by ANDREW DARLINGTON & DAVID KEREKES
The Syndicats – a Pop group in search of a Hit.
Joe Meek – a Record Producer haunted by his own Dark Side.
Part fact, part fiction, these are incidents that culminate in one
helluva strange record - a lowly ‘B’-side completely out of step
with everything else happening musically in 1965 Britain.
The Syndicats’ “Crawdaddy Simone” has what makes great music
so great - that unquantifiable something locked down in a sense
of time and place. And pure adrenalin…. But is this
the strange end to one of the strangest tales in Rock history?
Andrew Darlington & David Kerekes try to factoid the verdict
‘TIME AND A WORD...’
“Cheating was his trade, a seller of lies,
a heart so cold, he seemed to hypnotize…”
(‘Crawdaddy Simone’ by the Syndicats )
“Joe?” The sound filters toward him — the bare skeleton of a voice, it’s flesh stripped by the latticework of bedsheets and egg boxes draped over walls and ceiling. The sensation of dead sound once intrigued him, now it just sounds dead. And trapped. He listens, lowering his eyes to the bank of dials and switches on the table before him.
“Joe?” At first he’s unsure. The voice calls from a place outside the confines of this room. But he can’t determine where. He looks up, moving only his eyes. They’ll not catch him out like that.
“Joe? How was that?” Then everything slips into focus and he’s back in the here-and-now; the real world. Joe Meek, record producer.
“Yes,” Joe responds, his voice swallowed by the walls. He depresses a switch and the reel-to-reel tape machine stops dead; the dials become static. “That was a take.”
Pulling himself up out of his chair, Joe strolls over to the door and out the room. The trail of magnetic EMI-tape caught around his foot trails out with him…
“Sin.” Johnny Lamb inhales the light. “If we drop the ‘-indicats’, and become ‘Syn’.”
“Yes.” From Jeff, sitting in three-quarter profile to him in the tiny café off the wide black Holloway Road. Just down from the arch of the tube station. His voice riding up over the hiss and clink around them.
“What. Call the group ‘Yes’?”
“No, shit-head. Syn sounds good.”
“That is, ‘sin’ – with the inference of dark deviance. Original sin. Sins of Omission. But softened with a ‘y’ – like the Byrds, into Syn.”
“Great. But I think we should stick with the Syndicats, and we should stick with Joe. At least for now. At least for this one record. We should see it through. After all, he did it for the Tornados, he did it for the Honeycombs, he could do it for us yet. So we do this one more single, if that doesn’t work out we’ll try something else. All we’ve got to do is work up some kind of ‘B’-side…”
We’re halfway through 1965. They’re re-making the decade all around us. We want a piece of it. Before the Doctor Strangelove ICBM’s arc in on their terminal parabolas and snuff it all out…
‘ELECTRICITY COMES FROM OTHER PLANETS…’
“he always walks alone, Crawdaddy Simone...”
(‘Crawdaddy Simone’ by the Syndicats )
When I was a little girl, says Joe, I would be a dancer. And I would dance for my brothers. They didn’t understand. They weren’t like me. But they would watch. They were infected by my magic, despite themselves, just as I was. I would tuck my little penis tight into my underpants to minimize the bulge, and swathe myself in my mother’s silks. Her underwear. Her nightdress. I’d rouge my cheeks. I’d put shadow beneath my eyes. I’d blush my lips. And then I would dance. And when I danced I would no longer be myself, I became beauty, I became grace.
I was dancing the night they blitz London. When the sky is black with Luftwaffe and the searchlights hit out at the shapes of stars crashing down from their orbits. With huge tripod war machines stilting over the rubble and ugly gouges of smoke crawling over the pulped bodies, twisted mangled and mutilated, with lights pulsing and sirens banshee-howling. I was eleven, coming up to twelve. And I dance as they pass over our village and the Newent buildings vibrate to the sound of their passing. I close my eyes, and listen to the sky. I dance as they drone above the Forest of Dean, setting a sea of leaves sympathetically trembling, dancing so hard as if - by dancing, I could stop it all from happening. As though, through the sheer intensity and grace of my dance, I can magic the huge black death machines into swarms of vivid dragonflies on turquoise and ultramarine wings of gauze, and the falling incendiaries will transfigure into spirals of gossamer seed to silt over the ruins of London in a perfect snow of soft whiteness, just as I cover over the sharp hard angles of my maleness with smooth silks.
