Tuesday, 19 December 2017

Ghosts of Christmas Past

Remembering a time when the Festive Season was all about the annual fanzine gigs, The Chip Shop Boys and ‘the only band in the world to be named after a Third Division goalkeeper’...

Back in the day before football fanzines went digital and started winning awards for things like podcasts (well done Amber Nectar by the way!!) various means were explored in order to gain exposure beyond the club’s core support. One of the advantages we had with Hull, Hell & Happiness and From Hull To Eternity in the late-1980s/early-1990s was our local music content, which not only opened up another audience to us but also another avenue in which to get our name out there i.e. the live promotional gig. And so back in the day when most Hull City winters appeared full of discontent, a rare bright spot amid the darkness was the annual “Christmas football fanzine gig”. Held at the legendary Adelphi Club, this yuletide get-together allowed City fans with a liking for local bands to momentarily forget their team’s troubles and instead take in some of the finest talent the city had to offer... and The Chip Shop Boys.

Christmas 1989/90
The first such event took place in 1989 and is recounted in (the still-to-be-published) ‘Not All Ticket’

14 December 1989
Hull, Hell & Happiness Christmas Bash:
The Von Trapps | Pink Noise | Ian Beharrell | Sheldon Carmichael
The Adelphi Club – Ticket £2.50
Given our football-music crossover appeal, it was perhaps predictable that the idea of a ‘Hull, Hell & Happiness’ gig was first mooted. With plenty of local bands by now on board with what we were trying to do for the Hull Music Scene, we were never going to be short of takers to appear on the bill. And there was genuine talent out there. Although The Beautiful South were a touch out of our league, there was no shortage of bands from in and around the city who could and more importantly would be only too glad to oblige. Sadly, fanzine faves The Mighty Strike weren’t among them. They had recently split, with frontman Biz opting to pursue a solo route. Of the others, noise/punk outfit Milkfloat (formerly Death By Milkfloat) were high profile having already recorded a couple of John Peel Sessions. They were reportedly set to sign an album deal with Manchester record label Imaginary and had also recently received favourable Press when asked to stand in as last-minute support for The Wonder Stuff at the City Hall. Hull soulsters Smart Alix, “Blow Monkeys sound-alikes” The Hitchcocks and thrash-metal outfit Re-animator were other Hull bands attracting plenty of attention and were examples of the many differing sounds to be found on the city’s live scene.
Along with The Adelphi and The Welly, local bands had another two new venues made available to them in 1989: The Jailhouse (down Norfolk Street) and the “infamous” Tower Nightclub on Anlaby Road. The latter hosted the popular Soundtrack ‘89 competition in conjunction with the Hull Daily Mail. Winners Looking For Adam were rewarded with a headlining showcase gig at the venue on 14 November, supported by The Penny Candles and girl trio Cheap Day Return. I’d seen both support acts a couple of weeks earlier at the Adelphi (with The Rainy Days) and had been completely bowled over. I described it as “one of those infuriating evenings when you’re stood in the Adelphi with a hundred or so others and you just wish that the whole world’s population was with you”. Cheap Day Return in particular had me swooning. Combined with the aforementioned Tower show, it convinced me that Hull’s scene really was looking up. We hoped that our first fanzine gig would act as another showcase and help spread the word.
The inaugural HH&H Christmas Bash took place a month on from that Soundtrack showcase. It was plugged in the Hull Daily Mail as “A cracker of a gig” and (eventually) proved hugely popular, attracting a near full-house “although at one point early on we must admit we felt about as busy as City’s turnstile operators”[i]. Unfortunately The Penny Candles were forced to cancel at the last minute, meaning a step-up to headliners for east Hull’s finest The Von Trapps. They didn’t disappoint and neither did Pink Noise or Biz in his first post-TMS performance. However the surprise star of the show was our mate Sheldon. His appearance as Compere, which according to the HDM had “had tickets selling faster than Kylie albums” (!), wowed the crowd. In a taste of things to come, the big man, complete with oversized Santa outfit, kept a packed house thoroughly entertained. Despite the team’s travails on the pitch, nights like this made me feel it was a good time to be a Hull City fan.

Pre-Season 1990/91
By the following Christmas, I was no longer part of the HH&H team, Gary H and I having “branched out” over that Italia 90 summer to produce a brand new fanzine, From Hull To Eternity. We held an Adelphi launch gig in August, billed for some reason as a “Mad Duck Party”?! Headliners were Driffield band The Brontes, supported by Cheap Day Return who were late replacements for the absent Biz. However, for many of those among the hundred or so present that night, the gig will perhaps be remembered more for the debut performance of The Chip Shop Boys.
Yes, The Chip Shop Boys, The CSBs as local music mag Where? would label them. The origins of this small by-line in the history of the Hull music scene have long since been forgotten but probably involved alcohol. What we do know is that as a result of several conversations (and even some rehearsals) Thursday, 16 August saw Sheldon, Steve Fry, Jivin’ Jeff Pullen and I take to the stage as part of our very own fanzine “super group”. Er, sort of. If that’s hard enough to comprehend, it’s also worth recording here that within a year, this supposed "one-off" performance had led to several follow-ups and certain reviewers would mention The CSBs in the same breath as The Beautiful South and Kingmaker. I’ll leave that one there for now…

“Best night of 1990 so far!” was how my diary records the “Mad Duck Party”. The Chip Shop Boys’ live debut proved hugely successful (even if it did pass me by a touch thanks to too much steadying of the nerves beforehand). It should be added that Cheap Day Return played their part to the full and The Brontes were simply magnificent. There was also a special appearance (“due to popular demand”) from Hull’s World Cup rappers The England Posse, returning to the stage for one last time after their summer of “so near yet so far”.

Christmas 1990/91
With some welcome publicity courtesy of Angus Young in the Hull Daily Mail and Tim Maitland at Viking FM, the gig succeeded in getting the From Hull To Eternity name out there on the streets, which in turn did wonders for our sales. Tim would also prove a decent contact to have come December, when The Adelphi’s “What’s On” listings sheet carried another fanzine name on its Christmas Bash billing. On Tuesday, 11 December 1990, Sheldon was invited on to Viking FM to publicise his forthcoming “Gangshow”, at which The Chip Shop Boys would be joined by Ian Beharrell, The Scallywags Outing and headliners MG Greaves & The Lonesome Too. With a share of the proceeds going to the Viking FM Help Appeal, it was hoped such extra publicity would shift extra tickets. It did. The gig was scheduled for nine days later on the 20th.

