|Okay, it's ridiculous, but it amused me at the time...and yes Stuart Black, it's you.
Life with the Gents 1983-1989 - a personal journey...
It all began for me in February 1983…"Come and see this band" they said – they play loads of Jam! Well,
I first went to see the Gents in February 1983, at Pontefract
Labour Club. I was 18 years old, not passed my driving test yet and had just been forcefully ejected from a beautiful
four-year relationship with the ultimate young lads' band, Jam. To say I was feeling a little bit bitter with music at that time
might be something of an understatement. I was free, musically unattached and on the lookout for someone to fill the
gaping vacuum left by Paul, Bruce and Rick and everything else Jam-related…then along came the Gents and filled that gap.
It was no contest. Here was a band who played locally,
were young(ish) and most important of all wrote their own songs and released their own records. Here was a band for
me to “get involved” with and who were going to get big. It didn't quite happen that way, but there were
a few close escapes from and brushes with celebrity along the way and boy did we have some fun doing it!
But anyway, yes, I first saw the Gents at Pontefract Labour
Club in February 1983, me and my gang of Jam-soaked mates and the first song I heard them play was Beat Surrender, maybe in
retrospect there's an element of irony in that, considering where I had come from, as described above, but we were so impressed
that when they came around again, in I think April of that year, we were of course there, all boogie-ing away at the front
like good little mods (I was nineteen by then) and that was pretty much it, I was hooked. I knew that I was going to
have see some more of this band, quite a lot more. Just quite how much more that would turn out to be would have surprised
even me at that stage in my life, but like I said, I was now nineteen, still hadn't passed a driving test and certainly no
sign on any of the horizons of anything as important (to such an ambition as that) as a car. No chance.
|On Clacton Pier March 85 at the Westcliffe gig (I can't believe how thin I look!)
To be honest, that first time at Pontefract Labour Club wasn't the first time I'd heard of the band, but reports had started
to filter through the modworld grapevine the previous year, and it must have been before about July of 1982, because I heard
their name mentioned as a top live experience whilst I was at Wakefield College, and I got thrown out of there for the last
time in mid-1982…so when it came to that first gig at the Labour Club, we pretty much knew what to expect.
So anyway when, on 23 May 1983, I passed my driving test
at the third attempt, and then in September, when my Dad decided to get generous and buy me that first car (which you may
find pictured somewhere on this site, with the ridiculous sunstrip reading Gentmobile 001!) then it seemed sort of maybe obvious
and a natural progression that me and the boys were going to get some serious Gents-following done. It's what you do
when you're young, stupid and newly mobile.
Well it was the week before I took delivery of the first
car, the aforementioned Gentmobile 001, that my mum and dad (are you sure you're not asleep yet…) went out for a meal
at the Stoneleigh Hotel in Wakefield right opposite the then Pussycats Nightclub, and asked me if I wanted to come. Well
no, but what I was quite willing to do was grab a lift with them and get another chance to see the Gents at Pussycats that
night. It was then that I first approached Paul Burton selling records and tapes etc in the foyer, with the immortal
words "do you work here or are you with the band?", answer – "I'm their manager". He probably wishes he'd told
me to f*** off!
I squeezed some dates out of Paul, about six of them or
so, in the context of just being about to get a new car, and so that was it really, the die was cast, the next six years of
my life were mapped out, accounted for, all they had to do was happen. Don't
ever mention that period to my mum and dad...
|My 21st birthday at Kikos 21.3.85
Yes, there were about six dates, er…Goldthorpe Golden Nugget, Hemsworth Blue Bell, Shafton Village WMC, all that sort
of stuff, you know the sort of thing, and we went to ‘em. Nearly got smacked
at Goldthorpe, big fight at Shafton Village, but it didn’t put us off, we’d found a band and we were
going to follow them.
We went to so many gigs in those first few months that it
reached a stage where just before Christmas 1983, having become so well-known to the band that Steve Kendell invited me and the lads to come out with him on Christmas Eve in a sortie round Doncaster town centre and its pubs. I have to say that must have taken some doing
for him, being as alright, I was 19, but some of my mates were a couple of or three years younger or so, but give us credit,
we went and I well remember the bus back home early evening Christmas Eve 1983 and trying to be sick out of the window of
the top deck of the 410 back to Ponte and it blowing all back in my face…
Well of course, me having the addictive personality and
all that (I’ll tell you now, it’s a good job I never tried hard drugs), I just loved it, lapped it up and being
19 and working on a building site at the time, it was all I wanted to do. Every
gig, every single one, the only limiter was money. It was really mainly just
club gigs that the band were doing at the time and to be honest the only ones that were out of range were the ones in the
North-East, which is the other big working men’s club scene area, South Yorkshire and the North-East, all the rest are
just filling between the sandwich in clubland. So having found what I wanted
to do with my spare time it became sort of well, three or four times a week in the new car.
But the thing was, the rest of my mates, being a little bit younger than that I guess was part of it, soon lost most
of their interest and I was left on my own to sort it out,
Thing was, I didn’t lose any interest, I had found
myself a new group of friends, pretty much all of whom accepted me and I was beginning to realise that my best ally and friend
in the band was well, the most sociable one, keyboard player and professional
drinker etc, Steve Kendell. Now, at this point, twenty-three years later, I look
back on that period and realise that we’ve just done so much together that really we’re pretty much like brothers,
we just have so much history!
