Swanny – vocals / lead guitar
Ellie – double bass
Wotto – drums / rhythm guitar / vocals
Trotsky – rhythm guitar
Some might say The Red Aligatorz were not punk, but Rockabilly, but I disagree, we were both. Sure the music was not your normal punk music, but for me it was not just about the music. Attitudes and approach has a lot to do with being punk. The music was Rockabilly, but our attitudes were rooted in the 1980s not 1950s.
There were lots of other genres of music that came out of Punk. Were The Jam punk? To me they were although they dressed like Mods and played Motown music. But the energy and attitudes were punk.
I think the Red Aligatorz were just from the same attitude of punk, we were not Mods but Rockabilly/Blues/Hillbilly/Skiffle/Swing/. I think we belong here because we were D.I.Y and a lot of punk bands were too.
Also, if you consider Psychobilly‘s musical style and bands like “The Stray Cats” that sprang from the punk scene (stripped down musically, energetic, and back to basics) then I think The Aligatorz has the same approach.
(L-R: Ellie, [PH], me, Wotto, Swanny).
I joined them as a stand-in, they were already a band, formed in Penrtih with Ellie, Swanny, and Wotto, and a rhythm guitarist (don’t know his name) who also came from Penrith. The Aligatorz were to play a Oxfam benefit gig at the Technical college on Strand Road, Carlisle; along with a few other local bands, but the rhythm guitarist could not play that day, so I was asked. I went through to a few rehearsals in Penrith to learn the material, then did the gig. I think they asked me to join, as on stage when Swanny, Ellie and Wotto was rolling around on the floor, I did also and managing to kick over the amp I was going through.We were a busking band, we used to play outside of Binns/Carlisle on a Saturday afternoon. We got known locally and nationally, and a lot of our gigs came from busking.
We busked in Preston, Newcastle, Blackpool, and in Norwich and got a big crowd that the police came and closed off the road until we finished our set! We busked in Covent Garden in London, and Ellie and I busked with a few of the The Vulcans in Covent Garden, which was great.
Swanny used to make badges up, this one says “The Red Aligatorz are shit hot”. D.I.Y approach again.
We used to pracrice in Swanny’s kitchen learning the songs then going out and busking. Often I did not know what was coming next, it was “this one is in G” and away we go…
We decided to do a charity busk for a young boy from St. Annes, and we got in the Evening News and Star!
The Demo “Big Boots and Baggy Jeans”
We did a demo at Stars and Stripes (the same studio I had recorded with Havana Affair). The same mistakes were made. We were told we could add effects (echo/delay) after the mix down (and you can…normally) but it was never added. The demo was good, but it was not what we had hoped. The sound/signal was dry going into the desk, and Swanny’s vocals were sung with the intention to add echo afterwards, also with the guitar sound, but no effects added. One of the posters advertising the Demo Cassette:
The Demo Cassette had 5 songs:
1 Mexican Rock (words and music written by Swanny)
2 Been Messed About (Words and music by Swanny)
3 Leave Me Be (Words and music by Wotto)
4 Wine Women and Song (Words and music by Swanny)
5 Pink Thunder birds (song by Jean Vincent)
There was a Radio interview broadcast on Radio Cumbria, with Swanny, Wotto and myself.
Poster for advertising the demo cassette
We got the demo reviewed in the local paper, as well as getting a good write up about the gigs we had done
Years later I put together a montage of clipping and a track from the demo:
and this one
and this one
Most of our gigs were organized by Swanny and some by Ellie, we played everywhere, refusing nothing; from children’s parties to supporting Rockabilly/psycho-billy bands. This is a recording from Stars and Stripes, I can not remember who we were supporting if anyone?
We got asked to play at an opening of a wine bar in London, all expenses paid as well as some spending money! It was a interesting trip in a nice hotel. I remember Wotto and I jumping up and down on the beds making a complete mess, as well as smoking cigars in the hotel lounge with Ellie. We played good too. On the way home we called into a record Co. who delt with Rockabilly/Psycho-billy bands, his publishing/distributing office was his home. He had heard our demo and thought it good enough to produce, but he did not like our “look” he wanted us to look like we had just walked of the set of a “Star Trek” serial! To our credit we never too his advice.
With playing/busking locally we got invited to record 4 songs for Border TV, our local TV station. There 4 songs recorded but I only found 2 of them: “Leave Me Be”, and “My Mother Is Driving Me Insane”.
and this one…
Swanny had organized a list of dates of us to play over the Easter period, our mini-tour!
Toppers Night Club Videos
We had a gig in Penrith on the 27th March 1986 at Toppers Nightclub. The club owner offered to video us during the sound check. Some of his camera work is crazy as he rotates it and lets it run and run. I am not 100% sure of the titles!
An Elvis song sung by Wotto.
