Thursday, 26 July 2012

How Retarded Fish supported The Cribs...

By Dan Stringer

My phone vibrates and makes the familiar 3-tone melody that indicates a message from someone via Twitter. Its 11:14 am on Sunday 26th February 2012, and the message I’m about to read will instigate one of the greatest nights of my life. It’s from Andrew Jarvis - Jarv.

@ADMJMonsson to @disgustindesign: The Cribs are looking at getting RF to support them in WF. Need to borrow any recordings you have x

I read the message. Then read it again out loud. My wife looks at me with a puzzled expression, and I read it again. The Cribs are looking at getting RF to support them in WF.  I start typing.....

@disgustindesign to @ADMJMonsson: Really?

I then follow this up with.....

@disgustindesign to @ADMJMonsson: I’m well up for it like!

Well, you would be wouldn’t you? I mean, playing in your home town with the biggest credible musical export the place has ever known, people who just happen to be your mates, and proper nice guys. Why wouldn’t you want to play a gig like that?

Later that day we went to my parents’ house for Sunday dinner as usual. I hadn’t had a reply from Jarv so after mentioning it briefly to the family I thought no more of it. Funnily enough, that night I was going to meet my mate Neil Laird at the Flanshaw rehearsal room his band Clown (and a few other Wakefield bands – Imp, Runaround Kids Piskie Sits etc) rent with a view to using it the week after for a bit of a musical session with Jarv and Sam Smyth. I text Jarv to let him know I’d been and we were sorted for the next Sunday, and couldn’t resist ending the text with “.....were you serious about the Cribs support?” and a reply came back almost instantly. “They seemed serious, yeah. Greg (Greg Jones – formerly of Wakefield bands Homegroan and Cone) wants to play bass and I’ve demanded loads of cash. We’ll see x”.

It turns out that the previous night Jarv and Greg were out and about in town and while in the Inns bumped into Gary and Ryan - Gary was over from Portland for the mini-UK tour. After a few drinks and a bit of talk about the old days, the subject of a Retarded Fish reunion arose, and there was talk of a support slot at the home town gig.

I knew the Cribs were looking into a home town gig. Their 10 year anniversary was creeping up, and the idea had been discussed a couple of times over a drink in the Inns with Ryan and Jamie Lockhart in January. The Theatre Royal had been mentioned, and we’d joked about how it could be a proper theatrical performance, with ushers showing the audience to their seats, and ice cream vendors between bands. Unity Hall was also mentioned as a venue, but having later attended one of the tours to promote the share issue, it soon became apparent that the state of the building would make this a difficult proposition.

Ryan often asked “ Stringer, when are Retarded Fish gonna get back together?” but to be honest it’s not something I’d really considered, and something I doubted the other band members would have considered either.

So, Retarded Fish. Well it all started in 1994 in and around the music scene based mostly at the now closed Players, and involving mostly students from Wakefield College. The smoker’s room in the refectory was the hangout for the people in bands as well as the people who came to the gigs. There was always a great atmosphere in that room, people playing cards, talking about music, and just doing what 16 and 17 year olds do.

I’d known Andrew Jarvis, Sam Smyth, Damian Ellis, and Scott Ward from St. Thomas a Beckett School. We weren’t really close to be honest and ours paths didn’t cross that often, only having the occasional conversation about Iron Maiden, and metal, buts that’s about it.

One Friday night we were all in Players, there were some bands on and after the last band finished I thought – in my inebriated state – that it would be a great idea to get on stage and treat the remaining audience to a 5 minute drum solo. This went swimmingly, and in effect was my audition for Retarded Fish. The other guys had been discussing forming a band back at school and had already come up with the name Retarded Fish and my solo performance came just at the right time. To coin a football phrase, I’d put myself in the shop window.

The line up was as follows. Andrew Jarvis – Vocals, Sam Smyth – Lead Guitar, Scott Ward – Rhythm Guitar, Damian Ellis – Bass, and yours truly, Dan Stringer – Drums.

We rehearsed in my bedroom. I was fortunate enough to have a good sized room, and as my drums were there it made sense. My parents were very supportive and enjoyed having the guys round, feeding and watering us all.

The songs were - as you might expect for a bunch of 16 and 17 year old kids – quite basic. Song titles such as Kill the Fish, Sacrificial Chickens, and Biblical Custard give a fair impression of our output.

