Wednesday 31 January 2024

Wellbeing Wednesday #1 - Time for change has come!

 One of my 'secret new years resolutions' was to start this feature. However, I decided that I'd wait until I had my six month cancer consultation before I did. There were three reasons for this. The first, I am superstitious and I didn't want to tempt fate. The second is that if the results of my PSA test and consult were not good, I'd be in no real state to talk about wellbeing. The third and this may or may not surprise anyone who has read my blog and knows how opinionated I am, is that I wasn't really sure that I had anything sensible to say. My doubts were somewhat eased by discussions I had with friends recently. A couple said that reading my Cancer blog series had been really helpful.

So why now? Following my radical prostatectomy in August, it is likely ( I have just crossed my fingers and said an Our Father for good luck, being a very superstitious, if rather bad Roman Catholic, who doesn't want to tempt fate) that I've put my cancer struggles behind me. Although I will persist with my cancer blog, I hope that it will slowly wither, as it eventually becomes just an annual round up of the PSA test. But the journey has given me a hell of a lot. I don't know if I am alone in this, clearly I am (currently) a survivor and someone who has actually got more positives out of the brush with cancer than negatives. The mental health challenge, especially in the last year, have been immense, but the journey has made me finally address many things that have held me back as a person. I have no qualifications to speak about wellbeing, it is purely a personal viewpoint. I am sure some qualified people may find what I have to say wrong, possibly verging on irresponsible at times, but I believe that one of the biggest problems around the issue of wellbeing is that we are all horribly dishonest. 

So lets start with how this will work. I have set myself some goals for the year. I will track them here.


Last year, I had goals and these were derailed by my surgery and not being able to use the gym at all for three months. This year, my goals are as follows.

Cycling - Minimum 50km a month, Target for year 600km

Rowing - Minimum to June 10km a month,  July to December 40Km per month - Annual total 300km

Cross Trainer Jan - June. 1.5km per week 

Running July-December 15Km a week

My ankle is unable currently to support running, so I am building up with the cross trainer

My target is to clock 1,000km in the gym in total this year. I aim to go twice a week as a minimum.

I also aim to continue my 10k steps a day minimum walking.

I used to be able to row 10K in 37 minutes. It is my aim to get back to doing 10km in 42 minutes by December. This will need a lot of work and is dependent on not getting injuries. 

As its the last day of January, I have failed miserably to meet my target, but this is in part due to my ankle at the start of the month. I started on the 17th and have managed 4km rowing, 28km cycling and 1km on the cross trainer. I aim to catch up by December


At the start of the year, I was 111kg. This may be the heaviest I've ever been. This was a combination of overdoing the alcohol, comfort eating and Christmas. Then there is my BMI (click here to check your BMI) -  my consultant told me on Monday that as my BMI was registering as obese, I need to address this. He informed me that this is likely to hinder my recovery from prostate surgery in matters sexual. That is a good incentive

This was my BMI at the start of the month

I've been dieting all month and the weight is down to 107kg. Definite progress has been made. If I keep this up for February, I should be out of the obese range (just about)

So how have I been doing this? I did not drink at all for the first two weeks in January and I've set myself a target of drinking on a maximum of two days a week for the rest of the month. For the rest of the year, the target is to drink a maximum of three days a week. As for food, my target is to eat around 2,500 calories a day on non drinking days, whilst with exercise, burning a minimum of 3,400kCal per day. 

To facilitate this, I've been keeping a food diary. This tells me if I am meeting this. I largely am. Weekends/drink days need some work, but by choosing healthier options in restaurants etc, it does make a difference. I do not believe that living like a monk is balanced, so it is getting the balance right. Knowing you have to add snacks etc to the diary focusses the mind. Being honest with yourself is the key. 

I will track my BMI progress here. My target is to be BMI 27.3 by 1st June (weight 94kg). This puts me bang smack in the middle of the 'Overweight' category. Whenever I have reached this weight previously, I have had healthy body fat levels. I am a naturally thick set build and believe BMI is a bit of an imprecise tool. My intention will be do discuss this with my GP at the time, when I have a regular check up. 


This is my biggest challenge. I come from a family with a strong history of alcoholism on both sides. My wife has spent 30 years telling me I am in denial over my drinking. Adding drinks to my alcohol log is my way of trying to work out if I have a problem and how much of a problem it is. I do not believe I have a tendency to alcoholism. I don't miss it when I don't drink (except in the pub in company of drinkers). I don't drink on my own. Some of the Trolls who have tried to upset me have portrayed me as an alcoholic, drunkenly blogging at 3am in the morning with a G&T in my hand. This is total rubbish. The only time I've ever blogged after drinking, is when I've attended something such as a council meeting, then been to the pub with other bloggers etc after, and I wanted to get the blog done when I got home, as it was fresh in my mind. Generally they are written in the morning, sober.

I easily manage to stick to my days off rule, apart from on holidays and breaks, which I have always excluded from the rules. What I do, and recognise is a problem, is binge drink on the days I do drink. As most of my good friends also do this, it is a challenge to address. Following my prostatectomy, I've learned that too much volume of alcohol, especially beer, can lead to unfortunate accidents. This has made me moderate my binge drinking (as well as planning my route home carefully). 

I can honestly say that until I've a couple of months worth of data on my food log, I will not really be able to work out a strategy. Let say, this is not a challenge that over concerns me right now. 

Mental Health Wellbeing

So how do I feel? As I started to put this blog together, I realised that this was something that I don't track. When I was 24 I had a mini crisis, when my relationship with my then partner broke down and I had a serious health crisis (a stomach bleed that almost killed me and an infected polyp in my left ear that made me think I was going mad). I had counselling after. The counsellor suggested I keep a mood diary. As this was in a book, I was terrified that someone may find it, so I put symbols rather than categories. There were four. I marked these out of ten. These were 1 - Anxiety/stress level, 2 - Mood/Happiness level, 3 - Goal achievement level and 4 - Sexual interest/activity level. It might not surprise you that the higher 1 and lower 2 were, the lower 3 and 4 were. I also recorded why. My counsellor suggested setting daily goals (ten minutes guitar practice, go for a run/exercise for 30 mins, etc). I'd set one a day. That doesn't mean don't do other things. Sometimes they were boring that I didn't want to do, like doing a tax return. I also had to make a note as to why I'd not achieved them. Often the reason for failing was "Went to pub with mates and got pissed". For the six months I was having counselling, I'd review this on a fortnightly basis. At the end of 1985, I met my current wife and since then, mostly 1 and 2 have been low and the others far better. I thought I'd put it to bed, but I realise it would be useful to do this again. 

So I will be adding these back to the food log and setting a daily goal. Here is todays entry - As you can see it has only been partially filled and is more for an example if its something you feel may work for you

As I stated, this seems to work for me. It is my intention to post this blog regularly, usually on the last Wednesday of the month, charting progress and analysing any lessons learned. I see this as the logical successor, as mentioned above, to the cancer blog (assuming that behaves itself). 

I will discuss strategies that have worked for me and why I've fallen back where that happens. By posting this, I have put it out there, so I can't hide from it.

I finish by saying a few words of thanks. Firstly to Professor Christopher Eden, my prostate surgeon, who put me in a position to do this. To my mens health physio Mr Gerard Green, who helped me deal with the aftermath of my surgery. To Andrew, the nutrition expert at Vitality Health, who got me back on track with the food log and to Natalie at Vitality, who organised the seminar where I met Andrew. 

Then there is my missus, the ever lovely Clare, who makes it all possible, my kids Maddie, Lizzie and Matthew who give me a reason to do it. And finally to all my mates, who will do everything in their power to derail all of the good work, when we go for a drink, but without whom life would be so dull!

And I finish with a promise. On Saturday 3rd Feb, The False Dots, my band, will perform a gig to celebrate their 45th Birthday at The Dublin Castle. This will be a day when my food log will be very + on the calories side, as I have a few pints to celebrate (please come along). Right now, I look like a fat slob. My ambition is to, by the bands next birthday, have a 'beach ready physique', rather than a 'beached whale phsyique". I am keen to show this off. If I achieve it, I'll buy everyone who reminds me of this promise a drink of whatever they want! (I was going to promise to do a song in the Buff, but we want people to enjoy the evening). 

