I have always been at my most musically creative with someone to bounce lyrical ideas off. I analysed the problem and decided that I needed to find a creative person who was interested in songs with interesting lyrics about a wider range of subjects than the False Dots had covered between 1981 and 1984. I hooked up with poet and author Allen Ashley. We set about putting together a new set of music. I wanted to surround myself with creative musicians, who were not scared of taking chances. We recruited Pete Trayling, a maverick guitarist who loved jamming but didn't like actually learning songs (and wasn't overly bothered about tuning his guitar at times). We also recruited my old mate Graham Ramsey on drums. Graham is the most interesting drummer I've ever played with. He is one of the few who listens to lyrics and tries to do a bit more with the songs than just keeping a solid beat. He also really rocks as a drummer. We had several stand in bass players, but none seemed to settle in. We played a string of gigs, including a short visit to Belgium in the Autumn of 1985. In early 1986, Allen left the band. He wanted to concentrate on his teaching career, wheras I felt we'd reached the point where we had something great and really should try and push it.
At the time, I was in a very driven frame of mind. I would write a song a week. Some of these were fully formed, lyrics and music, some were just tunes. I'd play them, we'd tape them and Allen was told to go off and write the lyrics if it was just the tune. If I'd written the lyrics, he would often change them. I was cool with that as they were usually vastly improved. Allen also brought songs to us.
When Allen left the band, sadly most of the material we'd written was put to one side. The post Allen line up was a disaster as far as I was concerned. It was uncreative and very bland. This is not to criticise the guys who came in then, but they wanted to be a soft pop/rock band and it was all a bit uninspiring (although musically quite good). I think we dropped all of Allens compositions from the set.
Eventually I packed the band in around 1990. I was worn out and sick of the music scene. When I reformed the band in 1999 with Fil Ross, Tony Cavaye and long time bassplayer Paul Hircombe, I set about looking through the back catalog. Several of the songs from Allens era were dusted off an made their way back into the set. These included Winter in Your Heart, Heal Me and Maybe Once More, being highlights.
After we found Paul Hircombe had terminal cancer, I found it very hard to play songs he'd been associated with. As he'd not played in the band with Allen, I don't associate the songs with him (although he played the ones in the 1999-2008 lineup setlist).
Having not played guitar at all for a year, I recently decided to try and get back into it. I am still not 100% ready to play the "Paul" era songs following his death, but I got in touch with Allen and suggested a mini reunion. Last week, we got together for only the second time in 27 years and in two hours recorded 11 numbers. At least half of these I'd not played for 27 years at all. During the Allen period of the band, we were madly workaholic, so it wasn't difficult to dive back in. The biggest problem was the decision to play them acoustically, as the songs had been arranged for a band. We just made do.
After the session, I had to drive my daughter to Alexandra Palace to see Jack White. I played the CD in the car. It was incredible. The songs sounded fresh and contempary. We met again yesterday to do a bit more work on the set. I am really pleased with what we are doing. Allen is a successful author, who has picked up a few awards in the years since he left the band. He has also played some of the songs in various other projects (his website is here - http://allenashley.com)
When I was playing the songs, I was reminded why I'd worked so hard with him and been so excited. Perhaps my favourite example of his work was the third verse of the song Urban Child.
Intolerance breeds; tolerance needs a wider stage
For all its plays.
Please realise - narrow minds hide behind disguise
To the left and the right.
But the hell with your shires, plastic desires and suburban stew
Meet the urban crew.
Although it was written by Allen, it pretty much sums up my attitude to life.