BOB

TrackAlbum / EP / Single
It Was Kevin...BBC John Peel Session 1988
ScarecrowBBC John Peel Session 1988
What A PerformanceSombrero - Sombrero One
The Hippy Goes FishingSombrero - Sombrero Two
ConvenienceHouse Of Teeth - HOT12002
Extension 'BOB', PleaseBBC John Peel Session 1989
I Don't KnowHouse Of Teeth - (HOT12003)
DaymakerHouse Of Teeth - (HOT12004)
Time And AgainHouse Of Teeth - (HOT12005)
TrousercideLeave The Straight Life Behind

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BOB photo

BOB (l to r): Gary Connors (drums), Jem Morris (bass), Simon Armstrong (guitar, vocals), Richard Blackborow (vocals, keyboards, guitar)

BOB logo

 

Contributor: John Hartley

The black Sanyo double cassette player that sat atop the bottom of the four white plastic coated chipboard shelves did many things, not all of them desirable. On the plus side, the shelves were placed just above my bed, thereby allowing me to listen to football commentary on BBC Radio 2 on a Saturday afternoon and occasional Tuesday evenings, as well as the UK Top 40 on a Sunday and, after a while, John Peel midweek. I could also not only listen to cassettes purchased or borrowed, but record them for others in hi-speed. This enabled me to re-imagine so much contemporary music in the style of the Pinky and Perky records of my childhood. On the downside, however, the in-built microphone didn’t work, which meant that I couldn’t record the undoubtable hit singles I was now writing on my guitar with four newly-learned chords (A, D, E and G, in that order). Another downside is that, actually, sometimes the in-built microphone did work. When I didn’t want it to.

I came to love British indie heroes BOB through the sound of a Peel Session played against the metronomic background of the second hand on my Argos alarm clock. It didn’t always keep in time with the band, but did manage to get me up for school every morning, so the clock can be spared some of the ire incurred by the intrusion on the recording. Anyway, after a while I stopped noticing the ticking; the songs were just far too good. I was listening to Peel on what would inevitably be another show devoid of The Mighty Lemon Drops. I don’t know what caused me to press ‘Play’ and ‘Record’ simultaneously on the mention of the first track from BOB’s session – Who You Are – but something did and by half nine I had three of the four songs recorded. I don’t know what happened to the fourth. I was probably still telling my parents about the majesty of the third track, the wonderfully titled It Was Kevin …

If enthusiasm over that song wasn’t the reason I missed So Far, So Good, then it was probably a snow update. It was snowing over the Pennines, you see, and Snake Pass had already been closed and caution was being urged to those travelling on the M62 in West Yorkshire. This was naturally of great importance because it was half term and I had planned to head into Manchester the following day to buy records and demonstrate my new found independent young adulthood. Who knows, I might even peer nervously through the front entrance of Afflecks Palace if I felt brave enough. Peel’s show over, I listened again to the newly recorded songs on the cassette deck, not noticing the recorded ticking as it was somehow in synch with the real ticking I could hear. That second song of BOB’s I heard, Scarecrow; now there was a nifty bit of guitar playing accompanied by some very tight harmonies. I made a mental note to investigate further. Thanks, Mr. Peel, possibly for the first but most definitely not for the last time.

The next day dawned, the sun gleaming into my bedroom off frosted rooftops. Frosted rooftops, not snowcapped, as not a single flake of snow had fallen upon my hometown. Nestling in the shelter of the West Pennines, Westhoughton was often spared the worst of the winter weather. Or best, depending which way you looked at it. I’ve long thought days off because of snow are the gods’ way of telling us we work too hard. I wasn’t too mithered that day though; at least the trains were running, so I would be able to head off into Manchester and buy everything that BOB had ever released because it was sure to be stocked in every record shop in the city. Oh Manchester: so much to answer for. No fanfares in Piccadilly Records, bare BOB shelves in Eastern Bloc, His Master’s Voice strangely silent… There were a couple of singles in Our Price but by now I’d spent most of my money and neither record had any of the songs that had stirred me so much the previous night. One had a white cover, the other black. One had five songs, the other four. The five song single won and was able to accompany me home. What A Performance was the title of that single – a longer version entitled Worra Performance provided another of the tracks – and it proved to be home to some fine 1960s-inspired guitar pop.

