Wednesday 28 February 2024

Rock and Roll Stories #8 - "Give up, you're S**T" - The joys of critical acclaim and press

Sally from Watford casts her verdict

I don't even remember who 'Sally from Watford' was. However, I was looking through "The False Dots File" AKA The Crapbook - my scrapbook of band clippings and thoughts and I found this note. It made me laugh and got me musing on the relationship between the bands, the music press and the roles of critics. BTW for clarity as I am dyslexic, her comment should have read "Give up, you're s**t". She wasn't the first critic to pass this, but she was the first we recorded. 

For the record, Line Up #4 of The False Dots was a very short lived version of the Dots from January 1980, with myself on guitar, Pete Conway on Bass and vocals and 'Deb' (Pete's fiancee) on drums. Pete had become a skinhead. Deb was also a skinhead. My Dad made a terrible faux pas mistaking Deb for Pete's younger brother. Deb and Pete had matching Suedehead cuts, shiny brown DM boots, turned up jeans, Harrington Jackets and Fred Perry shirts. When Pete went for something, he did it properly. He felt it was right to get the fashion references correct. My nickname was Tramp as I did the opposite. I'd rummage around in second hand shops, make my own T-Shirts and gete evrything deliberately wrong. 

At the second rehearsal with Deb, Sally from Watford turned up and passed her verdict. She was right. Deb only lasted two weeks, when she split with Pete, she disappeared, never to be mentioned again, except for Pete blaming her for Sally's harsh verdict.

Pete and myself had enormous ego's and we instantly thought that the reason anyone, especially Sally from Watford might dislike us, was simply because they were morons. We had an unshakeable belief that we were brilliant, even if all of the evidence was to the contrary.  I think all artists have to think like that to survive, however arrogant it sounds. You need a thick skin and I was reminded of this on Sunday. 

We went to see Rockabilly legends, The Delta's. I saw a mate of mine, Mandy Austin, who's brother Rob used to run Tape Copying Services, the cassette duplication service that was the backbone of the London underground music scene. Rob was a big fan of the band and put us on at a showcase gig he promoted at The Midland Arms (now the Claddagh ring). Mandy also promoted gigs at the Moonlight Club and put the Dots on. She got our single reviewed on the Dawn Parry show on 365 radio. The guest reviewer was legendary record producer Steve Lillilwhite - his verdict "It would be nice to hear the singer sing properly". I was a tad disappointed as I thought I did a fine job! I made a decision a very long time ago that I wasn't going to put on fake American accents or attempt Whitney Houston style vocal gymnastics. I want our songs to sound like North London. I think they suit the songs, but I've been around long enough to know that someone like Steve probably has a point. So what do you do? When Sally from Watford or Steve Lilliwhite doesn't like your music, do you give up and cry or do you say "You know what, I believe in what we do". 

So here is your chance to be a critic. Sadly I don't own a Tardis, so you'll never know if Sally from Watford was right, but you can decide whether you agree with Steve Lilliwhite. Have a listen and let us know

The False Dots have had an interesting relationship with the press over the years. I've mentioned before our 1st review, in Xpert-I fanzine in August 1979. It said "The only thing more immature than their sense of humour is there music". I wish I could find a copy of it. 

In 1980, we started to get reviews etc in the local press in North London. They were always really supportive and we got great reviews. A series of writers at the Barnet Times and it's various titles such as Kevin Black, Joy Bentley and Clarence Mitchell all adopted us and liked what we did. I think they recognised that The False Dots were a band that drove the local music scene. We were always organising gigs, getting other bands on with us and putting on stunts that gave them a story. 

The music press proved a far more difficult nut to crack. All we really got was a few fleeting mentions in the gig listings. The one review we got was when we supported Tokyo Olympics at The Moonlight Club. I had a long chat with the reviewer, who told me he'd mention us if I gave him a tenner. He was true to his word. In the review it said "a local band called the False Dots were the support. They had a large suburban crowd, who followed them to the pub when Tokyo Olympics started, clearly not a bunch interested in music". I saw the reviewer a couple of times after and he ran away. On the third occasion, I collared him and he gave me my tenner back. I was so annoyed that I never kept the review. 

There were a few fanzines that made a mention in the early years. Generally these were positive, but most didn't know what to make of The False Dots. When Eleanor was singing with the band, one said "A pleasant enough sound, apart from the singer, who sounds like a cat being strangled". I chose not to share that with the poor love, I was tempted to when she attempted to sack me from the band for being no good in the Summer of 1983. I guess in light of that, things could be worse. In truth, when the band really needed press, I didn't properly understand how it all worked. I learned the hard way what you need to do. 

By the 1990's I was in band management. I was managing a band called The Sway. They were a pretty good band and had what I thought was an excellent single called "Going Blind". It featured Helen Terry on vocals. I bumped into a freelance writer, who did bits for the NME. I won't name him. I suggested that he come down and write a review of the band, saying they were brilliant. He said "I live in Essex, it'll cost me a tenner to come down and have a beer and watch them and I'll only get £25 if its published." I replied I'll give you £50 if you come down and get it. £25 on the night and £25 when it appears. He replied "OK". It worked. I realised that if you want a good review, a few readies helps no end. Have a listen, was it worth £50 to promote them?

Sadly these days, there is no such thing as a music press. It's all about podcasts, playlists etc. There is nothing to cut out and put in the scrapbook. The only way you really can judge how you are doing is look at the clicks or count the punters at gigs. We are doing OK on both counts. Our gigs get a decent crowd and our videos get watched. The most successful has been The Burnt Oak Boogie, which has had over 5,000 organic views.

It's got 23 nice comments and 66 thumbs ups, which I am told is rather good! I am told that now the secret is to get 'Influencers to like your music'. For a band like The False Dots, the influencers that might result in a hit are an elusive bunch! We are a niche band, we do well in small venues in North London and people who come to see us tend to come back. One of my dreams was to see The False Dots on the cover of the NME, but the NME bit the dust. I almost feel sorry for the new, up and coming bands today. How can you feel vindicated and that you've made it. I suppose being on telly at Glasto would do nicely, but for us back in the day, it would be a mention in the NME (preferably on the front page). Iconic shows such as Top of The Pops that your granny might catch you on have long gone. 

