All Wet and Dripping – obscure even by Canterbury standards…

pip1973One of the most obscure bands in Pip Pyle’s résumé has to be All Wet and Dripping – so obscure in fact that despite my best research I am still unable to assign it a precise date. My best guess is the Spring of 1972, sometime between Pip’s return from playing with Gong in France and the formation of the new Delivery which by the year’s end would turn into Hatfield and the North. I had come across a reference to a band called Short Back And Psycho, which turned out to refer to the same band, only the name appears to be that of one of their pieces, not the band itself.

I first discussed the band with Pip himself when I asked him about some of the names in the credits for the Hatfield albums. One person mentioned was Geoff Bevan who was credited with providing the band’s PA. Explained Pip :

Geoff did indeed make the PA. I met him when I played with a group from south London called All Wet and Dripping. They played sort of Soft Machine-influenced, complex material that was quite interesting but not particularly well-played. I was more impressed by their gear, H1H amps and a ‘Zoot Horn’ PA system and stage speakers. It transpired that the PA was made by their roadie, Geoff. He was a real ‘gear nerd’, and the first person to design a PA that didn’t need a crossover unit between the horns, mid and bass bins, which cut a lot of cost and reduced the size and weight of the PA. So when we got our deal with Virgin, we got him to build our PA which was pretty much the dog’s bollocks at the time.

(I’m not sure how familiar some of you, whether native English speakers or not, are with the phrase “the dog’s bollocks”, but it basically means state of the art. I wouldn’t have guessed from the literal meaning !)

I told Pip I had read the name All Wet and Dripping, but in relation to fellow drummer Charles Hayward – it was supposedly a band he’d been in post-Quiet Sun, around the time of his stint with Gong. Could this be the same band, possibly after Charles left ? Replied Pip :

Well, actually, come to think of it, I think Charlie did play with them, but I don’t remember if it was after me and on my recommendation – like Laurie Allan, I certainly recommended him to Gong, something Daevid never really forgave me for because he hated his playing ! But whichever way the events occurred – I know the chronology is important to you but you’re are dealing with a blitzkrieg memory -, it was certainly the same band.

Elaborating on his comment that the music was “not particularly well-played”, he added :

I don’t say that they were bad, but I suppose I was a little spoilt playing with such good other musicians ! I think I went to about 5 or 6 rehearsals. They attempted a recording once, I think. No gigs, though.

charleshayward71
Charles Hayward in 1971

The latter statement, as we will see, would prove incorrect. But before we return to Pip, here’s what Charles Hayward could remember when I next contacted him :

 

Short Back and Psycho was the other name. Pip and I played one gig together with the band, in Bishop’s Stortford in a pub with a crane holding up the back wall. I think I was in the band first and then joined Gong, and Pip came back to England and met up with the group, then we seemed to alternate for a while – mostly rehearsals, maybe no gigs and only rehearsals, I can’t remember – but neither of us seemed to be really at home in the situation.

Charles concluded with what, in Pip’s case, sadly turned out to be prophetic words :

Say hi to Pip – it’s been over 30 years but it feels beautiful that we’re both still playing… until we drop !

I submitted Charles’ memories to Pip who commented :

Well, there you go ! Just about everyone has a better memory than me – I’m puzzled as to why you ask me anything, I’ll only get you into trouble ! Nice to hear from him anyway, I sent him a mail back. I always liked his playing.

In fact I do vaguely remember playing with him, but not with that group. Also that it was good because we have such contrasting styles. Obviously it would have been at the Railway Hotel, where Steve Miller ran a club between about 1970-73.

More on that club in the previous blog post…

garrywhannel
Garry Whannel in more recent times

By a remarkable coincidence, not long after these exchanges with Pip and Charles I received an e-mail from Garry Whannel, who it turned out was none other than the guitarist in All Wet and Dripping. Garry was of course totally unaware of the above correspondence when he commented on the “obscure bands” section on Calyx :

 

Not too surprised at the omission of the really obscure All Wet and Dripping, for whom drummer Charles Hayward and Pip Pyle both played – together at one memorable gig in Bishop’s Stortford at the Angel Underground. The other members of the band gradually drifted out of music – I was the guitarist and now work at the University of Luton.

