Going Up In The World: The Apocalypse Reunion
On June 21,1984, having recently turned 20, I broke up the band I’d been in since I was… well, since I was 8 years old and told everyone that I intended to become a rock star. The event itself was typically messy and, in the grand scheme of things (and this was part of the problem), totally inconsequential. What matters is that our teenage dream of fame, fortune and human endeavor had dead-ended before we’d got out of the second division.
Under the abominable name of Apocalypse, we had scored an indie hit, toured with The Jam, appeared on national television, been played by John Peel, seen our picture in some of the inkies, played Wembley Arena, headlined and sold out The Marquee, and signed to EMI – all while in the founding trio’s teens. But as a result of the latter move, we’d also been a year out of the spotlight, during which time we’d run up a £30,000 studio bill recording one song. The A&R people had hoped that if they threw enough money at it, that song would emerge sounding like producer du jour Trevor Horn’s latest discovery. Instead it sounded like exactly what it was – a mod-punk teen anthem (written by myself back at the age of 16) overproduced to the point of vacuity – and was relegated to B-side status. The original B-side – written by my former best friend and co-band leader, Jeff Carrigan, whose increased enthusiasm for jazz-funk had manifested itself in the alarming habit of wearing shorts onstage – was hastily promoted to A-side status. Upon eventual release, the single sold approximately 300 copies.
We recorded a follow-up but I didn’t wait around for its rejection. Instead, I faced up to the fact that a group of people who had found so much in common at the ages of 15 through 18 had grown into very different adults. Our trumpet player Kevin Bagnall had already left the band, a month or two earlier. Now I resolved to quit. On exactly the same day, and totally of his own volition, so did our vocalist and rhythm guitarist, Tony Page. After a private rendezvous in a local pub to compare our reasons (they were the same), Pagey and I announced our departure at the regular Monday night rehearsal, and we confirmed it by refusing to come out for the encore at the 100 Club that Thursday night – leaving Jeff, founding drummer Chris Boyle, and sundry session musicians and backing vocalists to stumble on without us. In the years that followed, the friendship between Tony and myself only grew closer. The friendship I had formed with Jeff and Chris as 11-year old classmates disappeared overnight: the 100 Club was the last time I saw either of them.
And then, on January 18, 2006, I flew home to England after a long absence, took a morning train from Gatwick to Waterloo, and a cab from Waterloo to the Elephant and Castle. I rang a door-bell on a terraced side-street and a middle-aged dad came bounding cheerfully to the door. And just as he had been that night at the 100 Club, Jeff Carrigan was wearing shorts.
If you’d told the 20-year old Tony Fletcher that, twice his lifetime later, he’d be staying with Jeff Carrigan for two weeks in London, he’d have told you to fuck off. Carrigan may have said the same thing. But that cliché about time healing all wounds has its merits, and the two of us – whom, back when the world was our oyster, had shared songwriting credits, production duties, friendship, fights and maybe even girlfriends – have arrived at a place in our lives where we want to make good of our past. In 2004, brought back into (long-distance) contact though a mutual friend, we’d assembled a compilation CD, Going Up In The World. We’d even re-recorded the song ‘Don’t Stop,’ the miracle of which was less that it had been achieved without physical contact (Jeff had rallied other prior band members for recording duty in England, and he and I exchanged the Garageband files by e-mail and post), than that it was Jeff’s suggestion to focus on one of my (as opposed to his) songs. The time was right for a reunion.
Besides, we’re all parents now, and it tends to put this stuff in perspective, makes you much more loving and forgiving. Jeff has been with his wife Siobhan since… well since just about that fateful night at the 100 Club, funnily enough: that was the first occasion she saw the group. (I would like to say it was the last, too, but Jeff kept Apocalypse going down the jazz-funk path after that show, and even after Chris left the group. I guess it took him a while to get the hint.) Jeff and Siobhan’s four year old son Louie turned out to be a lovable Thunderbirds fanatic who took an instant liking to me, which I assume had more to do with the fact that I’d arrived from the mysterious “overseas” than that I had bought any special talents with me. I wish I could have given Louie more of my time, but there were other people I’d come to London to play with.
The night after I arrived in London, Jeff and I took a walk up to Waterloo, where we stopped in to The Wellington for a pint. As our fellow old Tenisonians may well remember, The Wellington was HQ for the 1979 mod revival: I saw The Chords, Purple Hearts and Merton Parkas there several times each. Apocalypse used to rehearse next door, at a place called Alaska Studios. The Wellington therefore seemed an appropriate place to reunite with another middle-aged man who, I’m sure he won’t me saying, has a healthy middle-age spread and an equally healthy outlook on life.
