Thursday, 26 August 2010

1976/1977 Mother Superior

The New Year begins and Mr. Campfield manages to get us a slot on the Cliff Richard show 'It's Cliff and Friends' that is reserved for new talent. We are not awfully impressed, comments like 'are you out of your mind?', 'we are not doing it' were flying about and Campfield is hurt and disappointed by our reaction. Cliff's people will not let us use our name and we have to agree to be called Superior for the show, I ask why couldn't we be called Mother and what was the point in doing it if we can't use our name. I got nowhere, we were doing it and that was it.

22nd January we rehearse with Cliff somewhere off Sussex Gardens, as we are going to perform 'Sweet Little Sixteen' with him as well as 'Love the One You're With' on our own. He was somewhat paranoid about us being able to come in on time and decided he would make some elaborate arm movement to bring Audrey in on the guitar intro. Having said that, Cliff was courteous and helpful and on the following day, the day of the recording he came down to the make-up room to chat and encourage us, the guy was a total pro. I almost felt guilty about loathing his music...  As he left, the make-up lady says to me, 'It's time to get into your stage gear', 'I'm wearing it.' 'Oh'. At this time I was favouring green lipstick and maroon eye shadow, the make-up lady was becoming increasingly unhappy with me and eventually we agreed a compromise, I could keep the green lipstick as long as I went with green eye shadow too. I had long since ceased to care and just wanted to get the entire episode over with. Jackie's soft toys she kept on her bass drum had been banned incase of copyright infringements (or maybe they just didn't like them), but she sneaks them back in. Audrey has something very peculiar done to her hair by the afore mentioned make-up person, she is almost unrecognisable. Playing behind Cliff and watching him sing and dance is a sight I don't think I'll ever forget.

The show is broadcast on the 24th, we are playing at the Tavern Club in Dorchester that night and pray that no one has watched it, of course they have. We are so pissed off that when we come out on stage and start playing, the audience all move back a few yards and stay there.

Our gigs are many, but rarely close together, Keele followed by Penzance back up to Leeds, mostly in the Transit, or if that was out of commission we'd hire something, usually a box or Luton Transit, which meant two of us would ride in the back of the vehicle cut off from the cab. One night Jackie and I were in the back, a long trip back to London lay ahead, the gear was packed so there was some floor space near the shutter. Once the van started moving we would take it in turns to ride on the trolley. This was seriously good. The trolley was planks of wood attached to four wheels and could build up some speed on cornering. This particular night we were too tired for fun and intended to sleep, Jackie was on the other side of the van, perched on a speaker cabinet with her duffel coat hood up. I was chatting about the gig and wondering why she wasn't replying. It took a while to realise she was actually sat right next to me fast asleep. All this and without the aid of pharmaceuticals.

March 1976
A tour of Sweden is arranged, we leave for Harwich in our 'new to us' ancient BMC bread van which has just had an engine fitted. This was all last minute and not ready on time, we had to drive fast to make the ferry - huge error.

All went ok until the second night of the tour, on the way back to the hotel from a gig, we come to a halt on a motorway in the middle of nowhere, surrounded only by snow, snow and more snow.  We are on a hill, we all get out and start pushing while Mick, the roadie tries to start the engine, no success.  We try again and again till we are exhausted. Later we discover that the big end has gone and no amount of pushing was ever going to get it moving again. It's about 4.00am, very cold, nothing has passed us on the road in either direction, we can't see any buildings and are beginning to think we will all be found frozen, huddled together like some stranded polar expedition. Suddenly headlights hit the mirror, we leap out, stand in the middle of the road, waving and jumping up and down. Thank god the guy stops. He is delivering newspapers, puts us in the back of his lorry and take us to our hotel. What a hero. The next day the roadie and someone from our Swedish record company drive back to the van, unload the gear and some personal belongings. Our van is towed off the road and we continue the tour in a Mercedes truck, this is a much more pleasant affair. We get regular reports from other bands on the state of our bread van in its slow deterioration, alone and abandoned.