Monday 29 January 2024

Rog T's Cancer Blog - My six monthly review

So where are with me with my cancer journey. Last Tuesday, I had a PSA test and I received the result on Thursday. This was a precursor for my consultation today with Professor Eden who performed my radical prostatectomy on August 9th 2023. Anyone who has ever been through a cancer experience knows that the period between the test and the result is one of the most tense and stressful periods. Although a sane and rational response to such events is to not worry and wait and see, human beings are not robots and we worry. The test result arrived on Thursday morning, which meant that I only had two days fretting. I was delighted that PSA levels were recorded as undetectable. That means that from a cancer perspective, I have no worries for three months, until we repeat it all again. As I already knew the result, the conversation with professor Eden was rather short in regards to cancer. 

We then discussed the issue of continence. This is to do with how your own body is healing and adapting to the 'plumbing changes' between the bladder and the penis. I have had virtually no issues. I was functionally dry from the moment I had the cathetar out. I had a couple of spills when drinking excessively. As I've moderated this significantly of late, this has no reared it's ugly head. I have however found that certain movements, such as straining to lift heavy items (a part of my job) can cause a small spill, especially when my bladder is full. If I have a PA speaker to move, I take the precaution of doing a wee first, but sometimes I forget. Professor Eden assured me that this will improve for up to 18 months. It has only happened a couple of times, with small amounts, I am not massively concerned, but it is not overly pleasant. 

Then we got to the issue of sexual function. This has improved significantly of late. With the aid of 5mg of Cialis, I am able to get erections. This was a major issue for me. Professor Eden tells me that the HIFU treatment I had in 2016 will, to some degree, impair this. He feels that my recovery would be far more advanced, had I not had HIFU in 2016. I explained that as I was 54 at the time and I was not given a convincing argument for nerve sparing, I felt HIFU was the right decision then. In fact, had I not had the HIFU and just taken what was suggested to me then, I'd not know about the neurosafe procedure (a procedure that offers the highest and most scientifically viable prospects of preserved sexual function following a radical prostatectomy) and may have been worse off than I am now. He is of the view that HIFU is an ineffective method of cancer control in many cases. All I can really say is that I am comfortable with my personal decisions, but respect his clinical opinion with regards to cancer control. I would still make the same choices presented with the same information. 

As my mental resilience has improved, I also felt that I should send an email to my previous consultant, Professor Mark Emberton at UCLH, who performed the HIFU procedure. Most men opt for HIFU due to concerns about sexual function. Those who put primacy on cancer control would, sensibly, opt for a radical prostatectomy in the first place. I felt very disappointed that neither the UCLH surgical or HIFU team mentioned neurosafe or that there was a possibility for nerve sparing following HIFU. I only found out via a chance conversation with a friend, who's father had the procedure. He persuaded me to get a second opinion. I do feel that patients should be told there are options available, but you may need to fuind them yourself. I was lucky in as much as I had health insurance. In the end, it was a no brainer for me, even though I had to fund a part of the treatment. 

I shared these thoughts. To my mind, even if neurosafe is not available on the NHS, for men that put a Professor Emberton sent a courteous reply and mentioned and stated 

"Any treatment that has to be administered after a primary treatment can be challenging. When surgery fails radiotherapy is the only option. When radiation fails options are limited and we often resort to salvage focal HIFU, but with increased side-effects and risk. We are finding that men can have a very good outcome if surgery is necessary after focal treatments. You are a testimony to that. 
Neurosafe is being done at UCLH as part of clinical trial and the lead on this is Prof Greg Shaw ( The NHS is unlikely to approve it until the publication of the study. There are not studies that I could find on the use of NEURSAFE in a post-radiation or post-focal therapy setting. 
I very much believe that the salvage prostatectomy should be an expert operation and done by those with experience. That is what we do at UCLH and that is what they do at Guy’s as well. This is the best way to ensure the best outcomes."

I am pleased that UCLH are taking this seriously. I do hope that neurosafe is certified and adopted as a treatment by the NHS. I struggled to get my head around the implications of surgery for a long time and I am only now really feeling comfortable with where I am in my recovery. Had I not opted for the neurosafe option, I would almost certainly be in a darker place mentally. 

Quite by chance, this morning, BBC Radio London contacted me and asked if I could contribute to their Trends at 12 slot. For this I had to pick three current news topics and discuss them with Eddie Nestor - You can hear this at (LISTEN AT 2.11.22)

As King Charles is in hospital with a dodgy prostate, it seemed a good excuse to discuss a few issues around the subject, not least the fact that I was having my six month review (also a good opportunity to plug my band's gig on Saturday - but that's another matter). I like a chat with Eddie as he doesn't hold back. If nothing else, Charles speaking publicly will mean a few more guys get checked, which will mean a few more of us will be alive in ten years time. I am not necessarily a fan of the Monarchy, but I support anyone with a platform who uses it to promote good preventative medicine. 

My biggest criticism of the NHS is not the National Health Service, it is the National Sickness Service. It does far to little to stop us needing it's services and as a result is overwhelmed. But that is another blog.

--- About this feature 

For those of you who are regular readers and have read the previous posts on Cancer, there's what this is all about.  On 9th August, I had a radical prostatectomy and am currently clear of cancer, six months on. Early days, but hopefully the surgery has cured the problem of cancer. My continence is good, the next batttle is erectile function.

I write this blog because knowledge is power and if you know what you are dealing with, you have more weapons in the locker to fight it. It is a personal view, I'm not medically qualified. This is for the sole purpose of information for those who are interested.This is the latest installment in my occasional series about how I'm adjusting to living with a big C in my life. 

For those of you who aren't, here's a quick summary. I'm 61 years old and in October 2011 I had a prostate biopsy following two "slightly high" PSA tests - 2.8 & 4.1. The biopsy took ten tissue samples and one of these showed a "low grade cancer" which gave me a 3+3 on the Gleason scale. I was put on a program of active monitoring. In early February, I got the results of the a PSA test - down to 3.5 and an MRI scan which found absolutely nothing, two more tests in 2012 were at 3.5 and 3.9, in 2013 my test was 4.0, Jan 2014 was 3.8, August 2014 was 4.0, February 2015 it was up to 5.5 and my latest in August 2015 was down again at 4.6. In October 2015 I had a transperinial Prostate biopsy, that revealed higher grade cancer and my Gleason score was raised to 3+4 (Small mass + more aggressive cancer). On 22nd Jan 2016 I had HIFU (Hi Intensity Focused Ultrasound) treatment at UCHL). 

My post procedure PSA in May was 4.0 which was down, followed by 3.7 in August, and 3.5 in October which means that the direction is positive . However in January the follow up MRI revealed "something unusual which requires investigation" After a follow up biopsy, it appeared this was nothing to worry about. My two most recent PSA tests were Ok (3.7 and 4.6) and an MRI scan in March was very positive. A PSA in October 2019 was 4.6, so stable and good news, the last in May 2020 was 5.45 a small rise, so worrying, however after a review against the most recent MRI, it was decided that this was fine. My two latest ones in February 2022 was 6.7 and October 2022 was 6.6 was stable. 

In March 2023 had an MRI scan that showed 'significant change'. This lead to a biopsy that indicated a tumour of 4mm that had a gleason score of 4+4. A PSA test in June saw a rise to 12 and I opted for a radical prostatectomy, using the neurosafe process to give the best chance of maintaining sexual function and continence. 

Got the picture?

And finally. I'm a musician. I am blessed to play guitar and sing in the finest band - The False Dots -  on Planet Earth and I wrote a song to get blokes to get a PSA test and talk about this stuff. Please have a listen. It's a banging tune! There is nothing more uplifting than hearing an audience join in for the last line!

Saturday 27 January 2024

The Saturday List #429 - Celebrating Independent Venues week with a list of all the Independent Venues the False Dots have played in 45 years!

 Independent Venues week starts on Monday! A whole week celebrating the UK's Independent venues! I couldn't be prouder that my band, The False Dots are playing London's finest independent venue, The Dublin Castle, a participating venue, during Independent Venues week and not only that, it's the bands 45th Birthday!

I thought I'd celebrate this with a very special (for me) list. Every single gig The False Dots have played have been at small, independent grassroots venues. So it seems fit to celebrate by listing all of our gigs, ever! The Red Italics are not UK gigs. As you can see the band had some years where we were frantically busy, a few years where we weren't and a few big gaps, where we were doing other things.


Our first ever gig after nearly two years of trying to get it together. Our singer, Pete Conway didn't show up! For these gigs, Craig Withecombe, myself (Roger Tichborne) and Paul Hircombe shared vocals duties. We decide to continue like this!

