Flip City - The True Story

Skaithe House
The True Story
Skaithe House

The raison d'etre of this page is to give a true account of the history of a band called Flip City, who played some gigs around 1974/75 on the London 'pub-rock' circuit of those days.

In more recent times, in yet another book about the career of Elvis Costello, who, as Declan MacManus, was one of the members of the band, the author has seen fit to describe Flip City as a 'bluegrass/folk' outfit, thus following in the tradition of others who have found it easier to copy what they may have read in earlier poorly-researched volumes on the same subject, than to find out what the band were really about.

So, for the literally dozens of people who may be interested, we are pleased to present the full story.

 

The Band Members:

The original line-up:

Declan P. MacManus.     Guitar and lead vocals.

Michael J. (Mich) Kent.     Bass guitar and vocals.

Malcolm Dennis.     Drums.(left early '75)

 

Joined later by:

Richard (Dickie) Faulkner.     Congas and vocals.

John (surname forgotten).    Lead guitar for a couple of gigs in the early days, replaced by...

Steve Hazlehurst.    Guitar, vocals and occasional keyboards, tenor sax and drums

 

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Ian Powling (early '75 onwards). Drums, and occasional guitar like this (MP3)

Nick ..... (surname forgotten). One or two gigs on keyboards sometime in '75.

 

Also regarded as part of the band's set-up were:

 

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Mike Whelan.  Old school chum of Mich's, became sound-mixer on gigs,
and all-round moral support.

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Ken Smith.  Another good friend of the boys, via the Brinsley connection (see below), who became gig-getter / manager /more moral support. Now runs
new independent record label El Substa.

 


 

 

The Early Days.

The three founder members were thrown together by a mutual liking for Brinsley Schwarz, who, after being the subjects of one of the most ridiculous attempts at band-hyping in the history of the music biz, had gone on to become well-respected as leading lights of the so-called 'Pub-rock' scene of the early seventies. Old school-chums Mich and Malcolm got to know Declan at Brinsley gigs, found out that he was a guitarist and songwriter, and the idea of the threesome forming a band soon formed in their minds.

Having found enough musical common ground, and having the aim of doing some of Declan's songs as well as a repertoire of the type of mixture of RnB, Country etc. that the other Pub-rock bands were doing, they were ready to try out a gig or two. Having started with the name 'The Mothertruckers' they did their first gig at a college in the Wimbledon area, under the name 'The Bizzario Brothers' (yes, really!!). The decision was then made to augment the sound with another guitarist, and an advert was placed in 'Melody Maker'. This led to a series of auditions, held in the semi-detached house which the boys had since moved into at No.3, Stag Lane, SW15, (since bulldozed, along with the old KLG spark-plug factory, to make way for the development of the Asda superstore on the A3 at Roehampton Vale.) The choice fell on John, but after rehearsing for a few weeks with the boys, he decided not to continue, and left. One of the other guitarists at that first audition, Steve Hazlehurst, a Cumbrian lad living in Crouch End, had around this time placed an ad. in 'Melody Maker' offering his services as guitarist, and the boys saw his ad. and, regretting the sheer folly of not having chosen him in the first place, called him to see whether he would still be interested. He was, and so he became the new guitarist in the band in the Spring of 1974. At more or less the same time Dickie Faulkner, a workmate of Mich's, joined the band on percussion and harmony vocals.

 

Why Flip City??

It was decided that the name 'Bizzario Brothers' was unsuitable (can't think why??), and the name 'Flip City' was chosen by Mary Burgoyne (then girlfriend of Declan, later to become his first wife.) She had heard the expression in background vocals by Cheech and Chong on a track called 'Twisted' from the album 'Court and Spark' by Joni Mitchell (one of Declan's greatest influences), suggested it for the band's name, and it was accepted.

 

The Gigs

The first gig with the settled 5-piece line-up played its first gig at the North Pole, (not the geographical region, but a pub in North Pole Road, W.10.) This was followed by a gig at Southlands College in Wimbledon, and an appearance at the Fitzrovia Festival, a street-party held in the Fitzroy Sq./Charlotte St. area of the West End (click for pic). Not too long after that, Ken managed to get them a short-term residency at 'The Kensington Tavern' in Russell Gardens, W14., which at that time was regarded as one of the top gigs on the circuit. The crowd response was less than overwhelming, but at least it gave the boys a chance to play together regularly and forge some sort of style.

