Wots For Lunch Mum? / College Girls
I Saw Batman (In The Laundrette) / Chatterboks
Debut 7″ single from The Shapes, slight Rezillos vibe on these tracks. The detailed biography below courtesy of hyped2death.com.
Like many of their contemporaries, The Shapes were amongst the first wave of bands that formed in the wake of the Great Swearing Incident of December 1976. Whilst having the satisfying by product of terminating the career of the rather oily Bill Grundy, and launching that of those lovable moptops the Sex Pistols, it’s quite hard to see in retrospect quite why hearing the word “fuck” would send an entire country into a paroxsym of self loathing and have questions asked in the House of Commons, as one could hear this same fine piece of Anglo Saxon just about everywhere one went in Britain.
It’s a little hard to see what all the fuss was about now, but back then it all seemed rather exciting, especially to two ex public schoolboys in lovely Leamington Spa in Great Britain. Having both been given their marching orders from a less-than-stellar minor British public school for painting the school ocelot orange, they decide to form a punk group so that they can say “fuck” more often and maybe change the course of a thousand years of British history, whilst getting free beer and signing on the dole. Also, the prospect of a shag or two wasn’t exactly far from the top of the list. Thus with the meeting of Ben Browton and Gareth Holder, Seymour Bybuss and Brian Helicopter were born, The Shapes’s story take flight,and hopefully I can stop writing this in the third person. The origins of our nom-de-plumes departed from the usual choices that were de riguer for the punk elite in those days, and reflected a singular property of The Shapes, that of being too clever for our own good. If we had been proper punks, we would have chosen names like Barry Arse or suchlike, but there you go. Ben chose Seymour Bybuss from the legend “See More By Bus” that was printed on the back of every Midland Red Bus Company ticket in Leamington Spa. Not only did that joke not travel well, noboby realised it was a pun, which was endlessly annoying. People just thought he was French or something. My more obviously fake moniker came from the awful daily TV news magazine programme and haven for skateboarding ducks, Nationwide. Some poor sod from a local borough council was on, and despite being the sort of appallingly dull little chap that infest local government, his interview was much enlivened by the mispelling of his name at the bottom of the screen. Transposing two letters in his name, they had changed it from Tony Havercroft into Tony Hovercraft. I found this so hysterical obviously, that I concocted the name Brian Helicopter on the spot, and was then stuck with it for the next 20 odd years. Oh how we all laughed. The names had a secondary purpose too. Leamington Spa is a small place, and we wanted to be able to sign on the dole without being caught.
So here I am, stuck in Leamington Spa. I haven’t got a single clue of what to do with myself, but I know that whatever it is, it probably wasn’t going to be what I was doing at the time, which, being as you ask so nicely, was working as a clerical officer at the local government offices. The Midland Road Construction Unit to be exact. Our function was to compile a list of all the listed buildings in Great Britain, along with all the national parks and areas of natural beauty, and then build motorways through them. This, funnily enough, seemed to be viewed rather dimly by the segments of the population who were informed that their house was scheduled for demolition next Wednesday to make room for said motorway, or failing that, they would graciously be allowed to remain where they were, but advised to be a bit careful when hanging out the washing in the back garden, which would from now on be referred to as the A234 Bromsgrove aterial by pass or some such similar nonsense. Having already seen the Sex Pistols in the flesh, and having dyed my hair bright green, it might also be safe to say that any long term career plans centered around local government were probably unwise.
It was truly a vessel of lost souls. Corridors of the damned, shuffling from grey office to grey office, ticking away their lives, with that all important Holy Grail of a secure pension, the meagre reward for a life unlived. I didn’t really think of all of that though, I was just a lazy little sod who was bored shitless, and had job tenure. It was impossible to get sacked from the job, no matter how incompetant you were, and believe me I tried, as you couldn’t get state assitance if you quit. I would come in after two hours sleep and slump over my desk for hours on end. A combination of the green hair, and the fact that at that time, anybody who looked vaguely punk rock was regarded as coming directly from Beelzebub’s bottom stopped anyone from saying a word to me lest a sound thrashing result. Funnily enough, there was one other person in the office who behaved in a similar manner. He is currently the guitarist for Dr. Feelgood, so there you go. I would spend the nights at local clubs seeing bands like The Damned, Rezillos, Wayne County, Buzzcocks, and just about every other punk band I could manage to find. This did not contribute to a prosfessional demeanor the next day at work, and clearly something was going to have to give.
Down the very same street in another government office wastes the lovely, soon to be, Seymour Bybuss. His situation is the same as mine, only his hair is dyed orange. He works in the Unemployment offices, and is scheming about ways to make use of it’s facilities as a customer rather than an employee. We meet in the pub at lunchtime over restorative pints of bitter to plot our escape. I had played in bands before, and actually had a bass guitar, albeit a totally crap one. He, on the other hand, bore a passing resemblance to Rat Scabies of The Damned, and so it was deemed that fate had decreed that he become a drummer. Thus, armed for greatness, with this the totality of our plan, and ignoring the fact that neither of us had access to a drum kit, we set off to find our fortune.
