1992 January – March
As the year turned, Danny and I were still sharing a council flat with Shelley and Andy in Stoke Newington, just opposite Evering Road train station in North London. When we moved in, it had been just the four of us. Over the course of the year, the number had increased to six, sometimes more after a night out. The living room was now a bedroom. Although we loved this craziness, all of us getting ready and going out clubbing together, Danny and I decided we could now afford to rent our own place again.
For the past thirteen months, I had walked the mile or so to Dalston Kingsland and caught the overland train to Camden Road. Off the train, up the stairs, into the shade of the large blue railway bridge, (mind the pigeon droppings) and onto Royal College Street.
It was mostly residential, with a pub, a camping shop and newsagents at the end. I would nod to the guy hanging up Harrington jackets and sometimes nip into the newsagents for milk or a Biscuit Boost before arriving at 271. Ultimate Records, where I was the press officer and radio / tv plugger . At this stage, four of us worked there. Andy and Maurice, who had set the label up the year before, myself and Splash. Splash was Canadian and very funny. She had dyed red hair and a great smile.
We used to get random people calling in all the time. The bell would ring and I’d walk down the dark corridor to see who was on the other side of the front door. European distribution companies, photographers, the bass player from a band, one of my brothers, someone who used to know Maurice, someone looking for Andy and unsigned bands with demos. The Werefrogs were from Port Chester, New York. They flew to London and went to all the record labels they loved, dropping off this wonderful 7″, ‘Pearl Baby Flower‘. It had been released on their own, Part-Trance label in the States the year before. The three band members came into our little office and stayed for a chat and a few laughs before heading on. Intrigued, we put the record on straight away, and thought it was great. The Werefrogs had lined up a few gigs, including The Falcon the next night, so we all went.
Camden was the epicentre of the indie guitar music scene. So many pubs and venues to watch a band or just hang out in. The Dublin Castle, The Monarch, The Underworld, The Electric Ballroom, Dingwalls, The Falcon, The Good Mixer, The Black Horse, The Camden Palace. There were gigs to choose from, every night. Ultimate was just one of a few Camden based record labels including Food, with Creation just up the road in Primrose Hill. There were PR companies, rehearsal rooms and MTV Europe had their offices by the Lock.
The market, particularly on a Friday (fewer tourists) was wonderful. So many second hand clothes! I would regularly meet my fabulous friend, Paul R and spend a very happy lunch hour chatting, walking around and stopping to look at, or try on, jackets and track suit tops. Lots of my clothes came from Camden Market – old Levi’s (the blue just right), Levi’s (that had been dyed green), dark blue Huggers cords, kids’ tee shirts, Adidas tee shirt, faded, ripped Levi’s denim jacket, leather mini skirt. Rokit on the High Street was also fab. A pungent paradise of old denim, suede and leather. Bliss.
The Camden Falcon.
Thanks to Roger Cowell, The Camden Project, Martin Kelly, Andy Weismann, Minty Clinch and Mick Mercer for these photos and flyers.
Along with work and going through The Evening Standard looking for flats every day, we were already busy with the first Buzz Club of 1992. A local band night, early in the month – the 4th. Five bands with shared gear and plenty of sound check and stage times to organise. As usual, a great job by the West End Centre staff ensuring everyone got on and off the stage promptly.
A crowded happy vibe. It put us in great spirits to head on up to the Rock Garden in Covent Garden afterwards and meet loads of friends at a Flying Records night and dance until morning.
On our way out to a gig on the tube one evening, Danny and I bumped into Charlie Myatt. Charlie was The Sultans of Ping‘s agent – I had been trying to book them for a week or so, but we hadn’t yet decided on the deal. We confirmed the fee and date on the underground train, enjoying the moment before Danny and I jumped off a few stops later.
I wasn’t writing music or singing at this point, but I was playing bass in a band called Neverstar. Two brothers, a guy that wrote for ‘Music Week’ and me. We rehearsed a bit, recorded a demo and played a few gigs, including this one at the Bull and Gate in Kentish Town. Great line up, our friends from Fleet, The Vinegar Blossom and and an acoustic set from Dodgy.
