The Subterraineans consisted of Dean Trotter (vocals, guitar, percussion), George Davies (guitar, vocals), Jerry Peirce (bass, vocals) and Graham Barbe (drums). The band was formed from the ashes of The Addled Eggs, so in that sense can be considered a phoenix. The Subterraineans formed in September 1986 and continued until around March 1987.
Dean was an extraordinary fellow, and The Subterraineans probably represented some of the more glorious moments towards the end of his short life. The poor guy had escaped to Devon with his girl, who he loved dearly, in order to escape the London drug scene and his habit. Thankfully he managed to win that particular battle and his big happy face became known on the Exeter scene.
By the time the band started, Dean had already split up with his girl and was at the start of a long downward spiral. He was never the same after the end of their relationship, and he slowly came apart over a period of time. It was terribly sad to see him slowly destroying himself. He eventually committed suicide, jumping off the Clifton suspension bridge in Bristol in 1993. Poor old Dean. RIP. :(
Dean led a remarkably charmed life in some ways. He walked into a music shop one day, picked up a Squier strat and just walked out with it and took it home. Nobody at the shop even noticed. He did much the same thing to acquire an Ibanez 12-string. On another occasion, he went to another music shop and stuffed a 19″ reverb unit down his coat. There was still a large lump of it sticking out the top, but he didn’t care. He smiled at the man behind the counter as he walked past, the man wished him good day, and Dean had acquired another free piece of gear. Heaven knows how he got away with it, perhaps it was that innocent smile, but get away with it he did. We do not condone theft.
On another occasion, Dean had become completely disenchanted with his acoustic guitar and threw it in the river Exe. A local artist witnessed this and fished the guitar out of the river further downstream and took it home. Sometime later, Dean was at the artist’s house and recognised the guitar, accusing him of stealing it as he had quite forgotten the midnight floatation incident.
Sometimes Dean was so out of it that he would simply forget how to play the guitar altogether, how to hold it and so on. He even had a unique way of explaining what he wanted the band to do during his songs, which only George could understand, and he had to translate this Deanspeak (such as “It’s got to go in, and out – in, and out!” or “Smells like… mmm… coconut!”) for Jerry and Graham. Dean had a remarkable imagination, and wrote beautiful songs which The Subterraineans perhaps never quite managed to do justice to.
Dean and George worked on making a tight set of songs out of the creations from Dean’s unusual mind, with Dean singing and playing acoustic and electric guitar, and George playing electric guitar and singing. Jeremy, or Jerry as we all called him, was discovered by accident when someone suggested to George that he should try knocking on his door and asking if he would like to play some bass. This was clearly a far more cunning plan than it first seemed to be and Jerry quickly agreed to join the band and began learning their songs.
Soon after, Graham was added on drums, although right from the outset his personality clashed with Dean’s and the very first meeting of a musical nature was characterised by a huge argument between them, which Dean found extremely funny and Graham didn’t. It wasn’t looking good, but things began to trundle towards a live performance and a variety of collaborative compositions, as well as an offshoot project called The Ug Brothers, which had the same line-up as The Subterraineans except Marc played bass rather than Jerry and the set was different.
With Jerry and George acting as peacemakers between Dean and Graham, the band rehearsed enough songs to be able to perform a show which Jerry had managed to organise at Bicton College’s Christmas Party. Result! There were two stages at opposite ends of the hall, and a band on each stage, though not at the same time. The other band played two sets of covers and kept asking The Subterraineans if they played the song that they were about to perform, but there were no covers in the Subterraineans set, only originals. The covers band were glad to get home early and The Subterraineans were pleased to be headlining their first show. There was even a fair amount of attention from some of the ladies of the college, which were enjoyed mostly by Graham and Dean as George and Jerry had girlfriends at that time.
George remembers that when the band started playing, he felt rather drunk due to having been sat around in the bar for far longer than was perhaps reasonably sensible, and wondered if he’d be able to remember the correct order to play all those notes in. As the band were playing original songs rather unlike anything in the mainstream and it was their first show, the audience had no idea what to make of it all, especially as they opened with the song Planet Earth (not the Duran Duran song but something completely different that had been penned by George and synth wizard Zaphod) which involved lots of flanging from the electric mistress and driving rhythms and general bizarity. Dean’s pink trousers and Jagger-esque mannerisms added to the overall mayhem and probably didn’t make the poor students feel any safer…
Eventually the band managed to complete their set of 90 or so minutes with a certain amount of aplomb and avoided any form of fatality. A few of the crowd loved it, including the covers band who stayed to listen anyway, but it was beyond the comprehension of the majority of people there. However, no rotten fruit was hurled despite Bicton being an agricultural college, and all in all the show was considered something of a success.
The next show was a few days later, at a New Year party at a friend’s basement flat, where there was considerable human carnage, much jamming until sunrise and beyond, and a great time had by all. Another success! Hooray! The only thing was that Jerry was unable to be at this show due to other commitments so various random people had a go at playing the bass throughout the night with varied results.
