Tag Archives: The Greatest Band That Never Existed

Unconventional use of a Ford Contina

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?

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Introducing The (Fictional) Band…

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.

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.

Here are collected excerpts of how the band initially came together. The following takes place 1977 – 1978…

Chapter 1: Early Days

Caught up in the punk wars but too young to have served on the front line, John and Mitch decided to form their own band in the early days of ’77, the year after The Sex Pistols infamous gig at the Free Trade Hall (they never claimed to have been there unlike seemingly thousands of others). They were motivated after seeing various punk bands pass through the city, not to mention the rise of local groups such as The Buzzcocks and the plethora of other kids starting bands:

It feels like such a cliché when you talk about punk now, you feel daft saying the things that a thousand other people have said. They’re all true though, the point of punk was that it reconnected music with the audience. I loved Bowie and Roxy Music but the entire point of them was that they weren’t like you. Bowie was an alien, he was like a demigod. Bryan Ferry was a posh guy who was smarter than you. That was the deal. Then you had all the pretentious bollocks going on with Genesis and so on and it was total self-indulgent wank. None of it had any connection to real life. Then punk happened and that did. You went off to see bands and they’re were all a set of knob heads. It was guys who lived in houses like you did and did the kinda stuff you did. You saw a punk band and you though “I could have a bit of that”. It was a realisation that you could be involved, you could do something. That’s what punk was: about handing the reins over to teenagers and stripping all the rules away. You were being given a clean sheet. We formed a band cos there was no reason not to. (John)

The name for their band came about remarkably quickly: the boys were making a list of potential titles in their shared bedroom, scribbling on a notepad. The Ninja’s was one suggestion. It’s the only alternative now remembered. What is known is that there was a list of about eight scribbled in pencil when Mitch suggested: ‘Sulkin Serpents’. It stuck. Mitch claims that he has no idea where the words came from; they just popped out of his mouth, neat in their alliteration. John took to the name claiming that it was naff but cool at the same time and sounded just right for them, they became Sulkin Serpents.

The next decision was also made in their bedroom and so in a similarly swift fashion, what instruments would they play? As both were (and are) massive fans of New York arty punk band Television, a band famous for their innovative, revolutionary twin-guitar attack there was no debate – they would buy cheap guitars and John would sing as well, thus being their Tom Verlaine, Television’s awkward and poetic front man.

Who else would be in the band? The first recruit outside of the brothers came about when John got talking to a lad in a record store in Oldham. He was wearing denim and steel toe capped boots, he looked like a bovver boy and John would have dismissed him as a Slaughter & The Dogs fan. However, John was curious as not only was he was carrying a MC5 LP, he was nosing through the jazz section. John decided to risk and ventured over to say hello. It turns out the lad was looking for a Kenny Ball record for his dad’s birthday. John rather liked Kenny Ball after seeing him on The Morecombe and Wise Show, but this he would never have admitted to liking in a time when The Stranglers were looked upon with suspicion. John tested the waters by asking if he’d heard Low by Bowie. The lad replied that he liked it before declaring his name: Andy. John and Andy got talking about punk and John was surprisingly upfront about the band that existed only in the bedroom and minds of the Fearne brothers. Andy didn’t laugh at the name so John invited him to be their bassist, providing he provide the bass. Andy shrugged, claimed he’d never even touched a bass but said OK.

John and Mitch became friendly with Andy, feeling that he was right for their band; clearly bullshit was a long way away from the realm of Paul Andrew Sutherland and the last thing they wanted was some punk poseur. They also liked the fact that Andy could drive, which meant easy access into Manchester to catch gigs as opposed to having to catch the last bus back to Oldham. They both overlooked the suspicion that Andy’s licence didn’t seem to be 100% kosher, but then the car didn’t seem to be 100% his.

After scraping together enough money out for cheap instruments they began learning how to play as a three piece. They got the hang of the three chords by learning punk songs, the same as everyone else was doing. Progress was hampered however due to a lack of drums until Mitch had a brain wave: they vaguely knew a lad back in their school days called Steve who they had seen since in various pubs playing snooker. Mitch’s reasoning was that being good at snooker equated to being good at the drums . So they tracked him down to a pub where he had been making a few quid on the tables and looked in danger of getting his teeth kicked in. They offered him the position of drummer. Steve was hardly convinced but John had an ace up his sleeve by pointing out that if the band was successful it would mean he wouldn’t have to get a real job. Steven Dempsey was in the band.