Of our 17 shows in Scandinavia, one was in Sandviken the home town of my long time pen pal Hanne, it's great to see her at the gig and a shame we can't stay to chat after, we have to leave to catch another ferry this time to Fredrikshavn. Customs decide to search our van for drugs, good luck boys - we couldn't afford them even if we wanted them. They unload all the gear and then bring out their secret weapon, the drug dog - an overweight black Labrador, struggling for breath, looks disinterestedly at the equipment and then has to be lifted into the vehicle. We could see it rocking from side to side as the poor thing trudged up and down, breathing hard and finding nothing. They had to retire unsuccessful, leaving us to repack the van.

Our manager is now sick to death of us (the feeling was entirely mutual), what with the van debacle, phoning him in the middle of the night for help and money to get our gear back to London because we no longer have a vehicle. He is keen to get rid of us and passes us on to his pal, a Mr. Mills, who at first is thrilled (perhaps a bit too thrilled) to have us and pays out for all sorts of things, a new handmade guitar for Audrey built by Stephen Delft, a Peavey PA and a Mercedes van. Of course he expects to get paid back for some or preferably all of his purchases.

Two months later we are going to tour Finland, Mr. Mills elects to drive the Mercedes there filled with our equipment, via Hamburg, we fly to Helsinki to meet up with him. On arrival we are given roses, there is a press conference and a free haircut! We're asked to sign our names on the wall of the salon, there are many already there including Frank Zappa. I choose to get my long hair cut really short.

The gigs are spread all over Finland, several are outdoors, in the middle of nowhere,  with an audience appearing magically from the surrounding woods.  Sometimes travelling in our own 1920s rail carriage hitched to the back of a train.  People wave to us as we go through stations, I doubt they have the first idea who we are, the week before the same carriage was being used by the Finnish prime minister. There are bunk beds, a kitchen and sitting room. The carriage is parked in sidings at night, not very comfortable but very appealing. One night we come out of a gig around midnight, get on the train to see the sun setting on side and rising on the other, the sky was a wonderfully lurid shade of pink.

Driving along the Russian border there are many signs warning you not to stop or take photos. While we are stationary, taking a photo of Russian peasants working in the fields, behind barbed wire next to a watchtower, we see an old man on a bicycle coming towards us. He tells us to get back in the van and tries to take the film out of Jackie's camera, she says there is no film in it and off he pedals. An international incident closely avoided.

Lesley and I are sharing a room in a hostel, she's asleep, I'm drifting off when I hear what sounds like the door opening. I think I must be mistaken, till I realise there is a tall figure standing in the room, I still can't really believe it.  The man walks towards me, I sit up, he moves away from me and heads for Lesley's bed.  At last I start shouting, Lesley wakes up, we are both out of bed, yelling at him to get out.  Now we are all out in the hall, many people have opened their doors and are staring at us, well I say us, probably at Lesley who is stark naked. The guy is carted off by security.

The day before we fly home we record a jingle for Lee Cooper 'Feel super in Lee Cooper', we receive free Tshirts but no jeans.

Not sure what this Finish article says but I always liked the title, so if anyone can translate it...hope it's not insulting.

The tour seemed to go quite well, but as so often seems to happen, turns out to be the beginning of the end. On our return from Helsinki the manager's family have a 'chat' with us, laying out their feelings regarding our lack of commercial success and threatened to take our instruments (that we owned except for Audrey's guitar) away if we didn't start writing hit singles. We were what we were, not exactly a hit single machine. Lesley decides to leave and joins an Australian band 'The Daughters of Zeuss'.

We start auditioning singers and keyboard players.

21st August 1976
Mick the roadie and I go to see the Stones at Knebworth, with 10cc, Lynryd Skynryd, Todd Rundgren and no doubt others, we stood around for ages waiting and were rather fed up. Sound was not good, but as it happened Mick (Jagger, not our roadie) had dispensed with singing any recognisable melody lines and seemed more interested in dancing. I really did not enjoy this, not any of it to be honest. We had to stay to the end because we could not get the car out.