13 December  - The Harwood Hall, Mill Hill


31 January - The Harwood Hall

18 February - Orange Hill School, Burnt Oak

13 March - Hendon Rugby Club (supporting The Chevrons)

3rd April - The Midland Arms (Supporting Way of The West)

18th July - Harwood Hall, Mill Hill

26th September - Kenton Jewish Youth Club (our drummer Mark Barnet was a member and got us a couple of well paid gigs here!)

18th October - Kenton Jewish Youth Club


We start 1982 with a bang, a tour of Scandinavia with The Gagget band!

13th January, Karsbygarden,  Norseborg  - Stockholm

15th January, The Underground club, Stockholm

16th January, Pub Bastun, Aland, Finland

19th January, Tumba Gymasium, Stockholm

20th January, Alby, Stockholm

7th March, The Moonlight Club, West Hampstead

27th August, Bell MCC Rally, Elstree

Around this time Eleanor Caine joined as a singer

26th November, Gooners Club, The Copper, Tower Bridge Road


28th January, Gooners Club, The Copper, Tower Bridge Road

1st February, The Ad Lib Club, Kensington

23rd February, The Moonlight Club (supporting Tokyo Olympics)

15th March, The Tunnel Club Greenwich

26th March, Harrow Music Festival (daytime)

26th March, BACS Ltd (supporting David Anderson) 

8th April, The Moonlight Club, West Hampstead

26th August Bell MCC Rally, Elstree

Craig & Eleanor leave and Venessa Sagoe joins on vocals

16th September, Chequers MCC Rally, Cambridge

3rd October, Prince Albert, Golders Green

28th October Prowlers MCC Rally, Abbots Langley

18th December, Barnet College


7th January, George IV, Kentish Town

26th February, Dingwalls, Camden Town

15th March, Bald Faced Stag, Burnt Oak

19th April, Bald Faced Stag Burnt Oak.

25th May, Bald Faced Stag, Burnt Oak

3rd July, Pindar of Wakefield (venue now The Water Rats), Kings Cross

2nd August, Grahame Park Festival

24 August, Hendon Rugby Club

3rd September, Watling Festival, Montrose Park

Vanessa Sagoe leaves the band


Allen Ashley joins the band on vocals

12th July, Old Bull Arts Centre, Barnet

23rd November, Le Tiki Club, Belgium (supporting Soldier Bike)

30th November, Cricklwood Hotel, Cricklewood

13 December, Old Bull Arts Centre, Barnet

22nd December, The Three Hammers Pub, Mill Hill

Allen Ashley Leaves the band


Neil Cox formerly of The Mods (appeared on the Mods Mayday album) joins on vocals

22 August - Mill Hill Music Complex Party

28th December, The Midland Arms (now Claddagh Ring), Hendon


23rd February, The Midland Arms (now Claddagh Ring), Hendon


Neil Cox leaves and Tony Robotham joins on vocals

19th May, St Josephs College

Tony Robotham leaves 


Fil Ross joins on guitar and vocals 

20th April, The Red Lion, Colindale

7th September, Mill Hill Music Complex Party

2nd November, Mill Hill Sports Club

20th December, The Three Hammers (Boz Boorer joined us on guitar)


6 June, Mill Hill Music Festival, Mill Hill Sports Club

26th June, The Three Hammers Mill Hill


1st June 1985, MHMF,Mill Hill Sports Club


3rd November, Mill Hill Sports Club (Kate Nash was support act)


8th June, MHMF, Mill Hill Sports Club

18th December, Mill Hill Music Complex Party


3rd March, The Bull Theatre (supporting Lee Thompson & Chris Spedding band)


15th December, The Claddagh Ring, Hendon


Connie Abbe joins on Vocals

15th Februrary, Lock 17, Dingwalls, Camden

14th May, Mill Hill Sports Club

19th May, Fiddlers Elbow, Camden Town

15th June, Purple Turtle, Camden Town (supporting The Bollock Brother)

13 November, The Claddagh Ring


29th January, The Arts Depot, Finchely (supporting The Foundations)

27th June, MHMF, Mill Hill Sports Club

Connie Abbe leaves the band


Allen Ashley rejoins the band on vocals, Fil Ross switches to Bass, long time bass player Paul Hircombe dies having quit in 2009 to become a career criminal

13 December, Friern Barnet Library (End of occupation party)


11th October, The Bohemia (Occupation Party)


20th December, Midland Hotel, Hendon


23rd May, Midland Hotel, Hendon

18th September, Midland Hotel, Hendon

6th November, Fiddlers Elbow (with Dell Richardson of Osibisa and The Black Doldrums)

19th December, Chandos Arms, Colindale


29th April, Midland Hotel, Hendon

26th June, Chandos Arms, Colindale

21st October, Chandos Arms, Colindale

16th December, Midland Hotel, Hendon


21 May, North Finchley Festival, Bohemia, Finchley

19th June, Jesterfest, Fortune Green

22nd September, The Bohemia, Finchley

9th December, Chandos Arms


24th February, Midland Hotel, Hendon

12th May, Kings Head, Enfield

30th June, Mill Hill Town Square (daytime )

13th July, Midland Hotel, Hendon

13th October, Midland Hotel, Hendon

14th December, Mill Hill Rugby Club


15th March, Midland Hotel, Hendon

19th June, MHMF, Adam and Eve, Mill Hill

19th November, Adam and Eve, Mill Hill

13 December, Midland Hotel, Hendon


Allen Ashley leaves the band and Roger Tichborne takes over on vocals

11th June, Adam and Eve, Mill Hill

19th August, The Bohemia, Finchley

28th September, The Dublin Castle, Camden Town

23rd November, The Dublin Castle, Camden Town


17th February, The Edgware Services Club, Burnt Oak

24th March, The Dublin Castle, Camden Town

6th May, The Mill Hill Services Club

15th September, The Dublin Castle, Camden Town

28th The Old Bull Arts Centre, Barnet (with The Silencerz)

4th November, The Dublin Castle, Camden Town

23rd December, The Dublin Castle, Camden Town (supporting The London Sewage Company)

Why not support Independent venues and up and coming bands! Come and see us at the Dublin Castle!

Here is our latest single!

Thursday 25 January 2024

What do you really want from life?

Last year was a difficult one for me, both physically and mentally. I started the year having to stop playing five a side football, then was diagnosed with a flare up of my prostate cancer, which required life changing surgery. I spent much of the second half of the year bordering on depression and in a state of anxiety. As they say, all good things come to an end. Bad things do too, something we should remind ourselves of. As we head towards the end of the first month of 2024, I find myself in a completely different place mentally. My ankle had not recovered, the side effects of the surgery are slowly disippating and I am coming to terms with them, and most of all I have managed to regain a degree of positivity. 

As the evening start to get lighter, I am hoping this will take firm root. I have spent the last six months thinking about what I want from life. Being in a negative frame of mind, much of this was based around thinking about what I could no longer do, how I've physically diminished and how this was making me feel rather anxious and low. 

I started the new year, with a plan. As I had been feeling low, I'd self medicated with alcohol. Although I try and keep to a regime of three days a week where I don't drink, I slipped a bit. I justified this by saying I had a few weeks after the op where I didnt drink, so I was in credit. What was the real problem was that on the days I did drink, I was really binge drinking and undoing the good work of the days off. Furthermore, I was being greedy with food and eating many things that normally I simply don't fancy. I am not really a sweets and cakes person, but I probably ate more than I've eaten ever. I wasnt even particularly enjoying it. My weight responded as you'd expect and I gained a stone and a half.

As I often do, I stopped drinking for two weeks at the start of January. I find that this is a bit of a reset. I also stopped the habit of the chocolates and sweets. Since the start of the year, simply by doing this, my weight had dropped by 4kg. I am also finding myself feeling positive again, which has been my default. 

I have turned my thoughts again to "What do I want from life?" but this time thinking about all of the the things I do want, which I can do.  The one thing I can do is music, which I love. A strange quirk of my psyche is that the more miserable I am, the more creative I am musically. As the depression has lifted, I find that I have few, if any ideas for new songs. This is a good thing, as we have a backlog of material to work out properly. I can arrange tracks as this is a more disciplined task, so it is all falling into place rather well. Music gives me a perspective on my life and gives me feedback on my state of mind.  The band has gigs lined up and we want to release an album. I am actively finishing this off.

Then there are my friends and family. They are the best thing in my life. Yesterday I had a Damascene revealtion. This may sound odd, but as I chilled out and relaxed (the family were at the cinema), a really important realisation came to me. This will sound silly, but please hear me out. The thought popped into my mind "People are not psychic". This may sound obvious, but how often do we simply accept that people know things. We don't tell people how we care for and appreciate them. We get cross when they don't do something we assume that they would if they wre sensible. I realised that I have taken them very much for granted over the last half year, as I concentrated on my own issues. Now is time to put something back. 

