The Ug Brothers Biography

The Ug Brothers Biography
This is the biography, or the history of The Ug Brothers, Exeter’s heavy funk ubermeisters and hellraisers of the mid 1990s.

The beginning of this band in 1994 was not actually the true beginning of it at all. It had first started in October 1986 with the late great Dean Trotter on vocals and guitar. Rather, it was the start of the far more significant Part Two of the Ug Brothers.

The original Ug Brothers line-up was the same as that for The Subterraineans, except Marc played the bass instead of Jerry. The purpose of the band was to play different material to The Subterraineans, specifically some of the songs by Graham and George. The band didn’t last all that long as The Subterraineans became a gigging unit and Marc was too busy elsewhere to commit himself to much action. The band eventually ground to a halt in December 1986.

Part Two of The History of The Ug Brothers began when Graham moved back to Exeter from London in the summer of 1994, bringing his trusty old drumset with him. He met up with his old mate George (guitar) and they decided to drink as much beer as possible, do unspeakably saucy things with as many women as possible, and form the most outrageous band possible. This was clearly a brilliant idea, and one which they set about fulfilling with tremendous gusto.

The first stumbling block was the total lack of bassist. After some beer, some designing of flyers, some more beer and a few fruitless trips to nightclubs to find bass players, which only resulted in even more beer plus the aforementioned unspeakables on most occasions, who should turn up with his old mate Tom the Tongue but their old bass player from days of yore, Dave and his mighty magical thumb. It was so obvious what they had to do that even the copious amounts of beer, groupies and other things failed to stop them seeing it. The Ug Brothers lived and breathed once more!

Before very long, the band had written several tunes, mostly in a hard funk stylee. The place where most rehearsing took place was Graham’s flat, which was swankily located above the Real McCoy Arcade in the centre of Exeter. The place had a massive window which enabled passing shoppers to pause and enjoy the ongoing musical shenanigans, and due to this location the band quickly developed a hot reputation around the area, which was enhanced by the extra-curricular partying and hellraising that went on fairly constantly. It was not long before the band were booked for their first show, which was to be supporting Honey Sucks at the Cavern on Christmas Eve 1994.

The windows above the shops is the room where The Ug Brothers used to rehearse. Photo from DevonLive:

The windows above the shops is the room where The Ug Brothers used to rehearse. Photo from DevonLive:

This created a further conundrum. The band had no singer, and only one of their songs (one from the original 1986 Ug Brothers set called Drowning In Your Eyes) had any lyrics. Dave, Graham and George sat around smoking, drinking and listening to rehearsal tapes, scribbling down ideas for lyrics. Soon afterwards, a variety of auditions were held.

First up to audition, upon invitation, was Rupert, the Exeter Cavern’s very own resident MC, and a thoroughly good fellow. He was a man with an extraordinarily creditable moustache and a deep gravelly voice. Despite his obvious stage presence and his rap about ‘Onions and Gravy’ (“Onions and gravy, She’s a fine lady, Let me put my onions in your gravy”, or something to that effect), he was sadly not the man for the job, even though he would have been fantastic in many ways.

The next auditionee’s name is now lost among the mists of time. Perhaps this is a good thing. The Ug Brothers handed the poor fellow a mic and mumbled some apologies about not having written any lyrics yet and would he mind just making some up and jamming along. What followed was both ghastly and hilarious at the same moment.

The guy had just split up with his girlfriend and began a lengthy, tuneless and rather dull monologue into the mic about the death-throes of their relationship. When the rest of the band finished playing whatever song it was, they all ended nice and tight, leaving the hapless vocalist yelling into the mic: “…and I’m really sorry.”

Well, this was clearly the case, in a very literal sense. It was all the band could do to stop themselves laughing hysterically. It was already obvious the guy didn’t quite have all of his cups in the cupboard as it were, and was totally unable to sing at all. Nevertheless, there had been such comedy in the poor fellow’s effort that the band requested he try it again.

After he left the building, there was a great deal of hilarity and merriment in his wake. Oh dear.

By this time it had become apparent that a new approach was needed. Despite all the fun that was had with various girls met at nightclubs, mainly through the boys leaving flyers around on tables asking for singers, not a lot of practical progress was being made and the date of the first show was fast approaching. An advert in the local paper brought a couple of auditionees, one of whom was Natalie. She had a fabulous voice and a great personality and fitted into the band with ease.

Originally The Ug Brothers had hoped to find a six foot tall shaven-headed black man as they felt it would complete the look and sound of the band, and Natalie was very far from that, being blonde and female. George was the least keen on the idea, but Graham and Dave were in favour, so Natalie was democratically installed.

