In a desperate attempt to keep the Holy Rollers going, we decided to try and get another singer. Craig, the drummer, said that his sister had a mate who was a good singer and was looking to join a band. We had one rehearsal in Craig’s infamous ‘shed’ where it became obvious to everyone that it was never going to work. She could sing well enough but it just wasn’t right; her voice didn’t fit our songs and the songs she really wanted to sing didn’t fit our ideas for the band. We called it a day.
Early in the year, Grahame asked Craig, Martin and myself to play in the band for a production of “Grease” being performed by Malby Minors Youth Theatre Company at Rotherham Civic Theatre. I’ve always loved playing in the band for shows, but there is a lot of sitting around whilst the actors and technical crew sort stuff out and especially when there is a matinee followed by an evening show. It was times like this that we took our instruments into our little dressing room and started playing a few songs to stop us getting bored. When I brought the mandolin along, we started playing through bits of any Irish folk songs we vaguely knew; me doing most of the singing. Things started very quickly falling into place and we realised we could be onto something here, we just needed to learn some more songs.
The first thing I did was buy the book “Folksongs and Ballads Popular In Ireland – Volume 2” and then go and have a look in the ‘World Music and Folk’ section in the record shops, not a section I’d ever even thought about looking in before. I knew of The Dubliners, of course, but couldn’t really name any of the songs, and I knew The Pogues but had never got any of their stuff. In the end I bought the “Original Dubliners” double CD which had fifty six tracks on – that should be enough! I sifted through to see what to learn, in the end going for songs based on two simple criteria; they had to be either easy to learn or have the potential to sound raucous. “Poor Paddy On The Railway” was an immediate hit for me, followed by “Whiskey In The Jar” and “All For Me Grog”. Research showed me that The Dubliners had been considered ‘dangerous’ and ‘left-field’ in the Sixties but I couldn’t see it, they sounded tame and a bit dull to me, but at least there was enough material to make a start. I discovered that actually I knew quite a few songs already, either learned from my mum when I was little or from times spent sitting round campfires as a teenager at Boys Brigade Camp in Skegness. I also found that there were loads of different versions of the same song, so it didn’t matter if I got the words wrong, no one would really know! I then bought the “The Best Of The Pogues” to try and learn a few songs with a bit more ‘thump’. “Sally MacLennane”, “The Irish Rover” and “Dirty Old Town” were definites and there were a couple of others to think about for later.
With five or six songs under our belts (though not rehearsed – start as you mean to go on!) Martin and I started going to Fagin’s in Sheffield on a Sunday afternoon and Tuesday night when they had sessions. Local musicians and singers would just turn up, get drunk and play together. It was fabulous! No matter how drunk they got, they could still play brilliantly and they all seemed to know when to change in the middle of a set of tunes without anyone actually ever saying anything. At first we just went to listen and watch but pretty quickly started taking our instruments and joining in, being accepted immediately. We also started going to sing-around sessions on a Thursday night at The Stag – a pub in Rotherham, and to open-mic nights at The Charter Arms in the town centre on Sunday nights. I usually took my mandolin and Martin took his guitar. We soon became pretty well-known around the local ‘acoustic’ circuit and found we were actually generally much better than most of the people who got up to sing, having performed in the somewhat unforgiving Working Men’s Clubs for years, rather than sitting in a bedroom practising a song specially for the night, as most of them seemed to do.
I decided that if we were going to do this Irish thing properly, I also needed a banjo. Years before, as a nine or ten year old boy, Auntie Dora had said she would buy me a banjo one day, so it was a shame she never lived to see me play one but I often think about her. I went up to a folk instrument shop (again, something I’d never dreamed of doing before) called The Music Room in Cleckheaton and got a second hand Epiphone five-string G banjo. I didn’t know if it was a good one or not but it sounded like a banjo, so that was fine by me. I got a hard case for it from a swap shop in Sheffield.
It had been a pleasant surprise at Christmas last year to have been given a drum kit. I always knew I could play since we’d kept one at our house when I was a teenager, but now I had one of my own to bash about on. It took me a few days of wondering why it didn’t feel right before I thought about moving the kit around and trying everything on the opposite side to the usual. That was it, it all fell into place. I was a left handed drummer! Martin (a different Martin from the bass player) had started a Rhythm and Blues band with his mates and they wanted a drummer. I wasn’t particularly busy and went along to their practice room on John Street near Bramall Lane in Sheffield to try out for them. When Pete, their bass player, said after a while that he wasn’t sure who was auditioning who, I knew I’d done alright – I was now the drummer in a band!
The Rattener’s Rest in Sheffield was to be our first gig. They decided that to make it a ‘proper’ gig, there should be a support band too, so I suggested I could do a few of the Irish songs I’d been playing with the other Martin. They loved the idea and the date was set; July 24th. Martin and I roped in Craig, our old drummer, and just told him to bash along, we didn’t need a practice. About half an hour before we were due to play, we were sitting in the bar when Martin decided that we ought to have a band name. I’d recently learned a tune called “The Rakes of Marlow” and suggested ‘The Rakes’ as a name. Craig looked at me and said, “The Rakes? You can’t call a band after some f**king garden tool!” It was Martin who suggested ‘The Rogues’ saying that it sounded a bit like The Pogues, arguing that we did play a few of their songs.
And so, The Rogues played our first ever gig, just five songs. We went down a storm. It was the start of something special.