Practice for the fledgling band takes place in the luxurious confines of Seymour’s parent’s garage. We know it’s their garage, because they keep coming in to tell us to turn it down. We manage to cadge a drum kit off a friend of mine that I had been in a band with, and armed with sticks, Seymour commences upon his new career as a percussionist. Left handed as he is, and possessing the meter of a badly loaded Hotpoint washing machine on spin cycle, it fast becomes apparent that even given the vast lassitude of the punk rock genre to tolerate a wide variety of styles, Seymour’s future in the music industry does not reside behind the drums. The nearest we get to a musical interlude resembles nothing so much as a crockery-filled warddrobe descending a set of basement steps. We regroup, and realizing that whilst we do not possess any left handed guitars, we do however possess a left handed microphone. Thus Seymour is destined to be thrust to greatness as the singer. A deftly timed move it is too, as the owner of the drum kit appears and demands to know what the fuck we’re doing with it. Seymour completes his audition for the singers job by miming to At The Hop wearing a gorilla mask. You had to be there. We set about recruiting others immediately to fill the ranks.
It soon becomes clear to us that the selection of like minded musicians in Leamington Spa is somewhat limited. I’d like to say that we auditioned and rejected many hopeful applicants, but it would be more truthful to say that nobody would come and play with us. In the provinces at that time, punk was regarded at about the same level as child molestation, and one wasn’t really afforded the kind of counterculture respect for the whole enterprise as one might have expected in London. Oh yes, and we were also shite. However, we persevere, and by a combination of luck, and a general lowering of standards, we cobble together The Shapes Mark I. Seymour is responsible for the name. I am responsible for not being able to think up anything better. We are joined in our endeavor by two guitarists and a drummer. The guitarists are a Nigel Greenway and a Nick Hadley, and the drummer is a fresh faced 15 year old called Charlie Pullen. Nigel and Nick are both also rejects from the public school system, whilst Charlie’s mum owns a hotel with a rather fine basement area for the practicing in. Our initial excitement at having a line up is tempered somewhat by the fact the guitarist’s favorite groups appear to be Thin Lizzy and Wishbone Ash respectively. It is also tempered by the fact that they both bear personalities that if one was to search for an accurate description of them, the word that would come to mind would probably rhyme with punt. We can’t complain too much though, as we have already committed to our first public outing, and it would be nice if we actually could play a tune or two by the time we appear to an enthralled public.
The day of The Shapes public unveiling dawns. We are to play at Warwick University, which bafflingly is situated neither in the town of Warwick, nor indeed even in Warwickshire, but in Coventry in the West Midlands. Such was the excitement surrounding punk rock at that time, that not only were we able to get on the bill for the evening’s entertainment sight unseen, but we weren’t even on the bottom of it. The rest of the bill is comprised of other notables who all go on to varying degrees of fame and fortune. The headline act are Raw records favorites The Killjoys. Their singer is notable for two things. Firstly, he is Kevin Rowland, soon to trade in his punk rock credentials for the more lucrative position of mastermind of Dexy’s Midnight Runners, and from thence to dress up as a woman in a a rather alarming attempt to curry public favor. The second notable thing about him is the level of hatred that the rest of The Killjoys appear to have for him. The Killjoys also have a rather fine female bass player in Gil Scott Weston. She is remarkable for two things also. Firstly, that she goes on to better things with the all female heavy metal combo Girlschool, and secondly, that she rather quite bafflingly refuses an offer of sexual congress from yours truly. Bugger. She’ll come around though, they always do. Mind you, as of this writing in January 2002, she has yet to call. Maybe she lost the number. Second on the bill are The Models, whose single Man Of The Year is doing rather nicely thank you in the independent charts. They are notable for having as their guitarist, a rather portly gentleman by the name of Marco Pirroni, who goes on to fame as Adam Ant’s cohort. Third on the bill are The Shapes, who are notable for being crap, and stealing anything that is not either nailed down or red hot. Last on the bill is Spizz, who goes on to fame as, well, Spizz, and is doomed to sing Where’s Captain Kirk for the rest of his life. He is notable for two things also co-incidentally, getting picked up after the gig by his mum, and receiving a punch up the bracket in the course of the evening courtesy of The Shapes’ Nick Hadley esq. I’m not sure what that was all about, but I’m sure he deserved it.
Suffused with success and stolen property, we make our way back to Leamington Spa where we get another gig, this time as support for the Coventry Automatics. They, dear readers, also benefit from the magical touch of The Shapes, change their name to The Specials, and pretend that they never had to associate with the likes of us. The Shapes however, decide that having served the lengthy musical apprenticeship of three or four gigs, we should commit our art to tape. We decamp to Woodbine Mobile Recording Studios in Leamington Spa. Woodbine Mobile Recording Studio is singular in it’s immobility, located as it is in the basement of a house, and is a four track owned and run by the delightful Mr. John A Rivers, who despite batting for tthe other team, is genuinely pleased to have us. We record four songs for the grand total of 27 pounds. We sound exactly like what we are, five spotty herberts with crappy equipment and minimal skills, but we are happy with the result. I have a Zenta bass guitar that also cost all of 25 pounds. Every note I play results in a resounding “bonk” note. I have an amplifier that I bought from the back of the Melody Maker for practically nothing. Fame clearly awaits. What could possibly stop us from the stardom that beckons ? Alas, we are to find out.
