Tag Archives: The Prisoners

A Medway Christmas Alphabet: The Full Story

A-Z

You can blame a chap called Philip Kane for this. Back on 1 December, he posted on Facebook the social media version of the old chain letter thing that went as follows:

“So the idea is to fill facebook with music, breaking the monotony of nasty, divisive headlines and images on our news feeds.

If you ‘like’ this post, you will be assigned a letter for a musician, band, artist, song, track or dj to post to your time line with this text”.

I liked it. He came back to me with the letter R. I came up with Rodrigo y Gabriela & C.U.B.A.’s ‘Santa Domingo’ – as you do – and before you know it I’d committed myself to the idea of stealing the whole concept and coming up with some music of Medway origin (or, if you will, MOMO) for each letter of the alphabet.

26 blogs later and I can finally move on with my life.

It has actually been fun – not least because there’s been the opportunity to focus on individual songs in a way you might not otherwise. Being an alphabetical list, there’s been less need to focus on continuity and history.

One day we’ve had a song by Balance Lost (a current band), the next we’ve had a song that’s had two outings: once in the early 1990s and then just a couple of years ago. Then, the day after that, we’ve had a song from 2010 which expresses its boredom with Medway bands from the 1980s.

It’s meant there’s been a wide variety of styles and sounds which all goes to show what an amazing melting pot of ideas this small collection of towns in the north of Kent is.

If you missed any of the blogs, not to worry: here they all are listed for your convenience – in alphabetical order, obviously.

A – The Singing Loins – ‘Alien’

B – Funke and the Two Tone Baby – ‘Bella’s Kiss’

C – Stuart Turner and the Flat Earth Society – ‘Call Me Dave’

D – Brigadier Ambrose – ‘Decembered’

E – Thee Headcoats – ‘Every Bit of Me’

F – Wheels – ‘Forget It’

G – The Dentists – ‘Gas’

H – Bob Collins and the Full Nelson – ‘Holy Man’

I -Theatre Royal – ‘I Believe in Father Christmas (Don’t Get Me Socks)’

J – Wolf’s Head and Vixen Morris – ‘Jump at the Sun’

K – Frau Pouch – ‘Krakthulu’

L – The Claim – ‘Losers Corner’

M – Broken Banjo – ‘Might As Well Be Hell’

N – Hand of Stabs – ‘The Night Had No Terror For Us’

O – The Daggermen – ‘One More Letter’

P – The Prisoners – ‘Pop Star Party’

Q – Wild Billy Childish and the Musicians of the British Empire – ‘A Quick One – Pete Townsend’s Christmas’

R – The Ambience – ‘Rome’

S – Balance Lost – ‘Shield Against the World’

T – The Kravin’ “A”s/Suzi Chunk – ‘Tripwire’

U – The Love Family – ‘Up in the Air’

V – The Flowing – ‘The Voyage’

W – Lupen Crook – ‘World’s End’

X – CTMF – ‘X-Craft on Tirpitz’

Y – Bear vs. Manero – ‘YRANYRBYM’

Z – KILL RPNZL – ‘Zombie Midwife Afterbirth Squad’

Find out more about many of these bands and artists – and many, many more, in my book: Do it Yourself: a History of Music in Medway.

A Medway Christmas Alphabet: P is for ‘Pop Star Party’

‘Tis the festive season of advent calendars and countdowns to Christmas. To mark the occasion, what better way than to have a completely non-festive A-Z of Medway songs.

The Prisoners - In From The ColdThe Prisoners were two bands.

There was one band who wanted to keep everything authentic: to recreate the sounds they had heard on recordings by The Small Faces and The Nice and put their own spin on. And there was the second band that craved commercial success – of MAKING IT.

Sadly, as this was the 80s, the era of Duran Duran, The Style Council and ABC, it was unlikely both bands could co-exist harmoniously. There would have to be give and take. And eventually, the fight between the two sides of The Prisoners destroyed them.

The Prisoners’ albums reflect this tale in an all too neat way. Album one, A Taste of Pink, was recorded on a budget, entirely self funded; album two, The WiserMiserDemelza, saw The Prisoners signed and having real money thrown at them (while creative control was removed); their third album, The Last Fourfathers, often regarded as their best, sees them go independent again – and win back their creative control; and their final album, In From The Cold, finds the band trying their luck with a label again.

It could only end in tears.

