# 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 2

  by Martin Whitehead

published: 13 / 1 / 2002

Flatmates - Part 2


Chapter 4: It’s a HIT! ‘I Could Be In Heaven’ was released on my Subway Organization label in September 1986 with the catalogue number Subway6. The runout grooves of the A and B side bore the messa

Chapter 4: It’s a HIT! ‘I Could Be In Heaven’ was released on my Subway Organization label in September 1986 with the catalogue number Subway6. The runout grooves of the A and B side bore the messages "pogo pop" and "donut pop", the latter another reference to our singer. Queen’s first album proudly boasted "No synthesizers used on this record!". The Human League’s first album responded "No guitars used on this record!". The Flatmates first single declared "No musicians used on this record!". The photograph of us on the insert was taken by Gerard Langley, vocalist of The Blue Aeroplanes. John Peel played it almost immediately after receiving it and frequently thereafter. The first time I heard the Flatmates played on the radio I’d just turned up at Rocker’s flat, that he still shared with Debbie and Kath. I walked through the front door and ‘I Could Be In Heaven’ was playing. "Haven’t you got fed up with playing it yet?" I said to Rocker. "It’s not me playing it - it’s John Peel, it’s on the radio." It entered the NME indie chart at number 14 in the issue dated 11th October 1986 and a week later peaked at number 11. Shortly after the release of ‘I Could Be In Heaven’ John Walters, John Peel’s producer, phoned Martin to offer The Flatmates a John Peel session. After due consideration of a couple of nanoseconds Martin accepted the offer and the Flatmates were Maida Vale bound. The session was recorded on 14th September 1986 and received its first broadcast on 24th September, repeated on 6th October. The BBC Maida Vale studios are probably amongst the most spacious and well equipped in the country. The engineers and producers don’t work under the luxury of having weeks to turn out a set of recordings. One day of about 12 hours is all that a band is given to record 4 songs. The engineers will spend almost half this time setting up the equipment and miking up amps and drum kits. Allowing for tea and refreshment breaks that’s about 6 hours to record and mix 4 songs. Each musician has about 2 takes to get their part right so the producer (for our 2 John Peel Sessions it was ex Mott The Hoople drummer, Dale Griffin) has little time to pander to artistic temperaments. One part musician, one part engineer, two parts strict schoolmaster is the recipe for a BBC session producer. The quick style of recording with good engineers and equipment suited the Flatmates and the version we recorded of ‘Tell Me Why’ is more urgent and energetic than the version on the B side of ‘I Could Be In Heaven’. We also recorded the Velvet Underground inspired strumathon ‘Love Cuts’. This song was also recorded with Sooty at SAM Studio for the ‘Surfin’ in the Subway’ compilation. On the John Peel version there’s a wooshing noise at the end of the middle eight, but on Sooty’s version there’s an explosion noise which we got by banging my guitar amp and getting the reverb spring to smash around. It wasn’t an exact science and took several goes to get the timing right but it sounded good when it finally worked. The third and fourth songs we recorded were those that would later appear as the A and B sides of the 2nd single, ‘Happy All The Time’ and ‘Thinking Of You’, the latter an exception to Martin’s dominance as main songwriter being a Rocker composition. Rocker’s drumkit made the BBC session engineers work for their money. When I say that Rocker’s drumkit was like biscuit tins, what I mean is that it was crumby. Most of it was what he had when he played in The Drain on the Balcony in school in Birmingham. Imagine the top of the range drumkit as made by Chad Valley, Palitoy, or "My Little Drumkit". The BBC engineers had about 2 hours to get a passable BBC standard drum noise out of it. In the end they cheated and resorted to the wonders of technology. What you hear on Rocker’s BBC sessions are his drumming, but not his drumkit. The drums were miked up, but the signal from the drums was used to trigger drum samples on an Akai sampler in the control room. When Rocker hit his snare drum it sounded like hitting a waste paper bin to us in the studio, but in the control room and on the tape it sounded like £2,000 worth of top of the range Premier snare drum. Coooool! Chapter 5: Back on the road again, autumn 1986 On 11th October 1986 we played at Moles Club in Bath. After the sound check was complete we all went upstairs to the pub for a drink. It was my turn to buy drinks and when I got back to the table Deb and the others told me, with no small sense of surprise, that a blond girl in a suede jacket had come up to the table and told them that she’d been looking forward to us playing in Bath for months. "Where is she? I’ve got to see her!" I said, but she’d left the room. The gig itself was the usual cramped Moles gig. Even with only 4 of us on stage there was little room to move. My guitar amp packed in near the end of the set and I had to plug into Rocker’s Vox AC30 guitar amp that Sarah used for her bass. After the gig a blond girl, who I later discovered was Rosey and had been at our very first gig supporting Half Man Half Biscuit, came into the dressing room, asking if we would play at