Poppa Ben Hook

Poppa Ben Hook
Originally uploaded by fred pipes
When Helix split up in 1969, I got more involved with Guildford Arts Lab (reading poems at Boxer's coffee bar for example) and thought I'd try to get some gigs for the Arts Lab 'house band' Poppa Ben Hook using my contacts. It was on a visit to Pete Jenner at Blackhill and impressario promoter Stuart Lyon to drum up trade that someone suggested I manage them! Management seemed to involve storing all their gear in the bedroom of my first-floor flat on Epsom Road. I also sent out demo records to record companies and management agencies, with no success. Loving nothing more than doing a bit of Letraset, I produced a leaflet that was an exact rip-off of one Rick Welton had done for his Hull band Nothingeverhappens.

We did do lots of gigs however and I went along to all of them in the van. We very nearly played at the very first Glastonbury Fayre in 1971. I'd written to Arabella Churchill offering our services and she said to come along. We'd been booked to play a free festival at a place called Holcombe Rogus in Somerset, where Nick Black, a school friend of David Ambrose, had set up a commune, making pottery and generally spending his money.

The letter!

On the way back we called in at Glastonbury, I waved the letter and we went to the farmhouse. It was a bit chaotic as you can imagine and we were told to wait. Everyone was knackered - Bob in particular had spent all the previous night fighting off a randy hippie mother - and the concensus was to head for home. The rest is history. We also played the various University of Surrey Free Festivals (see the photos from 1971).

The line up was Bob Thomas on organ, electric piano and vocals, Roy MacGregor on guitar and vocals, Max Thomas on flute and alto sax, Phil Plant on bass, and Alan Butcher on drums. Bob did amazing things with the keyboards, slowing a Watkins Copicat tape to psychedelic effect. Tragically, Bob died young. Phil Plant went on to play with Stomu Yamashta and in 1976 played bass guitar on the soundtrack to 'The Man Who Fell To Earth' starring David Bowie. He's currently with Roxi and the Blue Cats. Al Butcher is also still playing - with Flying Visit. I'd like to think that Max is playing jazz somewhere.

Drum skin, as painted by Bob Thomas, Courtesy of Al Butcher
They were a great band and should have done better things. Here are some demos on acetate:


Buggy run

I live in a shed

Pure beef hamburger

Before the dawn

You won't miss me (vocals by Roy MacGregor)

Well, it took 45 years, but I finally got a record deal for  Poppa Ben Hook. It's a shared vinyl release from Record Collector with a band called Museum, who sounds rather like PBH, so is a good match. I'm still trying to track down Max Thomas and Roy MacGregor. It was released 2 January 2015 and costs £24.98 in the UK.


Daily Moan #10: Waste food

There was an item on BBC Breakfast news this morning about this amazing brand spanking new anaerobic digester that could turn your Xmas leftovers into clean Green electricity - and save lots of stuff going into expensive landfill to boot. Great? No! NO! Fair enough if it's using inedible by-products to digest - but what I could see being dumped was edible waste food; sprouts, parsnips, oranges, tomatoes... OK, the tomatoes looked a bit ripe, but... Bob Geldof would be turning in his grave if he were dead. (And they didn't say what happened to all those plastic bags.)

There was another item about Baby Boomers (yes, I'm one, being born in 1947, two years after the war) having it cushy compared with today's young people: no university tuition fees to pay (true), lots of jobs to walk straight into (err, no), it was easier to get on the housing ladder (I still had to lie about my earnings to a mortgage broker when I bought my first house - for £10,000 - yes you could buy it on your credit card nowadays) and generous final-salary pensions to enjoy (definitely not, although working at IPC for five years in the 1970s resulted in a pension, higher than the private one I paid into for 20+ years). We have, however, seen the most change: in music, technology, and in attitudes to things such as consumerism and greed.