Around this time the band started recording a demo to try to find a few more gigs, and it was not long before another one was lined up for The Hole in the Wall, a bar in the centre of Exeter. It was a Motorcycle Action Group event of some form or another, and The Subterraineans would be supporting local covers band Gremlyn. When Dean failed to show up for the soundcheck and Graham’s lack of carpeting or proper drum legs meant that every whack of the bassdrum caused the kit to slide a few inches towards the front of the stage, the band started feeling a little tense. Eventually Dean did manage to appear a few minutes before the band were meant to start, and he was completely off his face on who-knows-what. The gig actually went reasonably well despite Jerry having to leave the stage to be sick between two songs and the place was very busy, and Graham had something of a struggle with his drums and kept having to drag them back into position until a mid-show anchoring solution that Heath Robinson would have been proud of was found. At the end of the night though, the local chapter of Hells Angels arrived determined to shed the blood of the more peaceful MAG riders, and the most extraordinary and horrific scenes of violence took place. It really was appalling, but the band survived unscathed.
The fourth performance by The Subterraineans would be their last, at Bart’s Tavern supporting Root Logic.
> to be continued… <
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Big thanks to Laney for her memories of The Subterraineans:
“The memories of my first Subterraineans gig (which was their penultimate one) are a little foggy. I do recall a strange amalgamation of patchouli soaked, leather-clad bikers and dirty footed, musk ensconced hippies, all squashed like sardines in a rather dank bar… their only common denominator being the desire to have a piece of whatever the singer was on. To say he was fashionably late when he arrived would be a gross understatement – he fell through the door and onto the stage with only seconds to spare, and whatever planet he was on at the time certainly wasn’t the one the rest of us were on. I was fascinated with Dean from that very first moment I set eyes on him. He was a complete enigma.
Having recently gotten into a relationship with George (am I loud enough?), I was privy to many of The Subterraineans’ rehearsals, most of which took place in George’s Cowick Lane bedroom, facing a woodland mural and a king sized bed. I spent hours watching the guys perfecting their sound which was only interrupted for regular tea slurpage, ‘deep sea frog’ whisperings and fits of the giggles. Dean would break into laughter at the most inappropriate moments and for reasons we would never be aware of. I remember once asking him what was so funny, as he lay on the bed with tears streaming down his cheeks and his mouth all contorted in some weird Jim Carey-esqe fashion, but he had no idea. He just laughed. And laughed. And when he stopped laughing and picked up his mic, he’d just laugh some more. Those rehearsals lasted for hours.
If it’s possible for a singer to have the ability to be both vulnerable and indomitable all at once, then Dean had it. At any given moment it was unclear whether he was about to take on the world or crumple into a heap on the carpet. His voice was captivating, the emotion behind his lyrics often painful to witness, but his stage presence was absolutely mesmorising. As Graham and Jerry kept a steady rhythm, Dean – rather than slot into a comfortable niche between them – would swoop and soar like a bird above and below and around them… with body and voice.He was enchanting. When Dean sadly chose to take his own life, it didn’t surprise me in the least that he chose to ‘jump’. Bless his soul.
Jerry – who had the sexiest mouth this side of the Channel Tunnel and made the word ‘prunes’ look decidedly pornographic – was as deliciously upright in morality as in stance. He was solid and dependable, an earnest bassist with a solid sound. I always saw him as the Daddy of the band – he was slightly older than the others, had a proper job, and ate regular meals. This isn’t to say that he didn’t enjoy the mid-song banter, but he always seemed keen to get back to the job in hand – making music – which he did with amazing grace and with a glossy mop of hair flopping rhythmically over his eyes.
Graham – dear Graham – was perhaps overshadowed by Dean’s elaborate personality and shenanigans, which at times seemed to cause a bit of friction. I always felt that George – who was good friends to them both – had the difficult job of suppressing any angst between them. Most times he was successful. Graham loved drumming as much as he loved flicking his fag ash on his jeans and rubbing it in, and as much as he loved the attention of a fine looking, long haired woman. Which, I think, was rather a lot. What he may have lacked back then (in those early days) in technical proficiency, he certainly made up for in determination and stamina.
George – who more often than not was seen with bare feet, on and off stage – was a guitarist who in his own eyes would never be good enough and never be loud enough. It amazed me that for someone who in my eyes wrote consistently outstanding lyrics, he always felt that the music should take precedence. Perhaps he thought he was a better guitarist than lyricist? Or that the music would tell the most important story? We had many a debate over the fact that I always wanted more volume on the vocals when he was in the midst of mixing a demo. I guess I’m just a girl who likes to sing along…and one who perhaps doesn’t understand the finer points of perfecting the blend.
Some people are musicians in their spare time, slotting it in to the free moments in their lives. But for George, music was his life. He had to live the rest of his life in the very little time which remained when he wasn’t writing, rehearsing, gigging, mixing, (and later running Bandspace)and godknowswhat else. To say it was a passion is an understatement.”