So what had I learned about BOB by now? Well, they had at least two singles out, and had played a session for John Peel. There were four of them, the songwriting duo of Armstrong/Blackborow (Simon and Richard respectively) being the Lennon/McCartney of the band with guitars, tunes, lyrics and harmonies whilst Jem Morris and Gary Connors played bass and drums. They had strange footwear, quiffs, and appeared to enjoy looking moody in black and white photographs taken in parks. I had also learned by now that my taped recording of their Peel Session had an incongruous mechanical clicking throughout. It was vital that I hear these songs properly. And so it was that my poor mother would assume the role to which she would eventually become accustomed: my indie record mule. I bartered with the numerous classical record shops into which I had been dragged as a child, and won. Mother returned from Manchester a couple of weeks later (she hadn’t been there all that time, it just took those weeks before she next headed citywards) with the single in the white sleeve. Conveniently, it was the only one in the BOB section of Our Price. The single was called Convenience, and no collection of BOB – or indeed jangly indie music full stop – would be complete without its inclusion.

On the back of the sleeve the label’s slogan was ‘More classics than you can shake a stick at…’ There was an address to which people could write. I wrote, of course: I was 17 with nothing better to do other than write essays about Richard II or wonder if that girl – the latest girl, whoever the poor soul might be – would even notice my existence. Well, she might if she knew I was writing to BOB. I got a reply, eventually, that gave me plenty of information including the nuggets that a) Gary Connors was now Dean Leggett and b) there had been a second single and c) it would appear, a compilation album that had ended up in some record shops by mistake. It should have been in European record shops. Of course, I had to find it and who would have guessed that Our Price would once again come up trumps where the more celebrated independent record shops would fail; for six pounds and ninety nine of your British pence, that album was mine. It contained a few songs I already knew – from the two singles – but none from the Peel Session. However, it did contain The Hippy Goes Fishing.

Full of the self-deprecation-mingled-with-hope-and-love that I could only dream of including in my own shambolic efforts at songwriting at this time (“You’re not still going on about that girl are you?” said Tash as I offered another song to The November Criminals), The Hippy Goes Fishing included yet more harmonies to melt the heart, a luscious guitar solo and clever lyrics that leant themselves perfectly to a storyboard for a sixth form pop video venture that would remain sadly unfilmed. And then things went quiet, for what seemed like an age.

Of course, it wasn’t an age: it was six months. By this time, emboldened by my unanimously-lauded role as fourth Inca in “The Royal Hunt Of The Sun”, I had decided that I should try my hand at acting. I could find many excuses for my inability to remember my lines as a bungling escaped convict in the local church’s annual farce, but of course the real reason lay in that one rehearsal spent repeatedly dipping backstage to listen to a new Peel Session being broadcast. There was no way I could concentrate on acting when there was music of such importance being played on national radio. Extension ‘BOB’, Please was the first of these tracks, an infectious organ-driven instrumental that rode roughshod over the wild west soundtracks of which Sunday afternoons seemed so fond. These new songs seemed to demonstrate a maturity about them hitherto missing from the songwriting – a little less ‘quirky’, more ‘grown up’. Or maybe that was just because I was over seventeen and a half by now.

The Peel Session had been brought to my attention by the New Musical Express. This was fortunate, as the official notification through the BOB Newsletter arrived after transmission of course. However, all was forgiven with the announcement of a new single, I Don’t Know, and a tour which INCLUDED A DATE IN BOLTON. That’s right: I had to read it twice too. Nobody played gigs in Bolton. Nobody. Buoyed with this news and a bit of spare cash saved from my Saturdays serving petrol to Stu Francis of Crackerjack fame, I wrote back immediately to BOB to buy the new single and a T-shirt with the brilliantly adapted ‘STP’ logo, and waited for the postman. And waited for the postman. And waited for the postman. And then decided, as it was gig night, that I might as well ask the band themselves for the goods.

