Ballad of a Musical Gadfly
Tales of Mungo Jerry, Billy Childish, Holly Golightly, Link Wray
interview by John Wisniewski
If you look up 'gadfly' in the dictionary, depending on what edition, you might see a photo of guitarist/drummer Bruce Brand. His career spans roots rockers Mungo Jerry, garage rocker Billy Childish (in Thee Headcoats with him), singer Holly Golightly and guitar god Link Wray among others, all of which he dishes about in the interview below.
In the middle of answering questions, Bruce was nice enough to explain why his correspondence was a little erratic:
"Sorry - still in the midst of packing for our move tomorrow, closely followed by a tour with Holly to Europe for a couple of weeks on Wednesday... to cap it all my car broke down (for good) in the early hours of Sunday morning. Handy!"
PSF: Did you formally study art and music? Tell us about your early days.
BB: I had a few piano lessons as a child, but as there was no mention of getting to play like Jerry Lee Lewis or Little Richard, I gave it up as a bad job. I can still just about remember some of the rudiments of music, but not so much that you'd notice; I'd still have to go "Every Good Boy Deserves Favour" (or 'Favor' or 'Fudge' - whatever's your preference) to work out the notes on a stave.
To avoid staying on at school or getting a job, I attended [what was] Medway College of Design between 1975-9 and did a graphic design course (or 'Visual Communication' as it said on the certificate I scraped through with). We didn't seem to be actually taught much, more set projects such as "design a wine shop bag" and left to our own devices with little or no instruction or tutorage. I eventually found inspiration in an old 'Graphis' annual from the 1950's I came across in the library, which became my go-to book for ideas. Obviously, the tutors took a dim view of my delving into the past, as it had 'already been done' and didn't just rely on Helvetica for, well - pretty much everything, as seemed to be the case at the time. Shortly after I left, there was a pseudo-fifties style revival (albeit pretty naff, as it was in the '80s) in music papers, record sleeves (jackets) etc. Up yours, tutors!
PSF: In your early days, you played with Mungo Jerry. What was that like?
BB: Hah - that wasn't so early! I met Ray Dorset about 2005 when he did a solo show at London's (once) iconic 12-Bar Club. I approached him as I'd been a fan when I was at school and I gave him a copy of the (Jacques) Dutronc LP, as it had a cover of "Alright, Alright, Alright" on it. We got chatting and it resulted in him giving me some graphic work.
He grew up with rock 'n' roll, blues and skiffle and thought it would be a good idea to go 'back to basics' and record an album with me and Mike Cole, who played double bass on 'In The Summertime' and the first album with the original Mungo Jerry line-up. We did two sessions - one at the infamous Toe-Rag and one at another London analogue studio called Gizzard which resulted in an album called Naked - From The Heart (unfortunately as yet only on CD). More info here: https://www.mungojerrymagic.com/naked-from-the-heart/.
After that, we played a handful of gigs with that line-up plus Ray's then regular guitarist, which included most of the hits plus more bluesy numbers. Since then Ray has had a more stable backing band with which he regularly plays.
Ray is really enthusiastic about his music and has no shortage of interesting tales about rock 'n' roll, old guitars, gigs etc. etc. There was recently talk of another possible collaboration to make an album of authentic rockabilly songs. We'll see what happens...
PSF: When did you meet Billy Childish and when were Thee Headcoats formed?
BB: I first met His Lordship in the queue (or 'line') for a Damned concert in 1977 at what was the Astoria in London (recently flattened to make way for a 'high-speed rail link' - yawn). He was introduced to me by bassist 'Big' Russ Wilkins, who had met him previously in Rochester; there being only a handful of 'punk rockers' in the neighbourhood at the time, they obviously struck up a conversation. When Russ suggested starting a punk band soon afterwards, Billy seemed the natural choice for frontman (if not necessarily 'singer'). So it was that the Pop Rivets introduced the world to the vocal prowess (or lack thereof, at the time) of 'Wild Billy Childish.'
