Now Biography

Opportunity Beckons

Now began in September 1982, a weekend or maybe two following the recording of The Blaze Tape. Mark was considering staging a production of George Orwell’s 1984. He felt it would be topical and cool for his students to perform it in the summer of 1983, much as Everyone had been performed a couple of months previously, before the summer holidays.

Mark had composed a handful of songs already. The idea of putting together a band to play them, as well as other songs written by the ensemble, seemed like a very good one. Mark would play acoustic guitar and sing, with Simon playing lead guitar, Jon on drums and George on rhythm guitar. There was no bassist available.

All four had been at The King’s School, Ottery St Mary the previous year. In September 1982 George defected and started ‘A’ Levels at Exeter College, having had to move from Sidmouth to Exeter bang in the middle of his ‘O’ Levels. It was also April Fool’s Day and the start of the Falklands War, so somewhat anti-auspicious as days go.

Mark was beginning his second year as a teacher at King’s and Simon and Jon had both been promoted – Simon to the upper sixth, the final year of school, and Jon to the fifth form with ‘O’ Levels at the end of the year.

Now are alumni of The King’s School, Ottery St Mary. Photo from the school website.

The first sessions took place in the new music rooms that had just been built during the summer holidays. Mark had written Room 101 and a song about it being “a long way to Jackson”, and he and Simon had created The Sidewalk Song, which had already been played by Achilles Heel. Mannish Boy was a jammed version of the blues classic by Muddy Waters, and some extended improvisations based around Treasure from the Everyones’ set gave birth to Obsession, which was something of an appalling acoustic rant and drunken burble performed by many.

George had written several songs including the instrumental Frog, which became a regular in the set of Rough Terrain several years later. When the band were rehearsing it and Simon was creating the lead guitar part, the ubiquitous Pete Rippin handed Mark a hand-rolled cigarette. Perfectly on cue during a three-beat gap, he uttered the immortal words “Mmmmm, thanks!” – which stayed in that gap for ever more.

Wet Shoes Blues

There was a lot of walking around during these days. Buses and trains were caught or occasionally missed, and sometimes they broke down which meant even more walking. Lots of music gear was carried around by hand, in proper cases or inappropriate bags, usually in the rain. Holes in shoes, wet socks and tired aching feet were a weekly event.

It was not just feet that hurt. Aching souls from unrequited love and the uncertainties of trying to find one’s place in the universe and what it all meant were constants.

Simon had taught George how to hitchhike and the first time he tried it on his own was for the journey from Jon’s house in Offwell to Simon’s in Honiton. He was picked up on the main A35 Axminster Road by a group of lads who had Some Enchanted Evening by Blue Öyster Cult on the stereo. George had recently discovered the actual music of Blue Öyster Cult after discovering their lyrics written on the side of a desk at school in 1977. Blue Öyster Cult had replaced Rainbow as his favourite band in the world and somehow hearing this music in a stranger’s car seemed to be an auspicious sign from the very gods of rock’n’roll.

Also at this time there was a wonderfully entertaining incident concerning a large group of Now members and friends singing a seasonally inappropriate song to the wrong man in a public convenience, by accident.

Whisky was drunk. Occasionally the bottle slipped from cold fingers and was dropped on the ground, where it inevitably smashed and temporarily deflated the dreams of the young musicians.

Catnip – yes. catnip – was smoked in the ring of trees in Honiton with Richard Egerton. John Yates would come and listen when Simon and George were jamming at Simon’s house in Honiton, even though he said that he didn’t like music. Don’t Fear The Reaper was sung earnestly to an elderly lady on a train from Honiton to Exeter. On the way into Simon’s house, a door was opened just in time to see a cat profusely project a strong stream of vomit from the top of the freezer all over the floor. People felt like mushrooms in a field of sea and a wet piece of string was a useless lever.

The King’s Arms, Ottery St Mary. A favourite watering hole of Now 1 and Now 2. Photo from the East Devon News website.

Simon and George composed riffs and songs and then played them to each other over the phone, which George’s parents found rather irritating as they had to pay the phone bill. One time the two fledgling songwriters coincidentally wrote songs on the same day that had the exact same chord progression, rhythm and tempo! Simon’s was Johnny Wake Up, which has been performed on many occasions over the years. George’s was a song for the play 1984.

George also wrote Julia for the 1984 production around this time, which was later performed by both Lemming Meringue and Wud. A few years later, Julia was the very first song of George’s that Laney ever heard, when she was very drunk. He had just been recording it earlier that day on his portastudio, although that whole shenanigan is another tale entirely.

Mark, unforunately, was not particularly enthusiastic about George’s attempts at songwriting. You can hear by the way he talked between the songs in the recordings of Now that he clearly thought George was a bit too young and foolish.

