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Part 6

Once again, Graphic Sound Studio in London was the location for this new series of recording sessions. The band played extremely well, with few of the false starts and nerves of the previous singles recording experiences: in fact the taping of the backing-tracks and vocals for the three songs was done pretty quickly (about four or five days), but the mixing became a protracted business indeed.

Helen sang the A side, a stage-favourite called 24 Hours, and one of the songs on the flipside, an ancient Chefs song called Lets Make Up. Her singing had come a long way since the early days of the band, cranking out punky pop in pubs and community centres. She sang 24 Hours fabulously well. Carl, who had been the author of those two Chefs classics, Sweetie and Boasting, came up with the third B-side track, Someone I Know.

I recall those sessions very clearly, and remember the great amount of detail that everyone contributed; especially Russ Greenwood's thundering drums and the sage-like machinations of our producer, the irreplaceable Terry Newbery. This time around, I watched like a hawk as he manipulated the mixing-desk in order to achieve the desired sound: it was quite a learning curve for me, I learnt so much, so quickly.

24 Hours had been chosen as the A-side because it was such a strong pop song, an irresistible melody with a racing bass-line married to a really touching lyric: unrequited love, admiring from afar, being torn apart by those heady pangs of obsession. Once the three songs were in the can, we returned to the everyday business of gigging.

Many of the original Brighton punk bands had either now dissolved, their members dividing and starting new groups, or else had metamorphosed into newer, sometimes rather stranger, acts. This was simply mirroring what was going on all over the country on the Independent Label scene: the punk movement marched on, but it was joined by many curious but always interesting varieties of bands, musical styles, fashions, politics, design, poetry etc. This period, beginning around the autumn of 1980, seems to have been largely overlooked by pop historians. I’m sure its time will come.

In Brighton, Nicky And The Dots had split into various factions, leaving the ebullient and gifted Nick Dwyer to emerge as The Louder Animal Group. Nick released his first single on his very own label! Which was exactly the right thing to do of course: the punk ethic at root level. Phil Perfect and Barb Dwyer, (dig those crazy punk names!) from The Lillettes, began recording material under the name of 3-D. Devils Dykes transformed themselves into The Bright Girls, and continued to write and record marvellous songs which firmly outlined their persistently determined demands for gender equality, but with sparkling melodies and clever arrangements along the way.

Toward the end of summer 1980, Attrix Records, until now the only Independent Label in Brighton to cater for a number of acts, was suddenly presented with a rival: Red Rat Records had been the brainwave of someone who had inherited a stack of cash and who subsequently moved to sunny Brighton (from London, I think). We at Attrix were moderately interested in this new competitor, who seemed to be friendly enough.

The first act he signed were The Ammonites, one of the new crop of bands that had sprung up in the wake of the second Vaultage album. The Ammonites played very entertaining Two-Tone pop, and were frankly very similar to The Beat; they were a hot item live. Red Rat Records released their debut single, Dressed To Kill, that autumn. At Attrix, we were waiting for the mixing-sessions for the Chefs single to finish before going ahead with its release: there was now talk of a 12” edition, which would feature a long version of 24 Hours and then a shorter one for the standard 7” release.

This never did happen due to money shortages, but at this stage the editing had to be done and Terry did a fantastic job with the razor-blade. This all took time, of course, and so there were a few things that occurred around this time to keep us all busy: Julie Blair had joined a band, The Mockingbirds, who played catchy B52’s-type tacky pop with an R and B edge. Rick and my brother, Shaun, hatched the idea of a one-off silly gig at The Alhambra, with Nick Dwyer on drums and Gwyn, a strapping Welshman who had appeared a few weeks earlier, on bass.

Calling themselves The Picture Sleeves, I gave them the support slot for The Chefs on a sweaty summer evening, where they knocked off a few songs by The Monochrome Set and the Velvets with great aplomb. A wonderful evening, with Rick Blair playing some scorching guitar and the first opportunity for my brother Shaun to step up to a microphone and sing. I was on the road with The Chefs a good deal, and an insanely hectic time it was: culminating in a bizarre, stress-filled summers day which gradually became a nightmare for all concerned.

The Students Union up at Sussex University had decided to stage a huge open-air Festival in the University grounds. It was to be an all-day event, and a high-profile appearance, locally, for us to be involved in. We were driven out there early in the afternoon by Phil & Barb from the Lillettes in the Lillette-Mobile and waited around for the sound-check. But this was delayed and delayed and in fact we never did get a sound-check. There were hours to go before the Chefs were on stage; the band were bored, the sun was shining, and the Uni bar sold booze at silly, cheap prices - a recipe for disaster.

As their manager, I did what I could to slow down their drinking, but this got progressively difficult as the time passed from afternoon to evening. Each act was delayed, and tempers were running high. There were now hundreds of people jam-packed onto the lawns of the University, getting annoyed at the long wait between the bands.

Quite simply, the event had been badly organised, and now the shit was really going to hit the fan. At about 10.30pm, after an Afro-Nigerian band had played a fine but overlong set, I was asked to go on stage myself and try to calm the crowd. "Please be patient for just a little longer, The Chefs will be on soon. I promise!"

The noise was unbelievable: the crowd were booing, yelling, screaming. There really was nothing any of us could have done.

The Chefs never did perform that night; those sections of the crowd who still wanted to see them were furious, and the whole event ended in disarray. (To cap it all, while roadying for us that night, Phil and Barb's flat was burgled and two-thirds of their record collection was nicked, all the choicest stuff.)

I was frankly rather disillusioned by this, and its aftermath.

And I was angry that the band had continued boozing that day, right up to the moment they were (supposedly) due on stage- all very punky I suppose, but it wasn’t very responsible or professional, and that’s what they would have to be if they wanted to succeed. All this left a sour taste in my mouth.

Meanwhile, back at Attrix Records, we were noticing a whole new crop of bands emerging. There was talk of a third and final Vaultage compilation, to end the decade on a high note. It's interesting now to look back on those groups and see that they were small-town equivalents of then-popular acts: Nouveau-A-Go-Go / Bill Nelson's Red Noise; The Reward System / Throbbing Gristle; The Exclusives / The Dickies, and so on. But that's not to say that these bands were crap, or overly derivative, they simply needed a role model, and then continued on their merry way.

While Rick and Julie pondered over the decision to begin a third Vaultage project, one afternoon in the shop we were approached by a rather benign, avuncular chap from the local BBC Radio station, Radio Brighton. His name was Vince Geddes, and he explained that he wanted some advice on the local music scene and had been told that this was where to get it. His idea was to start a series of nightly broadcasts from the Radio Brighton building in Gloucester Place that would involve playing local bands' demo-tapes and feature interviews with some of these colourful characters.

We all liked Vince immediately, and were supportive of his brainchild. The broadcasts were brilliant fun and gave so much exposure to so many different and talented people. You could listen to the show before going out and into town and decide then and there which band you were going to see that evening. It was as a result of these shows that we at Attrix finally decided that yes, there would be a new Vaultage album: there were so many great songs featured on all those demo-tapes played on local radio, it would have been criminal for them to remain unreleased. We are now, at this point in my story, around Autumn 1980. For months, there had been grumbling noises in the Chefs’ camp, about them wanting to move to London, which they were convinced was the only way they were going to make it big in the music business.

Personally, I had very mixed feelings about this. I loved Brighton! And I felt strongly that there was no reason to go to the Big Smoke, not if we all pulled together and went on releasing classic records, as we had been doing. But Helen and the others were adamant. They were tired of Brighton: they were, indeed, moving to London. The changes that had been happening to me for the past year were about to accelerate.

Go to Part 7

The Chefs
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