Category Archives: Stories

Bovvercraft

Band: Soft Heap

Cast:

  • Elton Dean…the sanest one
  • Mark Hewins…the almost sane one
  • Pip Pyle…the sexy one
  • John Greaves…the absent one
  • Rufus…the pleasant driver
  • Great lady…Rufus mum
  • Stewardesses…concerned ladies


Tax free drink is a very good way to end a tour and, combined with the English Channel, usually makes for an entertaining interlude before returning to the rigours of London. It always is a real hoot at customs posts watching Pip trying to explain to the officers what drums are (of course they know). He’s even had to resort to bribery on occasion when baggage handlers take a dislike to him and his cases.

We were coming back from Calais on one such occasion, on the hovercraft for a change, although I prefer the boat myself. Our good friend Rufus was going to pick us up in Dover, so we had said goodbye to Bridget and the orange VW bus full of empty food packets, drink cans and other tour rubbish, in Calais. The gear had gone onto the hovercraft piled on one trailer, all together, neatly ready for us to wheel off. We were all in a very gregarious mood as we boarded and Elton and I sat together, immediately getting told off by a rather lovely stewardess for opening a bottle of wine, before we even took off, but it was all very good natured. I know now from my trips to the U.S. that these girls warn each other about “difficult” passengers so we were already marked before leaving France.

All was going swimmingly, oops, wrong metaphor, when Pip came stumbling back to us about two thirds of the way through the 45 minute trip. He told us John had bought two bottles of Remy Martin brandy and was drinking one so he didn’t have to pay the extra tax on it, did we want some. Of course we did so the three of us wobbled forwards to where they had been sitting. As we reached the seats I saw we were in trouble, John was hanging out of his seat, the last few dregs in the bottom of the bottle clutched in his hand. It was totally hilarious. Pip told us he must have drunk the lot in about half an hour and was paralytically drunk. All we could get out of him were grunts. The hovercraft was due to dock in 10 minutes and worried stewardesses suddenly buzzed around us realising there was a situation, and no time to deal with it.

Elton and I went back to our seats, the most useful thing I could do was take John’s bass, still clutched in his other nerveless hand, off him for safety’s sake.

Finally coming to rest on the tarmac in Dover we had to wait until everyone else was let off the hovercraft before carrying John, who was groaning with his eyes rolling in opposite directions, off on the wheelchair they keep for disabled passengers. The amused stewards took it off us at the bottom of the stairs and another was wheeled out from the terminal building. With our gear going in one direction with Pip, Elton pushing John, and me carrying our guitars in another we re-entered the UK.

Obviously warned by the stewards the customs officials were waiting for us, presumably to rip our gear apart to look for drugs (we had none). They took one look at John in the wheelchair though and holding their noses waved us past to much hilarity on all sides. Once in the terminal Rufus, who had been waiting came over and we adjourned to the bar, leaving John, still in the wheelchair, in the middle of the departure lounge burbling quietly to himself.

On the way over to the bar Rufus calmly told us his mother had come to meet us too, and was waiting to make our acquaintance. She was a beautiful person, and slightly tipsy though we were, we had the beginnings of a nice conversation. We had all been sitting at a table behind a sort of hedge of tropical plants (in pots) that divided the bar area from the rest of the terminal. These plants were about 2 meters high and you had to stand on tiptoe to see over into the main part of the building. Suddenly there was a crashing sound and John’s face poked through the foliage above our table. Rufus introduced him nonchalantly, as if he was actually sitting at the table.

His Mum was very sweet and said hello before his distorted face disappeared again. She kept saying how much she was enjoying herself (with naughty muso’s) when John’s face reappeared, this time with a large leaf sticking out of his mouth, he was chomping away on it and before we could stop him he stuck another in and began chewing harder. He was totally out of control and, bizarre as it seems, Rufus’ mum seemed quite impressed with his antics. We realised that by now the tour was finally over, rescued John and all went on our merry way home, I expect to the huge relief of the staff in the terminal.

MORAL – Always be nice to air stewardesses, they will always be nice back.

WORD COUNT 882 COPYRIGHT – M HEWINS 1994


PS! This is a repost of a story that was originally published on the old website on Musart.co.uk. These old web pages are gone, but are still accessible through archive.org’s Wayback Machine. Read the story on musart.co.uk by clicking here.

Polite Force, Joe – and the UFO

Band: Polite Force 1976

Cast:

  • Joe Gubay…Patron
  • Dave Sinclair…Richard’s cousin
  • Graham Flight…mellow bass player
  • Vince Clark…demon drummer
  • Jerry Darby…Sound Supremo
  • Mark Hewins…UFO


I really loved Joe Gubay’s place in Graveny, of course it wasn’t far from where Caravan had lived in the tent and done all their rehearsing. Jerry Darby and I had been using the Gulbenkian Theatre at the University in Canterbury (where he was the stage manager) for recording. Dave had been down there with him a couple of times, but we could only use it clandestinely at night and it involved using the whole stage and although there was free ice-cream (in the bar) it was a bit of a chore setting up the gear. I have some fine recordings from there in 1975. So Joe’s generous offer of a home plus recording gear was a real help. Dave started spending a lot of time over there and Jerry began recording bits of all of us.

