‘West Country …. Tra La La ‘
1989 / 1990 was a interesting period in my life, I had a crap job working for the Civil Service in Plymouth (Back in the DHSS!) doing a job that was soul destroying and poorly paid. However, I was working with some lovely people and we had a lot of fun. I had very little money, but enjoyed going out and seeing live bands. Unfortunately, not that many made it as far west as Plymouth or beyond. There was a big Victorian Theatre on Union Street (formerly The Palace Theatre) called the Academy and a local promotor called Andy Howard had started to promote gigs on a Wednesday night, we saw the likes of Carter USM, The Chills, The Janitors, Man from Delmonte etc for a couple of quid. The place was massive and usually empty. I seem to recall that Carter USM played to about 30 people! That was about it for Plymouth gigs, so regular trips to Exeter to visit the university’s Lemon Grove or Great Hall, or perhaps the Arts Centre or Timepiece in the town were in order. I used to enjoy an Exeter gig, it was an hour on the train or the same in my car, a Vauxhall Chevette (I was one of the few in my group of friends who had passed their driving test at that time). If we went on the train (my preferred option!) then a few pints of Royal Oak in the Red Cow public house, which was just outside St Davids Station were in order before walking up the hill to the University or the Town Centre. The Lemon Grove was great, I absolutely loved that place … I remember the dance floor partially collapsing one night at a Fall gig and ending up falling into a hole in front of ME Smith.
If money allowed, then travel further afield for a gig adventure was always an exciting option. One of my Plymouth friends, Tiffany had moved up to the smoke and was quite happy to let me stay over and would actually go to some of my strange gigs! I remember one busy weekend in early March 1990, when I had travelled up to the London. We went to the Town and County Club at Kentish Town to see Loop, World Domination Enterprises and Godflesh on Sunday night, a very noisy affair! On the Monday, we went to Kensington and I bought a leather bikers jacket (all the rage back then!) and that evening, I met up with Tiffany and her sister Claire and headed over to Camden Dingwalls to see Cud.
I’d seen Cud a couple of times before, Salisbury Arts Centre in 1988 and Exeter Arts in 1989. They were great and I used to write letters to their bassist William Potter (this was long before the days of emails and Facebook!) Tiffany was keen to see them as well, as I would send her mix tapes that included all sorts of magical bands, such as Bogshed, Cud, Wedding Present etc. So we headed off to Camden and reached Dingwalls in time to catch the support band, called Barbarella. I can’t remember much about these but I was n’t that bothered. The Cud audience was somewhat different tonight to the previous two shows I’d witnessed. Lots of very big, drunken Yorkshire lads, wearing baggy clothes and shouting “Leeds, Leeds, Leeds” very loudly. There was plenty of toxic masculinity (as nobody called it back then!) in that room. If felt more like a bloody football match, than an Indie gig! Cud came on and I disappeared into the mosh pit, which was not a very pleasant experience that night! Some of the Yorkshire lads wanted a fight with anyone who was n’t one of them. I ended up in a bit of an altercation and got thrown out the venue, I did managed to get back in again and it was a bit of a shit gig really! The band were okay, playing most of the early single and tracks from “When in Rome Kill Me”. I’ve seen Cud many, many times over the decades and that was by far the worst gig I seen them play. Tiffany was completely unaware of all the drama as she taken a nap during the gig, I should have done the same!
The following day, it was time to head home via Exeter. I’d bought tickets to see Thrilled Skinny and The Keatons at the Arts Centre. To be completely honest, I’d heard nothing by either band but I been told that they sounded “a bit like the Wedding Present!” That was good enough for me. The Arts was a tiny venue in the town, near Central station. I can’t remember a great deal about that gig, it was fast and furious and I remember dancing to Thrilled Skinny and enjoying their set.
I met a most of the Thrilled Skinny chaps earlier this year in Bedford, as the Knockouts (which is Ex band members from TS) were doing a gig at Esquires. We had a good chat about the “good old days” although, thirty years down the line and most of it has been forgotten! However, I asked Elliot to write a piece for my blog and he kindly did so …
Elliot Smoke (Thrilled Skinny / Arndales / Knockouts drummer) writes ….
