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The Clubs!

     The Gents were a club act, a cabaret outfit, little more than a cover group who had the cheek to write the odd song of their own and make records now and again. Which to be honest didn't fit in clubland. Well that's the cynical view of that half of the band's career, so now I'm going to tell you why that's a completely incorrect and bollocks assessment…

     I first saw the Gents in a club, Pontefract Labour Club, in early 1983, that much is fact.  It also would have to be conceded that had the Gents not played on the working men's and social clubs circuit then I most probably would never had heard of them, so that much I guess I should be grateful for.  Having said that, the truth of the matter is that the Gents were one of the few, if not only bands who have managed to cleverly combine both, a full-time career in the northern clubs and the more street-cred route of being an originals band, writing and performing self-composed songs and playing a different type of gig to a different type of customer, away from the club scene and more in the underground/indie area.  So it's possible that you might be able to count bands like that on the fingers of one finger.

     It could be argued, and I may possibly even be a subscriber in small part to this theory myself, that deciding to be full-time and to make their living out if whilst also aspiring to the dizzy heights of pop business acceptance and commercial success, was the Gents' single biggest mistake, on the basis that the instant you are pigeonholed as a club/cabaret act then breaking through into the national and commercially successful side of the industry is a virtually impossible task to set oneself.  And that's what ground the Gents down in the end, endless slogging around the circuit whilst knowing deep down that their chance had gone. It was time to move on.

     As I've told you in the Mods! section, when I came across this band for the first time, there wasn't a great deal that moddy going on in the Gents' existence, being in a sort of lull period between modishnesses or whatever you would call it.  So the clubs in the first instance were my staple diet, the only diet, and it was as a consequence of that one-trick type of gig that I was able to comprehend right from the start that as a club band, the Gents were different, precisely in the fact that they wrote their own songs, played them live in between the covers and generally got away with it, having a following in the clubs just as devoted and peripatetic as the indie/moddy people who came to the more rewarding "real" gigs, the mod gigs, scooter gigs, the student gigs.

     As previously mentioned, I first started seeing the band with my gang of mates, as many times a week as we could make a gig, which with the Gents being a local band meant quite a few!  However, also as previously mentioned, those mates of mine lost interest after several months and so me, still being dead keen on the band and their music, was left to carry on regardless, going round mainly the clubs of South Yorkshire and then when I was a bit better known to them, in the North-East and other places.  The thing is, it was of course a slog to them, but me, not being directly employed by the band, didn't really have to do all the objectionable things like carrying (too much) gear etc.  Having said that, it did become noted after a while that I had developed an extraordinary talent for turning up just as the van had been emptied!

     Apart from the interminable drudgery of seeing the same old Doncaster and Barnsley clubs week after week, month after month, the thing that made it all worthwhile was hearing the songs; it was the Gents, it was their songs, and even the odd decent cover now and again.  That plus the whole experience, just being there, the fans, the funny incidents (which I'll come to in a minute) and all that sort of stuff.  It was just a fun way to spend your evenings, regardless of how many games of bingo you had to put up with.  In short, for me, the pros outweighed the cons.  They certainly didn't put any less effort into the live show just because it was a club!

     However, there was the odd occasion when the two sides of the Gents' Jekyll and Hyde career reared their heads and bit them!  By this I mean some of the times when a gang of mods or scooter boys for instance turned up at a club gig and there was the once or twice where it proved to be an explosive mix and ended up in big fights.  The one particular one which springs to mind was the incident which went down in history as "the Dial House massacre" when the Stocksbridge Scooter boys turned up at a club gig at Dial House WMC in Sheffield and the whole thing turned into a major riot; chairs,  tables and bodies flying everywhere.  Steve Kendell remembers "We just went in the dressing room and cowered.  There was a point when I poked my head out of the dressing room door but a chair came flying over my head and hit the wall!".  Dial House is also the club where they used to film Freddie Trueman's "Indoor League" in the 1970s and I understand from hearsay that an Indoor League finals night at Dial House finished in a similar sort of riot and that was the end of the Indoor League.  It was also the end of the Gents as they were officially banned and never booked to play Dial House again.  The Men's Club have in fact played there since and apparently the concert secretary didn't realise who he'd booked…

     There was another big fight at Skellow Grange one time and it has to be said that there were a small number of times when it was a real problem, with those nutty youth cult types turning up and spoiling the bingo! Skellow Grange weren't so quick to blame the Gents though, because that's where the Men's Club played their first ever gig as one of those Gents/Men's Club/Lip Service triple headers.