Don’t get me wrong, the other members of the band
have always been really good mates as well, and that’s something which we’ve managed to keep going without too
many bad words for that same period, especially Steve Chambers, who recognises my love for music, which is one of the reasons
that I won’t diss anybody about the fallout and chinning episode of 2000, but the truth is that me and Kendell, we’ve
been like that for so long. I tell you, the amount of stuff we’ve done
is the stuff of legend…
|The Gents' world famous tapdance - Bolton-on-Dearne WMC 1986
Throughout the rest of 1983 and 1984 it was just gig after gig for me, mainly the clubs of South Yorkshire, punctuated of
course by the Miners’ Strike of March 84 to March 85, which it has to be said, made attitudes in some clubs well…interesting. That was a period when in all honesty money was in short supply in the mining communities
and therefore their clubs, the exact very same clubs from which the Gents were making their living and so it was a difficult
period, with clubs not wanting or being able to pay much, the odd occasion when the band were asked to do a Miners’
benefit (and woe betide if you turned something like that down!) and all the rest of it.
But at some time in 1984, this bloke came from London to
see the Gents, a mod called Mark Johnson, a bloke who wasn’t that young (40-odd), and notwithstanding the fact that
although it was known he was gay, we at our end for certain, didn’t know about certain of his sexual preferences, which
came out much later, I’m sure it was after the Gents had ceased to exist, but Mark Johnson had heard about this club-based
mod band kicking up some shit with a storming live reputation in Yorkshire, and he was mightily impressed when he saw the
band (for the first time at Doncaster RUFC if I remember rightly) and so he determined to book the band for as many gigs for
the Phoenix Mod Society that he ran in London at the time.
For me, at that time, being from the mod side of things
from 1979, that was pretty much like lift-off and when the mod gigs began to come in (and for mod gigs read original gigs,
ie where you played your own songs) that really did seem like being the proper band that the Gents had always aspired to be. The number of wonderful gigs that we did over 1985/86/87 was amazing, and mixed in
with the WMC gigs in South Yorkshire etc, it really did seem to make all that WMC drudgery worthwhile! The weekends at places like the Isle of Wight, Scarborough, Clacton-on-Sea and the major gigs like the
100 Club, Mod Aid at Walthamstow in December 1985 and the Hammersmith Town Hall all-dayer etc were wonderful wonderful times
(if occasionally a bit hairy), also some very very good shows at student venues etc, another section of people who seemed
to appreciate the band for what they were, entertainers, and I’ll never forget them (I wonder if Tony Foreman remembers
the day when he drove the van into my mother’s car at Birch Services on the way to Owen’s Park campus in Manchester,
which I’d borrowed without her permission!). But of course, the whole mods
thing is discussed in far more detail in the Mods! section of this website.
Then there were the scooterist dos as well. Quite how Paul Burton managed to get the Gents involved with the completely disparate (from mods) scooter
scene as well, and juggle the two without either side getting the hump, was I have to concede quite a skilful thing, what
with the infamous Castle Donington rally, the punch-up on stage at Belle Vue, Manchester and all the rest of it.
|At the Isle of Wight May 985 (I only include this to prove I once looked thin!)
All through this period of course, without wanting to sound big-headed, my position as the Gents’ number one follower
was pretty much established and unchallenged. The band and myself were so close
that I was just simply everywhere and it was expected, so much so that a lot of gigs I was able to get there in the van with
the crew, Necko and Tony or Rob Stalker and Tony or whoever else when the crew throughput became a bit higher later in the
band’s existence, all in exchange for a bit of humping with the gear (and bass bins are bleeding heavy, I can tell you) And that’s when, having become interested in photography specifically because
I was dying to take photographs of bands, that I pretty much became the Gents’ documenter of the period with a camera. Of the period 1983-89 I have quite simply the best collection of pictures of the Gents
that exists, and this website is a forum where I now have the chance to share many of them with yourselves.
And the fans; well of course, being almost an ever-present,
I saw them come and go, many sets of fans over those six years, lots of starstruck young girls (and some not-so-young) who
just wanted to come along and shag the band, or some of the band, lots of mods who were into the band, many many clubgoers
of course. But the thing was that you would see a group of fans for maybe a few
months and then they would lose interest and move on to something else, or some other band or whatever. That never happened to me, I loved the Gents and their music right from the start, right from that first
gig at Pontefract Labour Club in February of 1985. I was with them all the way,
hoping against hope that one day something was going to be in the right place at the right time and they’d end up with
a big hit and a place on Top of the Pops. That was what we were all striving
and yearning for.
But of course, sadly, it never happened, that hit never
came, the call from TOTP never came, and in the end, with it being a situation where it was just back to the clubs and keep
slogging, the Gents realised it was never going to happen and that the one best chance had probably been spurned with the
offer from EMI being turned down in 1981. I do regret the fact that for me personally
I did miss out, by virtue of it being before my involvement (I should have passed my driving test when I was 17 instead of
farting around for two years), on some of the band’s biggest times and nearest misses; Battle of the Bands, Bubbling
Under, Abbey Road etc. However, the truth is that the six wonderful years I did
get with the band were probably the best six years of my life, some of the most amazing times, laughs, cries, I even got to
sing with the band at one brief point and also do the Gents’ World Famous Tap Dance on stage with them! But most of all we were a gang of mates, and the two Steves, Kendell and Chambo especially. And for all that I want to thank you boys, in a similar way to the way in which I did in the dressing room
at Thurcroft on 2 February 1989.
You took my youth boys…thanks! Here’s to better days…