Airplay & Mentions
Excerpt from "Too Late To Stop Now" - Allan Jones
A NOTE ON THE AUTHOR
Allan Jones is an award winning British music journalist and editor, who joined Melody Maker in 1974 as a junior reporter and features writer. He was editor of MM from 1984 to 1997, then launched Uncut magazine and for 17 years wrote a popular column called 'Stop Me If You've Heard This One Before', based on his experiences as a music journalist in the 70s and 80s, the legendary heyday of the UK music weeklies. His previous book, Can't Stand Up For Falling Down, was the Sunday Times Music Book of the Year 2017.
It's a bitterly cold night at the back end of October 2021. I'm making my way along Coombe Lane, a largely unlit road in the suburban outback of Raynes Park in southwest London, somewhere between Wimbledon and Kingston upon Thames, by the look of it a place that hasn't changed much since they built the first houses and planted the first allotments. In the dark it has an especially forgotten look.
I'm keeping an eye out for somewhere called The Cavern, where an old friend is unexpectedly playing tonight. Somewhere along Coombe Lane, there's a lot of growling thunder, a flash of lightning. It starts to rain. Now I'm wet as well as cold. What fucking joy. It crosses my dampening mind that if things had gone to a different plan, I'd be lounging in Texas sunshine right about now, in Austin for a wedding, on a trip that in its original planning involves looking up some familiar faces from a far-off carousing past.
Former Fabulous Thunderbirds guitarist Jimmie Vaughan is still in Austin, playing most Fridays at a place called C-Boy's Heart & Soul on South Congress. I'm sure Kim Wilson's eyeballs are getting soft most mornings somewhere in town. I'll look them up. The original date for the wedding is September 2020 and is cancelled when the world goes into lockdown. If I'd gone then, I might also have caught up with The Blasters' Gene Taylor, who moved to Austin in 1993, when he joined a late line-up of the Thunderbirds fronted by Kim and his pliable eyeballs. That part of the plan goes to shit when Gene's found dead at his home from hypothermia in February 2021, after severe storms cause a state-wide power failure, and millions in Texas are isolated in sub-zero temperatures without water, food or heat. This puts a big dent in the reunion jalopy, but come a second invitation to the delayed nuptials, and a possible reunion looms with another old Austin crony.
Joe 'King' Carrasco has been based for many years in Puerto Vallarta, a beach resort in Jalisco, Mexico, where he has a long-standing residency at somewhere called Nacho Daddy's. He still plays regularly in Austin and across the southwest, though, no doubt raising all kinds of hell along the way. With a bit of luck, he'll be in Austin or somewhere near when I'm there. As the rearranged wedding date approaches in October 2021, continued travel restrictions and sundry Covid concerns mean that I don't make it to Austin for the wedding or anything else and it looks like my chance of catching up with Joe for the first time in 40 years is gone.
Around the time I should have been packing, though, a post on Joe's Facebook page announces he's in the UK. In fucking Carlisle, of all places. He's up there in Cumbria rehearsing with a young band called Hardwicke Circus, who I know are managed by Dave Robinson, who as Stiff supremo in 1980 signs Carrasco to the label. There are dates coming up, apparently. A friend sends me a link to one of them, which is tonight's show in Raynes Park. What the juggling fuck is going on?
How did Carrasco end up with this date on his gig sheet? I feel like I'm surely hallucinating. Carrasco in Raynes Park? It's so outlandish, it must be true. Back-channel enquiries eventually make some sense of it all. From what I can gather, Dave was in Austin hustling some gigs for Hardwicke Circus at the annual SXSW Festival, mostly a showcase for new talent. When Covid strands him in Austin, Dave holes up with Joe and plots his first UK dates since 1982, with Hardwicke Circus backing him. Dave probably figures that if they can handle a couple of weeks on the road with Carrasco, they'll be able to handle anything.
