Bristol Archive Records Blog

The Private Dicks

The Private Dicks play the Prom on Gloucester Road in Bristol this coming Friday the 14th January 2011.

Huw ‘Shugs’ Davies Bass, Mark ‘Sybs’ Seabright Drums, Paul ‘Guivey’ Guiver Guitar, Gavin ‘Ol’ Man King Vocals.

The band has it’s roots in the summer of ’78. GK had left his previous band Uncle Po – which included Helen O’Hara later of Dexys Midnight Runners – and one night attended a gig by the Wild Beasts, whose bass player Andy Franks became Robbie Williams and then Coldplay’s tour manager, while the drummer, Kenny Wheeler, owned Sound Conception Studios where most demos were recorded.

GK: “I was watching the Beasts when a couple of guys I knew slightly carried this bloke over to me – he was drooling and couldn’t stand up. They asked if I was still looking for someone to write with. ‘This guy’s brilliant’. They said he would come over to see me next week. Sure enough, next week I saw this bloke with a guitar outside my flat. I thought, I’m not letting him in, he’ll soon go away. But he didn’t. And I let him in and he stayed till about three in the morning, and we wrote half a dozen songs that night, including ‘She Said Go’. That was Paul Guiver.

We needed some collaborators though. Uncle Po’s ex-drummer, Jimmer Hill, ended up playing in Sneak Preview, who also appeared on Avon Calling. The main man behind that band was Neil Taylor, now Robbie William’s lead guitarist. Neil often played with the Dicks live and on a few recordings. Jimmer’s girlfriend cautiously mentioned that her young brother was in a band called The X-Spurtz and that they had parted company with their singer. They were very much a three-chord punk band, 15 or 16 years old. It is rumoured that they recorded one notorious single , ‘Rape’, about a serial rapist at large in the Clifton area of Bristol. Guivey and I drove down to see them in Somerset but weren’t particularly optimistic. However the rhythm section blew us away. They were shit hot. Sybs – the drummer – was stunning, even though he was only 16. And Shugs, the bass player, played a Gibson Grabber with the treble turned incredibly high, like Jean-Jacques of the Stranglers. The guitarist was a bit arty, and he was more into Siouxsie And The Banshees – which was ironic because later on, one of the guitarists who used to jam with us a lot was Jon Klein who became a Banshee after his time with Specimen.

This band – under the working title of Cliff Ton and The Trendies – rehearsed down at The Docklands in St Paul’s, Bristol (the site of the Riots in 1981) and the other guitarist decided to move to London. The remainder of us were sat in the bar:

PG: ‘Look, we’ve been trying to accommodate this guy, but Gav and I have a ton of material that doesn’t suit him. Do you want to give that a try? Pints finished, the band returned refreshed, we struggled through the Dub Disco to our rehearsal room – and gave ‘She Said Go’ a shot. Twenty minutes later we looked at each other in amazement at what had been achieved.

GK: Nowadays we are often asked about the origin of the band ‘s name. It appears that most youngsters see it in rather a different context than more aged folk, in a nudge-nudge way if you like. However, it came about in a far more innocent way. I was a big fan of Philip Marlow and made the guys watch Bogie in the title role. At one point he is asked ‘what are you some kinda cop ?’ He says ‘Me ? I’m a Private Dick’. We were searching for a name, we’d considered a few – The Plagiarists, Psychotesseracts amongst others – but the words from Bogies lips just seemed to jump out of the screen at us. We all looked at each other and said ‘We ARE Private Dicks. (Umm, I think that drugs may have played a part in this also). That’s it’. The song Private Dicks (very tongue in cheek, thrown together for the B-side of She Said Go) was based around another Bogies movie which we thought drew some threads together. Lauren Bacal says to Bogie ‘If you want me just whistle . . . you know how to whistle dontcha ?’ That answers many people’s questions about the ‘whistling’ lyric on the song Private Dicks itself.

At the time I would say that Elvis Costello’s first album really inspired us apart from all the usual suspects. The song writing and delivery just blew us all away. As a child the first single I bought was ‘I Get Around, by the Beach Boys. I was a chorister and so learnt about harmonies at an early stage and that must be where my fascination came from. Someone once likened us to a mix of the Hollies and Queen. Well the Hollies I’d take cos I just loved their harmonies but Queen? Do me a favour. I reckon it’s just that I had a (ahem) big voice and Mr Mercury weren’t much more than a shouter either.

We began to go through a ritual in rehearsal. Turn up, play those songs that had been rehearsed to satisfaction, run through them again – until satisfied – and then start work on a new one. This way we soon built up a well-rehearsed set of songs. After a few weeks it became obvious that we had something that was worth recording and got in touch with Ken Wheeler and booked an eight hour session one Saturday. It was eight weeks since the other guitarist had left and She Said Go worked out. We picked out three songs – She Said Go, Forget the Night and Green is in the Red. We worked so hard on getting these so well rehearsed that we could just play them live in the studio and get them down. Remember, this was really the first experience that the young guys had had of studio work. The songs were laid down in 8 hours and mixed the following Tuesday in 4 hours.

