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 room 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 Advertisinghad 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 brought 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 ... Simon’s Cheyne Walk apartment was as luxurious as any on that well known Chelsea street. Its windows looked directly over the river and we were impressed. We filed into the lounge with its expensive furniture and Simon got straight to the point. He loved our name, thought we had talent and wanted to manage us. He said that he hadn't seen a band like us since he had once checked out the early Rolling Stones at the Station Hotel in Richmond. The hairs had stood up on his neck that night and he said he felt the same thing watching us at the Roxy. We couldn't believe it.
He'd even had contracts drawn up for us. One for management and one for song publishing. He explained that he wouldn't do one without the other. We all sat there on his leather sofa staring at these eight badly Xeroxed contracts that he laid out across his glass coffee table. They didn't mean a thing to be honest. Simon said that in each contract there was a clause that stated that if he hadn't got us a recording contract with a major label within three months, we would all part company no hard feelings. This seemed pretty good to us. It either meant that we would have a record out within three months or so or we could just walk away and try our luck with someone else. As far as we could make out it was a win-win situation.
We were all keen to sign but as Simon unscrewed the cap from his Parker pen, Jon said he wouldn't sign. He was more cautious. He came from a business family and wanted to talk things over with his father Lionel. Jon knew that there was money to be made in the music business and didn't want to be ripped off by the first person who wanted to sign him. He told Simon that we would need to have the contracts looked at by a solicitor. Simon seemed OK with that and we left the flat.
Things were now getting pretty exciting. This guy Napier-Bell wanted to manage us and was even promising a recording contract within three months. We didn't know much about him to be honest. This was before the days of Internet when you could have Googled his name and seen all his achievements in a nanosecond. All we knew really was what we had learned from his trusty assistant Danny. That he had once managed The Yardbirds and Marc Bolan and had also co-written the song You Don't Have To Say You Love Me for Dusty Springfield.
The next day Jon and I went to see some big shot showbiz lawyer in Covent Garden who charged some extravagant amount for the ten minutes that we sat in front of his desk whilst he checked out our contracts. He speed read through them and then declared that there was nothing dodgy about them. He even said that the percentages in the publishing contract were well above the norm (in our favour) and he didn't see anything scurrilous anywhere. He wished us luck and we walked out into Southampton Street feeling confident.
By two o'clock that afternoon we were back in Simon's plush apartment signing away like nobody's business. The job done and the ink drying, we all expected Simon to break out some Champagne and toast the deal. He didn't. In fact he said he had someone to meet in Mayfair and would we mind leaving? That was him all over. Always on the move. Always off to meet someone somewhere else. Always making deals.
Once he had us signed, Simon was quick to act. He thought it was time that we made a record in an attempt to interest a major record label. He told us that we would be recording at IBC studios in Portland Place a few minutes walk from Oxford Circus. Again we were impressed. I told the others that this was an important studio. I had often been in there during my RSO days either delivering or collecting acetates or master tapes for Robert Stigwood's main acts the Bee Gees and Eric Clapton. I filled in the others on who else had recorded there. The Stones, The Beatles, The Kinks, The Small Faces and The Who. At that time we used to do a cover of The Who's Pictures of Lily so I knew that Steve would be impressed.
We were a bit surprised to discover that Simon wanted us in the studio at midnight but learnt that he was getting the place cheap during what is known in the music business as 'dead time'. He had a good engineer called Hugh Jones who later went on to produce top acts like Echo and the Bunnymen and Simple Minds. There was also an assistant engineer called Andy Miller who I had a long association with after London split up; he produced some of my solo records. This was the team that would produce all the London records for the next nine months.
We settled in and ran through two numbers – Everyone's a Winner which Simon was convinced would be a hit single and Handcuffed. Simon produced and got us a meaty, aggressive but clear sound and upstairs in the control room it sounded more than good to our inexperienced ears. Danny Morgan even helped sing along with the chorus to 'Winner'. Simon quickly mixed the songs down and then had about fifteen cassette copies run off. His next action however was bordering on arrogance.
He phoned a motorcycle messenger service and had the cassettes now in Jiffy bags picked up. There was one for each of the major record labels of the day. The bags went off to A&R men at EMI, CBS, Island, Virgin, MCA, etc. Each one had a note attached that Simon had personally written. It said "This tape is by the band London. If you want to sign us ring this number by midday today." Simon's Chelsea home number was written out. We were not impressed. All of us thought he had gone too far. Surely it was not that easy to get a recording contract. Simon agreed that it was probably a hopeless task but nevertheless it was better than doing nothing. At that time all the record companies were being inundated with demo tapes from aspiring bands, it was vital to do something to make us stand out a little. He said he'd call us if there was any news. Dawn was now breaking and we were tired so we all went off to our respective homes.
