The Story Of The Mothmen

This is the story of The Mothmen, at least to the best of my recollection. The events recounted here took place around 35 years ago so it’s not always easy to remember the exact sequence. However, whilst hunting in some deep and forgotten recesses for any pieces of memorabilia which could be used in this reissue project, I had the incredible piece of luck to stumble on my diaries for the years 1979 and 1980. Without them this account would undoubtedly be a lot sketchier.

For me the story began in the late summer of 1978 when I quit the comedy / satire band Alberto Y Lost Trios Paranoias; it had been great fun for a few years but the appeal was wearing a bit thin. The official press release gave the reason for my departure as ‘musical indifference’ (a joke no doubt lost on anyone not old enough to remember the days when musicians routinely cited ‘musical differences’ for their parting of the ways). The Albertos’ bass player, Tony Bowers, had also left several months earlier and had immediately been recruited to complete the line-up of a band being put together by Tony Wilson for his new venture Factory Records. Built around Vini Reilly, the former guitarist in punk band Ed Banger & The Nosebleeds, the personnel also included drummer Chris Joyce and guitarist Dave Rowbotham, two ex-members of Fast Breeder, who had been managed by Wilson and Alan Erasmus. Together with vocalist Phil Rainford they comprised the line-up of what was to become the first incarnation of The Durutti Column.

However, this wasn’t destined to last for long. During the recording of two tracks for the first ever Factory release ‘A Factory Sample’ it soon became apparent that Wilson’s vision for the band was poles apart from that of the majority of the band members. As a result, Phil Rainford was sacked and Tony, Chris and Dave resigned in solidarity, leaving Durutti Column as a solo vehicle for Vini Reilly. Thus when ‘A Factory Sample’ was released on 24th January 1979 the band had already ceased to exist; Tony, Chris and Dave were not credited for their contribution to the Durutti Column tracks.

Not long after I left The Albertos I was contacted by Pete Fulwell of Eric’s Records. Fulwell was the business partner of Roger Eagle, a living legend in the North West who had run groundbreaking soul nights at Manchester’s Twisted Wheel back in the sixties, and more recently had founded the iconic Liverpool club Eric’s with Ken Testi and Fulwell. Eric’s Records was the natural offshoot of the club and they had their eye on a few up and coming acts. Fulwell had a proposition; would Tony Bowers and I like to undertake some production work with one of the acts that were under consideration for his label?  Well, I wasn’t doing much at the time and I was skint, so of course I said yes. Tony was keen on the idea too, so in October 1978 we set to work at Amazon Studios in Liverpool to produce two tracks for a synthpop duo called Dalek I Love You. The tracks were never released on Eric’s Records but one of them ‘Freedom Fighters’ subsequently appeared on the 1984 Inevitable / RCA compilation Small Hits and Near Misses.

Soon after the break-up of The Durutti Column, Tony Bowers informed me that he, Chris Joyce and Dave Rowbotham intended to carry on as a unit but they needed a fourth band member. For some reason they thought that I would fit the bill. I jumped at the chance and so The Mothmen were born. As some people may already know  the name comes from a series of books by the American author John Keel, which includes The Mothman Prophecies.

And so we gathered one day towards the end of 1978 in Chris Joyce’s cellar in Chorlton to try and figure out what kind of music The Mothmen were going to play. At first we tried out some Durutti Column numbers but none of us were too enthusiastic about the way it sounded. The following day didn’t really go any better but on the third day we somehow hit upon our own unique method of music-making.

Chris Joyce recalls the details of the creative process:

Coming out of the tumultuous years of Punk Rock a new genre of music called New Wave was emerging. The Mothmen were part of this zeitgeist.

The music The Mothmen were to create was from an eclectic range of influences; Captain Beefheart, the Moroccan musicians of Joujouka with their endless drum led rhythms that could last for days on end, the heady sounds of Jamaica and in particular Jamaican dub sounds led by pioneers like Lee Perry and King Tubby; you can also throw some Kraftwerk into the pot as well. The Mothmen were a unique blend of these musical styles and they also knew their history, the blues, rhythm and blues, the psychedelic sounds of the sixties with Syd Barrett and Pink Floyd, the Beatles and the Rolling Stones.

Probably, with the possible exceptions of Captain Beefheart and Kraftwerk, a lot of this music was created whilst the musicians were, to put it boldly, STONED!

The four musicians in The Mothmen took this approach by the balls.

The process became a ritual.