We couldn’t stop playing the tape. We dragged everyone and anyone back to listen to them. We honestly did think they were the bees knees (again I think drink and drugs may have coloured our opinion). However, we knocked on Simon Heartbeat’s door and played them to him and he immediately asked to put one of them on Avon Calling. Three days later he rang back and said ‘stuff putting She Said Go’ on the album I’m going to put it out as my next single’. One of our most explicit memories is going to the Music Machine to play a gig (to about six people) and before going on going over the road to a kebab shop to eat. They had Mike Read’s show on Radio 1 playing and as we were waiting to get served he played our single. Honest, it’s a feeling you can’t beat.

PG: The mainstay of our early days was the Crown pub situated in the centre of Bristol which had a dank “Cavernesque” old cellar bar run by an old German lady who greeted us as her “little darlinks”. It was often frequented by Biker’s who, after a while stopped trying to kill us. The deal at the Crown was that we would only receive payment if the bar showed a profit of something like £100. After three or four gigs, we packed the place and actually got paid! The Private Dicks were at that time a fast punky band just playing to its strengths really. After all I was actually a bass player and the drummer and bass player had no more than 12 months experience. However the song writing soon became the strong focal point and daily rehearsals suddenly saw us turn into more than three-chord wonders.

GK: After the great reception that our single received, we were on the verge of recording the follow up ‘Don’t follow my Lead’ when we played The Hope Chapel with Jon Klein guesting. In the audience was Simon from Heartbeat and afterwards he introduced us to one Mark Dean (see the introduction to Simon Garfield’s book ‘Expensive Habits). He didn’t actually say ‘I’m gonna make you stars boys’, but he did say that he could see our faces plastered over millions of girls walls, t-shirts etc. He invited us to breakfast at the Holiday Inn the next day where he presented us with a sample contract to take away with us. He would negotiate a release from Heartbeat and get us signed and in the studio double-quick. I should have known better with my experience and should have kept the young guys feet on the ground. As it was I was the one who led the hugging and singing in the Holiday Inn bog.

We immediately did what was natural to us and went to the Kenny in Redland to celebrate the news. After a good session we reached the notorious Elmgrove squat (see The Elmgrove Story below) in the pouring rain, the contract fell out of the grip of a drunken guitarist, into the rain soaked gutter. Said guitarist accidentally trod on it leaving his dirty size nine footprint on the front. It was just like we didn’t value it instead of it being the most important thing that had ever happened to any of us. As it was treating it like a piece of shite was actually very appropriate (again, see Simon Garfield’s book ‘Expensive Habits’ and the problems that signing exactly the same contract caused for George Michael and Andrew Ridgley).

By this time we were in all probability totally out of control, rehearsals a distraction from going to the (again notorious) Dug Out and getting laid. We did manage to fit in our best ever gig at The Granary – a benefit for Cambodia – but once Mark Dean got involved he steered us in all sorts of wrong directions. If I had managed to stay straight long enough then I would have been able to ensure he was steering in the direction that I knew we should be going. As it was I was an arsehole. We did however manage a Radio 1 session which was recorded in January 1980.

The memory of this event is a little different for all of us. I remember the session going really well – the version of ‘Don’t follow My Lead’ on the Homelife album shows how powerful the session was. However, it deteriorated when we couldn’t get the tuning correct for an overdub and Chris ‘Wyper’ Lycett who was producing began to run out of patience. In fact when you consider that Sybs forgot his cymbals (he gate crashed a recording of the BBC Concert orchestra to blag some) and that the only memories the rhythm section have are of wheelbarrow races up and down the corridors, flicking peas at Kate Bush in the BBC canteen and as usual, being pissed for the whole experience, I feel were lucky to come out with something they could broadcast. As I say ‘arseholes’.

PG: My memory was that I was laying down guitar overdubs for ‘catalogue girls,” I could not get the guitar in tune. It would be fair to say that I always tuned guitars by ear and that the tuning of all the Dicks recordings varied subsequently. I tried, Franksy(Tour manager) tried and anyone who might have walked past a guitar shop in their life had a go, with no joy.

Franksy returned with a big grin on his face and with a metal object in his hand, I looked puzzle. To an uncultured punk/new wave guitarist it might well have been the last remaining egg of the Dodo and about as much use. “What that the fuck am I supposed to do with that” I asked. With that Franksy struck it on the edge of a grand piano sitting in the studio and stabbed on its body.” Its a tuning fork you tosser, try tuning your guitar to it”. Well that didn’t help either.

We did however finish the overdubs to “Catalogue Girls” with an out of tune guitar, I think the guitar was getting its own back for me thrashing the living daylights out it for years. The session was played 3 times during 1980 and I cringed every time I heard “catalogue girls”. Luckily there isn’t a copy of that session in existence, as the BBC destroyed the session some time in the eighties.

GK: Although if you know different . . . rumour has that King of the Loan – John Ashton – took the only copy . . . I’ll ask him when he gets parole (sorry John).

Whilst hearing the session broadcast (ignoring the tuning problem) was such a thrill we were being badgered to sign Mark Dean’s contract. I wanted him to first put money into the band (he wanted us to move to London and survive by servicing ladies for money – allegedly) so that we could rehearse with a sound and lighting crew. He just said sign or I walk. I told him the contract was crap and that refusal by me led to his departure and to the inevitable arguments and finally a quick flounce out the door by the singer (I’m a good flouncer me). Oh, and hey, 30 years later they’ve forgiven me enough to play with me again – they say I’m still the same arsehole tho’).


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