Another Motorway, Another Crow, but just One Last Tour
Somewhere in a parallel universe, Simon Armstrong, Richard Blackborow and Dean Leggett of BOB are sat on a tufted Cornish cliff, bathed in warm sunshine, soaking in an unblemished sunset that fills their unspoilt view across the Atlantic Ocean. They raise a glass to each other and celebrate, in their own understated fashion, their 2019 induction into the 2019 Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame. Meanwhile, Radiohead are trying to work out exactly what to do with two hundred unreleased songs.
The scenario is not as unlikely as it may at first sound, as drummer Dean explains
“We were about to sign for EMI. We were on the road, this is after Leave The Straight Life Behind, and the boys were just writing and writing and writing, and we were managed by Paul Thompson who managed The Housemartins and then The Beautiful South. Paul had got us in with one of the real top end guys at EMI and he really liked us. Rough Trade had already collapsed, we were an indie band and we were about to be on a major label. Even if nothing really happened, we’d done it, we’d got to this point… And then about a week later, Paul was told the A&R bloke had been told that he’d spent too much money on Duran Duran (he was funding their comeback album) and there was us and Radiohead on the list of bands they wanted to sign. I don’t know if it was a toss-up between us and Radiohead but we presumed that to be the case – they were unknown at the time, in fact they’d supported us the year before in Oxford.”
The rest, as they say, is history. Dean and I are sitting in a wooden booth at the back of one of EIO40’s favourite haunts in London, discussing the impending final BOB tour, tied in to coincide with the re-release of their classic single ‘Convenience’. It is perhaps indicative of the band’s humility that a tour that is becoming increasingly celebratory (from one night in London to five UK dates, and now a Hamburg finale) could quite easily have not happened.
“We reluctantly decided to do this tour. Grant, who runs the 100 Club has been like ‘Come on, come on’ for a couple of years now. When the single reissue came about we said about doing something, just a one-off gig, make it our final gig and have a bit of fun. But we were like ‘Will anybody come?’. Grant said ‘Let’s do it! It’ll be great’ and suggested the 100 Club. It’s 350 capacity, we thought it was too big but he said it’d be all right.”
The band suggested smaller venues, but Grant it seems was unflappable, and now, having outsold Jim Bob and Swervedriver in the first couple of hours, the London gig is close to being a sell out. Other venues suddenly seemed an inevitability.
“I rang the boys up, said the tickets were going and we were going to be ok, and Simon said ‘Well let’s do some more gigs then.’ I said ‘What do you mean? You didn’t want to do any.’ He said ‘Well, we’ll have to do some warm ups…’ So that was my job. Simon wanted to play Hull Adelphi, we used to love playing up there. Birmingham, yeah, it’s BOB and Arthur (longtime BOB acquaintance and current bass player) will do it, we managed to get Hull Adelphi with My Life Story, Leeds we’ve got a good friend with a good venue, and then the John Peel Centre rang … Then a friend of ours who used to do all our bookings in Germany said ‘You’ve got to do one last gig in Hamburg’ – we always went down well in Hamburg – so I asked when. ‘Well, the day after the 100 Club!’ and it all suddenly started happening.”
The tour may well be billed as the band’s last ever tour, but the story does not stop there. On limited editions of red, amber or green 7” vinyl, ‘Convenience’ is being released with previously-unheard recording ‘Coquette’ as part of the excellent and ever-growing Optic Nerve catalogue. More songs will be found on a flexi-disc being planned especially for the tour – “We started with a flexi so we’re going to end with one,” reasons Dean.
Furthermore, Optic Nerve are bringing us the Spring 2020 release of the final part of a trilogy which began in 2014 with BOB’s acclaimed debut album combined with their much-lauded and loved BBC radio sessions. A year later the collected singles and EPs were released. Both demonstrated the combined value of excellent original songwriting in the late 1980s and early 1990s with Richard Blackborow’s determination that the band’s studio recordings were preserved appropriately and accurately; tracks have been remixed to take advantage of present day mastering and digital technology, without losing any of the qualities of the original releases.
The album, EPs and singles were accompanied on these reel-to-reel tapes by two hundred-plus unreleased studio recordings 2020’s Another Motorway, Another Crow is the reason why Dean, Richard and Simon are trying to work out exactly which should make the final cut for the album.
“There’s such a glut of it … Around two hundred songs that we demoed and recorded and wrote that never made any of the releases. There’s probably around fifty of them that are really usable. Richard’s working on them now.
“We found the EMI session, which we thought we’d lost, we found the original 24-track tape and he sent them off to get them baked [a more detailed explanation of why and how can be found in this article] and the people who baked them said they knew the company that had bought the original desk that those songs were recorded on. So Richard rang them up and said ‘We’ve got this tape that was recorded on your desk’ and they said well, bring it in and we’ll run it through the desk. So they did that, digitalised it and sent it all back … They sound like they were recorded yesterday! And they’re really good, you know: classic BOB stuff.”