No exact list is available for the gigs which followed, but most of the top pub gigs were played at least once over the next 18 months or so, including the 'Hope and Anchor' (click for pic) in Islington a couple of times, the 'Nashville' in North End Road, West Ken., the 'Greyhound' in the Fulham Palace Road, the 'Brecknock' on Camden Rd./Brecknock Rd. (now the 'Pickled Newt' ), the 'Lord Nelson' in the Holloway Rd., and ONE gig at the 'Newlands Tavern' in Peckham Rye (this one on a Sunday night after a hectic rush straight from an open-air gig at a festival somewhere in the East End (click for pic). The Newlands was not - contrary to some reports - 'a fairly regular gig'!) ; ending with an 8-gig run  at the 'Red Cow' (now re-built as 'Latymers') on the Hammersmith Road.
Apart from these, the band played TWO gigs at the Marquee club in Wardour Street (click for pic), once supporting an early version of Dr. Feelgood, and the other time supporting Kingston rockers 'National Flag' (not an ideal match, but the Flag's guitarist Danny Edwardson was a workmate of Mich's, which is how the gig came about. Flip City were never the 'house backing band' as some writers would have us believe.) Other various gigs included a one-off at some pub in Stratfield Turgis, Hampshire; a club in Dudley, Warks; and a gig at some sort of college near Windsor, got for them by short-lived band member Nick, who had joined following the band's attempts to recruit a keyboard player via 'Melody Maker', but who never really fitted into the scheme of things, and possibly joined merely in order to have a band to play with at the aforementioned gig. A sort of late-night residency at the 'Howff' in Primrose Hill , a place intended by its owner as a sort of multi-faceted arts venue, gave the lads a further chance to experiment a little in front of less-than-capacity audiences (including, one night, a version of 'After Midnight' with Steve's ol' mate Phil Tyson from up North on drums, Ian Powling on guitar, and Steve on the house piano.) And to round off the gig-list was a brace of appearances before the inmates of Wandsworth Prison as part of their Sunday afternoon entertainment schedule -- probably some of the heartiest applause the band ever experienced, even if it was ordered by the management, on pain of a couple of days' solitary for anyone not joining in. The final gig was at the Ewell Tech., (now the North-East Surrey College of Technology) supporting Climax Chicago, or the Climax Blues Band, or whichever combination of those names they were using at that time.

 

A Change of Line-up

Somewhere along the way, original drummer Malcolm Dennis decided to call it a day to devote more time to his career as musical instrument salesman with the Dallas-Arbiter group. Musical differences and clashes of personality (i.e. a punch-up with Declan following one of the Hope and Anchor gigs) had made his going a possibility for some time, and there was nothing to do but advertise in good ol' 'Melody Maker' for a replacement. The ensuing auditions were held over a couple of days, and on one of those days, coming at the end of a series of less-than-inspiring dead-beats, Ian Powling's dynamic rendering of the opening bars of 'Pontiac Blues' had Declan, quite literally, on the floor in an attack of hysterical laughter. A bemused Powling had to be reassured that this was due to his being so much better than what had gone before, and, after composing himself enough to complete the audition, he became provisional No.1 choice. His only rival after everyone had been seen, in fact, was one Mike Gaffey, a young lad of about 18 with great enthusiasm as well as technical ability. It was decided to have a 'play-off' between these two, and, after much debate, and probably because of his sheer dynamism as well as his greater experience, Ian Powling was offered the gig, and took it. Mike went on to bigger and better things, eventually playing regularly for Bonnie Tyler on her live gigs, and later on (still, perhaps ?), the great Rolf Harris.

Things went on pretty much as they had before. Ian's style perhaps changed the overall sound to some extent, and also gave opportunities for Steve to sit in on drums occasionally (usually Sam Cooke's 'Bring it on Home to Me' ), allowing Ian the chance to show he was probably a better guitarist than either Steve or Declan!! But musical virtuosity, or lack of it, was not the great point behind this band. It had become clear that Declan regarded it as a vehicle for laying the foundations for his own future style, and his oft-made declarations of intent about making lots of money, 'scaring' his audiences out of their apathy (Oh, yes) and .....er, making lots of money, were beginning to get a tad tedious to the rest of the boys. Mich had got a driving job to keep him going while the band progressed, but had thereby become drawn into the world of Audio-Visual Conference Presentation which he really enjoyed, and which was to become his career; Steve had contributed one song to the set, but, probably seeing himself as no match for Declan in the song-writing stakes, never really threw himself fully into his part; Ian, though fitting in quite well , had his own agenda, and Dickie seemed quite happy just going along with it all as long as it lasted.

Around the time of the residency at the 'Red Cow' in Hammersmith Road, when Declan had got married to Mary and moved to Twickenham with her and the baby, and the rest of the boys had moved into a house in East Molesey, having been evicted from Stag Lane, Ken announced one afternoon that he was coming round to said house with Declan, as the latter had an important announcement to make. The announcement was what had been expected, and was met with a stunned indifference from the rest of the boys. Declan may have been expecting a general wailing and gnashing of teeth, but this was not forthcoming, and it has been suggested that this is the reason why the great man has had a tendency towards a Reagan-esque Selective Amnesia when asked in his later career about his 'pre-professional' (chuckle, chuckle) days. Anyway, that was that, and it was only left to play out the last few gigs at the Red Cow (Malcy turned up at the last one on 30.11.75, to play drums on 'Gone Dead Train'), plus the last gig of all, the above-mentioned support of Climax Chicago at Ewell Tech. in December.