Rock and Roll is and always was a dirty business. Young, up and coming bands that make it not only have to be good, they need savvy managers, who understand how to grease the wheels of the promotion and know the people to bung the wedge to. I do wonder how this now works that no one wants to deal in cash!


Tuesday 27 February 2024

Lee Anderson does Sadiq Khan a massive favour

 For me, the issue of Mayor Sadiq Khan is a very difficult subject. At the previous two Mayoral elections, he got my second preference vote. In 2016, this was a very easy decision. His Tory opponent, Zak Goldsmith ran a horrible campaign, which many felt had racist overtones. I've never voted Conservative in my life and Goldsmith reminded me why. By 2021, I'd got rather fed up with Khan. My main issues were that he seemed to have no vision for London, clearly had issues with outer London Boroughs ([passing some awful planning schemes in Barnet) and generally seemed to me to be a humourlous and overly spiky character. He was faced by Shaun Bailey,  who initially seemed to me to be an interesting challenger. Sadly Bailey's campaign soon started to fall apart at the seams, the low point when a tweet was posted with a picture of Khan labelled as the "mad mullah of Londonistan". Whatever I may think of Khan, it was a horribly racist trope and even Bailey has since admitted it was beyond the pale.

Since 2021, Khan has done everything possible to convince me that he is simply unfit to be Mayor. I believe that the ULEZ extension was unfair, ill thought out and discriminatory towards the less well off workin people of London. Sadly for London, they have chosen Susan Hall as their candidate who is even worse than Khan and struggles to put two sentences together without putting her foot in it. 

I attended a Lib Dem planning call and I suggested that the Lib Dems candidate should simply leaflet and poster the whole of London with "These two are useless, vote for me!" and they'd be onto a winner. Sadly, they don't listen to me. I genuinely believe that if there was a sensible alternative to either, they'd have a very good chance. I ama amazed that the Tories didn't find a proper A list candidate, as many people feel like I do about Khan. I suspect that the turnout will be lower than previously as people are disengaged from the process by the poor choice. 

The rules have been changed, so that there is no second preference vote.  This means that people like me are effectively disenfranchised. I would not vote for Khan or Hall as a first choice ever. At least the old system allowed me to express a point of view.

So that's how I feel about Khan and Hall. Yesterday, I got into work to hear an emerging Tory car crash, which I suspect may have put paid to any lingering hopes Susan Hall may have had of pulling off an upset. First of all, "30p" Lee Anderson, the former deputy chairman of the Tory party, had the whip removed for suggesting that Islamists had taken over London via Sadiq Khan. Much as I think Khan is useless, it was a ridiculous suggestion and clearly showed a not very overt racism. To make matters worse, the usually sensible former Minister for London Paul Scully piled in, claiming Tower Hamelts is a no go area when asked about Lee Andersons comments. For the record, I went a beer and a curry in Tower Hamlets recently. We had a pint at The Blind Beggar and a beer and a curry in Brick Lane. It may come as a surprise to 30p Lee and Mr Scully that no one declared Jihad against us. In fact we were made very welcome and fed royally ( as we always are). I used to work in Aldgate and know many of the Indian restaurants. Most of the staff are Bengali Muslims and all are hard working and pleasant. I simply do not recognise the words of Scully as having any basis in reality. As for Lee Anderson's claim. It is reprehensible. All sane and decent Tories have sought to distance themselves from it. Rishi Sunak admitted that Anderson was wrong, although in a mealy mouthed explanation, he said it wasn't 'Islamaphobia'. 

Susan Hall has been forced to stop campaigning and clarify her position. 

Whilst it is a good thing that the two of them can act like grown ups when needed, Lee Anderson has not done her campaign any favours. Having to say that your mortal opponent is actually a good egg is not really that helpful when you are trying to outs him.

The sad truth is that Lee Anderson has let the cat out of the bag about racism at the heart of the Tory party. With GLA and Mayoral elections coming up in London, a City which is as diverse as any on the planet, this will not play well with voters. It seems likely to me that Anderson will defect to the Reform Party. Whilst this will be a coup for Reform and help Labour immensely, my view is that ultimately it will damage both Reform and The Tories. It sends out the message that if you are too extreme for the Tories, then join Reform. Whilst Reform's agenda has the sympathy of a sizeable minority in the Tories, they are miles away from even winning a seat at a by election, let alone a general election. They will simply leach off votes that will add to the Tories woes. to my mind, the Tories are starting to resemble Labour in the early 1980's, when they elected unelectable ideologues as leaders for partisan reasons. 

The bottom line for me, though, is that this unholy mess does nothing for London. 

Sunday 25 February 2024

The Sunday Reflection #6 - Should we all be a bit more Stan Bowles?

Stan Bowles at Manchester City in 1969

Yesterday, former QPR legend (and ex Man City player), Stan Bowles passed away, aged 75, from alzheimers disease yesterday. I must confess, I shed a tear as I listened to Robert Elms eulogy for Stan on his show on BBC Radio London this morning, whilst reading Martin Samuels piece in the Sunday Times (which quoted Robert, who is a huge QPR fan and knew Stan). 

I love this picture of Stan from 1969. He looks like a member of Oasis and for many of us, players like Stan were as important as the rock and rollers of the day >>>>>

For football fans of my generation, Bowles was one of a generation of maverick players, who were brilliant, but were almost never picked for the national team, never got to play for the big clubs and didn't really get the silverware their talent deserved. They were seen as 'loose canons' who couldn't be trusted to put in a shift by the rigid, unimaginative managers of the day. Others on the list include Frank Worthington, Tony Curry, Charlie George and Rodney Marsh. England could have built a World Cup winning team around such talents, but they were discarded by the national team and England failed to even qualify for the World Cup in 1974 and 1978 as dull, reliable players huffed and puffed to little avail, as elsewhere, teams such as Holland, Brazil and Argentina thrived with maverick geniuses bamboozling flat footed defenders. 

