Wednesday 17 April 2024

Rock and Roll Stories #9 - A shout out for the bloke who drives the van!

There are a plethora of rock and roll stories in print. It seems that everyone who has ever played with, managed, done the sound for, slept with, taken pictures of, etc any rock star these days writes a book and becomes a minor celebrity. There are countless books written about the rise of rock and roll legends. In all of these books, for me at least, the most interesting bit of the book is the early years, before fame was achieved and there was someone to do everything for the star in question. In the post Britain's Got Talent Era, where stardom is instant and no one has to spend years 'paying their dues', many of the old truisms of rock and roll have ceased to be true. But go back to the prehistoric era of modern music, 1979, before Spotify, Youtube, Instagram and TikTok were the route to fame, and I was putting The False Dots together, the route to fame was to spend months/years putting a band together and rehearsing a set. You then did a demo and set out gigging. For most of us, that was as far as it got. For some of us, that is where we still are!

You did gigs to get noticed, to build a following and to try and get A&R scouts from record companies to pick you up. But mostly, you did gigs, as many as you could, because that is what bands do. And if you did gigs, that meant hauling around a huge amount of gear. You needed two things. A driver and a van. When the False Dots formed in February 1979, I was 16, too young to drive and I as still at school. By the time the band started gigging, I was 18 and skint. The rest of the band, Paul Hircombe was 15 and Craig and Mark were 17. It was a major problem. For the first few gigs, which were local, Mums and Dad's pitched in to drive us there with amps. This was most un-rock and roll. There is nothing less cool, especially when you've done a blinding gig and you are chatting to your fans, than when your mum turns up and say's "Come on, get your amp in the car, I've left Granny at home with her cocoa". I recall one gig at The Moonlight club, a proper Rock and Roll club in West Hampstead, where Craig's mum dropped him off with his amp. He insisted she parked down the road, so as to retain his rock guitarist cool vibes. He came in and we were setting up for a soundcheck. His mum suddenly walked in, and said "Craig, you forgot your sandwiches" and put them on the stage. The rest of us cracked up, but in truth, it could have been any of us. 

Fortunately, not long after, a mate of mine, Mr Dermot Patrick Fanning, passed his driving test. Another mate, Emil Bryden, who operated a firm called Budget Bus, that ran coach tours from London to New Delhi on the hippy trail, had a  VW camper van, which he'd lend to us to get us around, in exchange for a full tank of petrol when it was returned. All of a sudden, we were a proper band. I immediately passed a band rule that the band had to travel to the gig together in the van. There was no resistance to this idea, but given that the van was not very big, it meant that is would have 9 people and all the gear in, and was not exactly comfortable. The upside was that it was a proper laugh. There were many stories of Emil's van and the escapades. A big plus was that Derm was not a drinker. He just enjoyed the crack of being with the band.  He didn't ever ask for payment and would indulge all the silliness. I didn't realise just how lucky we were at the time to have him. He would knock off work early, pick us up, drive us to the gig, hang around for about nine hours, then drive us back. After a while, he twigged that once he'd dropped us off at the gig, he could go off and explore, returning for the set and the breakdown. Sometimes, he'd just turn up after and take us home. 

Rog with Derm at 'The Cottage'
It helped that he was living in our rehearsal studio, the former caretakers cottage at Bunns Lane Works. He acted as unofficial caretaker, sleeping in a semi derelict room upstairs. The front room was the nerve centre for the Dot's. After we returned, we'd put the kettle on, or have a beer, smoke illicit substances and generally party until the wee hours. Derm once told me that was the best bit. The front room, where we rehearsed, doubled up as a bedroom for anyone who got lucky, first come first serve (excuse the pun). Eventually, after about three years of driving the band around, Derm decided to learn Saxophone and ended up playing in the band for a year.

By about 1985, Derm was doing other things. We found a new driver, Mr Ernie Ferebee, on of Emil's drivers on Budget Bus. Ernie was ten years older than the rest of us and very worldly wise. He had worked in the music industry as security for legendary music manager Don Arden (Sharon Osborne's Dad).

Ernie with Captain Sensible at Mill Hill Music Complex
Ernie was 6'6 and built like a tank. One of his jobs for Mr Arden was dangling people who'd upset Mr Arden our of the window of his 5th floor office, by their ankles, until Mr Arden was happy that they'd seen the error of their ways. He'd also acted as security for Johnny Cash on a tour, learning to play the Jaws Harp on the way. When he got involved with us, he was working as a bus driver for London Transport, but was seeking a bit of fun. He took us around London and over to Belgium. He was a real asset as no one argued with Ernie. He fitted in easily and joined in the crack. Ernie worked with the band until we became dormant in 1990, then in 1994 became my partner in building Mill Hill Music Complex.

Another great example of a driver who grew in the industry was Barry Worman, Dad of Tim Polecats of the Polecats. When the band first started, Barry acted as their driver. He was a plumber by trade, so had a van. As the band became more successful, he initially became their manager, then their road manager as their fame spread. Barry had the big advantage of being completely trustworthy and committed. He fitted in rather well on the Rockabilly/Ted scene, having been of the era and a bit of a biker. He was also streetwise and savvy, so ensured the band were safe in various dodgy scenarios and scrapes. Barry had been quite a famous on the circuit figure in the motorbike scrambling scene of the 1950's and 60's and was full of stories, which he loved telling. The Polecats gave him a whole new set of stories to tell. 

Both Derm and Ernie did the driving for the fun and the love of it. Every real band of the era started with a Derm/Ernie character. Often they would, like Derm and Ernie, get the bug in their own way and end up either playing in bands or working in the industry. I've known quite a few such characters over the years, as they generally are sober, whilst everyone else has fun, they know all of the dirt and see all of the shenanigans. By nature, they are doing it for the love of the crack, not the money or fame and rarely spill the beans. 

I know for a fact that The False Dots would never really have got on without Derm and Ernie. They were key figures in the best times of our lives. In most of the biog's I mentioned at the start of this, they are a footnote. When the band becomes successful, often their contribution is forgotten, but in truth, without them, many bands would never have got out of the rehearsal room. They deserve a big shout out!
The False Dots are still going. We will be releasing a new single called We all love a party on Friday 19th April and are playing at The Dublin Castle with Skaface on Friday April 26th

The trailer for We All Love A Party


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