But even as I dance my ears are choking on the screaming of the dead. So I dance faster, and faster, whirling my gowns of silk until it goes away… for a while.
All the way to Madras Place…
‘INCIDENT AT MADRAS PLACE…’
“He had no axe to grind, you never saw him smile,
but his look was good, he always dressed in style…”
(‘Crawdaddy Simone’ by the Syndicats )
‘Stingray’. Anything can happen in the next half-hour.
This night, after leaving the restaurant, instead of heading back for Holloway Road, Joe takes a lazy stroll down through Islington towards the green square of Madras Place…
No reason. No particular place to go. But when I get there, I will know. My narrow-cut high double-breasted suit is Saville Row. My hair by a gentleman’s barber in Mayfair. The hand-painted tie is deep turquoise silk. They’re matched to an expensive watch and cuff-links, yet I’m navigating by using a lure to tawdriness fixed deep in the nervous tissue. Driven on dark compulsions, the vile obsessions that can’t be denied. It’s always this way. The restless hunger for grubby encounters. And the stuff in my head that won’t resolve itself. Glenda Collins. Bobby Rio & The Revelles. A ‘B’-side to concoct for the Syndicats. A single for the Tornados, two sides lifted from the current Gerry Anderson TV ‘Supermarianation’ series….
I fist some pills. Uppers. Purples. And after walking for a while I pause here, on the corner between the off-license and the laundromat. Across the road there’s a Gent’s Lavatory on a patch of scrubby grass. One I’ve not noticed before. It must have been here. Obviously. Just that I’ve not noticed it until now. So I take a furtive glance this way, and then that. It’s become a luminous gateway. A flesh-red portal to an underworld of dark deviance. And I slope inside. Down three wet-slippery steps. It’s a small pissoir – just four urinals backed up by two graffiti’d cubicles. But it’s dark. Someone has deliberately extracted the soiled incandescent bulb from its wire cage. Promising. Just that foul smell to orientate by, urine, stale semen and the drip-drip-drip of disinfectant. The sweetly clinging stench of a drab ceramic cave, with gloomy tiles and foul washbasins. But there are two shapes. Two men. I slide into the space between them as my eyes become used to the gloom, the cold sweat of anticipation slicking my shirt to my shoulders. As it always does. I can tell that only one of the men is worth having. A labouring type, slight, with a cropped haircut, and – as far as I can tell, he’s wearing tight jeans and a dark pvc coat. My mouth is dry.
There’s still time for you to get out. You can get out now, and stay clean. You came in for a piss, didn’t you? Nothing more...
The other man is already moving away, not out of the place altogether, but back up against the wall. In the gloom he looks about thirty, aristocratic. He’s exhaling on a cigarette and, by the glowing end, watching. A choreography, as though it’s rehearsed. The floor is quivering. We don’t have Earth tremors in Madras Place, surely? No, it’s just this sick anticipation. That familiar ticking in the scrotum, the familiar tightening of the glutei. Stood next to the labourer. My breath stopped. Reaching down into his groin. That agony of uncertainty. But he’s responding, a catch in his breathing, his hand reaching down to play with me. I unbutton the top of my pants to give him free rein. The other guy moving in, easing his hands roughly down the back of my trousers, his hot breath on my neck, the smell of his cigarette curling around my nostrils. The heady excitement of blood pounding in my veins. Nobody moves. It is dark. Just a little spill of light into the place from the street, not enough to see by. We are not faces. Not individuals. We are only need expressed in gushes of pure wildness. Radioactive cocks, pulsing and throbbing in warm meat sockets. Feeding on each other. Merging together. Melting the very core of your being.
The little pissoir dissolves into scenes of frenzied saturnalia, in stale odors caught in a blur of motion, a physical violence in throbbing darkness. While no more that two feet away the good citizens of Islington are moving about their ordinary business. I come, squirting jism-jets – one, two, three, into the labourer’s eager mouth and quickly pull up my pants, clammy now. Scared again. As they switch their attentions on each other I turn to get out. The urgency to escape suddenly so strong it’s overwhelming. But framed against the door, up against the streetlights, the way is blocked by a man. Tall. Slouch-hat. Black, with moonstruck eyes. But why does his face escape me? And there’s something odd… something not quite right about him.