In the 1970's, I was lucky enough to see Stan Bowles play. He was worth the admission money. He had a  deep spiritual connection with the Loftus Road fans. He was a player who would deliberately do things just to get the crowd going and they loved them for it. He nearly started a riot at Sunderland, knocking the FA Cup, which they'd won the season before and was on display at the ground, off its plinth. 

Last night I had an interesting debate with several football fans about Bowles. There are two distinct schools of thought. There are the 'He should have got his head down and concentrated on football' type of fans, who see the gambling, girls and boozing as a horrific distraction, leading to a 'wasted career' and then there are those who, like me, celebrate the maverick. It was clear to me that Bowles, above all, loved playing football and did it as much for the joy as for the pay check. Bowles left Manchester City, in 1970, when the team were arguably the best in the country, following a punch up involving Malcolm Allison in a night club. 

Some of the more serious fans I know, feel that players like Bowles let the side down, not training properly, getting drunk the night before games, etc. Then there are those of us who see the fact that Bowles was having a blast. Whatever Bowles did or didn't, he had a huge lust for life and enjoyed himself. I can totally get this. In my own life as a musician, I have at times chosen to play music I enjoy in a way I enjoy, when there were offers that would have delivered hard cash. All I had to do was knuckle down and be bland. No thanks.

The world is a far better place for the mavericks. The people who put having a life above conforming and following the rules. I'm now 61 and what is starting to be become apparant is that my old mates who were sensible and did the boring sensible things, like me are starting to realise we are running out of road. I may have 10-15 years of fully active life if I'm lucky before things like travel etc start becoming too much hassle. When my Mum was 81 and housebound, following a stroke, I asked her if she had any regrets. She said "No, I always made sure I did the things I wanted to do, I have friends who didn't and they are sitting at home looking back on a miserable life, don't do that".

I'm with Stan Bowles. I've enjoyed my life, as did Stan, before he couldn't. My advice to anyone is to "Be more Stan". DO what you have to but have some fun. The thing about Stan was, had he not been a maverick, he may or may not have had a better career, one tackle can end it, but he definitely would not have had as much fun or be remembered with such love

RIP Sir Stanley Bowles

Saturday 24 February 2024

The Saturday List #430 - My top ten false economies

Pic Tesco Value Soup Can, 2004 - Banksy Explained
We've all done it at some point, haven't we? You know the feeling. You've had a hard day at work, you have a cold and you really fancy a bowl of nice soothing Heinz Tomato soup and some toast, you nip down to Tesco's (other supermarkets are available) to buy some and you see that the own economy brand is half the price, if you buy four tins. So rather than executing the plan, you decide to save some money, although actually you don't, because you've bought twice as many tins at which has ended up costing you twice as much. You get home, put the soup on the stove, put the toast in the toaster, when they are done, put them on a tray, and sit down to watch the news, with your tasty treat. The only problem is that the soup tastes nothing like Heinz. Rather than feeling comforted, you just feel worse! It is thin, watery and disgusting and you are lumbered with three tins of the stuff. In short, it is a false economy. 

It got me thinking, what are the top ten worst false economies that you can buy. Here's my pick

1. Economy toilet paper. This is the worst. You see the price. Whereas the premium brands are a tenner for six, you can get 24 for a fiver. The only trouble is that when you get home, the sheets are tiny, and worse, when you've done your business and you go to clean up, your fingers go straight through. The ultimate yuk, but you only have yourself to blame for being a cheapskate.

2.  Woolworths football boots. Sadly, this is something that future generations will never know the joy of. My mum was a cheapskate. She loved a bargain. As a result, when I was at school, my mates all had Adidas boots, but I had Winfield boots, the cheap Woolworths brand. I loved Woolworths, but their own brand clothes and shoes were awful. It was a source of much ridicule, quite apart from the fact that they would fall to bits after a couple of weeks.

3. Cheap Plonk. I like a nice glass of wine. I've given it up for lent. But over the years, on too many an occasion, I've been tempted by the price of the cheap plonk. You get it home, you light the candles, put on the Barry White and settle in for a romantic evening, then take a sip. Vinegar would be better. Worse than that, your beau knows you are a cheapskate.

4. Cheap Vacuum cleaners. I don't know how many times we've fallen for this one. Over the years, we've had a number of Henry vacuum cleaners. They are robust, well made and work well. But it seems that every time they finally pass away, we make the same mistake. We buy a cheap replacement, that doesn't work properly and breaks down after a couple of weeks. Never again (Until next time).

5. Cheap hotels. I've only done this once. You know the score. You want a few days away, but you want to keep costs low. You think a bit of sunshine will do the trick. SO you book the cheapest possible hotel. For me, this was in Thessoloniki in Greece. It was cheap. It was very cheap. Sadly, in the middle of the night, I was woken by mice and rats bouncing on the bed. Even worse, in the morning, I was covered in blisters where bugs had bitten me. I vowed 'never again'.

6. The cheap fried chicken shop. When I've had a couple of beers, I have to admit that I am partial to a bit of fried chicken. This dates back to when KFC opened in Colindale. We'd go out of our way to go there, as would half the drunks in North West London. It was the food of the gods. Sadly, KFC generated a whole raft of cheap knock off versions. A few years ago, I went for one in central London after a gig. I was starving. I went in, was given a box full of chicken and chips. As I left, I noticed a hygene rating of 1. Never mind, I thought. It has been deep fried. Sadly, when I took a bite, it was leathery and cold. The chicken had been standing for hours. Worse still, it wasn't cooked through. I just threw the whole lot in the bin. I like to think I spared myself Salmonella.

