My Books in Print

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Primary Device

I first met Peter French to speak to at Chris Page’s flat on the Brighton Road in Newhaven in late 1983. Peter was sixteen, and I was twenty-five.  Almost certainly, we were gathered there to buy spliff. Pete was trying to dread his naturally curly hair, and it wasn’t quite taking. I was wearing blue-framed spectacles with red lenses. It was, as I say, the High Eighties.

Pete and I were both playing in Newhaven bands. Although I had been in a band when I was at school, I’d moved away was I was 18 to go to University, where I’d ended up playing in a rather excellent punk/R’n’B band called The Repeaters. After finishing college, in 1979, most of us moved down to Brighton to reivent the band as ‘The Airtight Garage’, a reinvention which didn’t quite come off, mostly, I suspect, because of the dreadful relationship between me and drummer Paul Hazel. Although we also played together in The Pier Group, a rather wonderful covers band with a weekly residency at The Pedestrian Arms, Foundary Street, Brighton, and although we ended up moving together to Manchester to seek fame and fortune, our bad personal relationship ended up poisoning whatever we tried to do together. I came back to Brighton after 6 months, and was recruited to sing by some old chums based in my home town.

I sang for Newhaven prog-pop band The National Game; Chris Page was a milkman by day, but The National Game’s sound guy by night.

Peter played drums in Stuart Ralston’s reggae band ‘Inspirations’. He was a shit hot drummer, I always thought, and he’d always liked my singing, he told me, so when we first got to chat on Chris Page’s sofa, we formed a mini appreciation society for a minute or two. Then we started to argue about music. I was a bit down on white reggae at that time, whilst Pete wasn’t interested in pop music. Whenever we met after that, we talked music, and we got to swapping tapes about of stuff we liked.

I was working for a Job Creation Scheme project based at the Newhaven Boy’s Club, called The Newhaven Music and Video Workshop. (NMVW).  Most days, the Boy’s Club would be full of musos. Musos like Gary Cove, the legendary Mad Lad of Seaford impro, banging about on synths and saucepans and hooting away on oboes and an ancient soprano sax. There was Paul Sanderson, a couple of years older than me, who aspired to play tenor for the Becker Brothers. And there was Rikki Patton, a chum from primary school, who had quietly turned into one of the greatest guitarists on Earth. They spent a lot of time jamming. Sometimes Chris Page would come down and bat about on the bass, which he was learning.

Rick and Gary knew Pete well. Pete and I kept meeting up at the Boy’s Club or Page’s house, and bickering about music, and what our ideal Newhaven/Peacehaven/Seaford band would be like. Me and him. Gary, Paul and Rick. I wanted Chris Doyle, proper punk rock/funk rock guitarist from The National Game for rockist edge.  I wanted Chris Page to play bass, to give it a nailed down Simenon-esque directness. We both wanted the breathy voice of  Sue Lynch, one of the singers from ‘Inspiration’. Pete had a mate from school called Andy the Hat who was both an excellent trombonist and a techie whizz. So was Chris Page, come to that. We wouldn’t do gigs, necessarily, but do some recording and make a video, so Peter would play keyboards and drums. Just a pipe dream band, really.

There was also a guy working for NMVW at that time called Ian Kingham, and he was a great pal of mine. He was a visual artist, hired to help unemployed youth make videos, but much more interested in sitting about talking about ‘theory’ with me and Paul Sanderson over very long full English breakfasts at the Marina Cafe down by the Newhaven Lifeboat station. He was trying to think of new ways to make videos. We were both interested in what a band be about. These were the days of   ZTT and Scritti Politti, and it seemed if you were to be a proper band, you needed theory. We had loads, not least from the anti-pop free improv genius that was and still is Gary Cove. He would come to the long breakfasts, too, and talk about modernist music, Messian,  Luciano Berio. One of his pet theories was that members of great bands ‘all come from the same cul-de-sac.’

After six months or so of fevered over-intellectualising,  arguing and tape swapping, we decided to book a room in Newhaven Boys Club, and have a rehearsed jam. I booked the room in the name of The Mood Index Continuum, which name came from a series of samisdat scientific cut-ups which was being produced by my friend Richard Jones. I just liked the sound of it.

We worked up a thing that night. It  was called Promised Land of Love. This recording was probably made a few weeks after that first jam, because it sounds a bit slick to me. Certainly, though, this recording comes from early 1984 sometime. We all had a huge crack doing it. We did it again the next week, ad worked up another bit, called ‘Primary Device’. This recording is from much later in 1984, because it clearly features the full 10 piece line-up.

I felt liberated from having to write proper lyrics, but jamming is hard for singers, so both of these sound like nonsense.