It’s 1978 and we have just been rehearsing. Actually, to be honest, in this instance, rehearsing is more like a code word for arguing about why The Shapes should sound more like Thin Lizzy or Wishbone Ash, as this is what we do most of the time. Seymour and I are most dischuffed with this approach to writing, but we don’t really have a lot of choice in the matter at the time. It’s a fairly easy thing to avoid though, by just pretending to be unable to play anything that didn’t suit our tastes. It clearly can’t go on like this, and it doesn’t, though not for reasons that we could have anticipated. After the rehearsing/arguing session, it is decided that Chinese food shall be consumed. Now, gentle reader, this is 1978 in the provinces of merry England, so Chinese food means chips served from the local take away, because everywhere else is closed. For reasons lost in the mists of time and substance abuse, I decide not to go, and ride off valiantly into the sunset on my trusty Honda 400-4. Actually, it was probably to the Warwick Hotel to drink copiously of the watery lager, but that’s not important. The rest of The Shapes, comprising Seymour and assorted oafs go to the Ming Kee take away for comestibles, and this is the point at which matters deteriorate alarmingly, for in said establishment lurks the bane of all provincial towns, the casual boys. Dressed in Oxford bags, with star jumpers, and looking not unlike the bastard children of the Bay City Rollers and a factory chicken, they have been out on the town and are in search of badly fried food to soak up the gallons of best bitter they have been drinking, and trouble. They find the former at the Ming Kee,and the latter in the form of The Shapes, punk rockers heaven sent for this purpose. Now the numbers are actually in The Shapes favor, so that when they lurk outside and attack the band unawares on the way out, one would think that a good account would have been given of themselves by The Shapes. Unfortunately, as soon as trouble is spied, the rest of the band run away with all due speed, presumably in search of a collective spine, and leave Seymour on his own to receive a vicious beating that nearly kills him. His head is repeatedly kicked into a curb until he is rendered unconscious, and left bleeding in the gutter, from where he is discovered and rushed to hospital where he is nursed back to some semblance of normality. It is safe to say though, that the trauma does not leave him unaffected, and he is never quite the same person. The rest of the band escape without injury, but we never really forgive them for their cowardice, and the relationship between me and Seymour and the rest never recovers. We miss all the gigs that we were to play, and the writing is on the wall for The Shapes Mark I.
Slowly, Seymour recovers and we start to gig again. We have by this time, and for reasons that I don’t fully understand even now, acquired a manager. His name is Rob Atkins and he seems like a nice bloke. He has two step-daughters called Sharon and Tracey, which affords me no small amusement. They go out with two of the group. He has another step daughter called Beverley. She goes out with me. This relationship is spectacularly shag free, much to my chagrin, but which at time was becoming somewhat of a pattern in my life. He manages to get a producer from EMI to come and see us. We, as usual, stink the place up, but because EMI is still mortally embarrassed by the whole Sex Pistols fiasco, they agree to put us in the studio and see what comes of the enterprise as long as we record some material that they will prepare for us as well as our own stuff. The warning bells should have been ringing at that point, but dear reader, we are just poor naive lads from the country. What do we know of such things? We know only of the simple pleasures of life, like farming, or sitting on an air hose. We knew one thing though, the chap from EMI was certainly a hippie of the first order, and introduced The Shapes to their first taste of the dear old Bolivian marching powder. Suffused with this fine pharmaceutical, we all said “Yes !”. Mind you, at that point, we would have said yes to having electrodes attached to our genitals and being flogged senseless with a knotted rope. In retrospect, I think this may have been preferable to what followed.
We are told that we will be changing our name to The Racket and recording a song called “My Hero”. We listen to a demo recorded for our listening pleasure. It is, not to put too fine a point on it, complete shite of the first order. It is sung in a sort of strange nasal mockney, a la Ben Elton, replete with Rottenesque sneers and pretend bad playing. We listen appalled, but perhaps we can make something of it when we re-record it. Then we are told that this is actually the finished product, and that all we are required to do is to mime it on Top Of The Pops and other TV appearances. We are to be a front band it appears, for a scam by some old hippies on EMI’s roster to cash in. We will sacrifice our dignity for some small consideration. Basically, we’ve been had. It’s all too much for Nick Hadley, and he decamps, never to be seen again, so it wasn’t all bad I suppose. He continues to play, surprisingly enough, linking up with Wishbone Ash at some point, so he must have been happy. The Shapes now continue as a four piece, with Nigel Greenway as the remaining guitarist.
It’s a funny old time for The Shapes. We are thoroughly “handled” by our manager and the selection of people foisted on us by the producer at EMI. Suddenly, there is a change in plan. The whole nonsensical Racket/My Hero nonsense is dropped and we shall be allowed to continue to be known as The Shapes. That’s the good news. The bad news is that we will still have to record complete arse written by someone else as well as our own songs. I rationalize this by reminding myself that this seemed to work out for The Sweet. However, The Sweet had the writing team of Nicky Chinn/Mike Chapman, and we have a fellow called Nick Brind of little known EMI tax loss Joe Public. A seemingly nice chap, but a pathological liar where money and plans for my future are concerned. At this time, Tom Robinson was enjoying some success with a song called 2,4,6,8 Motorway, a song about the rigors of such a non new wave activity as truck driving. The Shapes, courtesy of a piece of doggerel written by the aforementioned Mr.Brind, are forced into Bird Sound studios with a forked vermin stick to record a tune entitled “Truck Drivin’ Man”. It is an appalling piece of derivative crap, and are all thoroughly ashamed of it, with the notable exception of our guitarist who I secretly suspect of being satisfied that he was recording a “real” song for once, and none of this punk nonsense thank you very much. We also have to record a song for Mr. Brind call “Stick It PSU’ ,a supposedly punk song about the delights of taking up the cable locker. Mr. Brind takes the lead vocal on this to surprising silence from Seymour, who wanders outside to improve his voice by chain smoking Player’s No 6. He’s clearly not as daft as he looks. We are allowed to record “Chatterbox”, a song of our own. It is completely ruined by Mr.Brind’s insistence on doing backing vocals a la Chas and Dave. The production is quite simply the worst I have ever heard, and the whole affair sounds like it has been recorded underwater. Seymour and I leave totally disillusioned, whilst the others seem quite happy with their days work. The pictures taken at the time show just what a delighful experience it all has been. The only good thing about it is that I have finally managed to purchase a fine Fender Jazz bass, and a Marshall bass stack, so the days of resounding “bonk” noises are at an end. What is also drawing to an end is The Shapes Mark II, but not before the world rights itself somewhat.