At this stage I hadn’t quite got the hang of gigs. I’d seen The Wedding Present, James a couple of times and an unsigned local band of forgotten name whose claim to fame was a song called GM Buses (after the locally-privatised bus company not genetic modification, although the latter might have made for a more interesting lyric). I turned up at the illustrious Bolton Institute of Higher Education ridiculously early; before the doors were even open, in fact. This meant I could just breeze in, find the band and accost them for my missing goods. Of course the quartet were charm personified, apologetically handed over my missing merchandise – now signed, of course – and invited me to share their pre-gig pizza. I was also introduced to other members of the BOB fanbase, including three students who offered to tape the band’s debut Peel Session for me. [I obligingly sent the tape to them, wrote several times again (well, twice) requesting its return with the aforementioned tracks, only to be left devoid of this legendary session. Maybe it got lost in the post, eh? If not, and you’re one of those students, you can keep the tape as I’ve got the songs now, ta. You didn’t see the internet coming, did you!]

After all that excitement, it would only be a matter of months before BOB returned to their rightful place as NME Single Of The Week, which they did with the Stride Up EP. Financed by a publishing deal with a Major Label, for the first time we saw plush artwork on the sleeve. It was only later in life that I realised it was probably just a close up of some velvet curtains, but no matter, this was a sleeve of intent, a statement that BOB were now too good for Chain With No Name stores across the country. Thus it was a sense of inevitability that the only place I could find a copy was, of course, Our Price – this time one of the two stores the company had in Bolton. As usual, BOB’s newsletters revealed that this EP had been borne out of a proposed session to record an album which had run out of time. The four tracks contained within had a sharper, harder edge than previous releases; clearly more money had been spent on their creation. The standout track for me was Daymaker, although the driving Flagpole and religion-bashing My Blood Is Drink weren’t far behind.

With every EP bringing about tales of an aborted recording of a BOB album, I began to suspect –as did the band in all likelihood – that this was something for which the wait would never end. Now located in Newcastle I read the BOB Newsletter announcing the release of the Tired single with the resigned air of someone who was never going to hear properly recorded versions of that February Peel Session. I listened to the single with the resigned air of a fan of a great band resorting to the fashionable ‘baggy’ drumbeat in a bid to keep up with the times. The main track was even ‘remixed’, by some bloke who would become Fatboy Slim. But wait… on the other side, the one that didn’t have the experimental instrumental effort, was a song of pure beauty. Time And Again was a gentle, gorgeously melancholic acoustic strum reminiscing about activity in world wars. This was BOB at their best, and hope was buoyed.

It was difficult to believe what I was reading when, sometime in 1991, news was leaked that finally, finally, a BOB album was to be released. Not just a compilation, either, but a proper album. I was thrilled to see amongst the tracklisting Who You Are, but disappointed that the two superior tracks from that bloody Peel Session I was now obsessed with were missing. The album marked another shift in BOB’s songwriting, here tackling more ‘grown up’ themes such as family break up rather than catching a bus north of Enfield, and had a fuller sound. And at the end, the closing track, the album’s title track, Leave The Straight Life Behind – brilliant! – It Was Kevin … had been renamed! The album spawned another NME Single Of The Week in Nothing For Something, but for me the best track was Trousercide: “favourite clothes – the cheap ones”, “you’ve a nerve – I’ve several”, clever, knowing lyrics with a bold and brassy tune, this was possibly BOB’s finest moment.