Ten Purple Aardvarks

A new face emerged onto the scene. He first appeared at a school disco wearing white trousers, a yellow shirt, a smart velvet burgundy blazer, gold round-rimmed glasses and highly unruly hair. He was a new pupil at King’s in the fifth form. He told us strange tales of mushrooms, fields that turned sideways and purple aardvarks. We first knew him as Grape, although he was actually Marc, and what an amusing and resourceful fellow he was. He even cycled from his home near Ottery to Exeter Cathedral to witness the second run of Everyone being performed.

Another misadventure took place on the very occasion when Grape first appeared towards the end of September 1982. George wasn’t technically allowed to attend the school disco. He had already left school and started at Exeter College, but that didn’t stop him. The night before the disco, Simon and Geoge each created a potent and toxic concoction that consisted of a small quantity of every open bottle in their respective parents’ drinks cabinets, small enough to hopefully not arouse suspicion.

There was a special traditional place where cider was drunk to start the evening off. It was under a streetlight along a tree lined footpath that ran beside the river Otter. It seemed like a normal streetlight, but somehow it gave out an odd green light, which was cool and cosmic. That pathway and the factory are no longer there. Instead Tumbling Weir Way and some houses have been built.

Simon and George had chosen a Dutch barn to sleep in after the school disco. What they had not foreseen was that the Dutch barn would be filled to the very top during that day. They discovered to their horror and confoundment that climbing inside was now completely impossible! They attempted to go to sleep just outside it as they were pretty tired and it was the small hours of the morning, but it started raining so they had to seek an alternative.

The staff car park back at school proved to be their salvation. One of the new teachers to arrive that term owned a Volkswagon camper van and had left it unlocked, perhaps in case of just such a post-disco emergency. Clearly a very kind and considerate man. Feeling as if they were doing something extremely dodgy, the two young musicians climbed inside, all the while hoping nobody would see them, and tried to get a bit of sleep. It was rather uncomfortable and not particularly restful at all.

The car park opposite the gates of King’s, where Now discovered a camper van to shelter in. Picture from Google Maps.

Somehow some papers were knocked onto the floor from the dashboard. Being keen to tidy up and not leave evidence or do anything more terrible than try to get some sleep and shelter from the rain, the camper van’s cabin light revealed that they were not school papers at all. “Massage £50, Shower with Topless Girl £75” began the brochure. The papers were hastily put back, hopefully in the correct sequence. This was clearly somebody else’s private business!

It was very early morning when the string section decided they really ought to vacate the camper van. They managed to remain unseen as they made their exit and trudged very wearily through the drizzle into Ottery St Mary. There was time to kill until the music rooms would be opened and a band rehearsal could take place. The mother of one of Simon’s friends owned a cafe in the town. We are not sure whether it was the mother of Lucy Chillman or Fiona Bridgemann who owned the cafe, but her kindness will never be forgotten. Seeing the boys were in a bit of state, she invited them in and gave them a free breakfast.

The Two Nows

The sands were shifting and it seemed things would not perhaps work out as had been originally envisaged. Mark always seemed to be busy, as did Jon. It was the newly met sartorial curiousity Grape who began to make his presence felt more and more as Simon and George continued to drive their music forwards.

The band Now splintered into two. There was the 1984 side of things with Mark, and the Now side of things, which was increasingly becoming a frustrated hardcore of Simon and George and anyone else who made it over to Ottery.

One Saturday as Simon and George and Grape waited for keys to arrive to open a room, George mentioned that he’d like to have a synth player in the band. Grape said that he owned a synth! George was somewhat sceptical, but sure enough, the following week, Grape brought it with him.

George turned up late that day due to the bus breaking down. He had to walk the last three miles through the lanes to school, carrying his amp in one hand, guitar in the other and a horribly impractical and unwieldy bag stuffed full of leads and effects on his back. Simon was profoundly frustrated that he seemed to be the only one who had turned up. He let out a great gutteral scream and hurled a hockey stick across the sixth form centre with great venom, causing shock and alarm to numerous bystanders. He stamped into the town of Ottery and had not returned by the time a tired and sweaty George eventually showed up.

The pale building with the pointier roof is the old Sixth Form Centre, where the hockey stick was thrown and the jamming took place. Photo from Google Maps.

Grape and George jammed a little as they waited for Simon to come back. Grape’s synth was an EDP Wasp and he could use it to make a sound like a spaceship taking off. It seemed most impressive at the time! It was the very first time the early wudders had encountered any kind of a synthesizer.