Meanwhile, I seem to have arrived at The Cavern. It's in the mid-de of a parade of shops and may have been two buildings once, now knocked up into something more imposing. There's a low red-brick wall outside, tables and chairs under an overhanging canopy. The windows are all lit up, like it's already Christmas inside. It's flanked on the right by an opticians, a Turkish restaurant and a nail parlour. To the left, there's another Turkish restaurant and a Korean community centre. There's a Korean community in Raynes Park? What else goes on here? Is it one of those places where human sacrifices are made to a god who looks like a goat, or am I thinking of Purley Oaks? Next door to The Cavern is Matheou's Fish Bar & Restaurant, basically a chip shop.
I'm about to go into the pub when someone comes flying out of the chippie dressed as if for a cattle round-up. A weathered cowboy hat, a bandana around his neck, a kind of keffiyeh scarf over that, a khaki topcoat with a Western cut, Ray-Bans on a leather strap. It's Carrasco.
"Buddy!' he shouts through suddenly thickening rain, arms flung open for a hug. He's carrying two plastic bags.
“Dinner for the band, he says. 'Man, you got to meet them. They're all, like, 18 or something. They haven't eaten all day and ain't got a dollar between 'em.'
As ever, Joe has the excited, somewhat dazzled air of someone who's just driven a hovercraft into a bridge. The rain hits us in a sudden squall. We go inside before we're swept downstream. I follow Joe into a large, bright room. Every available inch of wall space is filled with framed pictures and posters of The Beatles that take them all the way from Hamburg's leathers and quiffs to the fur coats and beards of their rooftop adieu. To our right, there's a stage in a corner that's clearly too small for Hardwicke Circus's gear. Sax player Andy has set up his bits and pieces on the floor next to it, at the foot of the narrow stairs that take us to the band's dressing room.
Joe pushes open a door at the top of the third or fourth flight of stairs, and we step into a big attic space that looks like the storeroom of a junk shop, where they keep all the junk that even people who shop in junk shops don't want. I think of all the band rooms just like it that I've been in over the years, from Lapland to Bondi Beach, each one almost identical to the others. At least this one has some heating. The band, anyway, seem to have made themselves at home. Keyboard player Lewis Bewley-Taylor is unpacking the fancy suit he wears onstage and might be looking around for an ironing board and an iron to go with it. Guitarist Zack McDade and bassist foe Hurst, who looks no older than 12 but has actually just turned 17, give Joe a wave and go back to whatever they were talking to Dave Robinson about before we arrived.
Singer Jonny Foster and his drummer brother Tom are sitting at a low table that might be a door held up by some bricks. Joe empties the carrier bags onto a couple of plates, rips open the paper wrapping.
The group gather around. Eyes widen.
‘There you go, Joe says and as if he's just fired a starting pistol, the hand dive in like they've been locked in a barn for a fortnight with only corn husks and bat droppings to eat. I nip downstairs and order some drinks.
"Don't fucking spoil them,' Dave Robinson says as a couple of bar-men arrive with the drinks. 'I don't want them getting used to room service.'
Jonny and Tom want to know how long I've known Joe. I tell them since 1980, which I suspect is at least 20 years before any of the band were born. I feel suddenly lucky I've still got my own teeth and enough hair to not yet have to wear a hat. How do I know him?
'Hell, he was at the Battle of Helotes!' Joe tells them, although this means nothing to them at all. 'He came out to Texas and wrote about us in Melody Maker when nobody outside Texas had even heard of us. We had a hell of a time.'
Between mouthfuls of cod, Jonny and Tom start talking about a documentary they've recently seen about Quincy Jones, and Michael Jackson's part in it. I ask them if they know that Michael Jackson sang backing vocals on a track called Don't Let a Woman (Make a Fool Out of You)' on Joe's 1982 album Synapse Gap. The cod chewing stops in an instant. Jonny and Tom couldn't have looked more surprised if I'd just introduced them to Jimi Hendrix.
'He was in the studio next door to where we were recording,' Joe tells them. 'I kept thinking, "Man, I've got to get him on my record." Whenever we saw him, he was usually surrounded by man-agers, bodyguards, people who kept him away from everybody. But one day, I saw him sitting in this reception area, staring into space, on his own. I said, "Hey, Mike, why dont’cha come sing on my record?"