Before then came a Saturday that just about summed up our experiences following The Tigers at this time. What should have been a routine away game at Notts County, instead turned into an all-dayer beset by incident. We set off early aboard Jivin’ Jeff’s minibus for a 10am kick-off for our fanzine team (The Hull City Coasters) against one representing Notts County’s The Pie fanzine. We weren’t known as “East Yorkshire’s worst football team” for nothing and a 5-1 reverse duly followed on a mud-bath of a Nottingham pitch. From there we progressed via The Pie’s local pub to Meadow Lane where City were duly dispatched 2-1 by a home side reduced to ten men. Could things get any worse? Oh yes. We returned to our vehicle to find every window had been put through. A long night in Nottingham and Stapleford ensued, resulting in an arrival for me back in Easington at gone three the following morning. Merry bloody Christmas!
Still, at least there was still the gig to look forward to. Not All Ticket again takes up the story…
20 December 1990
Sheldon’s Christmas Gangshow:
MG Greaves & the Lonesome Too | The Chip Shop Boys | Ian Beharrell | The Scallywags Outing
The Adelphi Club – Ticket £2.50
The Thursday before Christmas was chosen as the fanzine Christmas Bash date. Arranged in conjunction with Hull, Hell & Happiness, it featured our very own Chip Shop Boys again, on a bill topped by alternative-country act MG Greaves & The Lonesome Too, a band remembered in time for their wonderful “Withernsea Rain”. Also playing on the night were Biz (doing a solo slot) and Gargoyles members Eddie Smith and Ted Key, collectively known as The Scallywags Outing.
The Adelphi was somewhere I’d shamefully neglected since the summer’s Anti-Poll Tax gigs. Unfortunately, on the few occasions I had made it down De Grey Street I’d been disappointed: attending “average” gigs by Brilliant Corners and Cheap Day Return, while a show by The Guana Batz, The Juvies and Hull’s own Overriders had done nothing to lure me back to the psychobilly fold.
At least the fanzine bash lived up to expectations (well, from what I remember of it!). The usual alcoholic intake required ahead of a CSBs performance ensured much of the night became a blur. Fortunately, Dave Prescott had the foresight to video the damn thing, which allows me to relive every terrifying moment again as if live. The audience appeared to enjoy our ripped-off contributions – “If I Could Get The Spices” (from The Pet Shop Boys’ “Left To My Own Devices”) and a rugby league take on The Shangri La’s “Leader Of The Pack” featuring none other than Cheryl Parker from Cheap Day Return. Her role as the Hull KR maiden hopelessly besotted by Sheldon’s Tubby Lard of The Boulevard hero was musical theatre of the highest order...er, perhaps. Anyway, in short, everyone appeared to have a bloody good time and the £265 raised towards the Viking FM Help Appeal made it all very worthy.

Christmas 1991/92
Hard as it was to believe, The Chip Shop Boys were actually building a head of steam, with Paul Jackson at The Adelphi particularly keen to put us on again. To this end we began to compile our very own set list – well, five songs – and by the time the 1991 Xmas Bash came along we were primed to headline the bloody thing. Our egos really did know no bounds. But even we had to admit that the biggest draw this time round was an even newer band on the block, one that could not only play but had the added attraction of being named after Hull City’s new young Northern Irish goalkeeper…

11 December 1991
The Chip Shop Boys | The Mighty Strike | Fettis
The Adelphi Club – Ticket £2.00

According to the Hull Daily Mail, City keeper Alan Fettis “was surprised to learn that he was the inspiration behind” the band bearing his name. He was quoted as saying, “At first I thought it was all a big wind-up but I’ve since met the lads and I’m really chuffed about it”. Born out of the ashes of The Von Trapps, Fettis comprised vocalist Karl Vint, Sam Beasty (guitar), Dave Prescott (bass) and Jivin’ Jeff on drums. Their debut attracted a favourable response, with the Hull Daily Mail’s Scene column suggesting that “the only band in the world to be named after a Third Division goalkeeper...did enough to suggest more first-team appearances lie ahead”. Fettis (complete with a pint of the black stuff in his hand) joined his namesakes on stage “just long enough to remind everyone why he should stick to his day job”.
Biz was on top form, although a mooted TMS reunion didn’t materialise (save for Andrew Meadowcroft joining him for the second of two short sets). Chris Warkup summed things up perfectly when writing, “Again questions must be asked...when someone as dubious as Kenny Thomas is hyped as the Great White Soul Voice Of British Pop, why can’t Ian get what he deserves?” The surprise felt by The Temptations at Biz’s lack of recording contract was one shared by many of those in the Adelphi that night.

And so to the, erm, main event and this time we’d pulled out all the stops. Taking the KLF hit “Grim Up North”, we’d adapted it to pour scorn on the nearest seaside resort to my home village. A large banner hanging on the back of the stage told you all you needed to know. It read, “It’s Shit in With” and against a backdrop of Steve and me reciting countless weird and wonderful Holderness village names, Sheldon would interject at chorus time to inform the gathered punters just how bad Withernsea was. HH&H editor (and Withernsea resident) Andy Medcalf’s face on walking into the Adelphi that night to be confronted by the banner has lived with me to this day. Priceless. In total we did five songs (including “four subversive covers” according to Scene). Among these, “Leader Of The Pack” now featured our very own “Pattie-slappin’ Debs” on lead, whilst the finale “Bestiality” was a take on the Billy Bragg hit of a slightly different title. The HDM said we “romped through” our set and Warkup termed us “the biggest laugh at The Adelphi each year, if nothing else”. He described our act as “quite unique and bloody funny”. I’d take that.
More importantly, that Christmas gig was the first time when I felt we’d really tapped into the mood of the City support. There was a bond between everyone in the place that night, including our esteemed keeper. The following evening, The Face and In The City[ii] faves The Farm played Hull Uni. It was such a shame for them that the real cool folk had been out the previous night…

Pre-Season 1992/93
The ‘Tiger kit summer’ of 1992 brought two more Adelphi events, the first of which came in June and again featured Fettis, headlining the FHTE “Put A Tiger In Your Team” gig. The gig was the fanzine’s contribution to a concerted effort by City fans to raise enough funds to buy new players for the cash-strapped club. (It would eventually yield £11,000 and the signing of “Knees up” Linton Brown, a 24-year-old striker from Non-League Guiseley where he’d just netted 16 goals in 20 games.) The Brontes were also on the bill, alongside Young Amber & Black, a City-inspired "reggae/hip-hop offering" comprising Jivin’ Jeff, me and guest “toaster” Leon (and one that needs far more space than can be afforded here to explain).

