A rags to rags story by
Hi to whoever finds this. My name is James Hesford. I was called David Hughes. I now use James, my second name and Hesford – my mother’s maiden name. In many ways, Out-Bar was the reason I changed my name. Not because I wanted to disassociate myself with my past – I have good memories and bad, made many friends, but probably more enemies – but because I wanted a fresh start. I wanted to start again from scratch, which was easy. To tell you the truth, I had no option. As a footnote I would say, I am reluctant to write this. If I was writing about the famous you would be hanging on to every word. The finger cymbal player of a legendary rock band pissing in a plant pot in an uptown Los Angeles Holiday Inn would probably go down in your personal history as something that changed your life forever, a benchmark to which you can justify the hours wasted on comfy sofa’s smoking skunk weed wondering why you are not successful yet having spent at least a couple days of your life learning those three major, first position, triads on your Fender Stratocaster that is slowly disappearing under a pile of dust in a corner of your bedroom. You might be a crap guitar player but you’re as good at pissing in plant pots as the next guy, right? Maybe even better. So, if you’re looking for that kind of inspiration you won’t find it here. This is not about fame although you will find names here who are famous, very famous, who, whether they like it or not, were part of this journey even though they don’t think it worth mentioning it in their Curriculum Vitae. Neither do I particularly. But I think it is at least worth a couple of pages buried in the Time Capsule we now call the internet. Anyway, reluctant or not, here it is…………………….
In 1980 I won the Young Jazz Musician of the Year award. I was/am a dedicated musician – practice faithfully every day and true to my roots. However, after the award, it suddenly occurred to me how much I hated the British Jazz Scene. Don’t get me wrong – there were/are brilliant musicians here, but most people were, at that time, trying to sound like Americans. All bass players sounded like Jaco; all guitarists sounded like Pat Metheney or whoever was the current American Favorite. I also figured out that it would take me 4 years to get my prize money which was dished out as 50% gigging subsidy; in 1980 you were lucky to get £50 a gig. So, I packed my bags and went to New York, Downtown Manhattan – the East Village.
James (David) Central Park
The rent in the East Village, back then, was astronomical and making money wasn’t easy. My excitement at joining a quartet, a real American touring band, was soon tempered when I found out that most of their gigs were in Europe, which seemed to be how it worked here in downtown Manhattan i.e you go to Europe, make a big pile of money, come back home and hand it over to your landlord in monthly instalments. I had two options – take the gig or do a less than minimum wage job looking over my shoulder every five minutes waiting for immigration control to drag me off to the wrong side of the Mexican border and leave me there begging for small change to get my fare back to the UK, where I would spend the rest of my life in despair and disappointment knowing that I would never be able to take my rightful place in the Miles Davis Ensemble, hang out with Ornette Coleman and drink Bourbon in downtown bars while being interviewed by Downbeat Magazine and the Village Voice. The USA was where I needed to be at that time and I was prepared to do whatever it took to stay there.
There was also another way to make some money. Punk was getting big in New York. It followed me over from the UK. (The British version of Punk, that is) At first, I didn’t particularly want to play in a Punk Band but there seemed to be an emerging trend of Jazz musicians (particularly from the Avant-garde – e.g Ornette Coleman influenced) joining Punk Bands, initially for the gig money but later finding that playing in this environment was a springboard for a new kind of improvisation and there was a club audience who were keen to listen to it. And, importantly, dressing rooms with a band rider of copious amounts of alcohol and pretty uptown young women taking a holiday from their luxury uptown apartment lifestyle and weekends in the Hamptons by immersing themselves in the New Wave, introducing themselves by offering to share their high-grade Columbian super stash. After doing my first gig with Snuky Tate (a Downtown black punk musician guitarist and visual artist, who, despite being homeless, having had a minor hit – ‘He’s the Pope in the Vatican/He’s the Groove’- could get us past every club fashion Furur doorman security team in Manhattan), I was blown away. The new band was made up of amazing horn players from the village, a really hot Latin rhythm section from Alphabet City and a punk drummer. The experience can only be described as electric. We could play anything we wanted, however ‘outside’, and the cocaine-induced euphoria of the 80’s uptown audience drove us on endlessly to heights we had never dreamed possible. Every gig was different and hanging out with musicians whose main objective was to ‘find their own voice’ was exhilarating, to say the least. I found this early incarnation of Snuky with a house band (a couple of years before I met him and before the Jazz Punk thing took off) on YouTube. Later in the video, he talks about his band called the Octoroons. He said he only played with black musicians but his theory was that everyone was part black, at least an Octoroon, which means genetically ⅛ black, a theory that I will be ever grateful for; being a pale face honkey from the back streets of Rotherham to one of Snuky’s Octoroons was a genuine leg up in my self-image department.
Here’s a tune He did which was a cult hit. It was mentioned in the comments that Frank Zappa played this tune at the Dr Demento show in May 1981.
There were also a lot of RIPs, which saddens me greatly. I lost touch with Snuky when I left.
Two years later and I’m still managing to stay here, to be on the scene, despite the fact that the band that I had been touring Europe with had chickened out of high intense urban jungle life by actively seeking suitable fertility fading Frauleins to shack up with and spending the rest of their lives living off their dubious reputations as New York Jazz musicians, playing to an audience of lederhosen adorned jazz enthusiasts in the backwoods of Bavaria.
