Rock Concert

RE-FUSE
THE STAGE OF HISTORY
THE ONLY ONE WORTH PLAYING

Band shot on wall  01.jpg

Part 1 Movement of The Action Fraction

There are a few things you should know.

These are the ground rules…

 

From the start we adopted rules that were considered to be a necessary form of discipline to prepare for the journey. It was going to take time, dedication and relentless belief as there are no overnight sensations.

Everything else is just down to the sum of the parts and part of the ride.

 

Before anyone outside of the UK ever heard of Re-Flex, we had already been working together for quite a while, rehearsing, playing gigs and recorded a lot of our early material. Some of these tracks helped to create a buzz and get the attention of the music press and radio, featured as cover mounts or performed on radio sessions but never officially released.

 

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I had for a while been looking for musicians to work with and after returning from America things really started to come together. Tape One was just off London’s Tottenham Court Road and known as a respected mastering and cutting room but in the basement they had a little studio where I first met Nik Launay. Although he could not play any instruments it was never an issue and fuelled by his regular intake of 6 sugars in tea, possessed a frantic enthusiasm for making music. I was on a quest and he was up for the ride and a brew. Nik was responsible for introducing me to singer and guitarist John Baxter as they had previously done some work together. He gave me a tape and I was immediately struck by his unusual voice as he had a ridiculous range. I called Baxter and we arranged to meet, then he contacted Francois Craig who lived in Brighton. The three of us became the core of the band. It was game on.

We had left the station and the journey had started.

 

Tape One became our first base and where we spent many long weekends experimenting with different line-ups. We initially worked with drummer Phil Gould who lived on the Isle of Wight but as he had just become a father and was finding it tricky to make rehearsals, suggested his friend who also lived on the island. One day Mark King appeared at Tape One and instantly we knew we had just met someone who would make a huge impact on the group. Now well known as a bass player, Mark was and probably still is an even better drummer, phenomenally powerful and often completely over the top. He would hit his drums so hard that regularly bits would fall off and much to everyone’s delight, his finale was often to stand up and walk through his kit. Mark possessed a relentless sense of humour (“your keys”) that was frequently responsible for rehearsals grinding to a halt. Before we met he had developed an obsessive interest in the guitarist John McLaughlin and at times could be seen walking around the island wearing a white sheet. Our weekends were like being locked up with Keith Moon, Buddy Rich and Tommy Cooper.

Our first line up also included guitarist John Hodjes who looked like a weedy version of Lydon and he adopted Mark as his spiritual leader. He then upgraded, found God and had to leave rehearsals early as they clashed with Sunday meetings. Both required commitment and unlimited amounts of faith.

Each time we rehearsed Mark and Francois had to travel to London, so we decided from the beginning to devote entire weekends and as neither could afford the fares, navigating the trains and ticket guards became a skill in which both were highly competent. We would meet on Friday night, set up the equipment and then spend the next 2 days rehearsing and by Sunday evening, leave exhausted and unable to speak. This became a way of life, sleeping on floors and sofas in Belsize Park or Primrose Hill. Anne Marie was then UK head of the highly respected classical record label Deutsche Gramophone but on weekends she kindly ran a guest house for the band. Over the next few months we developed an obsessive need to create music that we believed was different.

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The first song Re-Flex played together and recorded was “Mindless Dancing”. It was our starting point, a cathartic workout performed at every rehearsal, mission statement, anthem and Francois’s personal choreography.

The intense rehearsing made the band musically very tight and soon we had a lot of material that we wanted to record. The first opportunity was at DJM studios but without much time and no previous studio experience as a band that hadn’t yet performed live, not surprisingly these tracks turned out pretty rough. A few months later we began working late nights at another studio in Queensway called Marcus Music. At the time it was being used by The Clash to record “Rock The Kasbah” and by Marvin Gaye who during this period was sometimes seen walking around in a dress – these were not his best days. Marcus was a friendly but weird place, owned by a Swedish ex pop star Marcus Osterdahl, who it was claimed didn’t get spots because they slid off his face. At the time it was being managed by a friend, engineer Richard Goldblatt (ELO etc) and he kindly let us use some of their “dead time”. In exchange I agreed to play on some extremely strange sessions involving an African Prince. Tribes of musicians, relatives and friends would descend on the studio from midnight onwards and disappear under a fog of Ganja. Apart from Marvin, the delightfully wonderful Charly Spry was the only person who really had a clue about what was going on. After one too many slippery encounter and surreal events she left to run Stringfellows and helped start the Hippodrome club. Charly can probably now be found at Ascot.