But as I pondred this, I realised that much of the anger we expend is because we expect people to be psychic. When we curse the driver in front of us for not indicating or cutting us up, do we consider their state of mind? Maybe there is a good reason? Maybe if we just assuned when people drive badly that they have a challenge in their life, it would save us a lot of anger and make us calmer. 

How often do we hear people saying "I'm having a bad day". How often do we say "sit down, have a cup of tea and tell me all about it". When you get in from a hard days work and your partner is scowling at you, or your children are silent and grumpy, do you avoid them, crack a joke to try and lighten the mood or ask if there's anything you can do? Sadly I am guilt of usually avoiding people or annoying them when they are in need of a bit of support.  Then when I need support, I wonder why they treat me the same.

If someone was to ask me what I wanted from life, I'd say "to be happy and healthy", but I'm not sure that is a proper answer. I want all of my friends and family to be happy and healthy, I am never truly happy when a friend is suffering. I can't shut that out and I'd rather be there for them in a crisis than be happy whilst they suffer. I've come to realise that the first step to getting what I want from life is simply to try and share any happiness I might have, in the hope that a little bit of comes back when I need it. 

I truth, my friends did that for me last year. Perhaps I was to introverted at the time to appreciate it. I didn't make a resolution at the start of the year, but I will be trying to spread a bit more happiness. If we all did that, maybe the question in the title would answer itself.

Wednesday 24 January 2024

Grassroots venues are under threat - what we need to do to support them

I've just been speaking to Jumoke Fashola on BBC Radio London about the plight of the UK and London's small venues. I have a special interest in this. I mentioned that of the London venues the False Dots have played in our 45 years, maybe 50% have closed. Fantastic venues such as The Purple Turtle in Camden, The Moonlight Club in West Hampstead, The Cricklewood Hotel and the Ad Lib club in Kensington are just a few of the excellent venues we lost. Then there are the pubs, often where we played many times over many years, including The Copper on Tower Bridge Road, The Bald Faced Stag in Burnt Oak, and the Midland Hotel in Hendon are examples of great pubs the band played many times, but we've also lost. In 2015, we started the Save London Music Campaign, launching it on the Robert Elms show on BBC Radio London. It is a passion of mine.

There are still some brilliant small venues left. My band The False Dots are playing the Dublin Castle in Camden Town on Saturday 3rd Feb (why not help out and click here to book a few tickets).  We sold out our last gig on 23rd December which was an amazing night. There are audiences when venues are well run and decent artists are put on. I see such artist at my  studios  Mill Hill Music Complex. We saw Brit awards winners such as Amy, Kate Nash and Floemerge, they needed small venues to hone their trade. 

The problem is that Prime Minister Rishi Sunak, the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan and Amy Lame, the Mayors nigh time Tsar  are simply not doing enough. Small music venues are a very niche area of the economy with massive influence, but almost no share of the £5 billion UK Music industry pie. The industry needs a proper scheme that is easy to access The UK government receives huge tax income from the UK music industry. It would make no difference at all to give grants to all struggling venues and would ensure the ongoing health of the sector. 

The government has taken some measures, which should be acknowledged, such as rates relief on hospitality venues, but this is simply like giving a cancer victim a drip to keep the hydrated so they live a couple more days. The UK need a coherent strategy for grassroots venues. So what can be done?

The Mayor needs to make London musician friendly, with exemptions from ULEZ and Parking charges. Transport is a key requirement for musicians. we have gear to cart around and we usually have old cars and vans. It is simply not feasible to say "Buy a new van that is compliant".  If my band plays in London and we need to bring gear, that costs me £25 in Ulez and God knows how much in parking charges, if you can find somewhere to park. 

As for the government? I'd like to see small promoters given a grant. If they were given a £250 grant towards every band they put on for aa one year period, this would transform London's music scene, with a maximum of £500 per day. This would be a huge shot in the arm for promotors and give them a real incentive to put live music on. I'd stipulate that 50% of that was guaranteed as a payment to bands. This would help cover the costs of bands, engineers and promotion. It would encourage promoters to take risks with new artists, that maybe they wouldn't otherwise. It would make pubs and clubs 'try out' music. 

I promoted my first gig in 1980. I was seventeen years old and at school. As we made a profit, it meant we were inspired to do another one. We were also lucky in that there was a vibrant local press and they supported us. See the pic >>>>>

 I know many people who started in the same way. Now, it is almost impossible to do that. The UK music industry is built on mega artists, who benefitted from that environment. If the UK economy wants to continue to lead the world in music, we need an environment where young people can promote gigs and start music businesses. The grants would give people time to find their feet and learn the lessons. 

The UK music industry contributes a massive amount to the UK economy and gets zero specific support from the government. In other countries, all manner of schemes exist to help musicians, venues and promoters. I totally get that people like Sunak and Khan do not understand such a niche area as grassroots music. There are amazing organisations such as The Music Venues Trust that can advise them. Sadly, small venues, bands and promoters find it difficult to get heard at table. I contributed to a Parliamentary enquiry on live music, a few years ago. Sadly, the whole thing largely got hijacked by people with an exe to grind about secondary ticketing and nothing really got done for small venues. 

And finally, what can we all do? Support small venues and promoters. Come and see gigs like my band at The Dublin Castle on the 3rd February. We have a band coming over from Dublin called Inbetween Honey supporting us. They may be the next U2 for all I know. Earlier in the blog, I mentioned the Moonlight Club in West Hampstead. I saw U2's first ever London gig there. They were playing with a band I liked, called Modern Jazz. If, like now, the Moonlight was closed, maybe they wouldn't be the band they are now?

Here's what they sound like

And this is what you can expect from us.

Monday 22 January 2024

When did everything become so dull?

When was the last time you got really excited about something new? When was the last time you heard of something really exciting happening and thought "I've got to get involved with that". I'm not talking about watching a sports club, or a band you've followed for 30 years announcing a tour. I am talking about getting a sniff that 'something is going on'. When was the last time you booked a holiday, to visit a city not knowing what was going there, but knowing if you went, there would all manner of amazing things to discover?

Last night, I watched a documentary on the Apple TV channel about The Velvet Underground, a band many cite as the first punk band. I am a big fan of the band and have been since my eldest brother Laurie lent me their first album in 1977, with the words "If you want to know where Punk started listen to this".

I have been fascinated with the band ever since, but this blog is not about them. As I watched the documentary and the clips of the New York arts scene in the 1960's and the evolution of the band, I started to reflect on the city of New York. When I was a teenager, New York seemed to be an impossibly exciting city. To my mind, it was the Capital of the World. The Velvet Underground were followed by The New York Dolls, The Ramones, Television and Blondie, who became the heart of the proto punk scene, based at CBGB's and Max's Kansas City. 

As I watched the documentary, I got very nostalgic. As a teenager, New York was the top of the list of places that I'd visit if I ever had enough money. Transatlantic travel was expensive at the time and was out of reach for me. But I dreamed of visiting CBGB's, of staying at the Chelesa Hotel, of visiting the Museum of Modern Art. I was also fascinated by the Empire State Building, the arts scene, Andy Warhol, etc. Just about every decent cop show was set in New York. The best gangster films, such as The Godfather were as well. It was glamourous and unattainable. My Dad hs visited New York in 1942 as he was being transported by the RAF from Australia to the Uk to fly bombers. He painted a picture of a city of the most exciting clubs and shows. 

I also dreamed of visiting West Berlin.It ws divided and an island in East Germany. It seemed edgy and exciting. Bowie went there and produced two of his greatest albums, Low and Heroes. How can a city with a wall, that you get shot if you try and cross, not be exciting? I determined that The False Dots would record an album in Berlin, on the basis that "If it's good enough for Bowie, it's good enough for us".

When you watch music documentaries from the time, everyone is smoking, everyone is drinking, everyone is thin and everyone looks amazing. Bands would sometimes only last six months or a year, but produce a whole raft of amazing music, often on equipment that we'd view as beyond primitive right now. PA systems were awful, and when you saw a band, it wasn't for sound quality, it was for excitement and energy. 