It proved to be the last great soiree for From Hull To Eternity. By the time we next reconvened down De Grey Street it was to celebrate the new Blind Faith ‘92 movement, which was basically a rejoining of HH&H and FHTE into one again. Pooling resources to push a new fanzine (Look Back In Amber) we marked its launch in time-honoured fashion with a gig on Friday, 14 August – the eve of the new season. The Chip Shop Boys were restored to top slot, with another cameo appearance from Young, Amber & Black, along with upcoming Hull popsters Joyce Victoria and the completely zany Hubert The Tree.
In the event the Blind Faith gig proved something of a watershed for The CSBs. Described in Pulse magazine as “cabaret-comedy as much as a band and they really are very funny and very good”, on this particular occasion our pre-match alcohol consumption proved our downfall as reflected in Where?’s review...

After Young Amber ‘N’ Black came the highlight (!) of the night, the world famous, fat, bad, beered Chip Shop Boys. Flying into a stomping ‘Busterbeat’ (i.e. ‘Boxerbeat’), it rapidly became apparent too much beer had been consumed methinks!! Nevertheless, like old stage pros, they battled on with the crowd eating out of their fish slices. Old faves were mixed with a couple of new ones: ‘Don’t You Want My Gravy’ was a bit dodgy with Pattie-Slappin’ Debs struggling to be heard; ‘Leader Of The Pack’, ‘It’s Shit in With’, ‘Bestiality’ and ‘If I Could Get The Spices’ were all rolled out. The crowd went barmy and yelled for more, but from my high and mighty critic’s box I was a bit disappointed. I know it’s all for fun and that, but the CSBs have been a lot better and a lot funnier – definitely 10 pints less next time please!  
Despite the lukewarm review, the Chip Shop Boys still appeared a draw. Indeed, the September edition of Where? described them as “the band who (apart from Kingmaker) are the only local band guaranteed to pack out the Adelphi.” It went on: “It does seem a little strange to realise that Hull’s third biggest band is in fact…yes, The Chip Shop Boys!” As an aside it hinted that the reason The Adelphi’s Paul Jackson was smiling so much at the Blind Faith gig was because “your CSB supporter drinks around 6 times the amount consumed by your average Heavenly fan”. 

Christmas 1992/93
Surprisingly, the CSBs were nowhere to be found on the bill for Blind Faith’s “All I Want For Christmas Is A Hull City Home Shirt” Adelphi show, on Wednesday 16 December 1992. I don't think the last review had as much to do with our absence as much as a feeling on the part of some members (Steve? Jeff?) that the band had run its course. The "novelty" effect was lost forever. What I do know is that the effect on the attendance would be very, very noticeable; and this despite a decent line-up headed by The Brontes and also including upcoming Hull band Hub and a return for Hubert The Tree (or not as turned out!). Ian Farrow (of CityIndependent) reviewed it for Where?:..

Hubert The Tree was/is sick!
A disappointing turnout for this “Look Back In Amber” Christmas bash, but hardly surprising as there were among other attractions that night a “Where?” benefit… Apart from a tree named Hubert, numbers were all tonight lacked, but the poor turnout was particularly unfortunate for Hub, who I imagine are better when facing an audience response. With singer Fred Flintstone and guitarist Steve Hillage fronting 5 Happy Prole idiots on Pro Plus, disco biscuits and drip-fed liquid gold, strong reaction is inevitable. I like ‘em but they are one of those demonically entertaining groups like Bogshed, Stump, Foreheads In A Fishtank, and early James that loads claim to like but nobody buys.
Everyone always liked The Brontes, and most people still do. Now Elder Statespersons, their sound has hardened while remaining danceable, listenable and consumer-friendly. Even so, they have not garnered deserved wider attention as yet, and I fail to see how they will do so now. To change too much would rob them of being The Brontes. Perhaps they will have to settle for being a local institution, which is OK for me and those who cherish the group in the Adelphi’s confines, but surely bad news for them.
Well, we certainly couldn’t be accused of going out on a high! Little did we know it then but that Blind Faith bash of Christmas 1992 would prove our last. Not that it was quite the end of the fanzine; in fact things were looking up for Look Back In Amber and we'd just secured a two-page monthly piece in the Hull Daily Mail’s Sports Mail. But it was to signal the end of an era in terms of the football-music tie-up, as well as removing one of the few guaranteed ways to lift the gloom of another depressing Festive fixture list. Sadly, all evidence of The CSBs' live performances would appear to have, er, been mislaid but as a final reminder of those halcyon nights down De Grey Street, here's a snatch of Fettis at the 1992 Xmas Bash, complete with cameo appearance onstage of Ulster's Number One (at about the 4:27 mark). Merry Christmas everyone... 

[i] From Hull, Hell & Happiness
[ii] Hull’s “Bible of Unity and Style” edited by Swift Nick

Many thanks to Sam Beasty for the Fettis video.

Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Not like anyone I’ve ever met…

Saturday saw The Wedding Present play ‘George Best’ live for the final time. I felt I had to be there…

I’ll start with a confession. I don’t class myself as a fan of The Wedding Present as much as a fan of ‘George Best’, their 1987 debut LP. In addition, I must also confess to never having bought or owned the original vinyl version of ‘George Best’. Indeed I never bought it in any form until purchasing the ‘Plus’ version on CD several years later. Nevertheless, it has remained one of my “go to” listens for the past three decades and is the reason I felt compelled to share this post with you.

