Around December 1979, I met Robin and Jon Goodliffe, who were great characters, very clued-up musicwise, and both musicians. Robin was the keyboard player for Brighton band the Lillettes, and Jon was coming along nicely on guitar, playing in local eccentric Dick Damage's band, the Dilemma. The three of us hatched a plan for the next stage of Attrix Records burgeoning indie-empire: a fanzine. We called it Situation Butane, which was suitably punky (although I had taken this from a discarded Marc Bolan title for a never-written song).
The three of us worked hard on this first issue, and through Piranhas' Manager Tony Byford, I was able to gain access backstage at one of the Clash's Brighton Top Rank gigs that December for an exclusive interview with Joe Strummer, who was politeness itself, besides being very friendly and refreshingly un-Starlike. This gave the first issue of our little rag a brilliant boost, and we sold shitloads of copies. Meanwhile, Vaultage 79 had garnered very good reviews in the music press, if not quite as glowing as those for Vaultage 78 had been. But the album was doing well, Peel was playing it, all was healthy.
It was around this time that Rick drove me up to Catford, London, to Graphic Sound Studios, where most of the tracks on Vaultage 79 had been recorded, more often than not by Terry Newbery. This small, 8-track studio was situated above an empty shop, and served as my first encounter with a recording studio. All very thrilling. I watched, spellbound, as Rick's group the Parrots argued amongst each other as to which instrumental track should be loud, quiet, more bass, more treble, more middle, etc (all recording had been done: they were mixing).
It really did seem to me at the time that EVERY DAY I was experiencing something new and fascinating. The results of this session were issued in the summer of the following year (1980) as a 12-inch four-track EP.
The days when we were in the shop itself are now very fond memories, playing the new releases really LOUD, observing all the cool young dudes who were attracted to our little venture like moths to a flame.
Amongst these were, inevitably, the groups who were on the Attrix label - quite strong friendships were forged on these afternoons, as well as other splinter-projects, away from the label itself.
By now my brother Shaun and an old school chum, Noddy, had gotten involved too, and as the New Year passed and 1980 hove into view, I found myself returning again and again to those two fantastic pop songs on Vaultage 79 by the Chefs. I attended a gig of thiers at the Art College Basement, down by The Old Steine; they were just excellent, and yet when the cheering died down, the band looked rather lonely to me, putting their gear away; why wasn't anyone going up to chat to them? I'm constantly astonished at how people take for granted that musicians are too cool to approach, that they don't want to be bothered by their public...maybe sometimes such is the case, but in my experience, nine times out of ten, they would LOVE to communicate with people!
So, I walked up to Helen McCookerybook, and we chatted...she was very polite and friendly and, frankly, rather beautiful as well.
The very next week, I went up to London to see them at the LSE, and gossiped some more with them, adored all their songs, and developed a strong crush on Helen (I'm over it now, Helen!). Following this, I attended a further Brighton appearance by the Chefs at the Resource Centre, the superb community-run place that helped Rick and Julie Blair so much in the recent past.
That night, the group were astoundingly good: catchy, melodic songs with crazy subject-matter (domestics, pets,VD, girls' magazines etc) delivered with twangy, chiming guitars and interesting vocal arrangements. Helen and Carl's between-song banter and missives to the audience (I've just spilled a pint of beer down my shirt, this one's about my Budgie, who is green) were simply priceless.
I remember going on and on about them to Robin (mentioned earlier)at the Attrix shop one day that January, when he said "Well why not get involved, help them somehow? I gave this some thought. Then, after a conversation with Piranhas' manager Tony Byford, I took the plunge and went down to the Vault, those bizarre, scary catacombs beneath the Resource Centre (where, uniquely, a lot of the Brighton punk bands rehearsed and kept their equipment) and asked the group if they had a manager.
They didn't. I asked if I could do it. And was accepted!
Now I had a responsibility to a group of people for the first time in my life; quite nerve-racking, really, but I was helped immeasurably by Rick and Julie, and particularly by Tony Byford, whose wealth of experience, steely demeanor and high standards I admired greatly. Tony gave me endless advice, many important telephone contacts that he had built up over the years, and crucially, a large amount of support-slots for the Piranhas, then at the height of their success (or about to be, anyway).
One of my first duties was to book the Chefs in for a recording session at Graphic Sound in March, 1980, to get a selection of songs down on tape, in order for me to secure more gigs. Another first for me: in the studio with my favourite band...the sessions went well, and I was again fascinated with the entire process of overdubbing, double-tracking etc.
Terry Newbury, as ever, was in the producer's chair, and I learnt such a lot from just watching and talking to him; this stood me in good stead for my time later on in the eighties, and production and live sound for my brother's band.
Part 4 - On the road
Piranhas' manager Tony Byford