VACANT HEARTS PLAYING AT TRAINS CYGNET RING NERVE FYBRE THE GOD ADRENALIN
It all started way back when I was 6, (I'm about 26 in the photos above!) listening to the ‘Beatles’ on my Mum and Dads new radiogram - the first of many new novelties in our little house in North Manchester. My Dad was a hatter - (and probably a little bit mad as a consequence) and we were doing OK in the grand scheme of things in the swinging 60’s. I remember being totally enthralled and immersed in “Help” and “Ticket to Ride” as Lennon and Mccartney’s voices filled the living room. How did they make that happen and would this amazing stuff go on forever…or would new songs run out - would there be a point in the future when every song had been written and performed. I must have taken the new technology for granted and was more concerned with the music being emitted from this teak machine, and was gobsmacked at the thought of having to be content with re-runs of old songs forever more. Luckily, to release me from my woes, football took over my life, and 2 years later in 1966 the country was celebrating our world cup win. I remember jubilantly riding my bike down the street and ending my celebrations on the tarmac as a Morris Minor came hurtling towards me at speed. Both myself and the driver sat drinking tea in our little kitchen with my Mother chastising me for my carelessness - she didn’t seem to show any relief at my still being alive!!
Fast forward to 1973 and the constant humming of my mothers vacuum cleaner - another new novelty in our house! I remember notes dancing around my head as they responded to the drone of the Vacuum cleaner - my mind was like a set of bagpipes and I couldn’t stop it happening. This newly acquired “disorder” became evermore distracting as new sounds became the focus of my musical attention and melodies sprang into my head from the strangest of inspirations. One evening when I was walking home from a detention at school, the inevitable started to occur. The journey on foot from school to home was over 2 hours and my parents punishment for having been put in detention was that I would have to make my own way home, which meant a long trek across the outer reaches of Manchester. On one such lonely journey, my first fully formed song started to blossom like a flower bud in my head …it was called ”Under the Half Moon”…and like your first love, the first song is always the one that leaves the strongest imprint in your emotional memory. So, from vacuum cleaner inspiration to songs jumping around my head in the rainy quiet of the evening on a solitary walk back home, with my heavy satchel hanging off my back, my future was cemented - I subconsciously knew, from an early age, that music would be, quite literally, the ‘sound track’ to my life…, little did I know growing up, the joys and the hurdles such a life would involve.
THEN CAME MY FIRST GUITAR - bought for me for my 16th birthday. I remember my mum commenting that this was just another passing fad that would exit my world as fast as it entered. I guess I must never have mentioned my lifelong relationship with melody from an early age…emotional stuff was never really talked about with your parents back in the 70’s - parents of this era were products of the 30s and 40s at which time children would “speak when they were spoken to” - so, in that regard, family life had travelled a distance!
From this point on the songs poured out of me and so too the words to the songs - another joyous inclination I fortunately possessed. Where did these inherent persuasions come from - I know my Dad played the trumpet in the army and my Mum loved to listen to the pop music of the day, but that was the extent of any genetic spin off potential.
My bedroom became my songwriting room and as soon as my homework was completed each evening, my guitar strap would be slung across my shoulder and the strumming and singing would prevail until my Dads knock on my bedroom door to signal that it was time for bed. I noticed that over time the knock would get earlier and earlier, and concluded that I must be driving the family mad with my strumming and/or singing, and so the cut off point to their noisy distraction was the knock on the door.
At some point in the proceedings my Mum must have decided that my musical devotion warranted some of her attention…and so, on an uneventful Tuesday evening over our dinner of pork chops and cauliflower she announced that she would pay for my very first session in a recording studio!
And so it was to be…my first experience in a real recording studio - I jumped on our latest new novelty, our telephone in the hall (this is where they were always sited back in the day), and called everybody I knew who I considered had the slightest idea of how to play a musical instrument…and my first band was born. The result was a full on audio disaster…(I think I remember crying). And so it was back to my Dads garage to carry on coming up with ideas and practicing the pants off them ….much to the extreme annoyance of the neighbours…”who’s got a voice like a bloody foghorn?” was one neighbours response to our racket…so much for my trying to sound like Rod Stewart!!