One good thing comes from all of this though. Under the watchful eye of our handlers, we are actually getting to be very proficient. Being forced to rehearse correctly and stopped from fighting incessantly has produced a rather efficient little unit. Our rehearsal space leaves a little to be desired though, as it is in the Commonwealth Club of Leamington Spa, which is a drinking repository for the Indian community. They are less than pleased to be sharing their space with us, and it is not unusual to find one’s equipment covered in the remains of cold curry. I take my guitar home with me as a result. The amplifier dries off on it’s own eventually, although we do get followed by packs of wild dogs whenever we leave the house. One other thing that comes out of this is that is becomes clear that dear little Charlie, who has hung on in there so far, really isn’t up to the next step at this time, and so in our first act of cut throated behavior, we fire him and hire instead the lovely Dave Gee. Also clearly a hippie, but we can soon sort that out. He was a good drummer and we desperately need one at this point. Charlie goes on to become a fine drummer in his own right, and does sterling service in many local bands. We start to gig again, and surprisingly start to go over well, as we have mastered the art of playing the same song simultaneously. We have also mastered the art of song writing a little better, and because by this time, the EMI chaps have got bored with us and forgotten about us, I write a couple of fine songs. We record one of them “College Girls”, at Woodbine, and things come together. It is fast, well played, tight as a duck’s arse and for the time, commercial as all get out. As we are wrapping it all up, who should turn up but Nick Brind. He’s been alerted to the whole affair by our guitarist. Seymour and I are totally gobsmacked at this, but Mr. Brind seems genuinely impressed by what we did all on our own, and he disappears with the guitarist. Something about this strikes me as odd, so I make sure that I have the master tapes with me when we decamp from the studio when all is done.
Sure enough, it appears that dear Nigel and Mr.Brind have conspired to give Mr.Brind the song “College Girls” and ditch us. It’s the end for The Shapes Mark II immediately. Nigel decamps forthwith to find his fortune, and is never seen nor heard of again. Mr.Brind has a nervous breakdown and is not seen again, so there is a plus side to all this, and The Shapes are now years ahead of their time as a drum and bass combo. Our manager Rob also takes his cue and leaves, but as part of our negotiated settlement, we can still use his van to get around to gigs in. It’s been 18 months of hard miserable work, and we are back where we started, older, wiser, with no record out and only half a band, and certainly no money or management. We had to make the decision to either continue or to knock it on the head and go back in defeat to our day jobs. The thought of the silent satisfaction of our coworkers was enough to convince us to try again, only this time under our own terms. The trusty Honda was sold, as it was pretty much the only asset that we had, and armed with this cash, we set out to find some new Shapes, record a record, get it out, and get Dave Gee a damn haircut and some straight trousers. The last of these tasks was to prove the hardest to accomplish.
Having learned from harsh experience, the folly of trying to recruit like-minded souls from the stagnant pond that is Royal Leamington Spa, we elect to look further afield, and to this end place a wanted advertisement in the hallowed pages of all-that-is-cool, namely the New Musical Express. We get many replies, not because we are that well known or good, but because we dramatically overstate our prospects and achievements. We start auditioning guitarists, and are surprised to find that although we were quite specific about what sort of band we were, and what sort of guitarists we were looking for, we are inundated with the inept, the bearded, the be-flared, and the just plain nonsensical. However, one does stick in the memory, and we elect to try him out. He is Steve Richards from Andover, and despite the fact that he thinks Andover is a borough of London and being three feet tall, he is promptly lied to, promised fame, wealth and a shag, and induced to sign on. We don’t mention that the shag is possibly going to be provided by the recording engineer, and that Steve will be playing a less active role at this point, it has to be said. Dave wakes up at some juncture, and insists that we try out a friend of his for the second guitar spot and we agree, mainly because no-one else looks good, and to shut Dave up. The guitarist in question is quite good, but is also a rampant hippy, and so addled by recreational relaxants, that he is borderline psychotic. His behavior is so erratic that even Dave doesn’t try to foist this one on us, especially after said lunatic steals Dave’s car. Dave does suggest another person though, and with great trepidation, we contact him. He turns out to be relatively normal, although we find out later that he is indeed a lunatic, but in a more acceptable manner to us. He is Tim Jee, and he completes the line up of The Shapes Mark III. Both guitarists have already schooled themselves in punk, although Steve does alarmingly know the entire Deep Purple catalog by heart. He also knows all the Shadows tunes too, which is somewhat bizarre, but we end up stealing a lot of that and speeding it all up to disguise it, so it came in handy I suppose.
