Monday, 29 November 2010

HEYMAKER

The voluminous misinformation floating in the ether about various bands I have been in or have co-founded over the years never ceases to amuse me. I often prefer the mythological accounts to the actual happenings. However, I thought I would do a few brief real histories just for the record, starting with the above named and moving on to Cops n Robbers, Oatcake Billy’s Ideal Band, Boneshaker, et al in later postings.

Here we go then: Once upon a time me, Lynda and Jack moved into an old cottage by the Trent and Mersey canal at Church Lawton. Lynda and I had bought the place from Paul Atterbury – he of the Antiques Roadshow.

Up the dirt track from that little house and across the main road stands Red Bull, or ‘Bottom Bull’ as it was then known locally, there being another Red Bull higher up the same road. The Bottom Bull being the closest boozer to us became my local and I went across for a swift pint of Robinson’s most nights of the week.

In those days the Bull was run by an Irish guy called Colin Meany who provided it with a great juke box which was particularly well-fed on Friday nights by the perfumed and sharply-dressed hoards who were downing a few cheap uns priming themselves for their forays into the night clubs of Hanley and Sandbach. I first heard ‘Sultans of Swing’ on Colin’s juke box so I reckon that’d place these events circa 1979.

Soon after we arrived, The Bull was taken over by an ex-policeman from Manchester, John Higham. A right character and no mistake, enraged or chummy by turns of an inner switch that few understood the workings of. John, in a friendly mood, put a jazz band on in the upstairs function room on Friday nights and switched off the juke box.

Around this time, Lynda bought half a pony. No, no, no, she’s vegetarian. The pony was very alive and, unfortunately, very kicking. Its other half (which I preferred to think of as the back half) was owned for by our sister-in-law Marion.

No sooner had this palomino yearling with the golden body and white flashing mane been installed in the field we rented that ran alongside our garden, than Lynda discovered, to our great delight, that she was pregnant. But, this meant that I was now in charge of her half of the pony. Ooops.

You see, I have a cattle phobia. No really. This is to say that in snnnn pite of my first two jobs being labouring on farms, one of which was a dairy farm on which I helped with the daily milking, I have a cattle phobia.

Yeah, OK, I know horses aren’t much like cows in many ways, but sadly my cattle phobia was generous enough to embrace the family of the noble steed too. Needless to say embracing a horse was absolutely the last thing wanted to do however pretty our prancing little ‘Sunny’ might have happened to be. And deceptively cute he was too.

Oddly enough, me and Sunny got along all right. I learnt as much as I could about horses from books and from horse people and, of course, from Sunny. I broke him to the bit, lunged him, drove him in long reins around the field and along the road. We had a great time, man and horse. I could back him up for as long as I wished just by putting one finger on his nose and gently telling him, ‘Back up. Back up.’ I was no longer afraid of horses.

Then the cute little prancing b*****d broke my shoulder blade. But that’s another story.

In the evenings after tea, the extended family would share in the training and grooming of the pony. Finally, I’d put a hay net up in his stable for him and swan over to the Red Bull for my customary jar. I had my own pot behind the bar which the bar man would pull a pint into as soon as he saw me crossing the road.

Landlord John Higham was suspicious of me at first. Well, I did go over there very obviously having had recent dealings with a horse. I was told later that he asked Ken, one of his regulars, about me. Ken said, ‘Terry? He’s a bit of a gypo, but he’s all right.’ which is one of the best reviews I’ve ever had.

Not only did John allow me to carry on drinking in his pub, but he also picked me up most days from Kidsgrove station in his beautiful, royal blue, old-style Rolls Royce. OK, more accurately, he picked his daughter up at the end of her school day from Kidsgrove station and if I happened to be on the same train as her he’d give me a lift too.

On one such occasion we were purring along the Congleton Road when John asked me, ‘Know of any good folk bands?’
‘Why? What have you got in mind?’
‘That jazz band I’ve got is taking the piss, he said. ‘They’re turning up later and later and they keep asking for more money.’
‘What, exactly you looking for with a folk band then?’
‘I dunno, something like a four or five-piece group to knock out a few tunes and a few songs. I’ll give ‘em a fiver each and free beer.’

I told Lynda about John’s enquiry as soon as I got in. Should we put something together for him? Lynda was well up it and suggested we brought in Adrian and Sheila Crosbie, our mates from Oatcake Billy’s Ideal Band. A perfect choice. I’d been playing the fiddle for a few months and Adrian had been showing me how to go on with it.