I was crashed out in my West Hampstead flat when just after twelve noon, the phone rang and woke me up. It was Danny Morgan and his message was short.
"Simon's had two offers. One from Virgin and one from MCA. We'll get back to you with more details as and when."
I just couldn't believe the speed this was all happening. I quickly rang Jon who was as usual cautious. "Let's see what they're offering first, Riff."
As the next few days went by we carried on with gigs that our agent Paul King had promptly arranged. We played the Roxy again although even by this time the club had had its heyday. The crowd who came to see us were brand new second generation punks. Nothing wrong with that but it was a different atmosphere than when I had seen Billy Idol and Generation X play there a few months before.
We also played Dingwalls supporting the outrageous Wayne County and the Electric Chairs. That gig was notable because halfway through our set I looked out and saw Debbie Harry and the whole of Blondie troop in. They had obviously come to support fellow New Yorker Wayne County but we met them in the bar afterwards and Debbie and Chris Stein said how much they had enjoyed our set.
We eventually signed with Roy Featherstone at MCA Records and then Simon called one day and told us that he had fixed up a nationwide tour supporting The Stranglers. All had been agreed between The Stranglers' managers Ian Grant, Dai Davies and Derek Savage except for one thing; The Stranglers would not accept a band supporting them that they hadn't personally approved. As we had only played a handful of gigs and there had definitely been no Stranglers present in the audience (when you play to a room of three you tend to notice famous faces) it was suggested to Hugh Cornwell and Jean Jacques Burnel that they might like to come and hear us knock out our set in our rehearsal room.
There was nothing else to do. We were going to have to audition for the Stranglers... To prepare for the audition, Jon, Steve, Dave and I turned up at our tiny Kilburn room and ran through the set again and again before the allocated time. Then right on cue, there was a knock at the door and in walked Hugh Cornwell and Jean Jacques Burnel.
We introduced ourselves and the two Stranglers sat cross-legged on the floor. We went into our set and the two of them sat there stony faced. In those days we used to do a piss-take cover of a David Soul number Don't Give Up on Us. We used to start it real slow just like the record and then after a verse slam into a 1000 miles an hour version. Before Hugh and Jean had arrived, there had been much debate about whether we should do it for them. I was against it and so was Steve but Dave and Jon wanted to do it so we did it. It was the last number of our eight song set. We finished and stopped playing. Hugh and Jean had a brief conversation and then got up off the floor. Jean spoke first. He was direct and down to earth.
"Yeah, tight playing. I liked it. Drop that awful David Soul song though." He started to leave.
Hugh Cornwell was more friendly. "Good stuff guys. You're on the tour. We'll see you tomorrow night at Uxbridge University. You're on at eight. By the way, I quite liked the David Soul song."
Which was typical of their relationship. Hugh was always slightly more poppy to Jean's hardcore approach. I guess that's why they were so good together. The usual rock chemistry.
But we never played the David Soul song again.
The next night we turned up at Uxbridge University and went on as their support act. Talk about a baptism of fire. The Stranglers were by now getting pretty big. Their debut album Rattus Norvegicus was racing up the charts and their single Peaches was getting huge airplay. They were attracting good crowds and usually good receptions. I say usually because as we went up and down the country sometimes The Stranglers would stop playing if the slightest thing upset them. A bit of gobbing was usually the signal for a united walk off but sometimes Hugh or JJ would stop the show if they saw someone getting beaten up in the audience or there was too much of a crush down the front. At Glasgow and Grimsby, members of the audience would get up on the stage and fights would break out between the band and punters. The Stranglers had a loyal following of fans called ‘The Finchley Boys’. They were like a personal bodyguard so the band always came off best. It wasn't an easy tour but it was exciting. Every night we would go on and for many people in the country we were the very first new wave band they'd ever seen.
Up and down the UK we opened for The Stranglers. I remember being amazed that although their single Peaches was high in the charts, they rarely played it. I don't know whether that was a reaction to "selling out" or what but it seemed odd as most people buying tickets for the gig were there because they had heard that song on the radio. Instead the band used to play Dead Ringer, which started with almost exactly the same riff. The crowd would think it was Peaches and go crazy. A great big roar would go up only to be followed by puzzled expressions as the band launched into another song altogether. I remember thinking I hope we don't do that if we ever have a hit single.