Special Branch? Oh shit, please no.
But he’s there. Clear. Real. Then he’s gone. Turning back, they’re too busy with each other’s bodies to have noticed anything. And the interior has shape-shifted into an amniotic sub-aquatic scene where squid and seal-like creatures coil around each other voraciously, tentacles and grotesquely inflated genitals plunging like hands, gorging on mutually devoured flesh. And there, emerging from the right-side cubicle, is the black figure. And he’s holding a javelin of ice. No, it’s glass. A long shard of shattered, blitz-salvaged plate-glass. I’m in a cold sweat of terror. They can’t see him. They’re too engrossed in each other. He’s standing over them. Looks deliberately at me. And stamps down hard on the aristo-type’s head. So hard his jaws clamp down, abruptly severing the stiff penis in his mouth. Crawling and rearing up, the howl of agonized terror is slashed short as the glass blade arcs once, twice, three times, severing the labourer-type’s jugular vein. This is sick. This is obscene. I can’t watch. But I watch. Blood fountains, piss, spewing intestines start to unravel in foul scribbling coils. Flowers of blood growing into gaudy blossoms of blood. Blooming blood-flowers. Stars of blood, swirling into galaxies of random constellation. The reek of busted bowels and pools of vile mucoid bile-emissions…
I force my eyes away from the gore-splattered slice and dice. Pulling my collar up, slip-sliding up the three moist steps I’m suddenly back onto the street. Nothing. No-one. And I’m walking as fast as I can, fast – but not too fast to draw attention. I have to walk all the way back. Very tired. More than a little scared, all the way back to 304.
“He ain’t got no friends…”
(‘Crawdaddy Simone’ by the Syndicats )
Let me set the scene…
He creaks up the stairs of 304 Holloway Road, North London, two at a time, onto the landing of the flat above the leather goods store. Careful not to alert the radar-attentions of Mrs Violet Shenton. She’s the landlady, a large wheezing woman who has difficulty climbing stairs. And there’s the awkward issue of unpaid rent to avoid. But once safely past her ground-floor diligence zone, you’re emerging into fantasia. Into a confusion of blades and whirligigs, of sleek rounded units with handles and wires gaffa-taped into sequence. A scruffy studio, with egg-box sound-proofing and bits of carpet thumb-tacked across the walls. Electrical coils that snake across the floor, jack-leads, spools, curly cables, winker bulbs, valves, plug sockets, dials like a ‘Quatermass’ control-board, and a ceaseless drumming thunder that reverberates from every reflective surface. Primal technology. It’s also something of a death-trap.
There are stories. Where Joe’s concerned, there are always stories. Bits of ceiling plaster fall onto the equipment when volume-levels peak. And leaning against the wall, at a precise angle, there’s a shotgun. It belongs to Heinz, Tornados bass-player, and Joe’s sometime lover. He’d left it there, meant to pick it up, never got round to it. It’s the same shotgun Joe had leveled at this guy Mitch Mitchell – later of the Hendrix Experience, threatening to ‘blow his fucking head off’ if he doesn’t drum the way he wants him to drum – which is ‘properly’. And every so often it’s necessary to stop recording when the sound of a heavy truck driving by outside is picked up by the slow-spooling yellow-brown magnetic-tape.
It’s cramped here too. Mike Rossi of the Spectres tells how he’s tuning his guitar, raising the neck to make fine-adjustments, when accidentally it contacts Roger Lavern’s un-earthed electric keyboard, the resulting sparking-arc of blue-flash shocks him clear across the studio floor, blacking him out and numbing his arm dead for the remainder of the session. But he plays - as you will play - ‘cos this is Joe’s studio. And this is serious stuff…
Watch the uncanny stillness of his manner as Joe works. The impression he gives of barely moving his lips. You’re inclined to think he’s some kind of brilliant ventriloquist. An illusionist. Which – of course, he is. Until he explodes into petulance, temper tantrums and sullen sulks. Until he throws a piano stool or an open-top tape recorder at someone who has dared criticize or disagree with him. “He has a very violent temper” shrugs session-drummer Clem expansively, “and he’s never wrong. Never.”