 

The Last Gig.

The stage was set for the final farewell, a set list drawn up, and the boys, despite a lack of enthusiasm in some quarters, prepared to say good-bye to their public. Steve had recently acquired a Lawrence Audio Piano, in an attempt to, at least partly, fill the desire for a keyboard player in the band, and he was to use it on two numbers: - 'It Takes a Lot to Laugh, it Takes a Train to Cry', the Dylan song, which he was to sing; and the very last number: - 'Third Rate Romance'. However, just before he could take his seat for this last song, Declan stepped up to the mike and launched into 'Money (That's what I want!)' --- a song the boys had played a couple of times before, but which they had had no intention of doing this particular evening --- thus re-stating in the plainest terms what was uppermost in his mind. The band had to play along, of course, to avoid finishing the set in a shambles, but it was a sad way for the adventure to end.

The rest is history, as they say. It is by no means clear whether Declan has ever managed to 'scare' anyone out of their apathy, but he seems to have done OK on the whole!

 

Recordings.

Flip City ventured into the recording studio on a few occasions, but none of the results ever made it onto vinyl. The first session was at the BBC's studio in Maida Vale, where someone for whom the band had done a private gig managed to get them a couple of hours down-time with a very enthusiastic BBC-type producer/engineer, who was very helpful, if not quite in tune with what the band was about. Three of Declan's early efforts were put on tape, a couple being prototypes of songs that appeared on his albums later on.

Songs recorded: (all MacManus)

1. 'Exile's Road'

2. 'Baseball Heroes' (later became, via about three re-writes, 'Miracle Man')

3. 'Radio Soul' (later became 'Radio Radio' and a big hit)

 

The rest were all done at the 'Hope and Anchor' pub in Islington, one of the main venues on the pub-rock circuit, and where Dave Robinson, ex-manager of Brinsley Schwarz, and future co-founder, (with Andrew 'Jake Riviera' Jakeman ), of Stiff Records, had put together a studio in the attic. Partly through Ken's powers of persuasion, and partly by helping to carry an upright piano up about six flights of stairs to the studio, (and also possibly by waving a £20 note in front of Robinson) the boys had three more cracks at getting their immortal sound down on tape. The first effort came after Malcolm had left, but before a replacement had been found, and so a session drummer was used, and excellent he was. Three more of Declan's songs were recorded on that session:

1. 'Radio Soul'

2. 'Imagination (is a powerful deceiver)'

3. 'Pay it Back'

 

The next time it was decided to do a mixture of songs from the set -- covers as well as some of Declan's -- recorded with the minimum of re-takes etc., the idea being to get as much down in the time allowed, to be used for gig-getting etc. The covers included a version of 'Knockin' on Heaven's Door' with great harmony vocals, as well as a number entitled 'Third Rate Romance', a song the boys had been doing in their set, having taken it from the Jesse Winchester album 'Learn to Love It'.

Complete listing:

1. 'Third Rate Romance' (Russell Smith)

2. 'Knockin' on Heaven's' Door (Bob Dylan)

3. 'Packin' Up' (Chris Kenner)

4. 'Please Mister, don't Stop the Band' (MacManus)

5. 'Exile's Road' (MacManus)

6. 'Wreck on the Slide' (MacManus)

7. 'On the Road' (Hazlehurst)

8. 'You Win Again' (Hank Williams)

9. 'Sweet Revival' (MacManus)

 

The aforementioned 'Third Rate Romance' had more recently turned up as hit single in the States by The Amazing Rhythm Aces, and Dave Robinson, knowing that it was part of Flip City's set, asked them in to do a new version of it, intending to put it out as a single on an as-yet-unfounded label. This was then the reason for the last sojourn into the Hope and Anchor studios. The song was re-done, but the dreams of glory faded with the failure of Robinson to get any sort of release organised for it, having, as he had, other fish to fry, in the shape of Graham Parker and the Rumour, who had been doing some demos in the studio, and who were due for great things.

So that was that, as far as the recorded music of Flip City goes. The tapes are all still around, but nothing ever made it into the shops. These and a few live recordings on dodgy cassettes are all there is to remind us.....

except....

The Flip City Bootleg

There appears to be a bootleg out there, which appeared sometime during E.C.'s early career, and which seems to be made up from various takes and out-takes from the tracks from the first of the two Hope and Anchor sessions mentioned above. The band were given 2-track masters containing one mix only of each song, so the source of the bootleg must have been someone who had access to all the studio tapes....?? We will never know.

 

Click here for The Repertoire (and hear a couple of sound files!)

 

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