The house itself sits at the top of Graveny hill. The sunsets and dawns in such a place have been hinted at by Turner in his paintings of Whitstable Bay, and the atmosphere, I remember clearly in that summer of ’76, sparked with life.

One night (during much singing and songing) I saw a small bright light outside in the sky. I stopped playing and kept looking at the tiny flickering light. Gradually everyone stopped too, and interested, we all gathered in the large bay window, looking out. The small light flickering, alternately dim, then bright and hard, continued. We all peered at it, Dave said it was a boat, Vince said it was a plane. But it never changed position. About two or three minutes passed and someone, it may have been Jerry began turning off the lights in the large panelled room. The Bluthner grand standing in the middle had the last one on and the light outside sparkled brightly as the room was plunged into darkness.

An audible gulp went up from everyone and minutes passed as we apprehensively watched the peculiar fizzing of the light. Everyone present that night, Dave, Vince, Graham, Jerry, me and most especially Joe all became very quiet. After about fifteen minutes of this (it seemed like hours) we started hoping, quietly, for it to g away. Joe said in an undertone what we all knew by now, for a fact. “I think it’s a UFO”. We all gasped out our loud indignation at first, which slowly turned to well – possibly; and as the minutes continued to pass and the light remained so still yet mobile in the middle distance horizon, we were all forced to admit, in hushed tones, that it probably was an alien space craft. After all it never moved, it wasn’t on the sea, it wasn’t an aeroplane, yet was in the air.

The light just carried on blinking at us. It seemed to be focusing its rays and we had started to become hypnotised by this by now fantastically coloured gem, gleaming in the atmosphere. Joe said, breaking the silence that had descended on us all, “I’m going outside”. Everyone stood immobile as Joe went through to the kitchen and back door. The latch scraped and the timber door squeaked as he slowly opened it. We looked at each other and everyone, though no-one would admit it, was quite scared and apprehensive. Jerry began to move towards the back door too. We all moved together as, slowly and cautiously, we half scrambled over each other to try and not be the first out of the back door.

It was May 1976 and we had been having the beginnings of the heatwave that was to last all that summer. And although it was nearly dawn, in the strange pre-twilight, the light shined strongly in the distance. There was a milky line on the horizon and as we walked down the garden, in a bit of a ddaze, Joe called out. I coul see the light sort of sparkling now and we all hurried, together, towards Joe’s voice. He was standing by the brush fence which separated the garden from the steep hillside down to the sea, looking up. In the darkness the small light looked very close. As we got closer Joe shouted to Jerry, “Quick turn all the mains off!”. The cable bringing mains electricity to the house was shorting out and it was sparking at the top of the pole! This was very dangerous as we were all playing instruments plugged into the electricity supply, I guess we could have all been killed.

The whole thing probably lasted half an hour although it seemed like much longer. And of course, afterwards everyone denied saying they had thought it was a UFO at all. I found this hilarious.

MORAL – Listen to people, no matter how outrageous the things they have to say, there may be something to help you in there – but it may not be what you think.

WORK COUNT 815 COPYRIGHT – MARK HEWINS 1994


PS! This is a repost of a story that was originally published on the old website on Musart.co.uk. These old web pages are gone, but are still accessible through archive.org’s Wayback Machine. Read the story on musart.co.uk by clicking here.

The story was also printed in the album sleeve of The Polite Force’s archive release Canterbury Knights.

Snapshots of Strasbourg

Band: Soft Heap

Cast:

  • Pip Pyle…garbage man
  • Elton Dean…a mentor
  • John Greaves…a translator
  • Mark Hewins…lucky bastard
  • Irene…super model
  • Alain Eckhart…French Guitarist


Viral pneumonia is a very dangerous thing to get, especially at 11 years old. It happened to me but I’m OK now. It did however introduce me to Strasbourg, because that’s where I spent 7 weeks recovering, and I was very much looking forward to playing there with Soft Heap on the second tour.

What a great town Strasbourg is. We had a fantastic time playing there. When we arrived our host, the promoter, took us for a meal. I, of course, knew the local food from my period of convalescence and ordered Chocroute, which is a wonderful sausage, flowery potato, sauerkraut and belly pork meal for the working man. The promoter and his friends were impressed that I knew their basic diet so I told them of my childhood illness, and foolishly boasted I could speak the local dialect, Alsatian, which sounds like low frequency backward German. “Go on say something to me” I said, thinking the few meaningless phrases I had picked up as a kid enabled me to converse with them. “Scrugjdkshjmksdu, kirgsddnj?” the promoter asked. Naturally I couldn’t even begin to understand him, so we scratched that idea and went to do the concert.

After one particular performance we were up all night having a good time until dawn, when we heard a clattering in the street below. It was the garbage men and Pip, for some reason, shot off and did the whole round, helping them collect the rubbish in this, one of the most beautiful European cities. I believe they paid him in cafe cognac’s afterwards and it must have been quite an experience. Perhaps another vocation?

