After a childhood spent listening to my records on the family stereo downstairs in the lounge (sometimes lying on the floor with my head in front of one of the speakers, while my friend Steven did the same with the other), I got my own record player in 1980.
I had the deck in my bedroom which I put it through a guitar amp, a Sound City, that went through a large 4 x 12 speaker. My room wasn’t very big, so the volume would be on 1 (or 2 if I was jumping up and down). I started to learn the guitar. I also got a bass and would plug it into the amp and try and play along with the records, calling my poor parents up to listen when I had learned something.
I joined my first band.
The Essential Extras played a few gigs – my school, a village hall, a local working mens’ club and my house.
We went into a studio in Reading and recorded three tracks, Dom on guitar was 14, I was 15 and Kieran, the drummer, was 18. Kieran sent the demo off to a few record labels. He got a letter from A&M saying they really liked the music and could we send them some more? I took the letter to school and showed it to all my friends.
‘Lazy Boy’ by The Essential Extras with me singing and playing bass. It was my first time in the studio and I loved it.
We played a gig at the Camberley Working Mens’ Club and I borrowed an amp from my brother’s friend, Andy. After the gig, I left it on the pavement while I went in to get more gear. When I came back, the amp was gone. When I told him the next day, Andy said I had to give him £150. I walked up the road, to Lakeside Country Club and asked if there were any jobs please? The lady at reception ‘phoned someone, ‘yeah, she looks fit.’ I got the dishwashing gig, starting the following Saturday night. ‘Wear old clothes’.
After eventually paying off the amp, I enjoyed having my own cash, so kept working there for another year or so. It meant I had money for records, gigs and clothes. I had been buying records since I was about 12 and going to gigs regularly since I was about 13. By then I had already seen The Police, Squeeze, B.A. Robertson (loved ‘Bang! Bang!’), The Jam, Orchestral Manoeuvres In The Dark, Stiff Little Fingers, The Undertones, Classix Nouveux, Theatre of Hate, Bauhaus, The Stranglers, Big Country, The Kinks, The Members, The Boomtown Rats, The Truth, Dolly Mixture, The Chefs and loads more live.
I also had lots of records, particularly 7″ singles. If I was a fan of the band, I had to have the single the day it came out. Fridays then. There were so many places you could buy records. Harlequin, Tower (not the chain) and Sperrings in Camberley, Elephant in Aldershot, Boots, W.H. Smiths and of course, Woolworths. There were also boxes of ex jukebox 7″ singles on newsagent counters and random local shops everywhere.
For the harder to find records, I sent off via adverts in the back of N.M.E.; Adrians and Small Wonder and if that failed, the labels themselves. I couldn’t wait to get home from school to see what the post had brought, so exciting getting the brown or white 7″ mailers. By then I had several singles on the revered Postcard Records in Glasgow, including the debut release both of the label and Orange Juice, ‘Falling and Laughing‘ which was sent to me by label empresario, Alan Horne. I had read a review on the ‘Independent Bitz‘ page of Smash Hits (I loved Smash Hits) and knew I had to have a copy. It came with a flexi disc and hand printed card and is still my most treasured 7″ single. I also had loads of chart singles, ABC, Spandau Ballet, Visage, Soft Cell.
As I couldn’t sing and play bass at the same time yet, I invited the cool and good looking Ann from my class to be the Essential Extras‘ lead singer. I wanted to concentrate on the bass. The actual music sounded great and the idea of two girls in a band, one playing bass and one singing was a good one, but sadly, Ann’s voice was a bit tuneless, so our follow up demo didn’t get us a deal or even a response. Musically, Dom and I went our separate ways for a while and I formed The Service. I was now on guitar and vocals, Danny Hagan was on bass and Mick Highgate on drums.
