Spice

Spice was a 70s band although we were all remnants of the swinging sixties. 

Richard Cripps, a bass playing singer from Portsmouth and I had talked for a while about putting a band together to play our own material.  When Phil Jones, an old keyboard playing mate of Rich's who was also into writing arrived from Pompey, we decided that the time had come.  We met up one Sunday lunchtime at the Victoria in Hardman Street.  I think that Phil Chapman's band was playing.  In the audience was one of my old mates, Tom Travis, late of Tom and Smiley, another budding songwriter.  We all got together and ended up going back to Rich's place for a jam.  Spice was born.

The name didn't come easily.  It took a long time.  We decided that we wanted something that was funky yet had a touch of class.  I came up with 'Yehudi Diddley' but the others didn't go for it.  One day I shall have a band with that name or perhaps Muddy Mendelson ...  Anyway, the name 'Spice' was decided upon as being almost bland and meaningless, but not quite.

We started rehearsing in Richard's cellar and it sounded promising.  Tom and Rich sang well together, Richard played bass and Tom acoustic guitar and mouth harp. I played guitar and sang a bit and Phil played Vox Continental organ and Hohner piano and sang a bit more.  At that point we were drummerless (not a bad situation some might say) so we advertised in the Manchester Evening News and up popped Jerry Griffith.  Jerry came from Suffolk and didn't write songs.

Richard wrote some great stuff, often in partnership with his missus (coming from Portsmouth, he didn't speak very good English). 

Tom's neat pop songs could be summed up by one of the titles, 'Sing a Little Love Song'. 

Phil's songs were gloom laden, definitely songs for swinging suicidals.  I had just broken up for the umpteenth time with a long standing girl friend and was engaged in an occasionally passionate affair with an unattainable lady so my songs went from what bitches women are to how great it is to be in love.

The rehearsals could sometimes be a bit chaotic as rehearsals often are. 

First thing was that both Tom and Phil were keen home brewers and a competition developed as to who could brew the strongest beer.  Each week the home brew got stronger and one's concentration suffered in direct proportion.  The second thing was that Phil was always late for rehearsals.  This might have been more acceptable if he had to travel a long distance. 

In fact Phil was living with Richard and all that he had to do was come down the cellar steps.  It pee'd all three of us off, but none more than Tom.  Anyway, somehow we put a set together and off we went to our first gig.

That first gig was a private garden party at a house in Cheshire.  I think that Rich and I had played there the previous year with Rich's old band and the fools had booked us again.  Obviously they were music lovers or perhaps it was because we were cheap.  We must have played well because this drunken bum came up to us and said that we were great and that he had a recording studio and he'd like to record us and make us famous.  We humoured him as you do with amiable drunks and thought no more about it.  The next week, Rich had a phone call from this same guy, now sober, and he did have a recording studio.  His name was Roy Crewdson late of Freddie and the Dreamers.  Thus began our recording career.

Before we went into the studio for the first time, the situation between Phil and the rest of the band came to a head and he resigned in a fit of artistic temperament or perhaps it was the home brew. 

Whatever, we started to record our master work without him and over the next few months, we put down our songs, including Phil's.  Without Phil it involved some swopping of instruments and whilst Rich and I were quite happy playing bass or guitar, we sometimes found ourselves playing keyboard parts which we were not really equipped for. 

In fact at one point we were both sat at the same piano, one of us playing the left hand part, the other the right.  On a couple of tracks we had brass and I had to write parts for these and persuade some of my old mates to come and play them ( you know the routine – I can't promise any money but think of the experience. Over the years I've acquired shed loads of experience but very little money). 

These mercenaries were Bernie Brown, my partner in the Crooks Brown Band, the infamous Graham Attwood, Pete Lee and Vin Trulio, a miserable old s*d but a beautiful trumpet player and one of my oldest musical buddies.

At some point, Mike Timoney, the Cordovox player became involved.  The Cordovox is an instrument that looks like a piano accordion but sounds like a synth.  Don't ask me why, it just does.  I'm surprised that I've not come across Mike's name on the website so far.  He was very much involved in the music scene in the sixties.  I'd known him for a long time, our Mums lived on the same street in Gorton, but for those unacquainted, he was renowned for never having the price of a pint or a fag or a match to light it with.  He played on a couple of tracks and brought some guys in from the NDO (the BBC Northern Dance Orchestra which contained some top jazzers) to play on another.  He was and hopefully still is a top musician.