We played Strasbourg a few times. During one tour I had gone to see the European Parliament on my own and found (in the surrounding gardens) one of France’s two genuine five star ‘Michelin Guide’ restaurants. A meal would have cost a year’s salary for mere mortals. This is how the other half live – and on us, don’t forget!

Anyway, it was getting late and I was about 3 Kilometres from town. It seemed I had half an hour before we started the gig and I knew the guy’s would be getting worried, so I tried to find a cab. Impossible. I was now starting to panic because with five minutes to go until the start of the gig I didn’t know where I was. The only thing I could think of doing was to flag a car down, any car, and plead for help. I walked into the road and waved my arms about, nearly getting run over a couple of times – who gives lifts to people carrying guitars, in the real world? – but thankfully a car drew up and I looked inside putting my best ‘help me’ face on. Irene was the most stunning blond I had ever seen, a real ‘super model’ candidate, wearing a fur coat and dangling with jewels. Yes, she would give me a lift and, yes she knew where we were playing. Phew! what a relief! I was so grateful I would have done anything for her at that moment, but it would have made me late!

We arrived at the hall and I invited her to see the gig. We walked in together, right on time, and the guy’s were already on stage. I could tell they were all ready to be annoyed with me for being late. As I walked down the central aisle of the hall full of people it went very quiet. They were all looking at this gorgeous woman who was with me. I sat her at the front and sauntered onto the stage, to thunderous applause. Even the guy’s were impressed!! Obviously she was done up to go somewhere else and unfortunately she left about half way through and I never saw her again.

Another memorable time in Strasbourg was with Soft HEAP#4, which was a short tour including Alain Eckhart. I turned up at the club and found a brand new Yamaha baby grand piano, unplayed as yet, sitting at the side of the stage. No contest. I am not ‘per se’ a piano player but found my own expression on this superb instrument. I spent two days in front of it, bending it to my will, I was the first human it had encountered – one of my most enjoyable voyages of musical discovery. The concerts may have been recorded, I would like to hear them one day, I do hope the recordings survive, and are as good as I remember.

MORAL – Politicians produce nothing but corruption, always eat well, and always at someone else’s expense.

WORD COUNT – 800 COPYRIGHT – MARK HEWINS 1994


PS! This is a repost of a story that was originally published on the old website on Musart.co.uk. These old web pages are gone, but are still accessible through archive.org’s Wayback Machine. Read the story on musart.co.uk by clicking here.

My Disposable Head

Band: Soft Heap

Cast:

  • John Greaves…under the piano
  • Pip Pyle…the barber
  • Mark Hewins…the changeling
  • Elton Dean…also under the piano
  • Various nubile women


Lille is an exciting type of place, if you like that sort of thing. It’s a sprawling, rolling, industrial city in the North of France and the people are like northerners everywhere, warm and hospitable for the most part but mad if provoked. The city itself is similar to somewhere like Leeds here. Soft Heap’s tour manager/driver Bridget lived there (in the beautiful Hellemmes District) and all the tours used to start or end there. It even has it’s own little metro, with dinky yellow carriages which whir, frighteningly unattended, up and down the city.

It was the end of tour party and a friend of the band had invited us and a number of her mates back to her parents house, which was huge. They had gone away on holiday so we all had the run of the place. With Elton, Pip, myself and John included there were about 15 people at the beginning and I remember watching the TV whilst people danced to loud music on the radio and mixed drinks in an electric food mixer – very noisy!

John and I found a playroom upstairs with toys and a piano in it and began playing together, he plays fantastic versions of Beatles tunes, growling along with them in his own inimitable way. But soon we started improvising over them, the modulations becoming wilder and wilder until he fell from his stool onto the floor. I remember we were playing Fool on the hill and had just reached the middle section, so he kept playing, reaching underneath the keyboard to the bare strings and raking his hands across them in a convincing “dream sequence” type way whilst wailing the middle bit. This brought a few people in to see what was going on and John, ever the performer, became carried along, getting ever more frantic with his hands until he actually drew blood. Now to us, on tour this was not an uncommon sight as we all suffered slight, or bad playing injuries from time to time, such is the nature of the music, but the more faint hearted of the girls realised we had drunk a little more than they had hoped for and left. There was still a hard core though.

I had admired one young girls very short haircut and professed an interest to have my head shaved, Pip offered to do it for me so we left John and Elton banging and clanking under the piano and went to the bathroom to find some razors. This was really interesting and everyone collected around the door. We found some disposable Bic’s and after wetting my hair, Pip (under pain of death to leave my ears) began shaving. After half an hour he had done about one quarter of my head and we had run out of razors. This was taking far longer than we had anticipated (try it yourself!) and everyone was becoming a bit bored, so we took a break to find more razors and drink. This was done and he began again, slowly scraping my scalp bare. I think there’s a vocation for him somewhere if he ever decides to stop working in Music, because he did a superb job, and after two hours (and 20 disposable Bic razors) I had a completely bare head – something I had always fantasised about – and not one scratch.

Everyone was really impressed that I had actually done it and Pip looked really proud of my ‘non tonsure’. Of course I had wanted it done sometime anyway so it was the right time and place, although my hair blocked the drains so badly that apparently plumbers had to be called to stop them overflowing, but we had gone by then. The party seemed to go on for several days, although it probably wasn’t that long because my hair was still non-existent when we caught the ferry. I seemed to frighten people who came near me, which frightened me!

