London are back! Well, half of us anyway. Over 30 years after we came off stage at the Marquee Club, Steve Voice and I reformed the band with new guitarist Hugh O'Donnell and new drummer Colin Watterston. Not a lot has been written about London so I thought I'd write about how we got together and formed the band etc
In 1976, I placed an advert in the back pages of Melody Maker that read less like an ad and more like a coded message in an 007 movie. "NW drummer wanted. No OFs need apply. Call Riff on…" (NW stood for New Wave, OF meant Old Farts which was the accepted way then of weeding out hippy drummers!). Riff was me. I'd decided to use the more rock 'n' roll sounding name Riff Regan. The abbreviations had been necessary to keep the price down. Even that little lot set me back £8 which back then was a week's rent.
To say the phone never stopped ringing would be an understatement. One stickman after another would call me. Some had kits, some didn't. Some had transport, some didn't. Some old farts just called to say that they didn't like being called old farts. And then the phone went for what seemed the hundredth time that day. The voice at the other end was clear and well spoken in that sort of posh Hampstead way.
"Hi, is Riff there? I'm answering the advert in the Melody Maker".
I confirmed that I was he.
"My name is Jon and I'm already in a band but I'm not too happy and I'm looking for a new one."
I asked him who the band was. The music scene was small then. If they were any good the chances were that I'd know them.
"They're called The Clash. You may have heard of them."
In my universe at that time everyone had heard of The Clash. They were one of the most important bands in the hierarchy of British punk. Second only to The Sex Pistols. I couldn't believe what I was hearing.
"Is this a wind-up?" I asked cautiously. Perhaps it was one of my friends in a phone box around the corner.
"No way," said Jon. "Look, where do you live? I'll come around and tell you all about it."
I gave Jon my West Hampstead address and he told me that he'd be there within minutes as he only lived up the road in Hampstead.
The view from the lounge of my second floor flat looked straight down onto West End Lane. I made a cup of coffee and went to the window and looked out for the drummer. I was also looking out for any of my friends as I was still convinced I was being taken for an almighty ride. But the minutes ticked by and there was no sign of them and certainly no sign of him. I scanned the pavement in all directions for the sight of someone looking punkish. In those days anyone with the slightest punky look – spiked hair, drainpipe jeans, leather jacket – would have stood out a mile. Punks in London were rare then. It was years before the Mohican look of the King's Road stereotype. But there was still no sign of anyone who could conceivably be the drummer to one of the most famous bands in punk land.
Then a gold Rolls-Royce Cornice came slowly cruising by. The driver, a good-looking young man with spiky black hair had his window rolled down and was looking at all the buildings as if trying to locate a name or number. He then slowed down, did a neat three-point turn and came back on the opposite side of the road. This time he mounted the pavement slightly so his two left wheels were off the road (West End Lane is quite narrow) and jumped out and walked to my communal front door. He pressed the entry button and I went into my hall to speak to him. His clear well spoken voice came over the intercom.
"Hi. Riff? This is Jon."
Thirty seconds later Jon Moss had entered my life. The Roller belonged to his dad who was a business tycoon in the rag trade. He was being tried out as a drummer by The Clash but wasn't hitting it off with Joe Strummer. He wanted out and I was delighted to take him on board. I had already found Steve Voice to play bass (weirdly he lived exactly halfway between Jon and I, on Crediton Hill) so we started looking for a lead guitarist. It wasn't long before Dave Wight, a Newcastle lad who had just moved to London auditioned for us (we had previously offered the job to Henry Padovani but hours later Stewart Copeland offered him the guitarist gig in The Police and he went for it), why we chose Dave I'm not really sure. He was a superb musician but his playing was straight out of Hendrix! Anyway the band was formed, the name London was picked (my flat mate at the time, Tot Taylor, had actually suggested it as a great name for a band) and the business of making it was on.
The first thing we did was find somewhere to rehearse in. There was a little room, joined to a lock-up garage owned by an Irishman just off the Kilburn High Road and this proved to be ideal. We could leave our equipment in there and play whenever we wanted. Perfect. We had hardly any material except for a few songs that I'd written. Everyone's a Winner, Young and Summer of Love were quickly worked out and played. After a while Steve would start putting music to some of my lyrics giving us an 8 song set! Playing together was a great buzz. The next thing to do was to get ourselves a gig.