 … a short while later…

The less punk orientated Serpents were slowly getting better. Deciding to strike while the iron was hot and build on their new direction, John announced they were going to get a trumpeter to broaden the sound. The others, particularly Steve, were highly resistant to the idea, but John insisted, which would start a very long tradition of John getting things his own way.

Although Andy was hardly besotted with the idea himself he did know of a trumpet player who was regularly picked on because of this fact at his school. An odd boy called Douggie Warburton. Andy asked around his native Rochdale and found him rather happy in his job working as a painter and decorator for his dad. Andy offered. Douggie refused until Andy pointed out all the possibilities for free advertisements. Douggie agreed provided it was only after working hours and an advert board could be displayed on stage at every gig. Oddly John agreed to this strange demand, mainly because he found it funny, reckoning that all the punters would consider it ironic.

Rehearsals with Douggie didn’t get off to a good start as Steve insisted that the new boy shouldn’t get paid as much the others, Douggie responded by suggesting Steve get an actual day job instead of spending all his time playing snooker. Similarly, early shows were a bit rough around the edges but once these were smoothed out, the band sounded better with Douggie’s trumped adding extra texture to the songs and his workmanlike attitude added to the group’s identity.

…another short while later…

It was around this time that John started coming into his own as a lyricist, purveying a bizarre brand of detached surrealism and nonsense talk. Not entirely original but they proved a fine counterpoint to the other vocalists in town.

The new funk sound of the Serpents attracted their first influential fan to do them a favour, namely Tommy Corduroy, lead singer of The Spot Welders Of Cleckheaton, a Yorkshire reggae act. They were all were delighted when Tommy asked John if they would like the support slot for The Welders upcoming tour. They were delighted to have the regular work and it was cool to be invited on a proper tour. Tommy Corduroy proved influential in teaching the boys about the ins and out of touring.

Andy had this van, we never asked where he got his transport from by the way, so we stuck all our stuff in it and that was us on tour. We’d all meet up after work and pile in and Andy would drive us to wherever The Welders were playing. Andy used to drive like a maniac, especially if the gig was fucking miles away. Have you ever seen the film Hell Drivers? It was like that and Andy was like Patrick McGhoohan. We were stopped numerous times by the police. It turns out he did have a real license after all. (Mitch)

Steve drove sometimes too, but he was worse than me. I preferred driving myself cos it was better than being in the back, it was always a mess of tangled limbs and equipment back there, and it wasn’t nice at all. The tour was cool though, the guys in The Welders were really cool and dead helpful. They were all big kids though and they all took a dislike to Steve though, cos everyone does, so one day they got a llama to have a shit on his coat. I don’t know where they found a llama in Tranmere. We all thought this was funny but out of team solidarity we felt obliged to put their bass player on a train to Inverness. Literally on the train. On the roof, it wasn’t easy I can tell you that. (Andy)

There were a lot of hi-jinks but we were very grateful for those guys, that support slot was a massive help to us for the next couple of years, they stayed loyal to us. We worked hard and kept our head down, they liked us for that. It became really comfortable and it was perfect for helping us to get into shape in front of an audience and to build up our confidence and improve our playing. (John)

I saw the band quite early on and was rather taken with them, they had this good funk energy and they didn’t take themselves too seriously, which a lot of bands back then were prone to doing. So I sorted it out to get them to support us. It worked well; they were a good set of lads. Apart from Steve, he was a prick. We were into practical jokes back then, especially our bass player Kenny. Steve got the treatment first then things kind of escalated. (Tommy Corduroy)

 

‘Shit happens, brother’

Ok so this is the pitch, a true life story of an imaginary Manchester band. The inside history of the albums, the stories, the bust ups, the tours 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.

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.

Most chapters cover an album (they have a lot of albums!) This is the chapter that covers their 2001 album, Slave Relay.

Chapter 32: Slave Relay (2001)

a.k.a Metal Fatigue

a.k.a All Hail The Mayor of St Kits and Nevis

  1. Justice Is Best Served Hot                                                  3.49
  2. ‘Mercy Me’ Cried the Southern Belle                                3.33
  3. This Riff Is For You                                                               3.22
  4. Lost in Room [Cover: Alternative TV, Jason]                     –.–
  5. I’m Counting On You                                                            3.41
  6. Give It All You’ve Got                                                          3.27
  7. Locked And Loaded                                                            3.38
  8. The Inca’s                                                                             3.02
  9. Great Wall of China                                                             3.04
  10. Psychokinesis                                                                      2.23
  11. Go Live Your Life                                                                  3.46
  12. Pins In Maps                                                                         4.15
  13. Dogfight                                                                                 3.59
  14. Instruction Manual Not Provided                                      3.50
  15. The Long March [Cover: Manicured Noise]                      –.–

