Saturday, 16 May 2009

Deux Points, And The Cross Eyed Bear

Night 22. Saturday May 9th. The Victoria Theatre, Stoke-on-Trent.
The penultimate gig. We’re almost there.

I spend a lot of time here in Stoke so it’s beginning to feel a bit like a second home. 
Stoke is certainly not one of the prettiest places, but it does have character and quite an incredible history - not an insignificant chunk of which is soccer related.

It is on more than just a few occasions that I’ve driven in and out of this place, and likewise driven around it with a degree of regularity, but for a ‘one-name’ city that is in reality a collection of merged areas - the five principal towns being: Hanley, Burslem, Tunstall, Longton and Stoke, I am not one little bit nearer being able to tell you where one of these towns might start and another one ends. 

Most of my visits here have been because of the school work with Ashley, something I wrote about earlier back in post 3 (9th Feb. The Gatehouse Theatre, Stafford). And it won’t be too long before we’re back again, June to be exact; back to the hamlet of Endon, from where each morning we set out, making our way through the rush-hour traffic to one learning establishment or another. And temporarily at least, we pretend to be like all those around us, and play the part of two people with normal work schedules.

Speaking of ‘hamlets’, I should relay something that took place in one of the schools, something I thought was not just very amusing, but also a sign of someone that has a slightly different take on things. 
A lot of what we teach is based on the book Lark Rise To Candleford, and a passage in the book that Ashley gets one of the children reading out loud goes like this:

The hamlet stood on a gentle rise in the flat, wheat-growing north-east corner of Oxfordshire. We will call it Lark Rise because of the great number of skylarks which made the surrounding fields their springboard and nested on the bare earth between the rows of green corn.

Ashley usually follows this up by asking the children, “does anyone know what a ‘hamlet’ is?”. Of course, we get all kinds of answers, and I’ve lost count of how many times ‘a cigar’ had been suggested. But on this one occasion, a small boy raised his hand; Ashley looked over and said, “yes?”. The boy responded in all seriousness, “is it a small pig?”.

No more hotels for me now on this tour; After tonight’s concert Carol drove me the seventy miles or so back to Preston. Tomorrow it’s literally a half hour run up the M6 to Lancaster.

Night 23. Sunday May 10th. The Grand Theatre, Lancaster.

We’ve just come off stage after the first set. This is another one of those very compact, ornate kind of theatres - probably more used to theatrical productions than folk-rock bands. 
I did say compact didn’t I - Jackie has had to put the merchandise display out in front of the stage instead of in one of the usual places - the foyer or the bar; there’s just no room back there.
This is a good way to be finishing the tour, playing so close to home.

How has the last four weeks been? I’d say it’s been successful - with the usual, predictable roller-coaster feel that the job brings with it. I’m feeling tired, it’s a certain kind of tiredness though, it’s the kind I have to be on the road for a while to remind myself of what it was like last time. And, of course, there’s been the usual increase in body mass; the weight gain that yet again I’ll be trying to repair with trips to the gym, and a ‘get behind me Satan’ approach to processed carbohydrates over these next few months.

Weather permitting, I’m going to play some golf.

Before my tour-writing comes to a close, for now at least, I should write a little about Pete Zorn. It was quite extraordinary really, working with Pete again after all these years; for those who are unaware of it, as I’m sure most are, my first encounter with him was back in 1974. I was fifty percent of a duo called Nicol & Marsh; Pete Marsh was my Brother-in-law at that time (being married to my Sister, Gloria) and we were living on Shooters Hill road, Blackheath.
We occupied the basement of the house, while upstairs lived singer Sandie Shaw and fashion designer Jeff Banks. It was at this time Paul Phillips, an A&R man at CBS records came round to the house to take a listen to us, and it wasn’t all that long afterwards that we were offered our first recording deal.

Paul, it just so happened, also had a Brother-in-law, who went by the name of Pete Zorn; he’d not long been over from his native USA, and had married Shan - Paul’s Sister. 
Pete played a major role in the recording of our first album: Nicol and Marsh on the Epic label, and also on our 1976 Polydor album: Easy Street.

Easy Street became the name of the band formed around Pete Marsh and myself, and it featured a fourth member - drummer Richard Burgess.

In 1975, as Easy Street, we appeared together on the TV show New Faces, winning the show; this was despite only being awarded two points by Lonnie Donegan in the ‘Appearance’ category because of the jeans we were wearing; he said, and I quote, that we looked like ‘builders labourers apprentices’. This was somewhat ironic really; we’d spent a considerable amount of money on these jeans, having bought them in Bond Street, London.

