Max Thomas talks about the very early years

I was looking at the “brief history of the band” page the other day, and well, to be honest, there’s quite a lot of inaccurate information on it!

Steve and Lol were really the original originators of the whole thing. They went to the same prep school (7-13, fee-paying) and became close friends during those far-off years! Now, to get this all in perspective timewise, it may be useful to point out that Steve, Lol and I were born in 1950…it may help in understanding how important the school thing was. When they left that school, Lol started at the school that I was at (13-18, fee-paying, a traditional English Public School…yucch, I hear someone say, I think both Lol and I would agree, most of it was, but there you go….) So Lol and I met in around 1964, and as we became friends, the fact that we shared the same first name (Laurence) was often confusing, so it was decided that Lol would stay Lol, and I would be called by my second name (Maxwell, in full). Lol and Steve remained good friends throughout this time, despite them being at separate boarding schools. I guess Steve and I must have started playing the guitar around the same time, but quite independently of each other. I remember loads of kids at our school started to teach themselves the guitar at this time…it was the period in which the Beatles were huge and becoming even more huge, the whole sixties music thing was happening, it was such an exciting time!

Both Lol and Steve left school around the age of 16, and they started writing songs together. I was staying on, to take exams that would get me to University in1968. I think it was around ’67 that they decided to make a record in a local (Birmingham) studio called Zella. They hadn’t quite got enough money, so they asked me if I wanted to write a song to go on the album in exchange for me paying for the shortfall. We just had a few copies pressed, and I don’t know if any of them still survive. It was acoustic music ­ folk music some might say, but only because we didn’t know any drummers or electric guitarists at that time. (Public School are such cloistered places ­ mind you, John Illsley, the bass player in Dire Straits, was in the year above me, but I’ve never come across him since school, though we did meet Mark Knopfler in Amsterdam in maybe 1978).

I went off to Sussex University (the author John Braine had recently described it as a “communist hotbed”) and sort of lost touch with Lol for a year or so. I was heavily into politics at the time (most students were), and after 5 years in a single-sex boarding school, it was sex-drugs-rock-and-roll PLEASE! We re-established contact in the summer of ’ 69, sharing in a few things that reflected the times, but then the next few years becomes a bit hazy, not just for the obvious reasons, but because I underwent a series of nervous breakdowns a couple of years later, and what with the ECT (electro-convulsive therapy) and varieties of medication that I was on, much of my memory of that period is patchy. In fact, Lol remembers many events that I don’t…many of them highly amusing, but probably not relevant to this website. Suffice it to say that during my (voluntary) last confinement in a psychiatric unit in a large hospital in Birmingham, Lol and Steve and Chris would pick me up around 7 in the evening, we’d call in to buy some cheap but powerful cider on the way to Lol’s place, where we would make music. Much later, I would be deposited in the lift, from where I would crawl out on the 5th. floor back to the unit. It was really Lol and a few other close friends, and the fact that I was beginning to express myself through music, that pulled me through that very dark and difficult phase of my life.

Chris was a very good acoustic guitarist. Lol and Steve between them did the lead vocals, and I used to play 12-string guitar or bongos! But there’d always been a piano at home, and for several years I’d been working out guitar chords on the piano, if you see what I mean, so I began occasionally to play a bit of piano here and there.

Then we met Rene (“of Switzerland” as his hairdressing salon was called). He was to become our manager, and it was he who got us a record deal much later. We, as a four-piece called “Back-in-the-Band” used to play semi-regularly in a sort of folk club type venue called the “Cherry Trees” some miles outside B’ham. A bloke called John Starkey managed the entertainment at this venue, and he got Rene in to hear us. (John Starkey was, and as far as I know, still is Jasper Carrott’s manager…but it’s probable that many visitors to this website will not have heard of him). We needed to play louder than acoustic instruments would allow, so we took the step in around 1973 to find a drummer and an electric guitarist. Mike Slamer was the ultimate (and probably still is), and we were very lucky to come across him…and he only joined us because we had a manager! Roger Kent was the original drummer.

Now I was no expert keyboard player ­ I always tell people even now, I strum the guitar, and do the equivalent on the piano. The only justification for me remaining in the band after our going electric was that I was writing songs, and that we had always seen as being our strongest collective ability (until Mike, of course!)

I also have to say at this point that it was Steve who was always convinced that we could make it: he so wanted to do it, and his enthusiasm and certainty about our being able to do it carried us along, and, largely, enabled us to get there. After the 15/16 years of having no communication with him because of the split in 1979, it was such a relief to be able to tell him things like that. I would never have become a songwriter had it not been for him.

Max, I want to thank you very, very much, for this honest report. I am sure, that everyone who likes your music will also love your stories :) - please keep them coming in!

More, when I receive it from Max...

Another great production!