To tell you the truth I wasn’t doing that great. I can tell you that busking your way through the Real Book on the benches of Washington Square for enough spare change to keep a roof over your head and provide a diet no more substantial than Stromboli Boy’s pizza slices and one dollar two egg breakfasts with dubiously hormone growth induced bacon slices can start to take its toll. All the good gigs I got to do weren’t paying much money so, for a subsidy, I took a job with a singer from Brooklyn. He had an all-female band and my girlfriend at the time was playing in it. Because of that connection, I became his Musical Director arranging popular songs for him and writing out scores and parts. Without saying too much, I would say that Mr XXXXXX was a very influential man in the Sicilian community. When we visited the cafe’s downtown, there was always a warm, if not a little nervous welcome, free coffee and as many cakes and pastries as Mr XXXXXX wanted to eat and, almost always, an envelope or a bag of something to take away with him.
Mr XXXXXX seemed to like hanging out with me and liked what I had done for the band. He offered to get me a Green Card. He had legal connections who could sort it for me. After visiting many of his friends and family in Brooklyn, as kind and friendly as they were, it occurred to me that owing a favour to Mr XXXXXX might not have been such a great idea – even though he was the nicest man I had ever met, a thoroughly decent, honest person with only love and good intentions for everyone around him – HONEST! (I’m going to leave this here – it’s a blog in itself, maybe even a book.) Why I mention it is because Mr XXXXXX was one of the reasons I finally returned to the UK. In fact, I didn’t mention it, did I? This never happened – I swear ….by almighty God that the evid………I’m going to delete this before I get an extradition order put on me to testify on old unsolved crimes now re-emerging due to too new forensic methods not available in the early 80’s.
Anyway, moving from sub-let to sub-let every couple of months, followed by Snuky looking for a sofa to crash on, paying most of what I earned on rent, was getting to me. With the barrage of influences and all the stuff I had learned, I had started to compose again, but without a solid, secure base and more free time, I was finding it difficult. Going back to the UK could have been an option, but embarrassing. Spurred on by my friends in London, I had come to New York to conquer the world. Going back without having achieved anything significant would have looked like defeat.
In my last Summer in New York, I bumped into an old friend – Tymon Dogg. I was riding the A train coming back from Brighton Beach and he just happened to be sitting across from me in the carriage. To be honest, it was a big relief for me to see him – a fellow European – as my social life was now either hanging out with Snuky (which was the upside) or driving around Manhatten with Mr XXXXXX and his Brooklyn Hairdresser girlfriend delivering dubious parcels to scabby knuckled Sicilians in Hoboken. (No I didn’t) Tymon was staying uptown in Harlem and had come to New York to guest on the Clash’s double album and play a few gigs in the folk clubs where Bob Dylan had played in Greenwich Village. Tymon had actually taught Joe Strummer how to play the guitar. We’d become friends after playing a gig together in London and his energy and totally original style had blown me away. He reminded me that, even though the Jazz Scene in the UK was a bit damp, there were other areas of the music scene that were breaking new ground. And here he was, from folk and punk clubs in London to the Power House in NYC recording with The Clash.
I still wasn’t sure whether I was brave enough to leave NYC and go back home with my tail between my legs. But then something happened that changed everything. John Leckie (producer extraordinaire) happened to be in town. He was producing an album in the Power House studios just down the road from me. I had shared a flat with him and his then future wife, Christina, in Notting Hill Gate when he was still a tape op in Abbey Road. I was even best man at their wedding – they’ve just had their 50th wedding anniversary – so we go back a long way. Anyway, we were hanging out together in bars and clubs and restaurants having a great time demolishing his per diem expense account. The Jazz punk thing had taken off and John was keen to check it out in situ, so after a hearty meal of sushi rolls and saki, we ended up standing next to Debbie Harry in a small club in Soho, watching James White and the Blacks. It just became so apparent that this new genre, that people like Snuky had kicked off in the late 70’s, was definitely moving up the food chain and getting some recognition.
John was quite taken with the scene and knew about my involvement in it. He told me that he had got a pretty good but loose deal with EMI where he could use their studios in dead time and bring in any bands/musicians he wanted and make albums. The only condition being that EMI would have the first option on a deal. John then asked me if I would be interested in going back to London and starting a project and recording with him in Abbey Road.
I now had a good reason to leave NYC. Two actually. Looking back, John probably saved my life. Up to that point, I was honestly considering taking up the offer of a Green Card from Mr XXXXXX. I would have probably found myself helping prop up a flyover in Hoboken as part of a girder reinforced concrete pillar. So thank you John.
Being in London was OK – not as depressing as I imagined and despite being a lively, culturally significant city, compared to NYC it seemed quiet and rural (I needed quiet and rural) and having been given the ‘get out of jail for free card’ on the saving face front from John, I was able to walk around with my head held high. But even though I was about to make an album in Abbey Road, ‘the deal’ everyone desperately hopes for was still a long way off. I had to deal with reality, something I’ve never been that great at. Nothing brings you down from the cloud of future possibilities more than the lack of money to pay your bills and rent, let alone eat. I now had to draw on the only resources available to me – my ability to play jazz standards. I had vowed in NY that if I had to play ‘All The Things You Are’ one more time. I would ‘Take the A Train’ and throw myself onto the tracks.