  1. Three Hot Knives each.
  2. Listen to a recording of a very stoned Jimi Hendrix’s dad talking about Jimi, and roll about the floor laughing.
  3. Descend into Chris’s basement, named the M Room.
  4. Turn cassette player on to “record”.
  5. Chris would count to four. There would be no prior discussion about tempo or key. That was all part of the process.   
  6. Play, play, play and play until the cassette had run out.

   This was how the songs would be found, from great moments of completely

unselfconscious playing. No thought of commerciality, just pure inspiration and abandon.

It was fucking great!!!!

This regime was repeated many, many times. Some sessions were better than others but all ideas were captured and the good ones harnessed and developed. What you hear on these recordings now are the fruits of those exploratory days.

Enjoy!

By early 1979 we felt we had enough music to put a set together and start looking for some gigs. Those early shows were extremely low-key affairs but a friend of ours Mick Ward (now known as Michael Wadada) liked what we were doing and invited us to record a couple of tracks for a project he was putting together under the name Suns Of Arqa. We laid down the tracks exactly the same way as we’d do in the rehearsal room, just pure head top stuff, and they eventually appeared as ‘Return Of The Mozabites’ and ‘Paintings Of A Cave’ on the debut Suns Of Arqa album Revenge Of The Mozabites, but the tracks were never credited to The Mothmen. Mick’s co-producer on the album was a certain Adrian Sherwood but we didn’t get to meet him until about a year later.

Around this time we also came to the attention of an anarchic theatre troupe called ‘Public Spirit’ who were putting together a production of the 1975 Snoo Wilson play The Beast, based on the life of the notorious occultist Aleister Crowley. They thought the kind of stuff we were playing would make the perfect musical accompaniment to their production. It sounded like an interesting collaboration but Public Spirit had a hard time getting promoters interested so we ended up playing just two nights, the 6th and 7th June at The Russell Club in Hulme, Manchester.

One of the post-punk indie labels flourishing in Manchester at that time was Absurd Records, the second label to be run by Tony ‘Tosh’ Ryan (the first had been Rabid Records which had scored a massive Top Ten hit with ‘Jilted John’). Tosh wanted The Mothmen on Absurd so on the weekend of the 16th and 17th June we recorded and mixed ‘Does It Matter Irene?’ and ‘Please Let Go’ at Andy MacPherson’s studio in Cheadle Hulme, which was one of the few 24-track studios in the Manchester area at the time.

In August, Public Spirit came knocking on our door again – they had landed a two-week tour of The Beast in Holland and wanted us to provide the music once more. Amsterdam? Coffee shops? – it wasn’t a hard decision to make. Tony and I had toured Holland repeatedly with The Albertos, it was our favourite place.

The play itself featured lots of gratuitous nudity, simulated sex and other good stuff so it was obviously a perfect fit for 4 nights at the Melkweg, Amsterdam followed by shows in Rotterdam, Eindhoven etc. In all we played 14 shows between 23rd August and 8th September. We had a great time but we needed to get back to concentrating on The Mothmen as a band.

Shortly after our return from Holland Absurd Records released our debut single ‘Does It Matter Irene?’ which met with total indifference (OK, John Peel probably played it). We retreated back into the M Room and continued to create music and also played the occasional gig, more often than not a benefit for some worthy cause or another. In October we hooked up with Public Spirit for the last time, playing a series of shows at London’s prestigious Institute Of Contemporary Arts.

On Saturday 12th January 1980 we played at Eric’s in Liverpool and after the show Pete Fulwell asked if Tony and I would like to produce the first album by Pink Military, whose acquaintance we’d made a few months previously. Well, we weren’t making any money out of The Mothmen, and this was a paying gig, so obviously we said yes. The sessions began on Monday 11th February at Cargo Studios in Rochdale.   Tony and I soon realised that Pink Military’s drummer wasn’t up to the job so after a quick discussion with Pete Fulwell we drafted Chris Joyce in to play on the album.

This project was hard work, not least because Jayne Casey, the focal point of the band, wasn’t a very good singer. One of my abiding memories of the sessions was reducing Jayne to tears by telling her she couldn’t sing in tune. Although true, it was hardly the greatest ever bit of producer / artist diplomacy – if only we’d had Autotune back then I could have just smiled and said “That was great”. The other thing I remember from the sessions was being totally impressed by the band’s keyboard player Charlie Griffiths, an excellent musician and a computer whizz to boot. More of him later.