One thing a baby boomer would not do is waste food. (Other things we may not do include dropping litter and getting into debt!) We were, and I still am, frugal. We know how to cook and what to do with leftovers, which is to eat them! Nigel Slater knows all about the joy of leftovers. So should you! Don't blame the supermarkets, unrealistic sell-by dates and Thatcher - I like a 2-for-1 BOGOF bargain as much as the next man, and I always make for the 'Reduced to clear' section first. One thing I used to do as a kid was peel potatoes (we even peeled mushrooms in our house). I don't anymore (and Jamie Oliver doesn't even wash his veg), so the barest minimum of waste from food preparation goes into the compost bin. And I always clear my plate. If I bring a Tupperware container to your next dinner party, it's because I can't stand food going to waste. Waste not, want not said the wartime posters. That should be your mantra for 2011.

And if you think I'm a whinger, check out this Aussie article. I don't agree with all of it, and be warned - the Comments section is full of opinionated twats, just like on the Argus website!


Daily Moan #9: Rat Runs

Rat Run
Originally uploaded by fred pipes
Shall I do booking fees for gig tickets today? No, too easy a target, even though they make my blood boil. Why do venues advertise tickets at say, a round £10, only to tell you when you try to buy one that there's a 50p, £1 or £1.50 booking fee, plus a charge if you want to use a credit card, etc etc, on top. It's as sneaky as easyJet!

No, today's Daily Moan is about cars using pedestrian zone streets as rat runs. Unlike New Road, which is a Continental-style 'shared space', Sydney Street in Brighton, home of the famous Off Beat Coffee Bar, is supposed to be a Pedestrian Zone, and there are even signs at the Trafalgar Street end saying so (see photo): Monday to Friday, 10am til 5pm, only vehicles unloading are allowed. At the weekend, temporary bollards are placed in the middle of the road to stop vehicular access and parking. But cars blatantly ignore this and even have the nerve to toot at any strolling pedestrians in their way! The cheek of it. Mind you, it's not clear whether cycling is allowed. I have never ever seen this 'Pedestrian Zone' enforced.

BTW the steam train on The Indian Doctor yesterday was a green industrial 0-6-0ST, which seemed to turn red as it left the station. The location could be anywhere... More research needed.


Reasons to be cheerful #2

Well, I received a phone call this morning from someone in Virgin Media's press department, so things might start to move at last. I hate having to play the Press Card, but sometimes it's the only way to get attention. All will be revealed when this sorry story is resolved.

Meanwhile, The Indian Doctor is being repeated on BBC1 - and the first episode features a steam train! It's 1963 in the Welsh valleys. I'll tell you tomorrow if it's a wrong 'un and something to moan about...

According to the all-knowing internet, the BR Standard loco used in Poirot's Murder on the Orient Express, mentioned yesterday, was No. 73129 from the Midland Railway Centre.


Daily Moan #8: the wrong engine

Many films feature steam trains - I've already blogged one of them - and nearly all of them get it wrong. Either the loco is from the wrong region or company or it's from the wrong time. Granted, there is only a finite number of locos to choose from on a small number of available scenic heritage railways. But what on earth was what looked like a British Railways Standard Class 5 loco doing chuffing through the snowy Eastern European mountains in Poirot's Murder on the Orient Express on Christmas day? I suspect much of it was CGI, which means they will be able get it right in the future.

Which brings me to The Railway Children, shown yesterday. Don't get me wrong, this is a delightful movie, guaranteed to have you weeping uncontrollably at the end. I love it. This was filmed at the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway in 1970, but was meant to be set in 1905. The engine that appears the most, seen pulling the Old Gentleman in his North Eastern Railway Director's Saloon was GWR 0-6-0PT No. 5775 (L89) painted in the livery of the fictional Great Northern and Southern Railway - a sort of Stroudley 'Improved Engine Green' (ie mustard yellow-brown). These pannier tanks were built at Swindon 1929-50, so the loco is wrong for two reasons - it's from the wrong region and it wasn't yet built at the time the film was set. As far as I know pannier tanks were only ever seen in the Great Western region.

