Whilst writing about 'Egged tales', I realised that I had never written anything about 'The Belstaff Bouncers', which were - how can I put this? - a large part of my life during 1975-7.
The beginning was in September 1975, when my friend Simon the drum and I were asked to perform some songs at the party to be held for the Habonim members who were emigrating from Britain to Israel. Quite why we chose to write songs about motorcyclists is something that eludes my memory, but for us, it was a hot topic. There were several motorcyclists in our ranks - I had just joined the club - and so it must have seemed sensible at the time. We sat down one afternoon and in short order wrote the lyrics to four songs: the songs were old rock'n'roll ones (e.g. "Breaking up is hard to do", "That'll be the day") but the lyrics were new. We performed them with Simon singing into one of my microphones (connected to my tape deck, connected to an amplifier) and me accompanying him on acoustic guitar with the other microphone placed inside the sound hole. A Belstaff jacket is a heavy duty leather jacket intended for motorcyclists which keeps its wearer dry; I don't remember where the 'Bouncers' part of our name came from.
We must have been well-received, for the next thing that I remember was discussing with Simon, along with Jeremy the bass, the possibility of forming a group. Simon said that he played drums, which surprised both Jeremy and I. When we found someone selling a drum kit, we gave Simon an 'audition', and believe it or not, he really could play. At the time I was working at Schweppes and so had a large amount of spare money; I paid for half of the drum kit. At the same time, I bought myself an electric guitar and an amplifier.
As all three of us were living at the time in the communal house in Hampstead, we used to rehearse in a shed at the bottom of the garden - far enough from houses in order to make a racket without disturbing anyone. I have a suspicion that we may have played at winter camp, 1975; we definitely played at a party in Southgate for Valentine's Day, 1976. This was termed "The Valentine Day's massacre", and we played some horror songs (anyone remember 'The monster mash"?). We continued practising throughout 1976, but in September of that year, Simon and Jeremy moved to a separate house in Ilford (?) and the days when we could go to the hut and rehearse (or just bash about) were over.
I'm certain that we played at winter camp in 1976 and at the Purim fancy-dress party on March 1, 1977 (I remember the date as this was St David's day, the patron saint of Wales, and so I dressed as a Welsh rugby player with a leek sticking out of my pocket). This was an excellent gig: I remember feeling that I couldn't play as loud as I wanted (and we were very loud).
Jeremy was due to emigrate in September 1977, so we decided to 'go out with a bang' before he left by making a professional recording. First, we went over the songs which we remembered and chose what would go on our record and in what order. We rehearsed them thoroughly, and during these 'sessions', Jeremy came up with a new, original song entitled "(It's your) Bike I like". As we didn't have much time to rehearse this, I created a minimal arrangement of strummed guitar and drums. Then, on the Saturday of this musical week, Jeremy and I went to the music shops around Charing Cross Road in order to buy him a 'proper' bass guitar - until now, he had been playing a no-name copy with a dreadful sound; he bought a Yamaha bass with a lovely sound.
On the Sunday (18 September 1977), we reconvened, along with Jeremy's brand new wife Carol and another friend/singer, Lorraine, in what might be euphemistically termed 'a studio' in Hendon. We had been looking for a studio in which we could record our modest songs, but not having much of a budget, we had to settle for something simple. We found this man (Mr Warren) who advertised a studio whose price was within our reach; it turned out that it was the front room of a normal semi-detached house, although it was a large room and there was a little control booth at the end.
We set up the instruments and finally we had proper microphones: one for Simon, one for me and one for the girls. There was also a mike on my trusted amplifier and presumably an overhead on the drums (or maybe not - there was enough spillage to obviate the need for the drums to be miked). As we were recording direct to mono with no overdubbing, we decided that we would play each song as many times as needed until we were satisfied. We all had headphones so that we could hear a balanced mix, but it took some time to get used to this and so the opening song required three takes. After listening to the first take of one song, someone remarked that the best thing about it was the count-in; it was me who counted the song in, and I broke down laughing when we tried the next take. So we had a 'cinema verite' moment with me counting, corpsing, Mr Warren breaking in on the control mike, and then me counting in again.
One of the songs was called "Takeaway", a parody of the Beach Boys' "Breakaway". I had suggested to Simon that instead of writing the lyrics together, he would write the first verse and I would write the second. This worked well; also, the writer would sing the words that he had written (i.e. Simon the first verse, me the second). For some reason, it was decided that I would sing both verses, something which we had not rehearsed before, so my singing was definitely rough on the first verse (something which these days can easily be corrected). As all of our songs were based on our memories of the original songs, our version is somewhat different (although the verse and chorus are recognisably the same as the original). Don't forget that in 1975-7, the only copyable medium that we had was cassettes: someone had to have the record which could be taped. So we worked from memories and improvised what we didn't know.
The finale was our version of "The sun ain't gonna shine any more" (The Walker Brothers), which in our warped version became "My bike ain't gonna run anymore". Mr Warren really enjoyed this and kept adding more and more reverb to my backing vocal once he heard what I was singing. This required only one take! So we were done: about three and a half hours of recording and listening from which we had 24 minutes of unforgettable music. Mr Warren also offered duplication services, so we ordered two or three acetate records (!) as well as forty cassette copies for sale. We sold all the cassettes to friends quickly and so recuperated our recording costs.
Probably a week later, we played a truncated set (certainly "My bike ain't gonna run anymore") at Jeremy and Carol's emigration party, which completed the circle started at a similar event only two years beforehand.
This is where The Belstaff Bouncers' story should end, but there is a continuation. About ten years ago, I transferred the recording - probably from the cassette and not the acetate - to my computer; at the same time, I digitised some of our rehearsal recordings along with one disastrous live recording. We had set up to record a performance at a party when suddenly the segue from our opening song into "Takeaway" was interrupted by someone shouting "Simon, Simon, it's smoking" - my amplifier's fuse had blown and apparently smoke was coming from it. We closed down very quickly! Listening to the recording now, I am surprised by how good it sounds - Simon's drumming was really good, something which passed us by at the time.
I often wonder what I would have done had we had better recording facilities - I would leave almost everything the same (although of course, the recording would have been in stereo) but I would have added an overdubbed rhythm guitar in a few places. But hey! this was 1977! The summer of punk! We could have appeared as a punk group, had we been prepared to put up with the spitting. After all, we were the same age as the Sex Pistols, the Clash, etc. On the other hand, I don't think that they would have been too enamoured of three Jewish university students; as my review of the record started, "The question is not whether white men can play the blues, but rather, can white Jewish ex-public schoolboys play the blues?".
To the best of my knowledge, below appears the only extant photograph of the Belstaff Bouncers (from the Purim Party, 5/3/77). The picture is effectively glued into a photo album so I was unable to remove it without damaging it. So a picture of the black and white picture will have to suffice; the warping is not in the original. I'm on the right, in case you couldn't guess.