One little postscript to this story concerns me getting home. I was greeted at the door by my partner of the time who said to me, the very instant I opened the door, “Trust you to come home drunk and bald”. Fair comment I suppose and one of the best I have ever heard.

MORAL: If you change your appearance be prepared for other people’s change of attitude.

WORD COUNT: 762 COPYRIGHT MARK HEWINS


PS! This is a repost of a story that was originally published on the old website on Musart.co.uk. These old web pages are gone, but are still accessible through archive.org’s Wayback Machine. Read the story on musart.co.uk by clicking here.

A Riotous Gig in a Strange Place

Band: Soft Heap

Cast:

  • Mark Hewins…Guitar
  • Pip Pyle…Drums
  • Elton Dean…Saxello
  • John Greaves…the Hero


Soft Heap tours, though intense and musically magical, had their moments of real danger and several times I have been more frightened than I ever want to be again. One concert springs to mind instantly and we all still talk about it with awe and dread.

Ferme Nord was in the very north of France, up by the Belgian border. As you travel nearer the sea and into the rural lowlands people have very strange attitudes and a few seem quite mad. The names are weird too. We were heading for a place called Zydcoote, and the place called Ferme Nord. We should have realised that it was literally that – Closed North.

The place was the biggest prison for juveniles in France and incarcerated there were some of the hardest cases from Paris. Murderers, rapists and, I expect worse, were all cooped up together in an enclosed barracks compound with a huge drill square in the middle. That would have been OK but as soon as we arrived it was clear to us that the staff, far from being prison warders were ineffectual social workers, and all these kids in leather jackets swarming round picking at the gear were really in control. We were shown our ‘accommodation’, a dormitory to ourselves – just what we always wanted! I still think they booked us on purpose.

Later we set up in their main hall and just got on with it. We played for about 2 hours straight and reaction seemed good from the crowd of hooligans packed in the hall, but no girls of course. Soft Heap Music is a collective ‘stream of consciousness’ form and one can very easily get drawn along on what can sometimes be a violent and bumpy ride. I bit the neck of my SG that night and the teeth marks, though re-varnished still remain. This particular crowd took all this right on board and were, by the end of the concert quite carried away.

Some small skirmishes started in the hall after the gig and as I was packing up there were a couple of hapless social workers rounding up the inmates who would listen. We had been promised food after the gig (the French are so hospitable) so we crossed the courtyard, accompanied by leather jacketed thugs. We walked past an almighty fight between 30 or 40 kids which was still going on outside the hall. In the canteen we were fed on the local delicacy, especially for us. Brains, lovely! And cooked in a canteen too, m m m m.

There had been some arguing between some of the kids. It had started to feel very tense and suddenly a little guy pulled, from out of his leather jacket, a huge Rambo type knife. He made to stab one of the other kids but his head ended up on the floor as Greaves (or ‘scrapper’ as his nickname now is) threw him over in a marvellous SAS manoeuvre, pinning him to the floor with his knee in the kid’s neck. John disarmed him so easily it took us totally by surprise. He had the kid totally helpless and the other toughs were so impressed they stood back in awe. It seemed John had saved the chief tough’s neck and was the local hero.

It was obvious by now the staff had totally disappeared. Whether it was fright or no overtime we’ll never know, but we were left alone with all these psychopathic kids and the gates were shut. The fight going on outside had got much worse and had gone inside. I walked along outside by one of the four story barrack buildings surrounding the square and watched, fascinated, as a fight slowly progressed along a corridor and into the rooms. By following the smashing windows and lights bursting I could predict which window the next chair was coming through. I winced at the frightened screeching of some of the more harmless kids, but I knew how they felt and was grateful to be outside.

Pip, John and Elton were under the protection of the tough guys and spent some time on the landing where one of the fights was, Pip handing out the rest of his valium to the more demanding kids, a very sensible precaution. I went back to the dormitory we were in and hid under the bedclothes until I went to sleep. The fight lasted for about 6 hours all together, but there were a few kids still hanging about in the morning. We made our escape as soon as a staff member turned up and opened the gates, zooming off in the microbus before we could get into any more trouble.

MORAL – Always be on your guard in places with strange names.

WORD COUNT 814 COPYRIGHT – MARK HEWINS 1994


PS! This is a repost of a story that was originally published on the old website on Musart.co.uk. These old web pages are gone, but are still accessible through archive.org’s Wayback Machine. Read the story on musart.co.uk by clicking here.

Lost Line-Ups

Band: Soft Heap 1983 (sleeve notes for ‘A veritable centaur’ Impetus 1995)

Cast:

  • Hugh Hopper…bass
  • Elton Dean…Sax
  • Alan Gowen…keyboards
  • Pip Pyle…drums
  • John Greaves…bass
  • Mark Hewins…guitar
  • Fred Frith…guitar
  • Phil Minton…vocals
  • Lol Coxhill…Sax
  • Bridget Leman…herself


Body, mind and soul all become ridiculously stretched in the rarefied world of touring with a band. Every person who has ever been ‘on the road’ has fantastic stories to tell of outrageous happenings and weird occurrences that couldn’t possibly be thought of by even the most skilled of storytellers. There are many stories associated with Soft HEAP, a living branch of Soft Machine. Although I cannot (due to the obscenity and libel laws) relate many of the things we got up to, I can tell you it was fun.