     Now working men's clubs were something of which I, previous to the Gents, had zero experience of, and thus it was a real eye-opener to be amongst the very people who were taking part in that seismic event in the history of British social culture.  I personally have never been the slightest fan of Margaret Thatcher, in fact if I had the chance I'd spit on her grave if she was currently dead, on the basis that she was the most divisive Prime Minister of the most divisive Government this country has ever elected.  However, at that time, I have to say that I didn't really have much of a candle for the strikers at that time either, because I just found it such an uneasy thing that the whole thing was based on having had no ballot and no democratic say on the matter.

     In that respect I feel that the blame for pretty much the whole thing lies with Arthur Scargill, who started a strike based on at least as much division and acrimony as the Conservative Government could have ever dreamed up.  Arthur Scargill was a fool in that he allowed Thatcher to lay a trap for him and he willingly fell straight into it, hook, line and sinker, by handing Thatcher and MacGregor the gold-plated gift-wrapped gimmie of no strike ballot.  That way, the miners were handicapped from the start and could never win.  Net result – end of mining industry.  It makes me very sad to see all those communities, devastated by the closures after the strike and to realise that in basic essence Scargill was right.  If only he'd done it with a ballot.  I saw all this at first-hand being as the clubs of South Yorkshire were exactly where I was spending 90% of my time with the band during that year.  Also, it should be noted that both Martin and Paul Burton were ex-miners, having worked at I think Cadeby Colliery before the Gents and so as you can expect, they had some empathy with the situation also.

     Anyway, in relation to the Gents and the strike, I found that the best policy was that whatever your position was, to keep one's mouth shut, as in general that was the sort of debate that you couldn't win and indeed was one that was more likely to get you taken outside and filled in.  The Gents did do a number of miners' benefits during that year and I have to say that it pleasantly surprised me to see how people were able to buckle down and get on with and especially in managing to come to the clubs during that year.  Money was in very short supply in South Yorkshire in 1984/85 and that the clubs managed to keep entertaining their communities with acts like the Gents was commendable indeed.

     Another vaguely related area of gigs on the clubs scene were the nightclub cabaret gigs.  These were just like WMC gigs and used the same roster of club bands in that they were definitely cover gigs, but slightly removed in atmosphere from the WMCs, Social Clubs and Miners' Welfares.  The Gents used to regularly do three or four night stints at the likes of Pussycats in Wakefield (formerly Wakefield Theatre Club), Rooftops Gardens in Wakefield, the former Batley Variety Club, then the Frontier Club (where the Men's Club still occasionally play) and the odd nightclub gig in Barnsley and Doncaster.  They weren't that different from WMC gigs, but just went on a lot later and there were more silly drunk girls about (but like I said, nobody ever, ever…)!

    We had a very silly gig at RooftopGardens on Christmas Eve 1986 when the whole band decided to go on stage in fancy dress, which they did, very drunk and I can tell you, the sight of Glyn in a ballet dress was a sight worth seeing!  There was a video of that gig but I'm afraid it hasn't survived.  There might be some photos though…

     Nightclubs were another place where the odd gang of mods or scooter people would cross over and infiltrate in order to see the band, with sometimes predicable results.  I remember my own gang of mates trying to get into a club called the Bar Celona, off Kirkstall Road in Leeds, when they were only 16 or so, so I being 19, went in on my own and then tried to let them in through the toilet window.  It was probably the closest I've ever come to being filled in by the doormen!

     Now working men's clubs were something of which I, previous to the Gents, had zero experience of, and thus it was a real eye-opener to be amongst the very people who were taking part in that seismic event in the history of British social culture.  I personally have never been the slightest fan of Margaret Thatcher, in fact if I had the chance I'd spit on her grave if she was currently dead, on the basis that she was the most divisive Prime Minister of the most divisive Government this country has ever elected.  However, at that time, I have to say that I didn't really have much of a candle for the strikers at that time either, because I just found it such an uneasy thing that the whole thing was based on having had no ballot and no democratic say on the matter.