5.3.90 Cud – London Camden Dingwall
6.3.90 The Keatons, Thrilled Skinny – Exeter Arts Centre
10.12.90 Carter (USM), Thrilled Skinny – Cambridge Junction
I’m going through the Wibble mega list of gigs. Wibble saw my band, Thrilled Skinny, twice in 1990 – namely in Exeter in March and Cambridge in December. There were other gigs when he and I were clearly in the same room.
Maybe the Cud gig, March 1990 at Dingwalls? On the day before The Keatons and Thrilled Skinny played Exeter? Check.
I don’t remember the Cud gig at all. Not the show, at any rate. Nothing about the venue, which seems to look totally different every time I go there. On the Cud night, I’d just rehearsed with The Keatons room down the road, in Holloway. Thrilled Skinny and The Keatons played together all the time. So it seemed; at any rate I knew all their stuff backwards. The trouble was, I couldn’t adjust my 500 mph attack (a speed which increased during any given song), nor could I believe I’d been asked to fill in for a gig or two. The Keatons, as was often the case, were between drummers. I’d never played in another band, but manfully volunteered.
To this day, I have no idea why. I was encouraged by some of The Keatons; other bandmembers saw my tenure – however fleeting– as disastrous. Those erring on the side of ‘disastrous’ were right. I don’t think all my Thrilled Skinny buddies were too enamoured with this moonlighting either, though I could be wrong. Perhaps, like me, they realised the ‘Elliot Smoke touch’ was no replacement for Ken, the recently departed sticks man.
All I can really remember about the Cud gig was that I enjoyed Cud and was relieved not to be in The Keatons rehearsal, being simultaneously goaded on and also given looks which combined ‘withering’ with ‘shockingly violent’.
I’ve got better memories of the Exeter gig than the Cud gig in Dingwalls, although again, memory’s a funny thing. Having rehearsed the day before, I may well have played at Exeter for both The Keatons and Thrilled Skinny. I can’t remember. Having checked my diary, I can’t see when else I’d have been needed for The Keatons. The day after, we made the unlikely, unwelcome journey to Hull (!), where I’m pretty sure I only played with Thrilled Skinny.
I blame the miles, the volume, the band (sometimes all bands on a given bill) being paid an average combined fee of £30-£40 per night and surviving on dinners scratched out of packets and tins and that.
Anyway, Exeter. A few ‘in’. We were always happy with a ‘few’. Made a nice change from virtually no one. That night in Exeter, I clearly recall a really quiet audience who bought a load of merchandise. A venue that looked like it been decorated with offcuts from a local snooker factory and in which everyone was polite to the point of it all being awkward. We went down very well, very quietly.
Wibble, of course, may remember things differently.
Fast forward to the end of the year. Cambridge Junction, supporting Carter USM. Since Exeter, we (Thrilled Skinny) had toured Germany (including a Reutlingen date supporting Carter), played a few more gigs with The Wedding Present and I’d moved to London. The Junction was a Monday night in the run in to Christmas. A big gig for us. Someone had the idea that we should take the stage one by one, like a proper rock band. This involved me going on first to start with one of our instrumentals, Sounding Off. The others took an age coming on. From what I recall, there were a few ‘in’ again, though no one warmed to my drumming, which was very powder puff and wobbly when I couldn’t go hell for the leather with all the noise and speed of my chums and collaborators.
Sadly, in a recurring theme, not much more to remember. I imagine the lights dimmed, the banners dropped and the crowd and pa cranked up for Bob’n’Bat.
We played a few more gigs in the south of England before Christmas that year… Chelmsford Y Club with The Keatons (another new drummer), a strippers’ pub in High Wycombe with the always entertaining Cesspit Rebels and a busy, hostile nightclub in Luton which has long since disappeared. Nineteen ninety-one wasn’t as prolific, though we squeezed another jaunt round Germany and our last record, against all laws of sales, commerce and counting, crept into the NME indie chart. We faded out after that, only to re-emerge in Wibble’s ledger (most of us) as The Knockouts. And a couple of us as Arndales…..
CUD at Exeter Arts Centre, 22/4/89. Sadly I have no photos of Thrilled Skinny at Exeter Arts Centre or Cud at Camden Dingwalls. However, Cud at Exeter Arts … that’s a different story!