The auditioning for Lesley's replacement is proving difficult, at last we find a keyboard player, Simon Etchell, a fine musician, but promoters expect us to be a band of females, and although skinny and very cute, there is no way he'll be mistaken for a girl. Still looking for a singer, we go to check out a girl singing with a band in a South London pub, we don't really fancy her, she looks a bit odd and has a weird voice - her name? Kate Bush. Luckily none of us are planning a career in A and R.

During this period Audrey drops her bombshell, she is leaving to join Brandy, so now we need a guitarist too. It is decided we should ask Janis if she is interested. I give her a call, luckily she's happy to do it.

Now that Audrey and Lesley have left, Mr. Mills has lost interest and takes the Mercedes which is parked outside Jackie's house with most of our gear in it. I have my bass, but no equipment. Apparently he is holding it for ransom. We have to sue him, a long and exhausting procedure

Meanwhile more auditioning for singers until we find Kate Buddeke, an American with a loud hard hitting voice. After joining she invites us over for dinner - cauliflower cheese and garlic bread. Kate and her husband live in World's End above SEX, Vivienne Westwood and Malcolm McLaren's shop. It is not the biggest flat, and has a revolving wall that turns if you push the mirrored section in the middle which opens into the bedroom and bathroom. How good is that?

Our agent is not happy we are no longer an all female band, but wants us to do the tour he has already booked. The day before this is to start Mr. Mills agrees to give us back the equipment, we have to hire a van and drive down to Hampshire to pick it up, what a charmer.

We add some new songs to the set at rehearsals in Greeenwich and at Simon's, The Mothers of Invention's 'King Kong', Alex Harvey's 'Midnight Moses' and Steve Miller's 'Your Cash Ain't Nothin' But Trash'.

Around this time my brother, Bobbie is the singer with a band called 'Michigan' with Igal, Melvin, and Elliot, sometimes I join them to sing 'Love the One You're With'. It's good fun playing in a band with your brother.

Mother Superior at the Rock Garden

Mother Superior hit the road and have a pretty good time, it's nice to be playing again, we hired a PA, Steve a roadie with a van and I take my car -  a Vauxhall Viva. The driver's door doesn't really close, it's pretty cold, we have to be wrapped in blankets for the long drives up and down the country's motorways.




Kate on the road
If we're near North London various band members visit my
parents flat in Islington to relax, get fed, that kind of thing.  My Mother was always cooking, occasionally she would get sick of it and tell us that the cafe shut at 10.30pm, but for the most part fish and chips, sandwiches, coffees etc. could be had round the clock - thanks Mum.

Depending on the time of day my Dad was usually sat in his chair sanding or sawing pieces of wood for some model he'd be making and shouting at the TV. Another regular was Russell from downstairs who had a penchant for lethal weapons, and practised his crossbow technique by firing bolts from the living room at a target in the kitchen. We had to ask him to desist a couple of times because my Mum was out there cooking my Dad's stew.


Vivien Goldman review in Sounds

Nearing the end of the tour Janis says she wants to leave to put a band together with her husband Wilson. It's disappointing but at least she says she'll finish the gigs. Sadly this does not happen.  While parking the van after dropping off some gear at the Golden Lion in Fulham to get set up for the gig that night, she and her husband get in to a row with the manager because he won't let Wilson stay in the pub while it's not open. I walk in the door to find they've both left and the manager is shouting at me telling me we have to play the gig I'm yelling at him saying it's his fault we have no guitarist. My boyfriend Pete comes to the rescue and agrees to sit in if I go back to Finchley to pick up his stuff. Under the really stressful circumstances it turns out to be quite a good show, Pete does an amazingly good job, which is just as well as Vivien Goldman from Sounds comes down that night to review us. We enjoyed the write up and we referred to Jackie as Crowe for an unnecessarily long time.