My enjoyment of the Leeds band’s original twelve-track LP came courtesy of a TDK C90 cassette prepared for me by my mate Gary in the early part of 1988. It had ‘George Best’ on one side and The Chesterfields’ ‘Kettle’ on the other and formed part of my then ongoing transition from retro-kid to indie-kid. With the Nineties appearing on the horizon, I was finally getting up to speed with the changing sounds of the Eighties. It was a transition that had been first forged in the company of John Peel and via early exposure to New Order, The Smiths and especially the so-called ‘C86’ world of jangly guitars. I liked what I heard but hitherto still not enough to divert money that would otherwise be spent on the next reissue from the vast Ace Records stable. As such, I relied on the wonderful world of the cassette to keep me abreast of the latest ‘in-bands’ that Peel and my hipper mates were raving about. ‘George Best’ would be a clincher.
I wasn’t the only one to be swept away by vocalist David Gedge’s “bittersweet, breathtakingly honest love songs immersed in whirlwind guitars”[i]. The NME described ‘George Best’ as “an unmitigated delight” and named it among its Top 500 Albums of all-time. Within two months of its release, five ‘George Best’ tracks had made it into John Peel’s legendary Festive 50 (four of them in the top ten). In a recent interview in the Yorkshire Post, Gedge himself said he regards it as one of his “three most personal albums”. I’d hazard a guess that many of the band’s fans felt/feel the same. In my case it certainly didn’t take long before the ‘George Best’ tape became one to slip into my Walkman on those long coach journeys back from another City away defeat and lose myself in whilst staring wistfully out the window. As the cliché goes, ‘George Best’ really did say something to me about my life.
According to their own Concertography, The Wedding Present played their first live gig in Hull at the University on 25 June 1986. I first got to see them at the same venue two years later on 17 October 1988, as part of their biggest tour to date and in front of a “packed, heaving crowd”[ii]. I’d offered to review the gig for Hull, Hell & Happiness[iii], which proved not the wisest move given my consumption of alcohol beforehand and my positioning in the middle of the front-of-stage melee. Already undermined by having missed excellent support act, The Heart Throbs, my eventual offering was not one to arouse the attention of the mainstream music press…     
“From the opening bars of ‘Everyone Thinks He Looks Daft’ to the closing encore of ‘This Boy Can Wait’ every song was met with a large barrage of cheers. The chart near miss ‘Why Are You Being so Reasonable Now?’ appeared early on, but the biggest cheer of the night was reserved for ‘Nobody’s Twisting Your Arm’, which Mr Gedge dedicated to all people from Hull: “You’re from Yorkshire and don’t let anyone tell you different!”
Originally, the plan was for the fanzine to also interview the band – which would have been a first for me. Sadly, this didn’t happen due to lack of time but The Weddoes generously offered to accommodate us at a later date. So a couple of weeks later, Gary and “friend of the fanzine” Sean P walked into The Hyde Park pub in Leeds where Mr Gedge and guitarist Peter Solowka were waiting. I should have been with them but a heavy night at Spiders curtailed my involvement – much to my later regret. In time-honoured fanzine fashion the interview wasn’t written up in time for the next edition, or indeed the one after that! And when it did finally appear it had to be split over two issues due to the band’s willingness to talk at some length about topics as wide-ranging as the workings of the music scene, football ID cards, boyhood heroes, touring East Germany, Top Of The Pops and, of course, ‘George Best’. They also gave their thoughts on the recent Hull University gig.
“I imagine the majority of people wouldn’t have been able to see what was going on. It’s narrow and there’s all those pillars. For people right at the front, there’s obviously a great atmosphere. There was a lot of movement, dancing shouting and that.”
Ironically, Gary’s main memory of the afternoon wasn’t the happiest: “I asked Dave Gedge, ‘Why George Best?’ and he immediately stormed off to the bogs. Peter replied, ‘Don’t worry, he just hates people asking him that!’” Quite. “It’s just a good name” was the eventual typed-up reply to a question the band had “answered about four hundred times now”. For those who don’t know and perhaps think it strange for a Leeds band to name a record after one of Manchester United’s greatest footballers, Duncan Seaman had more luck when asking the same question in the aforementioned Yorkshire Post piece. Although born in Leeds, Gedge was brought up in Manchester where as a kid he supported United. Best was his favourite player:
“He was like the first football pop star, if you like, his long hair and shirt was never tucked in his shorts like everybody else, he’d get into trouble for missing practices because he’d been out dating Miss World last night and he went to discos with The Beatles. For a kid, he was a great role model – here’s this rebellious, reckless character who happens to be brilliant at what he does as well, I think that was very appealing.”  
Shortly after the Hull University gig, The Wedding Present wound-up their independent Reasonable Records label and signed with RCA. As they told HH&H the move was purely down to the need to sell more records. Previous distributors Red Rhino’s limitations meant many fans overseas had struggled to obtain a copy of ‘George Best’. This really upset Gedge who holds his band’s foreign following in particular high esteem. In short, the success of the record had meant The Weddoes “had got a little too big for Red Rhino…it costs a lot of money to press up to 30 or 40,000 records”. In total, ‘George Best’ cost £60,000 – “not bad when you think Spurs paid £2m for Gazza!”   
In November 1990, in-between their two RCA studio albums (‘Bizarro’ and ‘Seamonsters’) the band played “a sweat-box of a gig” to a full house at The Tower. It was one of the first events attended by Gary and me since launching From Hull To Eternity. In what we thought would be an excellent coup for the new fanzine, we sent David Gedge one of our stylish ‘hull’ t-shirts (based on the best-selling ‘James’ design) to wear onstage. Alas, it never happened. Our hero failed to open the package in time, a fact he pointed out on a postcard sent to me from Minnesota, USA where ‘Seamonsters’ was being recorded in eleven days. (Incidentally, this was only the second postcard I’d ever received from a “pop star”. The first was from Sade…but that’s for another time).
‘Bizarro’ had spawned the band’s first UK Top 40 hit, ‘Kennedy’. It was followed in 1992 by twelve more as The Wedding Present equalled Elvis Presley’s record for most UK Top 30 hits in one year, courtesy of a dozen 7” singles released on a monthly basis. In total the band would enjoy eighteen stints in the Top 40. It’s an impressive figure, bettered only perhaps by the number of band members they’ve had! The aforementioned Solowka was the second of nearly twenty departures witnessed over the next three decades. But this wasn’t something that concerned me inasmuch as I’ve already stated – it’s ‘George Best’ the album rather than The Wedding Present the band that has always been the safety net for me to fall back on…
And so to Saturday, 9 December 2017: the final ever live performance of ‘George Best’ at the O2 Academy in the band’s hometown. It was a gig we couldn’t afford to miss – especially given that what we thought would be our final chance to see the album played live, at The Welly in Hull back in March, had turned out to be a standard Weddoes gig, albeit an excellent one.
For this occasion, the show formed the focal point of a weekend already steeped in nostalgia. Even local radio DJ Andy Comfort got into the spirit, airing ‘A Million Miles’ as part of his Friday request slot. I demanded silence from the two Slushettes for the duration of the track, which was only broken when my eldest said: “If this was X-Factor he’d be voted off first week”. I rather fancy that Mr Gedge would take that as a huge compliment! 
Later that night I joined several other like-minded folk at the “Cleveland Classics Christmas Cracker” at Halfway House on Spring Bank, with ‘Mr Spiders’ himself, Chris Von Trapp taking us on a wonderful musical trip down memory lane. Only the quality of the beer let things down, but given our plans for the Saturday that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. And come the following lunchtime all memories of poor ale were forgotten as my mate Steve and I sat in Amy’s Café Bar in Patrington, enjoying a couple of lovely pints of ChamALEon (The Crafty Little Brewery, Brough). From there it was a hop aboard the Withernsea-to-Hull service bus, a meet-up with Gary and Sheldon at the other end and then on to the 14.32 train to Leeds. Before four o’clock we were dropping our bags off at The Boundary Hotel, with Headingley cricket ground providing a somewhat ill-fitting backdrop on a day made for brass monkeys.