There it was, the sequel, and we all knew it was good. (Adam)

I decided to do something very different for us, I thought it would be best if we did the same as the last album. Normally this is never even on the cards but we had done two very successful albums and having been through the mistakes we’ve committed before, I decided to play it safe, which is very strange cos I don’t consider music to be a place to play safely; you try to be safe crossing the road. But to be quite frank I was dying to have three albums that sold well on the bounce so I was thinking right from the off about doing a sequel to Pop Your Head. There was still a lot of mileage in that sound we had been using and there were plenty of ideas knocking about, we could get straight into. (John)

I must admit I was pretty shocked when John said we’ll be doing more of the same. I was very glad though, Pop Your Head had been a great remarkable experience and I was delighted with the end results so I happy to be doing another tour of duty! (Mitch)

Mood in the band was sky-high at that point, we were doing well, selling out shows and being generally flavour of the month, we had already broken new ground by having two do well on the bounce but we were desperate to do it again. I loved getting back to playing more funk based stuff, hard-edged but danceable, there were times in the ‘90s when it had felt like I was just doing a job but now I just wanted to make pounding songs again. (Andy)

Songs were formulated swiftly, and just like its predecessor, it would revolve around the loose theme of video games to evoke near distance nostalgia, mixing in idiosyncratic humour and whimsical charm. The music would again be a mix of dance orientated rock ‘n’ roll and power pop.

In an astonishingly short time an album had begun to come together, ‘Justice Is Best Served Hot’ and ‘Southern Belle’ kicked the album off with two fierce blasts of punk funk which seemingly united the passion and fervour of their formative years with the skill and production of their later career. The tunes were highly reminiscent of the B-52’s at their best, using guitars to make songs incapable of not dancing to.

The middle section follows the power pop angle with jaunty rhythm guitars, breezy lyrics and vocals and effervescent keyboard lines, spry middle eights and adorable brass sections.

‘Dogfight’ and ‘Pins In Maps’ recalled the war themes of Tres Dangereux and the music dips its toes into the layered keyboards of that estimable record, while Jason’s drum solo in ‘Dogfight’ is vicarious and thrilling.

To continue where ‘One Life Left’ left off, ‘Go Live Your Life’ and ‘Instruction Manual Not Provided’ proffered two acoustic songs about having to leave fantasy worlds behind and enter the real world.

John might claim that Slave Relay was the title right from the off but then I remind him of the famous alternative titles that were scrapped:

Oh yes, that’s right, let’s see, long before this one maybe before Fox… I had the frankly crap idea of doing something Latin jazz flavoured, a bit A Certain Ratio style, if we’d ever done that it would have gone by the awful name of All Hail the Mayor of St Kits and Nevis. When it became a straight sequel my first idea was to call it Metal Fatigue but that lasted ten minutes cos Mitch pointed out that you can’t have the word ‘fatigue’ in your album title cos it’s just bad word association, which is absolutely right. Sometime later Slave Relay appeared which is a phrase I like, but it also works as a cheeky innuendo. (John)

How many names does this fucking album have? (Andy)

Again, it was nice to be playing keyboards on some really nice songs with some trumpets here and there, not the most creative of albums for me but I had a good time, which Jason would undoubtedly say is the most important thing! (Adam).

Following on from the previous year’s lone cover, the policy was expanded and Slave Relay would incorporate two songs by other artists: ‘Lost In Room’ by Alternative TV and ‘The Long March’ by Manicured Noise:

We covered the ATV song cos its fucking great! It’s amazing; it just makes you want to pogo like a loon. The way its gets faster is just brilliant, if you’re not verging on a heart attack by the time it’s over not you’re not doing it properly! It was cool to do the vocals for the studio version. I’m fucking good on that track it has to be said (Jason)

He fucking isn’t. (Andy)

Just like the year before they covered Manicured Noise, this time choosing ‘The Long March’ presumably also to make a point about the Serpents’ longevity and seemingly endless comebacks.

Instead of releasing a single to pre-empt the album both were released at the same time. The sharp, anthemic ‘This Riff Is For You’ was chosen and did moderately well, though was overshadowed by the album, especially considering the song was on the album. And due to an administrative cock-up at Flame Records, it was the only single of the year. Jason shrugs: ‘shit happens, brother’.