As for the TV channels. In London in the 70's, we had three channels. If you missed something good, that was that. You'd missed it. All your mates would be talking about it. As a muso, I'd watch Top of The Pops, The Old Grey Whistle Test, So it Goes and Supersonic, if I could and if no one else was watching the telly. If Dad was watching a Test match, I was scuppered. I'd run up the road to the Malone's, bang on the door and see what they were watching. Mrs Malone was very kind to me and would often turn over the telly to let me watch what I wanted, bringing a cup of tea and a biscuit. I can still recall the sheer excitement of watching the first episode of Scooby Doo there. Dale Malone had told me that there was a new cartoon on and invited me up. It was worth the wait.

If you met a girl and she gave you her number, then you treasured it with your life, as if you lost it, then there was no way to google her, or look her up on Facebook. Often, you'd have to arrange to call a phonebox at a set time and hope she'd be on the other end at the appointed time. The worst thing was when you rang and it was engaged. Was it out of order, was she there, waiting outside. I can remember the excitement of ringing one, only for a proper cockney geezer to say "ello". I was taken aback. I said  "Oh, is Susan there?". He replied "There's a bird outside, I'll ask her". Then I hear "Are you Susan?", I vaguely here a "Yes" and he says "Call back in five minutes, she was behind me in the queue". I did just that and she never picked up. I never saw Susan again, I wondered if the geezer had whisked her off for a life of bliss. My dreams melted, but I'll never forget the excitement of the moment.

Then there was buying a new album by a band. You knew it was coming out and on it's release day, you'd visit your local record shop. If they didn't have it, I'd take a 113 bus o Oxford St and buy it at HMV. I'd read the sleeve notes on the label on the bus home. By the time I got home, I'd be in a state of frenzy. I can long recall putting "Another music in a different kitchen" by the Buzzcocks on. I was in heaven, that evening John Peel played 8 tracks from the record on his show, and played the other three the next night. The John Peel show was thrilling. I heard Stiff Little Fingers, The UK Subs, The Yatchs, The Fall and The Cure for the first time on his show. He then got more into reggae, and opened up a whole new world, with Black Slate, Culture, etc. It was exciting. You never knew what he'd play, but every show seemed to have a golden nugget. 

Then there was the New Musical Express, AKA the NME. I'd buy it on a Thursday and scour for gigs to attend. Often, I'd see bands on the strength of hearing a track on the John Peel show. I'd read interviews of gigs I'd been to a couple of weeks before and formed strong opinions of reviewers who slagged off gigs that I'd seen that were great (most notably when Tony Parsons slagged off the Ramones at The Rainbow at New Year 1977). It seemed important at the time. I'd hang on every word of artists I like. Between about 1977 and 1981, I bought every edition and read just about every article, every London gig listing and every advert. I'd pick it up on the way to school and read in the breaks, sometimes the lessons. I recall once, reading it in physics at FCHS. Our rather wonderful physics teacher, John Shuttler, saw me and confiscated it. He said "You can collect it from me at the end of the day". I was furious. When the final bell went, I went to his room at the back of the Physics lab. I knocked and he beckoned me in. He was reading an article about Joni Mitchell. He made me a cup of tea and a biscuit, and we spent an hour discussing music. He then said "Look, I'd encourage you to read the NME, but not in lessons". He then asked if he could have the article on Joni Mitchell when I'd finised with it. He also encouraged me to listen to her music, which I did. I've loved her work ever since, even though it was not punk rock. A couple of days later, I gave him the issue. He read it and returned it, as he knew I collected the paper. It was important and he got it. 

Fast forward 47 years. It is all so dull.

I asked my kids during lockdown where they wanted to visit. It was all places with nice beaches, activities, swimming. Would they be interested in going to New York? They wouldn't mind going, but had no real interest. Whereas when I was a teenager it was an edgy, happening place, now it is seen as a safe place to go shopping, eat and watch a few shows. Berlin? The wall came down and it is now another German city, nothing special there. I can't remember the last time any great art featured Berlin. Across both of these great city's, no one is smoking and people are more interested in being healthy than the counter culture.

The proliferation of TV channels and streaming services mean that you never need watch anything for fear of missing it. Many people I know only really like to watch things when they can binge watch the whole lot. There is no anticipation. There are no cliffhangers, where you wait a week to see the outcome, where everyone talks about what will happen and who done it. 

When you date, you don't meet random people and hit it off, exchanging telephone numbers and waiting by the telephone box, in eager anticipation for the call, with a stack of 5p's so you can talk for an hour. By the time you've met them, you've read their profile and heaven forbid that you get a surprise!

As for music, it is all segmented. If you like Rock, you listen to the Rock channel and if you like Rap, you listen to the Rap channel. If you see a band, you don't go eagerly hoping to be the first one of your friends to hear the new album, you get the hump if they play the old hits. The most exciting thing any band can do is exactly what they did 40 years ago, but with a better sound system and some flashy lights. The concept of going to a gig and being blown away by a brand new track is something that is as quaint an idea as writing a letter with a quill. It's all very enjoyable, but is it exciting?

As to gigs, when you have a free slot in your diary, you google to see who is on, then you book the tickets online. The printed version of the NME and it's listings page is long gone. The idea of reading reviews of bands you've never heard of, to get some clues as to who might be worth watching seems like the obsession of a lunatic. You only want to see bands that you already know the catalogue of.  And when you go to gigs, what do you do? You wait until they play your favourite song and then you ruin it for yourself and everyone behind you by trying to take a video of it, rather than being in the moment. Just in case anyone around you may actually be a fan of the band, who is interested in the new material, you talk loudly through all of the songs you haven't heard before and make sure they have a thoroughly miserable night. You then go home and complain of Facebook that the band bored you with new material, that you'd not bothered to listen to. 

I love music, I love gigs, I love being an artist but I despair at the behaviour of many people who go to gigs and other events. There is not only a lack of respect for the artists but a complete disregard for everyone else.  

In short we have created a brave new world, where everything is dull, not least us. We can't stand surprises, we are selfish, vain and boring. There are a proliferation of 'review sites', where the most despicable people are able to put the boot in to people doing their best to run restaurants, put on gigs, run hotels and stage events. The comments drip with self entitlement and mock outrage. What does this do? It means no one takes chances. No one tries to break the dull conformity of life in the year 2024. 

I spoke to a work colleague a few years back. They asked me what my perfect holiday would be. I said I'd like six months where I started by walking down the road and getting the first train from Mill Hill, getting off where the mood took me (probably St Pancras International) and then getting the first train from there to wherever. A whole six months of not having a clue what the day held in store, six months where everywhere I went, everything I did was a surprise. Back in 1987, I went on an Interrail holiday with Clare for three weeks and we did just that. Everywhere we went we decided more or less on the day. We ate where people we spoke to recommended, we made casual friends and went along to where they recommended. In 1993, I did the same thing when I did a road trip around New York state with friends. When they went home, I spent a week doing that on my own around the City. I just about caught the tail end of New York before the gentrification ruined it. It was exciting, at time scary and the best holiday ever. When I got home and developed the pictures I took, I was surprised how much of it I'd already forgotten, as we were living in the moment and then on to the next adventure. 

It seems to me that small venues such as the Dublin Castle are the last bastion of sanity, holding out against the dullness that seems to envelope and strangle us. Small bands, small venues, small theatre companies, family run restaurants are struggling to survive in a sea of mediocrity. People would rather have something bland and average, rather than take a risk. I don't know when everything became so dull, but unless we work at it, it will strangle us. 

In truth, my loathing of dullness is why I play in a band. When we do a gig at The Dublin Castle, I have no idea who will come, how it will go, whether it will be a great night or a disaster will befall us, although generally it is a great night. I have no idea who the other bands are or what they will be like. I always listen to as much of them as I can. It is a pleasure and an honour to play such a wonderful venue and it is a joy to be part of it. If you love dullness and prefer to bored and comfortable rather than excited and edgy, then make yourself a nice cup of Nescafe and watch the repeats on one of the satellite channels of something that you found funny three decades ago. If you fancy something different, something that might rouse you from your slumber, then get out, go and see something new. Start the evening with a bite to eat in an independent restaurant. If you want a suggestion, come and see my band, The False Dots, on Saturday 3rd February at The Dublin Castle it is usually a really good night out. The support band, Inbetween Honey are coming over from Dublin to play, they are being touted as the next big thing from Ireland. And if you want dinner before, check out Anima e Cuore, a wonderful Italian restaurant in Camden, a tad shabby but a proper restaurant in every sense of the word, if you like great food. You can get tickets to see us here >>>>>

This will give you some idea of what to expect when you get there!