7. Cheap ham slices. When I was little, every Sunday Dad would take us to 'the Little Shop'. He'd buy freshly carved, thick sliced ham. It was delicious. We'd have it in sandwiches for tea. Mum would rant about the price. She decided to reign in the spending. She bought some cheap, sliced ham from Budgen and told Dad she'd already got some. When the sarnies were served, we greeted it with horror. Dad exclaimed that "this isn't ham, this is rubber". Mum realised that this wasn't a battle she'd win. I've studiously avoided such muck ever since.

8. Cheap own brand tea bags. I've always loved Typhoo, PG Tips and Tetleys tea. On occasion though, I've made the mistake of being seduced by cheap own brands. They taste like dishwater. Avoid at all costs.

9. Flowers from the garage. I think most guys have been there. We forget a birthday/valentines day/anniversary. We decided to repair the damage at the last minute. We nip into the garage, pick up a bunch of flowers and go home. Sadly we've forgotten to remove the £3.99 sticker and it is clear that not only are we a cheapskate, but we are a thoughtless one. They are usually half dead and by the time you get them home are wilting. Avoid at all costs.

10. Processed cheese. I love cheese. A mature cheddar, a nice bit of Roquefort, a good Stilton, to name a few. Sadly though, I have on occasion been seduced by the cheapness of processed cheese. It tastes of nothing and has a horrible after taste. The worst sort is the slices that they put on cheeseburgers, but just about any processed cheese is disgusting. 

What are your top ten false economies. 


If you fancy a night out, why not come and see my band, The False Dots on Sat 23rd March at the Beehive in Bow

Friday 23 February 2024

Friday Fun 23rd February 2024

 As is the tradition in the Barnet blogs, we have a Friday joke and short list of some of the things you can do this weekend in the London Borough of Barnet. Let's start with the joke. When I was at school, my careers teacher told that the way to impress potential employers was to make sure you go into the interview dressed in a way that will make an impression on the panel and stand out from the crowd. Sadly, when I turned up for an interview at Cricklewood British rail depot for a job as a diesel engineer, the Batman suit I'd bought specially for the interview turned out to be a mistake. 

And on to the round up of great things to do in the Borough.

In this week when Barnet FC announce their intention to return to the Borough, why not  watch some great football at Barnet's oldest club on Saturday, come down to Brickfield Lane (opposite The Gate Pub) for Hadley FC. 

Fancy some smokin' Jazz on Sunday in Finchley?

Other gigs

Sat 24th February

The Looters gig at Butchers Arms
The Looters (60s / 70s covers, 5 piece) at Butchers Arms, Barnet
info icon9.30pm - midnight

Horizon (Rock Covers & Original, 4 piece) at The Black Horse, Barnet 0.3 miles

info icon8.30pm - 11.30pm
Ripple Effect gig at East Barnet Royal British Legion Club
Ripple Effect (Pop / Rock, 4 piece) at East Barnet Royal British Legion Club, East Barnet 1.8 miles
info icon8.30pm - 11pm

Dusk Til Dawn (Classic Rock, 5 piece) at The Three Wishes, Edgware 4.5 miles

info icon9pm - 11.30pm


Sunday 25th February

Mark Warner in Full Swing gig at The Kings Head
Mark Warner in Full Swing (Swing, Solo Artist) at The Kings Head, Barnet 0.2 miles
info icon1pm - 4pm

And finally, a date for your diary, my band  The False Dots are doing a gig on Sat 23rd March at the Beehive in Bow. Check out our trailer for it! - Tickets:

Thursday 22 February 2024

This government may well end my blogging career!

The insspiration for starting to write blogs about politics, for me, was that I thought that the Tories running Barnet Council were useless, but the vast majority of people were unaware of this. Furthermore, I realised that there was no proper press coverage exposing just how bad they were. I spent a decade scrutinising council papers, doing my best to alert people to the mistakes the council were planning to make, trying to rustle up support locally to oppose the stupid policies that anyone who bothered to look, knew would cost Barnet residents a small fortune. Despite this blog clocking up nearly 4 million hits, not enough people listened to the warnings. The Tories won the Council elections in 2010, 2014 and 2018 and introduced the devastating scheme that became known as One Barnet. When they were finally booted out in 2022, they left a devastated and demoralised council that was struggling to provide basic services. There period in charge had been so bad that OFSTED made them bring in Essex Council to sort out their educational services. 

Labour won a landslide in 2022, but took over a council in such chaos that even the most competent of administrations would have struggled, and no one would ever accuse Barnet Labour of being particulary competent. I have found it rather difficult to write blogs condemning Labours ineptitdue, as I realise that they have been bequeathed a shit sandwich and I don't envy them. Some of the things they are doing are really stupid, such as bidding for the 'London Borough of Culture' when the Borough doesn't even have an established music venue and the local music festivals, such as the East Barnet Festival are struggling to survive. My view is that they'd have been better off giving the festival money, than the expensive consultants engaged to make the bid. Compared to the mistakes of the last Tory administration, it is small beer. Some of the things they tried to do, such as ending after school respite care for the parents of heavily disabled children at Mapledown Special School were plain inhuman. To the extent that it was blocked by a revolt by formerly loyal Tory Councillors (all of whom were deselected). 

I keep an eye on Barnet Council, but I don't have the time or inclination to snipe at small stupidities. I am sure that sooner or later, the Tories will find a blogger to do that for them. As for National government, I've not really blogged too much about them. Not so much because I have no opinions, but because there was coverage and it was far better than I could offer. I broke this rule as chaos enveloped the Government as Boris Johnson rose to power. The reason for this was a I had a source at the heart of his government (a source that has now run dry). The source was not sympathetic to my viewpoint, but it suited them to get information in the public domain. It also suited me to highlight the splits in the Tories. 