Garry provided the band’s line-up and sketched out a bio which confirmed most of the facts I had obtained from Pip and Charles :

Frank Trembath – keyboards and guitar
Garry Whannel – guitar
Doug Newton – bass
Charles Hayward – drums
and then Pip Pyle – drums

It grew out of a previous incarnation, Catalysis, that rehearsed a lot and gigged only one or two times.

All Wet and Dripping existed in 1971-2, if memory serves, and didn’t do many gigs. I think Pip played with us between Gong and Hatfield and the North, and I think Charles left us to play briefly with Gong – but memory is hazy for all the usual reasons.

Our road manager built us a sound system tailored to our vocal-less monitoring needs, in an early incarnation of the company Zoot Horn who went on to provide gear to many bands including Soft Machine.

zoothornI took the chance of asking Garry more about that PA. This prompted a related memory :

Charlie Watkins of WEM devised a strange PA system with giant wooden horn speakers, which was tested in a cinema in south London with a dozen bands and their roadies (including the Strawbs), looking on. We were all a bit sceptical. I was there with Geoff Bevan, so I guess he had started making speakers himself by then, and was using a curved wooden projector on the front of his speakers which he later dropped. He built a sound system for All Wet and Dripping. As we were entirely instrumental, there were no vocal mikes, and so the stage speakers were in effect a monitor system – we each had three speaker cabinets behind us, one from guitar, bass and keyboards. All had their own volume controls, so each musician could set their own balance.

Returning to AW&D’s history and musical style :

We were described somewhere – I think on one version of Pete Frame’s family tree – as “short-lived and more than slightly crazed”  – they might well say that, I couldn’t possibly comment. “Short Back and Psycho” was one of the compositions. We had no vocalist, which didn’t add to our minimal commercial appeal. Charles Hayward did utilise a pre-recorded tape collage as part of a drum solo, known as “The National Anthem of the State of Catatonia”, and we were joined by Charles’s brother, a poet/performance artist, for one gig. We tended to play in one continuous set without pauses, ending in a high-speed montage of cuts between different rhythms.

The music was influenced by, among others,  Soft Machine, and Charles Mingus – we used to play a rock version of Mingus’s “Fables of Faubus”. Then again, we ended one set with a short version of “Hernando’s Hideaway” from the musical “The Pajama Game”.

After Pip left, we rehearsed with various drummers including Phil Howard. I seem to remember Chris Cutler listening to one of our tapes and working out the arcane time signature quicker than anyone had before, but sadly we never played with him.

Amidst disagreement about whether to get a new drummer with the same material, or start from scratch with new material, I left sometime in late 1972, and was replaced by Charles Bullen in a renamed band, Radar Favourites, before Charles Bullen and Charles Hayward left to become two-thirds of This Heat.

(Note : In fact the genesis of This Heat was a little more complicated. It had its roots in several distinct projets – Dolphin Logic, the improvising duo Bullen and Hayward had formed in 1974, the final [1974-75] line-up of Radar Favourites with Geoff Leigh and Cathy Williams after Gerry Fitzgerald and Jack Monck had left and had been replaced with Bullen and bassist Alan Muller, and an aborted attempt at a live incarnation of Quiet Sun with Hayward, Bullen and Bill MacCormick – when the latter failed, This Heat inherited a QS booking which became their début gig)

In our continuing online ‘conference call’ I submitted Garry’s info to Charles Hayward, who wrote back :

Very glad Garry got in touch – he has a much better overview on that group, including the names of the group and tunes. I left a couple of messages for Frank Trembath but got no reply.

A note on Charles Bullen – he and I were super close during this time and I got him into Radar Favourites because he was my favourite guitarist in the whole world. This was after Gerry Fitzgerald left.