One time we were travelling in the ubiquitous orange VW microbus when we did a stop en-route. We had a couple of days to get somewhere before the next concert and it was a long way. So it was necessary to stock up on food. The French motorway food shops are much like they are in the UK, all tiny bits of cheese and packets of ham with more plastic than meat in them. But understand you HAVE to buy things, so stupid little toys and porn books turn up in the shopping basket as well. We all bought various snacks and entertainment and made our way back to the bus. Elton had tried to buy some wine but all they had – bear in mind this was the motorway – were tiny little miniatures. I suppose they were meant to prevent drunk driving. He had two arms full of tiny clinking bottles, presumably to last the entire trip, but it didn’t look good.

As we approached the VW we saw that Bridget was surrounded by the very heavy French version of motorway riot police. There were about six of them brandishing machine guns. We ambled into this little confrontation and as soon as they saw Elton and his drink they ordered us to stand in line by the bus. Bridget seemed quite scared and hissed at us to produce our passports for the leader. The other grunts stood around casually pointing their guns at us and looking at the mess in the back of the van, as the manially officious guy in charge minutely examined each passport in turn. Mine was the last he opened and as he did he found my money (which in the heat of the moment I had forgotten to take out) and it fluttered to the ground! Well, it was one of those moments which seem to last for hours. He looked at me, I looked at him, we all looked at the money and the grunts holding the guns murmured approvingly. I quickly stooped down and picked the money up. They seemed a bit annoyed that I wasn’t trying to bribe them! I swear to this day I heard their guns click as they tensed up. It was all very difficult but they ultimately couldn’t arrest us for any thing, so, motioning with their loaded weapons, they saw us on our way.

Soft HEAP was a name made up from the first names of the original members. Hugh, Elton, Alan, Pip. Tragically Alan died of leukaemia – we all still think of him. He used to live just down the road from me in Tooting and although I saw him at least once a week I never did get the opportunity to work with him. He was booked to play in Cardiff but died suddenly so I stepped directly into his very large shoes. My first gig with Soft Heap.

I was told of a tour they had done when someone had managed to get hold of two huge straw bound bottles of Absinthe, highly illegal, which they had tried to drink over a two week period in the back of the bus. It had, by all accounts, made them pretty ill and there was still a whole bottle left. Alan very sensibly poured it out of the van window. When they stopped and saw the side of the bus all the paint had been stripped off by this very dangerous type of alcohol.

Hugh has just rung me (I’m recording with him tomorrow) and reminded me of a ‘lost’ lineup of Soft Heap that performed in London once. An unusual occurrence in itself, the English, as a rule, ignore anything musical. In the band: Pip, Hugh, Lol Coxhill and me.

The only other line up I can remember performed at Nancy University in France. We were being supported on that occasion by Fred Frith and Phil Minton and they joined us towards the end of our two and a half hour set – absolutely blinding! Although I was really nervous to play with Fred, I felt better when the crowd went completely crazy. I saw one young lady dancing madly and in tears, completely hysterical, whilst the rest of the audience screamed things at us. We all went back to the hotel later and stank the place out with fresh prawns and Calvados supplied by Fred and continued being so loud and noisy we were complained at. All human emotion is there – on the road.

MORAL: We are all one of many.

(Included on the Soft Heap CD “A veritable centaur”) [ IMPETUS CD 18219 ]

WORD COUNT 884 COPYRIGHT – MARK HEWINS 1994


PS! This is a repost of a story that was originally published on the old website on Musart.co.uk. These old web pages are gone, but are still accessible through archive.org’s Wayback Machine. Read the story on musart.co.uk by clicking here.

Hotel D’Hell

Band: Soft Heap

Cast:

  • Pip Pyle…a drummer
  • Elton Dean…a sax player
  • John Greaves…a bass player
  • Mark Hewins…a guitar player
  • Hotel Concierge…an impatient person


Pip should be telling this story really, he probably remembers more of it than I do. We were on the second or third French tour and had arrived in Paris to do a couple of nights at ‘Dunois’ as the last concerts, so we were pretty frantic.

Pip was wearing an A. Hitler – European tour 1939-44 T-shirt – guaranteed to make older French people really mad. He got in trouble with a man who had a gun and table lamp in Rennes once because of it. But that’s a whole other thing.

Arriving at the hotel we all just grabbed keys at random off the concierge, who pretty much sussed us out straight away. We all bundled upstairs to our separate rooms to have a bit of a sleep (I think we had just driven from Strasbourg).