Leave Me Be & My Babe
“Leave Me Be” was written by Wotto
That Don’t move Me
Milk Cow Blues
Been Messed About
This last video of the rehearsal is a collection of songs lasting about 24 minutes. The video is quite large and it has not been edited so there is a bit of talking and fooling around. The original video has a section at the end of different people doing different songs. I have only included our material in this blog.
On April 11th we had a gig in Silloth at The Grove Hotel, “Kev Sax” played a few notes on the sax on a few numbers, here are few photos from the gig:
Other gigs included: We played at Stars and Stripes supporting The Pharaohs, and The Styngrites
Carlisle’s Community Theatre
There was a theatre production of the State Management Scheme (drinking laws) in Carlisle. We were asked to play in the period of the 1950sBorder TV did a few promotion pieces about the theatre production which included The Aligatorz. One of the rehearsals for the production was a fight scene in a pub between drunken navvies, we were asked to take part!
Drink Boys Drink
Drink Boys Drink, was a song in the theatre production where we took part as Irish navvies. Eddie wrote the song ( he is playing playing harmonica). Wotto is there on the back row, Grebo is on the front row 2nd from the left…I am 2nd on the right.
Swanny complied a list of gigs we had done since forming:
I found an old poster in the attic for an Aligatorz gig:
This Red Aligatorz poster is from 1985, It was made by Swanny (since he did most, if not all, of the posters) and it was announcing a ‘pre-Christmas tour’ around north Cumbria, it reads:
Why don’t you try and catch… The Red Aligatorz, pre-Christmas tour at these venues:
18th Dec. Raffles Community Center (Wow) [Raffles is a district of Carlisle]
20th Dec. Salutation Pub, Penrith (ultra fantasic)
22nd Dec. Tudor Pub, Penrith (amazing)
some of the text says “If you’re hip you will make the trip (and we ain’t talk’n dope); get wild with a crodile smile”; and a reference to me under the Raffles gig “starring for 1 night only ‘Trotsky’, Russia’s answer to Elvis”
2 posters for The Red Aligatorz playing a gig…
I am not sure where or when the gigs were at…?
…but it looks like the gig was at a beer festival (no wonder I can not remember anything).
A poster from the gig at Dunfermline, just outside of Edinburgh, a wild gig it was
I decided I wanted to travel and I left the band and went away for 2 months. When I came back I saw 1 gig of the Aligatorz (still a 3 piece) over in the North East at a working-men’s club, which was not a success. After this the band split. I never rejoined and I don’t think they played or rehearsed again.
So, What happened to the Red Aligatorz after they split up?
I asked Swanny to join me in Amsterdam as “The Good Time Boys”. Swanny thought up the name for us as we used to do songs from the Skiffle, Hill-billy repertoire. Ellie went back to working in Penrith, Watto stayed in Carlisle.
The Good Time Boys
Besides The Red Aligatorz, Swanny and I used to play songs together in his kitchen and this let us try out Hillbilly songs and Bluegrass songs which we both liked, as well as other things. Here is a recording of the two of us.
I asked Swanny to come with me to Amsterdam. We were to go as “The Good Time Boys” playing a mixture of Skiffle, Rockabilly and Bluegrass music. We had with us a t-chest bass, mandolin, harmonica and guitars. We busked on the streets of Amsterdam for about a week, but did not make a great impression. Our sound was too quiet, and we concentrated on sing/music rather than performance/presentation. This recording was done of us in the flat we were staying at in Amsterdam.
The Lonesome Pump Attendants
Swanny – banjo / vocals
Ellie – double bass / washboard
Trotsky – rhythm guitar / mandolin
After about a week, Ellie joined us! It was a total surprise for Swanny and myself, he turned up in the morning with his double bass. He knew where we were living, as he had been there as part of “The International Dole cheques”. When Ellie arrived we changed the name to “The Lonesome Pump Attendants”. The sound also changed with Ellie playing the washboard and double bass, and we became a combination of music and performance. We were noticed this time, and for about 4-5 months we played every night on the streets around Dam Rank, Leidersplein, and in a few bars and clubs. We also played in other places of The Nederlands such as Den Helder, Leerwarden, and some places down south. We made quite a lot of money and had a great time, excellent days. The recording is of the 3 of us when Ellie arrived (he is playing washboard, Swanny is playing harmonica, I am on guitar)
Ellie was mainly on double bass and we used to practice in a small flat in the day time. The lady downstairs complained after a few days, as each time Ellie played the bass and we were tapping/stamping our feet, her lamp would fall off the table! Here is a demo recording we did in the flat:
We got noticed around The Leidersplein and an Australian biker who was working for a a local Squat Radio station decided he wanted to interview us. I do not think the sound technician knew what what coming as when we started to play she had not adjusted her levels on the microphone and it nearly blow her headphone off her head.
We got invited to play at a street festival in Den Helden in the North of Holland. It was an early start and we had just finished playing the night before in Amsterdam so we were already tired. We took the train and did several concerts on the streets around the center. It was really hot and we played all day. At the end of it we were knackered, we just layed down on the street and slept, the streets were our home really.