With the recording complete we moved over to Amazon Studios in Liverpool to mix the album during the first week in March. Job done, time to concentrate on The Mothmen again. We were booked to play a show on 20th March at the Ardri Ballroom in Hulme supporting the mighty Prince Far I. Unfortunately Far I was a no-show on the night so the Manchester-based Prince Hammer stepped in to deputize at very short notice. I remember the night came to an abrupt end when some rude boy jumped the bar and robbed the evening’s takings (no, it wasn’t Hammer!). The police showed up and everyone had to leave.

But the really significant thing about the night was that we had our first encounter with Adrian Sherwood, who was touring with Prince Far I. Adrian had a label at that time called 4D Rhythms and was planning to release the debut Suns Of Arqa album which we had participated in. However, Suns Of Arqa was strictly a studio-based project back then and at some point Adrian decided he would rather release an album by a band that also played live. Suns Of Arqa main man Mick Ward said to Adrian “I know just the band for you”. Mick was also the promoter of the Prince Far I show at The Ardri and had added The Mothmen to the bill so that Adrian would would get to see us perform. Adrian was sufficiently impressed to offer us the opportunity of recording an album for 4D Rhythms. We agreed to have a meeting with him and his business partner Chris Garland to discuss it further.

First though, Pete Fulwell had some more production work lined up for me and Tony. He had a couple of new projects on the go – one was Margox (as she was then known), a presenter on the Granada TV show What’s On. She was also a decent singer and a very interesting songwriter; we laid down a couple of tracks with her at Amazon but they were never released. She later became quite a well-known actress with a starring role in the film Letter To Brezhnev and then in the long-running BBC drama series Making Out.

The other project was a guy called Keith Hartley, an ex-member of Dalek I Love You and we recorded just one track with him, “Changes”. To be honest Tony and I contributed very little to the recording as this guy came into the studio full of confidence and knowing exactly what he wanted. For both these projects we brought in Chris again to play drums. We were ensconced in Amazon for the best part of two weeks and we even managed to sneak in a Mothmen session on 4th April where we recorded ‘Change Direction’, one of the bonus tracks included on the CD / DL version of this reissue.

Meanwhile, things were moving ahead with 4D Rhythms; we agreed to record an album for the label and Adrian booked an initial session at Berry Street Studios in London for 25th April. It was a super-long session which yielded all the basic instrumental tracks for the LP. Another track, ‘Vegetable Man’, which is included as a bonus track on the CD / DL version of this reissue was also recorded at this session. Adrian was happy with the results and booked two further sessions for the 9th and 10th May. We laid down overdubs and vocals during these two days and then arranged to return to Berry Street on the 26th and 27th May for mixing.

But then it all started to go wrong. With the recording barely finished, Dave Rowbotham announced that he was leaving the band – just like that, totally out of the blue. He never told us why he was leaving; maybe he felt excluded because of all the time Tony, Chris and I were spending in the studio working on Fulwell’s projects. Or maybe he just felt he’d found a better gig – he was soon playing with Pauline Murray & The Invisible Girls.

Whatever it was, it was a big blow to the other three of us but we decided to go ahead with mixing the Mothmen album anyway. Just past dawn on the morning of 28th May we were done – the album was ready to go.

And then it went double wrong. It turned out that 4D Rhythms was broke and couldn’t afford to pay the Berry Street studio bill. The studio, quite understandably, refused to hand over the master tapes until they got paid. Stalemate. Adrian and Chris Garland dissolved their partnership and 4D Rhythms folded, having only ever released one album, Creation Rebel’s Starship Africa (later re-released by Adrian on On-U Sound).

Tony, Chris and I were all pretty deflated by this – we’d put in a lot of hard work on the album, now we were a band member down and had an album in the can that would never see the light of day. So that, we thought, was that.

Back to the M Room then, where a few weeks later we recorded the track ‘Tardis’ on our trusty Sharp double cassette deck. Tony Bowers used to feed his guitar through a Watkins Copicat tape loop (which was nicknamed Sweep). The normal way to use this unit would be to have the tape loop running and then punch it in and out with a foot pedal, but Tony had this little trick where he would power it up from cold and as the tape came up to speed it would produce that characteristic Tardis sound.