At work, we were now in talks with The Werefrogs. The Falcon gig had been brilliant.
I was starting to get to know agents and people who worked at other labels. Word would go round if there was a particularly important gig to get to. On the 30th January, William, who worked at Virgin / Hut, was showcasing a band from Wigan called Verve at The Borderline. I got me plus one on the guest list and met Danny outside later that evening. They were so intense and cool, you just knew this band was going to be huge.
After work pretty much every night for a week we went to look at flats. Full of optimism on the way there, feeling a bit dull on the way back. Until we saw one in a large red brick building, Queen Alexandra Mansions at the back of Kings Cross. It even had a WC1 postcode. ‘Yes please, we’ll take it’.
We were still driving the VW Golf and moved all our stuff putting the back seat down and driving backwards and forwards between Stoke Newington and Kings Cross all day. We were so excited to be getting our own place again. On the last run back over to N16 I didn’t go – I had fallen in love with this next version of us, and couldn’t bring myself to leave it. It was a great flat. Four flights up with wooden floors and windows that opened wide, letting the chat and buzz of the area fill the rooms. It was officially Bloomsbury. Bloomsbury!
I took our coffee pot out of one of the cardboard boxes and put it on the gas hob. Our kitchen. No longer sharing. It felt wonderful.
Weekend mornings were a joy, discovering the new area. Walking from the back of the building, towards Russell Square and into Bloomsbury. There was a cinema, book shops, cafes, restaurants, pubs and people. People walking and chatting, holding small hands and pushing pushchairs into the winter sunlight. We were so central, sometimes we would keep going, past the British Museum and into Soho. Get home a few hours later full of ideas and knackered.
My route to work changed. Now I got the tube to Camden Town from Kings Cross, on the Northern Line. Sometimes I walked in.
We were very close to Kings Cross – the front of Queen Alexandra Mansions was right at the back of Camden Town Hall, opposite the station. This side of the flats brought with it the darker side of life. A few mornings I found drug accessories on the steps down to the pavement. Empty plastic water bottles, tin foil and needles. One area right by the station was known as Heroin Corner. You would see groups of skinny faced, grubby clothed, lost souls circling there at various times. One easily recognizable woman had a cobweb tattoo covering her face. We lived one road back from this, and it made a big difference. I enjoyed the excitement of walking through it though. Head down, feeling the energy rush of travellers and drop outs before reaching the calm of Judd Street.
On 14th February I got us on the guest list to see a wonderful line up at the Astoria – our second time seeing Verve in a couple of weeks, Catherine Wheel and the Smashing Pumpkins whose album, ‘Gish‘ had been released the previous year. Since ‘Nevermind’, there was huge interest in any American band wearing plaid shirts and playing loud guitars. (Butch Vig produced both ‘Nevermind‘ and ‘Gish‘, so there was lots of interest in the Smashing Pumpkins).
Another hopeful American band had made the trip over and were distributing demo tapes – Boston’s Drop Nineteens. Greg, the main man, had called in at Cherry Red, where Danny was label manager. Danny loved the tape and had started talking to the band about signing them, he wasn’t alone. Several other labels were also interested.
We became aware of parties, organised by clubbers involved in the fashion world. All nighters, in different locations, tickets in advance. We had missed the first Pushca do, in 1991, but when we heard about their next, Smooch, on 15th February, we got tickets straight away. Our friend Captain Rob collected all our money and, since he knew Fiona at Sign of the Times, he organised the ‘palace passes’.
These were dressy affairs. We’d all go out into Soho and Covent Garden to get some new clothes during the day. The Duffer of St George, John Richmond, shops on Neal Street and Endell Street. We’d often either meet in the French House for a drink or bump into each other, keeping our clothes bags hidden, waiting for that night to unveil our outfits. Paul, Claire, Amanda, Rudy, Paul R., Captain Rob, Jacquie, Rob P, Hayley, Matt, Aaron, Grant, Rozzie, Tim B, Cathy, Gary, Johnny. We’d gather in the evening again, new outfits on as the mutual appreciation society started! Then head off in taxis and queue outside the venue, chilly and excited to get in.