After a prolonged fight with the people we hired the PA for the tour from - they'd palmed us off with Celestion speakers in the bass bins instead of the Altec Lansings we requested and been billed for. We'd paid half up front and refused to pay anymore until they'd recalculated, what a marathon, but by now I'm in no mood to capitulate, eventually we get the reduced bill. Man this is tiring, dealing with all this organisational stuff is very time consuming, boring and removes you from the real business of playing and writing. 

1977

Crowe and I were interviewed for an article on females in rock in the Evening Standard. We've been auditioning guitarists for a bit, but as luck would have it the band Pete was in breaks up and it seems like the logical thing would be for him to join us and so he does. We write some new some songs, Simon and Kate write a couple, I write with Pete and with Simon, and prise them into our already schizophrenic set.

Geraint Hughes and Jeffrey Calvert who are Typically Tropical and had a hit with 'Going to Barbados' are interested in recording us. We sign with their Coconut Airways company. They suggest we do 'Dancing in the Street', don't have a problem with the song, although Motown is not exactly flavour of the month, but we don't see how it makes any sense for us to do it and no one is ever going to sing it better than Martha Reeves.

We are quite friendly with a band called Burlesque, Billy Jenkins, Ian Trimmer, Steve Hughes (Antonio Vivaldi Jr), Steve Parr and Steve Knight, too many Steves. They were doing well, made an album, had a fairly extensive following. We went to many of their gigs, nice and eccentric in a Mothers of Invention kind of way.

While I think of it have to say a big thank you to Simon and his family, which I'm sure we didn't do at the time, who let us rehearse at their house on a very regular basis. Cannot have been a lot of fun for them, but it saved us a lot of expense and enabled us to put this version of Mother Superior together.  It's doubtful this is what his parents wished for their youngest son - to be touring the UK with an all female band, when he could be doing a proper job. They also had to squeeze past my huge Zoot Horn bass cab that was stored in their hall.

My right hand is giving me a lot of pain, I visit my doctor, Dr. Reckless, always worrying. She says I've strained my tendons and bandages it with one of those sticky tight things right up to my elbow, what a nightmare. She suggests I don't use it for three weeks, but leaves my fingers free enough to play.

In May we are in at Morgan's recording 'Midnight Moses' written by Alex Harvey, my songs 'Back Track' and 'Circumstantial Evidence' and 'Dancing in the Street' written by Marvin Gaye, William Stevenson and Ivy Jo Hunter.

Bandage is off, but my hand is still not good, I'm referred to the Royal Northern, who recommend heat treatment and exercises. We move on to microwaving and more bandaging, this is making playing very difficult and painful. Nothing has worked and now it's to be hot wax baths, all a bit 'Carry on Screaming'. Actually the wax baths do eventually solve the problem and I do enjoy peeling off the wax when it's dried, like a big scab, but less gross.

Heard from Audrey, she's left Brandy and is going to play bass with the Ivy Benson Band.  We go to look at some basses, she wants a Fender and gets a Music Master.

As a band we hang out a lot together, drinking, seeing other bands, eating out. Mother Superior was pretty much our entire life. Possibly this was a mistake, but there we are, we were a happy bunch, for a while.

Crew invited me over for dinner, we were having a big laugh till about half an hour after eating the really tasty mushroom omelette she'd made I feel ill and start throwing up. I don't realise why yet, but I have developed an allergy to mushrooms. How cruel, to be vegetarian and unable to eat mushrooms. Possibly a cosmic message I failed to notice.

In August I get a call from Holly, I go over to see her, played her tapes of the band, she seemed to like them OK. Later we went to see Bonnie Raitt, Holly's friend Rayner got us in for nothing, thanks Rayner. Bonnie is a red hot slide player. We had drinks backstage, a rather jolly evening, I like Bonnie a lot.

Supporting Johnny Du Cann at the Music Machine in Camden, we went down well he didn't. A few days later we're back at the Brecknock, do pretty good and get paid extra.