Chris Boyle, as befits his reputation from band days, could not be found when we assembled the compilation LP. It turned out he’d recently relocated to Florida, working for one of those international IT companies that secretly run the world. Not much of a man for the Internet – odd given his job, I agree – it had fallen to one of his work-mates to search out Apocalypse on the web after Chris had let on in a meeting about his past life. Surprised to find we had just released a CD, he announced his re-introduction to our social world on the iJamming! Pub – appropriately enough – and promptly took a steal on any prospective reunion by meeting up with almost everyone else in the band last Christmas, when he flew home for a family holiday. Chris, too, it turns out, is with the same girl from Apocalypse days; you can see a picture of him and his wife Linda, taken backstage at the Rainbow, on the scrapbook pages. It’s dated 1981, when they were both just sixteen. Chris and Linda have two kids around the tweenie age. By one of those curious coincidences that make our world what it is, Chris’s wife went to the same school as Jeff’s wife. A Catholic school. By a further coincidence, I also married a Catholic. The three of us boys all went to a Church Of England school. Work out what that means for yourselves.
For the next several hours, over The Ideal Meal down the road at RSJ, Jeff, Chris and myself talked about all manner of things, especially our parents, our brothers (we are all from two son families), our kids, our lifestyles, our work, and our hobbies. Occasionally we even talked about the band – though not as much as you might expect. And the stories we did share were less about the music than about the funny things that happened around it. The one I’d forgotten was the time Chris showed up so late for soundcheck at Wembley Arena (he’d had trouble getting off early from his job – at a shoe shop) that the backstage door was crowded with dozens of other teens also claiming to be the drummer with the support band. Chris was at an advantage in that he was holding a pair of drum sticks in his hand, but could produce no tour pass to confirm his status: The Jam never trusted us with them. And as the bouncer observed when Chris insisted he could hear Apocalypse sound-checking, there was a drummer already on stage. “Looks like someone’s taken your job, mate.” That “someone,” it came back to me at this point in the story, was Paul Weller himself.
I wouldn’t say we’ve all “made it” in life – we didn’t become pop stars, for one thing – but the three of us felt secure enough in our current status, and delighted enough to finally be sitting down for dinner together that, on my suggestion, we splurged on a bottle of 1952 Huet Le Mont. The decision to do so reminded me of a very different time in our lives, when I’d gone without food for two days on tour with The Jam. The reason was simple: I had no money whatsoever. Someone in the band entourage – our roadie and Jeff’s next door neighbor, Paul Holsgrove, I believe it was – had finally noticed I was not buying anything at the service stations, and the group organized a whip round for me. It’s the kind of thing you do for each other when you’re in a gang.
Ah, Paul Holsgrove. Talk about people not changing. The next day, Friday January 20th, I rolled into Alaska Studios – yes, the same rehearsal room as of old – and there was Paul sitting in the corner, wearing what looked like the same pair of jeans, the same Polo shirt, and definitely the same #2 haircut as 25 years ago. He’s taller though, for sure. So, say Jeff and Chris, am I. A late bloomer, that’s how I prefer to look at it. My voice had been the last to break in our class, a catastrophe for a potential rock sta; when my finally deepened voice turned out to have even less charisma than my former soprano, well that’s when I’d brought Tony Page into the band to sing my songs. There was no way I was trusting Jeff with them.
Such are the strange dynamics of the rock band. In re-recording ‘Don’t Stop,’ I’d not only trusted Jeff to corral the remaining British-based band members and record all their parts; I’d even trusted him with the final mix. Now here he was at Alaska Studios, our old stomping ground, directing a video for his own arrangement of ‘Don’t Stop 2006’, to which end he’d put up a backdrop, ensured we had a drum kit, a guitar and a bass, and rented a high-end video camera. Chris claims not to have played drums since 1984, but when he ambled on to the stool and Jeff hit the play button on ‘Don’t Stop 2006’, the inflections, the dynamics and the thousand yard stare all came back to him in about as long as it takes to sing, “So what do you want from life?” Middle-aged spread aside, he looked 12 years old again.
Around lunchtime, Kevin Bagnall showed up. Kevin had talked his way into the band in late 1981, assuring me he could play trumpet. I believed him. Listen to his three-part harmonies on the song ‘Release’ and you’d believe it yourself: they’re fantastic. Still, Jeff and I had got a laugh earlier that morning when Baggy texted us to say that he was halfway down to London from his home in Manchester but… he’d left his trumpet behind. By accident or design, we didn’t fully ascertain. Jeff borrowed a toy saxophone from his son’s box of toys and it seemed better suited to the occasion: with Kevin in the group, there always was something of the Madness about us.
Kevin is the only member of the band who looks younger now than he did then. Maybe it’s from all the kids he has in his life. Maybe it’s from running the pub quiz and karaoke nights up in Manchester. Maybe it’s from managing his step-daughter’s band. Or maybe it’s the died blond hair and the nipple ring.
Tony Page has also occasionally died his hair and he too sports a nipple ring. Tony was also three years older than the original Apocalypse trio. He too continues to act much younger than his years. He also has older kids in his life. He too loves a bit of karaoke, and like Kevin, can levitate the mood of almost any room he walks into. We knew that once Pagey joined the reunion that Friday, it would be hard to stay focused. I think Jeff was secretly relieved when Tony said he couldn’t get the day off work and would only be joining us around 5pm.