Bath University. Seizing the initiative I suggested we exchange phone numbers and could speak about it later. When she left I felt pleased with myself, but Deb said "that was the girl who spoke to us earlier." "Wow, why didn’t you point her out to me at the time - I think I’m in love!" We spoke on the phone a couple of times and she invited me to her birthday party on 8th November. That night we were playing in London, but I drove back to Bath the minute I got off stage. From the release of ‘I Could Be In Heaven’ through to Christmas 1986 The Flatmates started getting out and about more. Amongst the 20 gigs from September to Christmas were the aforementioned visit to Bath, plus gigs in Cheltenham, Birmingham, Cambridge, Nottingham, Manchester and 6 gigs in London, several of which were arranged by a promoter by the name of Roger Cowell, later to be the proprietor of Eve Recordings. On the 23rd November 1986 we played at Emmanuel College, Cambridge at what was our 27th gig. During the preparation for the soundcheck Deb tapped me on the shoulder and said, "look who’s here". Rosey had travelled the 200 miles or so from Bath to Cambridge as it was to be my birthday the next day and we had by now been seeing each other for the past 10 days. The soundcheck itself was a bit of a superfluous affair. The sound engineering functions were to be carried out by a couple of volunteers from the drama society who had a p.a. amp, a mixing desk and 2 whole microphones. We usually required 3 vocal microphones for Deb, me and Rocker, plus one on each of the 2 guitar amps and usually at least a couple on the drumkit. Never ones to let artistic temperament spoil a punk rock affair, Deb had the best mike and the remaining one got angled in the vague direction of the drumkit. Sarah and myself just had to crank our amps up and hope for the best. The night went really well. The crowd were enthusiastic and we sold loads of copies of the recently released single. We ended up autographing copies of the single, bus tickets, body parts etc. A few months later we were booked again for a gig at the college’s summer ball the following June. The following night, my 23rd birthday, Roger Cowell had us booked supporting Pop Will Eat Itself at the Head Club at Stallions. Stallions was down a lane just off the top of the Charing Cross Road opposite the Centrepoint Building. It was, and maybe still is, a gay club, hence the flashing 3 foot high neon phallus at the back of the stage which we performed in front of. Whether in deference to Deb, the club’s clientele or just good taste, Clint of the Poppies had covered over the cut out nude centrefold that was pasted to his guitar. The following night we played again in London, back again at Bay 63, but this time at the first ever Subway Package gig that also featured The Chesterfields, already 2 singles into their Subway careers and Razorcuts, whose first single had come out around the same time as ‘I Could Be In Heaven’. The three bands were to play several label nights together, and despite the Chesterfields slight seniority in terms of record releases we would rotate the billing each time. We would also share equipment to save time and expense. Chapter 6: Stop it - you’re frightening me! Since the release of our debut single we received a steady stream of fan mail which we always attempted to answer. The male fans especially were always pleased to receive a reply from Sarah who became hyper efficient at dealing with the band’s postbag. One of our regular correspondents was from Forres, which is on top of the long flat bit which sticks out on the right of Scotland. On the 29th November 1986 we played in Birmingham which at the time was the most northerly gig we’d played. Accordingly, our fan trekked down to see us, although given the distance from Forres to Birmingham the extra 100 miles to have seen us in Bristol wouldn’t have made much difference. He had brought food rations with him. The only food he seemed to like was crisps, so he brought a carrier bag of crisps with him, which he kept by him at the gig. His mum (or possibly sister) had also knitted him a Flatmates sweater with our names on it. (Why didn’t we get one each???) If what we had discovered so far hadn’t given us doubts about the sanity of some our fans the following certainly made us think. To be able to see us play for about 35 minutes on Saturday night he had to finish work on Friday evening and go straight to the train station were he caught the Friday evening train overnight to Birmingham. No other train would have got him to Birmingham in time. Having arrived in Birmingham about breakfast time he then had to hang around Birmingham all day. He got into the venue as early as possible and watched us soundcheck. After the gig he stayed the night in Birmingham and caught a train home early on Sunday morning that got him back to Forres late on Sunday night just in time to get enough sleep to make it back into work on Monday morning. I still can’t figure out after all these years whether these people are the true fans who appreciate your art or totally lost and confused individuals who should get themselves a girlfriend? Are these the type of people who built empires and made Britain great or just plain bonkers? Should we clutch them to our bosoms and treat them as our own flesh and blood or scream loudly "stop it - you’re frightening me!!!" No no, these are the good guys. There are far scarier people