# 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 6

  by Martin Whitehead

published: 13 / 1 / 2002

Flatmates - Part 6


Chapter 14: Bye Bye Baby/Hit The North June 1987 was busy, with The Flatmates playing 12 gigs in that month. 12 gigs over a month may not seem busy, but apart from the Devon weekend they were all b

Chapter 14: Bye Bye Baby/Hit The North June 1987 was busy, with The Flatmates playing 12 gigs in that month. 12 gigs over a month may not seem busy, but apart from the Devon weekend they were all booked as individual gigs rather than a 12 night tour. We managed to run Leicester, Preston, Carlisle and Manchester into consecutive dates, but visits to Cambridge and York meant either an overnight stay and travelling back the next day, or driving all night to get home. We were still promoting gigs in Bristol and Rosey was taking her University finals whilst I was coming in from a gig at 9 a.m. and collapsing into bed. If the Flatmates was becoming a heavy schedule for us, consider Rocker. He was then, and still is, a qualified and practising dental surgeon. On numerous occasions he had driven us home through the night so that he could be at work the next morning. It was starting to get to the point were even Rocker’s abilities to avoid sleep, not to mention his holiday allowance, was starting to reach breaking point. We were offered a gig at York University on Monday 22nd June 1987. It meant an all day journey there and all night trip back and hence probably a day and a half off work, which Rocker couldn’t spare. Meanwhile, we didn’t want to blow the gig out. Joel O’Beirne, who had been part of the band’s general scene since Deb had met him was a drummer, and without detracting from Rocker’s massive input into the band, probably a better drummer in the conventional sense than Rocker was. Joel, knowing most of the set already, practised with us and stood in for Rocker at the York gig. Myself and Sarah decided that if The Flatmates were to do anything more than play local gigs and weekend fixtures near to home we would have to part company with Rocker. It was a hard decision to make and when we came to break the news to Rocker it was Sarah who had to tell him. When she did I had to try very hard to hide the tears that were threatening to show. I knew that for the band to achieve anything we had to part company with Rocker, but I had so many good memories of playing with him. It was Rocker who had given the band character. The first Christmas after we formed we held a band Christmas dinner and gave him a battery powered drumming monkey. He would put it on his drumkit when he played. On a recording of one of our first gigs at The Tropic Club, maybe our second gig supporting The Wedding Present, you can just hear the monkey drumming away after we all leave the stage and before the disco starts. It was Rocker who gave Deb a tambourine to play on stage and who came up with the Stylophone. It was Rocker who worked out how to play the cover versions, although we had to put our foot down at The Bay City Rollers ‘Bye Bye Baby’. I don’t recall Rocker ever being wound up by any of the petty squabbles, tantrums, problems and crises that afflict bands. Deb could be volatile and I always had very certain ideas of presentation and production. It was Rocker’s presence and his ability to soak up confrontations that helped smooth the atmosphere when the 4 of us would spend days on end piled into a small Renault estate car. Whether intentionally or not, by allowing the rest of the band to poke gentle fun at him he would allow us to release our built up tension. Most of all it was Rocker who made The Flatmates fun and not the usual ambitious clamber for fame and fortune that many bands are underneath their public facade. Although the most senior Flatmate by several years Rocker brought an element of the teenagers-messing-about-in-their-bedrooms to the band. When Rocker left, we opened up possibilities of professionalism, but something else was lost. At times we could have all happily throttled him, frequently due to his very lack of reaction in a crisis, or when he drove at 60mph to get best fuel efficiency from the Rockermobile. He would drive at 60mph on an empty motorway or down a narrow country lane, as he did once on our trip to Devon which ended up in Deb screaming at him to stop so she could get out. I heard second hand that Stephen Pastel had thought it a dreadful thing that we sacked Rocker and that it was just a sign of my ruthless ambition, but if you’re an advocate of ruthless amateurism (and I don’t mean that in any critical or unkind sense) then you would, wouldn’t you. If it’s any indication Rocker remains one of Sarah’s and one of my own closest friends. We shared a minibus to York with The Brilliant Corners who were also on the bill. The Clouds were first on at York University in probably the best ever gig I saw them play. The Gallaghers have nothing on John and Bill Charnley on top form. By the end of the gig, John was almost crawling around the stage. He picked up a litre bottle of cider, unscrewed the cap and tipped the contents into the airhole on the front of a monitor cabinet. The soundman freaked out as he realised what was happening, but