I had a three piece band called Plaza. Drums, Danny on bass and me on electric guitar and vocals. I had given up working at Ultimate Records and Danny at Cherry Red to go for it full time and try and get a record deal.
Musically we didn’t really fit in with the grunge or Brit Pop of the ’90s. We did sign a small publishing deal, which gave us a bit of cash. With that we released a cd single, ‘Futures’ and got a few radio plays and a Robert Elms live session on BBC Greater London Radio (GLR), it also picked up a bit of press in the N.M.E. and Melody Maker. We were really starting to get good ideas in the studio, however, playing live as a three piece we were starting to feel constricted and I knew it was time for a re think.
Things were changing. Acoustic guitars were starting to appear. Through our friends Martin and Jess, we were introduced to Richie Greentree from Portsmouth. Richie had just been asked to join the Beta Band, newly signed to E.M.I. and was sent a cassette of music by their manager. I helped him learn a couple of the bass lines. The cassette was basically the ‘Champion Verses’ e.p. including ‘Dry The Rain’. These songs and their way of recording and writing were a revelation to us. It actually felt like it would be easier and more fun to take a similar approach ourselves.
Danny and I took ourselves off to stay with my brother in Brighton for a few days and got inspired looking at the student A4 posters for gigs and club nights stuck in cafes and launderettes. One poster had a J.D. & Coke night. This gave us an idea for the new band name. J.D. &?
We came back to London full of it. We borrowed some money and bought ourselves three massively important things. All second hand. A Tascam 4 track recorder, a kids keyboard that had a brilliant 4 second sampler and a Dr Rhythm drum machine.
We lived in Highbury and would head over to Stoke Newington regularly to walk up and down Church Street.
We visited the second hand book shops and Totem Records to flick through the vinyl. Then, money allowing, over to the Vortex to drink coffee and talk some more.
We started to write new music. This was my first time recording music myself, rather than in a studio, even if only on a cassette 4 track. I was very inspired. Sometimes, when setting up, I’d plug in the 4 track in the corridor, rather than an actual room, I was so keen to start. Danny would come home, to find me in the semi gloom, lying on the floor, listening back through small speakers. I realised if you recorded on the Tascam and then turned the cassette over, it played what you had just recorded backwards. I then recorded on top of that, bouncing tracks down to make more room. I also put the drum machine through guitar pedals – delay and distortion – to great effect. We were starting to get somewhere but needed an extra pair of hands if we were going to do this live. We wanted to mix great song writing with more experimental musical ideas.
I made a hand written note and we put it up in Totem Records:
‘Odd job man wanted. Astral Weeks, The Beta Band and Rumours.’
Very surprisingly, someone called. ‘Hello, my name is Bob and I saw your odd job man advert’.
Bob was perfect. We met him in a pub, again on Church Street and were delighted. We clicked instantly and started to rehearse. We hadn’t played live for about 9 months, while we had been reinventing ourselves. Our debut gig with Bob was at the Cobden Working Men’s Club in West London.
Andy Winters had helped us to organise the night and we had a brilliant PA. It always makes such a difference having a great monitor mix on stage, you can just relax and get into the music. The Beta Band d.j.ed for us. I was so nervous before hand and warmed my voice up by singing along to my favourite compilation tape, on my own outside in the car. This was a completely new set and sound. I played acoustic guitar live for the first time (rather than electric), including a couple of different tunings, which were very tricky to do on stage.
We used the drum machine and various other instruments for the first time too. I really felt my vocals had changed since I had last played live. As the music had got so much better, I was now able to get in the warmth and centre of the zone. I loved it there. The sound on this night, our debut, was awesome. At this point Bob didn’t play guitar, (I actually told him he wasn’t allowed to, visually, I didn’t want us to have a traditional band line up).
Instead, he sat and hit tin cans with sticks, shook shakers, played the kids’ synth, sang and was exactly what we needed. Danny on bass with drum machines and live drums, provided by our American band member, Rick. We came on stage to Radio 4‘s Shipping Forecast theme tune. My Mum had said how much she liked it so I listened, realised it would be perfect as our intro, recorded it on tape from the radio and gave it to the sound guy.
The first track we played was called ‘Palenstine Cowboy‘ which is the drum machine, through guitar pedals with us chanting, while bringing other instruments in, ending with the drums. The Dr Rhythm started as the Shipping Forecast music faded and then we played for about eight minutes.
Jess said afterwards that Rhys turned to her and said ‘I can’t believe I know the people making this music!’. It was a very clubby atmosphere with everyone dancing and cheering.
We went from that into an acoustic song, one freshly written, with four part harmonies and beats. The set lasted about thirty minutes. We left the stage and hugged each other, radiant.
The night was incredible, everyone stopping and chatting to us after we played, saying how much they had enjoyed it. Man, that felt great. After all those years, I knew genuine, enthusiastic, excited, praise from ‘yeah, you were really tight tonight’, plus I knew it really had been fantastic. I was so happy with my vocals and how we had sounded. We had about a hundred and fifty people there, our clubbing and musician friends plus the actor, Rhys Ifans (who was going out with Jess) and all of Dodgy. The Beta Band d.j. s took over and we partied until about 2ish, then went round the corner to Amanda and Rudy‘s flat on the Portobello Road, where the good vibes continued until morning.
It was a hugely important night for me. I think it was the night I became a proper singer and musician. It certainly gave me the drive and confidence to keep going. I’d never felt this good about my music before.