Saturday 20 January 2024

The Saturday List #428 - My 10 life changing sliding doors moments

 In life we have what are known as 'sliding door' moments. Where a single moment defines the path of the rest of your life. For the last two days, I was attending a retreat for men who are recovering from treatment for cancer. One of the sessions was a one hour, one to one consultation with a councellor discussing my state of mind. It is good to talk to a stranger and as I shared my story with her, I realised that my life is littered with such sliding door moments. 

Does anyone have a 'life plan' when they go to school and execute it without hitch? I had no plan at all, apart from a notion that I wanted to be in a band. I wasn't even too bothered if the band was successful. Just about every major decision I made, until I got married, was based around sustaining my band and my studio. As these are things that gobble up cash, it also forced me to be quite successful in other business areas. As I had no plan, I guess my life was far more susceptible to sliding door moments than people who know what they want to do and have a plan to execute it. 

As is my want, when I got back home after the retreat, I pondered on the lessons I had drawn from the retreat. There were many interesting things to take away. It was also great to meet other people who shared the cancer journey and to listen to their stories. One of the things that interested me, was hearing how they learned they were facing lifedefining changes as a result of the disease.  I also pondered the random nature of my own discovery, then thought of other such sliding doors moments, and realised it had the making of a rather good (in my mind at least), Saturday list blog. 

The take away for me is to embrace life, but also to consider how taking chances, grasping opportunities and not being scared of the the unknown will deliver you an interesting life. We only get one shot at life, so for me, that is perhaps the most important thing of all.

Anyway, here are my top ten sliding door moments and what they have given me. 

1. Being persuaded to have a "mens health check" in 2011, when, aged 49, I visited the doctor with a damaged knee. I will forever be grateful to Dr Cuttle at the Millway Medical practice for suggesting this. He simply said "As you are coming up to fifty, it would be a good idea to give you an MOT". I was playing football, going to the gym and had no health problems beyond the knee issue, which I had badly damaged playing football and I wanted a referral for. His logic was impeccable "If there is nothing wrong with you, then it is half an hour of your time, if we pick something up early, it could change or save your life". I just reread the blog I wrote after I had my first prostate biopsy and before I got the dreaded result. I didn't realise that it would be the start of a thirteen year series that became Rog T's cancer blog. At the time I wrote it, my assumption was the results would be negative for cancer. I didn't realise I'd have two pretty major medical interventions and that my life would change. What I know now, is that if I hadn't had the test then, it would have been undetected. I would have probably started to have symptoms in 2017-18 and I may be dead now, if it had become to aggressive and I ignored it. Whatever, the medical interventions would have been worse if it had progressed undetected until I developed symptoms. The disease also has changed my outlook on life. I have taken better care of myself ever since. I have become a bit of a missionary for the cause of Prostate Cancer sufferers. I took the decision to be public with my battle for the reasons outlined in that first blog. It all came down to me being randomly assigned Dr Cuttle. Another Doctor may not have bothered suggesting the check. Not long after, the NHS stopped doing the PSA test as a routine part of such checks. Now you only get it if there was a family history. We have, but I didn't actually know it then, as no one talked about it. It also inspied me to write a couple of songs about the issue. 

This one is to encourage blokes to get a test

And this one is about the darkest moments on my journey.

2. Going to Dingwalls in Camden in the Summer of 1981. I can't recall the band I went to see, I went with a group of mates, Paul (bassplayer in my band) and Brian and Steve from our five a side football team Goatybeard United. I had just finished my A levels at Orange Hill School. I had no idea what to do with my life. No proper job lined up and in a bit of a quandry. I'd done rather badly in my A levels. I was enthusiastic about my band and was earning a bit of pocket money from the then unnamed studios, letting it out to mates bands. As we were having a drink, a couple of girls walked past. One was, to my mind back then, the most beautiful woman I'd ever seen. I immediately offered to buy her a drink, We sat down and started chatting, her and her mate and our little gang. She announced that she was from Stockholm. I immediately said "That's a coincidence, I'm going to Stockholm in the Autumn".  We ended up chatting all night, then our gang went back to the girls hotel and drank until the early hours. 

I ended up going to Stockholm, making a whole new bunch of friends and organising a tour for the band. That wasn't what changed my life. What did was firstly that I needed money. I took on a series of casual jobs etc and worked really hard to earn enough money to go. I realised I could get jobs if I was focussed. When I went out there, it was life changing. I realised that London is just one of many cities in the world and to the rest of the world, the UK is pretty unimportant. I also realised that the Swedes had got many things right that we haven't. Most of all though, as I was conserving money, I rarely drank or did anything else that is bad for you. The girl I met, came over to the UK the next year, but our relationship soon floundered. I will, however, be eternally grateful for her generosity putting me up. The experience shaped me.

3. Turning up to my bands first gig and our singer not showing up. I've mentioned this many times, but it was a harsh lesson. The band could have not appeared, thrown in the towel and done something else. We decided to do it anyway. We came off the stage believing that we could come through anything after that. Too often we get kicked in the teeth by friends and acquaintences and are tempted to give up on our path. I learned then that you can only really rely on yourself. If you get a knock, you take it and come back stronger. It made me 100% more determined to push on with the band. If our singer had turned up, I have no idea how the band would have turned out, but I would not have known that I could do it and I didn't need my main musical partner to do it. I do know that if I'd downed tools and walked away, I'd not have my studio and would probably never have done anything musically and just seen it now as a childhood fantasy.

4. Having my online blog cancelled by The Barnet Times. Much to my surprise, in 2008, I was asked to write an online blog for the Barnet Times. What surprised me even more, was that it soon gained traction and became the most read thing on the website. As I was extremely critical of many of the policies of Barnet Council, the then leader gave the paper an ultimatum "Sack Tichborne or we pull your council advertising". As this was what kept the paper afloat, they really had no choice. I was devastated. David Miller, a former Conservative chairman of the Chipping Barnet Tories contacted me. He was disgusted by the behaviour of his own party. He urged me to start this blog, The Barnet Eye. I thought it would be a waste of time, lacking the presence and prestige of the Barnet Times. To cut a long story short, I've had nearly four million blog hits since then. The blog has been hugely infliuential and inspired a raft of other bloggers. What was ironic was one of the Tories who instigated the threat to the Times, posted a picture on Twitter of them celebrating "The end of Roger Tichbornes blogging career". In truth it was a massive own goal. I'd probably have soon tired of writing about the failings of the council. I was working under strict guidelines, I couldn't name and shame etc. On my own blog I had no constraints. I could say what I like. For me, it was a liberation. I have become a published author, contributed articles for papers such as the Guardian and online media such as The Londonist on the back of this blog. As a dyslexic, I never thought anyone would be interested in my writing. But it all really dates back to that decision by our beloved former Council leader.

5. Going to Golders Green job centre seeking temporary work in May 1983. I was absolutely skint, I had a new girlfriend and we wanted to get a flat together. I needed some work, I'd been in the habit of using the temporary work counter at the Golders Green job centre. They found good jobs, that were short duration. However, I'd blotted my copy book on my last assignment and upset the lady who ran the temporary job counter. She informed me that I was "too unreliable" to be given work. This was grossly unfair, but there was little I could do. She then said "If you want a job, go and see the training section". I ambled over. There was an absolutely lovely girl on the counter. She suggested that I do a "TOPS course". As I was a bit smitten, I agreed and ended up at Compucentre on a trainee computer operations course. I was paid £40 a week for ten weeks, then I was given three job interviews. 

I completed the course. The first two interviews were a disaster. The third, to my amazement, went like a dream. It was with a brilliant company and I made a bunch of lifelong friends. Until that point I had no "plan B" for the hard times that befall musicians. It also provided me with a stream of money that I could channel into my studios. 