We still own an EDP Wasp. It lives in our studios. It doesn’t appear very often, but it does make some great sounds for sampling. You can read more about the Wasp here:

A week or two later, on a grey day in late November 1982, Simon, George and Grape had arrived at school to jam. The music rooms were locked, but there were some amps and the drums in a drama room. After enjoying a very nice smoke on a nearby bench and dressing up in strange clothes found in a large trunk, the three proceeded to make a fearful hullabaloo. There was also a keyboard and the three did a jammed version of JKA, an instrumental track. J was for Jo, K was for Kate and A was for Amanda, the ensemble’s three favourite girls at the time.

The bench is still there! This is looking along Cadhay Lane towards the school. Photo from Google Maps.

This was also the occasion that the tune Slark Lywilsbie, which Simon always called Jack Rabbit, was first jammed. Several years later, Slark Lywilsbie became a favourite of the Rough Terrain set. It was performed live on countless occasions and can be heard on their Exit Stage Deaf compilation album, along with a stripped down ‘bare’ remix.

The Power Trio Forms

Grape had previously claimed he was a drummer and when sat behind the kit did a creditable enough job for neither Simon nor George to be any the wiser. In truth, he had never played a drum in his life! He just wanted to play in the band, though he never made this confession until some time later. It seemed that there was a new way forward.

Certainly by the end of 1982, the 1984 band with Mark seemed to have ended entirely and Now consisted of Simon, George and Grape. George was writing a lot of new songs all the time and the band took a few of them on. Grape loved Simon’s and George’s original songs and was a little in awe of the songwriting talent that they had. He always said how he considered it a great privilege to be able to play their music with them.

Now also wanted to rehearse somewhere other than school and found some practice rooms in Queen Street, Exeter. It was at a place called Mobile Sound Studios and this was also the home of SiJenn Records. There was a drum kit in each room, guitar amplifiers – with reverb! – and the walls had acoustic damping. Nearby was The Old Vic, a dimly lit pub where the Satans Slaves, the local chapter of Hells Angels, would hang out. Now would go there for a beer before and/or after a session and gradually came to know one or two of the friendlier bikers. These days, that bar still exists and is called The Angel.

The Angel, Exeter. Still a decent bar and in some ways much as it was when it used to be The Old Vic in the 1980s. Photo from the Trip Advisor website.

It wasn’t easy for three boys in full-time education and no income but they managed to keep rehearsing their songs and recording them onto cassette as they went. It was something of a necessity for Fooog Dinboffin and the Release to break out the acoustic guitars in Exeter High Street for a spot of busking, even in the cold January winds that would freeze the fingers and make every note and chord painful and more challenging than normal.

Momentous Meetings

One Saturday in late January 1983, Now had been rehearsing at King’s School in Ottery again. Afterwards the trio ended up walking up the hill to Grape’s. He lived in a mobile home at Willow View on Straightway Head with his Dad, stepmum and baby stepsister.

The entrance to Willow View mobile home park. Things all around it have changed but the entrance remains as it was. Photo from Google Maps.

This was a highly significant event as it was the start of many things that would take place in the future. Grape’s Dad was ‘Speedy’ Pete Greatorex, who would form the bands Alien Heat and Dark Company with George many years later.

To George, Pete seemed like a somewhat unconventional kind of Dad. He seemed to immediately accept Simon and George for who they were and give them the respect any human might expect to get, rather than simply being somebody’s Dad. He was busy trying to fix his CB aerial and talked about how humanity “was sawing off the branch it was standing on” with its mad behaviour. That particular phrase on that particular occasion has always stuck in the mind.

Then we met Pete’s wife, Jane, Grape’s stepmother. Wow, she was beautiful! Tall and slim with long dark swishy hair and the kind of figure every teenage boy dreams of. Finding somebody’s mother to be so physically attractive was another first. Jane was 18 years younger than her husband. She had just turned 21, an early Aquarius, and George was still 16, a slightly later Aquarius. This makes the probable date the 29th January 1983.

We all had some of Jane’s leftover birthday cake and drank cups of tea from jam jars as there were not enough cups. Jane’s two-year-old daughter Samantha took an instant shine to the two musical visitors. She seemed quite different to Simon and George’s younger sisters.

Before the guitarists went back to their homes, the trio visited the woods near Grape’s home. It was the very first visit for the two string players, although Grape already knew the pathways and clearings well. There was an ancient rhododendron bush from an Earl’s 19th century garden that had grown wild throughout the whole of the woods. It was cosmic, creepy, awesome and highly spiritual.

These woods would become a focal place, a spiritual home and a spot where the wider wud posse would go on camping expeditions for several years, until some idiot decided to build a new section of the A30 right through it. The new road quickly became known locally as “the loudest road in Europe” due to a spectacular surfacing fail.