The plan became this: Croz and me on fiddles – master and apprentice - Lynda doing her magic tambourine and percussion, Sheila playing sparkling hammered dulcimer. We would play tunes from the English fiddling tradition interspersed with traditional English folk songs for 3 x 30 min sets every Friday night upstairs at the Bull. Sorted.

We asked our Jack if was interested, but he was playing lead guitar in a punk band at the time and said, ‘Nah. Sorry.’ He did agree, though, to play with us until we could get a replacement rhythm player.

Having a juggling with countryside names and morris dancing terms, I came up with the name ‘Heymaker’. I went over the Bull and told John I’d found him just the right band for his job. We started there on the following Friday.

We had Jack turn the treble right up on his guitar to get it to sound more like an acoustic banjo and away we went. Lynda did most of the singing. I did a couple of songs and so did Sheila.

Talk about an instant success! Blimey, we ended up pulling such crowds that John thought he might have overdone it. We loved it. A hassle-free gig in our own locale. I have to say it’s the only gig I have ever had where I transported the gear to it and from it by wheelbarrow. Happy days, doods.

Things never stand still do they? In time we added a bass player and a drummer and got a bit louder and more electric. A predominance of bikers began showing up in our audiences – something about our particular take on music had caught their imagination. John Higham, however, wasn’t happy with this new clientele and would insist they took off their leather jackets if they wanted to come in to see us. Neither they nor we were happy with that.

One New Years Eve at the Red Bull, John hired Heymaker to play for their annual ticket-only Fancy Dress Party. The turn out was a-mazing. Everybody took the fancy dress theme seriously, including grumpy Old Harry next door who decided to come dressed as an angel complete with large wire-and-net-curtain wings. 1981 it was.

Our Amy had been born early on in the year before. I’m her dad and I’m bound to think this, I suppose, but she was the most wonderful little person ever to grace our planet and still is. She was barely two years old and sat there with her eyes wide open with wonder and a great big smile lighting up her face watching Micky Mouse dance with Lady Godiva; a cavemen dancing with a fairy princesses and Old Harry the angel lurching around with a pint in his hand and his halo slipping of his head.

Lynda was doing fewer vocals now as her time was monopolised by looking after our Amy who, for the first year of her life wanted only her mother and nothing but her mother. Lynda was terrific with her too. But it meant that the majority of the vocals were being done by me. Not my original intention. I’m no singer so I thought I’d better write a few songs that I could handle reasonably well: If Yer Working Class, Nellie, Justice For the Lads – that kind of thing.

Heymaker rapidly went all-electric. Our previous New Orleans-style and superb drummer, Cyrano Slater, left because he didn’t want the burden of having to remember the arrangements we were now dreaming up and we replaced him at Jack’s suggestion with the equally wonderful rock drummer Kevin Thompkinson. We brought in Tufty, one of my workmates at Simon-Hartley’s on bass guitar.

Croz and Sheila had bowed out during these changes preferring to continue along their acoustic path. Our Jack had opted to stay with us now that Kev was on the drummer’s stool and we were playing rockier material.

Jack and I set about writing some new material together. Our first writing collaboration was Sunshade Smiling Friday. I wrote the lyric and Jack come up with an appropriate chord sequence and Heymaker collectively hammered out an arrangement.

I hate doing recordings. I’m too erratic to be able to play though a whole piece without one error or another, but I do have an old tape recording of an early version of this song and Jack’s lead playing on it is awesome.

Anyway, back to the New Years Eve gig: I joined in with the fancy dress taking the easiest way out by going as tramp (being half way there already in those days). I stuck an old top hat on my head to complete my ‘Gentleman of the Road’ image and went across the Bull to front the band. When our mate Pete Carter saw me, he gave me some instant advice, ‘You should wear that top hat all the time, Terry. People’ll know not to take you seriously when you're wearing that.’ (!) I took his advice and my top hat became a Heymaker trademark.

Heymaker and John Higham had a amicable parting of the ways. Me and Lynda continued to do a bit of acoustic stuff for him and we brought in Eoghan O’Riley to play melodeon and tin whistle with us, but Heymaker was now homeless.

I called in to the Bridge Arts Centre in Newcastle under Lyme one evening - then run by a big friend of the local folk scene: Cyril Lawton. I asked Cytil, ‘Got any spare nights?’
‘You can have Mondays,’ he said. Simple as that, doods. And thus Heymaker found a new home at the Bridge Street Arts Centre. Monday nights, Heymaker nights, became Bridge Street’s biggest night of the week. More happy days.