Anyway, there I was sitting in a wine bar hacking my way through ‘All The Things You Are’, ‘Girl from Ipanema’ and whatever followed on the next page in the Real Book. I had hooked up with Andy Herbert, a bass player I had worked with before I left. We weren’t doing that bad, to be honest. Wine bars were opening up all over the place and live jazz music was an extra attraction. The money was OK and Andy was even managing to feed his family on what we were making and the free food was a bit of a bonus and helped me cut down on my household expenses. The downside was that it was really cramping my style. Back in NYC, you were expected to go out there and give it all you’ve got, blast away the audience with a furore of atonal sixteen notes at astonishing tempos. In the bars and restaurants of London, restraint was the order of the day. If you played anything more than straight 8’s medium swing at mezzo-forte, someone would throw up their Alouettes Sans Têtes on the waiter’s shoes and you wouldn’t get a re-booking.
Luckily, my mental health was kept intact by the fact that we had already started putting a band together, OUT BAR (Out-bar Squeek) – Tim Sanders (Kick Horns) on Tenor Sax, Barbara Snow on Trumpet, Boris Williams (BackBeat Boris) on drums, Andy on Bass, Me on guitar and Vocals. Yes, you heard right, Me on Vocals. I had never sung in my life. I tell a lie. When playing in the Roy Hill band, I was asked to sing some backing vocals. After three gigs, I stepped up to the mike to sing only to find that the roadies had put a banana there instead of a microphone. A spear through my heart at the time that discouraged me from ever taking it up again. My lack of confidence in this department was sort of getting to me especially as the band was sounding amazing and, as a novice vocalist, completely out of my league. Tim was a great improviser as well as being so fastidious about getting my quirky brass arrangements together; Barbara, who had recently graduated from the Royal Academy of Music and could read fly sh…t and, after spending some time working on the feminist music scene was really becoming a great improviser; Boris and Andy were just so tight as a rhythm section it was frightening.
To tell you the truth, I don’t know why I did it – write a song. The band’s initial concept was basically instrumental – great tight top lines from the brass and guitar, punk, swing, hard funk bottom end with lots of free improvisation, ensemble and solo. I like instrumental music – Ornette Coleman, Charlie Parker, Coltrane, Hindemith, Bartok, Ligeti, Stockhausen, Xenakis and have since come a long way as a composer by misunderstanding their concepts. So when I brought a song to rehearsals, I was a bit nervous about presenting it. It was called Disco Eddy.
I would like to write a little footnote here because as a band only remembered in a one-line sentence in the Eddi Reader story (details to come later) as a Disco Band – an awful Disco Band at that – it needs to be clarified that Disco Eddy was not a Disco song and the band was never a disco band. The song was inspired by a guy I saw on Brighton Beach in NYC (my hang out place on my days off). I remember he was ranting and raving. He called himself Disco Eddy and kept shouting “got the get me some respect around here” while blindfolding himself and jumping over sandcastles like it was some great athletic feat that deserved tumultuous applause. To me he represented what the downside of society has become: about impressing people; style over substance; the total importance of fame; celebrity culture; worth as a human being directly in ratio to the degree of fame. He was paying the price for not succeeding; he was what Americans call a bum.
So, I brought the song ‘Disco Eddy’ to the band and sang it in rehearsals. After the brass intro, I just launched into it. To be honest, I was expecting everyone to hate it and that, in some ways, would have been a big relief. We could go back to playing quirky jazz heads and I could just quietly slip back into the backline and concentrate on being a guitar player. However, it seemed to be the common consensus that not only was it good but it would be our hit single. Hit single …….Hit single…..Hit single……..Our Hit Single! The words hovered above my head like a host of whispering celestial angels. Hit Single?. I never even considered having a hit single. BUT – Having a hit single would mean we would be out there: in the big time, Top of the Pops, Radio One, tours with a tour bus and real roadies, food, girlfriends, drugs, more drugs, money, more money and drugs, throwing tellies out of windows and pissing in hotel plant pots with total impunity and more drugs.
Looking back, I can see this as a landmark moment in the development of the band. Although not seismic, there was a change. Musicians are amazing – if the music they are playing excites them, their level of commitment knows no bounds. A combination of exciting music and a possibility of making money, big money, can turn a bunch of mild-mannered nurdies dedicated to promoting high art, truth and beauty into a bunch of fearsome Spartans ready to sacrifice their own lives on the battlefield of making some serious p. Anyway, for better or worse, the possibility of a hit single was now out of the bag, and although not yet running amok through a forest of mixed metaphors it was definitely hanging in the air.
John liked it. John really liked it. He thought it could be a hit single and was keen to record Disco Eddy first so he could present it to Dave Ambrose, his A and R contact at EMI who, I think, was partly responsible for his deal of free time at Abbey Road. We recorded the whole track in a couple of hours except for the vocal line which, because of nerves and insecurity, took a bit longer. With the help of John’s direction and the band’s support, I finally got it down and the recording project was now well on its way. The band sounded great and thanks to the virtuoso skills of John, who single-handedly did everything from miking up to tape opping while simultaneously producing us, so were the recordings. There was a little hiccup. A big one really. Just before we were about to start recording the album Boris was offered a job working with the Thompson Twins. They were doing pretty well at the time so it was an offer he couldn’t refuse. That’s the problem playing with great musicians, everyone else wants them. He later left the Thompson Twins and went on to play for The Cure. The last time I saw him was at the Brit awards (will explain later) looking like a Goth with his all-black clothes, smudged lipstick and runny mascara. Anyway, that problem was solved pretty easily because we had already met a great drummer on the Jazz circuit – Richard Marcangelo. He could play anything: swing, hard funk, Latin, punk, hard rock. We didn’t even have to audition him; he just came into the studio and did everything in one take. He also introduced us to Martin Ditcham (Rolling Stones, Diana Ross, Donald Fagin, Sade, and more artists than the London Phone Book) who turned up at the studio one night with a big bag of percussion and proceeded to play squeaky toy hammers over the track we were recording. We were impressed, very impressed. He must have liked what we were doing because he joined the band. Bloody hell. The band was getting bigger. We had six mouths to feed and no gigs.