In the early summer the Pink Military album was released under the title Do Animals Believe In God? and Chris played with them on a short promotional tour. But our overriding priority now was to find a replacement for Dave Rowbotham – we had a few upcoming dates in the diary and we didn’t want to have to cancel them. As a temporary measure we enlisted the services of a local guitarist named Chris Gill who had also had a few singles released by Tosh Ryan, firstly ‘Central Detention Centre’ under the band name Gyro on Rabid Records; Gyro then became Cairo for ‘I Like Bluebeat’ and ‘Movie Stars’ on Absurd Records. Chris soon slotted in well and helped us fulfil our outstanding obligations. But he had his own plans and we knew he wouldn’t stay for long so we were still on the lookout for a permanent replacement. And we all had a pretty good idea who the perfect candidate might be – Charlie Griffiths, Pink Military’s keyboard player. Things had stalled a bit for them by this point so we decided to see if Charlie would be interested in playing with us. Initially he wouldn’t make any firm commitment but he agreed to come down and rehearse with us and see where it led.

Charlie had this wonderful Oberheim synthesizer which made big fat sounds and certainly gave our music a whole extra dimension. He also knew more about computers than anyone I’d met up to that point and had even built his own hardware sequencer and written various music software programmes. Pretty impressive! So Charlie stayed and the music we created began to shift away from the style we’d had when Dave was in the band – it was a bit more structured and a bit less self-indulgent.

Towards the end of 1980 Do It Records started to show an interest in The Mothmen, and unlike 4D Rhythms they weren’t strapped for cash. They had released the debut album by Adam & The Ants in 1979 and now as Antmania raged across the UK they had shifted serious quantities of their Ants back catalogue. They were now looking for new bands to sign and we were on their radar. Discussions were held and they agreed to offer us a two-album deal. It was arranged that we would drive down to London on 9th December to sign the contracts. I was up early on the day and turned on the radio only to hear the horrible news that John Lennon had been assassinated just a few hours earlier. On the long journey down to London the radio coverage of Lennon’s murder was non-stop, we must have heard ‘Imagine’ about a dozen times. Naturally it put a bit of a damper on what was supposed to be a big day for us and any press interest Do It had tried to drum up simply evaporated.

In early 1981 Do It booked us into Rockfield Studios in Monmouthshire with producer / engineer Hugh Jones for a two or three day stint. By the end of the sessions we had two tracks recorded, ‘House And Car’ and ‘People People’. We were pretty happy with them and the plan was to release them as our first single on Do It. We didn’t yet have enough material for a full album though so the plan was for us to spend the next couple of months writing material and then return to Rockfield in the summer to record the album.

One day not long afterwards I got an unexpected call from none other than Adrian Sherwood. “I’ve got a new label called On-U Sound and I want to put out The Mothmen album” he said. That was a bit of a surprise, and we weren’t sure how it would go down with Do It but they didn’t seem to object to Adrian putting the record out, they probably figured it would help to get The Mothmen’s name a bit better known and that would be good for them. So Adrian sorted out the unpaid studio bill and had the album mastered at The Townhouse, while we got some friends of ours to come up with the artwork. The album was once again ready to go, and this time for real. Adrian arranged for Virgin Music to look after the publishing and I can vividly remember how we received the advance – we met Adrian one evening in a pub on Portobello Road and he handed over, literally, a brown paper bag stuffed with cash. Old school!

We titled the album Pay Attention! as a tip of the hat to our mentor Roger Eagle. It was released in March 1981 to very mixed reviews.

In June we returned to Rockfield Studios for a month-long stay and completed the recording of what was to be One Black Dot, our first album for Do It Records. Mixing was scheduled to take place a few weeks later at Sarm Studios in London but in the meantime we had come up with a song called ‘Temptation’; it featured Charlie’s home-made sequencer prominently and we felt it was the most accessible thing we’d written to date so a session was hurriedly arranged at Portland Recording Studios in London where we nailed it in a couple of hours. Do It were very enthusiastic about the track and everyone agreed that this should be the first single from the album, rather than the previously scheduled ‘House And Car’.

‘Temptation’ was released in October 1981 with ‘People People’ on the b-side and attracted a fair amount of radio play and some favourable reviews but it failed to break through. Nevertheless, we were hoping for a better response to the album, which was released in January 1982. To promote the album Do It arranged for us to do a nationwide tour supporting UK soul / funk band Linx, then riding high off the back of such hits as ‘Intuition’ and ‘Throw Away The Key’.

It didn’t help though – sales of the One Black Dot album were extremely disappointing. Our last throw of the dice was the release of a further single ‘Wadada’ in March but it was the same old story. Our enthusiasm for The Mothmen began to wane and shortly afterwards we decided to call it a day.