After a little rehearsal, we return to Woodbine Mobile Recording Studios, still as permanently fixed in place as it was the last time we visited, and we record what is to become the Part Of The Furniture Ep on our own label, Sofa Records. We record four songs, (I Saw) Batman (In The Launderette), College Girls, What’s For Lunch Mum (Not Beans Again), and Chatterbox. The versions are faster and more urgent with the two guitarists, and we retire well pleased by the whole affair. The Honda money is duly spent on pressing and sleeve inserts and we dutifully spend an evening stuffing the inserts into the records. That took us up to the point that we knew, so after persuading everyone we knew to buy one, we sent one to just about every DJ at every radio station we could think of. We never really expected anyone would play it, especially not John Peel, because we had played a road show of his not long previously as the old Mark II Shapes, and had quite frankly gone down like a fart in a space suit. But play it he did, not once, not twice, but incessantly. The phone started to ring, and suddenly we were a hot property. We couldn’t get rid of the records fast enough. We re-pressed and re-pressed and loaded up Dave’s car, which he by now had pried back from the grasp of the psychotic hippy, who had relocated to a hillside in rural Wales to await the spaceships, or just to avoid a severe thrashing by Dave. We would drive to London and starting at Westbourne Grove, start unloading them at Virgin, Rough Trade, Fresh, Cherry Red, and all the way up to Small Wonder in Walthamstow to hawk them to the lovely Pete Stennet and his even lovelier wife Marie. A cup of tea would be cadged and then off home again. The week would see trips to all the other major distributors, Red Rhino, Dead Good, and a host of others. Suddenly, places that wouldn’t let us in were calling us, and the gigging never stopped. We started scoring supports all over, and so began the never ending swathe of gigs that became the Part Of The Furniture tour of 1979.
We support The Fall in Nottingham and find them to be every bit as miserable as we are led to believe from their recordings, except for their delightful female keyboard player to whom I, as tradition demands, offer the hallowed resources of my deluxe body. As tradition demands, she refuses and spends the rest of the evening staying as physically far away from me as possible without actually leaving the building. She’ll come around though, but she’ll have to line up behind the others. Their guitarist Martin Bramah uses Peavey Amps, and is most disdainful of our Marshall backline. “Bloody heavy metal” I seem to remember him sniffing. The Shapes go on and are for once very good, and retire to the dressing rooms if not conquering heroes, then at least not beaten up by the audience, which is all we were looking for at that juncture. The Fall start. Halfway through the first song, silence erupts. 30 seconds later, the door to the dressing room bursts open and in comes Martin Bramah. His amplifier has exploded, can he use our heavy metal backline ? This is almost as embarrassing for us as it is for him, as we are caught in the act of going through The Fall’s stuff while they are on-stage in the hope of finding something worth smoking, eating, drinking or stealing. We come to an arrangement whereby he can use Tim’s Marshall and we won’t nick any of his stuff. Honor is restored, and we part ways happy. Well, at least The Shapes do. The Fall drift off in a cloud of existential ansgt. I’ll tell you, those guys know how to party.
On to Sheffield where we support The Cure at the awful Limit club. They have just signed to Polydor, and their single Killing An Arab is doing rather well. We arrive to find that The Cure are there and although a three piece with minimal equipment, they take up the whole stage and refuse to move so much as a plectrum allow us on. The drummer in particular is a complete git, complaining that we shouldn’t even get a dressing room. I get on all right with the bass player, and Dave works out a compromise with the Cure’s drummer. Their drummer will move his kit back enough so that Dave can fit his on the stage, and in return, Dave won’t hammer the Cure’s drummer to an unrecognizable paste. This seems to be an acceptable solution to both parties, and we go on only to find that The Cure’s crew have sabotaged the lighting rig and we are forced to play under the minimal house lights. We’d done a lot worse in the past, so we got on with it and did really well with the crowd. We load the van, and just before The Cure go on, Dave suddenly remembers he has to do something. He disappears back inside and reemerges a little while later looking somewhat flushed and suggests that we make our egress with all due speed. Apparently, he had reneged on his part of the agreement with The Cure’s drummer, so the chances of further outings with them were minimal to say the least. We were just disappointed that we were not asked to join in. We do however, have a nice fight with each other on the way home, so the evening wasn’t without it’s little share of excitment.
We work with a nice lady from the Cowbell agency in London and for some strange reason we find ourselves playing the Music Machine in London’s Camden town with the 14 piece disco band Gonzalez. They have a hit record at the time and so do The Shapes, but The Shapes find themselves playing to 2000 bemused disco fans. The silence after each number is deafening, but about halfway through, we start to enjoy ourselves, mainly because this is the sort of absurdity that we are used to. We leave the stage to the sound of crickets chirping and retire to the dressing room where we, as tradition demands, help ourselves to everything not nailed down or hot. We stock up on the tools of the disco craze in the form or shakers, castanets, and things that go “boing”. But what it this ? Steve Richards has scored! The diminutive one has pulled ! This can’t be right, it’s clearly my turn. However all is not as it seems. He has indeed pulled a rather dodgy looking punkess, but he’s been beaten to it. She actually came in with Lemmy from Motorhead who is now looking for her at the stage side bar. My job is to keep giving him 10p pieces to play the video games until Steve and his date can finish their tryst, if tryst not too grand a word for a knee trembler in the stage lavatory whilst standing on a box to make up for the height differential. We drive home minus two of us. We have no idea of which two, except that I wasn’t one of them. We all arrived somewhere eventually. The night is not without it’s rewards. We get paid, and we also get the London Evening Standard’s award for the Worst Mix Of Bands on a London stage in their 1979 year end round up.
We go and play at all the dives in London with the famous, the no so famous and the soon to be famous. We play with The Reaction, who shortly thereafter benefit from the magic Shapes touch and change their name to Talk Talk and go on, as is usual by now, to fame and fortune. The singer is once again bereft of all personality and I see him later trying to staunch a flow of blood from his nose. Apparently he had been negotiating with our drummer again. If this doesn’t stop, we’re going to get a reputation. This behavior is continued by Steve who threatens Sounds music journalist Gary Bushell the next night when we play in West London with all women (don’t call us girls, we’re not fucking girls, we’re a feminist all-women collective), Tour De Force. Inexplicably, he writes a great review of us. We must threaten journalists more often. It must be said though, that had we had known that he would eventually become the right wing homophobic, race-bating asshole and all around media nightmare that he became, we would have foregone the review and just given him the sound thrashing that he is still grossly overdue for. It must also be said that I did not offer the delights of my deluxe body to the charming women of Tour De Force. I’m not that stupid.
