In order to prepare us for the outside world, Jet begin rehearsals in Camden, conveniently next door to a pub. This is where we repair for lunch on most days. One day, a certain member is wearing his brand new white suit, part of the recent outfitting action by management. We are lunching, and his large plate of eggs, chips and baked beans, liberally doused in tomato ketchup, lies on the table in front of him. He announces that he is going to the toilet and will, disappointingly, be right back.
During his absence, Chris Townson winks at me. He moves the brimming plate to the very edge of the table, where it teeters precariously. The plate’s owner returns and the tension mounts as we await the inevitable. A certain members picks up his cutlery and resumes his dialogue with this, the very epitome of British cuisine. He viciously stabs a fried egg, whereupon the plate catapults its entire contents all over him and his pristine white suit. It ends up lying glutinously in his lap as baked beans spill over his (once-white, formerly-pristine) waistcoat. “Oh, BUGGER!” he shouts, “I KNEW that would happen!”. In this, as in so little else, he was completely correct.
Jet are to be sent off on a small tour of the UK, starting at the watery Scottish home of the UK’s nuclear submarine fleet. This is Dunoon on Holy Loch, where audiences are frankly uncomprehending as Jet appear in outlandish costumes to play loud hurtling rock to minimal audiences. No attendance is as minimal as at a college in Edinburgh, Scotland, where one person shows up but quickly leaves. The band make light of this poor showing by reading out stories from the Sun newspaper and organising bingo.
Audiences who do actually turn up are baffled by the bands’ garb, courtesy of the Leander design team, in reality some bird called Jean Seal exacting revenge upon God-fearing society. Mike Leander turns up on occasion to apply unfeasibly large amounts of make-up to all and sundry. This is showbiz! O’List appears on stage as a black satin-clad cross between a dinosaur and an anteater, and Andy dons a white flowing satin cape and boxer boots. I, unaccountably, wear jodhpurs and riding boots while Peter Oxendale prances around in a white Little Lord Fauntleroy tail suit complete with a walking stick. Chris Townson, not so much older as wiser, escapes without career-threatening sartorial embarrassment by breaking his leg just before we go on tour and is replaced by Jim Toomey from the Tourists. He wisely makes it part of his contract that he doesn’t have to dress up as an equine statue or a triceratops.
Post-leg break but pre-tour, Martin and Chris discuss the ways of the world on a floating boat-bar moored on the Thames. Later that same evening, Gordon and Townson were invited to spend a night in the Bow Street police cells following their earlier disruption of a flower bank on London’s Embankment. Decanted into two cells overnight, they appeared before the magistrate in the morning charged with (a) being drunk and disorderly and (b) having knowingly recorded a Davy O’List song about losing some water.
The facts were indisputable, and they pleaded guilty to both charges. Forking out the then-massive sum of five pounds (each!), they were then released into the community of glam rockers who were in a band called Jet in 1975. It was a fairly small community, but they were nonetheless happy to welcome the two back into the fold. OK, perhaps ‘happy’ is putting it a bit strongly.
(Astonishingly, the new Bow Street museum dwells lovingly upon Oscar Wilde, Reggie & Ronnie Kray and Augusto Pinochet but glaringly omits name-checking two of its most distinguished guests). But anyway, back to the 1970s…
It is decided that we will support the Ian Hunter-Mick Ronson band on their forthcoming UK tour. Before tour rehearsals begin, there is a CBS sales convention to take care of, a meet’n’greet session for the staff and new signings held in the Commonwealth Institute in London. The Commonwealth Institute is an educational establishment which boasts a wide variety of exhibits from all over the former British Empire, including specimens of exotic wildlife. During a dull moment, Jet discover a case containing ‘the Arctic Fox – he’s perfectly camouflaged! Can you find him?’ Generations of schoolchildren subsequently marvel at the little white fox’s self-secreting ability. In vain, alas, as he has merely been removed by disaffected members of Jet.
