Friday 2 February 2024

Rock and Roll Stories #4 - The False Dots in Sweden - The week that defined my life

The tour that changed my life and how rock and roll can really mess you up!

Up until the end of the Summer of 1981, The False Dots had been, in effect a bunch of schoolboys pretending to be Rock and Rollers. We'd made a couple of half decent demos, made a couple of pretty OK demo tapes and had a bit of fun. Now we'd all left school (not that Paul Hircombe went much in the first place). The band was in a bit of a state of flux. In August, I met a girl at Dingwalls and invited myself to stay with her in Stockholm. I told the band that I'd be back in a couple of months, with a whole stack of new songs. I took a train up to Harwich, got a ferry across the channel and a train to Stockholm. Sadly for me, I missed a connection and arrived 24 hours late. When I made my way to the girls address, there was no one there. I was in a panic, went back to central Stockholm and checked into a youth hostel. I had a bit of a laugh, but was bereft. All of my plans were in flux, it seemed that I'd be heading back to London, looking like an idiot. I could just imagine the conversations My Mates: "How did it go, when you turned up?" Me: "She was out". My Mates - hysterical laughter. The next day, I rang her number several times. At 6pm, she answered. She said "I was at the station and you didn't turn up". I explained why. I then made my way to Hokerangen, the Colindale of Stockholm, three stops from the end of the green line (I'm sure it was blue back then?). 

A night out with the girls in Gamla Stan, Stockholm,Nov 91
In truth, when you've only met someone once, slightly inebriated,  for an evening, not seen them for three months and exchanged a couple of letters, turning up to stay with them is a strange thing. 

To my disappointment, I was put in the spare room and given a lecture on 'flat rules'. She then said she was tired and went to bed (in her room). She gave me a key and explained that she was going to work at 7am, so not to bother her before she went. She said we'd go and 'meet friends tomorrow night'. I was a bit nonplussed. This wasn't how I'd imagined it. But you have to be respectful. I decided that if we were just going to be friends, that was fine. I'd enjoy a few weeks holiday. She was extremely frosty, but she'd put me up and was cross that I'd been late (Swede's are like that). When she got home from her job (she worked in a large department store in central Stockholm), she was again rather off. She said she was having a shower, getting ready and we'd be going around to her friends for a party. I said OK. 

At the appropriate time, we jumped on the Metro, went one stop to Farsta and made our way to her friend Eva's house. I tried to make conversation, but she wasn't particularly interested. When we arrived, there were four girls and two blokes there. As well as Marie (the girl I was staying with), there was her friend Rossis (who I'd also met at Dingwalls), Eva, who owned the flat and Eva's younger sister who was 14 years old. The men were 'Frenchie', (I don't recall his name). He was going out with Eva's sister (It think he was 21). He wasn't liked, as he'd previously been Eva's boyfriend and had switched allegiances to the younger sister. He was staying at the flat. To the horror of the rather straight laced girls, he was also a big smoker of hashish. He was a dusky, good looking charmer, who Eva hated, but couldn't bring herself to kick out. Then there was her new boyfriend, Anders. None of the group, other than Frenchie, were drug takers and I realised that it would be a faux pas to join him for a spliff. They didn't really drink either, so the party consisted of chatting and drinnking coffee and eating cake. This wasn't how I'd ever socialised. Whilst Marie was quite grumpy with me, the rest were really friendly and interested in chatting. As alcohol was ridiculously expensive, proper nights out were rare and only when a band was playing.  It turned out that Anders was the lead singer of a band called The Gagget band. They had an album coming out. I told him I also had a band and so we had a lot in common. 

This was a real sliding doors moment. Had Eva been going out with anyone else, my life would be different. So many things have happened as a direct result of that conversation. Anders informed me that his band had an album coming out soon. We chatted and said it would be great if we could do a few gigs together one day. I really hit it off with him.  A couple of days later, he called to ask if I could meet someone with him. Of course I agreed. It was the guy who ran the record company. He said that they were looking for a way to promote the album and had a tour lined up. He then proposed that The False Dots headline the tour. He was going to hype us up as the next big thing from London. That would drag people to the gig. He'd also pay us £2,000 for the privelige, which back then would give us a hefty profit, even after tickets etc. 