In order to narrow down the chronology of all this I asked Charles when he’d joined and left Gong, based on the available chronology of gigs. Came the reply :

Metz [July 1st, 1972] was the first gig I did with them. Magma played as well, we seemed to do a few gigs with them or the night before or after. Gong was a completely different – and much better – group when Gilli came back. I think the ‘floating anarchy’ thing needed her energy to really take off. The gigs seemed more numerous than listed, but everything was full on for me, I was trying to work out exactly what I was doing, what music to make. When I came back to Britain, I resolved not to be in somebody else’s group but get something real together with collective ownership at the core.

charleshayward75
Charles Hayward during the sessions for the Quiet Sun album, 1975

Chronologically, it was after Gong that I started playing with Charles Bullen in Dolphin Logic and Radar Favourites. During that period, early 1975, Quiet Sun reformed to make “Mainstream”. Looking back all of this stuff was a bit piecemeal – really, I was working towards This Heat. When Charles and I met Gareth, who was Radar Favourites’ manager for a brief time, everything fell into place.

I shared all this with Garry and asked if he could provide more info on their dealings with Phil Howard and Chris Cutler :

 

philhoward
Phil Howard in 1971

Phil Howard was never in the band. We did rehearse with him once. As far as I can remember, it was when Pip Pyle had gone off to launch Hatfield and the North, Charles Hayward had gone to Gong. We were searching for a new drummer. We were huge Soft Machine fans, but I can’t remember at all how we came to meet Phil Howard. We had some difficulties with the polyrhythmic swash of his style, and apparently he found some of our more spiky asymnetric time signatures difficult. Anyway, it was a one-off.

I remember meeting Chris Cutler and playing him some of our stuff, but we never actually played with him, which is a shame, because next to Charles Hayward, he was my favourite drummer at the time.

(Interesting side note is that in the 80s, for several years, Tim and Lindsay from Henry Cow lived in the same street as me, and I never knew until afterwards. One of my fellow media academics, Georgie Born, also used to play with them. We were always slightly over-awed by Henry Cow, who, more than everyone else, seemed to be “real” musicians !)

I also pointed to an apparent contradiction in Garry’s assertion that he had “left sometime in late 1972 and was replaced by Charles Bullen in a renamed band, Radar Favourites”. This would imply that Charles Hayward had returned to AW&D after touring with Gong ? Replied Garry :

When I left, the two remaining members were Doug Newton (bass) and Frank Trembath, who started as a guitarist, and then took up electric piano and organ. Frank then formed Radar Favourites with Charles Bullen and Charles Hayward. At some point, Doug was dropped as bass player, but I am not sure when. And then Charles Bullen and Charles Hayward became 2/3 of This Heat. Frank and I subsequently recorded a demo version of their first album, in Frank’s studio, using my 4-track TEAC.

To complete the picture, I asked Garry about the precursor to AW&D, Catalysis… He explained :

Catalysis were formed by Frank and myself in 1968, with Doug Newton on bass and a drummer called Bill. It was really a learning experience – we were learning to play our instruments and to interact and improvise. We were pretty poor until near the end of All Wet and Dripping, when we suddenly got quite good. With the drummer we had before Charlie, we weren’t really getting anywhere. We did a gig at Bedford College which was OK, but pretty inept – no worse than some other bands around, but certainly nothing that won us any more gigs.

I don’t remember how we found Charlie – he was a bit younger than the rest of us. A terrific, muscular drummer, who gave the sound so much clarity and power – a joy to play with, really. We played with him at Wimbledon Art College and played pretty well, even though a power cut in the middle disrupted the set sequence a bit.

But Charlie always had several irons in the fire and was pretty committed to a more avant-garde approach. He went off and we auditioned ten drummers, of whom almost the last was Pip. One of them was Phil Howard, whom Doug, our bass player, heard in a break on the phone to his partner saying he was having trouble with the time signatures, which amused us later.

pippyle1971
Pip Pyle in 1971

Pip was fun to play with and he taught us “Shaving is Boring”, but I am not sure we ever really bonded. He did get us the gigs at the Angel Underground. We played a couple of times there – nice publican who bought us a tray of sandwiches ! The first time we played there was the one time we performed with both drummers. By the time we were set up we occupied about 30% of the floor space. It was probably our best performance – shame no-one taped it !