Pip lay on his bed and closed his eyes, a tap was dripping in the bathroom so he got up to turn it off. As he turned the light on in the bathroom the bulb fused, showering him with glass. And the tap wouldn’t turn off. Now Pip can hardly be called one of life’s patient people and he stormed downstairs to the concierge, who gave as good as he got but finally agreed to come and fix the light and tap, but LATER. Pip wandered back upstairs and flopped back on his bed. The afternoon was really hot and he dozed fitfully, the tap dripping in the background. The room had become quite stuffy and he got up to open the window. It was an old sash type and he undid the lock and lifted the bottom pane to let in some air. As if in slow motion the window, frame and all, angled out and as he watched, horrified, fell into the street below. It never reached the road in one piece. The concierge was whiling the late afternoon away polishing his car, obviously his pride and joy. Unfortunately for him it was parked about 3 floors below Pip’s room and the whole window crashed down on the hood and roof.

We were all blissfully unaware of these disasters, dozing away in our rooms, whilst Pip and the concierge re- ran the second world war. They sorted it out in the end, with a lot of swearing at each other. But the upshot was that Pip had to sleep in a room with plastic over the window and a bathroom with no light and a dripping tap. Later, when he began to recount what had happened, we almost didn’t believe him and all laughed our heads off at his discomfort.

We were not going to play that night so the guy’s from Dunois came to take us out for the evening. We silently filed past the concierge, glowering at us from behind his desk, on our way out to a night on the town. I think he knew what was to happen later then.

Hours later after a great seafood meal and a few drinks kindly provided by the Dunois people we sauntered back to the hotel, and stumbled upstairs to bed. Pip and Elton had a bottle of Cotes du Rhone stashed and they went to Pip’s room to do it in. Sitting there admiring the broken window and dripping tap they were quite unprepared for an onslaught from me. I got to my room, stripped off my clothes, and picked up something I had prepared earlier. I had a squeezy bottle of indelible ink that was to be squirted at Pip, but now was going to be used to trash the room from hell. I burst in to his room, naked, and leapt onto the bed which promptly collapsed. Pip and Elton hurled themselves on the floor as I emptied the ink round the walls and ceiling, and ran out again. They didn’t follow me so I went back to my room, cleaned myself off as well as I could and passed out. Pip said afterwards that they sat there on the floor in stunned silence, finishing off the wine with ink dripping slowly down the walls.

In the morning the concierge came upstairs to fix the window, tap, bulb etc. and probably to throw Pip out, just anyway. He entered the room, without knocking, and went straight over to the window and started measuring for a new frame. Pip had gone to sleep half on and half off the broken bed, still fully clothed. He had his bag packed ready to run. As the concierge turned round Pip woke up and as he heard the scream leapt out of the room and down the stairs before the poor guy could nail him. However just before he legged it he dropped in at my room. I was still out cold, it was about 9am and Pip broke the lock and grabbing me round the throat bashed me in the mouth, a bad way to wake up! Then he fled. Thank goodness the concierge didn’t bother the rest of us and Pip’s slap hadn’t done any me any real damage because we were there another three days. Pip made me pay for his hotel that night too, by threatening not to play. He stayed with a girl and took the money anyway, as if it was my fault. HA!

MORAL – Be civil to people who are mad at you – or take the consequences.

WORD COUNT 938 COPYRIGHT MARK HEWINS 1994


PS! This is a repost of a story that was originally published on the old website on Musart.co.uk. These old web pages are gone, but are still accessible through archive.org’s Wayback Machine. Read the story on musart.co.uk by clicking here.

Just Keep Going Going in Herne Bay

Cast:

  • Dave Sinclair…piano
  • John Murphy…a composer
  • Mark Hewins…himself
  • Richard Sinclair…an electric bass player
  • Richard Coldman…an intense fellow who played guitar
  • Alan Prosser…acoustic guitar
  • Arthur Kitchener…another electric bass player
  • Bill Bruford…a drummer


Herne Bay is about 5 miles from Canterbury and on the sea. Many of the students from the University live there, but they are mostly the ones who prefer the seaside to lectures. Well that was in 1975 anyway.

Dave Sinclair was living in a flat in the road that runs parallel to the sea. I lived at the top of the road about 200 meters from him. I used to see him quite often, usually in the mornings I would go for coffee. I remember he first introduced me to Edam cheese, on toast for breakfast, a habit which has lasted for me ever since. John Murphy and his wife had the flat upstairs so the surroundings were always musical, and Richard Sinclair only lived about another 200 meters further on from my flat. He had moved to Herne bay because of some personal problems that were in Canterbury and had been pretty quiet. So we didn’t at that time play together even though we lived virtually on the same street. Then Richard Coldman turned up, out of the blue. Alan Prosser, the Guitar player with the Oyster band (who later had a No.1 hit in the UK with ‘Didn’t we have a loverly time ….’) introduced us and as I had just run out of cash I needed someone to share the flat in Herne bay. So he moved in, this was a really fine musical relationship and we had several successes.

I had found this person who was as serious about playing as I was and we began working and practising up to 16 hours a day, as a Guitar duo. This kind of work needs an outlet and we began playing the bars in Canterbury to earn some money. To save the bus fare, and often to get home at night after the last bus had gone, we hitchhiked the 5 miles – with two Guitars!

