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Part 4

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.

They taped four titles : Thrush, You're So Nice, Femme Fatale and Sweetie. Although the sound was a bit flatulent and the drumming a tad limp, the strength of the material shone through; and it served its purpose very well. I sent the tape out to countless agents and promoters, and we got a good deal of work. It seems to me now that I was in a van going up and down the motorway most days during this period. The gigging was extensive and, whilst mostly great fun, also gruelling.

There are so many vivid and hilarious memories that it ís difficult to isolate any as anecdotes, but a few do stick out from the crowd: we played at an Art College somewhere along the South Coast and were provided with a couple of crates of ale prior to the gig. The band were in too good a mood that day, and they ignored my protestations. And got shitfaced. Bizarrely, this seemed to enable them to play even better! Banter between Helen and Carl and the audience became sillier and sillier. They demanded Sweetie no less than four times, and got it. Spirits were inevitably high on the return trip, with many high-jinx during a stop-off at a motorway eaterie.

I had secured a residency for the Chefs at Brighton's legendary seafront dive, the Alhambra. During the summer of 1980 the band played there too many times to recall, and I have clear memories of navigating colossal lines of waiting punters, nipping into a phone-booth for privacy in order to do a fast-count of the takings so far: fat rolls of fivers and tens, a lot of cash!

The Chefs were second only to the Piranhas locally, and they went down a storm. Most of this money went back into the account, financing our hired vans, drivers, PA hire etc. By now we had a roadie, Danny, who was quite a character. He had been through all the youth fads: mod, punk, skinhead, mod again - with a silly sense of humour and unshakeable grit, he was a lot of help to me in those far-off days. Danny Phillips, where are you now?

Dave Kitson, promoter at the Moonlight Club in West Hampstead, had become a fan of the band through their two Vaultage 79 tracks, and subsequently booked them whenever he could. The Chefs even had a residency there, I believe. This was quite a high-profile gig, but nothing compared to an appearance at London's Music Machine later that summer. Before this however, Rick asked for a meeting. He and Julie said that in their opinion, the Chefs were the brightest hope for new Attrix releases, the Piranhas having signed first to Virgin (where they issued a solitary single, Space Invaders, then were dropped) then to Sire Records (part of the giant WEA corporate banner).

I broke the happy news to the Chefs and we immediately set out to try and locate a really good drummer, the only thing the band lacked. We found him not very far away: Russ Greenwood had been drumming in Rick Blair's own group the Parrots, but was unhappy with their musical direction (soulful, slightly feminist two-tone reggae).

Russ wanted to be in a 'pop' group, and he seemed to be a fan of the Chefs. Mixed emotions then, for Rick: he lost a good drummer, but (with his Record Company hat on, now) he gained a good drummer for his new act for the label!

And, my god, what a drummer! A veritable powerhouse of precision, Russ was probably the very best drummer any of us had ever seen or would see again. He could turn his hand to most styles, and his imaginative use of the kit was astounding.

I booked more studio time at Graphic Sound in Catford with Terry Newbery again, with a slightly larger budget this time. The recording took about three weeks, I remember: not actually working all that time. Odd days and weekends (the band all had day jobs or were students). Russ made all the difference in the world to these new recordings. Where before the rhythm section had sounded weak and sometimes hardly discernible, now it had a powerful, sparkly punch, with a real sense of authority and confidence in the arrangements.

Helen's singing and bass-playing (a female Paul McCartney!) had improved enormously, and the end result of these sessions was a fantastic little four-song EP. The triumph of the final session was tempered, however, by a chilling incident on the return journey to Brighton. The five of us had crammed into Carl's mini, and were merrily enjoying listening to the final mix of the sessions when Carl's vision was distracted and the vehicle momentarily left the road, narrowly avoiding smashing face-on into a parked car in front of a parade of shops.

In total silence, we clambered out of the mini, and one by one walked slowly along to a seafood establishment situated thereabouts, and, still speechless, purchased bags of chips. It had been a massive shock to the system, certain death had been inches away. Happily, normal service was resumed once back in Brighton, and the weeks passed in the usual busy manner: I worked in the Attrix shop most days, and arranged gigs for the Chefs like a man possessed.

One day, the white-label test-pressing of the EP arrived. Great excitement. It was played incessantly in the shop and people were enquiring about it for weeks prior to its release. Obviously, a copy was sent to John Peel, who thankfully played it quite a bit. On the day of its official release that summer, we pulled out all the stops.

Yellow bunting (yellow was the Chefs' colour of choice) was erected around the exterior of the Attrix shop, free sandwiches were given away with every copy of the EP, Chefs posters were everywhere, Chefs T-Shirts and badges were on sale, the local press had been invited along, and they duly arrived (no less than three reporters and their fellow cameramen).

Always up for a laugh, my brother Shaun had purchased a real chef's outfit (complete with tall hat) and, with a phony twirly moustache and he posed for photos with the group outside the shop on a gloriously sunny afternoon.

But for the moment, allow me to take you back a little bit, back to February of that year (1980).
Following their disappointing tenure with Virgin Records, the Piranhas returned to Attrix. Prior to the Space Invaders 45, Rick, Julie and Tony Byford had prepared two songs, Yap Yap Yapí/Happy Families, for release, with the sleeve and label artwork and master-tape finished and ready to go.
So it was no problem to issue this single quickly and it became very popular, scoring high on the then-important Independent Label Charts in the music press. Peel gave it plenty of airplay and it sold very healthily. Another successful Attrix product!

Things were going well. Plans were made for the recording of the Piranhas' debut long-player and recording time was booked at Pebble Beach studio in Worthing (local and cheap: money was not abundant) in March. These sessions resulted in a very fine album, with the cream of the Piranhas' best material from their live set, the arrangements polished and improved during rehearsals and John Peel sessions at the BBC.

A local art student, simply called J, supplied a fantastic cartoon-illustrated sleeve in monochrome, because colour was too pricey. Four white-label test-pressings arrived at the shop on a cold, grey afternoon in April. Rick and Julie had a copy, Tony, the band's manager, had one, and Shaun and I copped the remaining two. The album was dedicated to Dave Bullock, the group's Road Manager, who had been tragically killed in an appalling accident while out on the road with the group (members of the band had also been hospitalised).

We were all looking forward to handling this important, major release for us; the proceeds were to go on securing the rent on the shop for the forseeable future and maintaining better and more diverse stock. Then, Fate intervened. Pete Waterman, (now a household name), in those days was on a roll: he was one-half of a production/talent-scouting team that had already scored a string of big chart hits and was based at MCA House, a massive skyscraper in Piccadilly, central London. He and his partner, the producer Peter Collins, had taken a shine to The Piranhas. Almost everything, therefore, was about to change.

Go to Part 5

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