Frestonia, Fiction and Friction
The band had its origins in Latimer Road, a squatted street in London W10, in the winter of 1977/78. The original idea for the band came from Claire Bidwell (bass), who swiftly recruited Mitch Barker (vocals), Dack Dyde (guitar) and then Barbara Gogan (guitar) and Richard Williams (drums) who were living next door. Both Barbara and Richard, together with Sue Gogan and John Studholme of prag VEC, had previously been in The Derelicts, a “Trotksyist R&B band”, well known on the London pub rock/squat rock circuit.
After just a week’s rehearsal, the band, originally called the (tongue in cheek) Youngsters, played its first gig at the People’s Hall in Freston Road W10, known at the time as Frestonia, which left both the band and the audience stunned and amazed. The band decided to pursue a determinedly commercial course as opposed to the more politically inclined Derelicts, and immediately set about intensive rehearsing and gigging. An early appearance at the Nashville Rooms was followed swiftly by a name change to the Rivers of Passion, shortened soon after to the Passions. Dack was sacked while he was on holiday (anyone remember why?) and replaced by ex 101’er Clive Timperley who happened to be living upstairs from the rehearsal space in Claire’s living room and decided he might as well join rather than be kept awake by them. Although Clive recalls that the band needed his tape recorder and so asked him to join so they could get their hands on it.
In the spring of 1979 the band released a single on the small independent Soho label, the double A side ‘Needles and Pills’ and ‘Body and Soul’. This was well received in the music press but sales were miniscule. It has been said that ‘Needles and Pills’ has one of the most memorable chorus lyrics in the history of recorded music. Indeed all of Dack’s lyrics on that song are unusual to say the least.
The band continued gigging locally at the Acklam Hall (later the Subterrania and now Neighbourhood), the Cryptic Club, the Moonlight Club (where they contributed to the ‘Moonlight Tapes’ album), the Notting Hill Carnival, and gigs further afield that came in through various and devious means. Barbara was working at the time for Rough Trade who had no interest whatsoever in the band and so some of the gig requests that came in for Rough Trade bands were ‘diverted’ to the Passions despite Barbara being told in no uncertain terms that ‘she should not make use of any contacts gained there for the Passions and that she should give up playing in that useless band’!
Richard remembers the Astrid Proll benefit at the Acklam Hall on the 14 November 1979:
‘We actually helped to organise the Astrid Proll thing because she was a friend, we knew her as Anna and she worked as a mechanic teaching young people at a youth project in North London. I remember her being very interested in my old Vauxhall and then later reading about her Baader Meinhof exploits, it seems she was their getaway driver! I also remember Crass phoning up and desperately wanting to play at the gig (being anarchists I suppose they would), but there wasn't space on the bill for them. They were very disappointed. It was a good gig, well attended if I remember correctly’.
It was during this period of that the band encountered Gary at a North london Poly gig. Gary was to become the Passions’ long suffering road manager and was famous for being able to fix all technical problems merely by shining his torch at the offending bit of kit (‘the healing beam’).
Mitch broke his leg badly in the Portobello Road and left the band around this time, Barbara taking over lead vocals.
At this point the band sent a demo tape to John Peel which was returned with this note:
Shortly after, in November 1979, the band went into the BBC’s Maida Vale studio and recorded the first of three John Peel sessions to be followed in May 1980 by the second. It was during this second recording that the band retired to the gents toilet for a photo session with Mike Laye and were discovered by the BBC security manager. His report was recorded and later included by Ken Garner in his book ‘In Session Tonight’ (BBC Books, 1993):
‘On my walk round the building at 20.30 last night, I heard female voices coming from the Gents toilet. I went to investigate and found two young ladies by the Gents’ stand-up having their photographs taken in a most unfemale fashion. I told them to leave immediately. Outside the toilet, I told them in no uncertain manner that they were behaving in a most disgusting manner. I told the photographer what trouble he could be in for taking these pictures without permission on BBC premises, and also the group could be banned from all future recordings. The group then became most concerned over the whole incident.’ Memo from House Foreman, Maida Vale Studios, to his superiors, 08/05/80.
