Copyright © 2005 Martin Newell
Pepys 0.1 Blogware © Steve Dix
"It's Going To Be There Forever" -- Part 3
Late August and early September of 1978 ground languidly on. With two members of the band on holiday there was nothing going on but the rent. I must have scanned the singles reviews of the music papers..and yet, I don't remember doing so. The gigs rolled in for autumn and my girlfriend rolled back out. I was getting used to it now. I was also getting ill again. Run down, broke and sad. We needed to sort out another German tour. This was actually the manager's job, so the band decided to send the Twat out to Germany. To be on the safe side, they decided to send me with him. I think they also thought, too, that maybe I needed a break. Being in Gypp, was kind of like being in a family. Everybody looked after each other. We socialised together. Three of the members had known each other, or had been playing together since at least the late 60s.
The Twat and I were supposed to be taking a ferry from Harwich and then being picked up at Zeebrugge. For some reason, probably lack of organisation on the management's part, this was not going to happen. It would now just be me and him, all the way from England to Westphalia by train. We had a couple of meetings fixed up, we met an agent or two and over the seven days of early October that we were there, the Twat lived up to his name. He drank so much beer and let himself go so badly that he became an embarrassment. It was not difficult to be drunk in Germany. We were among friends and fans -- and mostly, in bars. The Twat now became quite international -- as a twat. Not only did he fail to secure any gigs but he became permanently drunk. And he stank.
Unlike him, I used to have an almost military regime for keeping myself together. On cold autumn mornings, I went down into the courtyard of the place where we were staying. There was a small room with a cobbled floor and one cold tap. I'd go down there early in the morning, remove all of my clothes and gasp with shock as I threw cold water all over myself. Short of flogging myself with birch twigs over the wheel of a gun carriage, it couldn't have got much more Prussian. Ten minutes of that, though, would chase all but the worst of hangovers away. And I tried to eat sensibly. The Twat didn't. He began to fall apart. After a while, he didn't know where he was or what he was doing. He also ran up about a forty quid bar-tab in our friends' bar. When I found out about it, I paid it off by doing a Sunday lunchtime solo gig, the day before we came back. We put a two mark door charge on. It was nothing really...Fifty pence or so, at the time, but it not only paid off the Twat's bar debt, it also gave me a bit of money to come home with.
The trip home was fairly desolate. A slow and tortuous crawl in a rattling train, on a grey October day, across what looked like every cabbage field in Germany and Holland. Luckily, the Twat slept. Because if he'd said another word to me, I swear I would have throttled him. An old German guy got in, somewhere near the Dutch border. I could see something in a side-bar of his newspaper. In my bad German I asked to look at it: "Kanne Ich...deine zeitung, sehe, (erm) ein moment, bitte? " I couldn't believe it. The little headline read Keith Moon Ist Tot. Moony had gone and died, while I was away.
I got home sometime during late morning of the Monday 9th October. Back at my nice little house was a note from my ex, who'd come round to pick up some things while I was away. (as they often do). It said something like: "Dear Martin, I lent the place to a Portuguese student, while you were away. I didn't think you'd mind. I told him to feed Willie (my cat). He's probably gone now. He's quite nice, but he's a very messy boy. I hope you don't mind. xxx ..."
No kidding. He was a messy boy. The bed was alright. I don't think he'd even slept in it, but on my dressing table was a tower, maybe thirty or forty empty beer cans.The place was cold. The kitchen smelled of old burning and the ceiling above the stove was black. My best pan had been burnt black. The cat had lost weight. There was uneaten cat food in his bowl. Willie looked very feeble. It was unlike him not to eat. There was no food in the cupboard and the sink was full of dishes. I only had a bit of German money on me. I emptied out my pennies jar, managed to rake up a couple of quid and went back out into town.
On my way to the supermarket, I passed a music shop. A guy from a rival band called to me. "Hey, Zap! The NME reviewed your single." I shouted, "What? When?" The musician told me that he thought that if I was lucky, there'd still be a copy in the corner newsagents down the road. I said: "Thanks." He laughed at me sardonically and said: "I wouldn't be in too much of a rush. Ha haa. " Ten minutes later, I stood in the supermarket queue with a can of catfood and the last NME in Colchester and I read my second ever piece of national rock press. " These songs are drippy and false. The singer sounds like the twit out of Flintlock ( a manufactured bubblegum band of the time)" For a whole paragraph, the review continued..scathing, condemnatory...nasty. Danny Baker, for it was he, could have just written nothing. I mean, they must have been sitting on the record since mid July or something. Why wait three months just to slag it off. If it was that bad they could have just thrown it away. The worst of it was...by now, I believed that he was mostly, right.
I paid my last pennies out for the catfood and some bread, I got to a corner of the supermarket and I thought about my girlfriend. Then I thought about the cat. Then I thought about all the work and the sessions.. and the band sweating blood, trying to get this record out. And on a Monday lunchtime, in a crowded Colchester supermarket, I stood there and I cried.