By now I was getting on better with Marie and she offered to put up the band, which meant that we had no hotel fees.  I contacted the boys in the band. All expenses paid and £200 each. Being The False Dots, we didn't explore the legal niceties, the tax implications, the logistics, I was 19 and I hadn't got a clue about these. I just saw the opportunity to make some money and have some fun. I said, "Just get yourself a one year passport from the Post Office". I signed a contract with the tour promotor, AKA the label. As I recall, the guy was an anarchist, who had refused to do military service under arms, so had been stationed to babysit a medical supplies depot in the arctic circle. He told me that they deliberately did this, He'd spent six months with no sunlight and no company, doing nothing. He'd spent the time making plans to take over the Swedish music scene. I liked him, as he was unlike anyone I've ever met, before or since. He told me that the job was like being an astronaut going to Mars. He'd even offered his services to NASA to advise on how to combat boredom. 

I returned to the UK to sort out the band and get ready for the tour on the day before Xmas eve. We started rehearsing almost straight away. The first challenge was how to get there. I decided to invest the expected profit, £800 in a van. The trouble was I had no money at all. I got a temporary job, and organised a loan. I also recruited two mates, Dermot Fanning and Brian Shillibeer to be roadies. I found an ex GPO van, from a dodgy dealer in South London, that would become our tour bus. I put down a £100 deposit. Then, I made very silly decision. 

Would you buy a camper van off this man - My Bro Laurie
My brother Laurie persuaded me to not buy the van and instead spend £200 doing up a camper van he'd acquired. Then we could all use it and I'd save £600. 

Dermot, who worked with him, took on the project. I borrowed £600 from a local loan shark for a month, to pay the up front costs. 

We practiced day and night, as for one of the gigs, we had to play 3 sets (at Pub Bastun in Aland), so we frantically learned covers to fill up the early sets, and tried to work out how to make them sound like Dots songs. One song, chosen as it was easy, was Space Cowboy by The Steve Miller Band (Not the Joker, which people sometimes think is called Space Cowboy). Paul Hircombe bought a strobe light and we determined that our drummer Mark Barnet would play a drum solo in it, with the strobe light on. 

The centre of our world was 'The Cottage', which was Mill Hill Music Complex Studios Mk 1. It was the derelict caretakers cottage in Bunns Lane Works, that we'd tranformed the front room into a rehearsal studio. Dermot lived there and we'd spend more or less every spare minute there, rehearsing, listening to music, smoking combustables of dubious legalityand generally making mayhem.  Generally evenings were made up of a rehearsal, a smoke and then a game of five a side football in the yard, under the motorway lights at 2am. Often the Police would turn up and ask what we were doing. We'd say "playing football". As we were, they were a bit nonplussed, as this was not typical stoner behaviour. Dermots Dad was the chief of Police at Hendon nick, which is probably why we were never busted. We'd also play card games, which usually had terrible forfeits, such as running across the M1 Motorway, jumping in a barrel of water with dead rats in the bottom, or getting "Taken to Zob", which involved sitting under the cushions on the sofa and having everyone jump up and down on you. We'd listen to music as well. Dermot had a massive ghetto blaster. At this time, usually The Fall, Elvis Costello, The Boomtown Rats and lots of Reggae. We'd bring new records down and Dermot would pick tracks and make tapes. It was blissful. The cottage was furnished with items Dermot and the boys had 'liberated' from various locations, skips, benches from the park and the like. Dermots Dad once turned up and saw the bench, saying "I hear there has been a spate of thefts of park benches recently". Dermot simply said "Someone dumped this in the yard, we thought we'd put it to good use". Nothing more was said. There was always a big crowd of people hanging around, enough to put out two 4-5 a side teams. We were all skint, but we made our own entertainment. For me this was the band, for Dermot it was making mix tapes, he worked for my brother as a welder and subsidised the rest of us.  huge amount of tea was consumed, if we were lucky, someone would bring biscuits. There was a furniture factory in the yard, The cottage had no heating, apart from a fire, We'd take wood offcuts from the woodyard skip for heat in winter. The electricty was on a meter and Dermot soon figured out how to bypass it, so bills were minimal. The meter reader was a mate so nothing was said. Other bands, mostly mates, would also rehearse at the studios and I'd collect the cash. As this disturbed the activities, it didn't happen too often when Dermot was living there. A studio called STN opened in what is now Unit 2 at Mill Hill Music Complex, run by a guy called John Basil. We directed people we didn't know to them to rehearse. John spent money making a proper rehearsal space. This was a good thing, as it widened the musical gene pool and started to put Mill Hill on the musical map. It also brought us into contact with better musicians. 