Although I’d been playing drums for 3 or 4 years by this point, I wasn’t that great. I don’t think the other guys in the band would dispute that they were in a similar position, but playing together helped us all develop together.

After a few months writing and practising, we played our first gig at the Post Haste (now the Snooty Fox) on Thursday 3rd November 1994. The set consisted of 5 or 6 of our own songs, plus a couple of Nirvana covers and a cover of the theme tune to the legendary Australian late-night series Prisoner Cell Block H. This song remained a mainstay of the set right until the end.

The next gig was the following day. At Players.

I remember the atmosphere being amazing, mainly because all the same people that graced the smokers room at college were in the band room upstairs. My first run-in with Dave Carney was on this night. I’d taken a few of my own cans of Woodpecker Cider in while setting up the drums, and when questioned as to where I had got them from I said I’d bought them downstairs at the bar. “We don’t fucking sell Woodpecker” he replied, before instructing me to get rid. I never crossed Dave again. I didn’t dare!

Over the next few months we gigged quite a bit around Wakefield, and entered the Wakefield Battle of the Bands competition in May 1995. This was held at Unity Hall, and was the first time we played a gig with a proper stage, lights, a drum riser, and a room backstage! It was a good do. We didn’t win, some metal band with a proper poser guitarist who reminded me of Nuno Bettencourt from Extreme won.

As we later found out an NME interview with Gary from October 2009 that this was also Gary and Ryan’s first gig, or it was supposed to be! They were politely kicked out by a nice old fella in a jumper. They didn’t miss much.

This was also the last gig we played with Ellis on bass. It was a tough decision to sack him, but he wasn’t turning up to practice (girlfriend issues!) and wasn’t quite developing as a musician like the rest of us. That sounds harsh, we weren’t by any means aficionados, but it just seemed the right time for a change. It was down to me to break the news. I’ve no idea how that was decided but during a fag break in rehearsal I sat him down on my bed and told him he was out. He took it so well, which made it worse.

We had a big gig only a few weeks later at Clarence Park, playing on the back of an HGV trailer, so at short notice we recruited the aforementioned Neil Laird (Homegroan, Clown) to fill in. We already had a replacement in mind for Ellis, so shortly after that Daniel Jennings joined the band on bass.

By this time, we had a fairly decent set of songs, and in June we were asked to record a demo by Phil Greenwood – Guitarist in Homegroan. We’d gigged a lot with Homegroan over the past 6 months and got to know them pretty well. Phil was doing a music technology course in Huddersfield, and somehow managed to get us into the studios for free.

So on Tuesday 27th June 1995, we spent a day recording our 3 best songs – King Frank, ’95, and Don’t. It was a great day out. The weather was amazing and we pretty much nailed the 3 songs one after the other. Tim Bradley (Homegroan, Dugong, Protectors) was also there to help Phil out. We got the name of the demo that day too.

During breaks in the recording, we went to this tiny little shop across the road run by an old guy. He sold a small selection of sweets, papers, cigs, and also cups of tea and coffee. Phil had told us earlier in the day that if you ask for a coffee, the guy repeated “a coffee” in a really deep voice.  A coffee was duly ordered, and sure enough the guy replies “a coffee”. This proved to be so memorable that our demo ended up being called A Coffee.

We released the demo on cassette (CD’s weren’t an option for small bands at that point, and vinyl was too expensive and seemed outdated – how ironic!) at a special 1 year anniversary gig at the Red Shed on Saturday 4th November 1995. It was a great bill, with Cone (the band that evolved into Milloy) opening, then our regular gigging buddies Homegroan. We played our longest ever set, mainly due to a blown fuse and a broken guitar string! It was a great night, and I still sometimes put the old VHS recording of that gig on and have a good laugh.

The gigs continue and in April/May 1996 we went into the studio at the Thorne’s Park campus of Wakefield College (another freebie?) and started recording the next batch of songs we were playing – Peach Flannel, Popping Crease, and Pop Bastard. If I recall correctly, we got the drum and bass tracks down and some of the guitar, but that was about it. Where these recordings are now I don’t know, they sounded pretty good too, a really heavy sound.

The main reason for the slowdown in activity was my departure to university. We were a bright bunch, but for some reason I was the only member to make it straight to university from college. I can’t remember a last rehearsal, a last gig. I can’t remember us sitting down and talking about splitting up. It just seemed to happen.