I went marching out of the shop and went round the corner to a pub, by then managed by the former roadie of Plod, my earlier band. Typically the place had just shut for the afternoon. I hammered on the door with both fists. "Nik! Nik! Open up." He'd been a very close friend of mine. I could hear him shouting: "Fuck off. We're shut." I hammered on, He eventually opened the door. he took one look at my face and pulled me in, locking the doors behind us.
"What's the matter? Martin." he asked. I could not utter a single word...or else all the sorrows of the whole world would have emptied out of me. He looked at me. "Wine?" I gulped a tearful." Yeah." He brought a bottle of German wine, pulled the cork out of it and handed it to me. I did half of it in one swig. He looked at me again." Better?"
I gasped, "Yeah." and then I emptied the rest of the wine down my throat. I sat down with him for an hour or so of his valuable afternoon rest-time, and told him all my troubles. Now that's a proper friend. You don't usually get more than a handful of them during your entire life.
Then, I went home, tidied up the place, persuaded the cat to eat, had some toast and slept. The next morning I resumed my part-time job at the restaurant where I worked, washing the plates of the bourgeoisie. And I got on with my life. And I remembered my dad's words.
"If you can't take a joke, you shouldn't have joined."
"It's Going To Be There Forever" part 2
I can't remember exactly when the last recording session for the Gypp EP Yaah! was done but I think it was a weekend in May. Now, for some reason, we found ourself in an old stable block, again on the Herts/ Essex border somewhere near Stansted. Once again, there was some reason why we couldn't record at any of the previous places. We were helped out by a nice hippy bloke called Barry, who was a sort of caretaker ( I think) for a stately home. He lived in a small cottage at the entrance of this place and had installed a primitive home studio in the old stable...This at least is what I remember. As I said, Gypp weren't really very experienced at recording. Peppercorn had experienced a bad time putting his guitar solos and overdubs on and had got a case of what he called 'studio head.' Everything took ages. We needed to overdub the sound of a thunderstorm on the end of one particular song Sister Darling. We spent way too much time on that. Finally, as often happens, everyone lost their objectivity and there we were on a Sunday night, still fiddling around with the final mix till the small hours. Pressure was really on now because the thing was being pressed the next week. I can't even remember how or when we all got home. But it had been compromises all the way and I don't think any of us were really convinced we'd got it right.
Finish it we did, however and off it went to be pressed. The wait for it to come back was interminable. I think we finally got the 1000 copies back at sometime in late June. The sleeve, which we'd wanted to be like a Roy Liechstenstein pastiche was done by our recording engineer Dave, a self-taught artist. It was pretty funny and quite lurid actually, but maybe the finish of the thing at the printing place might have been tighter. When it finally arrived we shoved it on the deck at our new bass-player's house. Although none of us would admiit it, the EP sounded singularly underwhelming. It hadn't been mastered or cut very loud. None of us knew, in those days, that it was a good idea to attend the actual 'cut', get several versions and say, ask for extra compression on it. These sort of things are only learned by long experience, if you do everything yourselves. The EP sounded weak, quiet and a little laboured. Understandably. It had been made in very difficult circumstances, in four separate locations, with a sick singer, a nervous guitarist and hard-pressed inexperienced recordists.
It was however, the very best that all of us could do and not one person involved in it, didn't give it their absolute best. It hadn't been enough though. Now came the killer punch: When the manager, Mr Two Pounds of Raw Mince announced that the records had arrived I said: "Oh great! Listen, I've arranged with Colchester's main music pub, to get it on the jukebox there. We can have it played there everynight. " The twat looked at me and said "'Fraid not. It's been pressed at 33rp.m.."
I practically fell over. I said "Whaaa!!" So we now had 1000 copies of a badly pressed, badly mastered weak EP, that we couldn't even play on a pub jukebox. Perfect. In addition to this, when you examined the label of the EP, above our label name in bigger letters than our own "Shy Talk Records" was the legend ACORN, the name of the firm who'd pressed the disc. In smaller letters above that were the words Transcription from client''s tape. It all helped to make the whole thing look rather amateurish and also, taught me something else about doing things yourself. It is this: In art projects, the minute that you let any production detail slip out of your area of control, no matter how tiny, someone, somewhere will go and fuck it up for you.
The Disc In Question
As we began to circulate the EP, the comments came in from friends ...and enemies. It 'hadn't quite caught our live power' was the kindest.' I took it much more personally than the other chaps in the band. For a start, I was younger and more egotistical. For another thing, I lived in Colchester, where people could be a little bitchier than I ever found people to be in the band's home town of Ipswich. Some musicians just laughed at me. What I didn't understand back in those days, was that your rivals don't slag you off because you haven't succeeded. They slag you off because they fear that you might succeed.
I was in a local rock band, which had toured Germany, which had a good stage act and which even though we were out of sync with the New Wave, looked like we might be actuallly going somewhere. Now we had a record out too. Of course the local knives would come out. My own girlfriend, then temporarily back home, while in company of our friends said to me." Oh Martin. Take it off. You know that everybody hates it."
