KATS at the Blacksmiths in Barwell, Mike Clifford, Kathy Boorman, Harry Heppingstall and Jeff Lockett
I had stopped playing the guitar live for many years.
In the 70s I had played with a few ad-hoc local bands such as Beans On Toast and Mad Gran and several other weird and wonderful concoctions at places like the Union Hotel and John Cleveland. Members included people like singers Alan Bates, Brian Webber, Alan Poole, drummer Gordon Hayes (of Nervous Records) saxophonist Stu Price and many others, too numerous to mention. I played in a rock band in Brighton for a few months.
On my return to Hinckley in 72, I had a friendship with a pianist/ organist Keith Brown (nick-named Kipps) who played with recording band Spring. As a result of this pro contact I played a few jam sessions down at Rockfield Studios with Spring, including Pique Withers (later to join Dire Straits) and Ray Martinez (Who joined many an impressive global tour and eventually joined Shawaddywaddy). Pique and Ray came over to Hinckley quite often.
In 73 I went to art college and stoped gigging – it didn’t bother me much. My great obsession was song writing. My top level heroes here were the Beatles, Gershwin, Carol King, Joni Mitchell, Simon & Garfunkel and the Beach Boys – not in any particular order -there were so many – so many! – good songwriters out there. However while I was at Art College it was suggested we form a band for end of year party so the Jean Creamers were formed.
Many, many moons later – jumping from the early 70s to the mid 80s – I had came back to Hinckley from a teaching job in Oxford. A friend, Mick Tynan, came over from Leicester, for a chat and a beer. We headed up to the Queens Head to play pool. On the way we stopped at Bentley’s wine bar, where they usually had some music on. Although they had some gear rigged up nothing was happening on this occasion. I was drinking a beer when someone asked me if I wanted to play guitar, I said ‘Yes’ for some reason. Immediately a volunteer bass player and a singer came up. We just played a long 12 bar blues in E, See See Rider. Wow. I had a bit of fun playing the blues. Hadn’t done that for a long time.
Later I said to Mick Tynan that I had forgotten how stimulating it was playing live. And that got me back on the road again. I was the age to give it up, not take it up: 37.
The following week, it was arranged that the bass player market trader Mick Sullivan and rookie-singer never-in-a-band-before John Pickering and myself would meet on the Sunday morning at Bentley’s Wine Bar in King Street with a view to forming a covers band for fun. Another friend, Ken Haken was there as well, and I think one of two other musos. After an hour, all our combined talents produced was a shambles. I put my guitar down and retired to back of the room and got happily inebriated. Nevertheless I was interested in pursuing the project.
It was agreed that we would give it a month or more to get about 20 songs together, and then to see if we could get a gig. It was a fun project with lots of laughs. I insisted: “We must have a back beat: somebody must get a drum machine.”
Mick Sullivan obliged. Mick, when younger, had played in a band before in Coventry with his brother, Patrick. Mick was keen, dependable – he would always turn up — he wasn’t exactly Mr. Funk Rhythm but he was solid. At least he was in the beginning!
John Pickering was a good singer, with great stage presence but didn’t have the vocal range (not a tenor!) for the R&B numbers I thought it would be good to do. However, since those days he’s used his range to good effect over the years, having gigged consistently with Volcane and Maverick. He now performs solo.
Ken Haken could play a few basic guitar chords, and keep in time. He had also been on stage with a guitar a few times. However rumour had it that he never managed to play a note because of stage fright. Allegedly he had once been so frightened he had turned his back on the audience.
And, myself, I was not so hot. I hadn’t played live for over ten years, and even though I had some reasonable guitars I had no stage kit, no amp.
Could I take such a motley crew and make it work as a band I asked myself? I found the idea at the time highly appealing for some reason.
Anyway this was how ‘The Extremes’ were formed, (Note: this was many years before the band called Extreme came on the scene). We decided on this name because we all came from different walks of life.
After weekly five hour sessions on a Friday afternoon in the hot house June heat of Mick Sullivan’s garage. Mick, John, myself and a drum machine had sorted out about 20 numbers.
But some were finding the pace too difficult. The first to leave the band was Ken. After a few Stella’s Ken couldn’t tell which end of his guitar was which. His preferential interest at the rehearsals in Sullivan’s tomatoes as opposed to Route 66 did not inspire confidence, so we became a three piece with a drum machine.
Ken eventually left Hinckley to go back to his home town, York. Sadly I discovered recently he died in 2009.
As a three piece (and drum machine) our first gig was at the Blacksmiths in Barwell. We played six numbers between the sets of a duo consisting of Alan Baggott and Pip Clark. We went down surprisingly well. We did Beatles, Rolling Stones and Elvis covers. I didn’t see how this could go far wrong with any audience and that was indeed the case.
Our best gig was on Boxing Day 87, where we played for two hours at the Weavers and then immediately afterwards we did it all again at Down’s Football Club. The latter gig we almost cancelled: John had lost his voice and I felt chronic with the flu but we did it.