The Milkshakes followed the Pop Rivets, which involved me making the transition from guitar-slinging to trap-rattling, as Billy had now learned the three chords necessary to make Beautiful Musick. After Mickey left the fold, Billy carried on with bassist John Agnew and Graham Day from the Prisoners on drums as Thee Mighty Caesars, while I temporarily returned to 'plank-spanking' with the likes of Auntie Vegetable - a 'cod Acid-Rock band', and the Kravin' "A"s - playing earlier '60s-style beat music. The Len Bright Combo, with Russ and Wreckless Eric meant I also kept my hand in with the old tub-thumping.
Thee Headcoats were formed in 1989, originally with the Prisoners bassist Allan Crockford, followed by eccentric Frenchie Ollie Dolot, before settling down to the 'classic' line-up (is it alright to say that?) with Johnny 'Tub' Johnson. We lasted a whole 11 years before Tub threw in the towel.
PSF: What was the final show like for Thee Headcoats?
BB: It was very well-attended. I remember Billy spinning round to ask me if I wanted to "do another group" before his guitar had even finished, chiming from the end of the final song in the soundcheck. I suggested letting the dust settle on this gig first. I assumed he'd also be asking Medway's 'go-to' solid rhythm section of Wolf Howard and Johnny Barker (both ex-Daggermen) as they were virtually on his doorstep. A couple of days later he called to tell me he'd "gotanewbandwithWolfondrumsandJohnnyBarkeronbass." Oh yeah - the gig seemed to go OK, from what I remember.
PSF: Could you tell us about The Masonics?
BB: After Mickey Hampshire left the Milkshakes - the group he formed as 'Mickey & The Milkshakes' around 1978, who used to open for the Pop Rivets occasionally - in 1984, he continued writing songs like there was no tomorrow but refused to play live. That didn't stop him recording a clutch of albums and singles with myself and Liam Watson (of Toe-Rag Studios fame), or Johnny 'Tub' Johnson (Thee Headcoats, The Cannibals, Ug & The Cavemen, The Vibes, Purple Things etc.) on bass, under the moniker of 'The Masonics.' The first album saw the light of day in 1989, just as Thee Headcoats were starting.
Coincidentally(?) it was on the night of Thee Headcoats' farewell show in 2000 that Liam managed to talk Mickey into finally playing live with the Masonics. When Liam eventually left to concentrate full-time on his studio, John Gibbs - founding member of '90s Scottish beat peddlers the Kaisers (and also in the Wildebeests with Russ Wilkins and Lenny Helsing of the Thanes) - was recruited to fill his boots on bass guitar. Since then, Mick's voice and song-writing have gone from strength to strength, as ten-odd albums are testament, plus four with former Del Mona and Headcoatee Miss Ludella Black.
We opened for the White Stripes on their first four UK shows back in 2003 (or thereabouts) and since then we've played with acts such as Mudhoney, Downliners Sect, Detroit Cobras, Andre Williams and Eddie Angel. Currently, an album of rock 'n' roll covers is in preparation and another show with the Sect is booked for March.
PSF: What is it like going on tour with Holly Golightly?
BB: Those shows are also well attended. The latest tour (Nov-Dec 2019) proved 'interesting' and a bit of a challenge, to say the least, as four days in we managed to mislay the key to the hire van in Hamburg. We scoured the club, which resulted in Holly rifling through the rubbish with rubber gloves and a broken drumstick (not mine) to no avail. As the hire company also couldn't lay their hands on the spare set to send us, they agreed to rent us another van via a local concern. That went well until a couple of days later a large bird aimed itself at the windscreen and shattered it! As everything shuts early on Saturday and nothing happens at all on Sunday in Germany, we had to drive to Prague to get it replaced at our own expense. The next 'project' was to get the new van to Hamburg and pick up the old van (now with a new key) on a day when we were at the opposite end of the country. Somehow, we even achieved that, with no little help from our tour agent who arranged collection and swapping of the vehicles. The alternative would have been to give it all up as a bad job, but we managed to not miss a show! Apart from that, it was all very enjoyable.
PSF: What was it like playing with Link Wray?
BB: Link was great - really enthusiastic about music and a great bloke. I enjoyed working with him, as I did (and still do) with Holly (see above). Plus, with both, I occasionally got to play some guitar again, as well as a bit of bass and piano etc., not just borin' old drums!
You can follow all of Bruce's latest antics via his Facebook page
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