The Rochester Castle in Stoke Newington was a Victorian pub with a little stage area right at the back past the bar. It had welcomed the up and coming pub rock/punk explosion and regularly put on bands. My flatmate Tot Taylor and his band Advertising had just formed and were playing one of their first gigs there. He offered us the support slot and we jumped at it. We quickly rang around all our friends and told them to get down there for that night. Jon picked us all up in one of his father's firm's delivery vans (ideal for carrying his drums) and we descended on Stoke Newington.
The pub was full mainly of the small group of punk followers that you would see at almost any new wave gig of that period. We took the stage and played our set. Many of our friends were absolutely staggered by the speed of our delivery. It was just so fast! After our last number, an encored No Time, we went down to the changing area which was underneath the stage in a cellar. It was here that we were all approached by a bespectacled man with brown curly hair called Danny Morgan. He told us that he was a talent scout for someone called Simon Napier-Bell. That name didn't ring a napier or a bell. But it was his next line that we liked. He said he thought we had talent and great stage presence and were we managed by anyone? We shook our heads in unison. He said he thought Simon Napier-Bell might be interested.
He told us to stand by our phone, he'd be in touch.
Driving home after the gig we were all a bit shell shocked. Firstly the gig had gone better than we ever expected; our friends, most of whom had never seen us play before, had been impressed, and secondly we had been approached by a talent scout who had insisted we had talent. Could this really be happening? That only after one gig we had been ‘discovered’? Everyone knew that punk bands were being signed up left, right and centre in 76/77 but surely not after one gig?
The next day, the phone did ring and Danny Morgan told us that he had talked to Simon Napier-Bell about us and he was interested enough to commit part of an evening to seeing us play live. Danny asked us where our next gig was and we told him it was at the Roxy club in Neal Street, Covent Garden. He asked us to put Simon and his name on the guest list. He also remarked on the date – Friday 13th.
Friday the 13th arrived and we got ourselves down to the Roxy in Covent Garden. It was a weird little place. It had a few seats upstairs and then a flight of stairs took you down into a very dark cellar where the tiny stage was situated. There was a microscopic bar down there as well as a dance floor. Next to the stage was a broom cupboard that they called a dressing room. We set our gear up on the stage, did a soundcheck and then had a few beers upstairs waiting for people to arrive.
Unfortunately they didn't.
For some reason I used to wear a white suit on stage back then. God knows why. It wasn't at all punk. In fact if anything it was right out of Saturday Night Fever and John Travolta. Anyway if that wasn't bad enough, I was going through my shades stage. I also used to go on stage with my hands handcuffed with a pair of silver cuffs that I had bought from a joke shop in Tottenham Court Road. Why I did this I can't now remember, possibly as a prop for when I sang our song Handcuffed. Anyway this was the image of the band as we took to the stage in front of the three people who had bothered to come and check out this totally unknown new band London.
We anxiously looked out beyond the spotlights for any evidence of Danny Morgan and this Simon Napier-Bell chap but couldn't see them. We hammered into No Time with me leaping all over the place in my white suit, sunglasses and handcuffed wrists. The stage was so tiny, I was bumping into everything. Steve, Dave, Jon's hi-hat, amps, guitars and then because we were performing on a stage the size of an Egyptian postage stamp, I finally fell off and knocked one of the three punters flat on his back. He got up off the ground and wasn't too happy. He yelled abuse at me and shoved me with both hands. There was nothing I could do to repel him as my hands were useless, twinned as they were in the bloody toy handcuffs. Without missing a note, Steve the bass player walked over and got between us and after some heated insults the punter sloped off towards the back of the room screaming abuse at us.
It was at this precise moment that Danny Morgan entered the club with Simon Napier-Bell cautiously creeping down the staircase immediately behind the stage area. They caught the end of the insult trading between the band and the punter. And of course whilst all this was going on Jon, Dave and Steve had carried on playing the riff of No Time again and again.
Napier-Bell was impressed. He'd been out of the country making hit records in Spain for years and was out of touch with what was going on. If this was punk rock bring it on, baby. Always up for anything new, he liked our attitude and more importantly he liked our songs. He didn't hang around after the gig; instead he sent Danny Morgan who came backstage to the broom cupboard and told us that Simon was impressed.
He told us to standby by our phone, he'd be in touch.
The next day Danny did indeed phone and said that Simon now wanted to meet us properly at his Cheyne Walk riverside apartment in Chelsea. I remember we were all pretty impressed, it was well known that Mick Jagger lived on that street. And although in our eyes Mick Jagger was of the old dinosaur order, he was the world's number one rock singer.
We all piled into Jon's powder blue Ford Escort and drove down the King’s Road to meet the Napier ...
Click here to read part 2.