The lead-up to the gig involved copious amounts of ale, some good (Greene King Rocking Rudolph in The Skyrack and Daleside Square Rigger in The Hedley Verity) and some not so good (neither of The Original Oak’s cask offerings were up to scratch). Jeff Stelling’s announcement of City’s first win in seven was duly noted and a tweet of mine received a reply from the legendary @FredBoycott, before it was time for the main event. 
Initially Mr Gedge teased us with a selection of songs from across the past three decades. ‘Once More’, ‘Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah Yeah’, ‘Corduroy’, ‘Broken Bow’, ‘Deer Caught In The Headlights’, ‘The Girl From The DDR’, ‘No’ and finally ‘England’ (the latter complete with a cameo appearance from Simon Armitage). Having unwittingly missed support act Young Romance, it acted as the perfect warm-up before it was time for the main man to utter those immortal words that lead into 'Everyone Thinks He Looks Daft'...
“Oh why do you catch my eye then turn away?”
Gedge told the Yorkshire Post that when he sings those songs, “straight away I’m back there, 30 years ago, re-living the situations that happened to inspire it”. He’s not alone. I closed my eyes and I was back staring out the coach window again; back to weekdays listening to angry young men at work and back to weeknights listening to angry young men on the wireless. Back to Saturday nights in Spiders and Sunday mornings spent wondering what if? But then, far too soon, it was over, as Gedge spat out the final line of ‘You Can’t Moan Can You’...
“You have got everything that you need”.
And indeed I had.
The last line of ‘George Best’ didn’t actually signal the end of the set as the band threw in ‘Bewitched’ and ‘Kennedy’ to finish. In truth I barely noticed them, save for the chance it offered for a final sing-a-long. Instead I remained immersed in thoughts of the various past acquaintances brought to mind by hearing live again one of the landmark albums of British independent music. It took the bitterly cold air of a December night in Leeds to snap me back to the present, a present perhaps not as “young and naïve” but in many ways just as “flawed”[iv]. While Gary headed home on the last train back to Hull, Sheldon, Steve and I retired to The Cuthbert Brodrick and reflected on what the magnificence we’d just witnessed. Our recollections were aided by several pints of Yorkshire HeartBrewery’s quite wonderful (and aptly named?) The North Remembers.
We arose early Sunday morning to find the threatened snow had failed to materialise and by 9.52 we were safely aboard the TransPennine Express, bound for Hull with no delay. It was a quiet end to an excellent weekend but should there be any danger of a mood of melancholy descending over us, Steve has pointed out that dates are already in the calendar for the 30th anniversary of ‘Tommy’ in 2018. Sheffield Leadmill next February anybody?

[i] From TWP website scopitones.co.uk
[ii] From Hull, Hell & Happiness issue 4
[iii] Issue 2
[iv] From The Yorkshire Post, 8 Dec 2017
1) The 1987 publicity shot with George Best is courtesy of Scopitones - the official home of The Wedding Present and Cinerama
2) 'Everyone Thinks He Looks Daft' (1990) courtesy of Gareth Youngs via YouTube
3) 'My Favourite Dress' video courtesy of kbehnia via YouTube
4) Finale video courtesy of Anthony McDonagh via YouTube

Thursday, 9 November 2017

Oppy Wood, Hull Pals & Finding Easington’s Fallen

This year’s annual Remembrance commemorations will be made even more poignant for me following May’s trip to Flanders fields…

As has become the norm since Easington belatedly gained its own war memorial, this Sunday we shall attend the annual village Remembrance service as a family. It’s a small but moving event and one that I have missed only once; on that occasion I opted to take in the somewhat larger service at the Cenotaph in Hull (prior to seeing City come from behind to beat Stoke in that afternoon’s Premier League fixture - which was a bonus!).
This year’s event will be made more poignant for me personally, as I have been invited to lay a wreath at the memorial. I shall do so in specific memory of the villagers whose graves I visited in person earlier this year, along with those members of the ‘Hull Pals’ lost at Oppy Wood in May 1917.
The centenary of the battle at Oppy Wood was the main reason behind the excursion I joined back in the spring. Accompanied by Burt Graham and Kevin Appleyard, we travelled with specialist company Galina Travel, with the result that the trip proved not only fulfilling but extremely informative. I recorded the details of it in a two-part article for the Holderness Gazette.  With Remembrance weekend ahead of us, I thought it fitting to give the piece another - expanded - airing here…