Well I needn't have worried. London and hit singles were never going to be a viable combination. Our first single Everyone's a Winner came out halfway through the tour. We were in Newcastle upon Tyne and had gone to a music store to buy some guitar strings. I had stayed in the car parked outside the shop and the other three had gone in. Suddenly Dave came running out.
"Riff, get in here quick. They're playing our record on Radio One."
I ran in and sure enough Everyone's a Winner was blasting out over the shop's speaker system. It was the afternoon Dave Lee Travis show. We all looked at each other in excitement. Our record actually being played on Radio One. It was one of those moments and DLT even made a decent comment about it afterwards.
The tour finally ended with two shows at the Roundhouse in London and we then went back into the recording studio. Simon wanted us to lay down every track we knew for an album. With his experience of bands he cleverly waited until we had finished the tour before recording the bulk of our songs. This way our playing and singing would be really tight from months of performing it on the road. He was right, we went into IBC studios and quickly recorded track after track.
There was much debate as to what the next single would be. Our version of the Easybeats' Friday on my Mind was a strong contender but there were others that had gone down well on the tour; Summer of Love, No Time and Siouxsie Sue. In the end MCA put all four of them out on a 12 inch and 7 inch EP.
Although today I meet so many people who claim to have bought it, the record only reached 52 in the charts. It was a big disappointment to us.
Even with the best record promoter on our side - Steve Jenkins - we just couldn’t chart higher. I remember him taking Jon and me aside at Torquay’s 400 Club and saying “I can’t understand it. You have this amazing live act that goes down well everywhere and your records are great but we just can’t get you lift-off.”
We started gigging a lot in London during that summer of 1977. We teamed up with 999 and played regular dates at the Nashville in Kensington and the Hope 'n' Anchor in Islington. In some respects the two bands were quite similar. We both had visually exciting stage acts and fiercely loyal followings.
By this time our press was being handled by the top rock PR man in the country, Keith Altham. He would enthral us with tales of some of his other clients like The Who, The Beach Boys and The Stones. With Alan Edwards, they made sure we regularly appeared in music papers like the NME, Melody Maker and Sounds as well as a whole string of teen magazines.
Then in September we went out on a national tour supported by The Swords and The Victims. We had a laugh and some of the venues welcomed us back from The Stranglers' tour days. It was great to play to some of those friendly crowds again.
By the end of the tour and with the release of a new single, Animal Games, Jon suddenly announced from his hospital bed (he had been in a bad car crash with the punk comedian Jonny Rubbish) that he was going to leave us and drum in The Damned. Their regular stickman Rat Scabies had deserted them and before I knew what was happening the music papers were full of photos of Jon with The Damned.
London was over. We had been going less than a year.
Jon did agree to honour any outstanding gigs though. We played our final gig on December 8th at the Marquee in Wardour Street. It was a good night. All our loyal followers came along and the show was even filmed by an Italian film company. I came on stage in a bright red Father Christmas outfit carrying a huge sack stuffed with London goodies which I then threw out to the audience.
Dave, Steve and I stumbled on for a few more weeks auditioning new drummers and then decided to call it a day. By the time MCA released our album Animal Games in February 1978, the band was no more. Dave went on to play with Metro and then had a stint with Holly and the Italians before reverting to his real name of Colin and becoming an academic. Today he is Professor of International Relations at Sydney University. Steve formed his own band The Original Vampires and Simon Napier-Bell went on to manage George Michael and Wham! whilst becoming a best-selling author of four acclaimed rock 'n' roll books.
Jon, of course, went on to form Culture Club with Boy George.
Years later, at his house in Hampstead, Jon played me a white acetate copy of Do You Really Want to Hurt Me? that he had just recorded with Culture Club. Halfway through I leant over and took the needle off the disc. "That's crap!" I said. "It'll never make it." Jon strongly disagreed and, of course, he was right. Six weeks later, it was number one in over eighteen countries. I never could detect a hit.
Well that’s the band story so far but the adventures continue. In 2008, Steve and I got back in touch and decided to go back on the road. Jon was too busy playing in his various bands and Dave lived too far away to make it practical. With Colin Watterston on drums and Hugh O'Donnell on guitar we released a new album Reboot in 2012. In 2015/6 Rick De’Ath played bass in the band and Steve took over guitar duties. The current line-up is Steve Voice (bass/guitar/vocals), Hugh O’Donnell (guitar) and me on lead vocals. Our new album The Hell for Leather Mob was released in July 2020. Hope to see you at one of the gigs. Riff Regan, London.