The one bringing them to Oakworth station, and also seen later in the film, is No. 1369, one of Hudswell Clarke's 0-6-0T 'long tank' locos, originally to be found working on the Manchester Ship Canal as No. 67 and now at the Middleton Railway.

Other locomotives include The Scotch Flyer No. 4744 (69523), a Great Northern Railway Class N2 0-6-2T steam locomotive designed by Nigel Gresley and introduced in 1920 - now at the Great Central Railway, Loughborough.

The Green Dragon, aka No. 52044 (preserved as L&Y 957), is a Lancashire and Yorkshire Railway Class 25 0-6-0 locomotive. These were introduced in 1876 and not withdrawn until the 1930s, so is absolutely right for the location and period! Hoorah!


Daily Moan #7: careless typos

I did promise I wouldn't moan over the Christmas holiday period, but I just couldn't let this one go. Flicking through the Independent on Sunday (no, I didn't expect there to be papers today either), I spotted this in the 'Watch this' section of the magazine:

Royal Institute!! Didn't they read the blog item that started all this Daily Moan business? The one I castigated normally excellent Robin Ince for? Obviously not. It should be Royal Institution! Don't newspapers have sub-editors anymore? I know that the Argus has been on strike recently over the threat to sack the local Brighton subs and move the operation to Southampton. The result was the spelling of Brighten - twice - in a news story! Shocking. And last night my friend Chrissie pointed out to me some of the many typos in a book of Brighton Bus Names. In books that I read I do regularly come across a couple of literals per chapter. Should I highlight them? I would if they were in library books...


Reasons to be cheerful...

As it's Christmas day, there will be no moaning from me. I got some lovely presents, the sun is shining, I'm looking forward to a slap-up lunch - and Rob and Jackie's new white bathroom suite looks rather nice! Merry Xmas, everybody!


Daily Moan #6: disrupted tv schedules

OK, I can't put it off any longer. Why does Christmas have to be so disruptive? The tv schedules are all over the place. Saturday Kitchen was on BBC1 this morning - and it's still only Friday! And BBC Breakfast was a quarter of an hour shorter than usual, but it did include the second part of their version of Come dine with me - thank goodness for the Toppy and being able to wind back time! Last night's tv was dire. I ended up watching that twat Chris Evans making a fool of himself on Celebrity Who Wants to be a Millionaire, when I could have been enjoying my favourite contemporary dance troupe The Two Wrongies at the Pavilion Theatre. At least Ann Widdicombe made one viewer happy and rich (37 grand!). Quite frankly I would have preferred a one-on-one immersive theatre experience at the Basement than endure last night's television offerings again! Thank goodness again to for a recording of a day in the life of The Edwardian Farm - blimey we do have it cushy these days, with our running water and mains electricity.

Apart from Xmas day itself, with Doctor Who and the Royle Family to watch (and maybe Come Fly With Me will turn out to be funnier than they say), the next couple of weeks will be full of repeats and films, with all my regular favourites away on holiday. Humbug! What's more, the Off Beat Cafe is closed for a week too. What am I going to do? Read books?

One programme I did enjoy this week, was The Nativity, in The One Show slot for the past few days. Written by EastEnders writer Tony Jordan, it starred Peter Capaldi (sweary Malcolm Tucker from The Thick Of It) playing one of the Three Wise Men; Jack Shepherd was another. I'm not at all religious, but I thought it tackled all those questions that the Bible avoids, like how did Joseph cope with his virgin fiancee becoming pregnant! There should be sequel - what happened to the poor shepherd afterwards - did his life turn around? And did the three magi get back to Iraq safely?

BTW the gnocchi, chestnut and butternut squash recipe on Saturday Kitchen this morning did look rather nice - may give it a try.