I recall the theme music ‘You’re A Star’ playing as the four of us walked forward towards the audience, just as all the acts had been briefed to do in the event of winning; I recall the opening of champagne bottles; I recall looking up in the direction of my parents, and seeing my Mother in the audience with tears streaming down her face; I recall the celebratory and somewhat euphoric Chinese meal that followed; and finally, I recall walking back to the van, to find that all of our equipment had been stolen.

The theft aroused much interest, and resulted in us getting plenty of publicity in Birmingham where the show had been recorded, and much of the publicity involved attempts of both radio stations and newspapers to find out exactly who won the show - the program wasn’t to be shown until six weeks later.

Within a week of the theft an informer had contacted the police, and at a cost of £50 we had pretty much all of the gear back in our possession. I thought I’d never see my treasured 1960 Gibson J45 acoustic guitar again, as things turn out it’s presently hanging up on the wall of my studio.
So onto the winners show, and we figured that in response to Lonnie’s criticism we’d make a point by wearing top hats and tails, and if I’m being honest I felt pretty ridiculous dressed like that. And it was to no effect; Easy Street was beaten, beaten by none other than Roger De Courcey and Nookie Bear.

1976, and part way through the first of the three albums that Pete Marsh and I made for Polydor, Pete Zorn left the band. We missed him badly after he left; his ability to organise and arrange the vocal harmonies in particular, as well as his general musical input had constituted such a large part of the sound that made Easy Street identifiable, and I’m sure he was largely responsible for the success, albeit modest, that we achieved in the USA (the song I’ve Been Loving You crept into the 60s in the Billboard chart).

Easy Street did continue though, making a second Polydor album called Under The Glass - quite frankly an awful piece of work, written and recorded (at The Manor, Bucks) whilst the three of us - Pete M, Richard and I were struggling to find our individual and collective identities.

The label gave us one last chance after that, one ‘big’ last chance, and it was just the two of us again - Nicol & Marsh. 
It was now 1978, and the two of us were flown out to Los Angeles. We’d been asked who we wanted to have play on the album; I couldn’t quite believe it, I mean it was ‘whoever’ we wanted. 
When asked who I wanted to have play bass on two of my own songs ‘Back Out Of Love Again’ and ‘For What Seems Crazy Now’, I said, somewhat hopefully, somewhat in jest, ‘Leland Sklar’; I was a big fan of his bass playing on the James Taylor and Jackson Brown albums.

I could not believe it when producers Randy Bishop and Spencer Proffer said ‘OK, that’s no problem’. 
The same was the case with legends Bill Payne (keyboard), Victor Feldman (percussion) and Craig Doerge (piano). We’d even planned to get Lowell George in to play some slide - until I passed the test and played it myself.

The LP turned out to be a well crafted, well produced, and a very high quality product that was subsequently lost and
ignored completely amid a new, revolutionary wave of music sweeping across the land at that time. I'd say it wasn't so much a style of music - more of an approach, an attitude, and it wasn't taking any prisoners. We were now entering the Punk era.
Nicol & Marsh were consigned to the file called 'history'; we became a statistic, and just one of a great many 'soft-rock' casualties.

I do intend to re-release the album on CD soon; I’m certain there are some out there that will enjoy it. 
Not long after the record’s completion, it’s release in the UK, and a half hearted attempt to promote it, Peter Marsh and I went our separate ways. He stayed with Polydor - being the more obvious proposition for the record label with his strong singing voice, and his natural leaning towards the direction popular music was taking in the UK at that time. He later went on to work with Vangelis. He now lives in France, and recently we’ve been back in touch with each other.

After Easy Street, Richard Burgess took his own band ‘Landscape’ into the charts with Einstein A Go-Go and then Norman Bates. Amongst other notable projects he also produced Spandau Ballet’s first two albums. He now works as the Director of Marketing and Sales at Smithsonion Folkways in the USA.

Pete Zorn had enjoyed plenty of session work through the seventies, and this consequently led to lengthy stints with major artist such as Gerry Rafferty, Barbara Dickson, and Richard Thompson; the latter two whom he still works with. 

In 1979 I vanished to California - but that’s another story.

So you see, when I stand on stage, when I turn to the left, and when I see Pete Z once again playing bass guitar along side me, it’s as though I’m watching a thirty five year story passing before my eyes.


  1. ... sometimes it seems that everything is happening NOW.
    Thank you for letting us participate in your experiences!

  2. Hi, Ken.

    Fascinating story of your history with Peter Zorn, et al. How about hearing the California story one day? ;)

    Best wishes,