Straight outta Sarfend

Sometime in 1976 something slightly exciting happened to Norwich. The Kursaal Flyers announced that they would be playing the university. The Kursaals, as we now affectionately called them, had been attracting quite a bit of attention, having broken out of the pub circuit, recorded an album and inevitably secured their own headline tour.The band were of the older generation ie late 20’s and had been around the block a few times and had been peddling the inevitable country rock around the pubs and clubs of the southeast for a while. A couple of things changed their fortunes. The relative success of the Feelgoods had given the rather godforsaken area of Canvey Island a certain degree of kudos. The Kursaals hailed from Southend on Sea (Sarfend to the locals) a mere stone’s throw away and had links with the Feelgoods who by the time were at the top of their game.

The Kursals had also been making an effort to write songs and spruce up their stage presentation. Singer Paul Shuttleworth was perfecting a kind of spiv/wide boy image while ‘veteran ‘ bass player Ritchie Bull dressed rather like our man in Havana. Steel Guitarist Vic Collins donned a striped jumper and a beret which, naturally was how every Frenchman dressed in the mid 70’s while drummer Will Birch had invested in a cycling outfit and lead guitarist Graeme Douglas refused to join in the fancy dress and just looked pissed off the whole time.

There was nothing really great about the Kursaals but at least they were making an effort. Up to now I had gone to see bands largely because they had come to Norfolk to play, hence my presence at a Budgie gig but here, at last was a band I was genuinely interested in.

And so I made my way, with Phil and possibly Duncan to the University where being too late to blag a spot on the floor where I could have sat cross legged until I was at risk of deep vein thrombosis, I had to stand near the back.

I hadn’t heard of the support band Eddie and the Hot Rods who were yet another band from the ‘Essex Delta’ but it was apparent form the start that here was something a bit different. Firstly the band were the youngest I had ever seen on a stage, in fact they were my age, in itself a remarkable fact. Secondly they were dressed like normal teenagers, the sort of teenagers from the secondary modern school who I would probably make an effort to avoid should they be hanging round the local chip shop . The early Hot Rods were fairly gauche, bass player Paul Gray still had long hippie hair while drummer Steve Nichol affected some street version of the Rod Stewart crop. Guitarist Dave Higgs sported round dark glasses which I suspect were prescription strength as well as a pair of flares. Singer Barrie Masters looked like one of the lads who would be manning the waltzers at a funfair who would spin you faster whether you wanted to or not. There was an additional member at this point, harp player Lew Lewis, Lew wasn’t going to last long, by the time the band started appearing in the music press he had left, at first he tried his hand at a solo career but in time this petered out until he was eventually arrested and imprisoned for armed robbery. He became enmeshed in mental health and addiction problems which he has only recently broken free from.

Even from my position some way from the stage the band were kicking up a storm, they played just fine and although it was clear they weren’t going to challenge Led Zeppelin in the virtuoso stakes they were determined to impress and had the energy to carry them through the set.

And here they are in their original line up.This doesn’t sound radical but at the time they were a real breath of fresh air.

I considered that this could be a case were the Kursaal were about to be blown off stage but I was wrong. Support bands are support bands for a reason. The Hot Rods were fun and energetic but they were one dimensional. The Kursaal’s probably had 50 years’ experience over the support band and turned in a well-paced, well played set with harmonies and a wider musical palette. They encored with the Byrds version  of ‘You Ain’t Goin Nowhere’ which demonstrated exactly where they were coming from and sent me out into the chilly night air feeling I had got my money’s worth (probably £2.50).

But this is the tale of two bands with two differing fates. The Kursaals were at their peak, Having starred in a BBC documentary about ‘life on the road’, by the end of the year their showmanship and country rock were going out of date fast. After one more album in the same vein by 1977 they were having to broaden their appeal which led to the awful hit single ‘Little Does She Know’ and the desertion of Collins who was no longer getting much of a chance with the pedal steel and Douglas who always looked like he wanted out anyway. Inevitably the band reformed for another album and continue to do so periodically to this day.

For a couple of months the Hot Rods were flavour the hottest thing around but it wasn’t long before their brand of R&B and, wait for it, Punk began to look out of date. The P word came from the mid 60’s when American bands were attempting to ape the British invasion and inadvertently created their own music. In fact I touched upon this in my first ever blog should you wish to go back in time. However for a few months in 1976 the Hot Rods were punk

Just a few months later and Barrie’s got a better jacket and Paul Gray has a tee shirt with ‘Punk’ on it.incessant gigging has led to one shit hot band.

The word punk Rock was now being bandied about, casually at first in relation to the phenomena of young men creating hi energy rock music. One of the bands supporting the Hot Rods later that year were no other than the Sex Pistols who ,in the space of a couple of months, would go from a curiosity to the hottest band in town.
And so, the Hot Rods by virtue of a few months extra experience, a liking for Bob Seeger and association with the ‘old guard’ would find themselves eclipsed by the younger pretenders. The band is still around today in one form or another and always have been and, I’m sure, still represent a good night out.

But…fast forward just a year.

I have finished school with no plans beyond signing on the dole which in 1977 was a relatively easy and profitable experience. Such is the power to be punk that Eddie and the Hot Rods are now The Rods and have been joined by no other than Graeme  Douglas who has written them a brand new Springsteen influenced song. ‘Do Anything You Want to Do’ was my soundtrack that summer. Never would I be so free again. Doing what I wanted to do meant drinking beer and hanging out with friends, that was all, my youth was wasted on me

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