Abbey Road Tapes:
Andy, as well as being a great player and letting us rehearse in his squat in Clapham, had connections. He had a job at the Rock Garden doing the sound for the bands.. I would visit him there regularly, getting free entry by lying to the doorman saying that I had brought his money from the PA company. The next couple of hours were spent drinking watered-down lager and having my eardrums fractured by high energy punk bands. I loved it. I belonged here and so did the band. The Rock Garden was a showcase venue for emerging talent. It would be one of our first gigs and Andy would wangle it somehow.
He did wangle it. After a couple of warm-ups at the Greyhound and other pub gigs, we were ready to launch ourselves onto an unsuspecting Central London Audience. I was nervous. I was now fronting the band as a singer – a more monotonal deliverer of urban jungle-inspired verse to be honest, which, to my surprise, thus far had been received favourably if not with a degree of amusement. For me, it was as much an acting gig as anything else: dressing the part in ’40s and 50s retro gear and getting into character. After focusing most of my life on being an instrumentalist, this was new for me, a departure. I loved it.
To be honest, the audience was split between ‘what the f….k is this?’ and ‘don’t know what the f….k this is but I like it’. Whatever it was, despite a couple of heckles, we kicked arse and were only prevented from doing a third encore because the next band had to get on and we didn’t have any more tunes left. John taped the gig on his little dictation recorder. It’s here:
Here’s the whole gig in two parts with audience murmur at the beginning
After the gig the whole band was high. We were a team to be reckoned with, that’s for sure. However, after coming down off the ceiling with talent induced euphoria, I was feeling a little ashamed that some of the best musicians in town had just been playing their buts off on that cramped little stage and the only thing, apart from the high, they were going to get to show for that was a share of the £20 fee. BUT, we had a SINGLE. A HIT SINGLE. We still didn’t have a deal yet – we decided we would finish the album before presenting to Dave Ambrose – but we had a HIT SINGLE for sure – and three pounds thirty-three pence each to buy half a pint of watered down lager to celebrate our future success. Where’s that plant pot? I’m going to piss in it right now.
Off the back of the Rock Garden, we got lots of gigs. People turned up, people cheered. Our following was growing, although I did notice something about our audience. It became apparent to me that most of them were musicians. They described us as Hindemith on acid which I took as a great compliment. The non-musicians, sensing the lack of those major triads that lull them into a sense of security by providing a backing track for their over sentimentalised life story, called us that band that plays out of tune. I didn’t mind, but I was beginning to see problems here. One being that we had no real category, we weren’t Jazz, Punk, Rock, Hard Rock or New Wave. We looked like a 1940’s big band, played free jazz solos over Hindemithien inspired melodies and Shoenburg ripped off tone rows supporting monotonal vocal lines from yours truly. To my mind, a winning combination.
This winning combination of musical influences finally turned up on the desk of EMI’s Dave Ambrose in the form of a demo tape, which, after a few opening bars, was promptly thrown into his bin and the only light of day it was ever going to see from there on was through a split in a black landfill decomposing liner bag.
Telling the band that we didn’t have a deal was going to be difficult. They had worked really hard making the album and playing their arses off on creaky cramped stages in smoky rooms for little or no money. I wasn’t ready to give up yet but I couldn’t expect these great musicians to keep turning up to gigs and walking away with only a couple of quid in their pocket. And at this point, there was no future, nothing in the offing that a musician could consider an investment opportunity. John (bless him) had done his best to get the album out there but had exhausted all his contacts. No one took the bait.
Sure, the band was disappointed, to be expected, but (bless them) they all wanted to carry on regardless. To be honest, at that point, they believed in the music’s potential more than I did.
So we carried on but gigging in town was becoming difficult. We played the circuit: Dingwalls, Hammersmith Palais, Greyhound, Rock Garden, Hope and Anchor etc. but something had started to happen which was a big rip off – new gigs with a pay to play policy. How this works is quite clever. Someone books you for a gig. They offer you £100, say. A £100 is not that great for a six-piece band but it’s better than £20 the Rock Garden was paying. So you take the gig. You play your arse off. The audience, most of which are your following, pay a pretty hefty entrance fee and buy drink after drink at the bar paying totally inflated prices for pints of something that tastes like it’s just been scooped out of the Thames estuary. The management pays you – actually count the money out in front of you – and then present a bill for £180 for PA hire.
So you start taking gigs in pokey little pubs for a share of the entrance fee, most of which are off the beaten track where the audience is mostly passing trade hence the door money won’t even cover your bus fare.
Doing Out Bar gigs was great but it certainly didn’t pay the bills. Luckily most of the band were getting by doing sessions and playing one-nighters in pick up bands. Andy and myself were still doing the odd jazz gig, but not as many as before. I had been totally focused on Out Bar, writing new material trying to get gigs so, to be frank, I was broke, worse than broke; I was really in debt
My bank had refused to extend my overdraft. Going down to my front door had become a nightmare. The only post I was getting was final demand bills and threatening letters. I just stopped opening them. And, scarily, I was also losing weight. Living only on rice and bread and butter, I had dropped at least a stone. I decided that I would give it another couple of weeks and just disband the group if something miraculous didn’t happen. I think what really did it for me was that we were playing a gig in South London in a pub near The Old Kent Road. We were ready to go on to play to an audience of about 5 people and Richard had still not turned up. Luckily there was a drummer in the audience who had seen us a few times and was familiar with the set who happened to have his kit in his car. He played the gig. He did a good job I have to say, but for me it was the end. This was the last straw, the last gig as far as I was concerned, I’d had enough.