It’s a fascinating thing about the human condition than when you put a certain group of people in a room together, no matter how long they’ve been apart, they revert to type. At Alaska on January 20th, just as in the old days and as befits songwriters, it was Jeff and I who called the shots. Jeff hired the equipment, brought it to and from the rehearsal room, organized the timetable and directed the shoot – all of which gave a sense of purpose to an Apocalypse reunion that would otherwise have revolved entirely around drinking. I insisted on tweaking the playback sound, steadily turned my amp up, got stroppy when old friends talked too close to the cameras, took transatlantic phone calls between takes, and asked people to fetch me food (though I offered to pay for it this time). When Chris, Kevin and Paul spent a little too long fetching “tea,” I knew well enough to look for them in the Wellington, share a swift glass down memory lane, and still get Kevin back in the studio in time for his on-camera interview with Shona, the former secretary of our fan club, Revelations, and ongoing iJamming! Pub Landlady. (Shona was joined in attendance by the equally loyal and long-suffering Apocalypse fan and friend Jeni, and by our former school-mate John Matthews, who was responsible for suggesting the name Apocalypse in the first place.)
Chris and Kevin put up with me and Jeff and our demanding ways like they always had. Bands need leaders, after all. (They just don’t always need two of them.) Pagey rolled in at 5pm on cue, sang ‘Don’t Stop’ five times in a row, hamming it up more with each performance until, inevitably, he was on his knees in front of the camera, and then lamented to me afterwards that he’d always hated having to repeat things and it was just as well we hadn’t become famous if every video shoot would have been that boring. Those of us who’d been under the hot lights for seven full hours just laughed.
We wrapped up the video shoot with twenty minutes to spare. It was just enough time for me to crank the guitar a little louder, and approximate the opening arpeggio riff to ‘Nobody But Me.’ Chris mastered every minor brush of the drums in the verse, and broke his lone pair of sticks during the chorus, and Pagey remembered the words to what his own wife Sarah says is her favorite Apocalypse song, but Jeff insisted he could no longer play bass and sing at the same time. He propped his instrument between his legs and harmonized instead. It was a shame, but it was probably just as well: we never did sound too good when we all tried to play the same song at the same time.
Still, we persisted. From ‘Nobody But Me’ it was ‘Teddy,’ and from ‘Teddy’ it was ‘Going Up In the World.’ For those twenty minutes, it felt incredibly natural, like the thing we were always meant to have done with our lives. I do have regrets about this, as you can tell: we had something truly great going in 1982 and ’83, and somehow we blew it. It’s painful to get that close and not get any further, and it can be painful to listen back to songs I still think should have been hits, or at least should have been shared with the wider world. But there was no pain at Alaska that day: only joy.
And then it was over. And again we acted to type: The others were in the Wellington before Jeff could ask for their rehearsal contribution, and I was off to Crystal Palace for a football match. I returned to the pub four hours later to find a battle scene: pints strewn around the table, people spewing all kinds of lyrical nonsense, and memories pouring forth faster than they could be gathered. (The night in Bath that the van got wrapped around a lamp-post… The night the bed & breakfast owner in Poole showed us a porno movie (and I was the only one with a girlfriend in tow)… The night in Leicester we let off the fire extinguisher in the van and almost choked to death… The night – make that morning – in Manchester where the hotel maid made the bed with Tony Page still in it… The night in Port Talbot where we were heckled for our cockney accents, followed to the local pub by menacing local kids and stopped by the police the moment we started up the van… The night in the studio in Farnham when I celebrated my 20th birthday by…) Pictures of kids were being passed around, letters were being shared, anecdotes were being swapped and, I’m thrilled to say, laughs were being had. When the pub closed ahead of schedule – some idiot set off the fire alarm, and I can vouch that Tony Page was safely in my sight when it happened – we sneaked over the road before last call and found ourselves in a Lock In. For me, the night finally ended a couple of hours later when we tucked Kevin in on Jeff’s sofa. Three of us sleeping in the same house after a long day and night being Apocalypse: the sort of thing that used to happen all the time.
When Jeff and I got up that Saturday morning, Kevin was already on the motorway to Manchester, Chris was on a plane home to Florida, Pagey was safely back in Bexhill, and I had a train to catch to Yorkshire. Jeff, alone of the group, stayed in South London. The last I saw of him, he was still wearing shorts.
I don’t know where it goes from here. Over the next couple of weeks, as Jeff and I hung out a little over coffee (me) and tea (him) in the mornings, listening to Peter White (him) and Radio 4 (me) on our iBooks (both of us), it was evident, though in the nicest of ways, that our tastes remain as far removed as ever. For me, compiling the CD completed the circle; I’m happy with that. For Jeff, it was important to bring us all into the same room at the same time, and document it on film for our kids; I’m happy with that, too. So we never became rock stars? So what? We all have our health, our wives, our work, our kids… And now we have a renewed friendship, too. That line in ‘Going Up In The World,’ about how “you oughta be glad”? It was written as cynicism. But now it reads more like fact.
The Apocalypse Archive pages start here
2006 reunion photos by Jeff Carrigan, Shona Groves, Jeni de Haart.
You can see a short clip of ‘the Apocalypse reunion here (Quick Time) or here (Windows Media Player).