Hanging in the studio with punk/comedy superheroes Spammed
Ben Willmott
16:57 14th February 2017

“That must have been their first London gig.” Rat Scabies, the legendary drummer responsible for the pounding out the frenzied rhythmic onslaught of The Damned’s first singles, is telling us how he got The Jam their first show in the capital.

In between blowing puffs of cigarette smoke out of the studio door, observing the vicious early evening rain steadily turning to snow, he continues his tale.  “They rang me up because they’d had a show cancelled that day and asked if I knew anywhere they could play.  I knew the guy at the Hope and Anchor, which was a big punk place at the time, so
I called him up and he said it was fine for them to play there.”

The paths of The Jam and The Damned crossed several times during the early days of punk, he recalls.  Another time, the details of which remain somewhat murky, Paul Weller and co even hid Scabies’ scooter jn the back of their van in London’s Oxford Street.

Rat is discussing The Jam because we’re here, at Soup Studios in Limehouse, East London, to witness the recording of a new version of ‘To Be Someone (Didn’t We Have A Nice Time’)’.

The scene is, in one way, like any other recording studio.  Engineers and musicians scurry here and there around clutching guitar leads or rolling quick fags.  The sound of crashing,
Keith Moon-style drumming, pianos and bass, meanwhile, leaks through from the studio control room, indicating that as the recording is taking shape. 

Business as usual in that respect,perhaps.  But what makes this gathering so special is the personnel on hand to record this key moment from the first Jam album All Mod Cons.  As well as Mr Scabies, the sofa outside the studio’s main room contains one Horace Panter, bass player with Two Tone ska heroes The Specials, nursing a cup of tea and leisurely leafing through an annual of cartoonist Gary Larson’s Far Side drawings.

Next to join us is Neil Innes, multi-instrumentalist and songwriter supreme, who first soared to fame by scoring a number one with ‘Urban Spaceman’ with the Bonzo Dog Doo Dah Band’ before writing songs for and starring in Monty Python’s ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail.’  As if that wasn’t enough, the so called ‘seventh Python’ went on to create The Rutles, a loving pisstake of The Beatles so accurate that Oasis were forced to cough up royalties for ripping them off.

Breezing through from the control room for his turn for a smoke at the open door, he hears Horace Panter and artist Harry Pye, who was originally behind the idea for The Spammed as they’ve become known, discussing the next band they might cover after The Jam.  “I think we should do ‘My Way,” he laughs with a flamboyant flourish, “Same key as Frank did it!”

Beyond the door, we can hear the track is really taking shape.  At the mixing desk is Micko Westmoreland, probably best known for playing the role of Jack Fairey in the film Velvet Goldmine although he also has several critically acclaimed albums under his belt as The Bowling Green and under his own name.  A rock solid floor of bass and drums has been laid down already, a guide guitar part has been added on the studio’s Gibson supposedly once owned by Paul Weller himself, and Innes has added several layers of organ and piano which lend this version plenty of its own character.

We join Westmoreland as The Spammed’s final member, comedian Kevin Eldon, is recording an impassioned vocal with shades of Elvis Costello’s barbed delivery. “People know Kevin Eldon from his comedy work,” says Micko, and there’s no denying, with a CV that boasts appearances on Brasseye and The Day Today with Chris Morris, Big Train, I’m Alan Partridge, Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle and most recently Game of Thrones,
he’s one of the most respected names in his field. 
“But few know that he’s a really good singer who totally commits in a well prepared but artful way to his performance,”

Micko continues. “Anyone stumbling into the studio on our recording days would think they were in some weird and wonderful dream – there are several generations of classic entertainment from comedy and music in the room.  Harry and I inadvertently cobbled the band together through previous association and emailing, but when the line up finally came together we knew we were on to a winner.  To say that Rat and Horace have only worked together a handful of times begs believe, both have really great timing and can be depended upon to deliver something special.”

After previous covers of The Clash, Beatles and Bob Marley, this is The Spammed’s fourth outing and third for the Teenage Cancer Trust, who benefit from the themed Specialized compilations that have also featured Dreadzone and a number of leading acts from the ska revival scene.



“It’s a really good cause,” emphasises Horace Panther, “because let’s face it, everyone knows someone who has suffered from it.”

With a few ad libs and a few subtle backing vocal additions committed to tape, Eldon emerges from the booth and proceedings draw to a close, the track a mere couple of overdubs away from completion.  “Hey Kevin,” asks Harry Pye, as the band gathers. “didn’t you support The Jam once?”

Indeed, even Kevin has a connection with the mod dons, one that stretches back to his time as singer with Portsmouth punk band The Time.  The band played the role of support when Weller and co played Portsmouth Guildhall in 1981. 

Kevin admits:” We were overwhelmed with terror.  Well, I was, actually.  I said this recently and the bass guitarist said ‘well, you might have been...‘  We were just a local band and suddenly there were 3,000 people.  I couldn’t breathe, all I remember is trying not to faint.”

How had the gig come about?  “Bruce Foxton had seen us in a pub in Guildford supporting another band, but there was a link already because Paul Weller had seen us supporting The Vapours in a pub in 1980 – to I think nine people - and he got us a John Peel session as a result.  So thanks Paul, 37 years later!  But at the Portsmouth gig they went on and just destroyed the place.  It was such a good gig, they were fantastic live.”

Having just laid down its vocal track, Eldon explains that the choice to cover ‘To Be Someone’ had been a band decision.  “We had a big, mass democratic debate,” he continues, “We nearly went with ‘Dreams of Children’, and then we came back to ‘To Be Someone’.  We thought it had echoes of the terrible fame culture there is now, being in love with being famous, so it seemed very prescient.”

“Prescient?!” teases Neil Innes, “how are you spelling that?!”

Listening back to the rudimentary mix, he concurs: “We played to our strengths and did our own thing – you don’t want to do a straight cover, so we just gave it our own vibe, man!”

At least partially famed for his much revisited impression of Beatles producer George Martin, we can’t help but wonder whether it ever gets an outing in its natural setting, the recording studio?

“Ironically, it’s the only time I don’t do it!” he laughs.
“You do a George Martin impersonation?” Innes demands to know.
“Come on,” replies Eldon. “everyone does a George Martin impersonation!”

Kevin confesses that after its initial appearance on Big Train, a sketch in which being abducted by fundamentalist terrorists isn't enough to stop him telling his well worn stories about the Fab Four, he actually wrote to George Martin to clarify it was meant to be a respectful and thoroughly loving pisstake, “because I love George Martin”.  

He received a reply from Martin’s son, assuring him that the legendary producer had found it very funny indeed.  There was only one thing, the letter claimed.  “He just couldn’t understand why he’d be a target for Hamas!”

* The next Specialized compilation, featuring covers of The Jam, is scheduled for release in July.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Photo: Press