A strange atmosphere of anticipation preceded a series of meetings held in London and in Brighton (in Tony Byfords’ flat directly above the Attrix shop). These meetings thrashed out the bones of a major label record deal for the Piranhas ; no less than two companies were involved. Ariola-Hansa (a German set-up) and Sire, one of the hippest labels on the planet at that time, being home to acts like the Ramones, Talking Heads, the Rezillos, the Undertones etc. Large amounts of money were involved and mega-producer Peter Collins, Pete Waterman’s business-partner, was to provide the production duties.
Meanwhile, we at Attrix had lashed out money on a specially designed carrier-bag for each copy of our Piranhas album sold: it was a spoof replica of a Tescos bag. But these were never used with that album: Sire/Hansa directed us to destroy any artwork, test pressings and lacquers involved with our Piranhas album. Which of course we complied with, well, nearly: the test-pressings were kept! The first fruits of the new major-league deal was a three-track single, a reworking of an ancient South African tune, Tom Hark.
Ever fickle, the local punks decided they had sold out to corporate mainstream greedheads. The Piranhas were big fans of the Chefs and happily for us they didn't forget their little Brighton buddies. They chose us as the support act at every available opportunity and Tony and I got on very well indeed. Which brings me back to that Music Machine gig in the heart of central London in the summer of 1980, as mentioned much earlier.
This was very much a prestige gig for everyone concerned; Tom Hark was in the Top Ten of the nations hit parade, the sun was beaming down gloriously, most days, and success was in the air. It was just possible that it might be contagious! The gig was a triumph, the Piranhas played a sterling set, and the Chefs went down a treat; the colossal venue was packed, and all seemed positive. Except at the end when I went to collect our fee, the promoter (who shall remain nameless), just looked at me and said piss off sonny, or I’ll have yer legs broken.
The Chefs and our road crew were waiting outside, ready for the return journey home to Brighton. I plucked up all my courage (I was a mere 21 years old) and looked at the guy (a brick shithouse if ever there was one) and said If I don't get my money - all of it - then none of my band are going to leave until we do. And you can forget about booking any more bands from the entire South Coast! This was all bullshit.. I was bloody terrified of him...but I had to say something. To my eternal relief, he backed down! And gave me the cash. All of it.
One week after this gig, I was at home at my parents little bungalow in Lancing, Sussex, (cutting the garden hedge!) when my dear old ma called out Stuart! There’s someone on the phone for you! This turned out to be none other than Pete Waterman himself, who then proceeded to froth at the mouth with adoration about the Chefs! He loved their image, their songs, and was going to make them stars, millionaires! He went on and on about their song Sweetie: Its gonna be a number one all over the world! Im tellin’ ya! This was all pretty heady stuff, as you can imagine. And so, a meeting was arranged, to be held at Pete Watermans base of operations : MCA House, in Piccadilly.
The buzz surrounding this meeting went through Brighton like a dose of salts. All the local bands were talking about it, the Chefs were up in the air and caution was a hard notion to even contemplate, after all, this set-up had made chart successes out of a string of acts at that time. The days leading up to the meeting were nerve-wracking. Did he really mean it all? Was the wool being pulled over our eyes? The night before the meeting, we all drove up to London and some of us stayed the night at Terry Newburys’ place, out in Barnes. A largely sleepless night for all concerned. Of course, as one of the Attrix Five (Rick, Julie, Shaun and myself were the others), Terry would be present at the meeting too. He already had some experience of major record companies from his time with bands in the late sixties/early seventies.
D-Day dawned bright and golden. We motored across the metropolis to the appointed rendezvous: a gleaming chrome skyscraper, the home of Hollywoods’ MCA film company and its attendant record label and music-publishing group in the UK. Present at the meeting were of course the Chefs themselves plus Terry, Rick, Julie and myself (if any of you are reading this now, I wonder if you’re grinning at the memory?) We were led down into the bowels of the building to a massive underground lecture theatre. This darkened, otherwise eerily vacant arena proved to be a justifiable venue for what followed, because for the next two hours, Mr. Waterman really gave us a lecture! He was quite a character.
None of us barely had the chance to utter as much as two sentences for the rest of the session. We were informed, in infinitesimal detail, of his entire life-story! How he had begun hustling records on a street market, progressed to being a D.J, plugger, manager, journalist; the list seemed endless. How he’d single-handedly created the two-tone craze, on and on it went with virtually no mention of the Chefs, or why any of us were there! At the end of this extraordinary tirade, following some vague (and presumably consoling) words regarding a second, further meeting, we all stumbled, shell-shocked, into the late London afternoon. What the hell had all that been about? We never heard from him again.
The Chefs’ EP was a big success and John Peel played it a lot. I was never personally able to catch him playing it for one reason or another and so was grateful when one day a Sussex University student walked into the shop and handed over a cassette of all Peels’ links over the last couple of weeks when he had played the EP. Up at Rick and Julie's flat, we all gathered around Ricks battered old tape-player and listened. We were stunned and confused by what followed: "the Chefs there, with a frankly APPALLING record!"
"There go the Chefs, with one of the worst singles I have ever heard in all my time as a broadcaster..."
We were puzzled and obviously distressed. If he didnt like it so much, why did he keep on playing it? I kept this news secret from the band, for obvious reasons. The next few days were a bit depressing really. Why didn’t he like the record? Had he gone mad? A week later the student returned to the shop, a huge grin on his face. Well, he said, did you hear the tape? Yes, we did I answered, handing the wretched thing back to him. He burst out laughing. It was a joke! he giggled, leaning on our shop counter for support, I doctored the tape! I spliced John Peel saying bad things onto the front of his comments about your Chefs record! Isnt it a scream?
We frankly disagreed. Lacking a sense of humour on this occasion, I snarled at him: get the fuck out of here you little twat! Some joke! I must at this point in this missive again mention the stoic and awesome integrity of Richard Blair. Not content with shouldering the responsibility (both financial and paperwork-wise) of his Attrix Records shop and small record label, Rick was also still involved in his very own group, the Parrots. This quietly-spoken, modest individual had the guts of an Arctic explorer, the enthusiasm of a teenager and the songwriting talents of a Lou Reed. As I worked alongside him on our many ventures, I never failed to be floored by his huge capacity for patience, determination and sense of fair-play in all his person-to-person dealings.
And we met some shitty people in our endless motorings up to London for the records every week...some of them thought that this was being cool, or was perhaps a New Wave attitude. A few of these were just rude, abrupt, patronising. Rick rode through it all with great dignity. My brother and I had made a lot of great new friends. I repeat again: we were learning new skills and experiencing new things every day. Shaun had taken over the Attrix Fanzine and re-titled it Vaultage; I just did not have the time to spare to do it any more. A young friend of Shauns, Graham, from his home town of Worthing, had recently got involved in helping out at the shop when none of us were available.
The shop was still doing quite well and continued to be the very mecca for young punks from all over the South Coast. Meanwhile, the music scene in Brighton itself was shifting, gradually changing from out-and-out New Wave to something more varied, but which still retained that sense of prowling power. New bands sprang up to replace old ones. Many of these began coming into the shop, asking when were we going to start choosing bands for the next Vaultage compilation. This was a good question. Rick and Julie were adamant: there was simply not enough quality stuff on any of the demo-tapes they were regularly inundated with at that time.
With this in mind, they duly asked for a second Chefs release, a three-track maxi single this time. There were audible growls of envy from some of the other bands at this. Well, what you have done? Released substandard material? No. Quite.
Go to Part 6