Jonny and Tom look at Carrasco like he's pulling butterflies out of his ears.
"And I just kinda made off with him, Joe says. 'When his managers came back and found him in the studio with us, they freaked out.
But the track was down, and we had Michael Jackson singing on the damn record?
Jonny is still staring open-mouthed at Joe when he's called away to attend to some technical hitch with the band's gear. Joe is telling me about his recent weeks in Cumbria.
"I love it up there, man, he says. 'It's pretty wild. We've been stay. ing in this real run-down hotel. I mean, really run-down. Kinda place you could imagine Bukowski holed up in. Some real interesting characters live there. A song behind every door, you know?'
Dave Robinson tells us Hardwicke Circus are about to go on.
I leave Carrasco and follow Dave down the stairs. Hardwicke Circus turn out to be a blast. There's a lot of E Street Band in there; some Tom Petty; a little Costello. The Boomtown Rats come more than once to mind, as do Van Morrison, Dexys Midnight Runners and The Clash. In the late 1970s or early 1980s, they'd have been signed to Stiff, getting good reviews in Sounds from Chas de Whalley and Pete Silverton, decent mentions in NME from Roy Carr and Charles Shaar Murray, but probably ignored by Nick Kent unless a couple of them turn out to be major smackheads. It's easy to imagine a larkish on-the-road feature by Carol Clerk in MM, hopefully a story that doesn't end with the band and Carol being banned not from a bar or hotel, but an entire country. Which is the case when Carol goes to Israel with Hanoi Rocks and things get so out of hand they're deported and upon their noisy exit told never to return. Oh, those roiling days.
The weekly music press as I remember it when it was still a bit wild out there is, of course, long gone. Even the people who used to write for it then are getting worryingly thin on the ground. Carol Clerk left the building in 2010. She's since been followed out the door by an entire staff block of names familiar to anyone who grew up reading the weeklies back then. Alan Lewis. Roy Carr. Andy Gill. David Cavanagh. Dele Fadele. Gavin Martin. Pete Makowski. Fred Deller. Nigel O'Brien. Dave Jennings. Tommy Udo. Norman McLeod. Stephanie Jones. Colin Irwin.
Some days all you can see are people who are no longer there.
Carrasco hits the stage, joining Hardwicke Circus in a flurry of coyote yips and excited chat. He plugs in his guitar, makes what appears to be a crucial adjustment to the tilt of his hat and quickly turns a southwest London boozer into an exotically lit borderlands cantina, full of old school Tex-Mex rock'n'roll, R&B and garage band classics. A version of 'Hey Joe' takes it back to The Leaves. Hardwicke Circus suddenly sound like they've learned to play by listening to nothing but Lenny Kaye's Nuggets collection. A carnival atmosphere soon prevails.
Carrasco of course is in his element. He's on a stage. It doesn't matter where or how many people are in the audience. It could be just me and your dog. We'll look like multitudes to Carrasco. He's soon amok among the crowd, playing his guitar behind his head, Andy following him on sax, up some stairs to a raised area at the other end of the pub where unsuspecting punters are startled by Joe's sudden appearance at their tables. The last time Joe played in London, at the Half Moon in Putney, in 1982, he ended up dodging traffic on the Lower Richmond Road. Tonight, on his way back to the stage, he makes a detour out of The Cavern, onto the veranda. There's enough rain coming down to allow Noah a valedictory smirk. Coombe Lane is awash, a flood tide streaming downhill from Wimbledon. Joe's soon back inside, limbo dancing with his guitar balanced on his head, arms outstretched, surely one of the last of his kind, a roadhouse warrior running out of road. He makes it back onstage for the last chorus of ‘Little Queenie'. Everyone's laughing, and it's all a bit of a riot.
You think of other times, a hundred places like this. The years peel away, time in retreat. It comes back to you then, all of it. The music, the girl on your arm. Small rooms, lit up with guitars, feedback, love and laughter. All those bands, all that beautiful noise. A guitarist with a bandaged hand and blood on his guitar strings. The nights you never wanted to end that you were lucky to get home from in your own lifetime, especially if a cat like BP Fallon was involved. Where did they all go, and so many people with them? Talk about smoke through a keyhole.
