and I can testify that it really hurts your finger to keep hitting the same key 8 times a bar for a whole 3½ minutes. The other 3 tracks we recorded for release on the 12" version showed something of a fascination for films, being ‘Life Of Crime’, with it’s Cagneyesque overdubbed machinegun fire, crashing car and me shouting "Lookout Deb!" at the end of it; ‘Barbarella Blue’ in tribute to Jane Fonda’s Barbarella and a good excuse to refer lyrically to stopping the evil Duran Duran; and ‘Sportscar Girl’, originally inspired by the Marianne Faithful movie, ‘Girl On A Motorbike’. The single peaked in the NME indie chart of 12th December 1987 at number 4. Our attempts to avoid the mundanity of the local scene resulted in a complete flight of fancy whereby we partially reinvented ourselves as transatlantic jetset types. Rather than admit we’d recorded ‘You’re Gonna Cry’ in the same studio that almost every other Bristol band recorded in we claimed on the sleeve that it had been recorded in New York, crediting Sooty under his correct name Mark Byrne, and passed off pictures taken in my flat as being the work of an invented New York photographer. I always liked to present The Flatmates as a bigger deal than they were and never saw any harm in exaggerating a point for the sake of a good interview, so don’t go reading too much into what we may have said in any old press cuttings you come across. Being in a band also entailed an element of acting and if people liked the thought that we all lived in the same house, just like The Beatles in ‘Help!’ then I’d go along with it. Even after we’d acquired management a local manager approached me with a view to handling The Flatmates. One of the reasons for his interest was that "The Flatmates always give good interview". Gee, thanks. ‘You’re Gonna Cry’ was also the first of 2 videos we made. The second was a proper, ‘made for TV’ affair for ‘Heaven Knows’, but for ‘You’re Gonna Cry’ we drafted in Joel’s old mate and promoter, Roger Cowell. The video for ‘You’re Gonna Cry’ was made on a budget of about £200. It was filmed on Super 8 shot at 16 frames per second, but transferred to video at 24 frames per second. Consequently creative editing had to be used to hide the fact that the video wasn’t remotely synced. If shown in small snatches Deb’s voice could just about be synced to the film, but anything beyond a couple of seconds became noticeable. In one section the video synchronisation starts off way behind, catches up with the music, is in sync for a second or two and Deb’s mouth then stops moving several seconds before the singing stops. Still, it was cheap and punk rock, although to my knowledge it’s never been shown on TV. Chapter 16: Let’s get serious, Autumn 1987 Whilst we lost something when Rocker departed we gained something with Joel. Joel bore more than a passing resemblance to the young Anthony Perkins out of Psycho. He owned a 1960’s Ford Zodiac and had an active interest in the dance music scene. Joel’s presence spread a higher degree of sophistication throughout the band and brought a harder attitude to proceedings. Joel wasn’t the placid character that Rocker was, but he was more photogenic and more interested in exploring musical directions outside the conventional indie scene. When one member of a 4 piece band is changed it affects the chemistry and relationships between the rest. In our case I don’t think it was necessarily for the better or worse, but it was definitely different. Joel played his first gig with us as a full time Flatmate at Dingwalls in Camden, London, on the 7th September 1987. To celebrate joining full time he had bought a beautiful brand new, candy shrimp pink drumkit. Under the red stage lights at Dingwalls it just looked dissappointingly pale. The gig doesn’t particularly stick out in my memory, but no doubt Deb will long remember it. A woman in the audience stopped Deb on the way to the bar to tell her how much she liked her band. Nothing unusual in that, except this fan was Chrissie Hynde of The Pretenders, one of Deb’s all time heroines telling Deb how great her band was. If Joey Ramone, Pete Shelley or Phil Spector had told me the same I’d have retired on the spot, there’s just no way that anything could top that. I guess that indicates one of the failings of The Flatmates, that throughout it all we were fans deep down, and not careerists. We wanted to make pop music that ranked with the best, but we also wanted to stand and gaze at the best while we were doing it. On the 29th September 1987 we played at the Fiesta Suite in Plymouth. Joel was settling into the drum stool quite nicely. During the gig 2 guys thought it a joke to shout after every song "Where’s Rocker?!!", which was funny the first time you heard it, but not the tenth. Joel’s reply was "He’s dead!". After the set Joel and myself sought out the 2 jokers and gave them a talking to. On the 15th October 1987 we played at Christ’s College, Cambridge. The gig was in a large hall which was pretty full. We played well, buoyed up no doubt by getting a big roar of welcome when we walked on stage. We stayed that night in a room facing one of the cloisters in the college. I remember being woken in the night by the wind rattling the window, but went back to sleep. The following morning the wind was still blowing and when I looked out the window saw branches and heaps of rubbish strewn around the cloister. We dressed and headed out to a café to get breakfast before heading back to Bristol. On our drive through Cambridge we encountered a couple of trees that had fallen across the street. The winds were still blowing and buffeting the van about. After breakfast, following a few detours around town to avoid more fallen trees and chimneys we picked up the motorway. It was only once we managed to leave the relative shelter of the town that we discovered the extent of the storm. Most of southern Britain had been lashed by hurricane force winds. As we drove down the motorway we could see whole clumps of trees uprooted. The highway was strewn with debris, much of