Simon is now playing with Blood Donor as well as us. I think it's called hedging your bets, not sure how this will pan out.

Michigan are playing the Greyhound, they are getting more gigs than we are and paying me more, err I think it's called hedging your bets!

An all female band called Jam Today are playing at Ronnie Scott's, a bunch of us go to see them and who should be on drums, but Frankie, the drummer from all those years ago at the King Cross rehearsal rooms. We had a nice chat after the gig, it was good to see her playing, she said she had seen Mother Superior and thought me and Jackie played well together - thanks Frankie.

23rd September we are playing at the Rockgarden, we play at 11.00pm and get paid £80.00 pretty good. It goes well, quite a few friends come down. We are getting better gigs, building something of a real following and are being paid more money, but we are falling apart.


Mother Superior Top Ranking, Kate Jackie and Pete

A few days later we were sleeping in Simon's front room before leaving for the Plymouth Top Rank, we had to share the room with an enormous clock that ticked all night, we got about an hours' sleep. We drove down to Devon, but were pretty exhausted, surprisingly the gig went really well, but the van broke down on the way home and we didn't get back till 10.30am the next day.

Pete, Jackie and me are recording with Davy at Riverside Studios did two tracks 'Catherine' and 'Part of You', someone says we sound tired. That'll be right, we need putting out of our misery.

Played at the Brecknock and get booked back.

October, we're supporting Jenny Haan's Lion at Thames Poly, we are well received and quite a few people come up to us after the gig to tell us they thought we were really good and way better than the headlining act. All very pleasing, but a bit after the fact.

Did some more recording at Morgan's 'Easy Lover', 'Single Thing' written by Kate and Simon and 'Do Ya Need It' by me and Pete.

Kingston Poly as support to Burlesque, Steve their bass player and I shared our gear so we could both play stereo. Our relationship with them was good and we had lots of fun at our joint gigs.

The following day was the Brecknock for us again.

On the 17th we went to the Vortex, a basement club off Oxford Street, to see Simon playing with Blood Donor, a good band 'Rubber Revolution' should have been a hit. Charlie the singer includes fire breathing in his act, very exciting and a little frightening with a low ceiling with polystyrene tiles, I had one eye on him and the other on the exit.  

We draw a good crowd for a Tuesday at the Brecknock, we got paid £25. £15 to the roadie and the rest went to the singer as she was short of cash. Not a good night for cash, thank the lord for the DHSS.

We add Alex Harvey's 'Faith Healer' to the set.

November, we are supporting Burlesque again, this time at Leicester Poly, I borrowed Steve's amp after mine broke down. Their road crew fixed it for me, really nice guys.

After another good Brecknock Tuesday, a guy who had been taking photos of us, asked me to autograph a pile of polaroids of me and his friend was wearing a Jacky Badger badge. Fab I have a fan club!

Royal Veterinary College has booked us to headline their gig, we go on about 1.45am to an amusingly surreal sight of the entire audience in fancy dress.

Support Burlesque again at Essex University we had a good laugh and both went down well.

Blood Donor is playing at the Tramshed, we all go to see them and then go on to Ronnie Scott's.

Some guys from Burlesque, me and Simon go to see Tubes at Hammersmith Odeon, was pretty good, I thought they might be a bit too theatrical, but I liked it.

Again we are supporting Burlesque, this time at Sheffield Uni, infiltrating each other's performance, Bill plays drums on King Kong and we go and sing with them.

It's Brecknock time again, we get a great reception. Steve Hughes and Billy Jenkins from Burlesque join us for 'King Kong' and 'Gimme Shelter'. Kate had a big shout at our roadie Curly Pete, can't remember what about, he says he won't work for us anymore, but relents later. Some of us went to see Janis and Wilson in their new band Axess at Ronnie Scott's, they were pretty good.

29th November, at the Brecknock for our last but one gig, Kate is ill but makes it anyway. Lots of friends come to see us, it's not a bad night but we all get in argument with Kate, who by the end of the evening is very angry and won't speak to us.