     In that respect I feel that the blame for pretty much the whole thing lies with Arthur Scargill, who started a strike based on at least as much division and acrimony as the Conservative Government could have ever dreamed up.  Arthur Scargill was a fool in that he allowed Thatcher to lay a trap for him and he willingly fell straight into it, hook, line and sinker, by handing Thatcher and MacGregor the gold-plated gift-wrapped gimmie of no strike ballot.  That way, the miners were handicapped from the start and could never win.  Net result – end of mining industry.  It makes me very sad to see all those communities, devastated by the closures after the strike and to realise that in basic essence Scargill was right.  If only he'd done it with a ballot.  I saw all this at first-hand being as the clubs of South Yorkshire were exactly where I was spending 90% of my time with the band during that year.  Also, it should be noted that both Martin and Paul Burton were ex-miners, having worked at I think Cadeby Colliery before the Gents and so as you can expect, they had some empathy with the situation also.

     Anyway, in relation to the Gents and the strike, I found that the best policy was that whatever your position was, to keep one's mouth shut, as in general that was the sort of debate that you couldn't win and indeed was one that was more likely to get you taken outside and filled in.  The Gents did do a number of miners' benefits during that year and I have to say that it pleasantly surprised me to see how people were able to buckle down and get on with and especially in managing to come to the clubs during that year.  Money was in very short supply in South Yorkshire in 1984/85 and that the clubs managed to keep entertaining their communities with acts like the Gents was commendable indeed.

     Another vaguely related area of gigs on the clubs scene were the nightclub cabaret gigs.  These were just like WMC gigs and used the same roster of club bands in that they were definitely cover gigs, but slightly removed in atmosphere from the WMCs, Social Clubs and Miners' Welfares.  The Gents used to regularly do three or four night stints at the likes of Pussycats in Wakefield (formerly Wakefield Theatre Club), Rooftops Gardens in Wakefield, the former Batley Variety Club, then the Frontier Club (where the Men's Club still occasionally play) and the odd nightclub gig in Barnsley and Doncaster.  They weren't that different from WMC gigs, but just went on a lot later and there were more silly drunk girls about (but like I said, nobody ever, ever…)!

    We had a very silly gig at RooftopGardens on Christmas Eve 1986 when the whole band decided to go on stage in fancy dress, which they did, very drunk and I can tell you, the sight of Glyn in a ballet dress was a sight worth seeing!  There was a video of that gig but I'm afraid it hasn't survived.  There might be some photos though…

     Nightclubs were another place where the odd gang of mods or scooter people would cross over and infiltrate in order to see the band, with sometimes predicable results.  I remember my own gang of mates trying to get into a club called the Bar Celona, off Kirkstall Road in Leeds, when they were only 16 or so, so I being 19, went in on my own and then tried to let them in through the toilet window.  It was probably the closest I've ever come to being filled in by doorstaff!

     Well, whilst heading vaguely towards the conclusion for this section, I feel I should mention the fact that it was whilst at a WMC gig, in fact the SYD (Scottish, Yorkshire and Durham Miners' Welfare) Club in Knottingley, whilst at a Gents gig, that I met my first wife Jennifer.  We married in June 1998, six months after she had given birth to our twins, Stuart and Stacey, who are now both nearly 26 and we then also had Amy in 1992, who will therefore be 21 this year.  Jennifer and I separated in 1993 and were divorced decree absolute in 1997 but whatever the emotional issues attached to all that, the fact can never be taken away that we met at a Gents gig and so it's only because of the Gents that I have three wonderful children.  Steve Kendell was my best man and most of the band came to my wedding.  I have to say that Steve Chambers tried to warn me and I didn't listen (well she was my first girlfriend – honest!), so on that score I have to say "You were right matey!".  I should have known how it was going to go when she told me on that first night that she'd recently been banned from Ferry Fryston Miners' Welfare for fighting! (and that was at a Gents gig too).

     Anyway, in relation to the whole playing on the WMC circuit issue, the truth is that playing in the clubs, three, four, five nights a week is exactly what made the Gents what they were, accomplished musicians, musicians who had lot of their own good tunes and words in them too.  As I've said in the Mods! section, that was something which in some ways worked against them amongst bands and musicians of lesser ability, but the truth is that this wasn't 1976, when being able to play more than two notes in a row was frowned up by the punk cognoscenti, but some of those people seemed to think otherwise.

     So like I said, clubland made the Gents as musically good as they were, and certainly gave many of us some good experiences as well as the "proper" gigs.  The Gents were almost unique in that they fitted well in club gigs whilst at the same time fitting well into an originals career and almost pulled it off.

 

…almost.


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