Oppy Wood 100

On Thursday May 3, 1917 three Battalions of Hull soldiers attacked German defences around the village of Oppy as part of the Battle of Arras. Although generally regarded as “a failed minor part of a mostly failed offensive”, for Hull folk Oppy and Oppy Wood will forever be a symbol of grief and loss, particularly among the Hull Pals. As one veteran later recalled, “Amid the roar of artillery and the crash of shells a blood tie was formed between the city of Hull and Oppy village.”
Formed in 1914 in answer to Lord Kitchener’s request for bodies of troops consisting of men who had local ties to each other, Pals Battalions soon sprang up in more than fifty cities. Civic pride fuelled competition on the numbers signing-up and Hull quickly raised four, the same as Liverpool.
The Hull Pals were given the official title of the 10th, 11th, 12th and 13th (Service) Battalions, East Yorkshire Regiment. The 10th (1st Hull) were known as “The Commercials”, the 11th (2nd Hull) were the “Tradesmen”, the 12th (3rd Hull) the “Sportsmen” and the 13th (4th Hull) were simply known as “T’others”. In total Hull raised 6,250 Pals, providing more Battalions per head of population than any other city in the country.

Many of the new Pals Battalions were decimated on the first day of the Battle of the Somme in July 1916. The Hull Pals avoided this when their scheduled attack on the strongly fortified village of Serre was called off. Their baptism came later, on November 13, when the Hull Sportsmen and T’others mounted a costly attack on Serre as part of The Battle of The Ancre. It was during this battle that John Cunningham became the first Hull Pal to be awarded the Victoria Cross (VC).

In May 1917 the Hull Pals were asked to take Oppy Wood as part of a wider series of “bite and hold” operations along the Arras front. At 3.45am, following a creeping artillery barrage the 10th, 11th and 12th Battalions advanced across open ground towards the German defences. But the attack was doomed from the start. The change of start time and a setting full moon ensured that the Germans were aware of their positions. This resulted in the Hull Pals being subjected to hostile fire whilst out in the open. Then, as they followed the British bombardment, the combination of the dark, smoke and dust as well as the darkness of their objective led to confusion and allowed the Germans time to get their machine guns up. Carnage ensued. 
Those involved in the frontal assault on Oppy Wood were cut down by withering fire. It was here that Hull FC player, 2nd Lieutenant John ‘Jack’ Harrison single-handedly destroyed a German machine gun post, armed only with a pistol and grenades. It was an act of bravery for which he was awarded a VC to add to the Military Cross (MC) he already held. Sadly the award would be a posthumous one, with Harrison cut down in the act. Many more men also failed to return. Others were forced to lie in No-Man’s Land throughout the day before retreating under cover of darkness. Several attackers actually managed to reach their objective of Oppy village only to end up being taken prisoner. At the end of the day the Hull Pals had lost nearly 300 men and Oppy Wood remained in German hands.

On Wednesday May 3, 2017 about two hundred people gathered in Oppy to pay tribute to the Hull Pals’ sacrifice. Prior to the official service, our coach pulled up alongside the newly-erected memorial to Jack Harrison, which stands on the edge of Oppy Wood. From there we took a commemorative walk in the drizzle down the road into Oppy village before being granted the rare privilege of being allowed access to the wood itself. At a small hut just inside the entrance we were shown artefacts collected over the years, including a rather gruesome looking assortment of boots and helmets once worn by the attacking British troops. 

Our guide through the wood, a former local doctor then took us to the actual spot on which it is believed that Harrison carried out the feat that won him his Victoria Cross. Still visible are the sunken sites of former ammunition dumps, connected by tunnels, and the platform ladders for the type of machine gun emplacement that Harrison attacked. 

The wood is now back in full bloom but a nearby tree stump, still bearing the scars of the British bombardment, gives some idea of how it looked a hundred years ago. A further reminder of this tranquil place’s violent history came with a warning not to stray off the tracks due to the amount of ordnance still to be found therein. No wonder that for many years after the Great War, locals feared to go near the wood even in daylight: “They said it was haunted and peace had left it forever”.

At noon, we gathered at the Hull Pals Memorial in Oppy village. In torrential rain, The Rev. Canon Dr Neal Barnes the vicar of Holy Trinity Church conducted the Act of Remembrance, during which he read out the names of every Hull Pal officially recognised as having died that day. The rain even affected the bugler sounding the Last Post, lending yet more poignancy to an already moving occasion. Ironically, at the same time, bright sunshine accompanied an identical service taking place in Hull city centre. Still, as was commented by several people, “It was pouring with rain, not shells and bullets”.

After the formalities, we were invited to the Vin d’Honneur in a nearby hall, where we enjoyed the hospitality laid on by local villagers. David Bilton, author of several books on the Hull Pals, gave an informative talk on the battle, while those around us drank special bottles of Jack Harrison Gold ale.
Ironically, as we emerged from the hall the rain stopped and the sun threatened its first appearance of the day. A hundred years earlier, that same sun had set for good on those brave boys of Hull and the East Riding.