6. Learning that my brother in law had a devastating road accident. He had been knocked off a moped in Greece and and left for dead by a drunk driver. He was admitted to hospital with multiple fractures and brain damage. I was raised in the Roman Catholic tradition, but had long since given up on Church. As we do, in times of crisis, I turned to faith. I made deal with God that if Tim recovered, I'd go to Church every week that I could. This was a big deal for me. As Tim had been admitted with zero blood pressure and was as messed up as you can be, we all expected him to die. He made a miraculous recovery. Apart from the fact that he's missing an ear, you'd hardly know. I know that to many of you, this sounds like superstitious nonsense, but I felt if I renaged on the deal and he dropped dead, it would be my fault. So I started to attend. At first, I felt I didn't belong and God was punishing me in a strange and bizarre manner. But every time I considered not going, I felt this voice saying "Tim has recovered". So I persisted. In 2000, the Parish Priest, Fr Perry Gildea mentioned a charity called HCPT that he worked with to take people needing assistance to the shrine of Lourdes in France. He explained the group needed strong, active helpers, who could push wheelchairs, assist adults with limited mobility with hygene functions, who could drive and play music. I had  visited Lourdes with my Dad in the 60's and and had fond memories. I felt this would scratch an itch I had. I went. After two days, I thought I'd been insane to go and felt I didn't fit in at all. By the end of the week, I realised it was one of the best weeks of my life. My room mate, Michael Sullivan, was an old former builder, who had multiple strokes. He was a diamond. A really good laugh. I realised that without helpers, he'd simply not have been able to go. Even more important, for me, my mother had a stroke the year before. She had gone from being an independent and proud person, enjoying life going on four holidays a year, to an old, housebound woman who was unhappy and bitter. I had wished she'd passed away, as a I saw no value in her life. Being with the people with severe challenges in the group, mede me realise I was wrong. They had far more serious challenges. I came to terms with my Mum's new phase of life and determined to take her with me on the next trip. She accompanied me four times, before passing in 2008. If Tim hadn't had his accident, I'd have done none of this and missed out on some magical moments with my mum.

7. Our Drummer Graham's son committing suicide in 2021. This was a tragedy, the country was in lockdown. Graham had covid and wasn't even allowed out to deal with matters until the infection passed. As a friend, what can you do? We couldn't even meet socially? But we are a band that works semi professionally. I decided to arrange a rehearsal. Not because I wanted to play music, but to get Graham out and so we could support him. Our then singer, Allen Ashley, was unable to attend. His wife was shielding and he did not want to take any risks at all. So I gathered a hotch potch of songs, which I felt I could manage. In truth, we didn't do too much rehearsing. We drank tea, chatted and played through a few numbers rather badly. It was clear that it was hugely beneficial for Graham. I decided that if we had a purpose, then it would be a good thing. I had a song, called Longshot Didn't die, a Ska number, that I wanted Lee Thompson of Madness to have a go at (Lee is a mate of mine). So we did a few rehearsals, then did a rough recording. I've not sung serioulsly with the band ever. When I played it to my kids, to my amazement, they said "Dad, why are you giving it to Lee, sing it yourself, it sounds good". This took me back. I realised that the reason I'd never really enjoyed singing was because I'd chosen songs that didn't suit my voice and I'd written songs for other people. I started to write songs for myself. I also changed my style. This was not a conscious decision. I felt that I needed to try and cheer Graham up, so I started to write songs that were funny and had references to things that made him laugh, or triggered memories from our youth. To my absolute amazement, when I played these to other people, they loved them. At 60 years of age, I discovered, by accident, that I am a pretty good front man and singer. The band has been going through a real renaissance and have been given a residency at The Dublin Castle, Londons best music pub. We are playing there on Sat 3rd February to celebrate 45 years of the band. 

8. Being asked by my nephew to watch Hadley FC play in 2019. He'd been writing a blog about Non League football and visited Hadley FC. He mentioned he'd seen an old school mate of mine, who I'd not seen for about ten years, Steve Pankhurst (the founder of Friends Reunited) at the game. Steve was involved with running the club. He suggested that I go to a game with him. I did and I loved it. I've always been a Manchester City fan, but having a local Non League team was something which appealed. I used to go to Barnet FC before they moved. I find the new stadium soulless and stopped. Hadley were in the 9th tier of the league. The attendences were about 100. I loved it. I could get a 384 bus from the top of my road. I am now a season ticket holder and a shareholder. I met Tom, the trumpet player in my band there. Hadley are now a big part of my life.

9. Being called by my sister in Spain, over Easter 2004, to be told that our cat had died. We were on holiday and having a lovely time. We'd left our cat, a 14 year old British Blue called Norman, in the care of our neighbour. My kids 9, 7 and 3  were in a cafe when we got the call, when my sister rang to say that Norman had keeled over and died when the neighbour went to feed him. I was shocked, the kids burst into tears. It seemed that the holiday had been ruined. How could I possibly save the day? I said "Well now Norman has gone to heaven, we can get a puppy!". Instantly, the tears stopped and the kids became excited. The rest of the holiday was spent discussing what sort of dog we'd get and what we'd call it.

As everyone had different ideas, I announced that we'd get a Boxer. This choice pleased no one, but it meant none of them felt they'd been favoured. Clare was not overly keen, wanting a nice labrador, but she eventually agreed. After making arrangements, we drove to Southend and bought Tilly. As soon as she arrived, any misgivings went. She was a dog with a big personality and was a bundle of fun. Since then, we became dog people. We got Bruno the Labrador cross in 2012 and when Tilly passed away, we got Kira, the white German Shepherd in 2018, after Tilly passed away. Both are rescue dogs, Having dogs during lockdown was a real godsend. I very much doubt whether we'd have got a dog if Norman had died on a normal school day at home. 

10. I saved best until last. In December 1985, the False Dots were playing an Xmas gig at The Three Hammers. The week before we decided to end our rehearsal early and go on a scouting mission, to see if we could rustle up some interest. We bought beers and the first group of potential customers we met were a bunch of very pretty girls, all meeting up for Xmas, having returned from University for the holiday. We made them promise to come. They did. We then invited them to a rave we were attending afterwards. One of them was Clare, now my wife. We hit it off straight away. I can't say there haven't been bumps, but it has been great. If  we'd decided to have a proper rehearsal, I'd never have met her. 

Do you have any great sliding door moments. What struck me as I made this choice was that all of these moments involved taking the less easy path. The easy path would be to keep myself to myself, to stay in, to take no risks. I am glad I chose the other path. Life is full of choices, I have few regrets, but in truth, we don't know what would have happened if we chose the other path. 

Wednesday 17 January 2024

Rock and Roll Stories #3 - The most important lessons of all for rock and rollers

 So where were we in this story? The band had done a demo and our first gig. I'd had a chat with Lemmy about how to run a rock and roll band.  It was January 1981. With the departure of Pete Conway, I realised that if the False Dots were ever going to do anything it was down to me. I'd taken on board what Lemmy had said "You know Rock and Roll isn't the captain of the football team and the best looking girl in the school, it's all the deadbeats, weirdos and misfits, who feel like outsiders, the hookers, the dealers and the drunks. If you give them a place to go, you'll get by in rock and roll"   

But where did this leave the band? I was still at Orange Hill School with Craig. We'd be doing A Levels in May, to set us on the path to a proper career. If I had any sense at all, I'd have 'parked the band' for six months and knuckled down. But Lemmy had said  "You know, if you wanna be a rock and roll band, you've got to live rock and roll. You can't work in an estate agent and wear a suit in the day, then dress up in a t shirt and jeans and become a band"   I had pretty much taken this to heart. I decided that what we needed to do was ramp up the band, do more gigs and do better gigs. To do this, we needed a post Pete Conway demo.

 So on the 20th January, we went back into Alan Warner's studio and recorded our second demo. For this Craig sang two songs and Paul Hircombe sang two. After we'd done the backing tracks, I replaced all of Craigs guitar on one track, Fog, with a synthesiser track. I'd borrowed Joe Malone's Korg monophonic synth and spent a week playing with it. Craig was not happy until he properly listened to the track - Fog. He then agreed that it was a masterstroke, although he wanted his guitar, not mine left on. The version of Not All She Seems was a masterpiece, to this day, Craig's solo is one of the best I've heard on anything anywhere. Both were songs I'd written with Pete Conway. To keep Craig happy, we recorded one of his songs called "I'm shy". It was great live, but when we heard the lyrics, we were horrified. It was the most un-rock and roll song ever. The chorus went "I mix up all my words, whenever I talk to birds, now I know just why, because I'm shy". I thought it was a total embarrassment and still find it hard to listen to.  In truth, Craig was probably being brutally honest, something perhaps we should have used in our favour, but that really wasn't the ethos of The False Dots in 1981.

The final song, Wasting my Life was the first post Pete song we'd written. Paul sang it beautifully. It has a nice bluesy feel and Craig did some great guitar work. When I wrote with Pete Conway, it was like going to war. The songs would involve violent arguments. Paul would just make subtle and rather brilliant suggestions. If something was crap, he'd not say, but would often suggest ways to make it less crap. Paul was a genius but so quiet that no one ever really realised. At this time he was still fifteen and didn't really have the self confidence to do more than quietly chip in. Paul was someone that everybody liked. He was extremely good looking and had a great voice, but hated singing live. All seemed great with the band, but after the backing tracks were done, there was a huge blow. Dav announced he was leaving the band to go to Bristol. This was a  total shock to me.