We did a lot of gigs. We had a matinee residency every Sunday in one pub. Ken videod us there. I’ll try and find it. What a dive that was!
But after five months there were problems. Our bass player occasionally turned up a little over-refreshed at the gigs, and the possibility of him playing in time was not an option. Also it was becoming known that John hated Elvis and most of the rest of the repertoire. He was into macho rock stuff – and I’d had enough of all that fuzz box stuff in the 70s. Musical differences I think they call it.
Our worst gig was at the Central Club on Comic Relief day. With Mick playing a bass line out of tune, the drum machine going off on an uncontrolled wobbly, and John desperately singing Knock On Wood acapella, I crawled around the stage on knees and elbows, in a fog of bronchitis, a penguin tea cosy on my head and a red ball on my nose, trying to figure out why smoke not sound was pouring out of my amplifier. It was utterly mad. There were difficulties though. I quit.
About a month later John and Mick found Charlie Higgins to replace me and practised for about six months. Later they became Volcane playing much heavier rock material.
I think the claim to fame of the Extremes was that we were the first local covers band to play Spencer Davis’s Gimme Some Lovin’. Within a year or two it was on every local band’s repertoire. I had never heard anyone play it before that.
The Extremes had given me a taste of playing live and now I felt more confident to handle it. I didn’t go around looking for another band immediately because I I had other issues, like moving house, moving jobs and other stuff.
KATHY & THE KATS
So months later I was asked if I wanted to play bass in a three piece. I said I would have a go, but then Keith the guitarist musician said he would play bass if I would play guitar. Yep.
Kathy, the singer, being female had a much higher range than John, and she had a impressive power to her voice which could cut through really well (she didn’t need amplification!). This now meant now that rock, rhythm & blues and the soulful numbers previously denied in the Extremes could be on the repertoire. In fact, we used quite a few of the Extremes repertoire to fill out our set, but pitched them much higher. Kathy was very keen: it was the first time she had ever fronted her own band.
Then we found a drummer and a bass player.
Keith Bennett and Kathy had been the former members, but it didn’t work out with Keith. He was a good musician but there were some issues he had. He left after about six months.
Not long after we welcomed in ex-double glazing window salesman, Dennis Harvey, as our bass player, who had previously played with singer Jojo Hale and guitarist John Booth on the folk/ country circuit. Dennis was mad keen. Or at least he gave that impression until the third practice, when he rang to say he had problems; three sorts of problems: memory problems, mental problems and lodger problems. Dennis would learn something quickly, religiously, and play it confidently. However a week later he would have forgotten it. Such is life.
Nevertheless he was a nice guy and naturally musical. He got a good sound on the bass, and he had a great feel, and with some support he got it together. He became a good friend.
We also welcomed in East Midlands Electricity man Harry Heppingstall as our drummer, who was good to work with, especially when we started putting original numbers in. He was an ex-pro, having been in bands: The Matadors, The Magazine, Money Jungle and having worked with a variety of top professionals. I think he jammed unawares in a Birmingham nightclub with Stevie Wonder once.
Kat’s having fun in Argent’s Mead
I said my great fascination was song writing. I had written a song, Motorway Driving, for the Extremes so now it went into Kat’s repertoire. I started adding original numbers to Kat’s repertoire with the agreement of the band. After Motorway Driving, cane Kathy and the Kats followed by Save Me, Our Man in Tehran, Foxhunter and Katwalk. All of these numbers went through modifications – being pitched for the vocals and arranged for bass and guitar – before completion. Only having three instruments is quite a sparse line up, unless your cranking it all up for heavy rock. It all went down well.
But it wasn’t Dennis who played bass on these. Dennis had decided he couldn’t take the strain after six months. He was having a classic lodger problem: his two female lodgers had locked themselves in their rooms for a week, refusing to come out after he caught them stealing £5 out of his jacket.
Jeff Locket – who came from a Country & Western duo that used to play in the Francis Arms – became our new bass player. I really appreciated the fact that Jeff played the bass lines I had written as a part of the arrangement. These often suggested the unusual chords in the songs which I couldn’t state overtly because I’d often be playing single notes. Many bass players would insist on their own lines, but Jeff played them as written and played them well. When Jeff joined we started to rehearse down at John Cleveland College in the Languages area, a great place to practise. The caretaker showed his appreciation!
We did a lot of local gigs. The Feathers, The Queens Head, Kiwi, Cherry Tree, The Bell, The Charnwood, The Tom Thumb, The Three Crowns, Stoney Cove, The Bluebell, The Spreadeagle, The Barwell Queens Head, The Sweet Pea, The Tin Hat, The Three Pots, The White Horse, The Wentworth Arms, The Nags Head, The Central Club, The Greyhound, The Black Swan, The Bird In The Hand, The Three Tuns, etc. etc. Our furthest gig afield was at Great Yarmouth.
We did a lot of charity gigs. In fact we hardly made enough money to sustain our travels – which is probably why Jeff departed when he did. Any money that we received was offset by petrol and expenses, repairs and equipment.
