Bury it deep… Avalon at the Bay Hotel, Cullercoats, 1977

avalonSo the title refers to a conversation I had with Martin at the Joakim Milder concert at the Sage in 2014. I mentioned I had a recording of Paddy in 1977, playing with a local NE band, Avalon. “Bury it deep!” he said, shaking his head and furrowing his brow at his recollection of the band. “Bury it deep!”.

Some time before that I’d been in contact with Dave Brewis, about the same tape. He must have mentioned it to Paddy because a few weeks later I got an email from Dave saying Paddy had explained he’d only been in the band because they had a PA and to get some performing experience, he hadn’t added anything much musically. The overriding tone was worry and concern that some sort of misplaced significance would be placed on the tape, that in some way it would reflect badly.

So for a long time I’ve sat on the recording, not quite knowing whether or not to release it into the wild. Bits and pieces have dribbled out on this site, and in fact on a Soundcloud account – more on that later – without a lot of notice having been taken, and I’ve gradually come round to the view that there’s no particular harm in letting people make up their own minds. I’d be fairly sure that Martin and Paddy’s concern was that of the professionals they became, where this recording was of an entirely different era, far less polished and slick – to be fair Martin wasn’t involved anyway, but he’s always had his brother’s reputation in mind. I guess it’s maybe embarrassing to contemplate this sort of thing, in the way your first clumsy adolescent attempts at chatting someone up make you cringe when you look back on them. But still part of the progression. It’s called “juvenalia” in art circles. You don’t build your perception of the finished article from it, but it’s interesting.

Switching tack slightly, there’s a sort of standard narrative structure about bands. It’s in Spinal Tap, it’s in a Beach Boys film docudrama I once saw on MTV, and it’s in Tracey Thorn’s marvellous “Bedsit Disco Queen” for that matter.  A band is somehow formed. They start out not very good, struggling with their instruments and performances. They get a break out of the blue and achieve some sort of success. They have a glittering career, reach a zenith, then fade into a low period, before ultimately finding some sort of redemption, at which point Nigel Tufnell joins them on stage for the closing number and they find out they’re massive in Japan, or else an album is randomly leaked on SoundCloud and becomes highly acclaimed. Something of that sort.

This is one of the reasons I’ve never been keen on rock biographies, because it’s very difficult to get outside that particular set of clichés. You end up with a list of dates and facts with stories and anecdotes built on top of that structure, and filtered via the external public perception created by a PR machine in the good years. In my opinion you need something else beyond that to make the story interesting, some other angle, so that for example for Thorn it is her wonderfully lucid, self effacing writing and her ultimate insider status. The formula is familiar, but the execution is very special, and truthful.

But for me, the most interesting part of any musical story is to examine the echoes and traces a successful band leaves as it passes downstream, and building the story up from there. Its a bit like finding a stash of ghostly daguerreotypes hidden away in the cupboards of peoples’ memories, faded and unreliable, details obscure, but fascinating in the hints to the truth of what happened. Triangulation points to correct the authorised version.

Such stories relate to the people who didn’t go on the whole ride, but who supported or contributed in some way. And of course to the transition from being in a band the like of which many of us would have been in, playing in garages and the odd gig, to being successful and famous and with a record deal. The tiny Venn intersection between “us” and “them”.

Because of course most of us never made it far out of the garage. Prefab Sprout did, but there were baby steps, and this recording marks one of them. The “Hamburg Tapes” they certainly aren’t, but fascinating nonetheless.

I’m not going to go into too much depth here regarding the story of Avalon, but Sue Dyer’s extremely reliable memories are here, and elsewhere in the gigography there are the recollections of Roy McCalvey, the bassist and whose band Avalon was. Suffice to say that the band had formed between Roy and his friend Johnny D on drums, with Leo McCabe, a sweet sounding but slightly unreliable singer, not featured on the recording. At some point Tony Coyle had joined up as a singer, and he’d suggested his friend Paddy should be included as lead guitarist and harmonica player. Tony and Paddy were long standing friends from their school days, and indeed remain so, with Tony being credited on “Crimson/Red” in the list of band members from the past. Paddy brought with him some of his songs, and stayed for a few months, getting some experience before eventually leaving to launch Prefab Sprout and ultimately being replaced by future Lindisfarne member, Steve Daggett.

In fact Steve was the conduit for the contacts I was able to make, as he mentions Avalon on his website which I duly found, and he put me in touch with Roy, a lovely man, musician, retired teacher, sometime filmmaker, enthusiastic youtuber, and Newcastle United fan (we all have our cross to bear). You can find his Myspace here, and his Youtube here, which includes a song and video about the Avalon days. There is also a Soundcloud page, which, deliciously, has been harbouring an unreleased Paddy McAloon song for a couple of years without anyone noticing at all. Not even ExitSomeone.

And it’s not bad at all, whatever Martin thinks. Avalon were a local pub band with a repertoire of some original material and a fair sprinkling of covers. It wouldn’t be reasonable to expect Led Zeppelin. But even so, as Sue described, they were a good, enjoyable, night out. At the point this recording was made – Summer 1977 in the now demolished Bay Hotel in Cullercoats – they had played a lot of gigs and were a tight unit.

A few notes on the recording. It was on a cheap old C120, and at the wrong speed with a lot of variability. I divided it into sections and used the 50Hz mains hum as a reference for resampling, then notched that out and equalised with a bit of compression. It’s not great, but it’s as good as you’re going to get given the source material.

The picture above lists the repertoire the band had. You’ll see a few Paddy songs, Marble Hall is one – this is a bizarre and to be perfectly honest not wonderful song, I think possibly with a Genesis/Gabriel influence, the imagery is very “Lamb Lies Down on Broadway”, but with some of the febrile and frantic tone of “Cherry Tree”.  “Strange Silhouettes” – the highlight of this tape – was a staple of the early Prefab Sprout, “Walk On” is well known, and is here represented by a supremely dodgy version… “Screaming” had been worked on a little by Paddy musically, but was Johnny D’s song; “Coming Home” started with a Paddy riff and had been worked up as a finished song by Roy – it later was worked up even further for the “Sproutless” project. In the list (but not on the tape) is also “Tiffany’s”, and then there is “Marsden Rock”, sadly not known as a recording anywhere, but one of Sue Dyer’s favourites. “Just a Kid” by Hall and Oates was Paddy and Tony’s party piece. It had got them in the band in the first place. I have a feeling “Madonna and Child” was a Paddy song mentioned in the Arnie interview, and no doubt there are others.

Anyway sit back, make yourself comfortable, and enjoy an evening in the company of Avalon, the pre-pre-fab Four. I have to say there is something about listening to Paddy cranking out “Brown Sugar” or “Wishing Well” that really does raise a smile.

As a neat postscript, Sue Dyer, who had discovered Paddy’s music earlier than almost anyone, bumped into him last year in a Newcastle Cafe where he was having a cup of tea with a friend, and they shared a few memories of her days as one of the “Whitley Bay Girlies”. And the friend having tea with Paddy? Tony Coyle.

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