But very soon we began to branch out and we did a recording project at the Hornsea College of Art in London. Their electronic music studio at the time was arcane, with old VCS 3 patch synthesizers and bits of wire everywhere, but we got, and I still have, some nicely strange music from there.

Back in Herne bay we were offered a brief to do the music for a TV commercial which was a real deal for us, and more money than we had before. I had been playing on and off with Arthur Kitchener (later the Bass player with the Balham Alligators) in a country and western band who had a great pedal steel player (I wish I knew his name!) and as the company wanted a bluegrass tune we used him. We did it at John Wood’s studio somewhere in Soho – very exciting, but not really what either of us wanted to do. The commercial was broadcast nationwide and earned us a slight reputation.

We came home to Herne bay and continued writing. Richard Sinclair started spending a lot of time playing with us, because we were getting some work it seemed we had became popular, and he seemed more upbeat. I still have some written music from this period. One of the pieces is called “Waltz for Spanish gargling waiters, riding square wheeled bicycles who have lost their way”. I think this was a committee title! We were all having a fine time. Around this time we supported Sinclair and the South at the university, an amazing gig. I got to play my Euphonium on that one, more by stealth than wonder. Where is it is now? Maybe John Murphy has got it, there were some terrible storms that year! I took it out once in a virtual hurricane and played it to the sea. I had it wrapped in a black plastic rubbish sack and played it very loudly, both Richards were there and we had a real laugh, and I had a jolly good parp! But back to the S&S gig. Me and Rich C. did a little 45 minute duo supporting them. By playing things that the crowd sort of knew the tunes to, Nuages by Django Reinhart and the Harry Lime theme we got the audience (6-700 people) singing along wildly, I still have the recordings to prove it. Sinclair and the South went down really well, but Bill Bruford stole the show, making total mincemeat of his drums. He arrived with his gear in a blue Ford Mustang – well impressive. Years later Richard Sinclair and I rented one to drive round Texas for a while. But that was another time and space. This period lasted about 9 months.

MORAL – Just keep going, don’t plan too much and if you are lucky, things will come to you.

WORD COUNT – 835 COPYRIGHT – MARK HEWINS 1994


PS! This is a repost of a story that was originally published on the old website on Musart.co.uk. These old web pages are gone, but are still accessible through archive.org’s Wayback Machine. Read the story on musart.co.uk by clicking here.

Cardsharks

Band: Soft Heap 1982

Cast: 

  • John Greaves…the bass player
  • Pip Pyle…the drummer
  • Mark Hewins…the guitarist
  • Elton Dean…the saxello player
  • Bridget Leman…herself


We had been in France about two or three days and had already done the Lille gig with The Work and Jeff’s band(I think they were called Red Balloon) supporting us, so we were on our way somewhere, I can’t remember where. Pip and Elton had been playing cards on my guitar case which was balanced across their knees. John and I sat facing them in the back of the VW bus. I think he was reading a John Fowles book. They were trying to play 7 card stud poker, a hard enough game with two. Rotter policy dictated that the more excruciatingly complex a game was. The better it was. Cruel, but fair.

I was clinking away as usual on my old Gibson SG, unplugged, quite happy, minding my own business. Elton suggested we all played cards together, as the more people the more the ante and pot would grow, which meant he would win much more money than if he played with Pip on his own. We finally succumbed and with our knees supporting the case we cut for the dealer. Elton had a king, and of course became the dealer, well I felt reasonably confident as I had played 5 card poker before, never with them, and won. So we started with an ante of 10 francs. The betting went slowly, 10, 20, sometimes even 50 francs were being bet as the kilometres sped by.

Bridget Leman was our tour driver and my general friend on all the Northern French tours. I seem to remember her organising some concerts as well. I wonder how she is now, apparently I heard she cooked macrobiotic food for Al Jarreau when he was on tour. I feel she is well, somewhere.

The cards were still going. The ante had now gone up to 50 francs and bets of 200 were not uncommon, hair raising! Dramatically, Greaves threw his cards on the table and “resigned” as he put it. He knew this was all getting rather out of hand and wanted out. Pip and Elton badgered him for about 5 minutes to play one more game. I too was ready to chuck it in, I had already lost, maybe 7-800 francs and didn’t want to lose any more. All the money went Elton’s way so he was well in front, but Pip wanted to win his money back so they both kept on at us until we agreed to one more game. The cards were dealt, I think Pip was dealing. Each one of us getting 4 cards up, 3 face down, a nasty little game. The ante was rounded up to 100 francs and no-one changed any cards. I had been dealt by Pip (notorious for terrible deals), with my hidden cards, one of the highest scoring hands in poker. As the game is supposed to be all bluff I tried not to jump through the roof of the microbus.

Betting continued until there was about 5000 francs on the table, a large slice of what we had got for the concert and it had all gone terribly quiet. Bridget had slowed down the VW from a decent roar to a chuckle and I could see her glimpsing us in the rear view mirror. She had pulled out of the fast lane on the auto route and was pootling along in the escape road, fascinated at our little event.