it parts of trees, but there were also bits of fences and plastic sheeting, almost anything that could be blown from the fields in what was a largely rural farming area. At one point, only about 100 yards ahead of us, part of a motorway sign blew off its post. The sheet of metal was about 6 feet by 4 feet, but instead of falling to the ground it blew straight across the opposite carriageway, over the central barrier and floated over three lanes of the motorway, about 6 feet off the ground like a dayglo metal flying carpet, before ploughing into a field. Had it blown across the motorway a few seconds later it may well have embedded itself in the side of our van. On the 18th November 1987 we played at Darwin College of the University of Kent in Canterbury. Despite our engagement and me living in Bristol, Rosey was working in London at the time and came to the gig. We drove back through London to drop Rosey off and entered central London up the Grays Inn Road, past the Water Rats pub, home to many indie gigs. We ran into a traffic jam and were held up for ages. All we could see ahead of us was masses and masses of flashing blue lights on Police cars, ambulances and fire engines. As the traffic eased we saw that they were all congregated around Kings Cross station. We heard on the van’s radio that there had been a fire at the station, but what wasn’t known at the time was that over 50 people had been killed when a fire in one of the old wooden escalators had ignited dirt and dust on the ceiling and sent a fireball shooting up the escalator tunnel and into the main hall of the station. Knowing that Rosey passed through the station on her way home every night her parents had been trying all evening to telephone her without success. It was around this time that we were approached at a gig in London and asked whether we had management. It turned out that Brian Hallin of Globeshine Management had been interested in us for some time and had seen several of our gigs in London. We debated whether we needed management, but concluded there was only so much we could do by ourselves, especially as determined outsiders to the London music business. Brian and his assistant, Simon Harris, took us on for a trial relationship, and although they took on the job after the release of ‘You’re Gonna Cry’ got us several interviews and features with the weekly music papers. We also felt within the band that we’d reached a level that would be hard to rise above doing things by ourselves. How long would we be satisfied playing the same circuit of gigs, recording singles every few months with Sooty and selling records to same few thousand fans. Brian was already representing The Wedding Present whose ‘George Best’ LP was one of the first records to cross over from indiedom into mainstream success. It wasn’t for several years that indie music would be seen as anything other than the dregs of punk, difficult and obscure, or just amateur league nonsense that only students could possibly pretend to like. Any ‘indie’ record that butted its way into the lower regions of the chart for just a week was seen as breaking down the barricades and making inroads on Bros, T’Pau, Aha or the many guises of Stock Aitken and Waterman. In the end we brokered an agreement with Globeshine via a lawyer, Rosemary Reid of Harbottle and Lewis, that saw that Globeshine would only receive commission if our earnings increased quite substantially above what we were getting for ourselves. Most of the day to day management was provided by Simon who proved his worth at our gig at the Greenwich Tunnel Club on the 10th December 1987. The promoter was having difficulties in locating our payment for the night. We’d taken ages to find the venue, which was something of a dump, in an out of the way part of town. Now the promoter was playing hard to get with our petrol money home. Simon was younger than we were, but went off to see the promoter and came back 5 minutes later with payment in full. As far as we were concerned, our management were earning their 20% already. It had been our intention that after releasing 3 singles we should start work on producing an album. However, our management had other ideas. As far as they were concerned the clock started ticking when they started managing us and they needed to work on several singles in order to build us up to signing a deal. Our management was naturally enough in it for the long term benefits, which would be 20% of any advance we got for signing, plus of 20% of the subsequent royalties. Tactically they had a fair point, that if we put out an album that sold say 5-10,000, which would be very satisfactory by Subway standards, that might only serve to prove to a major that you could sell only 5-10,000 copies on a major too, which means "I don’t think we’ll be exercising any option for a second album, goodbye and good luck with your future career (as a double glazing salesman)." Of course it could be argued that sales of 10,000 through what was essentially a bedroom run record company would translate comfortably to 6 figure sales for a proper record company, but big record deals are more frequently struck on what a band promises to deliver, rather than what it actually does. Our management persuaded us to hold off on the album on Subway, and let them reel in the big deal that a major would undoubtedly offer. On New Year’s Eve 1987 we played at The Tropic Club in Bristol, the scene of our earliest gigs. The club wanted a band to play and were prepared to pay well for it. We did it for no better reason than the money was good and we had bills to pay. Deb quite possibly had better things to do with her New Year’s Eve and played most of the gig with her back to the audience. This pissed me off and in my opinion called for a futile rock’n’roll gesture. Throwing your beloved 1967 Fender Telecaster off the side of the stage would be a good one. My response to Deb’s petulance cost me a new set of tuning keys, which was most of the money I saw from the gig.




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