So, there I was, licking my wounds, trying to get my life back together working for an agency as a temp typist in the day and doing the odd jazz gig at night. (Yes I can type – 80 words a minute – the only thing I ever learned at school that was useful). One day Richard turned up at the door. He had already apologised for not turning up to the gig. He was doing a session for Chas and Dave and it had run over. I really couldn’t blame him. He was making money and the band wasn’t. Anyway, Richard had a proposal. Jim Prene who owned a studio (Red Shop Recorders) and Geoff Gurd (producer) had seen the band and wanted to produce us. They wanted to re-do Disco Eddy, use drum machines and fatten out the horn section and bring in session backing singers, ‘make it sound current’ as they said. I loved the old version but what the heck. I had nothing to lose apart from a couple of days work in a typing pool so I said yes.
It was a good couple of days. It felt good working in a studio again. Jim and Geoff were lovely and were doing a great job. They brought in Simon Clarke on Baritone Sax and Roddy Lorimer on Trumpet. Barbara was fine with extending the horn section, but I think Tim was a bit reluctant at first until they all started to play together. The sound was massive and Tim got on really well with Simon and Roddy. That was the first day that what would become Kick Horns played together. Simon and Roddy really liked what we were doing and basically joined the band there and then. Later, Jim and Geoff brought in Gina Foster, an amazing singer who I had worked with before, with Geoff and Andy in a Tamla Motown band (a real one) called the Flirtations. She laid down 16 tracks of backing vocals that sounded like a 60 piece funky choir. OK, the track lacked the raw edge of the original but it was sounding pretty good I have to say. Gina, who had seen the band and liked it, joined that day. Having given up on the band a couple of weeks earlier, we were back together again but there were now nine people. Jesus, nine mouths to feed. How was that going to work? I had no idea, but everyone was keen and as excited as when we first started.
I never thought of myself as a guy who gets a lucky break. The serendipitous event that would change the course of my life was just a fairy story to me until this happened – A guy from Tritec Publishing, who had basically discovered Duran Duran and had got them their deal with EMI, happened to be in the studio a couple of days later and Jim and Geoff were checking their Disco Eddy mix over the big speakers. Duran Duran man – Ian, liked the track big time and literally rang me up and offered me a publishing deal with an advance. Wow. I was bowled over. Not only did I have a publisher and enough money to pay off my overdraft and live on, but he also said he would get the band a deal, no probs, easy. The guy had basically discovered Duran Duran so he could walk into any record company in town and ask for a deal. Which he did. If there ever was an epitome of irony I would say it is this – Ian went to see David Ambrose from EMI and Dave Ambrose signed the band and gave us advanced royalties, which meant the band could finally get paid.
The thing about record companies, big record companies like EMI, is that they like to have control. They think they know better than you: how you should sound, how you should look, how to shape your future, where your audience is Blah blah blah. When Dave first heard Disco Eddy, he immediately said that he wanted us to re-record the track with one of his producers who had worked with Duran Duran. There was no argument. We either did that or it was no deal. I, to my shame, agreed. Geoff and Jim had really gone out of their way, had produced a great track at their own expense, in their own time, and now they were out in the cold. Bugger! Should I have stuck to my principles and just said no? Maybe. But – if I said no everyone would lose. I had nine mouths to feed, for Christ’s sake. But now knowing the need for the hard utilitarian pragmatism to survive didn’t make me feel any better.
Anyway, we all went back to the studio. The producer, I can’t remember his name and even if I did I wouldn’t mention it, was basically a junkie who spent more time jacking up class A behind the mixing console than producing. When he did give us attention his ideas were basically rubbish and the track was sounding awful – overproduced, soaked in AMS reverb. Dave was really angry when he heard it, as much with us as the producer. The upside of that was we managed to talk him round to using Geoff and Jim’s version which he agreed to but he wanted a remix on an SSL desk. The trouble was that the damage had already been done. Even though they said they didn’t, I got the feeling Geoff and Jim basically hated me. I was friends with Geoff before and we had always got on well, but after that, things would never be quite the same between us.
Despite the underlying tension the single was remixed and released. To be honest, it didn’t do that well but it had some good critical acclaim and caused a bit of a splash? Well, at least a plop. And more importantly, Dave Ambrose, after coming down to the Rock Garden and seeing us play live, was very excited by us.
The band was back in Red Shop Recorders demoing tracks for EMI and Tritec. Roddy and Simon had just been working a session and had bumped into Eddi Reader – a session singer at the time who had been working as a backing singer with Eurythmics. They brought her along to Red Shop and I’m not sure how it happened, but she started singing on one of the demos with Gina and basically just joined the band. We were now ten. But at least we had a deal and money to pay people.
Disco Eddy had flopped for the second time, but the ripples from the plop were still out there. I had recently written another song, basically for someone who could sing. It was my first attempt at writing something I would consider a blatant pop song – ‘Away From Heat, Away From the Enemy’. Now having two singers who could actually sing, Gina and Eddi sang lead vocals on the track. Sounded pretty good and Dave was excited about it and released it. Somehow it managed to get into the top 100. It wasn’t a hit but a respectable result, 99 if I remember rightly, for a band that was, in a wider sense, unknown.