We are reviewed in the papers, appear on the TV, and generally whore ourselves around anywhere that will have us. These are the good times, and very satisfying they are too. We have finally got to go where we wanted, and for once, under our own terms. We actually have a road crew now. His name is Graham. He comes to see us at a gig somewhere, and never goes home. We carry him in with the gear, and out again with it. He is perfect as a roadie, except for having little or no understanding about where stuff goes, but he’s willing to work for what we pay him, i.e. nothing. We give no thought for the future, because we are too busy in the present, and that dear reader, sows the seeds of our undoing, but not before much more fun can be had.
So after years of false starts, life is suddenly a blur of gigs, interviews, vans, chips, motorways, and social relaxants. Very nice it too it has to be said. We go and play the opening of a new punk club in the delightfully quaint northern hamlet of Burnley, a place that clearly gave rise to the phrase “It’s grim up north”. We find that our support is the ever lovely Not Sensibles, and that the club is actually a genuine working mans club rented for the evening. The manager shows us to the stage and says, “you can move the bingo machine, but leave the organ alone”. These are fine words to live by indeed as a general philosophy, but whilst the disposal of the bingo machine is easy enough, the organ presents us with a problem. It clearly last saw duty on the Titanic, and is about the same size. Unless we actually play inside it, there’s no room for us on the stage. We decide to move it anyway, and the assorted might of The Shapes is brought to bear on it while the club manager has buggered off to get chips and race a whippet or something. After much straining, there is a deafening tearing sound and the organ moves. We then find why we shouldn’t have moved it, as it was actually plumbed into an elaborate bellows system substage. Strange gasping pipes stick up through a gaping maw in the stage. All is not lost though. We remember that prior to becoming a drummer, Dave had a huge organ (insert Kenneth Williams noise here), and he might be able to diagnose the problem and it’s solution. Dave is summoned form the van where he is busy rolling Moroccan Woobines and asked to give his considered analysis of the situation. He brings his experience to bear on the situation and delivers his considered opinion. “It’s fucked”. So there you are. See, it always pays to get a qualified opinion. Over the horizon, we see the shape of the club manager hoving into view, loaded down with flat caps and black puddings, so we resort to plan B when he arrives. We blame the Not Sensibles. As the manager is led away weeping, we retire to the bar to allow the road crew to finish assembling the backline and destroy what little is left of the club’s infrastructure. The Not Sensibles sit in a corner dealing us black looks.
The Not Sensibles do a surprisingly good set, which is always a nuisance, and we go on to thunderous reaction. The crowd go wild, but as I play, I can see at the back that the club is still filled with all the usual patrons. Old men with flat caps and whippets playing dominoes, oblivious to the mayhem that is going on up at the front. It should be pointed out to avoid confusion, that it was the little men in flat caps that were playing dominoies, not the whippets. They just sat under the tables. Most surreal. After we finish, the stage is mobbed, and in a moment where the karmic wheel is realigned, the crowd steal anything that is not nailed down or hot. I think I saw them carry out Steve Richards at one point. I am surrounded by people, and by the time I stop signing autographs and the like, my watch has disappeared. I was almost as annoyed as the person I stole it off must have been. Tim is distressed because someone has stolen all the strings off his guitar as well as the bridge. He’s playing a rare Rickenbacker 420A and this is pretty much the last time it’s ever played, as the bridge is almost impossible to replace. He’s not well pleased I can tell you. We depart the lovely town of Burnley later, glad to not all be wearing cartoon barrels instead of clothes. We are stopped by the police in the wee hours of the morning during the drive home, for weaving about above and beyond the call of normality. This however, does not deter Dave from constructing and lighting a joint the size of a sewer pipe to pass the time whilst I bullshit about the state of the van. There’s a reason he has to sit in the back with the equipment, besides the smell, and this might be one of them.
We move on to the equally delightful town of Bradford, where we play the Royal Standard on Manningham Lane, just up the road from the Yorkshire Ripper’s house. He didn’t come though, as he was unavoidalbly detained. The trip up is enlivened by Dave falling asleep against the passenger door of the car and Steve reaching around from the back and opening it whilst we are travelling up the M6. Dave dissapears from view, only to awake heading for a solo jaunt up the shoulder of the road. In a remarkable display of restraint, he claws his way back in, and a small disagreement ensues. We arrive in Bradford having been involved in what is basically a movable brawl for the last three hours. Not to be outdone, there has been a little contre temps at the venue the night before with the local motorcycle gang the Satan’s Slaves. Consequently, they are out in force outside, and nobody has the courage to actually enter the venue. We play to four people, whom we invite up on stage. The rest of the audience sit outside and listen by proxy. The promoter had tears in his eyes as he counted out the money. We are promised that we will never forget the fish and chips in Bradford. They are correct. They taste like a stool sample from a circus animal. With great foresight and planning, out next gig is in London, so we wearily head off again. We must stop arranging dates alphabetically, and do it by date like everyone else.