Recording at weekends and rehearsing during the week, it took us three or four months to put down seven tracks.  One Sunday, we persuaded Phil Jones to come and have a listen to what we'd done to his songs.  I can't honestly remember if he approved or disapproved, but knowing Phil, I'm sure that he made some suggestions as to how they might have been improved.  We then adjourned to the Jolly Carter across the road from the studio to engage in an in depth assessment of a lager that was newly arrived from the Antipodes.  When they finally threw us out, we reconvened in the studio.  Roy switched everything on and set up some mikes.  In one take, without any overdubs, we did  ''Theme From An Imaginary Western', a Jack Bruce song.   In spite of our alcohol intake and the lack of preparation or perhaps because of the lack of preparation, it was arguably the best thing that we ever did in the studio.

All the time that we'd been recording, Roy and his agent Jim, who was also one of his partners in the studio had been taking our recordings round the record companies.  At on point, BASF, the tape manufacturers who were setting up in the record business expressed serious interest, but it came to nothing. 

Finally, just a short time after we made that recording with Phil, the money ran out and a decision was made to close the studio. 

Jim offered to put us under contract to his agency but we decided against it.  We really just wanted to write and record songs not become a 'club act', besides which Rich, Tom and I had decent 'proper' jobs and Jerry had ambitions to drop out and lead 'the Good Life'.

I still have a rapidly deteriorating cassette of our efforts in the studio and open reel copies of a couple of the numbers.  The songs are good but the recordings suffer greatly from over production. It wasn't simply a matter of everything being on them except the kitchen sink; on one track we did actually use the kitchen sink.

In retrospect it seems to me that not having done many live gigs before going into the studio, we were lacking the cohesion and discipline that comes with doing your thing in front of a live audience.  The fact that the best song to come out of the experience,  Tom singing the Jack Bruce song, was the only thing that we ever recorded 'live' rather than by multi-tracking speaks volumes. 

We carried on doing gigs from time to time and eventually Bernie Brown joined the bad on tenor sax.  This came about because Bernie had the chance of a residency if he could put a band together and we were that band.  The gig was at the Osborne Club in Collyhurst, a converted cinema that catered for a predominantly Irish clientele.  We played from 10 until 12 and from 12 until 2pm, the stage was taken by Tom Coogan and the Clippers, a showband.  We had the best deal;  by the time that Tom and his crew went on, the pubs had emptied and the Osborne had filled.  There were always several fights on the dance floor and the occasional pint pot would be thrown at the band by  some discerning music critic.  By contrast, our early spot was comparatively peaceful, due mainly to the lack of drunken punters.  We soon found out that the best time to go to the loo was before we started playing; by 11.30 it was ankle deep.  We also found out that our most popular number was  an old fashioned rock and roll medley.  Tom Travis can do a fair Little Richard impersonation (I'll bet his Blue Grass fans don't know that).  Those kids wanted things that they knew and could dance to, not our precious original material.   

Before long, we became fed up of wet shoes and rock an roll so we gave up the gig and soon after, we gave up Spice.  Richard went off to Cuba, Jerry bought a cottage on top of a Welsh mountain, Tom and I carried on with our careers in advertising and Bernie probably became a pub landlord again.  Such is the way of bands.

By way of a postscript, a few years later five girls formed a group and, for reasons of hero worship and lust, called themselves 'The Spice Girls'.   Honest.

Pete Crooks
5/6/09

I have just heard Mike Timony's name mentioned on the wireless - Radio 4, the station what us cultured people listen to.  Apparently Mike made an album with Bill Tarmey (Corrie's Jack Duckworth) singing.  Mike's appeared with lots of big names over the years but I'll bet the Jack Duckworth association made his Mum the proudest.  

Pete Crooks
28/10/10

Hi, Mike Timoney was my uncle and unfortunately is no longer with us, he passed away in Spain, on the day of George Best's funeral, which was Dec 2005 I think

Nicola Miller
24/12/13







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