I assumed that Boris Johnson was an abberation, an outlier, a bumbling populist maverick, who the Tories chose to get their electoral fortunes back on track after the shambles that was Theresa May's reign. When Boris was elected in 2019, I thought that he was lucky to have been elected at a time when the economy was generally sound. I doubted that Boris could bugger it up too much. I also assumed that the Labour party was done for a generation. The Corbyn era had destroyed it's credibility in the country. As Boris had a massive majority, I thought he'd give us a couple of years of bonkers Tory ideolgical policies, then a couple of years of retrenchment, to strengthen the Tories electoral position, in time for an election last year that he'd romp home in. The pandemic put paid to that. 

Within a year, it was clear that Boris was toast. What came next shcoked even me. The Liz Truss debacle. To see a hard right Tory skewered by the free markets she espoused would have been hilarious, if it hadn't cost me a fortune in higher taxes and interest rates. When Rishi Sunak replaced her, I assumed we'd get a sensible, pragmatic and rather boring leader, who would get the countries finances back on track.  Last week, we found that the UK is yet again in recession. The man I thought would be a competent, if undynamic, manager turned out to simply be a man out of his depth. It is now clear that he appeared to be a good chancellor because Boris was his boss. His chancellor Jeremy Hunt, who does at least have an air of competence, has been doing his best to face off the Liz Truss faction of the Tory party, seeking tax cuts the country can't afford. Hunt reminds me of the adage "In the land of the blind, the one eyed man is king". 

Then there is Sir Keir Starmer. Anyone who doesn't recognise the achievement of making Labour appear electable does not understand politics. Starmer has made a whole career of saying nothing and having no opinions. He's been leader for nearly four years and I have no idea who he really is. He seems to have taken the Tony Blair playbook and removed the messianic zeal that Blair brought to the table. What will Starmer be like, if he makes it to be Prime Minister. At one point, I would have said "He can't be any worse than  what went before", but I thought that after Blair, Brown, Cameron, May, Johnson and Truss and in their own way, each has been a downgrade. 

The problem as a blogger is that justs pouting negative opinions is perhaps the least interesting thing that it is possible to read. Someone recently asked why I am 'not covering politics anymore'. If you look at this year, this is not entirely true. This year, I've posted four politics related blogs, four more than the rest of the Barnet bloggers have written about politics etc (Mr Mustard has kept up his output of parking related blogs). But I've never blogged for the sake of it. The things I write about are things I find interesting and that others may as well. This blog has given me an extraordinary platform, the thousands of hits I get are a privilege that I appreciate. I don't take the people who read it for granted, but I also feel a responsibility to write blogs that have something to say that you won't read anywhere else. The things that interest me currently are music, the environment, Football (especially grassroots football), Barnet transport issues and the silly things that make life liveable. I find it almost impossible to find anything interesting to write about local or national politics. The biggest problem with this government is that you can write a blog and a week later, it is completely out of date as they've lurched into another crisis. 

I must add one thing about Barnet politics. Prior to the election, several Barnet Labour Councillors were very friendly with me and we'd have nice chats occasionally. They don't want to know now. One recently got themself into a spot of bother, having made some rather unwise comments on Twitter. Two years ago, I'd have spoken up for them, when the inevitable nasty comments came from the likes of disgraced Tory Brian Coleman. Having realised that they viewed me as a 'useful idiot' when Labour were seeking power in Barnet and now they are in they have no use of me, I was not in the least inclined to chip in and say "Hang on, this is a bit out of order coming from someone convicted of assault". It seems to me that Labour think that they've got the Hendon and Finchley Parliamentary seats sown up and so want to keep 'loose cannon bloggers' at arms length. I am quite happy to leave them to it, as it means I can get on with stuff I enjoy. I am not sure whether Rishi and Barnet Labour have effectively cured me of my urge to blog about politics, but writing about other things is far more fun.

Talking of which, my band, The False Dots are doing a gig on Sat 23rd March at the Beehive in Bow. Check out our trailer for it! Tickets:

Wednesday 21 February 2024

Rock and Roll Stories #7 - "You got a demo tape son?"

"You got a demo tape son?". This was the question everyone in a band in the late 1970's/early 1980's hoped you'd be asked, when any person in the music business heard you were in a band. I was chatting with Sean from the London International Ska Festival recently, discussing the way the live music scene has changed, one of the biggest is that no one has asked me for a demo tape for decades.  Demo cassettes were the staple of the underground music scene back then, in todays story we look at how we made our first one!

When the False Dots were formed in 1979, promoters were desperate for up and coming bands playing original material. These were secured after a supplying a demo tape and there was a whole industry in London supporting the demo industry. A working band like The False Dots would need 20-30 cassettes of any demo for the purposes of securing gigs etc. I suspect most bands went in the bin, without even a listen.  

For us, we'd be paid a reasonable amount of money to appear on bills at shows, so it was a valid expense. We were quite popular with promoters, as we had a following. It meant that we got offered good support slots with several high profile bands, usually from out of town. It was a quid pro quo. We'd play and bring and audience and the band playing with us would bring down music press, record labels and other music industry bigwigs. For us, the idea was that some of these would come early, see the band and be blown away, offering us record deals and riches beyond imagine. The only flaw in the plan was that usually, if they came at all, they would turn up for the last ten minutes of the main band. They'd never even see us. Promoters would promise us that we'd get 'great exposure' and that it would be a 'brilliant opportunity', saying how important it was to ensure that we brought as many people down as possible, so that the bigwigs would see just how popular we were. 

We didn't mind bringing down people, as we loved an audience and the early shows were always a brilliant laugh, usually followed by a big party, but sadly we never got to meet the bigwigs or even get any press in those early days, gigs were reviewed with no mention of us at all. But despite these knock backs  a demo tape was vital for us, as we were desperate to play as many gigs as possible. We knew that the better the quality of the demo, the better the gigs we'd be offered. When we started the band, we had no idea at all how to do anything. We couldn't play, we had no idea about how to properly structure songs, we didn't know how demo's were made. Almost as soon as we started rehearsing in 1979, we started enquiring about getting gigs. Our holy grail was to get a gig at The Moonlight Club in West Hampstead. Pete (who I founded the band with)  and I would go there more or less every week. We knew the promoters, the doormen and the bar staff. We'd seen all manner of excellent bands there, including The Damned, Manicured Noise and The Monochrome Set being just a few. Although not having the status of The Marquee or the 100 club, we realised that it was a far more attainable. We saw it as a stepping stone. When we spoke to them, they said "No problem, just pop in a demo and we'll be more than happy to put you on, IF IT'S ANY GOOD".