The two guys who ran the Moonlight Club tipped off ex Polydor A&R Chris Parry and he started coming to the band’s gigs at the club. He eventually signed them to his ‘independent’ Fiction label. A month’s season at the Marquee in Wardour Street, every Sunday night, was interspersed with support gigs around the country with fellow Fiction artists the Cure. A short UK tour followed called ‘Future Pastimes’. It featured all three Fiction bands, the Cure, The Passions and the Associates but Billy Mackenzie pulled his band out after only two gigs saying they weren’t ready to play live.
The band then went into Willesden's Morgan Studios to record ‘Michael and Miranda’ with Chris Parry as producer and Mike Hedges engineering. ‘Hunted’ coupled with ‘Oh No It’s You’ was released as a single closely followed by the album. A major UK and European tour with the Cure, who were promoting their ‘Seventeen Seconds’ album, followed.
Phil Williams remembers one of the gigs:
‘I took a half-day off college that day and hitched up to the gig at Digbeth Civic Hall from Leamington Spa. Got in at the soundcheck and helped both bands set up/dismantle their gear. Even had a little play on Robert Smith's old Fender Jaguar! Can't remember much about the gig other than it was a good one, both bands excellent’. The set lists for both bands from this gig can be seen on the gigs page.
Photographer Moni Kellermann on one of the German shows:
‘I lived in Düsseldorf at that time, worked in a record store and played bass guitar in an all-female outfit called Östro 430. I must have played "Michael and Miranda" a million times. I made the trip to Cologne with a friend of mine, she wanted to see The Cure, I wanted to see The Passions.’ Moni’s photographs of that night are on the photos page.
The tour was very successful for the band musically but personally cracks were beginning to show and soon after the tour ended Claire left.
Claire was immediately replaced by David Agar (Wardill) who the band were introduced to by Sounds journalist Adele at an Echo and The Bunnymen gig at the Central London YMCA (The Y Studios).
‘I met Barbara, Richard and Clive through a mutual friend at the Echo And The Bunnymen gig at Y Studios, YMCA Tottenham Court Road, in July 1980. They were gloomy and could barely manage a smile. Adele had heard that they needed a new bass player after Claire’s departure that afternoon and did most of the talking, and managed to fix me up with an audition. My girlfriend had Michael And Miranda and being unemployed I was able to spend a week learning it. Although I had heard it before, repeated listening really impressed me. The album sound was fairly dry but the songs had a definite character. Toting my guitar, a Fender Jazz copy bought from Woolworths in Bedford, I arrived at their rehearsal room, a disused porn film theatre that later became The Mean Fiddler. There was another prospective bass person auditioning when I arrived who plainly wasn’t up to the job. I listened for a few minutes, seething with frustration that someone else was trying to take the job I had already decided was mine. Then with the brazen cheek common to many twenty year old rock wannabes I barged in.
I can’t remember what we played but it went well. They were surprised that I had learnt most of the album, although the song I could never get was Suspicion. I really liked the way we played together with everyone making eye contact and really listening to each other. I glossed over my complete lack of experience with a few well chosen lies and that was it. They said I was hired to play the three gigs they had lined up. We rehearsed for a week or so and then played the Y Studios, The ICA and the New Pop Festival in Holland. I spent most of the first gig looking at the floor, sweating in terror. The Festival was my real baptism. The crowd was so big that the ground vibrated and the stage structure shook. We were already really tight and powerful live and we were voted best band of the festival. Before the Y Studio gig Barbara said it was only fair that they ask me to join officially and did I want to? From the age of fifteen all I had really wanted was to be the bass player in a proper band. So I said yes.’
The Passions were then promptly dumped from Fiction at a tense meeting with Chris Parry, giving poor sales and the departure of Claire as reasons. Although the band were not exactly pleased with the news, they were however released from the publishing contract which they had signed with Fiction at the same time as their recording deal.