Slave Relay went straight into the top five, exceeding even the bands expectations, and praise was universal, citing great tunes and choruses, hooked barbs for riffs, crisp production, another wonderful turn from John and admiration for following up Pop Your Head with style and verve. The album would hover around the upper echelons of the charts for a highly respectable time, each week establishing the bands reputation as an outfit that had finally lived up to expectation.

The album’s rise was helped by another landmark performance with Jools Holland, where they performed ‘Justice Is Best Served Hot’, ‘The Incas’ and ‘This Riff Is For You’. The twins were off the radar of cool for this one, Mitch picking at his red Stratocaster while occasionally flicking his foot onto an effects pedal while John, once again in retro 80s shades, teamed with a sharp lined blue mod suit, put in a performance so assured, skilful and cool it was reminiscent of Bowie.

Slave Relay manages to build and improve on Pop Your Head. The opening three songs of the album are utterly electrifying, the power pop section is superb and joyous, the war themed songs are splendid and it’s nice to hear them tip their hats to Tres Dangereux, the slower songs are wonderful compositions and all the covers are first-rate, ‘The Long March’ in particular is an excellent rendition of a brilliant song but its placing at the end of the album is a sentimental but not saccharine nod to the past while the Serpents’ build their future with this remarkable record.

A tour took them around the UK then mainland Europe. On stage the band continued the good form from the last tour, performances were sharp, bright and humorous. John was sensational as singer while Mitch and Andy stalked the sides looming over the crowd. Adam and Jason were clearly having the times of their lives. Interestingly, there had been a change in internal cliques. Before the personnel split, it has been John and Mitch in one camp, then Andy and Freddie in another. With Freddie gone, Andy realigned himself with John and Mitch, making it’ the original guys’ and ‘the young guys’. He did find that he had one thing in common with Jason though, spending most of the tour listening to the debut album by the Black Rebel Motorcycle Club at a deafening volume on the tour bus and both threatening physical violence to anyone daring to put something else on.

Just as Flame had supported Pop Your Head with a compilation to keep the tills ringing and the coffers flowing, they again decided to play the one-two. This time they would release a live album, the first official one for a very long time, especially as it had been planned for the year previously until the bootlegs idea took off. It would be called Vexation

Not our name but I really like it, it’s our kind of name. Flame got in touch and told us to do a live album and that they were going to go to town on it to capitalise on our current money-making capabilities. To be honest we didn’t really have much to do with it. (John)

So, a gig in Holland was recorded and a short while later Vexation was born, the show split over two CDs and featuring the majority of the last two albums plus various highlights from the back catalogue including a couple from The Band From Uncle, ending of course with ‘You’re So (Red) Square’ following hot in the heels of a dusted off and searing ‘(You Take Me To The) Edge of Insanity’[1]. Presented with a sumptuous red cover, it was a lovely package to behold.

I was well chuffed with Vexation I thought it was the dogs bollocks! I loved how it was two discs as well, the whole lot. It makes it more epic, more complete, closer to reality as opposed to the edited highlight, like watching the match as opposed to Match of the Day. Captured us on a great night too, we nailed all the songs from Pop Your Head and Slave Relay and the place had a great atmosphere. I was superb too, it has to be said! (Jason)

He fucking wasn’t! (Andy)

Just like last year’s Best Of… it was released in time for Christmas and unsurprisingly sold well, buoyed by positive reviews and riding on the back of another high-flying album.

Despite the presence of Vexation, two authorized bootlegs were released via the band’s website: Oversteer and Fun At The Pontypandy Dole Office, recorded in Leicester and Dublin respectively. Just like the official release, the former dipped its toes into Shoot Straight At The Heart, a firm favourite among the band, and the latter delved into 1987’s Exploding Cheese. Up until recently such retrospection would have been unlikely, now, thanks to their success the Serpents were shedding their fear of looking back for fear of becoming stuck in a time loop. Times certainly had changed.

To prove that this certainly was the year of Serpent releases, this year saw the start of Flame’s program of rereleasing all the bands albums after they acquired the rights to the complete back catalogue. This was possible due to Feierabend Records being long extinct and Tangent Remedy having gone to the wall following Marty Costanza’s shocking arrest and conviction for money laundering. The reissue scheme would carry steadily over the next few years. Each release was digitally remastered, garnished with bonus material and extensive liner notes and pictures. The reissue of It’s The Rave, Baby was a particularly lavish two CD affair which contained the ‘Manchester Manifesto’ single and two EPs as well as the chart topping version of ‘Too Sunny’.

