Unfortunately, it’s not a name that will conjure many hedonistic rock and roll images up in anyone’s minds, save for the lucky lucky few that got to witness their punishing half-hour set in the auspicious surroundings of the now-legendary Heart of England School Assembly Hall…I’ve barely started writing this and you’re already seriously pissed off you missed it aren’t you?
Of course, since the date in question (April the ?th 1986) approximately 10,000 Solihull borough residents have claimed to be in attendance that night, a bit like those who’ll have you believe they saw Guns n Roses with Faster Pussycat at Rock City a few months later – I didn’t see that show, but at least I have the decency to admit it. However, I cannot lie that I was not only present for Reider’s big moment, but was also onstage to assist them.
Phil Docker and I had been good friends through college for some time – although Phil never actually went to 6th form. He was already working as an electrician and had been playing guitar for a few years, but came into college to hang out with his buddy and singer Andy Madgwick with whom he had formed a band called Reider that occasionally got together to jam in Phil’s garden shed. They had a Kiss Alive II songbook to work from and precious little else, but there was no doubting the bucketloads of enthusiasm they possessed.
Indeed, Phil was always beavering away on some guitar-related project or other. When I first met him at his house, he was busy routing out chunks of wood from the back of a cheap Strat copy he had, in order to try and build the workings of an Ibanez Tube Screamer distortion unit into said axe. It was doomed to failure, but I was so impressed at his determination to achieve success somewhat against the odds.
It was when he went on to make a replica of Steve Vai’s ‘Flame’ guitar from the Dave Lee Roth 'Goin’ Crazy' video that it became clear our Phil was always reaching for the stars just a tad. Months spent lovingly building a perfect replica of the guitar’s body were rendered useless upon arrival of an Ibanez neck he’d ordered from the States and waited an eternity for. He carefully attached the neck to the body with beautifully flush fittings to be proud of and attached a strap to proudly give his new toy its first try-out…only for the neck to crash to the floor, being as it was around 3 times heavier than the balsa-wood body he’d so lovingly created from scratch. Bless.
Anyway, back to Reider...if I must. Word went around the college common room that Pathfinder, Balsall Common’s finest rock export, were playing a show at the St Peter's Church Hall and had recruited fellow Balsallians Shot To Bits as their Special Guests, but were looking for an opening act. Phil & Andy’s minds went into overdrive – this, they decided, was Reider’s chance and acted quickly, securing their spot 1st on the bill after a quick chingwag with the Pathfinder innersanctum a month or so before the show
All they needed now was to find a 2nd guitarist, bassist, keyboard player and a drummer and they’d be alright.
Actually, that’s not fair – Reider had a bassist and a keyboard player in Dave Smith & Rich Bayliss respectively, but up to that point neither had actually been seen in the same room, save for a hurriedly-arranged photo session for the Solihull Times to advertise the upcoming gig. They’d also roped in Jim Small, another college friend of ours for that photo session, without really knowing what role he was set to play in Reider – he just looked the part.
Eventually (about 3 weeks before the show) it was decided that the drums should be Jim’s instrument of choice, and that was where I came in. I basically had 3 weeks to teach Jim how to play a straight beat. Christ.
At the same time, Phil asked me if I’d be available to play 2nd guitar on the night and help with backing vocals here and there. As a drummer, my guitar playing was purely based on what I’d seen my brother do on the instrument rather than any serious time spanking my own plank, but I could pick out a chord or 2 and I was assured that such levels of ability were all that was needed. I even had an electric guitar on loan to me at the time - a weird looking stick guitar I’d borrowed from the singer of Earl Grey and the Tealeaves. Don’t ask.
Jim dutifully came round to my house a couple of times on his moped to learn the basic rudiments of skin-bashing, and to my astonishment and no little delight, Jim appeared to be a natural, playing a straight beat with little trouble after 1 hour’s tuition. I’d claim credit, but I’m sure he’d tinkered with the drums before. No matter - he was ready to rehearse with the rest of the band.