Dermot and Roger discuss transport at the Cottage
 We practiced day and night to get ready, For one of the gigs, we had to play 3 sets (Pub Bastun in Aland), so we frantically learned covers to fill up the early sets, and tried to work out how to make them sound like Dots songs. One song, chosen as it was easy, was Space Cowboy by The Steve Miller Band (Not the Joker, which people sometimes think is called Space cowboy). Paul Hircombe bought a strobe light and we determined that our drummer Mark Barnet would play a drum solo in it, with the strobe light on. 

When the strobe was on, it looked like Mark was playing drums in slow motion, as he thrashed wildly at everything in sight. It is just as well we weren't epileptics, as this would go onf or two minutes.

The False Dots enter the camper van for the tour
All seemed to be going swinningly. On the day the ferry was due to leave, we packed all the gear into the van and set off. We got as far as the intersection of Bunns Lane and Flower Lane, when the clutch burned out. It had been snowing and Dermot had trouble starting the van. In truth, it was a blessing in disguise. The van would never have made it to Sweden and probably wouldn't have been allowed in.

Now we had a problem. I frantically called Anders and asked if we could borrow their amps and backline. As the gigs were booked, he had no choice. In truth, he was more than happy to help. I hadn;t even packed a suitcase, I just had a bin bag full of clothes, under the seat of the camper van. 

A friend called John drove us to Felixstowe, only for us to find that the ferry had been cancelled due to bad weather. The ferry company checked us into a local, rather snooty hotel. John drove us there, Four bedraggled musicians, with clothes in bin liners. When we went to check in, I said "We have a reservation", The woman behind the desk said "I don't think so". I retorted that the Ferry Company had booked it. She rolled her eyes and said "Tor Line". Welcome to Felixstowe. John stayed overnight, a boozy evening. In the morning he drove us to Felixstowe. I'd phoned Anders again and told him we'd been delayed. It was fine, we had a couple of days grace. It just meant no rehearsals there.

We got the ferry over and then a bus across Sweden. Entering Gothenburg with the sea frozen and the sun setting was possibly the most beautiful thing I've ever seen, We then got a bus for eight hours across Sweden to Stockholm and our friends met us and arranged a little, Swedish style party. Paul had been present when I met Marie at Dingwalls, but she'd not met Mark or Craig before. It was agreed that Paul and I would stayin Marie's flat and Craig and Mark at Rossi's place. It was all nice and polite, Andres came over with a couple of friends and we talked music. 

And so to the gigs

13th January, Karsbygarden,  Norseborg  - Stockholm

It may sound a bit strange, given that it was our first ever gig outside of London, let alone The UK that I have no recollection of it at all. It was a Wednesday night and we went there on the Stockholm metro as I recall. The temperature was -20C and the band joked about having cardboard ears. I did a quick google search on the venue, there are set lists from various bands of the time, some of which I'd seen such as KSMB and Spion 13 and others I'd not heard of, but no pictures, to jog my memory. That probably meant it went rather OK, without being too exciting. 

15th January, The Underground club, Stockholm

If I remembered nothing at all about Karsbygarden, I recall just about everything from The Underground club. This was near T-Centralen station and was they prime Stockholm venue. When I'd been staying with Marie in 1981, we'd seen Duran Duran there and I'd blagged us backstage passes. Had a good chat with Simon Le Bon, who was a really nice bloke. Turned out he'd lived in Hendon. I was super excited to play a really good venue. It was a Friday night and the place was busy. The band delivered a pretty good set. There was a bloke who had a Rod Stewart hairdo, dancing like a maniac at the start of the set. About half way through, he sat on the edge of the stage, then collapsed over my guitar pedals. I kicked him, to get him to move, but he didnt. The bouncers then removed him. 