After that it’s down to Gloucester to support punk legends Slaughter and the Dogs. Like many legends, they are better in the telling than in the flesh, as they decline to turn up, leaving The Shapes to fill the entire evening. It’s safe to say that their crowd and The Shapes are not usually the same, and this crowd are not well pleased at the non appearance of their Mauncunian heroes. Therefore after the set, we retreat with all due speed to the dressing room, where we are besieged by angry skinheads. Slaughter’s most famous song was “Where Have All The Boot Boys Gone?”. I could have answered that for them right then. They were outside our fucking dressing room. Trying to get in. It’s all right though, because Tim has a plan. He starts a fight with every single one of them by passing out autographs signing himself as Hitler. In the ensuing melee, we hear the sounds of the van revving and we throw ourselves into it and away, never to darken Gloucester’s door again. We do however, continue with our door-darkening behavior just about everywhere else in the free world.
Down in the west country, we are stopped from performing by the police before we even unload the van and advised to piss off smartish. We stay only long enough to collect our contracted fee from the bemused local promoter, and retire to the local hostelry. We inform him that this is the best gig we have ever played, and that in future, the next time that he wants to book us, he can just mail us the fee and save us the drive. We then let him buy drinks for us all to show that there is no hard feelings. We are about as far as we can be in the west of England with actually falling into the sea, so rough cider is the order of the day apparently. I’m lucky enough to be served last and I see that rough cider is a milky white substance that clearly has things growing in it. I also get a chance to look at the locals and see what it’s done to them over the years. I order a lager instead. The pub grows silent, the piano stops playing and all eyes are on me, whilst the landlord looks up the word “lager” in a dictionary. I insist, and muttering, the landlord wanders off mumbling to himself and returns with a dusty pre war bottle of an indeterminate beer with a picture of Goering on it. That will have to do, and do it does very nicely, as the journey home is broken by frequent stops for various Shapes and crew to throw up and/or defecate explosively, sometimes simultaneously. At one point Tim falls into a ditch whilst indulging in this retching/farting/revolving behavior and demands that we leave him there to die. We relent and carry him into the van. He’s left enough of himself in there as it is.
Then we receive a phone call. John Peel has clearly forgotten just how rank the early Shapes were and has invited us to do a session for his BBC program. We wander down to the BBC studios in Maida Vale and are promptly mistaken for Adam and the Ants. Obliging as ever, we sign autographs as such for the adoring and presumably visually impaired fans that are there to see them. We record a blinder of a session for the program, and have a generally wonderful time at the license payers expense. We wander into the largest of the BBC studios where the BBC Symphony is set up. Dave, star percussionist extraordinaire, decides that he needs to play the timpani drums. He does so, and promptly breaks them. We slink out, complete the session and head back out on the never ending tour. On the way up the Edgware road, the door falls off the van. It is a refreshing return to normality for us all. We also find that Trevor Dann, the esteemed BBC producer, has nicked one of our songs to use as the theme tune to his radio show. We’re still waiting for the cheque.
In a two week gap, we head back to dear old Woodbine Mobile Recording Studios, still where we left it, and record our second single, the provocatively titled Airline Disaster/Blastoff double A side. It’s all rather fine too. We start to ship that around for a release as we are now so busy that we don’t have time to do it for ourselves. It is at this point that we fall in with the delightfully insane Terri Hooley and his label Good Vibrations, and The Shapes story takes another twist towards the bizarre.
Now, it has to be said that Terri was, and probably still is, an unusual man. Having catapulted The Undertones to fame via their first single, Teenage Kicks, on his Good Vibrations label, he found himself in the position of running a respectable independent label, despite being located in Belfast, and possessing of what can only be described as unorthodox negotiation skills. As an example, the first time that we met him, he had just returned from negotiating The Undertones signing to CBS which he had concluded by throwing a brick through their front office window. Over pints of beer in the local pub, we found this quite impressive, and in lieu of any other serious offers for our services, decided to join our label to his and release our second single. We also agree to go and play the first festival of Punk and New Wave to be held at the Royal Ulster Hall in Belfast, forgetting that Belfast is is Nothern Ireland, and to get The Shapes there will require an organisational effort similar to the Normandy landings. Luckily, Terri does not conclude this arrangement with us by throwing a brick through my window, but he does take his glass eye out in the pub, which is a little alarming to say the least. This all goes swimmingly otherwise, but trouble is once again brewing in The Shapes camp, and we are due for another upheaval.
Relations between Steve Richards and the rest of the band begin to sour. It’s nothing that can be generally defined, but it’s there. He doesn’t like Seymour, and Seymour doesn’t like him. Actually, it’s Seymour’s girlfriend that doesn’t like him, and Seymour knows which one he has to please to continue to receive the sexual favours that he has become accustomed to. It’s causing us to slip into a torpor from which we are unlikely to recover if something is not done. We all still like him though in our own way, so the decision is a hard one. In an act of particular brazen cowardice, we write him a note declining further use of his services, post it through his door, and fuck off smartish. He is not well pleased, and well he might be. The Shapes now continue as a four piece, allowing the wonderful and by now, completely unstable Tim Jee the assumption of all guitar duties. This actually works out rather well, as the sound is tighter and easier to manage, and so we start writing again, and we can all travel to gigs in one car. To prove this, we all go off to Belfast to play in one car. Well, by that we mean that we are going to to travel there together in one car, not actually go there and play in the car, but you get the general idea. Such is the mounting paranoia of the band for the trip that we are all convinced that we will be kidnapped and murdered the second we set foot in Northern Ireland, and so it is with some trepidation that we arrive in Belfast at 1:00 a.m. and due to a faultless piece of navigation by yours truly, promptly get lost in the dockland area, which it has to be said, is less than salubrious.