by the time he’d run from the back of the hall to the stage, the last drop of cider had trickled into the cabinet. As well as having some of the best tunes of any band around at the time they were like a malevolent spirit released from its box. At the York gig they taunted the elderly security guard by smashing bottles in the corridor behind the stage and shouting to the guard - "Those kids did it, they went that way…" He fell for it several times before rumbling them. Earlier that year Rosey had put on the Clouds supporting The Chesterfields at Bath University and they’d pissed against the wall of the dressing room. On the Chesterfields tour they put a concrete breeze block through a supermarket window and robbed the drink department. Ask Norman Blake of Teenage Fan Club about that one. He was their guitarist at the time. It was somehow typical of The Clouds that having a choice of fine whiskies or champagne to steal, they took 2 litre bottles of cheap bitter. We finished our set, and Joel’s debut, with such a crush at the front of the stage that the University promoters erected the crash barriers before sets by Mighty Mighty and finally the Brilliant Corners. We returned to our dressing room, which was next door to The Clouds dressing room, only to find it was missing a door and the remainder of our rider. No prizes for guessing who’d done it. Later we found their bass player, the latest of several, sitting in their van. Apparently named Scott Walker, he told us he wanted to leave The Clouds but was afraid to as the others had threatened to beat him up if he did. Now that’s a good technique for ensuring a band stays together. At Preston, Shaun from the band Adesire, an old correspondent from my earlier fanzine writing days introduced himself. I stayed at Shaun’s house that he shared with his girlfriend and baby son. It was certainly grim up north. Being born a softy southerner I’d never known the joys of outside lavatories with ripped newspaper for toilet paper. Shaun took me out for breakfast which entailed a walk down the high street in an attempt to buy barmcakes. We finally ended up at his Mum’s 2 streets away for a fry up. The others testified later that Lancashire had indeed witnessed the 20th century, although I saw little of it during my stay in Preston. The next night we played Carlisle, and arriving early carried on a few miles up the road to Gretna on the Scottish border, where young couples traditionally eloped to in order to take advantage of the lower marriage age in Scotland. We posed for wedding photos outside Gretna Register Office and found an Aberdeen Angus cow standing in a field of thistles next to a sign that said "Welcome to Scotland". Gretna sounds romantic but the village centre is a 1960’s built shopping parade. The "green" has a concrete border and is decorated with dumped and burned out motorbikes amongst the dog shit and empty cider bottles. If you want to run away to get married, go to Vegas, it can’t be any less romantic than Gretna. The Carlisle gig was on a Friday night. We had supper at a local restaurant and played to 9 people, and one of those was Jan who had driven nearly 400 miles from Bristol straight after work on a Friday night. The manager of the Stars and Stripes Nightclub in Carlisle was named Les. He gave us cans of some type of lager that had semi clad girls on the side. We heard from Pop Will Eat Itself that they also played at the same club and Les had given them the same lager. He’d also tried convincing them that he’d "shagged that bird who’s on that can of beer". Jan would frequently spend his weekends tagging along with us on our jaunts around the country, hampered for a while by his knack of writing off cars by driving them off the edge of the road and into the fields near his home in the countryside outside of Bristol. When we stayed on various kind souls floors, Jan would disappear off for an hour or so on Saturday mornings. It was later that we discovered he could fund his away breaks with The Flatmates through a hot operating knowledge of the form of runners and riders. He would disappear to the bookmakers in order to place his bets for the afternoons race meetings. He came up trumps enough times one year to earn more on the horses than from his dayjob. To my knowledge he never made a bet on The Flatmates having a number one record. After the gig we stayed at a travel lodge in the lake district. I awoke at about 6a.m. feeling rough. I woke again at 8a.m. and ran straight to the bathroom. The spaghetti bolognese the night before had given me a serious dose of food poisoning. I travelled all the way to Manchester lying as flat and as still as was possible in an estate car with 4 adults, a drum kit, 2 amps, 3 guitars, luggage, merchandising and sundry bits of band equipment. Whenever the others stopped to admire the truly beautiful scenery of the lake district I ran to the verge and threw up. That night we played Manchester Boardwalk. I managed to play sustained by a bottle of Lucozade. I could barely eat for the rest of that week, during which time we fortunately had no gigs to do. On our trips north we always seemed to end up running through one village in particular with an hour to spare on our