Soon after moving to Bridge Street we had that little bit of luck that all bands need: Two biker friends from the Red Bull, Jackie and Bill, were getting married and called round to our cottage to ask if Heymaker would play for their nuptial celebs.

On their wedding day it turned out that the girlfriend of Bill’s best man was a journalist for the biker mag Back Street Heroes. She raved about Heymaker and wrote a short review bigging us along with a photo and published it in the mag.

Before you could say, 'flog my hard-tailed hog', Bridge Street was awash with bikers and Heymaker became bike rally favourites along with Chrome Molly, Engine, Dumpy’s Rusty Nuts and other such distinguished biker bands. Happy happy days.

In honour of our new friends I wrote the song Back Street Heroes:

Knights of the MyWay code,
Famous in the back rows
Back Street Heroes

Lords of the high roads
Kings of the gypoes
Back Street Heroes

Doctors of Philosophy
Wizards of metallurgy
Back Street Heroes

Defy the law of gravity
Ride the wheels of destiny
Back Street Heroes

Back street hero and heroine
May your wheels forever spin
May you ride ever free
May you live this life righteously

Who is there who would not be
Among such nobility?

Do you know, apart from the DangerMouse RC John Clucas Memorial Gig we played in 2007 after a long period of inactivity, I can’t remember how Heymaker ended?

Heymaker just slowly disintegrated, I suppose, having served its time. That happens with bands sometimes. Everybody gradually drifts off into other things.

Heymaker’s line-up for the John Clucas gig was:

Me, vocals, electric fiddle
Neil Hulse, telecaster
Phil Johnson, bass guitar, backing vocals
Mickey Gibson, drums, backing vocals

Heymaker’s most-gigging and most-enduring line-up was:

Me – vocals, electric fiddle, tin whistle
Lynda Fox – vocals, keyboards, tambourine, bodhran
Jack Fox – rhythm/lead guitar, backing vocals
Phil Johnson – bass guitar, backing vocals
Micky Gibson – drums, backing vocals

We were best when aided and abetted by Winky who provided us with great off-stage sound mixing and awesome lighting.

Heymaker’s drummers have been:

Cyrano Slater
Reg Banks
Avron White
Kevin Thompkinson
Pete Coppard
John Carol
Micky Gibson

Our bass guitarists have been:

Tufty from Simon-Hartley
Trevor Pinson
Phil Johnson
Steve West
Steve from Stone
Jack Fox
Sam Mawby

Other regulars have been:

Eoghan O’Riley – melodeon, tin whistle
Adam Fenn - electric mandolin, tin whistle
Geoff Walton - electric bouzouki, electric guitar

Backing vocalists (dubbed "the Heyettes" by fans) have been:

Jane Woolley
Eve Woolley
Lisa Nicklass
Sue Shepherd

Biker Simon Billings (R.I.P) joined us on keyboards for a series of gigs when Lynda was not able to be with us.

***

So that’s how it was folks: Heymaker was co-founded by Lynda and me way back in 1979 and lasted – with short and long gaps – until 2007.

Our most requested and best-remembered songs have proved to be Jack’s and my collaborations: Rhythmic Habits, and Sunshade Smiling Friday and my songs You’ve Got It All, Be My Violin and Back Street Heroes.

The story is told, o readers, the story is told.

We got the sad news today of the passing away of our one-time bass player and backing vocalist Steve West. Steve went on to find success as solo singer/comedian Steve Chicane. Rest in peace, mate.

Here's thanks to all Heymaker friends and fans throughout its history. It was righteous, wasn't it? The band is gone, but the songs live on in StringFing.

Travel safe,

Terry

2 comments:

beersay said...

Well Terry, long time coming this. I was a huge fan of Heymaker back in the day, following you round to the odd gig and bike rally.

I was one of the founder members of DMRC going way back, I only found out about John Clucas from a friend a few years ago. The last I heard from him was when he went to Ireland.

I stumbled across your blog by accident trying to search for any of your old music from the Heymaker days, I used to have a couple of tapes, one a live gig and the other your demo for the album cut that I don't think ever made an appearance, both from Mickey Gibbo who I've long since lost touch with.

I wondered if any of those are still in existence? I'd love to hear the live album again in particular as it holds so many memories?

Cheers

Phil Hardy
@filrd

beersay said...

Hi Terry,

Trying to get in touch, did you get my last message?

Cheers

Phil Hardy