There was a familiar face at various shows on this tour as Sulkin Serpents were supported by the embryonic Tiger Mountain, the new vehicle for Freddie Carlyle, joined by the flamboyant, angular haired, Harvey Flynn, whom it was already obvious, was a natural front man, even if the band was still clearly at a fledging state of development. The band was met with all round warm receptions by the fans for the former Serpent. Tiger Mountain would return to the Serpents’ sphere on numerous occasions over the following years. Freddie was back where he belonged: behind the drum kit.

[1] Track list: ‘Justice Is Best Served Hot’, ‘ “Mercy Me” Cried The Southern Belle’, ‘This Riff Is For You’, ‘Spare The Whip’, ‘Screw’, ‘Strap Him Down’, ‘Clean It up’, ‘Phalanx’, ‘Locked and Loaded’, ‘Give It All You’ve Got’, ‘The Inca’s’, ‘The Jet Age’, ‘The Vertical Man’, ‘Sign Per Nielsen’, ‘OK, People’, ‘Psychokenesis’, ‘Dogfight’, ‘A Matter Of Life And Death’, ‘The Volatile Man’, ‘Hours Away’, ‘Your Love Is So Vitriolic’, ‘Lost In Room’, ‘(You Take Me To) The Edge Of Insanity’, ‘(You’re So) Red Square’.

Consistently Slippery

Ok so this is the pitch, a true life story of an imaginary Manchester band. The inside history of the albums, the stories, the bust ups, the tours 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.

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 excerpt drummer Jason enters the story.

Chapter 26: Jason

I sit down opposite Jason Fitzwilliam for the first of the interview sessions in 2009. I place two pints on the table between us; we are sat in a beer garden in Castlefield, just off Deansgate in Manchester. The fact we both drink cider breaks the ice. I set up my recording equipment.

            ‘Do you use your Dictaphone?’ he asks.

            ‘No I use my finger like everyone else’ I reply.

            He smiles to himself, it’s clear I’ve just nabbed his punch line but he doesn’t seem too put out. He takes a swig from his pint and runs a hand through his long black hair. It’s messy and unkempt and dangles down to his shoulders. He’s dressed in the clothes he wears perennially, faded denims, T-shirt, battered leather jacket and boots. He’s quite tall too, lanky and lean. A seemingly permanent five o clock shadow decorates his jaw line.

Part of the reason we’re outside becomes apparent when he lights a cigarette, taking a drag before having another drink. He continues alternate from one of the other. Jason can normally be seen smoking roll ups around town and uses either matches or lighters he has acquired from around the world. The only non alcoholic substance he drinks is tea, in which he has three sugars. Jason seemingly lives off greasy food too; sausages and bacon are apparently his main dietary requirement. On top of this he has a noted capacity for LSD, speed and Guinness. The man is a medical enigma.

            Jason is mischievous, sociable, sarcastic and good company. Occasionally childish, he plays up to his clownish image. He likes to be a cartoonish rock ‘n’ roller. He has an eye for the ladies and enjoys dessert.

            ‘Where does the story start?’ I ask him. He flicks his ash into the wind and tells me.

Jason Fitzwilliam was born in Manchester in 1973, but, despite various urban myths he was not orphaned and bought up by wolves. Consistently slippery about his upbringing, the only fact I can seem to gleam is that his father, who wasn’t around much, was ‘some kind of a cop’. His father was a ladies’ man from down south that was fond of drinking, gambling, womanising, fist fights and disrupting international terrorism. He would pop round every so often in his Ford Capri. Jason seems to bear no malice towards his errant father; in fact he claims it’s where he inherited his roguish traits. A lean, rugged child he could often be seen prowling street corners in Wythenshawe wearing a succession of bad jumpers playing football with a tin can. He would occasionally sneak into Maine Road to watch Man City play.

Leaving school he went through a series of jobs he describes as ‘shite’, but then it is difficult to imagine Jason doing any job. A career in drumming was always eluding him, mainly because he was always being kicked out of bands for being ‘an irritating cunt.’ Why is that? ‘I don’t sleep much and I like to get up to mischief in the wee small hours.’

So how did Jason join the band? Luckily I have found him Jason on a verbose day with time for personal reflection. He picks the story up in the year 1997, he was 24 and too tall to sneak into Maine Road.