Daily Moan #5: white bathroom suites

I really hate myself for watching, but sometimes I lie in, miss BBC Breakfast with the gorgeous Susanna Reid, and have to watch one of those dreadful house-buying programmes, such as Homes Under the Hammer. Apart from the awful opening credits and all that 'see how they got on later' padding, what infuriates me most is when they look in at a perfectly serviceable bathroom with cast iron bath and immediately state that it has to go, to be replaced by a suite that would not look out of place in a public lavatory! Once upon a time all bathroom suites were coloured (mine is an Art Deco Emerald green); now if you look in a bathroom shop window, everything is hotel white! I remember cheering when one bloke (who was gay) inherited a pink suite in Seaford and defied the estate agents and experts by saying he was going to keep it. Good for him!

The same goes for kitchens, which are often described as 'tired'. Wonder how much B&Q slip the presenters? Soon every kitchen in the land will be 'Shaker' style with granite worktops made by child labour in India or China. And when did 'bland' become to mean rather tasteful? Paint on the walls has to be 'neutral' in case the house needs to be sold sometime soon. And don't get me started on those antique programmes where dumb members of the public are made to buy dear at antique fairs and sell cheap at auctions, the one who loses least wins. Doh! Or sell off their granny's hierlooms only to fritter away the trivial amount of money they get for them on a forgettable trip to Disneyland. Daytime telly is dire and only becomes watchable again once 'Come dine with me' is on...


Daily Moan #4: pubs with no beer

I'm kicking myself that I didn't leave for London earlier last night. Everything slowed down because of the weather (and no, I'm not going to moan about the snow!) and so I went straight to the 100 Club to see David Devant and his Spirit Wife. Or rather the two support acts beforehand. So, I could have gone to The Champion, the usual meeting haunt of Devantees, and enjoyed £2 pints of Sam Smith's finest. As it was, it was straight to the bar of the 100 Club, only to find that the two beer pumps were out of action (they had run out the night before) and the only drinks on offer were continental-style lagers for nearly four pounds a pint! Well, I can forgive the 100 Club - the legendary venue is under threat of closure. I first went there in 1965 to see Jesse 'Lone Cat' Fuller and his one-man band, and have returned many times since to see Devant, The Rutles, Wreckless Eric and many other fine acts.

This Moan should really have been entitled 'Bars with no beer', because the places I have a beef with are venues such as Brighton Dome, Komedia and the Latest Music bar, all of which sell overpriced lager and you're lucky to find even a bottle of proper beer. At the Dome recently, where I went to see Robin Ince's excellent 'Nine Lessons and Carols for Godless People' the bar had on sale just Carlsberg or Manger's cider (at some exorbitant price I expect)! They do sometimes, mostly during the Festival, have a barrel of Dark Star on the counter, but not that evening - and the interval was too short to pop over to the Waggon and Horses for a pint of Harvey's. Please music bars (I don't even bother with trendy young persons' 'cocktail' bars), please please offer proper beer to your more discerning punters, preferably sourced from local breweries!

If you were wondering why I didn't post a Moan yesterday and laugh that I already failed my New Year's resolution even before New Year's Day, it was because I was busy writing stroppy letters to Virgin Media's Complaints Department. More on that in due course, I shouldn't wonder. Meanwhile some videos of a fantastic Dave Devant set, with new songs, stories read from My Magic Life and the Baron Gilvan taking on the role of Spectral Roadie are now appearing on Youth Tube.


Daily Moan #3: divvying up the bill

My pizza
Originally uploaded by fred pipes
I feel really bad about making Robin Ince the subject of my first Daily Moan. I'm a big fan of his Book Club - it's introduced me to many great comedians like Josie Long, and I always go and see him in Edinburgh. Like Stewart Lee and Simon Munnery, he's one of the more intelligent stand-ups. But that's the luck of the draw.

If you think I'm pedantic, check out my blogging chum Martin Shovel. His blog post on cliche metaphors has been republished today in the Grauniad. That's so awesome and I'm over the moon for him, literally!