out there waiting to pounce on you, as we were to find out. I’d already encountered one at the gig in September at Cheltenham. A girl I’d exchanged correspondence with in my fanzine writing pre-Flatmates days cornered me and asked me to explain exactly what I meant by my lyrics. There’s nothing difficult about them I felt like saying, but as her last letter had told me that she used to sit behind a boy called Martin in class and watch the sweat run down the back of his neck I’d figured that this was not a pot to be stirred too vigorously. Chapter 7: Winter 86/87 On 18th December 1986 we found ourselves playing at Bristol’s 2,000 seater Colston Hall amongst an eclectic bill in support of World Peace. Rather lost on a giant stage we received polite applause, partook of a plate of sandwiches and went home. I’d often as a teenager dreamed of playing at the Colston Hall but when it came it was cold and rather empty. More a case of doing a turn rather than rocking out with the kids. Over Christmas 1986 I suffered persistent toothache, due it later turned out to an abscess that had been festering away. I spent Christmas and New Year dosed up with painkillers to numb the toothache until I could see the dentist. A spot of relief came with John Peel’s Festive Fifty, compiled from his listeners votes for their favourite tracks of the year. ‘I Could Be In Heaven’ was in there at number 42. Whilst it’s widely suspected that the music papers largely make up the indie charts (David Swift, Razorcuts drummer and NME journalist once told me as much), John Peel is trusted by his listeners to accurately count every postcard sent to him for the Festive Fifty and I don’t doubt for a moment that he faithfully and truthfully logs every vote that comes in. Anyone can be 11 in the indie charts, but 42 in the Festive Fifty is real! Our first gig of 1987 was at the Felixstowe Grand Hotel, supporting The Chesterfields. Down in the moshpit I was pogoing to The Chesterfields when my ankle collapsed beneath me. As I lay on the floor in pain my ankle started swelling. An hour or so later in Felixstowe’s cottage hospital a sprain was diagnosed and a bag of frozen peas prescribed for pain relief. Dosed to the eyeballs already on painkillers I could afford to be reasonably nonchalant about the injury. The following night at The Crown and Castle pub in Hackney in London (again promoted by Roger Cowell) I played the set perched atop a stool with a walking stick hanging off my mike stand. It was at that gig that Debbie got into conversation with a friend of Roger’s, Joel O’Beirne. It came up in conversation that Joel was a drummer. Fortunately for my ankle we had no gigs for nearly 4 weeks after playing at Hackney. The next gig was Bath University UBSA Building on 30th January 1987, the gig that Rosey was promoting. Several months of regularly selecting ‘I Could Be In Heaven’ on the university jukebox had made it an autoselected record. The University had been well postered and Rosey had taken to announcing our appearance every time the record was on the jukebox. When we arrived the "sold out" posters were up already. Support that night was from another Bristol band, The Five Year Plan. The Five Year Plan featured my flatmate, Dave Squire, on keyboards, Tim Rippington who was to later join The Flatmates, on guitar and vocals, and Rob Pursey, later to be of Heavenly on bass. The following night on the 31st January 1987 we played at the Polytechnic of Central London Student Union. The PCL promoters had been generous in supplying us with a whole case (24 cans) of strong lager. As a responsible driver Rocker had just one. Deb and Sarah had just a couple each, and never liking to see anything go to waste I had most of the rest. I felt ill shortly after leaving London and nearly got run over crossing the road to buy some chips for the journey home, which was a bad move to make in more ways than one. I still cringe at the way I thoroughly disgraced myself. Leaning out of Rocker’s car window at 70mph I left technicolor streaks of sick down the side of the Rockermobile. By the time I had phoned him the next day offering to clean the car he had already taken it through a car wash. Just to prove that the Flatmates could rock I regularly wore leather trousers around this time. They never quite recovered from the marinade of vomit they received that night. A regular night time haunt of ours was Chieveley service station, which is almost exactly half way between Bristol and London on the M4 motorway. Every couple of weeks we’d be in there at about 2a.m. for a pot of tea and several slices of toast nicely softened under the heating lights. The staff would offer us fresh toast but there was something addictive about the slightly chewy half-hour old toast that you could get at Chieveley. We pulled up in the car park and the others went in. I leant against the car to get some fresh air. I must have slumped onto the floor at one stage because I remember getting up to go and find the others. As I walked through the main doors the others were coming out. I asked why they weren’t stopping. It wasn’t a question of not stopping, they’d been in there for 45 minutes, 45 minutes in which I must have been an unconscious heap of sick stained leather lying on the tarmac only feet away from where trucks were passing every few minutes. Remember kids, it’s not clever or grown up to get drunk…

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