If I remembered nothing at all about Karsbygarden, I recall just about everything from The Underground club. This was near T-Centralen station and was they prime Stockholm venue. When I'd been staying with Marie in 1981, we'd seen Duran Duran there and I'd blagged us backstage passes. Had a good chat with Simon Le Bon, who was a really nice bloke. Turned out he'd lived in Hendon. I was super excited to play a really good venue. It was a Friday night and the place was busy. The band delivered a pretty good set. There was a bloke who had a Rod Stewart hairdo, dancing like a maniac at the start of the set. About half way through, he sat on the edge of the stage, then collapsed over my guitar pedals. I kicked him, to get him to move, but he didnt. The bouncers then removed him. 

After the gig, I was chatting to a bouncer and said "What happened to that bloke?". They replied "He had taken a drug overdose, he was dead when the ambulance arrived". I was completely taken aback. As a foretaste of things to come, when I went to collect the bands money (the guy who arranged the tour said I had to collect the cash for this gig and Aland myself, but we were guaranteed £600 as I recall. I went with a beer to see the gig promoter. He said that he wasn't going to pay us. I suspect he thought I was a kid, as I was 19 and would simply walk away. I went absolutely mental at him, told him that if he didn't hand the cash over immediately I'd do him with the bottle. He turned white and immediately handed the money over claiming it was a joke and that I didn't understand Swedish humour. I said "If that's true, you can buy the band a drink", which he did. I couldn't afford to be swindled. I often wondered whether the Tour promoter had set the whole thing up. After the gig, Mark Barnet, our drummer chatted up a girl. He told her that the band would pay for her to come to Aland with us. He told me and I curtley informed him that he was paying and it would be deducted from his fee. He was not happy. He was going to get less happy.


16th January, Pub Bastun, Aland, Finland

Immediately after the gig at The Underground, we went to the ferry terminal and got a ferry to Aland, an island in the middle of the Baltic.  It was a big part of the party culture of Stockholm to go to Aland, which was a duty free Island. The accepted practice was that as soon as the boat was 3km outside of Stockholm, the bars opened and the booze was duty free. In Stockholm at the time, a pint of beer cost around £2.50. In London it was 50p. On the boat it was 40p. The boat was about £6.50 for a foot passenger to Aland, so if you had three pints, you were in credit. Most blokes simply bought a bottle of vodka from the duty free when it opened and drank it. After about two hours, the band were the only sober men on the boat, with around 500 gorgeous young ladies, all intent of fun (for some reason females didn't seem interested in getting comatose). Mark Barnet spent the trip chatting to the young lady he'd brought. At some point, he went to the loo, Craigh started chatting to her and she lost all interest in Mark. What annoyed him even more was she'd given her his favourite jumper and she refused to return it.

Pub Bastun in Aland
We arrived in Aland in a Blizzard. Mark was sulking and Craig was really winding him up. We made our way to Pub Bastun. This had been the gig we were dreading. It was well paid and we had to do three sets. The first was a mish mash of rubbish originals and a few covers. The next two were all originals. All three comprised everything we knew. The sets were 40 minutes long with a 20 minute break. We played at 9.30, 10.30 an 11.30pm. The pub was a haunt of local youth, not somewhere tourists went. We were the first British band to play there. The first set had songs such as Sweet Jane, by The Velvet Underground, I wanna be loved by The Heartbreakers, Johnny B. Goode by Chuck Berry and Space Cowboy by The Steve Miller Band, plus a couple of jams we'd got together. We finished with Space Cowboy. We instructed the sound guy to kill the hall lights and put on the strobe for the drum solo and showed him the Kew for it. 

The set meandered along with not much interest. The locals hadn't drunk much. The place was like a pub in Burnt Oak, not too glamorous. When we did Space Cowboy and hit the drum solo, they all stopped and stared. They'd never seen anything like it. When Mark finished, there was a raptuous cheer. The second set was better and by the third, they were dancing on tables. When we got to the end of it, we said "We don't know any more songs" Someone shouted "Do Space Cowboy again". They went mad and developed a completely mad Dance, we elongated it to abouyt 10 minutes. 