Finding Easington’s Fallen

The Easington village war memorial lists the names of ten men lost in the Great War of 1914-18. The last of these, Lieut. Frank W. Jennings was not actually a resident of the village but is buried in the local cemetery due to his death having occurred here in March 1916 following "a fatal accident of a very unusual nature" as the Hull Dail Mail reported it. He was observing the attempted exploding of an unexploded mine that had washed ashore on Easington beach, only to be hit by shrapnel when the deed was completed. 
Without any memorial in his home on the Isle of Wight, Jennings' name was added to the Memorial in 2015, along with that of Pilot Officer Jack Buchanan, RAF Volunteer Reserve, lost during the Second World War. Buchanan is also buried in Easington village cemetery. The latter's omission from the Memorial was one that my dad felt particularly uncomfortable about and he would always ensure Buchanan's grave was dutifully marked every Remembrance weekend, prior to the particular wrong being righted a couple of years ago.
It was whilst attending the re-dedication service at which the two extra names were officially commemorated, that I first hatched a plan to honour the nine other village fallen of the First World War at the places they are remembered. 
The first was easy enough. Gunner Thomas William Coupland Docherty is also buried in Easington cemetery. Son of Thomas W. C. senior and Mary J Docherty of Easington, he served with 251st Northumberland Brigade, Royal Field Artillery, a Territorial unit that suffered heavily at the Battle of the Aisne in May 1918. Poignantly, Thomas, a Military Medal recipient, eventually died of his wounds at home on November 11, 1918 - Armistice Day. 
With two of the ten within walking distance of home, May's trip to Oppy Wood gave me chance to honour the remaining eight "Easington Fallen". Burt and Kevin both had reasons of their own for making the same trip. Burt was seeking out the memorial to his great uncle and Kevin was looking to find out more about the Hull Pals Battalions (in which his grandfather had served). But the search for the Easington Fallen soon became our overriding quest.

We departed Hull for Zeebrugge aboard the Pride of York on Monday evening. Early the following morning our journey began as we made our way down through Flanders, recreating the British Expeditionary Force’s initial retreat from Mons of 1914. Our eventual destination was Arras in Artois, which was to be our base for the three days. As our guide Barry Matthews recounted the tales of 1914 through to 1916 and the fateful Battle(s) of The Somme, our journey through Picardy was punctuated by stops at many places of interest, mainly military cemeteries.  The first came at Serre Road No.1 Cemetery in the Pas-de-Calais region, a venue that came with an official warning from the Commonwealth War Graves Commission, following reports of visitors having experienced “intimidating behaviour from a local resident when visiting this site”. One alleged incident had been of a tractor being deliberately driven at a young girl! 
We found the first of the Easington Fallen on that first day of our tour. Fittingly in terms of the purpose of the Galina trip, Private Arthur Carrick, 13/904, ‘A’ Company, 13th Battalion, East Yorkshire Regiment was a Hull Pal, although his origins were from the south. He was born in Upper Holloway, Middlesex in 1894, one of six children; four of who moved with parents Henry and Alice to Easington. Arthur eventually moved to Hull where he lived at 3 Bangor Place, Walker Street. He was an unmarried farm labourer, working for the Gardner family of Thorngumbald and his Army records describe him as being of “good physical development”. He enlisted in the 4th Hull Pals (“T’others”) on November 30, 1914 and had served in Egypt before being transferred to France on February 29, 1916. He suffered gunshot wounds to the face and neck on July 29 and was killed in action four months later at The Battle of the Ancre, on November 13. He was 22 years old. His mother was officially informed of his death on February 22, 1918. Originally, along with many other members of the 12th and 13th East Yorkshires he was buried at John Copse near Hebuterne (now part of the Sheffield Memorial Park). However, after Armistice Day, the bodies of all those buried there were moved to Euston Road Cemetery, near the village of Colincamps (just north of Albert). Previously unadorned, Arthur’s plot now has a cross bearing the date of our visit and the simple slogan: “Easington Remembers”. It was quite a moment when we placed that first cross.

Next up was the towering memorial to the 36th (Ulster) Division, built on the site of the Schwaben Redoubt opposite Thiepval Wood, which the Ulstermen eventually took. However, if the 70ft Ulster Memorial Tower is impressive enough, the next monument we visited was even more so. The Thiepval Memorial to the Missing of The Somme, designed as a towering arch to represent the alliance of Britain and France, bears the names of over 72,000 officers and men of the UK and South African forces who died on the Somme sector before March 20 1918 and have no known grave. Behind it is the Anglo-French Cemetery and we also visited the nearby 18th (Eastern) Division Memorial, located nearby in the hamlet itself.
The sheer scale of things was the most difficult to comprehend. Up next was Newfoundland Memorial Park at Beaumont Hamel, where a beautiful sculptured caribou looks out over the land on which the 1st Royal Newfoundland Regiment launched its ill-fated attack on July 1 1916. Original trench-lines and The Danger Tree give the Park even more of an atmospheric feel. Dartmoor Cemetery, the South African Memorial at Delville Wood (“Devil’s Wood”) and the nearby Footballers Battalion Memorial provided further points of interest 
Not surprisingly for a rural village, most of the local lads had worked the land prior to the War, as with Private George William Marritt, 203070, 12th/13th Battalion, Northumberland Fusiliers, who we paused to remember at Thilloy Road Cemetery, Beaulencourt on our last visit of the day. At the time of the 1911 census, George lived on Back Street, Easington, a house he shared with parents John and Elizabeth Marritt and his three siblings. Both George and his younger brother Walter served in the Great War. Walter spent much of the conflict as a Prisoner-of-War; George was not so lucky. He was 39 when he died of wounds on September 29, 1918, just five weeks before the end of hostilities.
May 3 brought another early start as well as a turn for the worse weather-wise. Our first port of call was Ablain-Saint-Nazaire and the French Military Cemetery at Notre Dame de Lorette (the largest military cemetery in France). However, it was the magnificent ‘Ring of Remembrance’ International Memorial that really caught the eye. Inaugurated as part of the WW1 Centenary commemorations, the vast ellipse of 500 steel plaques is engraved with the names of nearly 580,000 names of all nationalities lost in the Nord-Pas de Calais sector. 