Here’s the music
With the help of EMI and Tritec, we started to get exposure: radio play, a couple of articles in the music press, even a couple of TV appearances and radio interviews which I found quite difficult simply because the band that had started as basically a Punk Jazz band was now moving into more commercial territories so anything I had to say about it (roots, influences etc.) was becoming totally irrelevant. That bothered me some. What I initially wanted from the band was recognition for its originality. What I wanted was the freedom to be able to develop as a musician, to create a new genre, to compose without attention to commerciality. OK, I might not be able to join The Miles Davis band, but if I worked hard and stayed true to my roots, I might one day get his respect. (Dream on) But, let’s face it, I had tried that. I had put a band together from scratch, put together some amazing musicians, gone out there in total belief in what I was doing but at the end of the day, it had almost killed me. The stress, the lack of a regular income, debt, the general disrespect to musicians from venue promoters who couldn’t care less as long as they got the door and bar money had totally worn me down. So perhaps there was another root? I could make big money commercially and when I had made a sufficiently big enough pile, I could return to the music I loved and develop without the stress of having to deal with day to day functional reality. Dream on. Pop music isn’t like that. As much as I dislike 99.999% of pop music, I have to say out of respect, that those people believe in what they are doing. Duran Duran was a force to be reckoned with because they had total belief. For them, their music was the height of their expression and lucky for them, it ticked all the boxes. It would be totally arrogant of me to say that entering the world of commercial music, pop music, was dumbing down, but it was definitely about making compromises. And that, ironically, put me at a distinct disadvantage. OK, I decided I would mentally commit myself to this project, wherever it took us but, in reality, I would be an imposter.
Anyway, enough of that. At least the gigs were getting better, in the sense that we were touring, had a real tour bus and roadies, better gear, a budget for clothes and even a stylist. We were recording in the best studios, Psalm West, Wessex, Abbey Road, Trident, Maison Rouge, all costing £1000 per day. I don’t quite know how we did it, but we managed to rack up a £100,000 bill for three tracks. We had also made a video. Today, you can virtually make a band video on your iPhone and put it out there on YouTube. Back then the only way to get it out there was to get plays on MTV. A great video could make a band. Duran Duran was literally spending millions on videos. They had set a precedent for high production value; consequently, the video we made was expensive – a feature film sized camera crew: cameraman, assistant cameraman, focus puller, sound man, catering, a team of runners and a director with his assistant. With only one day to shoot it, we still managed to rack up another £100,000 to add to our debt to EMI which was now running slightly shy of a quarter of a million quid which had to be repaid before we would actually start making money from record sales.
So what. It’ll all work out in the end when we are up there? – hit records, fame, fortune, drugs, throwing tellies out of hotel windows with impunity. A quarter of a million will seem like peanuts, an investment that will yield millions. So who cares? I’m living the dream, am I not? Last week David Bowie nodded as he passed me in a corridor of the EMI building; I got my name on a guest list of a posh West End Club, albeit to fill out the numbers for someone’s Album launch; I sat in a chair in the BBC’s makeup department being plastered with foundation by someone who had never heard of me; I sniffed a line a coke off a Studer multitrack machine in Maison Rouge. That helped. The truth is, I wasn’t living the dream, I was dreaming a life. I was missing the old Out-Bar Squeek. I even missed the rough existence of my peripatetic life in the East Village, that excitement of knowing that something new and original was bubbling up and I was a part of that. I was kidding myself that somehow the new OUT-BAR was still part of that movement. In truth, it was a musical version of NEW LABOUR whose excuse for making compromises was that it was for the greater good and, worst of all, I was Tony F….ng Blair!
Looking back, I should have stopped beating myself up and given myself a bit more credit. Imposter or not, I had landed a major record deal. Nine other people were making a living off the back of it and that, mostly, was down to me.
A year (maybe – can’t remember) had gone by since we had been signed. The advance that had been paying the band’s wages had almost run out and EMI wasn’t about to top it up unless we had some serious success. If I remember rightly, I wasn’t taking wages because I was living off my yearly advance from Tritec publishing which was due and now being back in the land of overdraft, I was relying on it.
We’d had a hard time that year trying to find a producer that we could work with. Things had changed drastically since our beginnings in Abbey Road with John Leckie. It was now the period of the Trevor Horns, who despite having the ability to create a wonderful soundscape, paid only lip service to the character of the bands they were producing. The musicians were sidelined in favour of synthesizer generated bass lines and punchy AKAI drum machines. The more producers we worked with the less the band was being used. This had started to piss everyone off to the point that the members, who had been so dedicated to the success of OUT-BAR were now waning in enthusiasm. Tim, Roddy and Simon were mostly concentrating on getting the Kick Horns out there as a session Horn Section. Andy was totally frustrated because most of the producers were using synths and he was only being used on live gigs. Eddi was feeling frustrated because she wanted to be a solo artist and didn’t think she was getting enough exposure or involvement with songwriting. Unbeknown to me at the time she had started to work with Mark Nevin and form Fairground Attraction. Martin had flown off to the USA to play on the Rolling Stones Album and finished up staying there and working with Diana Ross and Donald Fagin and then came back and joined Sade. We used to say that Martin had a new percussion instrument – a big bag of money.