We're back in the band's dressing room, the gig over. Everyone's packing up their stuff for a long drive through tonight's storm. Tomorrow's show is at HM Prison Werrington, a juvenile offenders centre near Stoke. They're going straight there, leaving soon. Joe is telling me how they're all travelling on a converted double-decker bus, which sounds wildly cool.
'Come with us, Joe says, laughing, but only half-joking.
'Always room for one more, says a passing Jonny Foster.
Forty-five years ago, something like that, when we were young, reckless, thin and up for anything, I would have jumped on the bus without a second thought. Driven off into the night, stopping somewhere at an off-licence, picking up Tom Sheehan along the way.
Even now, I'm tempted, some cackling witch in my head telling me to go, why not? I could go downstairs, get on the bus. Find a seat. Settle in and wait to see what happens next. Such are an old cowboy's dreams, anyway.
There's a blast of thunder. I look out from the attic window of The Cavern at the pounding rain. If I don't leave now, I'll need a canoe to get to the station. I make my way back up Coombe Lane, past the opticians and the Turkish restaurant and the nail parlour towards Raynes Park station, in the battering rain, the unforgiving wind.
There's a moment on the platform when the witch in my head starts cawing again. Go back. Get on the bus. It will be one last adventure. Not quite the old days, but near enough.
There's a train coming, lights barely visible in the downpour.
More thunder. A hardening rain gusts down the platform, washing away the cowboy dream of a final round-up, a last sunset to ride into.
When the train pulls out of the station, l'm on it.
By the time you read this, I'll be nearly home.
The Bob Dylan Project
Our cover of Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited has been included on The Bob Dylan Project. We’re honoured to join so many great artists on this site along with their interpretation of the great Bob Dylan.
KVMR - U.S Radio Play
Hardwicke Circus is on the U.S. airwaves. As far as we know, Mark Leviton of KVMR in Northern California was the first to debut our music on the radio in the U.S.A., playing Highway 61 Revisited on his program, Pet Sounds. The show is available for download for a limited time at this link: https://www.petsoundsmusic.com/recent-shows.html. We come in at about the 14:40 mark. Thanks, Mark.
GQ Magazine by Thomas Barrie
With a first album on the way and support dates for Neil Young and Bob Dylan among the 700-odd gigs they’ve played, Hardwicke Circus have exploded out of Carlisle to take the UK by storm: read more
Turtle Tempo Magazine: Hardwicke Circus, by Elly Bailey
Five-piece band Hardwicke Circus - whose members include a saxophone and keys player - are paying homage to the great bands of the past. They take influences but they don’t copy, and the result is a unique sound, soul-infused classic rock ‘n roll. Cool, young and talented, Hardwicke Circus are a band that are making waves, creating something different, and standing out in the sea of similarity in the music industry. 100% ones to watch.
Where The Music Meets Magazine
Ready for some modern old-sounding indie-rock? Hardwicke Circus, a.k.a. the most styled kids on the block have just surprised the hell out of us here at WtMM. Already reaching a lot of consensus around the Web, these guys bring all the guns to every song they make. The latest one is probably the best example of their power.
Please Don’t Try This At Home, is an unpretentious rock anthem that sounds like an homage to the great great bands. The vocals sound a bit like Jagger. The amount of band power does not shy away from The Doors or the guys that play with Bruce Springsteen for hours and hours. And there are definitely abundant amounts of The Who all over the song – just listen to those epic entrance guitars! But the best of it all is the amount of feeling put into the song. It sure shows these guys are having fun doing it. Makes impossible to stay still while listening. And very easy to fall in a sort of bro-love with this seven guys.
And if you feel this might be one-in-a-million, try to stay indifferent to their previous releases: the ingenious sun-set starter Why You Looking For Love?, the gunny When The Chips Are Down, or the Springsteen sounding Nowhere Left To Run. All of them released in under a year.