After a month of rehearsals, we were ready. Pete brought his portable cassette player down and we played our three best songs (from our Dots MK I rubbish era). As I recall, these were the rather imaginatively titled "Bone", "Wrong" and "Political warning". We set up in our rehearsal studio, at the caretakers cottage, in Bunns Lane Works, and for each one, we'd be quiet and then Pete would press record,  shout 1-2-3-4 and we'd launch into 2 minutes of punk rock chaos. Sadly, the band had missed the boat for that sort of punk rock by two years (if ever there was a boat for badly played slogans shouted over out of tune guitars). We were quite excited when we listened back. We were so wrapped up in what we were doing, that we simply didn't see how awful it was.

I was still at school back then. I'd moved from Finchley Catholic High School to Orange Hill School, the previous September. This was probably the only smart move I made with regards to my education. I found myself in a school where there were several decent bands. The best and most high profile of these were The Polecats. When I arrived, almost immediately, I became mates with Polecats guitarist Boz Boorer. I wasn't into Rockabilly at all, but Boz loved punk. He was also amazing company. His band had done a couple of gigs and the singer, Tim Worman's Dad had become their manager and was doing all of the things you need to do to make a young band successful. 

Often, I'd go around to Boz's parents home with him and listen to records. Boz carried a cassette player with him everywhere and when he wasn't listening to vinyl at home, he was playing cassettes in the OHS common room. I had huge respect for what Boz was doing with the Polecats and soon realised that his band were doing the right things. So it was only natural that Boz was the first person I played the cassette to. I was really excited and expected Boz to be blown away by it. I naively thought that Boz would realise that he should be doing punk rather than Rockabilly when he heard our amazing demo. I chose my moment and sprung it on him, over a cup of tea in his mum's front room. 

To his credit, Boz was very diplomatic. He didn't say "Its crap". He said "The recording quality isn't good enough to play to anyone". I was crestfallen, but he continued "My band have just done a demo at a proper recording studio, have a listen to this. This is the quality you need". He played me the demo, recorded at Alan Warner, of the Foundations, Lane studios. The first track was Rockabilly Guy. As soon as I heard it, I realised he was right (the demo became The Polecats first single on Nervous Records). Boz kindly made me a copy and suggested I play it to the rest of the band, to show what quality you needed. 

I immediately realised what he was saying. We had a rehearsal a couple of days later. I brought Boz's tape and explained what he'd said. The reaction from Pete was the complete opposite of what I was expecting. He went mad and said that Boz didn't get punk rock. Furthermore, he insisted we do a pun cover of Rockabilly Guy to show them how it should be done. Dave the drummer kept his counsel. Not only did Pete take huge umbrage, he was determined to prove Boz was wrong. To my amazement, he did just that. A couple of weeks later, he announced that The False Dots had secured a gig supporting The UK Subs in Derby in the summer on the basis of the tape. Pete knew the singer of the Subs, Charlie Harper and used to go to all of their gigs. Clearly Harper was doing us a favour, but Pete was adamant that it was proof that Boz was an idiot who didn't understand Punk Rock. Sadly, the gig never happened. Our drummer Dave was attacked in Mill Hill Broadway by a gang of thugs, severing a tendon in his arm. The original line up never recovered and we broke up on 3rd September 1979. 

Three months later, I bumped into Pete and we had a long chat. Pete, to my surprise, admitted that Boz was right about the demo. We determined that the False Dots MK II would be a 'proper band', record a 'proper demo' and try and get 'proper gigs'. The Polecats had signed to Mercury Records and were on Top of The Pops shortly after. The False Dots set about getting things together 'properly'. We agreed that we'd only play songs that we were 100% happy with and the first target was to get three songs together of a quality to record with Alan Warner, as that was clearly the first step to a record deal. By 1980, it was clear that the punk sloganizing of the False Dots Mk I was very passe. We'd started listening to a far wider range of music and records. Pete wanted to play reggae, but we simply couldn't get the right groove. We settled on a sort of dark pop, influenced by The Velvet Underground, The Buzzcocks and avant guard punks Wire. The first song of the new world was Not All She Seems, a tale of a transvestite prostitute and her struggles to fit into society and the exploitation she faced. This was swiftly followed by Ride, which was the flip side. It was about a young, na├»ve man, who falls in love with a prostitute and is too blinded by passion to realise she's only doing it for the cash. The third song, Her Little World, was perhaps the nastiest song that band ever wrote (Alan Warner later described it as 'a brilliant song, but the most horrible thing I've ever heard'). We wanted to be controversial. The song was written about The Yorkshire Ripper, who was at large at the time and murdering women. We'd seen a news documentary about the case. A professor of psychology had stated that the Ripper would not be caught until the Police understood what made him tick, what motivated him and why he was doing it. Pete came up with the brilliant idea of writing a song from his point of view. His reasoning was that the Police were totally incompetent and  the song would provide a massive boot up their backside. Although his reasoning was 100% sound, it is a horrible song that I still feel uncomfortable listening to. The idea that a punk rock song would change Yorkshire Police forces tactics was also mildly optimistic. 

We wrote a few other songs, then started rehearsing. Paul Marvin, son of Hank of the Shadows joined on drums. We got to rehearse in Hank's pad in Radlett, which was amazing. Paul Hircombe had joined on rhythm guitar. Paul was a great musician and a big asset. Hank came in and jammed with us. He suggested the riff for Not All She Seems, if we ever have a hit with it, I'll give him a credit! He gave me plenty of sound advice "Always make an effort to look good for a gig, always wear good shoes and a simple, jangly guitar riff is far better than a complicated riff that people can't hum or sing".  We were ready, or so we thought, for the demo. 