But Joe has a way of ironing out the wrinkles. After all, he’s got three-hundred songs to his credit, three-hundred and counting. After all, here is a man who gets hit singles using bicycle clips to hold microphones in place. ‘Music. I don’t WRITE music’ he’d said. ‘Geoff Goddard can write it down. I hear it. I record it. Create it. Shape it. But I don’t do notes on paper…’
“Baby some black day, Crawdaddy will show…”
(‘Crawdaddy Simone’ by the Syndicats)
“Explain? I can’t explain.” If Geoff Goddard can’t explain this, no-one can. Geoff knows things, intuits things others can’t. “To reiterate what you’ve told me, this strange-walking man is haunting you, you think blackmail? You keep seeing him, but he’s never approached you direct, he’s made no demands, no threats?”
From Joe, only a stupid nod. And a voice scarcely audible above the background radio. “It’s not a lot, I know. But it’s scary Geoff. It’s spooking me.”
“So what do you think he wants?”
“You tell me. No – I really mean it, you tell me. Do your talking-to-spirits thing. Find out what he wants.”
“I’ve already done some Joe. The ‘cottage’ you visited that night, the first place you ever saw him, the place you could never find again…”
“Yes, yes. What about it?” Yes, I constructed a ‘Borrower’s’-style scale-model London in my head, the kind of miniature village you pay 6d admission at seaside resorts, to walk through and squint into. The kind that cranky obsessives painstakingly construct in their back-gardens. And I stalk its imaginary streets like a Rock ‘n Roll Gulliver, trying to retrace my steps that night, and here’s the street and here’s the Laundromat and the off-license. But no public Gent’s. It’s not there. Perhaps it only existed then, coming into existence – for my exclusive benefit, on that precise night as I approached?
“I have a strong hunch. Think about the blitz. The sky black with Luftwaffe and the searchlights hitting out at the shapes of stars crashing down from their orbits. With huge tripod war machines stilting over the rubble and ugly gouges of smoke crawling over the pulped bodies, twisted mangled and mutilated, with lights pulsing and sirens banshee-howling.”
“Yes. I know. I was eleven, coming up to twelve. I was… dancing. What’s that got to do with it?”
“That area you describe, the place where you did that illicit cottaging, it was smashed that night of the blitz. It used to be a run-down residential area, terraced houses, rooming houses, that sort of thing. But after that night, nothing survived but rubble. There were families there. Families who died. Families who died as you danced. And him? He was there too. Only now he inhabits other voices, other shadows, other sounds. And you know, Joe, we tune in through our psychic senses, through our electronic distortions here are RGM, and it all combines to distort time and space and set up sympathetic echoes across time. From here… back to then.”
I know it. On a deep subliminal level. Me? I was born with poison running in my veins. A damning virus that prompts my trips into taboo. My gravitational attraction to the dark swirling undercurrents of evil glamour. Into forbidden territories. That’s how I know it’s possible to love the body, but not the soul. And at times I’m completely in the power of sexual compulsions I can’t control. It invades me and takes over my body and uses it for its own purposes. I am compelled to carry out its grubby demeaning wishes, and yet all the time I’m fully aware of what I am doing. Even as I’m resenting myself for doing it. ‘To hear is to obey, oh master’. Perhaps he’s part of that too? This makes sense. “Those families. What were their names? Do you know?”
“I get one name strongly. Perhaps Italian extraction – via New Orleans, I don’t know. Does it mean anything to you? ‘Simone. Crawdaddy Simone’.”
“That’s it. That’s the one. That’s him… so how do I get rid of him?”