And then BOB disappeared. Forever. Victims of the collapse of the Rough Trade distribution arm, not even a support slot with Carter USM could save them. The band carried on for a couple of years but no new releases would find their way onto the shelves of Our Price or indeed any other record and CD emporium. Until a couple of years ago, that is, when the band joined forces with 3 Loop Music and released first of all the album with extra unreleased tracks and a bonus disc containing all of their BBC Sessions, and then a complete singles and B-sides collection. A third album of plentiful unreleased material is forecast too. This is something to look forward to. Trust me.

 

It Was Kevin, Scarecrow, Extension ‘BOB’ Please can also be found on Leave The Straight Life Behind (3 Loop Music, 3RANGE-18)

What A Performance, The Hippy Goes Fishing, Convenience, I Don’t Know, Daymaker, Time And Again can also be found on The Singles And Eps (3 Loop Music 3RANGE-46)

BOB and House Of Teeth Records official website

For the Love of BOB fan site

BOB biography (Wikipedia)

After spending the best part of twenty five years trying to write the perfect pop song John Hartley has turned his attention to writing about those who have done a much better job at it. He tweets as @JohnyNocash and gives away his music, generally for free, at Broken Down Records.

TopperPost #507

6 Comments

  1. Emma House
    Mar 14, 2016

    Truly great write-up capturing both what it meant to be an indie music fan in the late 80s/early 90s and the fascinating music of this outstanding band in an imaginative way. Very much enjoyed reading it. Brought back fond memories of an unbelievably good BOB show in Stuttgart, Germany, sometime around 1990.

  2. Esther
    Apr 4, 2016

    A band whose name I recognize though I didn’t know their music then. Have not listened closely until now. Musically they make me think of Biff Bang Pow! and McCarthy, probably due to that driving beat I love that lends a retro touch. Clever lyrics too. Oh the things we did to chase down music back then, as it appears I may be doing now! So thank you. Great read!

  3. Simon Armstrong
    Aug 15, 2017

    Thanks for this, John!
    I see it can’t have been easy following BOB, what with all the long waits between records and all. We did our best to get stuff out, but it was mainly down to us to organise everything – especially if you define ‘us’ as including our close family and friends, so inevitably things went along at a bit of a crawl. One of the lovely things about getting all of the unreleased stuff ready to put out there is that it does show that there was a load of work going on behind the scenes, at least sometimes, the majority of which never emerged for whatever reason.
    We’ve been working on it for about a year now, and we’ve done over a hundred tunes but that’s not half of it all. Richard has been doing amazing things with the tapes, but as I say there’s a lot of work still to go – not the least of which is going to be choosing what to put out and how to do it. But it’s sounding great – much better than it ever did. There’s been no re-recording at all, but we have much better machines to run it all through now, and time to think about things, which was never the case way back then. Most of the work has only been heard by the two of us though, and I can’t wait for that to change. It makes the released stuff look like a pretty random selection to me, but it is tremendous to see that what came out was appreciated at the time. Anyway.
    We only really ever existed because of the John Peel show, both as a way of people getting to hear us, and because we spent all those nights listening with our fingers on the pause button too, and we wanted to be a part of all that.
    So thanks again for the above, and I hope you enjoy the new old stuff when and if we’re able to share it with you. There will be some more waiting involved, but it was ever thus…

    • John
      Aug 15, 2017

      Thank you Simon. The waiting will be worth it! Looking forward to a 4-disc box set, then…

  4. Nigel Wassell
    Oct 7, 2017

    Great article, great memories. I first heard Convenience on that year’s Festive 50 and just had to get a copy, but remember similar problems getting hold of the vinyl. I seem to recall that most of mine came from a shop in Coventry that advertised in the back of the NME, and I live in Swansea! I ended up blagging a copy of the 12″ of Convenience after a similar soundcheck-crashing incident at the Joiners in Southampton (don’t ask!) in the summer of 1991, a gig which I remember equally fondly for the fact that the band dedicated the song from the stage to “the geezer from Swansea who’s got all our records!” Well, all but one (at the time). Happy daze!

    • John Hartley
      Oct 7, 2017

      Our experiences must’ve been part of a wider pattern then, Nigel! Thanks for your comment ?

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