Wanna tell ya ‘bout my friend…
Some time around 1976, my school pal Nigel got his hands on a reel-to-reel tape recorder, and I’d like to say he and I started recording seminal works of radical improvised music, but since we mainly did half-baked comedy sketches drenched in eau de Monty Python, I can’t. However, we did start mucking about with a Bontempi organ, a harmonica, and various vocal noises. On hearing these, our friend Paul was torn between leaving town to the smell of burnt bridges, or biting the bullet. He bit, and the three of us expanded our range by employing a broken tambourine, a mandolin case for a drum, a kazoo and a pair of plastic sandals.
Hitherto we’d thought that the only kids who got to be in a band were those with long hair and a guitar. Then we met one
We tentatively played Steve a few of our ‘Trash Rock’ tracks, as we now called them, and were surprised when, instead of edging towards the exit, he announced he was leaving his band, (‘Earwig’), and joining the Performing Ferret Band, as we now called ourselves.Braced by the backbone of Steve’s acoustic guitar, with Paul and me on vocals, and Nige on harmonica, The Ferrets, as we soon became known, began making regular un-invited appearances at various parties, bandstands and village halls around Maidstone, the line-up quickly expanding to include Mary on bass and Cathy on backing vocals.
Around this time, (1978), most of us were heading off to assorted seats of learning in far-flung parts of the country, where we were to spend much of our grant-assisted existence trying to persuade entertainments officers, club owners and landlords to let us perform our songs in public.By now Cathy had replaced Mary on bass, I was drumming, Nige was tackling melodica and guitar, and Paul was our dashing front man. And boy did he dash, often in his stockinged feet.We put out an EP, ‘Browbeaten’, on Dave Arnold’s Maidstone ‘Dead Hippy’ label, as was played by John Peel, who commented that, wherever he did a gig, there always seemed to be a Ferret there, clutching a demo tape in its’ sweaty paw.Plans to release a second EP were scuppered by the influence of Mr A H Wilson, who came to one of our Manchester gigs at the Cyprus Tavern.
“Do an LP,” he exclaimed, before hitting the dance floor with his near-invisible protégé Vinny Reilly.
We did, in a Stockport studio run by none other than Mr Spector. Mr Steve Spector. The result, not so much a wall of sound as a kind of partition, comprised some twenty songs, mostly recorded ‘live’ that April afternoon in ’81. It snowed, I recall.
There followed a series of gigs, including Portsmouth Poly, (supporting John Cooper Clark), Manchester Poly, (supporting the Thompson Twins), Preston, Nottingham, and many other venues throughout the UK. By now, the strains of a band strewn about the country began to show, and, we called it a day with a (luke) warmly received set in that Mancunion echo chamber known as the Hacienda.