Fast forward to my days at Oldham College of Technology, where I immersed myself in the Students Union and all the illicit substances of the day that this membership afforded me, and was soon to be awarded the position of Social Secretary for my efforts, where I very quickly learned the ropes and the inner workings of live shows and all that entailed. During one event a guy, who’s name I cannot remember, knew I was also a singer/songwriter and suggested I go to Manchester and meet a recording studio owner in St Peters Square who may be interested in offering free studio time (if he liked my tunes). “Thank God”…he liked my tunes - and so much so that on one of his music business travels in Europe he was befriended by a European promoter of repute - he played him my songs and very soon me and my band (and loads of friends who signed up for the ride) were touring Europe playing the biggest venues in each country as support act to a rock band called “Rainbow”…not the style of music we were playing (punk pop) but, hey, what an amazing experience it was. I was 21.
What goes up must come down…and with a bang we landed back on Earth under a cold and grey Mancunian sky. All record deals promised to us faded into thin air and we were back playing the pubs of the North West with little to show for our incredible journey. It wasn't long before our collective enthusiasm waned and the band members amicably went their separate ways.
A fortunate spin off from the studio days in Manchester was meeting some amazing musicians who became the players in the next new project:
Short lived and intertwined with personal family issues VH raised their profile with a BBC radio session recorded at the BBC in Manchester and played many gigs around Manchester and beyond. Managed by a guy who was well connected in London with the mega musical establishment, in the end all his connections came to nothing and VH were no more.
Fast forward 3 years through many attempts to climb on the ladder of success and finally, at the grand old age of 25 my latest mail out of demo cassettes landed on listening ears in the London music establishment, and before you could say 'Jack Robinson', record companies and publishing houses were flying up to Manchester to see this young man and his band from Oldham perform his songs in a disused warehouse in South Manchester. A publishing deal with Virgin Music ensued but the illusive record deal remained just out of arms reach…
PLAYING AT TRAINS - where did that name come from - I have no idea.- but that is what my first band to make an impression on the wider population was known as. Up and down the country we travelled in our beat up Ford Transit …no social media or facebook to promote our music back then, so we piled in the van, sandwiched between the instruments and amplifiers, and off we went - from Aberdeen to Southampton and everywhere in between. Awesome times were had by everyone on ‘the train’ and comments from fans still, to this day, hit our inboxes - amazing!! But sadly all good things must come to an end and P.A.T. morphed into…
CYGNET RING…3 long and super creative years followed and all the in-roads fused by P.A.T. were plugged back in across the universities of the UK and beyond. This latest incarnation had to be the one that finally kicked the doors of the major labels down ….and so it did…in 1991 at Guildford University, in front of a jubilant audience, Warners caught the bug and we were signed 2 days before Christmas.
LOVECRIME - the first of many 100’s of songs written over the years, that finally made it to the radio 1 playlist - and just about every other radio playlist across the UK and Europe. OMG!!! were we finally going to hit the big time? The song hit the charts at 42 and needed a little nudge to give us a fighting chance to be on ‘Top of the Pops’ - (Are you old enough to remember that show…I remember as a 13 year old being glued to the TV when T.rex and Alice Cooper transformed my living room into a glitter ball. The less said about Gary Glitter the better!) So, the anxst filled our veins as we toured up and down the UK playing the tune in record shops and shopping malls, and doing interviews at radio stations everywhere…we even performed outside the BBC in Portland Place to the sound of honking horns from passing drivers. Everything looked like we were set for the beginnings of real success. All we needed now was for the record stores on the following Saturday to be filled with fans wanting to buy our record. They were…but the records were not in stock for them to buy. The truck drivers that delivered records to stores across the country had decided to go on strike that week so no records ever reached their destination….and so no TOTP for us, and the following week our tune slipped down the charts and into oblivion. 12 weeks later we were shown the door by Warners - oh no cruel world!! The band staggered on for another year until it finally imploded under its’ own cloud of fatigue. What next for this man of song and occasional steel.
IT’S NOT THE SIZE OFTHE DOG IN THE FIGHT…IT’S THE SIZE OF THE FIGHT IN THE DOG…even cliches like this were sometimes not enough to keep my head above the water line and, as Mick said, 'money was too tight to mention!' It was one evening steeped in the immersive and emotional wellbeing of MDMA flowing around my brain, at a club in London called Megadog, that the future became crystal clear. My mission and reason for being on the planet had not changed ,and as I said to myself when I was 15 “for better for worse, for richer for poorer and even if I end up sleeping under a bridge “ my music is my meaning for life. So, it was back to the drawing board, well actually an old Macintosh computer, a keyboard and an electric guitar, and yet another attempt at breaking into the big time!
