Ok so this is the pitch, a true life story of an imaginary Manchester band called Sulkin Serpents. The inside history of the albums, the stories, the bust ups, the tours, the hi-jinks and more. A story that ranges from the late 1970s to 2011. All of it true. But fictional. The story of The Greatest Band That Never Existed.
Featuring in depth interviews with the characters learn the entirely fictional true story.
I am aware that jumping straight in loses context but hope it can be enjoyed as a fun, whimsical read to give a sense of the full picture.
In this chapter an influx of new blood joins the band:
Chapter 8: New Blood
1983. The post punk generation was falling by the wayside. Joy Division had morphed into New Order who had turned electronic and made history with record-breaking 12 inch ‘Blue Monday’. The Fall and Echo & The Bunnymen were knocking out first-rate albums. However, the post punk age was well and truly over: Magazine had split, and so had The Teardrop Explodes with Julian Cope going solo as well as barmy. The best days of Gang Of Four, Wire and Public Image had been and gone. Moreover, Ultravox! lost the exclamation mark and gained Midge Ure.
Sulkin Serpents were a hangover from a movement that had stopped moving and had failed to release a classic album in that period. The Eighties were marching on but the Serpents were at a standstill.
It was a grim year for Sulkin Serpents: they found themselves with a reduced membership of three, no label, no manager and no ‘hit’ album. They were desperate times. John, Mitch and Andy were well and truly ‘in the shit’. They needed bodies and fast.
The trio embarked on a desperate scramble, looking for new members. It was Mitch who had the first viable idea, as he happened to be a fan of a rather odd band that went by the name of Trigger Machine:
They were a band I had really been into during 1982. They were sort of a cross between dance and industrial. They weren’t a million miles away from Fad Gadget. They had this one fantastic album called Contact Block which I still think is amazing. It sounded so far ahead of its time. The drums were so powerful and sounded like they were being beamed from a slaughterhouse in the depths of hell. When we were looking for new guys I read that Trigger Machine had split up so I told John, who wasn’t really into them but did think it was worth investigating. We got Andy to seek out their drummer cos he’s much more confident about doing stuff like that than we are. We soon found ourselves talking to Daz Malone. He looked like a young Oliver Reed who looked after himself. He looked like a soldier actually, very focused and in great shape. Great footballer. He had really short hair and looked like he could handle himself. I remember thinking that in World War Two they would have made him a commando. World War Two heroes were never called Darren thought.
How did the meeting go from Daz’s perspective?
Andy asked me to come over to have a chat. They all looked more nervous than I did; John and Mitch looked at a bit of a low ebb to tell the truth. It was clear they wanted me to join so I thought it could be a good opportunity. I did have some reservations as they were known as a one hit wonder so in some ways I did think that I could do better. But I had heard their albums and quite liked them. I thought that if I could get their act together than we could achieve some interesting things. I did have one condition though, that we bring along Peter Lindstrom, who had been in Trigger Machine with me, he was as hard working as you can get and very talented. (Daz)
Peter Lindstrom looked very much like the native of Sweden that he was. Athletic and blonde, taciturn and reserved, he made Mitch look like a party animal. He did however, play keyboards and a variety of string instruments, skills which had John practically drooling, so Daz’s condition was happily acquiesced to.
I was deliriously happy when we got Daz on board we felt so much stronger within days. The band was so much more cohesive. It was like signing a big centre back for your team and it lifts everyone. The difference from when we had Steve was phenomenal, Steve wasn’t that bad but he was just too laid back. Daz was like a drill sergeant, a real disciplinarian. But that was what we needed. For years we’d just drifted along now we had someone to grab us by the scruff of the neck. In the space of a week he got us exercising with him. The five of us would go jogging at 6 in the morning! I still can’t believe Andy went along with it he was normally hungover in the morning, but that’s the effect he had. He swept us along with him. We got so fit; we were physically and mentally toughened. We wanted to take on the world again. Show them who Sulkin Serpents were. I can’t state just how important Daz was to the band. (John)
Excerpt from the diary of Daz Malone, 13th February 1983:
I’m slowly getting the measure of these guys and how these guys work. Mitch interests me most; I can’t decide whether he’s shy or so laid back he’s horizontal. Always carries at least one book with him in his army trenchcoat. From what I have seen a superb guitar player, very diligent and great technique. Peter says if he applied himself he could been a defining guitarist of the decade. I know what Peter is like with hyperbole however. I have mixed feelings about John; he seems to be playing a role. At the moment he seems keen on having a big smash hit of an album but this may be a role he is playing, I’m sure there is a lot more going on under the surface. And Andy? He could be the biggest puzzle, is he a really good bass player not putting the effort in, or is he a second rate bass player winging it? Hard to tell from the fact he appears to be drunk quite a lot. I think the others have spent that long with him they don’t notice anymore. To be drinking double whisky’s with your lunch to wash down a ham sandwich strikes me as a bad omen. I have asked Peter to keep an eye on Andy. Maybe we can do without him.