I badgered Boz, who by now was a busy man with the Polecats. I got him to take me around to Alan Warners. Boz hadn't heard the new stuff and was a tad reticent, but being a good mate did anyway. We knocked on Alan's door and Boz said "This is my mate Rog, he's got a punk band who want to record a demo". We drank tea and chatted. Boz, perhaps wisely suggested that Alan nip down and have a listen. I suspect that Alan assumed that as I was a mate of Boz's, I'd be a pretty good player and the band would be a tight, professional outfit. When he came down to the cottage, I suspect the penny dropped. Whenever anyone he didn't know turned up, Pete would put on a bit of a show for them and was rather obnoxious. He could be a very intimidating person at times. I was really pissed off with him, but we played the numbers to Alan. He made us play them a couple of times and then said "I'll have a think about it". I was really pissed off with Pete. He explained that anyone who worked with us, had to buy into what we were about. There was no point going into the studio, if they slung us out when we started arguing, as we inevitably would. I've come to realise that Pete was actually right. So many bands screw up because when people get involved, they can't take the intensity of the situation. But at the time I was not experienced and was just plain embarrassed. 

A couple of days later, I rang up Alan and suggested having a beer with him at The Railway pub to discuss the recording. I expected him to make excuses, but he agreed. We went to the Railway, had a few beers and he gave me his considered opinion. Alan hadn't been put off by Pete's antics. He had worked with enough people in rock and roll to know that it wasn't like the vicars tea part. To my surprise, he also liked the songs and the energy of the band. He then asked "what do you want out of the session?". I replied that we wanted a demo that would be good enough to get us gigs. His response shocked me slightly. He said "Well you need a new drummer".  I explained that Paul was the son of Hank and that might open doors, but he said "A dodgy demo will only shut doors". He then mentioned that he had a mate who would be ideal. A bit older than us, but a great drummer. He also explained the process of recording. He'd bring his rig down to the studio at the cottage to do the 'backing tracks', as he couldn't record drums at his studio, as it was in a bedroom. We'd then do the overdubs at his place. He asked if we'd thought about harmonies and other overdubs. I hadn't really got a clue what he was on about, so I said "We'll sort this out once we've got the backing tracks". After a few pints we made our way off. He said he'd get the new drummer Dav, to get in touch. 

I then arranged to meet Pete to discuss Alan's feedback. I half expected another hissy fit, but he totally agreed. Initially, we'd keep Paul Marvin in the band, but Dav would be the drummer for the demo. As soon as we had the first rehearsal, this went out of the window. Dav was brilliant. The band sounded like a proper band. We'd started the Dot's Mk II in January and the recording was set for June. Having a focus paid off. On the appointed day, Alan came down. Our studio was a derelict caretakers cottage, the band set up in the kitchen and Alan set up his desk in the front room. He recorded drums, bass, rhythm guitar and a guide vocal live. As I played lead I had nothing to do, I was simply keeping an eye on things and conveying messages between Alan and the band. Pete DI'd his bass, for replacement later and Paul did the same. The band listened on headphones, to stop track bleed. We did a take of Not all She Seems. It was brilliant. Pete had been cynical about it all. When he heard it, he was gobsmacked. We were pretty tight, so we easily managed to get the three songs down. Afterwards, we all adjourned back to The Railway. 

Pete who had been a bit off with Alan when he first came down, was now his best mate. Dav said he was amazed at how good it was sounding. Paul was pretty quite, he was always pretty quiet though. We did it on a Saturday and Pete, Paul and myself went around to Alans in the week to do the overdubs. Pete did the bass first, then Paul put his rhythm guitar on and I put my lead on. Pete then put his vocals. It sounded amazing. Pete and Paul were chuffed. Then Alan asked if we wanted any overdubs. Pete said "No, leave it like that, it's fine". I said "What do you recommend?". Pete scowled at me. I said "At least listen to what Alan has to say". Alan suggested that Pete double track the vocals, which would give it a fuller, more even sound. We did this and the four hour slot we'd booked was over. Alan ran off a tape, which I took. He suggested we come back and 'mix it properly'. Pete was cynical, thinking it was perfect. We provisionally booked another date in for the next week, when we had 'fresh ears' for the mix. 

I took it home, had a listen and thought it lacked something. It was a million times better than anything we'd done before, but there was scope for improvement. The next day, I spoke to Pete. I said "The Velvet Underground put acoustic guitar on a lot of their tracks, why don't we put it on Not all She Seems and Ride". Pete was a bit dismissive and suggested I was becoming a hippy. I said "I'll pay to do it and if you don't like it, we can take it off". Pete agreed. I then phoned Alan and borrowed an acoustic guitar, explaining that I'd be doing this on my own. Paul them asked if he could tag along. Unlike Pete, he was not argumentative, so I was happy for him to come. He had a great ear.  I put a pretty basic strummed acoustic on it. Paul loved it. Alan also said it was pretty cool.

We then arranged for the mixing. Dav was invited and brought a young lady with him. Pete spent the entire session trying to chat her up, which was infuriating for me. The main thing though, was that the demo sounded great. When it was finished, we took a master tape and a couple of cassettes. I took it home and played it to my sister, she was amazed. Her first comment was that "Alan must be really good at recording to make you sound like a band". 

I then took it around to Boz's place. I played it to him and he was very complimentary, saying "I told you Alan was good". We then started to work out a full set of music. We had the demo, now we just needed a set that could live up to it.   We were working really hard. By September, we had almost got a set together of music that we could play live. The new school year started. I brought the demo in. Those who had laughed at our previous efforts stopped laughing. A couple of other bands asked for Alan's details to record their band. I was feeling supremely confident. We had the demo, we had the set. We were ready. 