“It was we who attracted him, Joe. You were trance-dancing as he died. That forged the first psychic connection. Then there’s the transcendental sexual energies you generated exactly on the spot he died, that set up the second connection. The rest we did here. For people who die in those circumstances, their after-life becomes weird, they turn to stone or ice, to fire or – in his case, electricity. And we have been drawing on spirit-world forces through the sympathetic powers of the music we conjure. So now we must exorcise him. Give him the peace he craves. And the way we must do it is to use electronics. Valves. Circuit boards. Sound distortion. We free him through a ritual of sound we will create here, sound evoking his name. And by doing so, we free you…”
‘Free me? Yes – it’s not my fault that I don’t belong, and have never belonged. It’s the world around me that’s gone all wrong. I change my mind every week. I have storms of miserable hot rage aimed at an intolerant and frustrating world. It’s like being buried alive in hatred. Free me from that, too, Geoff, if you can….’
A silence, interrupted only by the radio. Then an abrupt switch. “I tried to warn him, you know?”
“Warn who?” Geoff is taken unawares by the unexpected turn.
A vague wave towards the transistor. Buddy Holly. ‘Baby, I Don’t Care’.
“What do you mean?” His voice translating up out of the humming silence.
“Buddy Holly. I attended one of his final London dates. I went backstage. Naturally, the staff - they knew me. He was there. And I told him. Warned him about the plane. The crash. He looked me straight in the eyes, through those famous glasses. And he thanked me. Thanked me as though I’d just told him I liked the shade of his shirt. Thanked me as though I’d said I liked the clavioline on his solo record ‘Everyday’. He thanked me. Then turned away to talk to someone else.”
“Perhaps he didn’t hear you right. Or understand what you were telling him.”
“Perhaps. But I didn’t get through to him. He ignored what I said. And because of that, inside the year he was dead. You know the date – 3rd February 1959.”
‘ON THE HORIZON…’
“If he comes your way, Man you better blow,
Just leave him alone, Crawdaddy Simone…”
(‘Crawdaddy Simone’ by the Syndicats )
It’s mid-morning. And Joe is thinking ‘my ears fill with the sound of frogs and toads trapped inside the plumbing. It’s been raining heavily for days. The sounds I’m hearing must be the gutters and the overflows filling, the water levels swelling, and the frogs are drowning. Can frogs drown…?’ And of course, the flat is bugged. There are concealed microphones, hidden behind the plaster, sensitive to every sound. They’re thieving my ideas. My unique genius. It’s obvious. The new breed of record producers, Andrew Loog-Oldham, Shel Talmy. Brian Epstein’s pretty leather boys. And even Spector too. They must be sucking it all in even now...
Oblivious to this subterfuge, the Syndicats arrive. Jeff Williams glances up to where the shopfront reads ‘A. H. SHENTON - TRAVEL GOODS: HANDBAGS: LEATHER & GRINDERY’. This is the place. It always amuses him. Leather and grindery. But this is where they make hit records. So they file upstairs, one by one. Joe’s already there, tetchily telling everyone to mind the cables and wires on the floor. ‘Don’t step on them, it’ll spoil things.’ But wires and cables are everywhere – it’s impossible not to stop on them, unless you’re forced to play perfectly rooted to the spot. Finding a little space to gear up, to record this ‘Crawdaddy Simone’, this strange title suggested by Joe. A song intended to be the ‘B’-side to ‘On The Horizon’, a Ben E King cover. A safe bet.
Now each Syndicat in turn runs through musical phrases and patterns so that Joe, perfectly tuned in a crisp suit, can adjust the dials on his desk accordingly. But Joe seems perhaps a little more distracted than usual? Spaced-out, even. Indeed he is. Uppers, downers too. He’d been like this when they’d recorded ‘On The Horizon’ – after all, that’s when guitarist Steve Howe quit the band. He’d said all that stuff about ‘believing there’s a sense of doom’ over the place. And over Joe. Ray Fenwick was hastily drafted in to replace him. Still feeling his way. He’d been with The Excels, until he’d answered that small-ad in the local paper. But today Joe’s even worse. Perhaps Steve was right? He wants everything right, even more than usual, for this song he calls ‘Crawdaddy Simone’. Conceding “that’s fine,” grudgingly. Except there’s no depth, no conviction to Joe’s words. No one in the room really believes it is fine, but then Joe has a way of ironing out the wrinkles.
Then he sets the tape rolling. You start by picking out some opening chords from Berry Gordy’s ‘Money’, overlaid with some moist squelchy electro-shocks. Ray Fenwick’s guitar emits a curt distorted rasp. And when he plays his guitar that way, Joe smiles - it’s his first smile of this very long day. He asks Ray to play again. It’s a killer sound. Turning the dials on his console, he makes the sound - the song, louder.
