Song Exploration – German Nights

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April 1987, having just turned 18, I enjoyed my first trip abroad with a band that I had been playing with since my childhood days. The ‘Eston Campus Band’ had been set up in 1978 by the legendary Kel Dennis with his dad Billy Dennis along with Ron Harris, John Allen and Pete Harvey. The band aimed to gather together all the wind players across the three schools of Gilbrook, Staplyton and Sarah Metcalfe. This young lad from St. Peter’s got to join in 1980 and, that small step, took my musical world to brand new levels as well as making life long friendships on the way.

Sitting on the 3rd Cornet line with Darren O’Brien we would form a friendship that would lead us to start our first garage bands together and, eventually, lead us to play with the same bunch of lads that I have played with over the last 30 years, eventually becoming The Beer Pigs.

Kel Dennis was completely unique both as a person and a teacher. He was so funny, inspiring and incredibly talented on both drums and trumpet, amongst other instruments. As a bandleader, he had stunning attention to detail and held us all captivated with corny jokes and an amazing dry wit. Kel must have taught thousands of children over the years. So many gifted musicians have passed through Kel’s influence and have become teachers, musicians and producers themselves. They have gone onto inspire the next generation of students with a flame that Kel originally ignited all those years ago. Kel Dennis was taken from us all far too soon but we all remember him with love and eternal gratitude.

This song came from that April in Germany. It is the first ‘proper’ song I ever wrote and I remember it just wrote itself, before my very eyes, during the incredibly long journey back to Middlesbrough on the bus. It started my obsession with the craft of songwriting and was another significant step to my development. The song was realised as a band performance in The Grangetown Boys Club rehearsals where we practiced every Saturday morning and we recorded a version in Steve Maynard’s garage on a four-track produced by Mark and David Dunston along with Darren’s brother Gordon O’Brien. We played it as part of our early set around the pubs and clubs of The North East when it was deemed risky including original material. All of these little steps influenced me in so many ways.

Being impossible to get back to Sankt Goer in Germany, I have been able to recreate a flavour of the place thanks to Tracy Walker loaning me her pictures from the trip that allowed me to create some camera trickery to bring the Rhine to life. Oh, the happy memories that this has all brought back. The cobbled streets, the clock, the beer that gave no hangovers, the wine tasting and that castle! I had spent three years at St. Peter’s looking at a picture of that castle in Mr. Arnold’s Geography classes and, on reaching Sankt Goer, there it was right in front of our hotel The Zur Post! Darren’s brother  Andy O’Brien sent me another pic of the trip this week from his Mam, Enid. I’ve never seen it before and had to include it. Sunglasses were certainly the thing in Germany! If any Campus Band/Band of 78 members have any more pics of the trip I can share, this is a work in development. Get posting them.

I recorded all the songs from my early era for my album Murder In The Rain that is available on all streaming sites as well as this website. It features Ian Erving on guitar and Simon Atkinson on bass. I’ve written a blog all about the development of the album over the last 30 years and, at long last, I have found the time to add to it.

I wanted to make a ‘cheesy’ 80’s video that would have been fitting of the time and to match up with the Murder In The Rain video that I brought out last year (also on my site). The central character of Mac Sweeney is walking around the video keeping the theme going. Or is it just simply an 18-year-old lad with a trumpet looking for somewhere to play?


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