Many of our arrangements were difficult and complex but after about 12 months we were certainly tight. There was room for a lot more improvements in the band, for instance – we never used a PA mixer – we were always playing through a backline. But in terms of the rhythm section locking together it was probably the tightest rhythm section I’ve contributed to and played with.
Even though Kats were bass, guitar and drums based we weren’t a heavy band. We were unique in a way and had an unusual sound, I suppose we were ‘progressive’, the term used at the time. With one guitar making all the running, it’s difficult to fill out the sound when you are playing lead unless your playing blues all night, or you turn up to ear bleeding Hendrix volumes.
Our strength was the rhythm section of the band. If we had stayed together I imagine we would have brought in a sax player to do a lot of solos. Tight rhythm guitar was much under-rated in those days – brought back into focus by the likes of people like Nile Rogers. It’s actually what happens between the drums, bass and guitar that motivates me musically. This is what really moves the audience physically and emotionally at the core.
Kats was a band that did original songs, which obviously gave us a bit of creative credibility, but we felt we need to mix them with cover songs that people liked. Also, instead of doing all 12 bar three chord blues, we played a range of more harmonically complex blues ‘covers’. And we had a singer, Kathy, who was perfect for it.
We played Aretha’s Franklin’s arrangements of Drown in My Own Tears, Change is Gonna Come, and her obscure Colombia recording It won’t be Long . And Kathy had formerly sung Billy Holiday’s Ain’t Nobody’s Business If I Do at a cabaret and we all thought that was a great number to arrange on guitars.
We didn’t take a song and try to copy it from a recording, we interpreted it, and tried to make it fit the band. For instance we took ‘I Can’t Quit You Baby‘ (made famous by John Mayall and Led Zepellin) and made it a ‘Kats’ female blues song. We took a number and tried to express ourselves within its arrangement. That’s the only way to do covers.
Yet I think it was our complex arrangements and our attempts at originality that actually created our demise.
I believe the band ground to a halt for the following reasons.
I wasn’t doing the work and booking enough gigs at the end; mea culpa. Jeff was getting itchy feet, and showing it in the way he was behaving. It transpired that he was feeling he could make some money gigging four nights a week in a club band. Jeff had conquered the challenge of Kats in his own fashion – he learned all the bass parts and executed them excellently, and now he was looking for another challenge. However his first challenge wasn’t one I expected. You’ve heard it before, you’ll hear it again: No relationships in bands! I won’t go there.
He became reluctant to attend practices because of arranged darts matches or whatever and then refused to play a local charity gig against the poll tax because he claimed it was political. (Political? An anti poll tax gig? Ok then). We got Dennis to play on that one (he had eventually paid his lodgers to leave by the way). The final straw was when Jeff failed to turn up to a booked gig. (Allegedly he had got drunk with some lass in a stable and after a bit of horse play fell off to sleep). After setting up all our kit up the gig, we had to cancel. We couldn’t have used a dep, because nobody (except maybe a drummer) could have sat in on the arrangements in such a short time.
So – now Jeff had gone – where could we find a good fluent bass player? Who would put all that work in?
We auditioned lots of other bassists, but eventually went for a guy called Stevie Two Rivers of the Arapaho. No kidding that was what he called himself. He had worked with John Otway. He had a singing voice, much like Joe Cocker, but he was not an oil painting. His three 5 string bases and Trace Elliot were top kit. He played slap bass like he had just left Level 42. He was about five foot tall. He was talented and quite unusual.
Unfortunately, in the band world, talent is not everything. He stayed with us for about three weeks. He could slap and funk til the heifers came home, but every time he played it would be different. If he had to learn and memorise a precise bass line, he either lacked the inclination or the ability. After wasting a lot of my time especially, he left. A few weeks later he joined the Travelling Riverside Blues band (hardly funk country) but didn’t stay with them for long.
Every bass player we found was either musically competent and personality-problematic, or the reverse.
Every band needs to keep on improving. It needs to jump through more hoops, conquer more territory, build up its following etc. If you are not going forward, then you are going backwards, and in some ways that’s what happened.
It wasn’t the loss of Jeff that finished Kats off – although it was a serious blow – it was having to go back a 100 squares with another bass player, and spend time spoon-feeding them the complex arrangements. This was a chore left entirely to me because I knew all the musical stuff and having to teach it to someone who despite the lip service was always going to improvise the parts was soul destroying.
What excited me about the band was putting in new material. The thought of having to teach old complex arrangements to new recruits was so tedious I didn’t spend perhaps as much time looking for a new bass player as I should.
About a year later KATS were asked to play a gig in Barlestone, and the four of us, (including Jeff) went in, without rehearsals, and did three sets.
We reformed one more time in 1992, at my suggestion, at the Greyhound for a video of our original material. Even though the sound is poor, and there are bits missing in the tape, I’m glad we did it. There had been an earlier video done at the KIWI (The Ashby Tavern) but someone later rubbed the entire contents off. Ouch! The Greyhound video is the only existing video of the band that remains. Here’s to KATHY & THE KATS, I was proud to be a member.