In the mid-80s I quit the 9 to 5, 50 weeks a year treadmill so that I could work when I wanted, travel when I wanted, stay up for 2 nights, stay in bed for 2 days. It was a good decision. I went on the construction sites, there was plenty of work in London. I could work for a few months, a job would finish & I could take some time before I started another. I lived in one of the great cities of the world. It was greater when you had the time to look up at the sky and you were holding the folding. Man, if they could, there are people in that city who would charge you to breathe . You needed money in your pocket to enjoy London properly. It was good to have that taken care of.
I took a summer break. There was a new woman in my life. Her family home was a 300 year old stone cottage in one of the most beautiful areas of England. The summer of 1987…it was bucolic, no less. When it was time to return to the daily grind I went back to a firm I had worked for before. It was just the thing. I knew the set-up, the guys knew me. They were not just workmates they were people I played out with, people who I had invited to to my house, who had invited me to theirs. I stepped back into it like I had never been away. There had been some change. The predominantly Irish crew I first met had a majority from Cork, in the south. Some of these lovely men (collectively, the Cork-suckers) had moved on or had moved back. The only guy from Derry in the North was the craziest of a crazy bunch. He had smuggled some of his fellow Derrymen on to the site. They were to become new friends.
Paul & Tommy were in a band. I met them as dust covered rag-arses but they had come to London to make their mark in music. I knew a lot of musicians who talked the talk but only played the odd pub gig or at friend’s parties. I did not realise that these young men, Bam Bam & the Calling, were this good…
I bonded with Paul, the singer, over a love of good music, particularly the work of early R.E.M. (when Stipe had hair). With the taciturn drummer ,Tommy, it was more over industrial sized vats of emulsion paint. Bam Bam & the Calling got some proper gigs from proper promoters. I first saw them play at the Mean Fiddler, a North London rock n roll club with a good rep. They were great. The set was well paced, the songs were strong. You could hear the influence of Echo & the Bunnymen, of Television, but there was a consistent sound throughout, the Bam Bam sound, I liked that. Paul dedicated a tune to me, a lovely touch, I was taking a leak and missed my name-check. That was OK, I would catch it the next time because damn straight there would be a next time.
This link puts you a couple of clicks away from Bam Bam and the Calling’s first single. It’s on Myspace so you may have to brush the dust away before you hear it. The record was produced by John O’Neill of the Undertones, a fellow Derryman, the writer of many fine punky pop songs & a successful big brother to the younger band. After three days of recording I saw the band play a gig at a London pub, the George Robey. They absolutely tore the place up that night. It was not just “Scraping Off The Shine” which benefited from this first experience of making some vinyl. There was a unity and a power in the whole performance. That night I met most of the Derry community in London and had a great night out. It was onwards and upwards for the band with their next single.
“Neck Tattoo”, ahead of it’s time or what ? Such body adornments were rare in 1988. In the 21st century, as they became more visible, it always was a fine trigger to good musical memories of my friends. I took the opportunity to see the band whenever I could. They had gigs around the country so we would gather at lunchtime, get in the van and set off on a rock and roll adventure. I was kind of useful because none of the boys had any idea where anywhere was if it was not on the London Tube map. I could, at least, point them in the right direction. We were joined on our expeditions by a man who could drive. Steven Clarke, from Cork, was a man of fine humour and disposition. We lived near each other in South London and we had some wild and memorable times together before he returned to his birthplace with his lovely wife-to-be Elaine.
I got to meet and know the other two members of Bam Bam too. Joe, the bassist, and John, guitar. For them it was a day when they got to play. For myself it was a fun way to spend the day. You never knew what was going to happen (I like it like that) . I enjoyed hanging with this band of brothers who were so together, supporting each other after leaving their families and their hometown for their rock and roll dream. We bonded over a love of good music, my geographical knowledge, their talents and a shared interest in having a good time.
We did have adventures too. An impromptu stop at Stonehenge which we unexpectedly stumbled upon on a long cross-country trek. We set off for a college in Kent which I knew did not actually exist ! We found the university for the gig and the band had to straighten out some ignorance and stereotyping about the North of Ireland by some students. I knew a woman at that particular university. I found her and got her to bring some friends along. The guys were impressed. At a big Xmas gig in Wolverhampton there was a surprising amount of free alcohol. I barely remember encouraging some bad behaviour towards the foremost Beatles tribute act in the UK.
Good times with good people is good enough. At all the gigs the band never gave it less than their best. I never saw them met by the indifference some support bands can suffer. The music and their attitude always demanded and gained the attention of a crowd, whatever the size.
We lost touch over the years, Life gets in the way. Paul “P.J.” McCartney (really) made some music that I knew about because I was looking out for him. Now, in this electronic age, it’s all there. I found the boys on the F-book and got in touch because I had nothing but good memories of them. I was delighted when they replied with enthusiasm and I was so pleased to discover that the same four guys still make music together.
Older…yes…wiser ? Well you had better ask them. I just love that these people have played together for over 25 years now. I’m no musician but I do know that performing in front of an audience is the real deal for players. To be able to, to still want to do this with people you know so well, who you trust as musicians and as men must be a fine feeling. Hanging with that neo-pop punk guitar guerilla gang was a great time. It was the real side of rock and roll. I have met people who have sold a gazillion records and it ain’t that pretty at all. Today I communicate with Paul and Joe almost daily. We have a shared past, we still love the music, appreciate the finer things in life and still hate the fucking Tories. My life is enriched by having them around. Some face-to-face time would be as cool as anything. If there is a Bam Bam and the Calling gig included in any visit then that would be just the best thing.