Recently, YouTube has wisely targeted me with some old editions of The Old Grey Whistle Test. Anyone not alive or resident in Britain in early 70’s just wont grasp the significance of the OGWT. This was quite literally the only chance to see rock music ‘live’ on the television for many years. Due to the fact that the BBC had a healthy distain for rock music the program shifted slots, sometimes appearing at a ridiculously late time (bear in mind TV had shut down by midnight) sometimes turning up on a Sunday afternoon. The production values were minimal which is made very apparent in these YouTube clips which appear to include rough takes sometimes preceded by a studio hand counting a clock down in second intervals. It does serve to make the presenters look more together than might be remembered as they repeat the same introduction for the fourth take.
The main OGWT guy for me (and anyone of my age) was ‘Whispering’ Bob Harris who lounges about in a comfy chair chain smoking and grinning inanely at the camera. Because of the low production values most of the bands in the early days had to mime or at least sing over a backing track which rather weakened the whole affair, Top of the Pops was equally false but at least you might see Rod Stewart or at least the Sweet. And that was the biggest shock for me 45 year’s later, the quality of the artists. Because of the limited space solo singer song writers were over represented and so we get the likes of Claire Hammill, Rab Noakes and Jim Croce. So far so indifferent but there are names that crop up which I have never heard of Bloodstone, Cousin Joe, Judi Pulver and Cashman and West, bear in mind to even get on the OGWT you had to have released an album. Here were bands (or solo artists; I don’t know!) who had probably sweated their way through hundreds of gigs and yet have almost been lost to time.
This got me thinking about bands I might have seen and virtually forgotten and in turn that awakened a misty water coloured memory.
Spring 1978, I was at a bit of a loose end having been between jobs for about 3 months. I decided it was time to pay a visit to my old school friend Phil who had departed to study mechanical engineering or some such joyless subject at Warwick University. Pre-internet we had been in regular contact via letters and so I assume that I wrote to him and informed him of my intention to visit and then bought a bus ticket for Coventry. These days we anticipate our children might visit South America or at least Thailand. As I had invented the ‘gap year’ it was still in the experimental stage though . No working with Nicaraguan street children for me, I had already gone 3-4 years without a holiday at all let alone a foreign adventure. And so, a bus journey to Coventry was quite a big deal. The city itself was predictably grim, no one had a good word to day about the city, it had been badly bombed in the last war and built in true 50’s/60’s style (in a hurry). It was grim then and I bet it’s grim now, I was not stopping though as the University was a new build in the middle of nowhere which at least meant it was in the middle of fields.
Phil had grown a moustache which, outside Liverpool, was style disaster but at least he had had the courtesy of warning me before hand so I had time to prepare for what was not a pretty sight. We spent our time drinking tea eating biscuits and listening to LP’s which he had borrowed from other residents in his student block. Just like national service in the 50’s further education was a great leveller. You just didn’t know who you might be living with until it was too late to change your mind. It had introduced Phil to northerners (which might have accounted for the moustache) and we marvelled at the fact that some of them had adopted straight leg jeans, the times were a changing alright.
The ‘highlight’ of the trip was to be a gig/party before everyone broke up for Easter. A band had been announced, Warren Harry.
I was a little disappointed, I had been hoping for a real punk band but essentially most Universities and Polytechnics were deeply conservative establishments. Some student unions had actually banned punk bands it would take a couple more years before further education started welcoming musical diversity. The punks didn’t actually help matters tending to be pretty unpleasant to student audiences, it was a jungle out there.
Like John Otway and Marillion, Warren Harry was/were from Aylesbury where, one suspects, they were relatively big and got to play Aylesbury Friars on a regular basis. The band were mainly a vehicle for songwriter Warren Harry. Not having appeared on OGWT or having had a record played by John Peel I knew little about them/him but they had recently had a small and rather ambiguous live review in one of music weeklies where it was noted that the singer liked to pick arguments with the audience.
The hall was packed on the night and I suspect I was quite drunk as I was now approaching all gigs with a 4 pint minimum rule. Warren Harry appeared to be pushing the newly fashionable style of jerky pop which required a keyboard. XTC were prime exponents and I liked them a lot but it has to be said that this was whiter than white music which could only be danced to in a jerky way, think Hazel O’Connor (and then forget at once)
Mr Harry was indeed a bit of a provocative fucker, he looked a little like Steve Harley and seemed possessed with the same attitude. It wasn’t long before he was engaged in a slanging match with an audience member and, it appeared, considered it part of his job to go out into the crowd to give someone a good slap. Today of course this would create a twitter storm but in 1978 no one even had a camera on them let alone a high-tech video recorder, it was fairly safe to assume that there would be no ensuing legal case for whiplash and emotional trauma from the victim.
What did happen though was everything started to turn very nasty. There was a pretty bad vibe developing among the academic elite many of whom seemed to be pretty much off their faces. Glasses and bottles were thrown pretty randomly. It was all getting very nasty, Mr Harry was getting even more angry, even his drummer came out from behind his kit to tell us what he thought of us, more things were thrown, Phil and me left I think it was when the gig ended in disarray but I’m not sure, as I mentioned, I had been drinking.
The gig was a bit of a shock to me, back in Norwich we would have sat cross legged on the floor at a student gig but in the midlands, student seemed to be recreating the Punk festival in the 100 club in 1976, perhaps it was the straight leg jeans.
I don’t know if this was a normal night’s work for Warren Harrry, let’s hope not. As a band Warren Harry became the Yum Yum band and Warren Harry himself metamorphised into Warren Bacall. Warren Harry had had a contract with Polydor Records and released some singles, the most well known (it’s a relative term) was ‘I am a radio’ but there’s not much of him left even in the internet age to remind us he was once a contender.
He had a second career as a songwriter and apparently wrote ‘When We Were Young’ for Bucks Fizz (no I don’t know it either). That would have taken us to the mid 80’s but after that there’s not much information about him
Around 30 years after the Warwick gig Warren Harry died of a pulmonary embolism at his home in Wales.