The set list, from what I remember of it was – shall we say – eclectic. The evergreen Summer Of 69 was to be the opening salvo, along with Institution Waltz by Marillion, So Far Away by Dire Straits, Motley Crue’s Home Sweet Home and maybe a ZZ Top song too, but I can’t be sure – it’s all a blur. This would whip the paying punters into a frenzy without question…as well as scare the bejasus out of Shot To Bits and Pathfinder.
Trouble was, the ensuing last-minute rehearsals were hit by the odd snag – namely that we couldn’t get all 6 of us together in one room to go through anything. One occasion was just me, Phil, Jim and Rich (thus no singer or bassist) in my bedroom, where we spent most of the time trying to fix Rich’s busted keyboard and ended up running through about 2 and a half numbers. Another time in Phil’s shed saw a healthy turnout of 3 – myself Phil & Andy and I took on the role of drummer slapping my hands on Phil’s mum’s crockery to such an extent that we almost recruited the crashing teacups as our elusive 7th member.
And so, gig night came for Reider. I’d met the keyboard player once, never met the bass player at all, had given around 100 minutes of tuition to our novice drummer and had no idea how my guitar parts in at least 3 numbers went. But we still thought we were going to blow the headliners off the stage.
Upon meeting him on the school hall stage during set-up, I quickly discovered that Dave Smith was the archetypal bass player – the obligatory goat’s skull resting on top of his amp, and a total lack of knowledge as to what the songs were. “Hang on Phil” I said, “I thought you said Dave was cool with the set-list?” “He is” Phil replied “He just can’t be arsed to learn any of it”. Dave nodded sagely at Phil’s reply, loosened his kaftan and adjusted his goat’s skull for maximum effect. Best leave him be, I figured.
Rich (or Cheeks as he was known, on account of his hamster-like facial features) had brought 2 keyboards and a multitude of soldering irons and tools with him to try and coax his instruments through half an hour of being switched on at the mains. Jim had been granted use of Shot To Bits’ drumkit – handy as he didn’t even own a pair of sticks himself – and Andy had brought with him his pride and joy…his wireless microphone system to allow maximum movement onstage. Fail to prepare, prepare to fail isn’t it?
Due to time constraints, Reider had no time in which to soundcheck – meaning that the first time the 6 cohorts would strike up all together would be the first song of the night. I remember feeling more than apprehensive about our prospective lack of cohesion, but Phil, Andy and especially Jim seemed totally at ease with the situation, so I kept quiet and awaited zero hour.
Clad in my finest ‘man at Burtons’ sweater and jeans with a crease ironed neatly down the centre by my mother, myself and my Reider bandmates strode confidently onto the stage at around 7.30. We tuned up, Phil looked at me and nodded, signalling that I was to start the chugging intro to ‘Summer Of ‘69’
After playing the riff twice I looked expectantly at Andy, who was meant to come in with the immortal first line to the Groover from Vancouver’s finest moment – he was busy deep in thought centre-stage working out how to switch his microphone unit on.
A further 4 times around the riff and Andy was yet to let rip – the audience were on tenterhooks, as though the extended intro had merely heightened the tension and made that first line about a ‘first real six string’ take on even greater importance. Andy meantime was staring wide-eyed, first at Phil and then me – then mouthing ‘What are the words?’ to us both. The other band members looked on – Dave wasn’t bothered – the longer it went without him needing to play bass, the less chance of him not knowing where he was.
“Sing Madgwick, SING!!” screamed Phil from stage left, his white silk kimono worn in homage to Rush fluttering under the lights. I say silk kimono, but it was actually his old dressing gown. But I digress.
“Sing Madgwick SING” implored Phil for a 2nd time, just as Andy finally remembered his lines and, well, muttered the first verse rather than sang it, his confidence somewhat dented by his temporary amnesia.
Unbelievably, the rest of the band came in together at precisely the right time to begin the 2nd verse - a glorious moment that still lives long in my memory. That was as good as it got. Within 30 seconds I heard a strangled cry from the rear of the stage and spun around to see Jim in a slightly agitated state behind the drums. Or what was left of them. No-one (least of all me) had prepared Jim for the drummer’s worst nightmare – bass drum creep. A bass drum that isn’t properly tethered to a stage on a piece of carpet or with trusty old gaffa tape can easily drift away from its owner within seconds as he strikes the bass drum pedal repeatedly – and as 2 tom-toms are also attached to the top of said drum, you can imagine Jim’s consternation as his options of what was within his reach had become severely limited.