ONE LITTLE INDIAN.- 2 years of songwriting later an independent label made famous by their signing of Sugarcubes, and more importantly Bjork, rang me and made the telephone jump of the table, and me jump into to the air. Things were once again looking up for Russy Boy!!
NERVE - With a new contract signed, writing and recording began in a new studio that was paid for and built as part of the new record deal. All good up to now. It was getting close , however, to the moment when another big lesson would be learned about life in the music business (infact any business)…”priority”projects. I quickly learned that my new project “Nerve” had been pushed down the labels priority list by a black lady with no hair….Skin…and her band “Skunkanansie”! Recording continued and the label were excited with the results until it came to album release day. Aha...history repeating itself …was I trapped in a Groundhog Day parallel universe? It seemed so... and so, it was once again back to the drawing board. Fortunately, during the OLI days, I had been signed up to yet another Publisher, my 5th in 11 years of songwriting, so I must have been doing something right! Blue Mountain Music, Chris Blackwells spin off Publishing Arm from Island Music, was my lifeblood for the next 4 years, during which time I discovered drum'n'bass, and off I went on my next musical reincarrnation...
FYBRE - Although My acoustic guitar was still hanging around my waist as my main tool for songwriting, by this point in my musical journey I had totally fallen in love with technology and beats. The offers of a new record deal began to appear on the horizon and it wasn't too long before I was boarding a plane to Dublin to sign my next contract with Warner Music Ireland. The team there had it all 'going on' for my Fybre project and my drive through the city illustrated their enthusiasm- there were huge posters of my head all over Dublin. This was beginning to look like "take off" time all over again...until what was becoming an inevitable moment happened..my position on Warner Musics priority radar had slipped South due to a brother/sisters group known as 'The Corrs'. True, they were loads better looking than me, and I guess their songs were pretty good too. But the pain of having TV and radio appearances cancelled over night was becoming a familiar knot in my stomach. I deduced that songwriting and performing were my lifeblood - the business of music was my curse. It was time to take a break.
AND IT WAS A LONG ONE - By 2000 the music industry had been shaken to the core by the file swapping website called Napster and other digital file sharing websites, and its' effects were being felt across the smaller labels, one of which I was due to sign another new deal with, China Records. The deal was on the table until the label was swallowed up by one of the big fish, the result, no deal. This was the last and final kick in the cobblers and, anyway, an amazing new creature had entered into my world - mine and my partners 1st child.
me to C
It didn’t take long before I had turned my creative attention to writing bed time stories for my new boy... his favourite one being “The little fish that ate the Whale” ... very possibly my best ever creative effort!!
So the years flew by (as they tend to do) without a guitar being touched, and before too long a second child arrived, another boy. Looking back and joining the dots, it was the 2 of them that gave me the urge to pick up that old piece of wood with strings running across its neck, 14 years after I put it down. The result - my next project:
THE GOD ADRENALIN
It was time to open my old address book filled with peoples numbers that I’d not spoken to for over a decade. My first call was to my old friend Tony Byrne who had helped me in the past on many occasions, and especially when we hit the Radio One playlist way back in 1993. My 2nd call was to a producer friend called Tufty Evans. Together the 3 of us carved out a sound and a plan which became the first single called “Me and you inside my Head” It was a dance pop track which did really well in the clubs across the world, off the back of some smart promo by Tony. Once again things were looking up, but a voice in the back of my mind whispered that something was sitting there in the near future, waiting to derail our progress once again, and halfway through recording an album full of bangers, that whisper became a scream...
As the lyrics to the song go: “It was a nonchalant walk to the Doctors door, thinking there was nothing to worry about - take a seat says the Doc put your bag on the floor, I’ve got something to tell you that’s gonna make you shout” (Listen to the track on the album for the rest of the story! ) After it was all over and normal life was being re-established, the overwhelming impulse to let it all come flooding out of me was the therapy I didn’t think I needed...but OMG I did, and the songs wrote themselves - I was just the portal. They came pouring out of me, along with tears of joy, as the realisation that I’d been face to face with the grim reaper - and I’d stared him out!! 21 songs later it felt like the time had arrived for me to build what may become my last and final project.
BIG BROTHER MARY...