Our Fans Liked Us, Though
Our loyal fans bought it though, and we gradually began shifting modest quantities at our gigs. Our German fans liked it too. They played it in the Gutersloh bars. I think Radio Orwell might have played it once or twice. It wasn't all bad news by any means. And all of us being stubborn East Anglian boys, we just carried on regardless. A few local papers gave the record reasonable reviews. No-one nationally, reviewed it at all. At first. This was a small mercy, actually, because when, three months later, a national review did finally appear, it would be a humiliation I was destined never to forget.
You know, all this recording has made me remember making my first vinyl record. Ian Peppercorn, Gypp's former guitarist dropped by the other night for a drink and we listened to my new tracks. We got to reminiscing about the making of "Yaah!" the Gypp EP. It's worth putting down in writing what happened back then, because everything that could possibly go wrong with making a record did go wrong. It began with our inept manager buying a two pound bag of minced beef in February 1978/.It ended up with me crying in a supermarket in October of that same year. Here goes:.
It's Going To Be There Forever - part 1
From the time I joined them in Spring of 1976 Gypp hadn't really been a recording band, we'd always concentrated on doing gigs, of which there were many. In 1978 alone, I believe we did something like 150 of them. Our priority, up until this point, had always been upon upgrading our equipment. Luckily, we had a great friend called Dave, a railway signalman who was putting together a four-track studio of sorts. With recently-acquired management -- they were a couple of local businessmen who'd fancied dabbling in the rock world -- it was agreed we'd make an EP of some sort. This would get record company interest, ideally. Failing that though, we reasoned that we could sell it ourselves at gigs. One weekend in February we began putting down the backing tracks in Otley Village Hall in Suffolk.
Dave the recordist set up in the back rooms behind the stage and with some of us on the stage, and the curtains closed to cut down the hall reverb, we began work on the backing tracks. Having done this, we decamped for the next sessions to Birchanger, a small village,on the Essex Herts border, where Dave lived then. This move was made in order to continue with some overdubs. It wasn't a proper studio, we had to set it up wherever we could. Sometimes it would be a village hall, other times, someone's house. Ensconced for the weekend at Dave's,we realised we'd need a meal at some point-- in between working in the studio and going to the pub. We gave our manager some money and asked him ( the only thing we asked of him) to remember to bring enough food to make a meal for six of us. Having toured Germany and stayed out in a rural cottage for our base, we were used to catering for ourselves. And anyway, it wasn't fair to prevail upon Dave's missus to feed us, the whole time. It was late in the aftrenoon when the manager finally appeared with two pounds of minced beef. That was it. No carrots, spuds or other veg. We now had two pounds of minced beef and a kitchen to use. I think we managed to cobble some sort of Spag Bol together for ourselves. There were no nearby shops, you see. This incompetency did not bode well for the future, but what the hell? The management could advance us enough money to make this EP. It would eventually help to show the world that our band was something to be reckoned with. So for the time being we overlooked his tardiness.
March rolled in. Recording had to be forgotten for the time being, because we now had a German tour to be getting on with. This ended up being about 13 or 14 gigs, over the roughly, same number of days. Then we came back to England and got straight on with some extra gigs in Deptford, Bury St Edmunds and Ipswich. We'd now been gigging almost every night for three weeks . I checked a tattered old diary of mine.
The diary entries also mention me feeling constantly exhausted at that time. Sometime around the 19th or 20th of that month, I became very ill. I became so ill in fact, that I went to the doctor. Now, I'm a typical Englishman and I never usually do that sort of thing. The doctor didn't know what it was but he depatched me straight to a hospital for tests. By this time I wasn't even well enough to do my part time washing-up job in a restaurant. The hospital couldn't figure out what I'd got wrong with me but... it wasn't glandular fever, they said. It was something very like it though, they added. I was written off with an indefinite sickness certificate, told to lie in bed as much as possible and given some stuff to take. My glands swelled up, I couldn't swallow, I had a terrible throat, a temperature and a permanent nasty headache.
My girlfriend had left me round about this time. Now, if you are a rock singer with not much money, even if you are a well-behaved and quite faithful rock singer with no money, you'll still generally find that your girlfriend leaves you at certain times, usually taking up with someone ultimately more stable than you are. I don't know how long I was laid up, but from my diary, which has gaps in the entries at this time, I would surmise that I was out of action for a couple of weeks. Luckily, it coincided with a period of very few gigs. As soon as I was well enough, I did one gig in Ipswich. From my diary of the time, this action seemed to have caused a relapse, of sorts and my voice disappeared again. Sometime around here, it was decided that the recording of the Yaah EP schedule could no longer wait. We needed two lead vocals doing and some vocal overdubs. One cold Saturday in early April, Dave brought a microphone and his four track machine around to my house and I got up out of bed to sing the parts. I just about had the voice to do it with. I can still hear the weakness of it all, even now, if I ever listen to the EP...which mostly, I don't. The Yaah EP only contained three tracks. So far, those three tracks had been recorded in unlikely locations which took in three separate English counties: Essex, Herts and Suffolk. And it still wasn't finished. There were lead guitar parts to go on. There was mixing to be done. More complications would follow. TBC