Over time Re-Flex's music had evolved and at Marcus with the help of engineer Rafe McKenna, Nik, Femi Jia, Richard and the sarcastic wit of Tim Hunt, we started to capture the sound we wanted - a fast blend of rock and electronic pop music.

“Ladies and gentlemen, take your partners for mindless dancing”.

 

Within a few months we returned again to Marcus to work with Rafe on more tracks but by now Mark was also playing bass in Level 42 and soon after we finished mixing he walked through his kit for the last time and headed for the exit. Although understandable and in many ways inevitable, we were surprised by his departure as it wasn’t funny.

This was the start of a new chapter for the band as around this time we discovered Redan Recorders which became our home. Situated around the corner from Marcus, almost underneath the Indian restaurant Khans, Redan was a special place, where so much happened. Thanks to the kindness, trust of those who ran it and also a set of keys that we had made, we soon felt like we lived there.

We spent many long hours with the waft of Tandori from the local restaurant. The studio was run by John, Roger and Rodney, an unusual musical trio. Apart from Derick who was a saint sent from Newcastle and helped us with our early gigs, the Redan crew was completed by the lovely Linda and their house engineer Johnny. He had perfected the look of having just got out of bed, irrelevant of the time of day. Down one end of the basement was a 24 track recording studio and despite the amount of time we spent working at Redan, we only once used it to do some recording. Our territory was a separate isolated room, where the PA worked and so did Re-Flex.

Redan was where we first played with drummer Roland Kerridge. He had been in various bands and was completely different to Mark. Roly brought much more of a groove to the music and was very interested in exploring electronic percussion. From the beginning this had been a feature of the band as we tried working with early drum machines, CR78 named by Mark as the “rythmo litmo” but Roly was up for going much further. He was into Kraftwerk and some of the electronic music that was coming from Japan, particularly YMO and this began to have a big influence upon the direction and how we went about creating music.

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For a while we had been trying to find a manager and weirdly one of the first to approach was former pop legend, Dave Dee. Although he was still occasionally getting the whip out with his band on German music galas, he had moved on and during the 70’s worked at Electra Records in the UK. He then decided to leave and when we bumped into him he was now managing acts. After getting hold of an early tape, he turned up at quite a few of our gigs. We all liked him but I can’t remember why he never became our manager, maybe we were afraid that he would get his whip out.

I suggested an old friend Tony Simons, a warm wonderful guy who laughed a lot and who I thought was a good young music business hustler. His father Cyril was a Tin Pan Alley legend. Tony was then managing Thomas Dolby. He heard some of our tracks and after a meeting we all agreed to work with him. We would gather at his flat in Fulham to discuss how the job was to be done. They would start as relatively constructive events but soon descend into total disarray, on one occasion we were interrupted by his downstairs neighbour when Tony’s waterbed burst.

We soon began looking for gigs and the first was on a wet Thursday night at a club in Soho.  A former historical venue which was then called Gossips. It wasn’t brilliant but was a start. It felt like Re-Flex had just lost its virginity. Gradually over the next year the group began to play pubs and clubs around the London area and build a small following of fans. We targeted potential supporters within the media and radio, as we wanted to let them know

RE-FLEX re-fused to go away.

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There are numerous references to graffiti within many of our songs and when the band began to look for gigs London’s billboards became the target for our initial promotional campaign.