The main camping clearing, thankfully, was still there the last time we visited in 2012. The visit was the same day we recorded the first track, The Lecher, for Pok’s Anthology album.

The picture of the fire on the cover of Flicker’s At Least 1000 Words album is a photo of a campfire in the clearing,

You can see where the wood once stood before the A30 was built through it. The small circle near to Willow View marks the clearing where the wud posse camped on many occasions.

Now wanted to try to find a singer and placing an advert on the board in Bill Greenhalgh’s Music Shop yielded a call from Oona Wagstaff. She visited George with her gothic lacy friend Santuzza Hedrick and played and sang some beautiful songs. It was a happy meeting and they agreed to do more music together. George suggested that they should come to see Now perform live, which they were doing very soon.

Now at Sidbury Coliseum

The date of the band’s first show was fast approaching. Sidbury Village Hall was to be the venue. There would be a disco as well as the band and it seemed like it was the biggest deal in the world at that time.

Now gave their first public performance at Sidbury Coliseum. Better known as Sidbury Village Hall. Photo from the website.

Now hired some gear from Mobile Sound in Exeter, including the drum kit, an amp and cab for George and a spare amplifier that had no cab due to a misunderstanding. A PA and a microphone were provided by the hall. George and the hired gear were taken to the venue by Yvonne in her mother’s MG Metro (CFJ 240Y) and then Yvonne had to leave again. George decided he wanted to dedicate the show to Yvonne and her non-presence, much as Calvin’s non-presence had been with the band on several occasions.

It was a freezing cold February day. An old friend called Dave Wareham kindly allowed Simon and George to hang out at his place which was very close to the venue. Dave had given Grape his nickname several months earlier. He cooked a bolognese and the guitarists restrung their instruments whilst listening to Robin Trower.

Simon had very recently composed the song Wanted To Be A Singer and wanted to perform it, although George was not so sure as he didn’t know it very well.

After Grape arrived the band drank cider from the Red Lion and smoked catnip in the churchyard to prepare for the show. They were already fairly hammered before taking to the stage. The turnout was small but enthusiastic. Oona and her boyfriend had come to listen as well. Now planned to play three sets of around 30-40 minutes each.

The Red Lion in Sidbury, also frequented by members of the Sidbury Cricket Club. Photo from website.

Just as Now were turning on their amps and about to start, Dave accidentally knocked over the mic stand and the mic broke into several pieces. None of the band knew how to fix it. There was despair and panic. Fortunately, Oona’s boyfriend was handy with such things and put it back together again in a few minutes. The show could start after all!

Every Day’s A School Day

In these fledgling days, Grape had not discovered the true purpose of his floor tom and used it as an ash tray table. You can see it in the photo, with Dave Wareham in the background.

George had also never played through an amp as loud as the one he’d hired and the feedback was unbelievable. It howled like a werewolf, almost constantly, and no matter what just would not seem to stop. It was very hard to find a good place to stand on stage without that dreadful noise going off.

Simon was also very enthused by the whole situation of a live performance, as well as a little intoxicated by cider and catnip. He kept leaping towards the mic and singing when he wasn’t supposed to, which was rather funny, and jumping high into the air like Pete Townsend with his knees up by his neck, which was even funnier.

Altogether the performance was pretty awful and after only two or three songs, including Too Late and The Sidewalk Song, Now abandoned the stage and didn’t return.

Simon announced into the mic: “All this is for Yvonne!”

“What?” yelled someone.

“All this,” repeated Simon, gesturing around the hall. “It’s for Yvonne.”

Nobody had the faintest idea what he was on about. George was very glad that Yvonne hadn’t witnessed the frightful performance, which had gone so much better in his dreams. Tony Langman was the DJ and he started up again. The band shuffled off backstage, feeling a bit glum. Simon had a consolation snuggle with Nicky Ashby.

Instead of subjecting themselves to further humiliation, punishment and booing, Now decided discretion was the better part of valour. Enjoying the fun of being with the other people present and returning to the churchyard for more catnip and cider seemed a far better idea.

The biggest positive of the day was that several lessons were learned, despite Now feeling collectively very disappointed with the way things had gone.

The churchyard in Sidbury is just across the main road, opposite the Red Lion and Sidbury Coliseum. Photo from Google Maps.

When Oona and her boyfriend were driving home, the roads had become very icy. Her boyfriend crashed his Mini in the bends of Newton Poppleford and broke his nose. The police apparently attended the scene. That was the last any of us ever heard of Oona. She probably wasn’t very impressed, although Santuzza reappeared again a few years later.

Now came to a sort of a gradual halt after the gig. Money to pay for rehearsal space had more-or-less evaporated. The trio remained friends and wanted to try to find a way forward, to do things better.

They would.