I’d spent about ten years doing all these crap jobs. Luckily I don’t eat much so I can keep my expenses down [I ask him about taxes – he appears to not hear me]. The only thing I ever wanted to do was drum but that just wasn’t happening, I wasn’t giving up though. One day I heard that Sulkin Serpents were looking for a new drummer, so I thought: “I’m having that gig whether they like it or not”. I knew where they rehearsed and I knew Andy vaguely [ignoring the fact that Andy doesn’t particularly like him] so I blagged my way in telling them how I was their new drummer. So I spent the afternoon there showing what I could do and I put my all into it and by the end they said I was on board. We all went to the pub, I slept on Mitch’s sofa, and I woke him up with a celebratory ice cream at 4.30.

‘It was certainly a whirlwind!’ laughs John, ‘but that’s pretty accurate, it was quite a formal rehearsal and if he had been crap Andy would have kicked his arse out of there! He became our drummer mainly cos he’s very, very good at it and don’t let him tell you otherwise!’

Unfortunately for him 1997 would see a year without an album, just when the band desperately needed yet another comeback…

The Duck Messiah…

Ok so this is the pitch, a true life story of an imaginary Manchester band. The inside history of the albums, the stories, the bust ups, the fights, the tours. 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.

It’s about time to let other people read it I reckon and the ultimate aim is to see it published.

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.

Here is a random chapter and I plan to occasionally post more random sections to act as samplers.  To quote 24, the following takes place between 1998 and 1999. Ish.

Chapter 29: Adam and Jason

John decided to kill two birds with one stone: the band had a new member who would need to move to Manchester and Jason needed a permanent pad to dwell in because if he kept dossing in people houses for much longer he was liable to be given a ‘right decking’. He asked their manager, Bazza to sort them a place out. The reasoning behind it was simple, they both needed somewhere and he thought billeting them together would be good for team morale. Also he figured that Adam would calm Jason down and Jason would bring Adam out of his shell.

So Adam arrived in Manchester with his suitcases of gear and Andy escorted him to his new residence, an old three story house with a big garden but: ‘was like the one in Rising Damp, I’m telling you, the rats were like horses, still we didn’t starve that winter…’ says Jason, presumably in jest.

It was certainly a shock, we turned up to find Jason covered in flour pretending to be a ghost, he wasn’t off his head, that’s just how his mind works. Andy took me up to what was going to my bedroom and it was a lot nicer than I was expecting, the guys had painted it. In fact both bedrooms were very nice; it was just the rest of it that was a dive. I went to have a peek in Jason’s room while he was out haunting the garden to get a see what kind of a guy I was going to be living with, he’d been there for a few days but the bed was untouched, there were no signs of any clothes, but there was a stack of 60s psychedelic music on one side and a half eaten cheese sandwich and a packet of fags on the other. On that first night Mitch, John and Andy came around for a house-warming do, we ate curry and drank booze, listened to loads of music. The old drummer Freddie turned up cos he gets on really well with Andy. I thought that he and Jason might not get on, seeing as Jason now had his job but the pair of them got off their heads on cheap speed. Mitch and Bazza got hammered and John kinda took me under his wing cos he I think he felt more responsibility towards me. So we all woke up the next day worse for wear [apart from Andy who felt fine] and I felt like a proper member of the band. (Adam)

Freddie swore never to take speed again, which he hasn’t exactly stuck to and Mitch threw up over next doors cat. Jason decided to help out by grabbing the irate moggy and attempting to put it in the kitchen sink with last night’s washing up, which didn’t exactly go to plan as it scurried under the table and made hissing noises whenever anyone tried to approach it.

‘I suggested sending a dog in,’ recalls Jason. ‘But then presumably we’d have to send a fucking horse in then’. Somehow the beleaguered tabby was extracted and washed and returned from whence it came. Out of guilt whenever Adam saw the cat he gave it treats but it remained wary of Jason.

There were a few days inactivity before the band got back to work, initially rehearsing with Adam for the new boy to learn the classics, which left spare time for Adam and Jason to do some team bonding. One day they disappeared off to Manchester’s Museum of Science and Industry, Adam learnt about the textile trade while Jason dared visiting schoolchildren to climb on the exhibits, which backfired when the school kids double dared him to fit as many gift shop rubbers in his mouth as possible (‘It’s not often you see a grown man being booted out of a museum while nearly choking to death on novelty shaped erasers’ muses Adam).

Following this incident Jason felt especially altruistic and bought a few loaves of bread which he then took to the Manchester Ship Canal with the chief intention of feeding every duck, geese and swan there.

‘He was nearly killed’ smiles Adam, ‘or worse, rogered. It was incredible though, he was like a duck messiah’.