This is the way it works. Johnny Lamb - the singer, goes in the bathroom, adjacent to the toilet pedestal, the better to achieve echo. Leading in with a bratty Jagger vocal slur, matched to a storm of frantic drum-kicks. The drummer – we don’t need a drummer. We generate the beat ourselves. We use Clem. Or else we thump on the floor here, not there – but here, precisely. It sets up exactly the correct seismic deep-resonance sound-level we require. Joe is transfixed - not on the band or music, necessarily, just transfixed. Perhaps he notices the needles on his console all flicking into the red when Johnny growls the opening line, ‘Cheating was his trade’. Perhaps he doesn’t. But that’s where the needles stay for the duration of the track - not dropping, not registering any sign of activity. Just locked up there high. And the Syndicats go into orbit, banging out ‘Crawdaddy Simone’ with an energy borne of excitement and frustration. And the energy levels peak when Ray kicks in with a guitar solo that isn’t quite what it should be in this day and age. Something strange has got into the machinery. Into a ‘Wooly Bully’ shuffle-rhythm with tortured glissade up and down the guitar-neck. “Here we go again - Go, Go, Go…!” The compression so high it near melts the speakers. Then Joe treats it. Then he channels it through the mixing desk, bounces it, distorts it, shapes it. A deranged cut-up guitar like a storm of silver locusts as it disintegrates into the slithery fade of beautifully guilt-ridden notes. All done on two tracks. But that’s all Joe needs. It’s alchemy. But it’s an alchemy that works. See the gold discs? He gets no.1 hits this way. And he’s the only alchemist who can do it. He’s the illusionist. The magician. This is a shaman’s room, and he has magic at his fingertips…
The last distorted chords fade into silence. At his table, Joe remains focused, unmoving.
“Joe? How was that?” Everything slips into focus and he’s in the real world once again. Joe Meek, the record producer.
Playing the track back, Ray’s guitar isn’t the only thing that’s distorted - the whole recording has clearly over-peaked. But no-one says anything, lest it offends Joe. His methods are seldom questioned, an offended Joe is liable to have a tantrum and start throwing things around. Or worse...
It will take some time, a couple of decades, for the resultant track to transcend its humble ‘B’-side status and lodge itself firmly onto the landscape that is Musical Legend. But that’s what ‘Crawdaddy Simone’ does. The brightest shining example of what is commonly termed British Freakbeat, with original vinyl copies fetching up to £300. Reflecting on ‘Crawdaddy Simone’ a quarter of a century later, John McCready would write: “This is not really a record — more a static filled thunderstorm...”
Now, while Mrs Violet Shenton is creak-creaking up the stairs towards Joe’s flat, determined to ‘have it out once and for all’ with her troublesome tenant, unable to sleep with his nocturnal audio-experimenting. His thump-thump-thumpings on the floor. And the space noises. He owes rent too. Why can’t she get a normal tenant? Violet. A large woman, who wheezes breathily. For her, it’s bad timing. The music industry is conspiring against him. He’s just heard that EMI have rejected his latest batch of tapes. The “Telstar” royalties, long locked up in litigation, will not be resolved for at least another year. For Joe has always been a better record producer than he is an accountant, and now, as his personal problems and tangled financial affairs are worsening towards melt-down, his mixed-up delusions are intensifying.
In his head, when he’d danced as a child, he became beauty, he became grace. Even as he dances now there is still some part of him that is no longer himself, yet his ears are choking on the screaming of the dead. It’s the exact anniversary of Buddy Holly’s plane-crash death, on the 3rd February 1959. And, despite the ‘electronic exorcism’, he’s still seeing the strange-walking man. Crawdaddy Simone. So I dance faster, and faster, whirling my gowns of silk until it goes away… for a while. Only this time, it won’t go away. The spectre of death lurks behind the pursuit of tainted pleasures. It’s impossible to indulge one without eventually surrendering to the other. Anonymous gutter-sex is a willing submersion in chaos. A flirtation with the agents of death. Now I hear all these sirens. And I think ‘what’s going on out there in the street?’ Until I realize the sirens are all inside my head. I’m freaking. But footsteps on the stairs? They’re real. Lips tight with paranoia, eyes harshly shadowed, depressed and in a state of pill-heightened panic. LSD too.