This was unfortunate, as I'd arranged another gig at The Harwood Hall. We got a dep drummer called Dave in. I can't recall where he came from. Maybe he'd been with a band at the studio. The gig went well.

Craig then suggested we get his mate Mark Barnett on drums. Mark was nowhere near as good as Dav, but he was at Orange Hill School and was very keen to play. After long discussions with Craig, we decided that he'd improve if we did a lot of practice. Mark had been the drummer in Craig's previous band, The Heretics. He was OK, better than Paul Marvin by a mile and he had his own kit. 

We finished the demo in February. We got some interest, specifically from Chiswick Records. They loved Fog and said if we recorded a few more synth songs in that vein, they'd consider giving us a deal. Foolishly (in hindsight), I ignored the advice. Not least because I didn't have a synth, and also because recording was expensive. My view, which was rather stupid, was that we needed to do more gigs and get Mark up to speed before we did any more demos. If you are in a young band, reading this, and such a thing happens, buy the synth, spend days and nights writing new songs and get back to them ASAP. If you hit upon something by accident, that works, then that really is the way you need to go.

I started to write with Paul more seriously. We started our first experiments with Reggae and Ska, writing a song called Falsedub. It had another title, until one of our Rasta mates sneeringly said, "Hey you've invented a new type of music called False Dub". Much to his irritation, we changed the songs title and always mentioned his influence. 

The band did a gig at The School (the contact strip in the above picture was taken around the school), a gig at Hendon Rugby club, a gig at The Midland Arms (now the Claddagh Ring) supporting a signed band called Way of The West - They had a Radio 1 single of the week at the time, but never did anything else. They all went quite well, we got a decent reception. 

At that time, I felt that the band was really on the road to success, getting a gig with a "name band" was a coup for us. Then Craig announced he was leaving the band to concentrate on his A levels. It was a real kick in the teeth. Mark Barnett, stayed and we recruited a local madman, called Pete T on guitar and vocals (He has an * on him in the pic below). Pete was the consummate bedroom guitarist. He also assured us he was a great singer. Boz Boorer, of the Polecats introduced us to Pete, as he was dealing high quality grass, via a Rasta who was going out with his sister. We had been drinking with Boz in the Railway and decided we wanted a smoke. Boz suggested going to see his mate Pete. We opened the door and this skinhead opened the door, to a cloud  of smoke. We adjourned to my shed and spent several hours getting rather mashed. It was one of those classic, hilarious nights, that can only be had in a shed with drunken idiots smoking strong grass. It can never be repeated. Boz still recalls asking me why I had a poster of a US Saturn V rocket blasting off, hanging upside down. I replied "It's an Australian rocket". It seemed hilarious at the time. 

Pete had a bedroom full of guitars, reel to reel recording devices etc. He played us his recordings which were absolutely amazing. He played us his own version of Hotel California and explained that the solo was the hardest solo in the world, with seven modal changes. We assumed he was a genius and the messiah for the band. Unlike Craig, who was a sober, sensible sort of chap, who's mum would bring him sandwiches to gigs, Pete was, to my mind, the sort of person Lemmy was referring to when I asked him how you get the right people  "it just happens, you do the right things and it happens"It seemed to myself and Paul that Pete was just right. 

At rehearsals, he just did his own thing, not even playing in the same key as the rest of us on occasion and they saying we were playing our own songs wrong. I booked us a gig The Harwood Hall, to get him up to speed. It was a disaster. I had arranged to borrow a PA system of the local hippy, a chap called Yogi, who dealt LSD and hashish to locals in Edgware. Who could possibly have thought he'd be a bit unreliable. So we had no PA system. Pete hadn't learned the songs and it was a shambolic mess. 

As Boz had introduced us to Pete, we got him to guest guitar on one track, Pete's masterpiece, called "Mindbeast". You can see Boz jamming along, with a ciggie behind his ear >>>>>>>

I suspect that the reason he's got his back turned is sheer embarrassment at the shambles that was unfolding. Boz is normally a pretty up front performer. I showed Boz the picture a couple of years ago and he said he had no recollection of it at all. I don't blame him for erasing it from his memory!

When we realised Pete didn't even know his own song, we realised just how bad a choice he'd been. To make matters worse, a bunch of skinheads from Burnt Oak turned up and caused trouble. One came up to me and spat in my face during the third song. The red mist descended, I took off my guitar and hit him around the head with it. They retreated. I strapped the guitar back on and finished the song. 

At the end of the gig, Paul Hircombe asked me if he'd imagined the incident, as it happened in the blink of an eye and I just carried on playing. I said no, it happened. .I had a Peavey T60 guitar, which is perhaps the heaviest guitar ever made, which is ideal for bashing such people.  The skinheads smashed up the toilet and let off a fire extinguisher as revenge before running away. We got banned from the venue. That was a blow, because we'd always made a tidy profit on the gigs.

After the gig, we piled all of the gear outside. My Dad had a Ford Cortina and was going to collect it at 11pm. He'd been boozing at The Mill Hill Services Club. In those days  people routinely drank and drove. I was waiting on the pavement, outside the Harwood Hall, drinking a bottle of beer, when the skinheads reappeared, bent on revenge. I was on my own and there were five of them. All my gear was there. At that moment, the future of the band seemed in the balance. If our gear was nicked or smashed, it would round off a disastrous night. I considered my options. Stay and fight and get beaten up and my gear nicked/smashed or run away and see my gear nicked/smashed. I decided to stay and fight. I broke the beer bottle on the side of an amp and stood, bottle in hand screaming "Come on then" at them. Their confident demeanour looked a tad less confident. I decided I would take down as many as I could. I hadn't realised, but my Dad, a 6'1 Australian ex Army/RAF veteran, who was a fearsome man, had observed what was going on. He'd retrieved a crowbar from his car and snuck up behind the gang. He then bellowed "Who's first" at them. 

They had been hesitating and with this, their bottle completely went. They ran off in all directions. We loaded the gear in the car and went home and drank Guinness and Whisky. Dad told me that he was impressed. He confessed that he'd always thought I lacked backbone and gumption and was delighted to be proven wrong. He then told me that I should keep a crowbar in the back of my amp, as bottles are a poor weapon for a whole number of reasons. 

It was clear to the band that Pete had been a disaster. We approached Craig, who had done his A levels and he rejoined. I was cooking up a plan and told him that 1982 was going to be a very big year for The False Dots, but you'll have to wait for the next instalment in this sorry tale to find out what that was. 

Just to round off the disaster, we'd done the gig as a benefit for CND. We'd got another local hippy to do the door. He'd buggered off with all the profits and went to Greece on holiday. 

One interesting memento from the night was the support band made a video of their performance (wrongly titled 1979). The Vektors had done the previous gig and brought a huge crowd. I was savvy enough to ask them again, sadly all their efforts did was pay for a hippy to go to Greece! The video is quite entertaining though. I real slice of 1980's suburban London. 

The debacle of Harwood Hall was actually one of the best things that happened to the False Dots. There were some harsh, but very important lessons to learn, one all Rock and Rollers should heed. The biggest was that it is a big mistake to get mates who are useless into the band. It is probably ruins more bands  when they are getting off the ground than anything else. We thought that because Pete was a laugh, he'd add a lot, but he never learned the songs, never tried to contribute. All he really wanted to do was get stoned and enjoy himself. He thought the gig was great, and real punk rock. 

The second big lesson is that you need to get your logistics sorted with people you trust. Borrowing a PA off the local acid casualty was always a stupid plan. From that day forward, I only dealt with people I could rely on and trust. 

For Paul and myself though, the biggest lesson of all was that we needed to ensure that whoever was involved in future, at any level, they had to contribute and share the vision we were developing. You need a vision of what you want the band to be. As he was a great musician, we knew that Craig was a big part of this, but he didn't share our vision, which was a problem. His redeeming feature was that he bought into our ideas and made us realise them. Whatever he did or didn't do, he contributed. 


Amazingly, The False Dots are still going. We celebrate our 45th Birthday on February 3rd at The Dublin Castle (tickets from here), please come down. 

Sadly, I'm the only one left from back then. Mark left the band in 1982, Craig departed in 1983 and Paul Hircombe passed away from the big C in 2012. In our current line up, our drummer Gray Ramsey has been in the band since 1985 (on and off) and bass player Fil Ross joined in 2000. Our newest member Tom Hammond joined on trumpet in 2023. 

You can see what we look like now here!