I was going to moan about the icy weather or how Christmas disrupts the tv schedules today, but I think I'll leave them for later. Neither will I bore you with a rant on Virgin Media's exasperating call centre or my ongoing problems with my second-hand Epsom R2400 A3+ inkjet printer. So - I hope none of my friends are reading this because Daily Moan #3 is about Divvying up the bill at group meals. Christmas is the time of year when one gets invited out for group meals - I'm talking 15-20 people sitting down at a restaurant. But how does a six quid pizza and a bottle of beer turn into a £20+ bill? Because some people down the other end of the table who you hardly know are ordering dinky dishes of olives, kir royales, starters, side salads, countless bottles of wine, port, brandy and cigars - that's what! And they are the same people who suggest simplifying things by splitting the bill. If you dare moan, you're branded a skinflint - so we keep schtum. If it were just four of you, you wouldn't mind so much, but in a big group there's often lots of peer pressure to pay up.

There are two possible coping strategies, neither of them very nice. The first is to leave early (maybe arranging with the babysitter to call you at a specified time) thrusting a tenner into the alpha person's hand saying 'this should cover it' qualifying this by muttering that you only had a green salad and glass of tap water anyway. The second is, if you are absolutely certain there will be a divvy-up, to go through the card ordering the most expensive things on the menu. You could come a cropper, however, if you end up being billed individually. I must emphasize that this scenario hasn't happened to me personally in a long time (and it was at a birthday meal) and that all my friends are nice considerate people who wouldn't dream of playing the system like this... honest! Disclaimer: The pizza illustrating this moan may be real but the circumstances described above are purely hypothetical.


Daily Moan #1 and #2

I've decided to start a New Year's Resolution early. It's to be called 'Daily Moan' and is a result of my becoming a Grumpy Old Man of Leisure. What I'm worrying about already, however, is that I might not even be able to write a moan every single day, so I'll start with two. And what about when I go on holiday? Well we'll cross that bridge when we come to it. My cyber-friend Mock Duck started a blog called Draw Anyway (which got hijacked by link farmers and is now in German!) a while back with the intention of posting a drawing every day, but that inspirational endeavour ended suddenly - she'd set the bar too high for herself. Will I make the same mistake? Maybe this should be entitled Monthly Moan?

Anyway Moan No.1: I was just dipping in to the excellent compilation The atheist's guide to Christmas (Friday Books, £7.99 in Sussex Stationers), reading the bit by Robin Ince about the Godless Concerts (I saw one recently at Brighton Dome and what a great line-up - from Richard Herring to Dara O'Briain in one Ken Dodd-length event) when I came to the bit where he mentions the 'Royal Institute Lectures' (p 290). This, I'm afraid, really made me cringe, making me draw back my lips over clenched teeth and furrow my eyebrows in a Wallace and Gromit grimace. Why? One of my earliest jobs was as a sub-editor in the publications department of the Institution of Mechanical Engineers, then in Birdcage Walk. One of the first things they drummed into me was that there exist Institutions and Institutes and never ever to get them mixed up. There's the Institute of Physics and the Royal Institute of British Architects, but it's the Institution of Civil Engineers and... a quick Google would have revealed The Royal Institution (of Great Britain)! Shame on you Robin and the subs at HarperCollins! Call me a pedant, but these things matter.

The Royal Institution Christmas Lectures, one of the best series of programmes on TV, starts on 28 December on BBC4 at 8pm, presented by Dr Mark Miodownik, and this year's theme is 'Size matters'. BTW the RIGB website was pretty rubbish when I tried it, so best to look at the BBC4 one. Incidentally, I also once worked in the basement of the Royal Institution, amongst Rutherford's old experimental apparatus, in my final year vac (c. 1968) on a University of Surrey project, growing cadmium crystals and then slicing them up - don't ask me why, I was just following orders. I remember we all used to stop for tea and cucumber sandwiches in the Marble Hall at 4pm.

Moan #2: I love to read the Independent on Sunday, especially the section where it tells me what to look forward to on telly next week. But... why make the film of the week something being shown on Sky Movies Premiere when I can't get it on Freeview! They get me all excited then deflate me, all in the space of a few seconds.