Many panicked phone calls later, we are rescued by Terri Hooley, who finds us all hiding under the car, whimpering and practicing Irish accents. We are collected and taken to the warm confines of his house, where we all bed down for the night after he tells us all a bedtime story. The subject of this story appears to be that we are bunch of soft cunts, but it was late and it may have been about a fluffy squirrel called Eric. In the morning I get up and go outside in a perfectly normal residential neighborhood and check under the car for bombs. I look like a complete lunatic apparently, because I draw a curious crowd and once again, have to be rescued. Our idiot drummer goes into a newsagents and asks for a petrol bomb for his lighter, and this and various other potentially fatal faux pas are committed before we can all be collected and taken to the venue where it is our pleasure to be supporting that fine antipodean punk beat combo, The Saints. Chris Bailey seems a genuinely nice fellow, but that’s because he is drunk I suspect. The Saints now have a very pretty female bass player, to whom, as tradition demands, I offer my availability. I expect she must have lost my number. We go on and do rather well. At least no one shoots at us, which is pretty much all we were hoping for at this point. We’re above Protex and Rudi on the bill as I remember, and that is rather satisfying. We hang out the next day before returning home and denude Terri’s record shop and drinks cabinet. The die is cast, we are now established Good Vibrations artists.
Back home, the gigging is getting rather old. We slip from one endless succession of dates into the next. We support The Photos on their British tour. They used to be called Satan’s Rats but not surprisingly, this name was not exactly making inroads into the charts. They were doing rather well, with an album at number 4, and we were doing rather well supporting them, especially at the London Marquee. For some reason, Tim has taken to wearing a full length wool coat and scarf onstage. Under the bright lights, his body temperature triples, and he resembles a psychotic beetroot. His appearance is so alarming, that even in the most crowded venues, a space opens up in front of his part of the stage. We follow The Photos around promoting the second single, and find time to record a third, the rather fabulous “Lets Go (to Planet Skaro), My House is a Satellite, and Jennifer the Conifer. We follow The Photos all over hell and creation until Brighton, where once again, we do rather well in front of a crowd more punk than pop. In fact, we’re starting to go down better than The Photos, so it’s probably a good thing that the tour is winding up here. At one point during The Photos set, they seem to be doing rather well, and it transpires that this is due in no small part to the sight of a rather friendly girl getting rogered senseless stage left by one of the crew in full view of the audience. After they have finished, she stands up and wipes herself clean on a stage curtain behind The Photos bass player. And they say romance is dead. Tim and I get a good view of all this, as she getting rhymically knocked against a piano that he and I are sitting on. Oh well, you take what you can get I expect. After this, The Photos really can’t top this unless they all start doing their female singer Wendy, and she doesn’t look like she’ll be allowing that any time soon. Anyway, I’d already offered. The sky becomes grey with bottles and cans. Tim, Dave, and I return fire from behind the backline. Suprisingly, this does not improve the situation. Seymour is off with the venue organizer pretending to be from the third band on the bill The Exclusives. He signs for and collects their 50 pound fee, before I go and collect ours. I have to wait behind the singer for The Exclusives, who is trying to find out where their 50 pounds has dissapeared to. We leave just after Dave punches the lighting supervisor. Oh dear, he’s at it again. We do the long drive back to Leamington that night, getting hopelessly lost in the dark deserted streets of London’s City to the sounds of Robin Trower’s Day of The Eagle. Most surreal. There are no more dates to play on this tour, so we are done. Little did we know how true that was, for The Shapes dear reader, are never to play live in Britain again.
We are suddenly becalmed. We’re too big to keep playing the places we have been playing, but not big enough to make the next leap to larger venues. We don’t have the cash to play any more support tours, and the mood of punk has changed. We’re totally burned out with gigging anyway. We’ve been there since the very start, playing every toilet and hell hole the length and breadth of the United Kingdom. We’ve been spat on, beat up, ripped off, and ragged out, and that was the fun part. There is a second harder wave of punk now, led by such bands as Discharge and The Exploited, all leather and mohawks. This new group of punks have no time for the lovable orange and green haired mop tops of The Shapes, and to be quite frank, The Shapes have no time for them. We went from seeing an audience full of smiling faces singing dumb songs about beans, to seeing a war zone from the stage. It all began to get too wearing, and got to the point that when bad enough, Tim and Dave, and even Steve when he was still with us, would dive into the crowd to sort it out. I’d sit back, light a number 6 and wait for the nonsense to end. Unfortunately, it never did. So we wait in Leamington Spa, stuck between fame and obscurity, local heroes but national curiosities, success and failure. While we do so, it becomes painfully obvious that we have had our 15 minutes, and been lucky enough to play it out for three and a half years. Somehow, songs about nuclear war and endless diatribes about Margaret Thatcher are de rigeur, and The Shapes are not. We are suddenly declared irrelevant. This is news to us, because we always considered ourselves completely irrelevant anyway, but it was nice to be agreed with for a change. We’ve done things that most other bands only dream about, but in the end, we arrive where most bands do, at the realization that time moves on. We decide to go on hiatus, only to play one last gig, back in Belfast for Terri Hooley. It’s a downbeat end to a short flash of a career, but we’re all off doing other things at that time. I am currently touring with another band, (which may or may not be detailed later,) and fly out to the gig from a tour date with them in London. It’s a little bit of rock star treatment after all the years of playing. After the gig, we return to our lives. We never stop hanging out with each other, we just stop playing and recording. We drift from being a band to being friends, which is more than you can ask for really, and so the story of The Shapes appears to end, but dear reader, that would be just too downbeat an ending so…