Postscript

So what happened to the individual members of The Mothmen after the band’s demise? It’s quite well known that Chris and Tony went on to form the rhythm section of Simply Red from 1985 – 1990, playing on the band’s first three albums and touring extensively. I’m not entirely sure what Tony was doing between ’82 and ’85 but Chris had certainly kept himself busy, firstly hooking up again with Suns Of Arqa, as a result of which he found himself performing at the inaugural WOMAD Festival in 1982. He also continued to collaborate with Adrian Sherwood, playing on such albums as Pal Judy by Judy Nylon. He later joined Pete Wylie’s Wah! Heat shortly after they had scored their biggest ever hit with ‘Story Of The Blues’. After his time in Simply Red Chris set up a recording studio and a dance label both called Planet 4. Other business ventures followed including artist management and running a delicatessen. Chris now teaches drums and more information on his career can be found on his website

www.chrisjoyceschoolofdrums.com

As for myself I lived in Oxford for a couple of years not doing an awful lot apart from occasionally singing and playing keyboards in a local reggae band. I returned to Manchester in 1985 soon after the release of Simply Red’s debut album Picture Book just in time to be taken on as an assistant at the band’s management company So What Ltd. The band’s manager, Elliot Rashman, was an old friend of both Chris and myself and it was he who recommended Chris and Tony to Mick Hucknall. So now I was part of the management team and I started to see the music business in a whole different light. I continued in this role until the mid-nineties when I became the full-time managing director of the renowned reggae reissue label Blood and Fire. The label had actually been founded in 1993 but there was a transitional period where I was working for both So What and Blood and Fire. By late ’95 / early ’96 the Blood and Fire workload had become such that I couldn’t do both jobs any more. In 1996 the label reissued the classic album Heart Of The Congos and it was a huge success, selling 26,000 copies that year alone and ultimately reached in excess of 80,000 sales over a ten year period. But it proved to be a high point we would never reach again and despite many more notable and critically-acclaimed releases the label slowly contracted until a combination of poor business decisions, a shrinking market and the collapse of several of our distributors saw the company finally fold in July 2007.

Being made redundant at the age of 58 is no joke; after applying for hundreds of jobs without getting even one reply I decided to return to the one thing I knew, the music business, and together with Dom Sotgiu, my ex-colleague at Blood and Fire, founded a new label called King Spinna Records. Working with minimal resources and relying on a few favours from the likes of producer Bunny Lee and deejay Dillinger we have so far released three albums and one 12″ single. More information can be found at www.kingspinna.com.

I have very little information on what became of Tony Bowers after he left Simply Red. All I do know is that he married an Italian girl and moved to Italy, had a couple of kids, but it seems the marriage didn’t last.  As far as I know he’s still living there and still making music. I spent a good few hours trawling the Internet in search of more information but only found a few snippets and no contact details at all.

All of which brings us to the saddest footnote to The Mothmen’s career, the fate of Dave Rowbotham.  After he left the band in early 1980 I only ever saw him a handful of times, but it was common knowledge in Manchester that he had sunk into alcohol and heroin addiction. The last time I can recall seeing him was sometime in the late ’80s when he came into the So What office. He had about a dozen CDs he wanted to sell. It’s hard to believe now but back then CDs were still high-value items, so I guess Dave must have left the office with about 100 quid in his pocket. It was only after he’d gone and we opened the CD cases we found they were all empty!

On 2nd November 1991 Dave was brutally murdered at his home in Burnage, Manchester, bludgeoned to death with a lathe hammer. No one was ever convicted of the crime.

But I can’t let this tale end on such a low note; I’d rather just celebrate, with a slight sense of bemusement, that an album which was almost never released at all is now afforded a reissue 35 years after it was made.

Adrian and Chris have remained good friends over these many years, with Chris making an annual trip to Ramsgate to visit Adrian. In Summer 2014 Adrian called Chris to ask if he was happy to have Pay Attention! re-released via On-U Sound with new liner notes and an update on the lives of the band members. This is when Chris contacted me and together we have retraced our steps and the recesses of our memory banks.

Listening to the record now brings back fond memories of those crazy free-spirited ‘M Room’ sessions that gave birth to the music.

“WONGO!” as Dave would say.

Bob Harding, February 2015

The 2015 expanded On-U Sound reissue of Pay Attention! is available to order from the label shop here. A limited edition art print has also been produced to celebrate the release.