All of which was great but they were still lacking a label and a manager. Unbelievably, John had actually been approached by the label Tangent Remedy a month after the arrival of Daz and Peter by the elusive and notoriously slippery Marty Costanza, who was apparently a fan. The band found themselves in London in the offices of Tangent Remedy, a London based independent label of some note:
I couldn’t work out why they’d be interested in us, they weren’t one of the big majors but they weren’t a set of mugs either so I couldn’t get my head around it. We weren’t exactly chart toppers. We met this guy called Marty Costanza who was very friendly and said he liked our albums and that he was thinking about bringing us onto his label. Luckily we’d had a month with the new guys and John has been working on his ‘new sound’ and things had been progressing nicely. John had had the foresight to take a cassette with him that he gave to Marty… (Andy)
…a couple of days later Marty rang me up and said he’d played the cassette to the board, which became a bit more sympathetic to us. I had been quietly confident as it had the ‘new sound’ I’d been working on. So we got the deal done. It was a one shot offer though, Marty told us it was one album and if that stank we’d be kicked out of the door. Luckily I had a plan up my sleeve and I was in good shape both mentally and physically after Daz’s fitness regimes. I was ready and raring to go. (John)
Marty didn’t just give them a deal; he also gave them a producer to work with, Jamie McAndrews. A man Andy famously described as ‘so Scottish the only mixer he uses is Irn Bru‘. Jamie was a jack of all trades. He had started out as a bruising centre back in the 70s for an array of football clubs north and south of the border, winning four caps for Scotland before retiring due to injury. Noted for his fiery temperament as well as his ginger locks, he had gone into the music business after hanging up his boots. Jamie is a man of many talents though; he also owned two pubs and had ideas about starting a haulage company. John and Jamie talked for an hour on about plans for the Serpents, leaving John on cloud nine. I caught up with Jamie in his of his pubs:
I found myself working for Marty cos that’s what Marty wanted and he was the kind of guy who got exactly what he wanted. He had a sixth sense about people. I’d heard gossip that he’d bought Sulkin Serpents into the fold. I thought that it was pretty strange as all I knew was that they were some kind of one hit wonder. Marty quite liked their albums and reckoned they had potential with some spit and polish and a firm hand. He sent me copies and I disagreed. I didn’t really have much say in the matter so I just had to get on with it. I changed my mind when I got a call from John who wanted to introduce himself. He sounded very paranoid and a bit needy actually. He knew how people saw the band and that they needed a big album. He also seemed convinced that he knew how to achieve this and let me into his plans. He was determined that his plans would work this time and his positive attitude sold me. (Jamie McAndrews)
They only needed one more thing now: a manager. Then one Tuesday morning there was a strange chance meeting. Daz was jogging to John’s house to start the morning’s activities when he saw a man at least six feet six inches and fairly wide to boot (‘He looks like the back breaker in those Sherlock Holmes movies from the 1940s’ – Mitch). A dustbin wagon backed into him and nearly came off worse. Intrigued, Daz jogged across the road to investigate.
He was now holding the dustbin wagon driver by the neck for a ‘frank exchange of words’. The big fella introduced himself as Bazza and the pair hit it off well, with the latter explaining how he had been kicked out of the army in the mid ‘70s for biting a Doberman that was ‘looking at him in a strange way’ before doing a stint with a shadowy anti terrorist unit in London, until he used a Ford Contina to resolve a hostage situation in a manner deemed ‘just too unconventional’.
Daz explained how he was in a band and that they needed a new manager. Upon arrival at John’s, Daz suggested Bazza for the role. John laughed so hard he immediately accepted.
I was happy when John agreed he’d make a good manager. He’s a great organiser though, very practical, very hands on. Quick to try new things, willing to make mistakes. This is a guy who has parachuted into war zones. He told me a story about throwing a terrorist off a skyscraper. With him on our side no one would dare fuck with us!
The cumulative effect of all these new personalities was staggering:
We became so much stronger. We had Daz behind us driving not just the music but us as well with his ambition. Peter made the music stronger and offered lots of variety and skill. We had Bazza to fight our corner and we had Jamie in the studio who had a much firmer hand than Roger. They were all ambitious people and focused on the job. We felt more marshalled, more controlled. Over the next few months we worked harder than we’ve ever worked and we loved every minute it. (Mitch)
Diary excerpt from Daz Malone, 15th Match 1983:
Rehearsals are going well, slowly beginning to believe that John might actually know what he is going. His lyrics aren’t much cop but he seems to churn songs out for fun, it’s very impressive. Andy however, remains a worry. He seems incapable of spending a day without vodka. He gets everything done though and as yet isn’t a liability. I had a quiet word with Bazza yesterday to watch him like a hawk and spoke to Peter this afternoon, suggesting he might want to re-acquaint himself with the bass guitar. I think Peter is already harbouring similar opinions.
Jamie seems to be very hands on; I assume Marty has told him to keep a close eye on his investment. He knows what the band did to Russell Thompson and is giving them a short lease. I say them, I mean us of course. Giving us a short leash. If this album doesn’t work this band is done for. It’s exciting in a way. If it does all go wrong Peter and myself should cope with the fault out. I’d like to work with Jamie again.
So things were finally shaping up with a new drummer and instrumentalist, new producer and John had his new sound to unleash, but what was this new sound?