I first met with artist and graphic designer Will Riley at a print studio in Chelsea and we shot some pictures of a small wooden artist model which due to lack of ventilation and toxic amounts of developer that were accidentally used, turned out rather strange but we immediately liked. These became the basis of the logo and a series of posters that appeared with only the group’s name and a statement. The first said “Movement of the Action Fraction”, a few weeks later another followed with “Music Re-Action in Action” and after that, “This poster is Hyping Re-Flex”. They were not selling anything as there was nothing to buy, just communicating ideas that made some people stop and look. There were billboards where all 3 posters appeared duplicated in rows and looked truly impressive. A few months later around the time we started to regularly play live, a large wall near Redan, under the Westway, was covered with the Re-Flex logo and the words “This Wall is Hyping Re-Flex.” It remained there for a few years and was seen everyday by thousands of people as they entered central London. The campaign was spreading, RE-FLEX started to appear on London’s pavements.

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Having quite a lot of equipment and often no sound check, it was always risky knowing if everything was going to work, particularly as most of the early gigs we played supports. Like all musicians when they start, we were dependent upon a road crew of well intended unpaid friends. The introduction of the extraordinary Malcolm Gardner was due to Roly as he was part of his regular crew of Harrow party goers and he became the first of many odd/wonderful components of our crew. At times he possessed a disturbing amount of energy which sometimes would be put to good use but he also had an amazing ability to piss people off. Rumour has it that Malcolm became a parking warden and more recently has found his way into politics. I don’t know if it proves a connection but may be worth considering. As for Jingles, I never knew his real name but he was a friend of Malcolm’s and up for pretty much almost anything, which probably explains why he is now deceased. On many occasions, we were also joined by Gary Trainer, who was a recent arrival from New Zealand. He had been on a spiritual journey until he bumped into Re-Flex and then decided to become an acupuncturist - figures! Needles and musicians do not have a particularly good historical association but the times were changing. The sight of our dressing or rehearsals rooms with people covered in needles, lighted candles poking out of their ears was not unfamiliar. One candle was acceptable but two would be stupid. This helped to initially gain us a fairly bizarre reputation.

Mark Redgrave was “looking to get some experience working with live bands” and joined us for the full ride! Also known as “Ronnie” because of his likeness to Ronnie Wood, he possessed during daylight an astonishing low voice that made it almost impossible to decipher what he was saying. It was believed that he suffered from a lack of treble but rolled off some bottom end as the day went on. When we later started headlining gigs, we were often expected to bring a PA and were accompanied by Derrick who worked at Redan. Derrick was from Newcastle, a “canny lad” and an absolute saint, joined us on some of the bleakest gigs and first mixed our live set, “A cracking sound for three men and a sleeping dog”.

 

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“Who’s supporting us, bleeding Genesis”? This was the comment we received as entered the venue to support UK artist Wreckless Eric and his band, no doubt prompted by the amount of equipment we were struggling to carry. It was a very cold Monday night in a pub in the East End of London and the place was empty. The only reason we stayed was because when we arrived it started to snow heavily and soon everywhere looked like the North Pole. We were now marooned so both bands just went with it. The audience consisted of a sleeping dog that remained spread out across the middle of the floor for almost the entire evening and an elderly drunk who had parked himself on the edge of the bar as soon as the doors opened. He was not a fan of either band until we bought him a drink and gave him a T shirt then we instantly became his best friends. As it was not ideal conditions we convinced him that crowd surfing was not advisable and instead both bands and road crews took turns as audience and those capable of mounting tables by the end of the evening, gave each other standing ovations.

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The next recording session took place in Kings X at Mount Pleasant Studios, owned and run by friends and musicians Jon Astrop and Phil Saatchi. It had a distinct hint of sewage and you could smell who had been in the month before. Mount “Un-Pleasant” as it was also known, was often used by UK band “Gang of Four” and this was the first time we recorded with Roly. Compared to the luxury and facilities available at Marcus it was pretty basic but the studio possessed a distinctive hard sound and with the assistance of Rafe and Nik,  produced our rawest recordings and took compression to a new level.