Drummer Jim Toomey’s nerves are less steady than they would subsequently become with the Tourists, and he goes into a spontaneous drum solo in the middle of the first song, to the bafflement of both band and assembled CBS personnel. The-then president of CBS who shall remain nameless (Dick Asher) sidles up during a drinks break and said of his latest protege (BA Robertson), who is then struggling painfully through a soul-baring ballad, “Isn’t this guy great, huh?”. “No”, say the band, after a moment’s reflection, “he’s terrible”. The Pres thinks for a moment. “Yes, he is, isn’t he?”, he says.
The tour kicks off in Sheffield, or Exeter. Jet and personal manager Jamie Turner, and road crew have been instructed to travel up with their equipment on the train for reasons of economy. Things go well, except for Ian Hunter’s refusal to speak to me after the third night. I was in the Leeds Holiday Inn sauna chatting to a plump middle aged chap, who seemed quite pleasant if a little forward for a complete stranger. “And what do you do for a living?”, I asked politely. Along with his shades and leather trousers, Ian had left his sense of humour in his bedroom (or fridge). Here are the details of the touring party.
Jet’s live shows are received with mixed reactions; NME felt that Jet would ‘warrant only the skimpiest of mentions for what seems a skillful amalgam of androgyny and accountancy rock are it not for the presence of acid casualty guitar hero Davey O’List (aka Brian Damage) who wanders the boards looking like a constipated anteater tearing the occasional sheet of high grade steel from his axe‘. Piqued by Oxendale’s wearing of oversized women’s fur coats, O’List ups the ante by kicking hotel doors open with his bare feet. He has broken his foot, of course. One of his platform-soled stage boots is replaced by a comfy slipper, the height differential giving him the uneven gait of a Himalayan mountain goat as he lurches about the stage.
When the tour is over, Andy and I embark on a radio promo tour, accompanied by Jamie Turner, and then we start our own Jet dates. The opening night is in Newcastle. As we emerge for the first number, the legs of one member become entangled in a cable and he topples over. Enraged but prone, he flails his legs furiously and eventually regains the vertical with the help of the road crew. Oh dear – in the melee, his instrument has become unplugged and, for all his continued thrashing, is silent. Plugging it back in, his proximity to the amp causes his instrument feed back with banshee screeching. He becomes fully operational only to find that the band, who have decided that they can’t wait for him, have already finished the first number. He shouts peevishly into Andy’s mike, and thus to the whole audience, “I wasn’t ready! Why did you start without me??” Jet smile grimly and soldier on.
The album is released during this tour, and it receives a mixed reception. Steve Lake for MM feels the songs are ‘almost irritatingly catchy…at least two of them sound like hit singles‘. But his problem is that ‘the innocence is long lost we know precisely where Jet are coming from.. we’ve seen dozens of minor variations parading past in the lost years since Flower Power ruled. But for all that, Andy Ellison’s determined Anglicism remains attractive. Less self important, if not less self conscious than a Bowie or an Ian Hunter, Jet have at least remembered that pop used to be about fun. For that….we should be grateful‘. Geoff Barton for Sounds thinks ‘Most chorus lines are memorable enough to be indicative of possible hit records (and) there’s some humour, which reassures you that the band perhaps don’t take themselves too seriously, coupled with a certain craziness’. More Jet reviews can be perused here.
During the same tour, Oxendale contributes to the general air of unpredictability by being unable to keep his keyboards in tune. Listening to recordings of the gigs, it is possible to tell from which position Andy Ellison is singing; if he is sharp, he is stage left, over by the keyboards; flat meant stage right and closer to the guitar.
Following the tour, Ian Macleod brings his guitar and some much-needed reliability, to the proceedings. But after these exercises in futility, I book some studio time on my own, and record ‘Johnny Mekon’, a new tune which would turn up again in Radio Stars.