He seizes the shotgun. Heinz’ shotgun… the door is opening. After a couple of endless ticks he snaps out of his freeze… and eases the trigger, empties the chamber into… her. His body spasms with recoil. His quiff vibrates. It’s Mrs Violet Shenton. She staggers back. Over the landing, head-over-heeling down the stairs. Strange it should assume her outward appearance.
Exorcism. There’s one thing left to do to complete the ritual. He calmly reloads. Puts the barrel up against the roof of his mouth, and blows the top off his own head too. Joe is thirty-eight years old.
“…So now we call the group Syn.” Johnny Lamb is standing outside 304 Holloway Road, Islington, eating the heat. It’s 3rd February 1967. Mid-morning. “We drop the ‘-indicats’, and become ‘Syn’.”
“Yes.” Jeff Williams glances across to where the shopfront reads ‘A. H. SHENTON - TRAVEL GOODS: HANDBAGS: LEATHER & GRINDERY’. It amuses him. Leather and grindery.
“Syn sounds good. We stuck with Joe. At least for that last record. We saw it through. He’d done it for the Tornados, he’d done it for the Honeycombs. He might have been able to do it for us. So we did that one last single. And we got to do some kind of weird ‘B’-side. We did that, and it was a great record. Whatever it meant to Joe. It got to no.22 on the ‘Radio London’ chart. That’s good too. But it’s not great. So now, I guess, we’ll try something else…”
But I swear that sometimes, when the mist is rising and the rain is falling and the wind is blowing cold across the moor, I still hear the sound of that record…
THE SYNDICATS: THEIR REAL TRUE HISTORY
Around 1965 The Syndicats are an aspiring upwardly-mobile North London R&B group with a line-up including Steve Howe, Tom Ladd, P. Driscoll and Kevin Driscoll. Some-time mid-1965 guitarist Steve Howe quits to join the In-Crowd (who then metamorphasise into Tomorrow) leaving John Melton and guitar-replacement Ray Fenwick, and – as members come and go, Pete Banks (guitar) and Chris Squire (bass) join the five-piece Syndicats…
Their three singles, produced at Joe Meek’s legendary ‘Meeksville Sound’ RGM studios, are:-
“Maybelline” c/w “True To Me” (Columbia DB 7238) – March 1964. Chuck Berry song.
“Howlin’ For My Baby” c/w “What To Do” (Columbia DB 7441) – January 1965. Howlin’ Wolf song.
“On The Horizon” c/w “Crawdaddy Simone” (Columbia DB 7686) – September 1965. Reaches a high of no.22 on the ‘Radio London’ Top 40 (10th October). Steve Howe plays on the ‘A’-side, replaced by Ray Fenwick for the flip. Rest of the group at this point – playing a residency at ‘The Plug Hole’ club on Tottenham Court Road, is keyboard-player Jeff Williams (who co-wrote ‘Crawdaddy Simone’ with Fenwick), John Truelove (drums), Kevin Driscoll (guitar), Johnny Lamb (vocals & harmonica), Paul Holm (drums on ‘Crawdaddy Simone’)
Name-changing to The Syn, the group – now including Chris Squire and Pete Banks (who replaces Ray Fenwick), leave the Joe Meek stable, and re-sign to the Deram ‘flower-family’ for:-
“Created By Clive” c/w “Grounded” (Deram DM 130) – June 1967. ‘A’-side is competing for air-time with a rival version by The Attack.
“Flowerman” c/w “Fourteen-Hour Technicolour Dream” (Deram DM 145) – September 1967. ‘B’-side is dedicated to the Alexandra Palace Festival, excerpts from which – featuring John’s Children, Pink Floyd and Creation, gets screen-time on BBC2.
Pete Banks and Chris Squire then join Jon Anderson to form Yes, opening Cream’s farewell concert at London’s Royal Albert Hall on 26th November 1968. By March 1970 Banks is replaced by Steve Howe… and they go on to become ludicrously huge…