In the summer of 1983 I was studying for my A Levels and completing the Lower 6th at school, Farnborough Hill, while also rehearsing with the band. One evening I asked my Dad, ‘can I leave school and concentrate on music?’ he thought about it for a couple of minutes, and to my amazement, said ‘yes’. I was somewhat taken aback, I hadn’t expected him to agree at all, but found myself moving forward and putting the pieces together. My parents wrote to the head mistress and my last few weeks as a school girl ticked away. I took the end of year exams and did well – coming first in English. I rehearsed more with my band and worked harder at writing songs. We practiced in the lounge at Elm Cottage, where I lived. My Dad had put a double door at the entrance to try and sound proof the room. Danny and I were writing the songs together. He wrote the words and I wrote the music. Usually he would finish his part first and I would then put the lyrics to guitar and melody. Sometimes we would write together.
In September 1983, when I should have been starting the Upper Sixth, I invited Dom to join The Service on guitar.
A month later, we recorded our fist demo. Two songs, at an eight track studio called Grumpy Bear in Bracknell. One, ‘Money Making Man‘ went on a vinyl compilation album of local bands, organised by the studio, called ‘Stepping Stone‘. The other was called ‘Too Much To Hide‘ and would later be released in 2020, by Berlin label, Firestation Records on the ‘Some Greater Love’ album, made up of our early recordings.
Dom (who would soon change his name to ‘Rudy‘) was, like myself, the youngest of six children. His brother JC was in local heroes, The Members, who had been in the charts with ‘Sound of the Suburbs‘ a few years previously. JC came to the studio when we were mixing the two tracks, to check out his youngest brother’s band. He was very enthusiastic and we were thrilled to have him there. (Here’s JC on ‘Top of the Pops‘ – he’s the one in the green jumper).
I immediately starting making lots of cassettes on my friend Tracy‘s tape to tape player, sitting on her bed while they copied. I didn’t like doing it at double speed as they sometimes sounded funny. So, we would copy them in real time and turn the volume down while we chatted. I spent the next day sending them to the London pubs in the gig adverts in the ‘N.M.E.‘ and ‘Melody Maker’. I phoned a few, including The Marquee, only to be told you needed an agent to play there.
Our debut gig as a four piece got reviewed in ‘The Camberley News‘.
In early December, Danny and I went up to London, actually carrying my cassette player with us on the train. We headed over to Fulham, as we wanted to get a gig at the famous Greyhound pub, leaving a tape there, we then looked for other pubs that put on bands. We walked for miles. Finding a few live music pubs, playing them the demo tape there and then. It worked. We were offered a Saturday night residency, £50 a night, at the King’s Head in Fulham. The first gig was to be Christmas Eve 1983, followed a week later, on New Year’s Eve. I was extremely excited when I got home I ‘phoned Tracy straight away – ‘guess where we’re playing on Christmas Eve..? London!’
One of the other pubs also phoned up to offer us a gig on Christmas Eve, The Swan, funnily enough, right opposite the King’s Head in Fulham. I called up a band we vaguely knew called Joker’s Wild, and offered them the gig. We were also called by someone by the name of Steve Royal ‘like the family’ he said. He had been passed on our tape by the Greyhound. They were putting out a compilation album and offered us a chance to go on it. It would cost us £250. For that, we would get a gig and 50 copies of the album to sell.
My Mum ran the local nursery school and as such, had a mini bus. We were able to borrow it to get to gigs, Danny drove. For our London debut, we took a couple of my school friends up with us, Clare P. and Marie-Lou. It, being Christmas Eve, was a fairly riotous affair. I recall one of the locals falling, drunkenly, from her bar stool and continuing to clap and cheer as she lay on the floor. We played two sets and after the first, ran across the road to see Joker’s Wild. Their main gag was the fact that their singer did a back flip mid-performance!
Our set was mainly our own material, but we also played a few cover versions, ‘Reach Out I’ll Be There’ by the Four Tops, ‘Heatwave’, The Jam version and ‘Rat Race’ by The Specials. On New Year’s Eve we attempted ‘Auld Lang Syne‘ with Clare P. joining us, playing the old, beaten up piano on stage.