On a positive note, my departure lead the way for the formation of Dugong. Jarv switched to bass, Scott to drums (replaced shortly after by Tim Bradley), Sam stuck to guitar, and they were joined by Matt Broadbent on vocals.

For me, that was the main reason I didn’t think Jarv and Sam would consider a reunion. For me Retarded Fish was the pinnacle of my time in bands. I’d dabbled here and there while at university in Middlesbrough, and again while living in Manchester but nothing ever got off the ground. It just didn’t feel right. Dugong had gone on to achieve great things releasing some amazing stuff on Bombed Out Records, touring in Germany etc. and were a big part of the next wave of Wakefield bands that also included Pylon and the Cribs.
Jarv then got involved with Nathaniel Green again on bass, and again gaining a solid following. Sam had moved to Leeds during the Dugong days, and has been involved with a number of bands since Dugong split.
Would they want to take a step backwards to Retarded Fish? Would Jarv sing? COULD Jarv sing?

A week had passed since my Twitter message from Jarv, and we were on our way to Leeds to see the Cribs play at the Metropolitan University. I’m ashamed to say this would be the first time seeing the Cribs live. I’d tried and had tickets a couple of times before but events conspired against me and I never made the shows so I was determined to enjoy this.

The gig was amazing, and afterwards I got talking to Mrs Jarman. It’s easy to see how these boys turned out so nice as she’s a lovely woman, and after being given her AAA pass I headed backstage to try to get a pass for Jarv too. I opened the door to the dressing room, and was slightly taken a back. Not due to the debauched behaviour of the band. No. Retarded Fish were blasting out from the bands MP3 player!
Ryan had tweeted earlier in the week that they were listening to Retarded Fish in the van, but this was a real shock, a pleasant shock. I got Jarv a pass and headed back to get him. It was great to have a few rum and cokes with the guys post gig and I couldn’t resist asking about the support offer. I wasn’t sure if Jarv was winding me up, so I asked Gary. Sure enough he confirmed it. If the night hadn’t been good enough already, well that was the cherry on the cake. I went to bed a happy chap.

The day after the gig, I met up with Sam and Jarv for our session in the Flanshaw rehearsal room. We were getting together under the moniker Badgekisser, something we dabbled with around 2000, originally with me on bass, Jarv on drums, and Sam on guitar. We played our only gig at Players, a mainly instrumental set and nothing to write home about.

We had a great time, coming out of the 3 hour rehearsal with 3 songs - moderately heavy, no lyrics. It did however give us an opportunity to have a chat about the offer from the Cribs though, and although I was eager Jarv wasn’t that keen, and I think Sam thought we were just taking the piss but he said he’d do it.
A few weeks passed and nothing more had been said, other than a bit of banter in the pub with Jarv and Greg. If I’m being honest, I was having doubts as to whether this was going to happen. It wasn’t that I didn’t believe that the Cribs boys wanted us to do it, just that it seemed to be something way above anything we’d done before, and a long long time after we’d split.

Then out of the blue on Saturday 17th March I had text off Ryan.

“Alright man, I know Gaz asked you if RF wanted to play at the Opera House with us on May 16th, was this something you wanted to/could do?”

I replied back straight away.

“Of course mate, I’d do it in a heartbeat! All the RF boys are up for it”

This wasn’t exactly true. As I said Greg was keen, Sam had agreed to do it, but Jarv was another story. I thought back to the original message on Twitter, how he’d asked for copies of recordings. That was surely an indication that he’d do it right?

Ryan replied: “Cool, will get back to you about it when it’s sorted”

This was great, proper confirmation that it was happening. I text Sam, but I still got the feeling he didn’t believe me!

I was meeting Jarv and Greg later that night at the Inns so I planned to sell it to Jarv then. I got there a bit early, and was chatting to Rob Dee about my text from Ryan when I got a text off Jarv saying he wasn’t well and was crying off, and just as I read it Greg arrived. I updated Greg with the news from Ryan straight away, he was pretty excited about it. I had someone to help me persuade Jarv.

Later that night Ross came into the Inns, we chatted for a bit, and again the gig came up.

“It’s definitely gonna happen” he said.

Right, this was getting serious now.