So, what can we expect from Another Motorway, Another Crow?
“The plan at the moment is: there’s going to be a vinyl album, which will probably have about twelve tracks on it, and then with the vinyl album you’ll get a CD which will have a load of other stuff on it.
The making of the final decision is hampered slightly by geography, although modern technology is attempting to build some bridges, despite Dean’s best efforts. “I don’t get on with WhatsApp.” he concedes as he tries to locate the most recent mix sent by Richard from the various sessions.
“We went into Harlow Square and did some live recordings from the stage…” says Dean as the unmistakable sound of BOB bursts through the speakers of his phone via an unfamiliar song. It sounds genuinely fantastic, immediately recognisable with catchy tunes and harmonies. “… and there’s loads of this. We’d just come off a tour, we had written loads of new stuff, and we just went in and recorded ten songs in a day, most of which were going to be for the next album after Leave The Straight Life Behind.”
And what about those that don’t make it?
“What the boys don’t want to do is for it to just be one album with twelve songs on it; they want to get the whole lot out so that other people can have it too. It’s one of the things we’ve always regretted that we haven’t been able to get it out sooner.”
The first two parts of this trilogy were on the 3Loop label; it seems natural to ask Dean what changed for the final part.
“They were going to do [the releasing of unheard material] but they didn’t really help us out much with the last release. We were still happy to go through it with them but their distribution is through Cherry Red, and Cherry Red rang us up and said ‘Can we take the publishing’. We’re not giving that away…
“Ian at Optic Nerve was doing this run of singles last year, the Optic Sevens set of twelve and I thought ‘One of our singles would sit well within that’ so I just rang him up out of the blue and we got on like a house on fire. We chatted for about an hour and a half before I asked the question, and he knew the question was coming. I explained the situation, we’ve got loads of material which we want to get out, asked if he’d be interested and he said’ Yeah, of course!’”
At this stage it seems hard to imagine this is the final chapter in the story of BOB, a band who we might never have heard of at all, save for a chance encounter with John Peel in the Rough Trade shop. Such was Peel’s love for the quartet that ‘Convenience’ was featured alongside the likes of Thin Lizzy, ASWAD, The Cure and The Jam on Kats Karavan, the posthumous four-disc tribute to his radio career. Even more so, the forthcoming gig at the John Peel Centre in Stowmarket came at the venue’s request.
“The John Peel Centre guys in Stowmarket rang and said ’We’ve heard you’re doing a tour’ and would we play there? Yeah! Of COURSE we’ll come! It would be an honour!”
History cannot be changed however, and it is that band from Oxford who now reside in the Hall Of Fame. As for BOB… Drummer Dean and singing guitarists Richard and Simon have remained in touch through the years though, enjoying life, their various respective young families shielded from the glitzy lights and paparazzi of any awards ceremonies. Having, erm, left the straight life behind, Richard is now an art director for a gallery in St. Ives, Simon lives and works in Walthamstow and is a resident performer at the Walthamstow Folk Club, and Dean continues to drum (and now sing) with critically acclaimed London-based band One Eyed Wayne. First bassist Jem left the band between ‘Convenience’ and ‘I Don’t Know’, seemingly unimpressed by his colleague’s interest in developing the band’s sound, an interest which would see a certain Norman Cook remix later single ‘Tired’. Jem’s replacement Stephen is apparently reluctant to return to the stage but remains “around, somewhere in Leyton” says Dean.
It is hard to tell what lies beyond Another Motorway, Another Crow. For the remaining unreleased songs, Bandcamp has been considered, its Pay What You Want facility would certainly meet the band’s desire to get their songs in the public domain without feeling they are ripping people off. A comeback tour beyond this ‘final’ tour – how many bands have done that! – is unlikely, as Dean notes: “None of us want to spend a week in the back of a van” (although there is a contemplative pause, before he concedes “Actually, we probably do – we do have a laugh and its nice to be together again.”) and the band are just relieved that after all this time, with so many near misses across three decades, their songs are finally about to reach the public domain.
It would appear that this autumn will realistically provide us with the very last chance to hear in person the joyous and infectiously catchy indie pop songs of BOB. Details on how to get the remaining tickets can be found here.
BOB are on tour in November 2019
‘Convenience’ is released on limited edition coloured 7” vinyl by Optic Nerve Recordings on Nov 8th 2019.
‘Another Motorway, Another Crow’ is scheduled for release on vinyl with accompanying CD by Optic Nerve Recordings in March 2020.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
John Hartley is the author of “Capturing The Wry”, an autobiographical tale of the unsigned side of the music industry, published by i40Publishing and available here. After spending the best part of twenty five years trying to write the perfect pop song he has also 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.