The Siddeleys for a Saturday Night/Sunday Morning. Together a very short period of time (1986-1989) – expectations, fan base, good reviews – all the pluses. So what happened?
Maybe reading an excerpt of Johnny Johnson’s recollections via the Siddeleys Website might offer a clue or two:
“The Siddeleys’ first gig was on 1st December 1986 in the basement of The Clarendon Ballroom, before the blanding of Hammersmith Broadway. It was a new moon that night, but Phil’s drums were locked in some studio, and the key was missing, so he had to stand up and whack a solitary floor tom and we lost not only our rhythm, but the thing that set us apart for that night. Still, The Legend wiggled in the auditorium and said we had potential.
The second show, on 21st January at Westfield College was much better, and then suddenly there were fans. Letters arrived, fanzine articles appeared. Mysterious and inevitable, but we always suspected we weren’t alone. The future never looked so bright. The Siddeleys opened up a world to me that I’d always known was there by couldn’t get to. Suddenly the door was open and there were days and nights of talking to people who not only understood the idiom, but could speak it, too – I was 100% me, 100% home. The afterglow of punk rock was all about us and there was this magnificent outsiders’ gang.
I am proud of what we achieved, proud of the fact that the photographs of us have aged so well. We were not subject to the dictates of fashion, thank goodness, for the fashions of the late 80s were truly ghastly. We always stayed true to our vision – there are no “baggy” remixes of Sunshine Thuggery and no photographs of us with mullets of leather trousers. My only regret is that we were not given the opportunity to record the songs well. The sessions that we gratefully recorded for the John Peel show best reflect what we were capable of. Even those sessions were difficult, especially the second session, which was produced by Dale Griffin. “Buffin” was in a foul mood when we arrived at Wessex studios and took an instant dislike to me. He moaned about our equipment and behaved like a total tossser. Thankfully the session sounded great.
Walking the streets I collected fire escapes, adding their locations to a piece of paper pinned to a notice board – Shillington Street, Fulham Road Police Station, Vauxhall Bridge Road. On hearing of this fine collection David Payne of Trout Fishing in Leytonstone agreed to us recording ‘Wherever You Go’ for a flexi for the next edition of his fanzine, ‘Trout Fishing in Leytonstone’, sharing the disc with Torquil’s group, Reserve.
Around the same time, Andy Wake heard one of the demos I’d made with Torquil and signed us to Medium Cool on the spot. We recorded ‘What Went Wrong This Time?’ down by the river in Rotherhithe – a dilapidated 8-track studio in the shadow of the dead docks. Outside, people had used spray paint as fragile weapons against the encroaching developers, pleading for their homes to be left alone and for new buildings for the rich not to smother them. Spray paint, a fine weapon at times, proved inadequate defence there, and their slogans now lie buried beneath the stark, antiseptic new apartment blocks. We recorded the single in a day, despite the engineer disappearing for hours at a time, and did the final mix on his car radio, all piled into his Mark III Escort. We needed to hear what it would sound like on the nation’s trannies.
We found a place to practice round the back of King’s Cross station. Phil had to slip away, back to his jazz band, and Dean Leggitt showed up, clutching his snare and some sticks. Dean stayed a while and played some shows, and then left a week before our first UK tour.
In between, we walked along the Grand Union Canal, played the machines at Southend and dreamt of The Leather Boys and the romance of the North Circular Road. We went to gigs and drank brandy from secreted hip flasks. Coastal towns harvested fairgrounds with tattooed greasers who flung the waltzers around. The smell of fried onions and fags would twitch our senses all the way back to the Dive Bar in Gerrard Street.
The Peel Sessions:
Something Almost Brilliant Happened Last Time
You Get What You Deserve
I Wish I Was Good
Every Day Of Every Week
David Clynch also arrived clutching a snare and some sticks, but stayed longer. We recorded Sunshine Thuggery in three days and even had a producer this time in John Parrish. ‘Sunshine Thuggery’ was released in August 1988 on David Payne’s Sombrero label. John Peel was very taken with the EP’s second song ‘Are you still evil when you’re sleeping?’ and invited us to do a session. We watched our menial day jobs drift into the distance. If only.
By this time I was staying in a studio flat hard by Queens Park railway station. Letters of love and joy had started to come from people who had seen us or heard us, but someone was stealing the mail and lots of it never reached us. After a while, one of my neighbours went to jail, and more letters seemed to get through.
What next, what next? We were like dogs in traps, eager for the track. We toured a little, always in the middle of winter – more accident than design, but then we never were a summer sunshine act. Sitting in caffs behind the steamy windows of rain hammered glass – that’s where the warmth is. Staring out and counting wishes – the gaps between the records and the gigs were angry crevasses for us – but they seemed surprisingly hard to navigate.
We recorded a second John Peel session and made plans to release ‘You Get What You Deserve’ as a third single – this time, this time – but nothing happened. Sombrero had no money left. Other record companies were interested – some large and some small, but they slipped and they slithered from grasp, as hard to hold as a fistful of mist. Nothing came to anything. I never could understand why; it didn’t make sense. The live reviews were always good, but small. There was never any space to speak – just one or two misquotes that found their way into print. It was as if we were swimming against a tide that changed direction whenever we tried to swim for another shore. There was no way through, no matter how true our compass points were. Buffeted by impossible waves, we began to tire. The walls inverted and suddenly I was on the outside again, a refugee from the Tower of Babel as the people who shared our language faded away like ghosts.
What an irritating paradox. A real outsider will always remain outside, doomed by their very nature. After all, once they’re on the inside, how can you ever be sure that they meant it, that they were what they appeared to be from the other side of the wall?”
Hit the Play button and dive in – you will be pleasantly surprised.