A few days later, I tweeted Jarv, Sam and Greg about getting together for a bit of a meeting, suggesting the Kings Arms at Heath. We could have some food, bring the wives, partners and kids and just have a bit of a laugh.

So the band meeting happened on Saturday 31st March at the Kings Arms at Heath. It was a nice informal gathering, with my wife and little boy, Greg and his partner and kids, Sam and Jarv (whose better halves were unable to make it) and we arranged 3 practice dates, and made sure we all had the full back-line gear needed for the night (earlier that week Ryan had text to let us know what equipment was needed). Having the wives/partners and kids there really made it sink in how long ago it was since we’d played together as Retarded Fish. We worked back from the 16th May, and organised 3 3-hour practices on Sunday evenings, the first being the 29th April.

Just before the band meeting Jack Daniels sponsorship was announced as part of the JD Roots gigs, and it was announced that the Black Belles were to be supporting all the bands involved. This was a bit of a shock, and at this point I again questioned if this was actually gonna happen. Greg also mentioned he’d thought the same as this band were the protégé of Jack White, over from the US. A big deal really.

Later that week, Ross messaged me on Facebook while he was in the US, and said there was another band on the bill but that we were still playing. He must be telepathic! It put my mind at rest, but another issue had crossed my mind.

On the 5th December 2009, the Cribs played at gig at the Doncaster Dome as part of a 5 date UK tour. A local gig in the festive period sounded like a great thing. The support bands on the tour were Sky Larkin and Los Campesinos! but at the Doncaster gig the Slits were announced as special guests. Sky Larkin and Los Campesinos! probably weren’t a surprise in terms of being support acts, but the Slits were old school punks, there with a personal invitation from the Cribs. I’m sure most of you will know what happened during their set. The fact it was near Christmas, and that most of the people involved were pissed up is no excuse, and the Slits were treated like shit by a section of the Cribs fans. The band nearly didn’t play that night as they were, and I quote "disgusted by the way that a certain minority treated The Slits during their set. The night was marred… by a handful of people throwing coins, beer and generally putting on a disgustingly chauvinistic display of small-mindedness".

The Cribs fans are known for being ultra loyal, which is great, but in my mind I was drawing parallels to the Slits and us. There as special guests personally invited by the band, both with a more punk sound. Even worse though is that the Slits were a professional band, with a real history. If they were treated so badly, how would the Cribs fans treat us? Would we be putting the Cribs in the same position, possibly having to call off their first home-town gig in 5 years?

I didn’t let on to the rest of the band. I didn’t let on to anyone, but this did trouble me for a while. The only thing that put my mind at ease was the reaction from friends old and new about us playing. Everyone seemed genuinely excited, and this triggered a good few weeks of nostalgia talk on Facebook and Twitter, with a Homegroan demo compilation CD doing the rounds and being particularly well received. I figured if enough of our friends were there we’d be fine.

So the first practice came around. Sunday 29th April. The week before we’d swapped recordings and videos of us playing back in the day, so we had something to revise from. Greg had written down what he thought were the correct notes, which weren’t far off. We detuned to accommodate Jarvs slightly lower voice (that’s what smoking a million fags does to you) and cracked on.

The practises progressed well, nervy at first, but gradually we started to get the old songs right. We also started having a really good time, combining practises with trips to the Inns.

A few weeks before I’d suggested putting a Homegroan cover into the set, which everyone seemed to be in to although we all had different ideas as to which song to do. During the first practice, Sam played the first few notes of Yes No Maybe So, and then the rest of us just joined in. Totally natural. We managed to get through most of the song on the first playing, and with that the decision was made.

Our final practice was the night before the gig, a late one. We got there for 9pm and kicked off, running through the set 3 times, then left. By the time I got home it was gone 12 and I was knackered. I headed straight to bed and had no trouble getting to sleep.

So it was the morning of the gig and I woke feeling good, excited rather than nervous. I’d kept my morning free and just chilled with my wife and little boy. We had some breakfast, had a walk into town and did some shopping, and after dropping the practice room keys back with Neil Laird, I packed my drums and the bass amp into my car…

...the conclusion of this story - the actual gig - will appear in Issue 3.2 of Rhubarb Bomb, available from August 2012. Retarded Fish will play a one off headlining show at The Hop on September 7th with That Fucking Tank, Protectors and Imp.

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