Despite this, we were still a band and although I could sense the frustration, I can’t remember any bad arguments – just a gentle drifting away. And who can blame anyone? The band had changed out of all recognition to what it once was. As soon as Gina and Eddi had arrived I had been given a serious talking to by the A and R department, who had threatened to chuck the band off the label unless I concentrated on writing for the ‘girls’ – their expression not mine. Also, a band of ten people was giving the publicity department a headache. Having ten people on a record sleeve was confusing. They, and I say ‘they’, decided from then on that Eddi, Gina and myself should be the only ones on the publicity shots. I didn’t like that. Not being that confident in my looks, I felt much more at ease hiding behind a group of musicians rather than parading myself like a male catwalk model. Anyway, after months of grooming by West-End hairdressers and show business stylists, at least I looked the part.
As I said before the music business was changing; EMI was changing. A new head of Music had been appointed. He had been the head of EMI Canada and was sent to London to do a hatchet job and get rid of the deadwood. The story goes that he spent his first day flicking through record sleeves (not even listening to anything) and shouting ‘OUT’ before throwing the ones he didn’t like in the bin. Luckily for us, Dave Ambrose happened to be there to catch our record sleeve that was floating its way, in slow motion, across the A and R department towards the trash can. It was our new single ‘When the Bad Men Come – Hokibo-Sadobo’. I had co-written it with Richard. My first writing collaboration. It had been produced by Dereck Bramble and was sounding like a hit record. Thanks to Dave, after a heated discussion, the new department head agreed to put it out but not until making it clear to me, with fingers under my jacket lapels (I’m serious), that this was our last chance.
‘When the Bad Men Come’ – Hokibo Sadobo
The EMI publicity department had promised to get behind it and so had Tritec’s publicity, but there was a condition. Duran Duran man, Ian, said that Tritec would only get behind the single if I signed a new contract containing a ‘Productivity Clause’. The ‘Productivity Clause’ said that I would only get advanced royalties if I’d had a degree of success – a top 20 hit, in effect, if I didn’t sign they would drop me.
I had no option. As the boss man said, this record was our last chance. Without Tritec’s support it just wouldn’t happen so I signed the contract. There was a real problem here for me. As I mentioned, I was already up to my ears in overdraft – made worse by trying to live up to the lifestyle of a ‘Pop Star’. Now, without my advance, the only way of getting out of debt was by getting a hit record – a top 20 at least. Two weeks later, the bank refused to extend my overdraft and I was basically back to square one.
For some reason, probably because EMI was concentrating on Greatest Hit albums, the release date was put back. I literally had no money. Nothing to live on. Out of desperation I secretly took a job typing/data inputting in Soho. It was the only thing I could get. The office was just around the corner from my publisher in Berwick Street. Soho was also in the centre of the music business. Warner Brothers or Universal (can’t remember) was literally next door to me. This was a real problem. OK, I wasn’t that well known as a public figure but my face had been around the business a bit and I was on chatting terms with some of the executives and members of other bands, so walking into work and bumping into people who knew me and might find out that I was doing a minimum wage day job could be embarrassing. The morning coiffure to keep up the appearance of a successful signed musician was an extra burden I could have well done without. Sitting in posh bars looking at publicity shots and making excuses to leave so that I can get back to the office to make apologies for extending my tea break and promising to make up the time by having no lunch hour was just a regular part of my double life existence.
The single was eventually released and Gina, Eddi and myself had been booked for a nationwide publicity tour giving interviews with the hope that regional radio plays would eventually lead to it being picked up by National stations. I basically had to call in sick to work to be able to do that. To tell you the truth it was awful. Being unknown and walking into those places to do an interview knowing that the DJs, aware of your current non-status in the music industry, had absolutely no interest in you whatsoever and couldn’t wait until it was over so they could play the latest chart-topper and wallow in the sound of their own voice was so demeaning. The tour was exhausting, The schedule just seemed so illogical. We would start at nine o’clock in the morning in, say Birmingham, do an interview and drive all the way up to Newcastle and then finish up in Cardiff on the same day suffering from car lag and DJ inanity overload. And then you would spend the next couple of hours listening to the radio because you had been promised a play on Radio One if, if……..the DJ didn’t run over by talking too much.
I’d like to say that I’d had enough, that I didn’t care anymore whether the single was a hit or not, but I can’t. The radio tour had exhausted me in every way: physically, mentally and spiritually, but I just couldn’t give up yet. I felt like the circus employee who was always complaining about having to clean up elephant sh…t and when asked why he didn’t just quit replies – ‘What, and give up show business?’
Being back in London wasn’t that much better – spending hours listening to radio show after radio show just on the off chance that you would get a play was equally exhausting and stressful especially after a hard day of inputting data. After a week or so no one had picked up on the track. It was dead in the water. But then Bruno Brookes (Radio One DJ) started playing it almost every day. It was moving up the charts, into the top 100. For the next week I was like a punter screaming at the trackside for his horse, that he had put his life savings on, to come in.
Despite Bruno Brookes’ persistence ‘When the Bad Men Come’ wasn’t a hit. Needless to say, despite the minor success, EMI dropped us. My publisher dropped me.
This was the end. There was nowhere else to go. I knew it and so did everyone else.
When you imagine a band splitting up you always think of a dramatic event – arguments, blame gaming, even fist fights. Well, that’s not how it was. By the time the last single was released people were just hanging in there on the off chance. The enthusiasm that was almost frightening at the beginning was now non-existent. Our-Bar had become a day job, a waiting room for something better to come along. As each member drifted away, for a while, they were replaced by other musicians to fill the last few gigging comments, but there was no future. The band had lost its identity – from a roaring lion to a rotting carcass ravaged by the pursuit of fame, compromise, and record industry executive control freaks. Bugger!