After the band finished, the owner paid us and said "help yourself to drinks and food", We actually bedded down in the club. By now Mark was seriously fed up, as Criag retired to a quiet corner with the young lady. He demanded his passport and said he was leaving the tour and the band. I told him that this was not an option. He then walked out of the door of the club, in his gigging clothes saying "That's it". There was a blizzard outside, he came back in ten minutes later, completely frozen and even more fed up. 

I told him that he had to complete the Tour.

In the morning, the club opened up for 'Guitar School'. All these guys who'd been watching us turned up with guitars. We'd thought we were pretty good, but then heard them play. Every single one was a budding Jimi Hendrix. I felt embarrassed. I spoke to one of them and said how was last night. I expected derision, but he said "We have never seen a band with such energy, it was great".

At around 1pm, we got the ferry back. There was an amazing Smorgasbrod there. We tucked in and did some more dancing. The girls seemed unruffled, all of the men were green. Although we'd had quite a few beers, we were perfectly OK. 

When the ferry arrived, a surreal scene greeted us. The tour manager grabbed me (he'd not been with us). He said that there had been a massive press scandal about our gig at The Underground Club. Not only had someone died of a drug overdose (which was nothing to do with us), but two 14 year old schoolgirls had disappeared. Their mother had been on national TV denouncing us. She believed they'd been taken by us to Aland. They hadn't. They turned up on Sunday Morning, they'd been staying at a friends place. The tour manager had insisted she apologise to us live on the News when the boat docked. Bear in mind, there were no mobile phones etc. The Police had no idea who we or where we were. Anyway, as we dismebarked, the poor woman made a grovellin apology for besmirching our good name. We watched it later on TV. The rest of the band had no idea what had happened. As she spoke, Mark heard the term schoolgirls and rubbed his hands together and sniggered. Fortunately I think only the band clocked it. Benny Hill wasn't popular in Stockholm. After two great gigs, we were on a high.

19h January, Tumba Gymasium, Stockholm

By the Tumba Gymnasium gig, on the Tuesday, Mark and Criag had declared an uneasy truce. They had been mates at school and I suspect Criag realised he'd not really been a good mate. To Paul and I, he was unrepentent and thought it hilarious though. The Tumba Gymnasium gig was meant to be a big night.  The Gagget band had all their friends coming, we agreed to play support as there were some 'bigwigs' coming, We got there and it was a school hall, with a massive stage and a big PA. We'd asked the school girls and their families to come, as a sign of no yard feelings. The promotor thought that this was going to be the gig to make the Gagget Band. No expense had been spared. However, when we went onstage, there were only about 20 people watching. It seemed like a massive anti climax. After the third number, the drumming suddenly stopped. I turned around to tell Mark to start playing and he was. I was puzzled. I then saw smoke coming out of the PA system. It had blown up. The gig stopped there and then. 

20th January, Alby, Stockholm

And so onto the final night. The gig at Alby was OK. A large seated auditorium, where there was little opportunity to interact with the audience. I realised that the False Dots only really work where there is some audience interaction and this is hard when people sit down. My main recollection of the gig is when a guitar lead broke. My mate Anders from the Gagget band got the band, who were brilliant musicians to improvise some Jazz, whilst a new lead was found. He started being silly on the stage and doing quite camp walks, whilst clowning around. I had quite liked the band, but they were all hellishly serious. The songs were not exactly cheerful. This short interlude was amazing. Afterwards I told Anders this. He was completely taken aback. We got them up to jam with us on stage for the last number.

At the end of the night, the promoter came over. He gave me an envelope with about £500 in it. I was expecting £900. He explained that there were 'deductions' because we used the Gagget Bands gear.  He referred me to clause 93a of the contract. I was massively pissed off, as this was the profit for me. 

The trip home

On the Friday, we said our goodbyes. We got the bus back to Gothenburg, then the ferry back to Felixstowe. On the boat, we bought a huge amount of beer. We Had an amazing time. I nearly got into a fight, when Paul Hircombe dared me to steal an old guy's toupe, only to find it was his hair. Our plan had been to hit the duty free before it shut, but we actually woke when the boat was in port. At customs, I was pulled aside, strip searched and given a hard time. We'd not taken carnets or anything for the gear. The a bloke from some strange department of government advised me not to return to Sweden. Apparently, our tour had caused the Swedes a big headache. The death at the gig had not gone down well, despite us having nothing to do with it. The police had done a huge manhunt to find us, when the girls went missing and had been very embarrassed. I was told that we were nearly arrested for 'customs offences' but they decided it was less hassle to let us go, so long as we didn't come back.