John was the first one to fold, but he too must have had an amazing hand to stick it out so long. We had all agreed to use iou’s against the next gigs money so small bits of paper, with 1000 francs on, started appearing in the pot. It even got too much for Pip as well and he bottled out. Elton and I kept going, pushing the betting up (on this one hand of cards) and soon there was a fortune in iou’s and cash on my guitar case.

John was counting as Elton and I kept bluffing each other and he pointed out after a while that we had bet our respective money for the entire tour in iou’s and cash. It was quite a total, to say the least! But I was so sure I had a winning hand. Elton used his last bit of money to see my cards. Suffice it to say his cards beat mine, and he took all the money I was yet to earn on the tour. Although he did pay for cigarettes and a couple of days in Paris at the end of the tour for me.

Bridget was totally horrified by the whole thing especially as Elton actually made me pay up. She was to be horrified more than once on Soft HEAP tours though, but that’s for other stories. Incidentally I have never played cards for money again, and never will.

MORAL – Once you have decided to stop something, stop. If you don’t, be prepared for some hard lessons.

WORK COUNT 878 COPYRIGHT – MARK HEWINS 1994


PS! This is a repost of a story that was originally published on the old website on Musart.co.uk. These old web pages are gone, but are still accessible through archive.org’s Wayback Machine. Read the story on musart.co.uk by clicking here.

Booze + Waves = Music + Instability

Band: The Boat Band

Cast :

  • Dave Sinclair…piano player
  • Richard Sinclair…his cousin
  • Jerry Darby…the sound man
  • Andy Ward…the drummer
  • Mark Hewins…a guitarist
  • Barry Cole…sax player
  • Various females


At off peak times of the year the ferry companies that ply their way across the English channel have cheap sailings, where all they sell is tax free alcohol. They usually put on a number of dance bands, one on each of the decks for the entertainment of people who have come to buy the cheap booze.

The boats never need to dock in France as once outside the 12 mile limit they circle round until they have sold out.

Dave Sinclair I think got the gig and he got the ‘Boat Band’ together for just this one occasion. Andy Ward,Richard Sinclair. Barry Cole on sax and me on Guitar completed the line up. Jerry Darby came along too I seem to remember, and a couple of girls were also in tow.

We all arrived in Dover Western docks at about 5 in the evening to be looked over, and laughed at by the customs men. I’m glad they didn’t look in any of our pockets or gear, but we were hardly trying to smuggle anything, and luckily they knew this! Anyway the boat wasn’t supposed to dock in France. The bus was driven up to the side of the boat and we loaded the gear up gangplanks into the bowels of the ferry. Rows of seats facing a clear area was obviously where we supposed to play and we started to set up.

There was a pile of cases of lager cans about 1.5 meters high in the middle of the space. On top were two bottles of Brandy and we assumed it was for the bar at the back of the deck. Once the gear was set up it was really in the way so Andy went off to find out who it belonged to. He came back a few minutes later trailing an officer type who told us that the huge amount of beer, and brandy, stacked up in the middle of the stage was ours. “For the Band’s drinks” was how he put it. We all looked at each other in disbelief, but started on it then and there. Barry didn’t bring a mike stand with him -silly fellow. So he slung his microphone over a pipe running along the ceiling.

We were already quite merry by the time the boat set off and the music was great, an audience built up in the seats and everyone was having a high old time. Bobbing up and down on the briny is really good fun,especially whilst playing. The evening was fine and we played beautifully to a setting sun.

After about 2 or 3 hours of this we had totally run out of material and everybody was very happy, audience and band were getting on very well. So we had a break. I looked round the rest of the ship, and at the other bands. On the top deck were the remnants of a ‘trad’ jazz band who were trying to finish off a number. They never quite made it and were still playing the end, over and over again, none of the poor wrecks on stage having the ability to stop. The boat had begun to lurch almost imperceptibly and as we started playing again there was a swell building up. We could tell because the microphone lead Baz had strung up was swaying to and fro, the mike dangling on the end and he was staggering slowly, backwards and forwards following it. The rest of us played on in quite open hysterics as he hadn’t realised what he was doing. The audience soon cottoned on and soon were joining in going ‘whooo’ as he lurched one way then the other as if on a roller coaster. The vague smell of sick had started to permeate everything but most were oblivious to it, carried away as we were.

The boat actually did dock in Calais that night, I think the crew were really out of it as well. And some poor guy got so badly hurt he had to be taken to hospital. But we were all fine and played on and on, everything we knew, or didn’t know. It didn’t matter.

All together we were on the boat for 16 hours, probably 12 of which were spent playing. On the way back the boat had picked up some real passengers so we had a fresh audience. There was a band on their way back from a tour and we split what was left of the beer with them. The boat docked just in time for the British pubs to open and we met the ‘trad’ jazz band, who had drunk themselves sober by now stumbling into one as we went thankfully home to bed, although we did stop for just one drink with them. Because it was a Rotters club sort of thing to do.

MORAL – If you play the Saxophone a knowledge of basic physics is a real help.

WORD COUNT 886 COPYRIGHT MARK HEWINS 1994


PS! This is a repost of a story that was originally published on the old website on Musart.co.uk. These old web pages are gone, but are still accessible through archive.org’s Wayback Machine. Read the story on musart.co.uk by clicking here.