Well life goes on as they say, so I can’t leave it here without an epilogue – the bit at the end of the movie before the credits roll up on the screen that tells you what finally happened to all those people who managed to survive the apocalyptic, seismic disaster we call failure. Here we go…….
Martin Ditcham – left for America, initially to play on the Rolling Stones Album, and stayed there for a while recording with Diana Ross and Donald Fagin. After many more months of continual session work he returned to the UK with suitcases full of Dollar bills and spent the next few years working with Sade and then Chris Rea. As well as still being first call session man for just about every artist in the UK he also continues to work on his own creative projects. Trust me – you’ve heard him. He’s amazing.
The Kick Horns – Tim Sanders, Simon Clarke and Roddy Lorimer – there’s not enough room in this whole magazine to list all the Kick Horn’s credits – still remain first call horn section for sessions in the UK and Europe and if you hear a brass section on a hit record it’s probably them. So, here’s just a few credits. Eric Clapton, The Rolling Stones, Dave Gilmore, Baaba Maahl, Pete Townsend, Spice Girls, The Verve, The Who, Erasure. I’m going to stop here before I get carpal tunnel syndrome. Also for anyone looking for material for a horn section master-class you should check out their album ‘The Other Foot’.
Eddi Reader – What can I say. Wow! After leaving Out-Bar Eddi formed Fairground Attraction with Mark Nevin and had two major hits: ‘Perfect’ and ‘Find my Love’ and their Album ‘First of a Million Kisses’ went triple platinum and won two Brit Awards. Eddi went on to have an amazing career as a solo singer and songwriter picking up another Brit Award on the way, two Ivor Novello awards and an MBE. Bloody Hell. Amazing! And, I have to say, her voice is still Awesome.
Andy Herbert – continued playing bass as a session man and stage performer. After a brief interlude of getting a first class degree in Oxford University, he returned to music where he became a top session player and first call Jazz bassist.
Gina Foster – You’ve heard Gina. I can guarantee it – Swing out Sister, Eric Clapton and Sinead O’Connor and on literally hundreds of hit records. She is known in the record industry as one of the most soulful session singers in the UK. As well as being a session singer, she is also an amazing solo artist. Her latest project, Unsung Singers with Tessa Niles – an insight into the world of the session singer – will soon be a mainstream TV documentary.
Barbara Snow – Barbara’s love of Latin music led her to move on to the Jazz and Latin circuit where she toured regularly before forming her own band Que Barbara – love that name. She also became a singer – heard her recently, her voice blew me away – and a composer and has written scores for mainstream television and film projects.
Richard Marcangelo – after a period of session work and becoming a highly respected composer and producer in his own right, he joined Manfred Mann’s Earth Band. Playing better than ever, Richard is still in demand as a drummer and percussionist (he plays a mean conga, I can tell you). His credits include: Robert Plant, Afro Celt Sound System, David Gedge’s Cinerama, Eddi Reader, Chris DeBurgh, Desmond Dekker, Mica Paris, Steve Coogan and Gilbert O’Sullivan.
Phew! That was exhausting. I suppose I should say a little about what happened to me as I was the one who started the bloody thing in the first place. Here we go …… As I said before, Out-Bar was dead, a carcass left to decompose on the refuse heap of unfulfilled dreams. I got that, so you might think that I would be left alone to stink and soupify at my own leisure. Unfortunately that wasn’t the case. There were still bones to be picked at. (I think I’ve extended this metaphor far enough. I’m sure you get the point). Anyway, I’m being chased by the taxman, re: EMI’s advance and, even worse, the solicitor DXXXX XXXXXXX who, unlike a prostitute, still keeps f…….ing you when you’re dead. DXXXX, despite telling me that he hadn’t got his meter on during our previous meetings at the beginning of our EMI contract, presented me with a four figure bill itemised in six minute time slots. I needed money quick and working in a data input department of a software company in Soho wasn’t cutting it.
I don’t quite know how this happened but I was offered a job on a TV news camera crew as a soundman – you know, the guy with that fluffy thing on the end of a stick. I was told that it could be dangerous and I would have to expect anything – war zones, disasters, riots. I even had training on how to calculate the direction of incoming gun fire so that I could protect myself and my camera man. First rule of being a sound man is that if your cameraman gets shot, you leave him and continue filming on his camera. So, it was either facing DXXXX XXXXXX in debtors court and spending the rest of my life as a bankrupt or spending the next three years being shot at, rambling my way through debris from a third world earthquake disaster, being covered in paint and threatened at knifepoint by poll tax protestors. I decided on the latter.
I suppose why I am telling you this is because after flying back from some godforsaken place, I think it might have been the former Yugoslavia, tired and filthy after spending days on the road without sleep in a shaky old jeep, I returned to the NewsRoom to be told that I couldn’t go home because they were a crew down and had no one to cover the Brit Awards. I turned up there with the crew looking like we had just come out of a war zone – funny that – to see Boris, our first drummer, picking up an award with The Cure AND Eddi running towards me to give me a hug. She was carrying two Brit Awards.
Thank you for reading. If you want to know more, Google me. I’m still out there. James Hesford xxxxxxxxxxxxx
I leave you with a track from our early days before EMI
James Hesford (David Hughes)