Then, in mid September, Pete  announced he was leaving the band. He had a new girlfriend and decided that he didn't have time for music anymore. I was gutted, I cannot begin to explain how much. However the demo had made people take notice. Craig, an excellent guitarist, in the year below at Orange Hill had heard it and loved it. When he heard Pete had left, we spoke and the False Dots MkIII was born. Sadly, that demo never realised it's ambition for the Dots MkII , despite having spent over £100 on it. Having said that, it was perhaps the most important moment in the history of The False Dots at that point. I knew that our songs were good enough and if we recorded them properly, there was a future for the band. About two weeks after Craig joined, I was at The Moonlight Club. I was chatting to the promoter, as usual, when he asked how the band was going. I said "We've done a brilliant demo, but decided our singer wasn't up to it, so we've got a new singer and we'll be ready for gigs in the new year". They asked for a copy, which I handed over. It was a battered TDK cassette. They suggested that I get "proper cassette copies made in future" and mentioned a company called Tape Copying Services in Barnet. I hadn't realised that you could do such a thing. TCS probably duplicated demo's for every up and coming band in North London.

A week later, I saw the promoter and they said "Give me a bell when you are ready to play, the band is pretty good". After a couple of weeks, Pete rejoined the band as singer, deciding he'd made a mistake. Paul switched to bass guitar. Craig took over on lead. We arranged our own gig at Harwood Hall for December 1980. Pete let us down on the day, which was the end of our musical relationship and friendship.  We booked another session at Alan's studio for January. We'd learned a lot and that turned out even better, with the band finally starting to gig regularly in 1981, but that is another story. 
The False Dots are still going 45 years on. Our next gig is at the Beehive, in Bow on Saturday 23rd March. Here is a little trailer for it that we made, click here for tickets.


Monday 19 February 2024

A summary of the career of 'Dr' Matthew Offord's career as MP for Hendon

If you live in the Hendon Parliamentary constituency, for the last fourteen years your MP has been 'Dr' Matthew Offord ( although if you need some ointment for your lumbago, I wouldn't  visit him. He has got a perfectly valid doctorate in Geography). He has decided that the Torys are going to get booted out and has decided to stand down at the next election. I was going to compile a list of his achievements as an MP since 2010, but I can think only think of a single thing. What he didn't deliver is far more telling. Among the things he promised the residents of Mill Hill in 2010 was a cheese shop in Mill Hill Broadway, step free access at the Thameslink Station and an end to the economic failure of the Labour party, saying that the Tories would deliver sound economic management and economic growth. The only thing he delivered, as far as a I can recall, was Brent Cross West station, that I've yet to see a single person use and which has added two minutes to the journey time from Mill Hill to central London, but I am sure one day it will be a useful hub, so I will grudgingly give him that. 

As for his record voting in Parliament, he voted against equal marriage, comparing it to marrying your pet dog. Here are a few other highlights of his voting on various issues

How Matthew Offord voted on Environmental Issues #

How Matthew Offord voted on Education #

How Matthew Offord voted on Foreign Policy and Defence #

How Matthew Offord voted on Taxation and Employment #

Given that Matthew Offord has increased his majority at every election he has stood in, he must have been doing something right. He has developed a very strong support base within the conservative elements of local evangelical African, Sri Lankan,  Jewish and Nepali communities. Members of all of these communites have told me he has been very good on foreign policy and moral issues. Forty years ago, one may have expected all to line up behind the Labour party, but in the Borough of Barnet they have become the bedrock of the Tory party. Having known Mr Offord for a very long time, let me just say I find some of this support and the reasons for it mildly amusing, or I would have done if he wasn't my MP. As he is leaving and I am feeling magnanmous, all I can really say is that perhaps, as he's grown older he's put some of his former 'foolish ways' behind him. I'll just say that when I first met him and he was going out with former Battersea MP and rather Liberal Conservative Jane Ellison, who was a founder of the Mill Hill Music Festival, he didn't really strike me as a massively moraliser? 

I must say that it is a shame that he didn't deliver on any of his promises. A cheese shop in Mill Hill would be rather nice, step free access at the station would be a real blesssing for many in our community and competent government from the Tories would have saved me a fortune in tax. 

His only saving grace is that he seems marginally brighter than the bloke the Tories have picked to replace him. The new candidate Ameet Jogia, seems to me like a dim snob. He has put out a leaflet campaigning against a proposed McDonalds in Mill Hill. He wanst a derelict restaurant, that has been shut for over a year to remain closed, on the grounds that it will be "a hub for deliveroo drivers, leading to bikes and vehicles parked on our street, clogging up the road. It will make congestion worse and become a central spot for antisocial behaviour and littering in our town'. I don't know if Mr Jogia ever frequents McDonalds. I am not a fan, but to suggest that they create anti social behaviour is just bizarre. In December, I wrote a blog detailing why the opposition to McDonalds in Mill Hill is irrational. Mr Jogia has simply reinforced my view that it is also rather snobbish. His comment "Swapping Prezzo for McDonald's isn't an equal trade - it's a blow to our high street and a downgrade for our town". is also very silly. It is not a trade, Prezzo shut down as they were losing money. Mr Jogia is a Conservative, so should, at the very least, understand the principles of capitalism and a free market. He is clearly too dim to realise that MP's have no power to take planning decisions. If this was what he wanted to do, he should have stood for council in Mill Hill.

I do wonder who Mr Jogia is trying to impress with his leaflet. It is interesting that he is too embarrassed to put the Tory logo on it. He seems to trying to make out he is a local campaigner, fighting for the rights of the local snobs to deprive those of us who enjoy a burger and a cheap coffee of our fill.  I suspect he'd do far better to talk about things that do affect residents, such as crime, the state of the NHS, the state of the nations roads, the cost of train tickets, the costs of going to university and all of the other things that have gotten so much worse after 14 years of Conservative rule. If you think about it, moaning about McDonalds as your only policy is rather sensible after all.