December

Steve Hughes and his brother cut my hair, not that well, but at least it is short.

I get a call from Simon with the dreadfully sad news that Tony, one of Burlesque's roadies and a really nice guy, has been killed in a crash on the M1.


Smith Brothers gig Jackie and Jackie

7th December, Simon has arranged a gig at Smith Brothers Christmas Dance in Tooting, billed as Ralph and Cindy, Steve Hughes is playing bass, Lesley is in there somewhere playing keyboards (maybe she was Cindy or perhaps Ralph), Deirdre Cartwright, Jackie and me were singing as the Cindyettes, I think I played bass on 'Blue Suede Shoes' and 'Honky Tonk Women'. We were asked to wear dresses. The evening ended painfully for me on the way home when a mic stand in the van took off like a javelin and hit me in the back of the neck. Was a bit stunned but recovered by the next morning. Went to Blood Donor's CBS audition with Simon and then to the Spaghetti House on Goodge Street.


Jackie, Jackie, Lesley and Simon last gig
Two days later on the 9th it is the last Mother Superior gig, the singer doesn't turn up, but as luck would have it Lesley is with us, so she and I end up sharing the vocals, what a strange end - shame Audrey wasn't there

This seems like as good as place as any, to give some recognition and a huge thank you to all the guys who roadied for Mother Superior, usually for peanuts. Sorry there was never a big pay day chaps.  So... to Rod, Kevin, Mick, Big Pete (who morphed into Winston in Splodgnessabounds), his pal Little Dave and Curly Pete - THANK YOU. Apologies if I've missed anyone out or got your name wrong, please consider yourself thanked.

On the 17th Sly had her goodbye party, as she' returns to the land of Oz tomorrow. Many friends come and get very, very drunk, Steve Hughes actually turns green.

Go to see Blood Donor at the Marquee on the 29th, have to go searching for paraffin cos Charlie's run out and needs to breath some fire. Good gig, audience full of people I know, more like a party.

New Year's eve is a Michigan gig, goes quite well after a long protracted argument with DJ who thinks he should have the stage rather than the band. Eventually he sees sense. Steve Hughes phoned me to say that Burlesque had split up too, he was not happy.

At least Frank Zappa's coming to town, he'll be at the Hammersmith Odeon on 24th January perhaps it's a good omen. Come on 1978.

3 comments:

  1. Ended up to this blog after listening to Mother Superior's 1975 album. I enjoyed many tracks, and since I am from Finland it was particularly interesting to read about your impressions while touring here in the 1970s. Must have been exotic to you. As a thanks what follows is a rough translation of the Finnish newspaper article clip you included:

    "Rock Resounds in the Southwest Park

    On Friday today and on Sunday you can hear hard rock in the Southwest Park in Jyvaskyla. Today an English girl-band Mother Superior and Rock Cadillac from Jyvaskyla will take the stage. Sunday is reserved for local amateur pop-bands.

    Mother Superior has performed for about a year in English clubs, pubs and schools and has now arrived for its first tour in Finland. Recently, the band’s first record came out. The group tries to make it big through its music and not for example by playing with a women-band image. Mother Superior consists of Audrey Swinborne, Lesley Sly, Jackie Badger and Jackie Crew. About a month ago Mother Superior did a very successful tour in Sweden and the ride has been wild in West Germany and in Holland, too. In Finland the band will play e.g. in the House of Culture in Helsinki and in Syvalahti in Kangasniemi, besides playing Jyvaskyla.” (After this it is about local bands.)

    So it is pretty matter-of-fact, though the caption text above the title states: ”Who does not care that much for rock, can at least come and see the girls. There will plenty of good looks and figures.” The clipping does not show if this was a caption for a picture of Mother Superior, but it is quite typically sexist for journalism at that time I guess.

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    1. Hi Marko
      Only just found your message - thanks for the translation - at last I know what it says after nearly 4 decades!
      Thanks again.

      Delete
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