From there it was a short drive to Vimy Ridge and another amazing structure, the towering Canadian National Memorial to the 60,000 countrymen lost during the First World War. At both venues, the misty, murky start to the day again helped enhance that feeling of desperate loss. The ‘Mother Canada’ figure looking out over Hill 145 also gives the visitor some idea of the task the Canadians were faced with that April a hundred years’ earlier. At Vimy we bumped into Mike Fuller and his Freedom Flame group from Hull, fresh from their early morning vigil in Oppy. That was where we were heading next (as recounted above).
'Oppy Wood Day' was completed with visits to four more cemeteries. Nearby Orchard Dump saw two ladies from our coach lay a wreath at the grave of their granddad, while that at Vis-en-Artois saw another passenger locate the grave of his great, great uncle who had also died a hundred years ago that day. Cabaret Rouge and the vast German cemetery at Neuville St Vaast were also visited before we arrived back in Arras. 
The vast Arras Memorial in the Fauborg d'Amiens British Cemetery proved rewarding on three fronts. Among the names of over 35,000 missing men, Burt located the panel relating to his great uncle Sapper Thomas W. Graham, whilst I marked that of my 'distant cousin' Sapper Austin John Lusmore (to my knowledge the only Lusmore listed on the Commonwealth War Graves Commission site). We also got to place a cross at the foot of the panel on which Private George William Tennison, 201393, 1st/4th Battalion, East Yorkshire Regiment is remembered. He was one of ten children born to William and Mary Tennison and shared a bedroom with his brothers Ernie and Jack at home at Grange Farm in Kilnsea. The story goes that having retired for the night, George slipped out whilst his brothers were sleeping, travelled to Hull and enlisted in the East Yorkshires. He was killed on St George’s Day, 1917 during the Second Battle of the Scarpe. His body was never found. Brother Ernie later recalled, “We got to say goodnight but we never had chance to say goodbye”.
After our final night in Arras, it was time to head back north, taking in the battlefields of Flanders en route to Zeebrugge. Messines Church (where Hitler was reputed to have slept in the crypt during the Great War), and the huge nearby Spanbroekmolen Crater (one of 19 exploded by the Allies during the Battle of Messines) were visited before we paused at Brandhoek to visit the grave of the only double VC winner of the War, ‘Flying Doctor’ N. G. Chavasse. From there we headed for Ypres and the amazing Menin Gate. 
Opting to forego lunch and free-time in the city, our small party instead took up Barry's offer of a quick dash to Sanctuary Wood Cemetery, near to Hill 62 a couple of miles outside Ypres. Here lies the grave I’d most wanted to visit, that of Gunner Lewis Abraham Clubley, 204764, B Battery, 102nd Brigade, Royal Field Artillery. He was one of twelve children to George William and Mary Elizabeth Clubley and younger brother of my great grandfather, Francis John Clubley. Born in Easington, Lewis lived at the family home on High Street before finding work as a horseman with the Ellis family of Welwick. Prior to the War he moved to Hull where he boarded with a Builders Merchant’s labourer on Alaska Street. There he met and married Sculcoates girl, Elsie Bilton in late 1914. A year later their son, Lewis William, was born. Sadly, he would never get to know his father; Lewis Abraham died on the night of August 10, 1917; the events of which are recorded in the Brigade War Diary: “The Group carried out barrage in support of attack by 18th Division on Inverness Copse and Glencorse Wood. Barrage lasted 45 minutes. Attack was unsuccessful. Casualties 2nd Lt. T. J. Corder wounded. 1 O.R. killed. 9 O.R. wounded.” The “Other Rank” killed was almost certainly my great-great uncle. Standing there amid such beautiful countryside, having been shown by our guide where the two target locations were in relation to the cemetery was for me the most moving experience of the whole trip. How I wish Dad (who passed away in January) could have shared the moment.
Essex Farm Cemetery is perhaps one of the most visited and has some history. It is on the site of a former Advanced Dressing Station, the remains of which can be seen in the form of the concrete shelters used to treat wounded soldiers. It is also the place in which Major John McCrae is thought to have written the famous poem “In Flanders Fields” and is home to the grave of “Boy Soldier” Joe Strudwick, killed at the age of 15 on January 14 1916. Towering above the canal bank on the far edge of the cemetery is the memorial to the 49th (West Riding) Division Memorial and the cemetery is also noted for carrying the scars of battle from the Second World War. Several stones shown the signs of repair work carried out after they were pock-marked by bullets.
Cement House Cemetery on the Boezinge-Langemark Road is the resting place of Private Clarence Edwin Sculpher, 11027, 10th (Service) Battalion, West Yorkshire Regiment (Prince of Wales’s Own). He was killed in action on November 18, 1917, shortly after the second battle of Passchendaele. At first glance, it’s hard to see where Clarence’s link with Easington originates from. His birth was registered in the Sculcoates district of Hull and it was there he was listed as residing in 1911, when he worked as an Errand Boy in a “fruitshop”. Yet he was named on the original memorial in Easington Church. His gravestone is also confusing, being marked “G. E. Sculpher”, despite the official records citing his correct first name.
There are also naming issues with Private Louis Carrick, 202914, 1st/4th Battalion, Northumberland Fusiliers (as well as a service re-numbering that could have caught us out). One of four children to John Henry and Emily Carrick of Baulk End, Easington, he is listed as “Lewis” on the 1891 census and again ten years later when boarding with the Briglin family of Burton Pidsea, with whom he was employed as “horseman on the farm”. The spelling has changed in 1911, by which time Louis was back at the family home in Easington, working as a farm labourer. He died aged 34 on October 26, 1917 and is one of 33,783 UK soldiers remembered on the Tyne Cot Memorial to the Missing situated outside Passchendaele.
Tyne Cot was our final stop, leaving us two short of our target. Agonisingly, we actually passed very close to Ridge Wood Cemetery, where rests Private John Richardson Longhorn, 19287, 8th Battalion, East Yorkshire Regiment. Born in Kilnsea, a resident of Skeffling and before the war a horseman with the Screeton family at Haverfield Farm in Welwick, John was killed in action on April 26, 1916. Sadly, he will have to wait a little while longer for his cross, as will Gunner John Alfred Webster, 64054, ‘B’ Battery, 174th Brigade, Royal Field Artillery who is buried at La Clytte, west of Ypres. The plan now is to visit those two graves when we head back for the Armistice Centenary commemorations in a year’s time.
In the meantime, on Sunday I shall be privileged to step forward, lay that wreath and bow my head in memory of those brave, brave men from our little village in the back of beyond. 
Lest we forget.

FOOTNOTE: Unfortunately it appeared that Burt had been given false information as to his great-uncle's memorial (which made his inadvertently stumbling on his name elsewhere all the more beneficial!); whilst Kev never did find reference to his grandfather in the 12th East Yorks...because he actually served in the 12th West Yorks!