Then Charlie was back around, and for a while we used them both, until Charlie pulled out of a gig at a day’s notice and we had a bit of a row. The double drummer sound was pretty interesting, especially given the different styles, but I am not sure that either Charlie or Pip were ever comfortable with it.

Fairly soon after that Pip left, and Frank and I disagreed over strategy – I wanted to get a drummer quickly and continue with the same material, Frank wanted both a new drummer and new material. So I left, to get into electronic music – I built a studio at Dartington Arts College in Devon, with a Moog and an ARP. Frank went to Radar Favourites. They used to do the Tubes number “Slipped my Disco”. Then the two Charlies left to form This Heat.

What we sounded like ? No vocals, a lot of odd time signatures – improvised passages growing out of riffs; some free improvised sections. Some sections were like the middle of the Pink Floyd’s “Interstellar Overdrive”; some were like light jazz à la Chick Corea. We ran numbers together rather in the fashion of Soft Machine in the “Volume Two” era when Robert Wyatt was still with them. Raucous – even our version of Mingus’s “Faubus Fables”, which we used to refer to as “Led Zeppelin plays Mingus” !

We practiced improvising in 5s, 7s and 9s quite a lot and had done since we started. But often, the time signatures derived from Frank’s quirkily syncopated style of writing, and he didn’t always write with a specific time signature in mind. His number “Gout” – people never agreed on what time it was in. I recall it as 4 bars of 7/8 followed by 4 of 6/8. We had a piece called “Houndstooth Cheque”, which had three parts – the first in 11/8, the middle free and the final part in 6/8. I began writing a piece in 27/8 which I still tinker with occasionally, but haven’t yet realised more than fragments on tape. Phil Howard had a lot of trouble with it, and only Charlie ever really nailed it.

I asked Garry about his other experiences with Canterbury music, and he remembered his first time seeing Soft Machine perform :

softeggmiddleearthNever saw the pre-Hugh Hopper line-ups. The first time I saw them was the gig at the Royalty Theatre off Ladbroke Grove [March 1st, 1969]. Egg were on the same bill. After that, I saw the majority of their London gigs until Robert Wyatt left. I particularly liked the Albert Hall Proms concert, which I had on tape for a few years before the tape was lost. The band did not like having to play for exactly one hour, and had technical problems, but I thought it was the tightest version of “Esther”, with the best drum solo. The seven-piece was exciting but messy – I always thought the four-piece with Elton Dean delivered the material best. As so often in music, there was a frail synthesis between people pulling in opposite directions which worked well. By contrast, I have always found the John Marshall period quite dull.

Saw Caravan a few times and remember them much less clearly. Also Delivery. The sound was not great in those days – all volume and no clarity.

Later, Geoff [Bevan] did some roadying for Hatfield, and I was roped in as assistant. So I remember seeing them, travelling in vans, and sitting around in dressing rooms. We liked them, but always thought Robert Wyatt’s voice was a great asset for Soft Machine and Richard Sinclair and all the others did not compare. I always liked Richard as a person – he was once very kind to me when I was very low and thinking of giving up playing, and he persuaded me not to. It was only a short conversation, and I am sure he forgot it very quickly, but the ‘never give up’ spirit stayed with me.

Speaking of which, and returning to Garry’s musical activities post-AW&D :

The best music I was ever involved with came in the mid-70s, after All Wet and Dripping had ceased, and possibly after Radar Favourites had ceased as well. Frank and I got together in his studio and recorded four numbers – three of his, one of mine. I played guitar and bass, Frank keyboards and synth – no drummer. There was a certain amount of overdubbing. I seem to remember using Doug’s Fender Precision bass and Hugh Hopper’s fuzz box, which was in the Zoot Horn Sound workshop for repair at the time. Anyway, it was an exceptionally good bass sound.

Were there any contacts with labels towards signing a recording contract ?

No, we were hopeless at the business side. We were more focused on getting gigs, but didn’t really know how to do that, either !

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