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It all started when John decided to advertise for musicians; he scribbled out a note and pinned it to the notice board of the Newcastle college where he was studying sociology.
The message was that he was into Flamin' Groovies, Tamala, Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe and Southside Johnny: he wanted to form a band and he needed a keyboards player, a bass guitarist and a brass section.
"I had a notion," he explains, turning over a few back pages for the benefit of the hack's chronicle, "that I was totally, wildly, unrealistic. I was convinced that this simply wonderful 12-piece brass section would just turn up."
Jamie saw the advert first; he packed his bass, skipped an electronics class and went off to the audition. He was followed by Mick Blowfield, a philosophy student who turned up with a saxophone and the information that he'd just been turned down for a gig with X-Ray Spex.
"I asked him if he could play," John recalls, chortling into his Taylor Walker, "and he blew into his sax and it made a noise and I said, 'Right,' Mick became our excuse for a 12-piece brass section."
Phil, meanwhile, had seen the note and decided he'd like to play keyboards. He was wrestling, however, with one major drawback.
"I didn't have a piano," he admits ruefully. "All I had was a guitar. And I couldn't even play that."
They decided to make Phil the singer.
Their first name was The Famous Five, even though there were still only four of them because they couldn't find a suitable drummer
"We had this one guy," John remembers, sounding still appalled by the memory, "He had, like green hair and things through his nose..."
"Not very Southside at all," Phil reflects. "Oh, totally unsuitable," John agrees, looking around for another drink.
"He left half way through the first rehearsal," Jamie says. "He said he was going out for some fish and chips and we never saw him again."
Determined to get the act on the road, Mick Blowfield decided to get firmly on the case and took over.
"Really, if it wasn't for Mick," says John recalling the apparently legendary Blowfield with some awe, "We wouldn't be here."
Phil: "He organised everything. We just sat back thinking 'Great, this guy is going to make us rock stars.' We didn't have a clue. We just left it to Mick. He'd tell us that he was going to put up some fly-posters, and we'd think 'what the fuck are fly posters?'"
John: "Actually, it was frightening. He never stopped working. He wrote plays. He wrote books. He wrote short stories. He only slept four hours a night. And even then he slept with his eyes open."
Phil: "And when he wasn't sleeping or writing, he was stalking the streets of Newcastle putting up fly-posters..."
Extraordinary behaviour from the former philosopher, we all agree.
If a problem existed, Blowfield believed it should be attacked aggressively. Realising that the group needed a) a drummer b) transport c) a PA he came up with an astonishingly direct solution. He found a drummer with a van and who had a PA and asked him to join The Famous Five.
"Breathtaking logic," John concedes.
And that's how Paul walked into the frame.
"There was still one problem, though," Phil adds ominously. "The van was too small. It could only take half the gear. Wherever we went, we had to make two trips."
"At least I had a PA," Paul insists.
"And do you know how he got it?" Phil asks laughing hard enough to buckle the nearest chair leg. "He used to play, right, in this group called - God! AWOL. And this guy who was originally in the group with him, who originally owned the PA, he died in a car crash. And he left it to Paul. Absurd."
"The thing is," Paul says, smirking, "we're still using it."
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