Pushca parties were in large, multi roomed, stylish venues. Places we’d not been to before, hired just for the night. They were decorated and glamorous. A mixed gay and straight crowd, outrageous people dancing on podiums, always an adventure. We’d spill out at 6am, blinking and shivering, our clothes wet from dancing, keen to find out whose place we were all heading back to. Then home at last, stare at my funny face in the mirror as I take my make up off. Sleep. When we wake, it’s Sunday evening. We get a Chinese take away a bottle of red wine, watch a bit of telly and get an early night, ready for the next week of work.
At Ultimate, we signed The Werefrogs. A little celebration party at the office, they had some unreleased tracks, so we started discussing when and what to put out, along with details of recording new music.
29th February The Buzz Club – The Sutans of Ping FC I don’t have any fliers for this one I’m afraid. Indie disco classic, a great night.
Andrew Winters, who ran Ultimate with Maurice Bacon was also a band manager. He was always coming into the office, slightly breathless and full of ideas of varying amounts of crazy or genius. One of these ideas was to take Dodgy to Speakers’ Corner in Hyde Park, play on the back of a lorry and get arrested. And film it all on Super 8. This idea – genius.
Dodgy put another record out, the ‘Black and White’ single, this is ‘The Elephant’ from it. I travelled down in the van with the band, Andy and Fiona, who had started to work with Andy on the management side of things. Fiona had previously worked at Creation and is a fabulous person.
‘All that’s left of peace and love is a Saturday night and a little white dove’.
‘The Black and White’ single by Dodgy, was the last of three wonderful singles they released on their own Bostin’ Records, (the label they set up through their deal with A&M). All three were produced by Paul Schroeder, who engineered The Stone Roses album.
I asked drummer, Matt Priest how working with Paul came about:
‘We, well mainly me, loved the Roses first album. But so did Winters. Paul met us and we connected. Summer Fayre/St Lucia was recorded in a residential studio in Surrey called Jacobs. When we got the DOUBLE E side vinyl cut we insisted it had Brandy Speed and St Lucia cut into the groove. So you can get an idea of where we were at. I honestly can’t remember where we recorded Easy Way, maybe Battery? The Black and White single was recorded at the Greenhouse in Old St. We were enjoying the the fruits that upward moving inspiration was giving us. I remember Nige singing Worth The Blood as he was coming up. I remember writing the lyrics to that song after being obsessed with Blood On The Tracks.’
I had sent John Peel a tape with The Werefrogs ‘Lazy’ and he quickly offered them a session, which they recorded on 10th March.
On the 14th March we had another Buzz Club – Catherine Wheel (who’s contract had specified they were not to be called ‘The’ Catherine Wheel), Godmachine and The Werefrogs.
Catherine Wheel featured Bruce Dickinson of Iron Maiden‘s cousin Rob on lead vocals and guitar. They had borrowed Iron Maiden‘s tour bus which was too big for the West End Centre car park and they had a real issue turning it round.
Godmachine were another American band who had relocated to London, they realsed records on Roger from The Falcon’s Eve Records (and later Fiction).
I invited The Werefrogs down to play as first on. All in all a terrific night. The Werefrogs stayed the night at my parents’ place in Surrey and we took them to a few old pubs in the Farnham area the next day.
‘Lazy’, the debut Ultimate Records release by The Werefrogs (Topp 007) was now ready. It was on 7″ only, in lovely green vinyl. I took it up to Radio 1 and played it to Jeff Smith who was the Evening Session‘s producer. There is one little bit where the band swear, so I chose that moment to cough while playing the record in Jeff’s office. It worked, we got played that evening but a bit naughty of me really!
I found some YouTube footage of American teenagers in the early 1990s and put ‘Lazy’ to it. Such a great track and exactly right for 1992. Americans in plaid shirts playing loud guitars.