We got the bus back from Felixstowe to Victoria Coach station. There used to be a Christian tearoom nearby that did cheap tea and cakes, all you had to do was put up with a few Christians trying to recruit you. A rather attractive older lady joined us. She was rather smitten by Paul. Oddly, her Christian principles went out of the window and she started to try and seduce him. He was 15 at the time. He was a very handsome lad and looked older. She said "If I was ten years younger I'd take you home and teach you a thing or two". Paul replied "If I was ten years younger, I'd be five". I had phoned my sister, who came down and picked us up in her Triumph Herald. That was that.

And so the False Dots were back in the UK.  We did one more gig with the 'Sweden line up' at The Moonlight Club in March. The stress of the tour meant that Mark left the band. Paul relocated to France with his French girlfriend Christine for six months. For me, the tour was a financial disaster. I had based my projections on getting £2,000. I'd borrow £600 from a dodgy loan shark in Burnt Oak. We'd only received £1,600. The big hole in the budget was the £400 bar bill for the tour. Not only that, but getting the camper van going cost £450 and the bloody thing never went past Bunns Lane. It was scrapped. I lost the £100 deposit on the GPO van. If we'd have simply turned up and done the tour with our instruments. we'd have broken even, but I was £450 short. I had to pay the band. The loan shark wanted £225 a month in interest. 

The debt spiralled like an albatross around my neck. One day, they knocked and my Dad answered, I was at home a the time. He was horrified. He paid them off in cash.  I was at the pub and when I got back he sat me down and said "Why didn't you tell me". We came to an agreement about repayment, that involved me cleaning cars at his business on a Saturday and repaying it on a weekly basis. After paying him back the agreed amount each month, I had almost nothing, as the decorating jobs I was doing earned little. Dad impressed one thing on me, a really important lesson. If you are doing music as a business, you have to be businesslike and make money. If it's a hobby, then it is spare cash that you do have. I explained the finances and why it went wrong and he laughed and said "Well next time get the cash up front!". Sadly only Chuck Berry has ever pulled that off!

I learned a hell of a lot on the tour. I also realised we were a pretty good band. I sat down with Craig and explained how I'd get the band back on track. We agreed we needed a 'proper vocalist and a competent drummer. Mark Barnet was ok for live work, but the demo we did with him was awful and it was clear he couldn't deliver our ideas. I agreed with Craig that we needed a new set, that we needed to move away completely from the Pete Conway era tunes and that we needed to run on a professional basis. 

One interesting side effect of the tour was I had fifteen years of getting massive hassle whenever I went through customs and passport control. At some point in the late 1990's I went through without getting pulled over. I haven't been since, so I fell off whatever list they had. 

That week really defined my life. It was when we became a proper band. When we eventually reemerged properly in 1983, we were, for the first time, an outfit that was doing decent gigs properly and making a few quid (our full list of gigs as a band is here). 42 years after the tour, I can safely say it was the biggest disaster of my life, but also perhaps the best week. It made me realise that the best things come at a cost.


To my amazement, the band is still going. Sadly Paul Hircobme died in 2012. I've not seen Craig since we fell out and he left the band in 1983. I have seen Mark Barnett occasionally. He now plays guitar I believe. The False Dots are now me on vocals, Fil Ross on Bass and Grahame Ramsey on Drums. Gray joined in 1985 band Fil is the new boy, joining in 2000.  Paul played bass with the band until 2009, when he left to become a career criminal! Fil moved from guitar to bass, as a temporary measure in 2012 and now quite likes it. 

The band celebrates it's 45th Birthday at The Dublin Castle tomorrow (Saturday 3rd February) at The Dublin Castle (Click here for tickets and details). We still play Not All She Seems, a track that we performed in Sweden (and I wrote with Pete Conway in 1979). It is still one of the highlight of the set. We've recorded a new version of the track, produced by Boz Boorer, which will be our 45th Anniversary single release later this year, It sounds amazing!

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