Jet appear at the Marquee club in autumn 1975. Chris Townson’s leg is healed and he makes his first and last appearance with the band. In late summer, the band are ‘sent to the country’ to prepare the next album. Jet end up in a converted chapel in Bruton, Somerset. The days theoretically consist of rehearsals. In fact they consist of arguments and drinking, as do the nights. Inter-band relations degenerate again. My suitcase becomes mysteriously full of vomit. Andy and Chris seek refuge in women’s clothing – discovering a forgotten wardrobe, they don women’s clothing and go to the local pub, the Bruton Arms.
Formerly genial ex-RAF wallah Ward Williams is the landlord, and Ward looks nervously on as Andy minces up to the bar and orders a pint of creme de menthe. ‘Fuck off!!’ says our host, losing his previous bonhomie. “Well, if that’s how you feel”…says Andy, gathering his skirts and attempting to retire with dignity.
Nonetheless, a few nights later, Mr Williams allows us to perform in his hostelry. He is rather perturbed by the enormous amount of equipment which is trundled through the door. Large Marshall cabinets are propped up on each other, banks of keyboards are built up. After about half a tune, his regulars are showing signs of distress. Feeling that he should show more concern for his resident sheep-shearers than for the sensitive artistes who are currently deafening them, he offers free drinks to the band to get them to stop playing. It is a successful gambit.
After two weeks of internecine warfare and intensive drinking, representatives of management and record company turn up in Somerset to see what their proteges have achieved. Jet launch into their new tunes, which they have strung together in uninterrupted sequence. It lasts for forty minutes without a break and thus does not represent an obvious choice for a radio-playable single. Hoping to hear an hour’s worth of hit 45s, the management are ashen-faced in the pub that night. Nicky Graham attempts to inflict his patented Nolans treatment, but the band, notably me, are uncooperative.
He informs us that we must do better, and leaves. We continue in the same vein for another week, and then Jet return to London to perform for an invited audience of management and record company bigwigs. Nicky Graham has previously been suggested that we should try to find some dynamics, some ‘light and shade’ in our music. When we set up to play, we put a table lamp on the piano. During the loud bits, Andy Ellison turns it on. During the quiet bits, I turn it off. “What’s all this business with the table lamp?”, asks an irritated Leander-cohort. “Er…, light and shade”, I respond. “It’s what you wanted, isn’t it?”
Apparently it wasn’t. The next day, management contact us at the Furniture Cave, and we discover to our eternal surprise that CBS have terminated our contract. Finally losing Oxendale (he goes off to play with Ian Hunter and the Glitter Band), we rehearse as a four-piece at Island Records in Hammersmith. Four songs are worked up, and Sparks-manager John Hewlett books some time in Island Studios early in 1976. The songs are ‘Antler’ (about luggage), ‘Don’t Cry Joe’ (about Charlotte Rampling), ‘Sail Away’ (about holidays) and ‘Dirty Pictures’ (about beavers).
Hewlett offers words of advice, strongly recommending that we should dump ‘Dirty Pictures’. Reflecting upon his unerring judgment in these matters, we record it anyway. (As well as later securing Andy and myself a record deal as Radio Stars, ‘Dirty Pictures’ is covered in 1992 by German superstars Die Toten Hosen (the Dead Trousers, since you ask) whose version goes on to sell 250,000 copies. So much for intuition). Trevor White, a former (by this time) Spark, lends a production hand in return for Chris and I playing on his first single for Island Records, ‘Crazy Kids’ and appearing in the promo video. Suddenly, nothing happens.
Shortly after the sessions, we drown our sorrows in the local Island pub, the Cross Keys. Chris Townson reaches into his pocket to find that the measly collection of groats and farthings nestling therein isn’t even enough to pay for his pint of Fullers ESB. He announces his immediate and forthwith departure from music in general, the group in particular and the pub, and goes off to become a successful illustrator and, later, a social worker. It is the end of an era.
Back to Part I.