We started to hang out together and influence each other musically. Going to the various second hand record shops in North London, Totem in Stoke Newington, Reckless in Islingon (where the singer from the Family Cat worked) and and buying folk albums. We added these to music we were already listening to.
Bored of the London pub scene, we organised gigs in unusual places. Including our basement flat (really sorry if you were one of our neighbours). Thanks to Lisa Lee for these photos.
Incidentally, Richie from The Beta Band built us these record shelves – this is the room that would later appear on the cover of the It’s Jo and Danny album, ‘Lank Haired Girl To Bearded Boy’.
We played in book shops, cafes, underground clubs.
At this stage we parted with Rick, the drummer we had been working with for a few years and Mathew Priest, from Dodgy, stepped in to help us out. I had known Mathew for years. Dodgy’s manager, Andy Winters ran Ultimate Records, where I had worked as a press officer. We had been there when Dodgy signed their record deal and then became massive. Mathew was always very supportive of my music and an incredibly positive influence to be around. And an absolutely fantastic drummer. We had some gigs already organised when Mathew joined our ranks and with one rehearsal on the day of the first one, the Foundry in Shoreditch, we played and were transformed. I called my parents from a ‘phone box afterwards to tell them how exciting it was.
Mathew’s impact on our music was colossal. We sounded brilliant.
We rehearsed at Fortress in Farringdon. It was the coolest rehearsal space, where you’d bump into lots of bands you were reading about in the music press. Primal Scream were having a party there when we dropped off all our gear after a gig one night. We rehearsed loads. Got better and better.
Dodgy had split and Andy Winters started to manage us. He organised for us to go into the studio to record a demo. We went to Bark in Walthamstow, E17. The wonderful, Brian O’Shaughnessy‘s studio. We recorded one song this time, ‘Just Hit A Nerve‘. I ‘allowed’ Bob to play guitar. He was amazing of course. We sang four part harmonies all round the mic at the same time. We were thrilled with the results.
I put this footage from a Citroen car rally in Paris, 1998 to it, in September 2019.
We continued to play live. The Spitz in Spitalfield Market, the Albany pub, The Shoreditch Electricity Showrooms. I had been given a disposable camera as a present, the photographer Corrine Day was in the crowd and she took these photos with it.
We played The Garage in Islington, where Justin Thomas captured these great photos. (Justin later took the cover photo for the It’s J&D albums ‘Lank Haired Girl To Bearded Boy‘ and ‘The Quickening’)
We got a little bit of press, the N.M.E. printed a couple of Justin’s photos .
Using the recording of ‘Just Hit A Nerve’, Andy secured us a week recording demos for Island Records. It was January 1999, Monday to Friday in their basement studio; the Fallout Shelter. Artists who had recorded here over the years included Bob Marley, John Martyn, Gregory Isaacs, Marianne Faithfull and Stevie Winwood. We were somewhat in awe of the place. We had to walk through the Island Records offices to get to the studio. Huge posters of Nick Drake and Bob Marley greeted us and added to our slightly overwhelmed feeling.
Steve, the house engineer was wonderful. We recorded eight tracks in all. Five with Mathew on drums and three acoustic songs with Bob’s friend Sam (the bongo man) on percussion. Those tracks we recorded late at night, live, straight to tape – no mixing afterwards. Sam played percussion for Transglobal Underground and live sets in London’s clubland. Funnily enough, he later turned up in our lives as Sam the bubbleman at the Green Man Festival!
We were so happy with the recordings. I remember crying as Bob played his guitar solo on ‘Give A Little Bit Extra‘. Again, we all crowded round the microphone to record the four part harmonies on ‘Love Expression‘ which at the time was called ‘You’ve Got Tonight’. Bob played piano on ‘Repentant Song’ and I played the low recorder on ‘Take Me To Water‘. I was so happy with my vocals. The band were great, it felt easy to sing on top of that music.
Island didn’t sign us.
As we were leaving each night, people were getting made redundant and were clearing their desks in tears. It was an odd time. A change in the music industry.
We played one last gig at Po Na Na in Islington.
Sam joined us on percussion and Chrissy H from the Dodgy Club played records and added a bit of scratching. It was great, but not enough to keep us together. It certainly sowed the seeds for Danny and I to record ‘Lank Haired Girl To Bearded Boy‘ a few months later though.
I painted a poster for the gig.
Over the years I lost the Island recordings. Danny and I moved to Wales and started the Green Man Festival, (and a family) and life took over.
In 2019, my cousin Christine Olga who lives in Scotland, got in touch to say she still had a cassette I had sent her. She posted it to me and I was thrilled to hear those precious recordings again. I got them mastered and Bob and I chose a running order.
It gave me great delight to release them, at last, on my blog label.
You can hear the album here on Bandcamp.
I made a video for ‘Love Expression‘, using footage I found on YouTube, of London in the late 1990s.
A few months later, this song was re recorded for the debut It’s Jo and Danny album, ‘Lank Haired Girl To Bearded Boy.’ and was Pete and Geoff’s Single of The Week on their drive time show on Virgin Radio.
Here’s the original, from that Island Records session, all four vocals recorded live, crowded round one microphone……
I really hope anyone listening loves these recordings as much as I do!
Read on to what happened next…when we released ‘Lank Haired Girl To Bearded Boy’ as It’s Jo & Danny to heaps of praise, signed to R.C.A. and moved to Wales.
(Jo, Danny and Mathew would later play in The Yellow Moon Band together).