‘Pop Star Party’, to be found as a bonus track on In From The Cold, finds the band at its bitter end.

The song was recorded as a parting shot to their record label who, they felt, had let them down. And although, on signing to Countdown, a subsidiary of Stiff Records.

The Prisoners had had to make compromises they were none too happy about, but things weren’t helped by the unfortunate timing of In From The Cold‘s release: Stiff went under around the same time as the release date – so there was little that could be done to even promote or sell the album. For some time it was just a “lost” record.

Against this backdrop, out of a sense of utter frustration, The Prisoners decided to call it a day.

‘Pop Star Party’ commemorates the end in spectacularly vitriolic fashion. Never known as a particularly happy bunch – DJ and music journalist Steve Lamacq remembers them specifically for their grumpiness: ‘the most sullen, angry, embittered and endearing four-piece I’d ever heard’, he writes in his book, Going Deaf for a Living – this song more than any other shows just how grumpy they could be:

You’re the biggest load of fakes that I’ve ever seen.
This is a farewell to your lies.
You’re finished taking us for a music whore…

It was a spectacular way to go out: a band at their peak as a group, regaining complete control of themselves and their music for one final bridge burning hurrah.

Find out more about The Prisoners and many other Medway bands and artists in my book, Do It Yourself: a History of Music in Medway.

You can buy In From the Cold from Amazon or iTunes.

A Medway Christmas Alphabet: O is for ‘One More Letter’

‘Tis the festive season of advent calendars and countdowns to Christmas. To mark the occasion, what better way than to have a completely non-festive A-Z of Medway songs.

The Daggermen EP
What would you do with a time machine?

There’s the obvious stuff, of course. You could go back to July 1888 and try persuading Mrs Hitler she’s got a headache. Or perhaps you could head back to 1555 to see if Queen Mary really was the spitting image of Dennis Waterman.

Then again, it could be fun to find Cellar Number Five beneath Rochester Bridge at some point in the mid-1980s and see if The Daggermen are rehearsing down there.

Maybe it’s me over-romanticising things, but there seems something just a little bit magical about the tales you hear about three lads kicking up a storm in a room not tall enough to stand in. If the stories are to believed, whenever the doors were open, there was a party going on down there.

It wasn’t just The Daggermen who practiced down there. It’s where a band called The Pressure went to rehearse (and have their amplifiers cannibalised) and where The Prisoners recorded ‘Gravedigger‘ – which features as a bonus track on their final album, In From The Cold.

And it wasn’t just down in ‘The Hole’, as they called it, where the party happened. Wherever they went, The Daggermen took the chaos with them. Their performances at The Nag’s Head saw them get thrown out by the landlady, Angie Minto. They would try to secure gigs under an alternate name, but she soon got wise to it.

The band would take their play fights – or bundles – out onto the street, or even across the Channel to France. And they would wind up overseas promoters by making out they were too drunk to perform.

The Daggermen form a cornerstone of much of the music that followed. Two members, Johnny Barker (bass) and Wolf Howard (drums) in particular have appeared in many of Medway’s bands from the 1980s to the present day: The James Taylor Quartet, Johnny and the Bandits, Goodchilde, The Kravin’ “A”s, The Prime Movers, The Solarflares, Dodson’s Dogs, Micky and the Salty Seadogs, Sergeant’s Mess, The Vandebilts, The Musicians of the British Empire, CTMF and, most recently, Senior Service have featured either or both members of the The Daggermen’s rhythm section. And it was a fondness for The Daggermen that saw Billy Childish form The Buff Medways alongside Barker and Howard. The Buffs even released an EP tribute to The Daggermen.

‘One More Letter’ comes from The Daggermen’s EP, Introducing the Daggermen released in 1985. It conveys all the frantic energy you would hope to find from a garage band who practiced in a cellar and terrorised landladies with play fights.

The song hurtles along against a basic blues chord progression with all three band members throwing everything the have into it: David Taylor on guitar and vocals, Johnny Barker on bass and Wolf Howard smashing into his drumkit like it would be of no use come tomorrow.

Writing about it doesn’t really do it justice. You’re just going to have to listen to it for yourself.

Find out more about Jon Barker and Wolf Howard’s latest project, Senior Service (also featuring Darry Hartley and Graham), on their Damaged Good page.

Read more about The Daggermen and many, many other bands and artists from Medway in my book: Do it Yourself: a History of Music in Medway.