Before this blog I had put together the photos to our music in a video.
We got asked to play in Freisland, in a bikers bar. We did some busking in the day time and a man came and took our photo and in the evening presented it to us at night. It is my favourite photo of the 3 of us.
We met on the streets the band from Newcastle “Pop Dick and Harry” and we did a gig with them at a squat. I kept in contact with Mick (guitarist) when I got back to the UK.
Here is an early photo of the 3 of us outside our local bar “La Fiche”, a photography student wanted to take some photos of us after seeing us play.
This is a recording from “La Fiche”, we did a gig there towards the end of our stay. Swanny had taught himself the 5 string banjo, Ellie is on double mass, and I on guitar.
Recorded live at the pub, La Fiche, in Amsterdam
This photo came to light after being reunited (online) to Papa Joe, an American banjo player from the USA (claw-hammer style of playing). Swanny, Ellie and myself met Papa Joe in Amsterdam in the late 80s while we were busking there under the name of “The Lonesome Pump Attendants”. We all hung out together for a few weeks and played some music. A lovely man and a great banjo player who knew Pete Seeger in the 60s. Papa, when he played used to kick his legs out and dance around which added to the bizzar spectacle of our gigs. It is great to be in contact with Papa again who now lived in USA/Indiana.
The Virginia Vagabonds
Simon – banjo / vocals
Swanny – banjo / vocals
Ellie – double bass
Robert – rhythm guitar
John – fiddle
Trotsky – rhythm guitar / mandolin
While busking in Leidersplein/Amsterdam we by chance met 3 lads from London, they were playing similar music to ourselves and we joined up for a jam on the street. We got talking and they invited us to come to London and form a band. As it was getting colder, we decided to leave Amsterdam and try our luck in London, before going off to the USA.We stayed in London for about 6 months squatting a house in Brockley, playing colleges, pubs, we played regularly Vick Reeves’s “Big Night Out” (before he got the contract for the BBC) and lots of other gigs, and got ourselves a small following. This is a black an white photo of me and a Dutch friend in the London squat. I used to oil my strings before the gigs (an old habbit).
Here is a list of gigs we had done in London:
This photo is from our local pub in New Cross, the fiddle player on the left was called “Big Fish” he was a fiddler from the USA, we met him by chance after a gig and he stayed around for a while, a great bluegrass banjo player. The owner of the pub was called John Kelly, and he was a character, he used to get drunk as much s the punters, argu with his wife in front of us all and throw people out by their collars. Good Irish pub, this pub was a regular venue for our Sunday night gig.
We did a promotional video (at great cost to ourselves, over 1000 pounds, rip off in my opinion). We played 4 songs and only 1 was returned to us after the editing, called “Salty Dog Blues” and here it is (the back-out at the beginning of the video is normal !). The hat I am wearing was made my an American banjo player called “Papa Joe, and artist and musician we had met in Amsterdam. The pub was near to our squat in Brockley.
Here are some photographs from the same gig.
We did a demo in our squat, just a normal tape recorder and the 6 of us:
I left the Vagabonds and went back to Carlisle to start a BTEC at Cumbria College of Art and Design in 1989, Ellie left London shortly after and went back to Penrith to get married and continue brick laying. He now lives in Bolton and plays in a few Blues/Rockabilly bands. Swanny stayed in London had a couple of kids and kept playing.
Simon – still lives in london
John – still lives in London
Robert – got hit by a train coming home one night from a night out, R.I.P Rob.
Back in Carlisle I saw Ellie play Micks 1 at Boxing Day 1989, he was doing a solo slot as a support act before some other bands. For me, it was a rare occasion to see him on stage, than being on the stage with him. He “blew me away”. I have never saw a guy with so much energy, skill and performance. He was playing a 6 string electric guitar, tuned to an open-tuning (?), and playing with a blues bottle, slide guitar. He stomped, marched, gibed, strutted, sang, screamed, shouted… around the stage. A whirlwind, energizing and transforming. I loved it, I was blown away by it. He was a one man performance.
I later saw him on stage somewhere in the Borders, with his band “Badger Street”. He asked me to get up and do “Here We Go” one of my songs we did together in The International Dole Cheques. I got hold of a bass guitar (a right handed one, i play left handed) and off we went… a great time, full of energy and chaos. Loved it.
His band “Badger Street”
Ellie came round to my house when I was living in Bower Street, Carlisle and did a few demos. 4 Songs, and the rest is taken from a demo cassette he sent me from Penrith.
Ellie is still playing, still recording and is living in Bolton.
An update on the Red Aligatorz page: I recently met Swanny again after many years, the last time I saw him he was in London, now back in Carlisle he and I met up for a chat, good to see him once more. He is still playing guitar, banjo, and singing, but also he has taught himself boogie woogie piano, and does Rockabilly DJ’ing up and down the UK.