itinerary. We would always stop in that village and visit a particularly good little tea shop in the square. I guess it was probably somewhere in South Yorkshire but I must confess that I haven’t a clue where it was, even if I ever knew. It’s the sort of place that in years to come I’d like to take my grown up children and possibly grand children to and point out where we used to park the van. The "tea shoppe" as it must have been, was staffed in my memory by white haired little old ladies with lace doily hats and crisp white pinafores. Whilst I harbour fond memories of the place I suspect that there is still probably a brown at the edge and faded cutting from the NME gummed up in the kitchen relating the splitting up of the Flatmates. I never felt like Gladys, Doris and Nell were totally comfortable with our presence in the place. Our misdemeanours were probably numerous and included putting our elbows on the table, opening our mouths whilst we ate, sniffing rather than using a handkerchief, not placing the soap back in the soap-dish properly when using the washroom, using the expression "television" rather than "wireless", dropping crumbs on the floor, not saying "thank-you", leaving tea slops in the saucer, letting Deb laugh in a confined space without use of a working silencer and insisting on paying in decimal currency. I’m sure I enjoyed it so much because it reminded me of home and especially visits by my grandparents. I wouldn’t be surprised if there was fourth member of staff who was permanently stationed in the back room, telephone receiver in hand having dialled all but the last digit of the local constabulary in order to swiftly summon help in the form of Nick Berry out of Heartbeat who would clip these young trouble makers around the ear just like father did to them and it never did them no ‘arm by ‘eck as like. I really really do feel quite fond of that place and if you think you recognise the description please let me know where I can locate this home from home. On the 12th July 1987 we played again at Bristol’s annual free festival at Ashton Court, exactly a year after we’d first played. Our first appearance had been just our 11th gig, a year later it was our 73rd. This time there had been no argument over times, we played in the middle of Sunday afternoon. Ashton Court, because it’s free, is an opportunity to play to people that for whatever reason would not normally come to see you. The crowd is totally mixed and some people catch you by accident, others are curious and use the weekend to see what the local scene has to offer by sampling bits of everything rather than trekking round the cities pubs and clubs a couple of nights every week. At the time it was a strictly local festival, although since the late 80’s there have been flirtations with national headlining bands. Being a local festival you would likely be sandwiched between a hardcore punk or rockabilly band, and a reggae outfit or a band influenced by the fusion of gamalan percussion and monkey shrieks. (Go away Sting, you don’t live round these parts!) Invariably it just seemed like a procession of "blues" bands playing the same covers, or originals sounding like the same covers, with obligatory mid 70’s noodly guitar solos and some bloke at the front of the audience wearing no shirt and a cowboy hat with a feather in it doing some daft hippy dance. The Flatmates consciously never put much effort into "making it" on the local scene and the local scene reciprocated. Our home town gigs weren’t disastrous by any stretch of the imagination, but we were hardly packing out the city’s prime venues. Since the late 80’s Bristol has become a credible place for a band to come from with the likes of Massive Attack, Tricky and Portishead being the standard bearers for the cool Bristol sound. Back in the 80’s it was ourselves, The Brilliant Corners and The Blue Aeroplanes who were creating music of any credibility. Prior to that The Pop Group, Pigbag and Rip Rig and Panic, featuring a singer by the name of Neneh Cherry, had been the city’s principal musical achievements. The following Sunday we played another local free festival, this time in Luton. If I had criticisms of Bristol, then Luton Free Festival made Ashton Court look like Glastonbury and Woodstock rolled into one. Ashton Court would always manage at least a couple of stages, plus other side events. Luton Free Festival didn’t even manage a stage as such. We played on the back of a truck, which was at least covered from the elements, which was fortunate as it rained all afternoon. The "festival" was held in a local park. Our audience could barely have been in double figures, and from what I recall one of them was the faithful Jan. Several of the crowd were promoters or sound engineers and there was at least one man and his dog. If we’d been paid for each person who’d come to see us we wouldn’t have made enough petrol money to get the car out of the drive. I’d personally hoped that Luton would have been a great all singing and dancing jamboree as it was Rocker’s last gig with us, but sadly it was a dull and downbeat afternoon to part company with my co-founder and one of my best friends.

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