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Our manager Tony suggested making a video but despite lack of money, camera crew or knowledge, we thought it was a good idea. He arranged for us to film it at a place in Luton owned by “Big” Don Larkin who as a result became a good friend of the band. Don’s Lancashire accent was not always easy to understand and you didn’t want to get caught in the middle of a conversation with him and Mark. Don gave us the space, equipment and a few technical manuals all of which started with the words “congratulations”, showed us the electricity points and kettle and then let us get on with it. We managed to convince a couple of friends, artist Ian Sugar and Paul a photographer to give us a hand and thought the simplest thing would be to film a live performance in front of an invited audience. Although neither had any previous experience they immediately became directors of our first epic. There was a large loft room but the top of the stairs was just an open hole and waiting for an accident to happen, which it did.  At some point while setting up we suddenly saw Francois disappear and he was now lying on the floor below looking somewhat dazed by his unexpected descent, thankfully nothing that a few pins and a candle couldn’t fix. We had a party, loads of friends turned up and the band played a short set and filmed three tracks but as we only had one camera it was necessary to edit different takes together which became an absolute nightmare. At 25 frames a second, we relied on Roly’s almost immaculate timing skills to accurately hit the buttons to copy each section. By the last session, things had started to get very strange as it went on continuously for over three days and we all agreed that it was the latest any of us had ever gone to bed. Desperate to stay awake, the only available stimulant apart from instant coffee was Feminax. I dare say it may be of assistance if used for the original purpose but we had been consuming them in large amounts and by the time we finished we were hallucinating and convinced that we would wake up permanently damaged.

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We were playing regular gigs at venues like the Moonlight Club, Rock Garden, the Marquee as well as others around the London area and were starting to get mentioned in the press until we got banned from performing in London due to an unfortunate incident at the Hope and Anchor pub. We’d played there a few times before but on this occasion it involved some redecoration of the dressing room. Our road crew also worked as decorators, unfortunately they were not very good or employed by the management of the Hope & Anchor. The dressing room was pretty much an extension of the urinal and we thought it could benefit from a lick of paint but the manager didn’t approve of the unexpected colour change. What was initially thought to have been a brilliant white had during the night evolved into an unknown colour. Regrettably little research had been done into the drying times or toxic content and by the time we walked on stage the place was packed but band and audience were completely gone on the fumes. I went to see the manager the next day to apologise and could tell that he was not impressed as I attempted to lie my arse off but badly suffered from the Pinocchio effect. We offered to do another gig to pay for it, “Re-Decorate” but as he was a huge bloke and we really had pissed him off, despite being painfully sorry he decided to cancel our career. He put the word out to various agents and venues and we now had a reputation as shabby decorators. As Re-Flex could not get arrested we returned to Redan to work on a new batch of songs and among these were “The Politics of Dancing”, “Hurt” and “Flex it”. We were still able to pick up occasional gigs outside of London but then one day Mike who ran the Half Moon pub in Herne Hill called. He had finally listened to the tape we sent him, liked it and wanted to give us a gig. Although he’d also heard about our reputation he was not put off and said he fancied getting his place done up. This never happened because over the next couple of months we started to sell the gig out and he now had enough money to get the job done professionally. As the word spread Re-Flex were now off the hook.

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We were getting ready to do some more recording when Roly introduced engineer Graham Dixon to the band.  Soon after we recorded three tracks with him at Maison Rouge studios, in West London. This included an early version of “Hurt” and the version of “Flex It” which later appeared on the B side to “The Politics of Dancing”. After Mount Pleasant, it was nice to be somewhere that had a working toilet not next to the recording area. Graham had been regularly recording with legendary producer Gus Dudgeon and while we were in the studio Gus often dropped in and hung around. He was somebody we used to read about in the music press and whose name appeared on many classic records, John Mayall, David Bowie and Elton John.  Truly a legend. Gus became a great fan and close friend, regularly turning up at gigs and was one of the many who helped to spread the word – what a bloke!

Significantly, Wham were in studio 2, recording "Last Christmas".

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Over the past 2 years Re-Flex had recorded a lot of material but still remained unsigned. We were almost at the end of this phase of the band and about to undergo a change that would have the greatest impact on the direction of our music. Everything is down to the sum of the parts.

 

To be continued………