Jim looked imploringly at me for a solution to this crisis – to be fair I was the only one who could help, and not just because I was a fellow drummer. Andy was stood stock still at centre stage being more Tom Waits than Bryan Adams, Phil was gradually becoming enveloped in his dressing gown and there was absolutely no point whatsoever in trying to get Dave’s interest.
So I purposefully marched downstage and placed my right foot on the other side of Jim’s bass drum in order to move in back into the correct position and try to keep it there. This I managed within seconds, placing a smile back onto Jim’s face, but in performing this selfless act, my guitar strap came undone at the one end due to it being slackened off with my leg up on the drum, and I was thus stuck for the rest of the song with my Dunlop Greenflash planted atop Jim’s kit, both of us looking decidedly uncomfortable.
Somehow, we all ended the opener at roughly the same time, but the response we got from those in attendance was lukewarm to put it kindly. Foolishly I walked up to my microphone and quickly barked “I’d just like to say at this point that I have nothing to do with band usually…” Cue the distant sound of crickets chirping – my bandmates said nothing, either because they hadn’t heard me say it at 170mph or because they were too engrossed in trying to make various instruments work as they ought to. Undeterred, we ploughed on with songs 2, 3 & 4 which fared little better in terms of rabble-rousing. Phil was having guitar problems too – namely that his tremolo system sent his axe wildly out of tune if you so much as looked at it, and Rich’s keyboards achieved sporadic bursts of parping and farting so innocuous that he’d have been fired from a Europe audition within 3 notes of ‘The Final Countdown’.
For some reason that I still can’t remember to this day, I was slated to sing the Dire Straits, er, classic “So Far Away” as Andy took a breather – not a well earned breather it has to be said as he’d barely broken sweat during the first 15 minutes despite the ‘freedom’ his wireless mic offered him. He made his escape stage left as we prepared to start the offending tune and headed straight for the refreshments stall where his girlfriend at the time, Debbie, was serving drinks and snacks to a public far more interested in the price of a Twix than the antics of Reider.
Sweeping into Debbie’s room, unseen by us, Andy flung his arms around her and sobbed “Oh Debbie it’s all going horribly wrong. Horribly wrong!!!” hoping for sympathy from the missus. However in a classic schoolboy error, Andy had forgotten to turn his wireless microphone off as he left the stage and had taken it with him, thus meaning his tearful blubbings came thundering out of the PA just as I was about to start murdering Mark Knopfler’s technique. It was the loudest he’d been all night – and it got the biggest round of applause too.
We beat a hasty retreat not long after, having come to shambolic grief in nearly every number we played – the ending to Home Sweet Home was especially excruciating. Rich’s piano sound wouldn’t work, Phil’s dressing gown cord got caught up in his tremolo arm, and Dave was busy playing ‘For Whom The Bell Tolls' by Metallica. Because he wanted to.
The tone was set for the rest of the evening and there was little that Shot To Bits nor Pathfinder could do to rescue the soporific crowd. Even Pathfinder’s shiny spandex trousers – with different colours for each band member – failed to arouse the female quota in the audience, and it all dribbled to a pretty horrid anti-climax somewhat akin to your average Birmingham City Cup run.
And so, what happened next? Well, Pathfinder obviously thought that Jim's strangled cries from behind the kit that night were pretty good because he became their new vocalist; Phil & Andy went on to become known as the 'Plant & Page of Solihull' in various beat combos, Rich disappeared off the face of the earth, and when I met Dave many years later at auditions for an AC/DC tribute at The Railway in Brum, he had merely perfected his disinterest in what he was being asked to play in bands, and yet he was still getting gigs. Not many bass players in Solihull, obviously.
And me? I hid behind a succession of drumkits for the next 25 years to hide my shame of that fateful night. But if the call for the reunion comes in, I'm there!! We have unfinished business...and about 5 unfinished songs too