By now a few lyrics had even been written, mostly by Dave with a few by George, and Graham managed to come up with the rap section in Take Me Up. Dave had also acquired a PA system and a navy blue long wheelbase Ford Transit with ANZAC emblazoned on it in white.

Now that the band was complete and sounding good, and with the pre-gig hype peaking, The Ug Brothers were unleashed upon The Cavern in Exeter for their first show. They absolutely nailed it. They rocked the house with their virtuoso set of new songs. The place was filled to bursting and the whole of the dancefloor area was a sea of tightly packed bodies bouncing up and down in the smoky darkness.

The crowd bellowed for more for some time after the band had finished their set, but as they had performed every one of the songs they had finished writing and rehearsing, no encore was forthcoming. The performance was a triumph, and for some time afterwards people talked about the show.

Honey Sucks, who were headlining the night, were none too impressed that The Ug Brothers had performed brilliantly and been received so well. It was a tough act to follow. As their set wore on, more and more people left the venue, until by the end the place was virtually deserted. The Cavern, in their dubious wisdom, paid Honey Sucks both bands’ fees so The Ug Brothers had to ask Honey Sucks for their money. Honey Sucks, rather begrudgingly, gave The Ug Brothers most of what they should have been paid and then everyone went home.

When The Ug Brothers arrived with their gear back at headquarters, the local Satans Slaves had gained entry. They knocked at the door and were let in by Cliff, who was the first one to arrive there. All in all there were about 20 or 30 of them and they proceeded to cause havoc, such as by urinating in the PA cabs and reducing George’s beautiful Melody 12-string to a pile of splinters with some brutal kicking and stamping.

The band and their friends who had come back for an after-show chilldown were worried that more damage may occur and that they may be injured, or worse. Eventually the bikers were removed from the premises by a large amount of police and everyone breathed a sigh of relief.

Soon the band had a fanclub, called The Ug Sisters, many of whom were often present and good for keeping… morale… up. And so it wasn’t long before The Ug Brothers were in action again, at a birthday party. By this time another song or two had been added to their set and they played for longer, with plenty of improvisation and general fun. A young boy complained at the end of the show that it had been too loud and he was told that if it was too loud, he was too old. The expression on his face was a picture as the puzzled boy’s brain tried to compute what had just been said to him.

It was not long after, in January or February 1995, that The Ug Brothers were back playing at The Cavern again, as one of the support bands to Muse. George was impressed by Matt Bellamy’s guitar skills in the soundcheck. Matt was only about 17 or 18 years old at the time and after the soundcheck George said to Matt with a grin, in a perfectly friendly way, “You’re a bit of a smeghead, aren’t you!”

Matt, however, was not in the least amused or impressed. He frowned, spun round on his heel and flounced off to the dressing room toilet, which was tiny and disgusting, and there he remained for a long, long time.

Several years later when the two guitarists met again, George reminded Matt of this event and Matt laughed. All was forgiven.

The Cavern in Exeter, where The Ug Brothers played more shows than anywhere else. Photo from DevonLive:

The Cavern in Exeter, where The Ug Brothers played more shows than anywhere else. Photo from DevonLive:

After a few more shows and many more shenanigans, Dave went on a pre-arranged month’s trip to Morocco at the end of February, leaving Graham, George and Natalie to work on more songs. By the time Dave returned, things had moved on and the band were ready to perform again with more songs and a longer set. There were several more performances, including a few more back at The Cavern, and by now Cliff had become the band’s manager, as well as their photographer. There is a series of photos he took in the spring of 2005 in the Gallery.

The Ug Brothers are blocking the stairs! Photo by Cliff Smith Photography.

The Ug Brothers are blocking the stairs! Photo by Cliff Smith Photography.

There was a Battle of the Bands competition running and Cliff entered the Ug Brothers. Their heat was at The Arts Centre, now The Phoenix, in Gandy Street. This was a weird event, to say the least. One of the bands, Edward Bear, which featured Jeff the Bass from the original lineup of Dark Company, pulled out at the last minute. One of the other bands played a set of mostly Jamiroquai covers, and the third band were not especially memorable. The Ug Brothers agreed to play a longer set to make up for Edward Bear’s withdrawal and they did an excellent job, engaging with the crowd and being fun and virtuoso musicians.

There were three judges – the awesome David Treharne, who was at that time, and indeed still is, a radio DJ. There was another journalist, possibly from the local paper the Express and Echo, and also called in to be a judge at short notice, the best friend of the lead singer of another band called Rib, who were scheduled to play in a different heat of the competition. While David and the journalist both gave The Ug Brothers very high scores out of ten in all three categories (musicianship, performance and originality), the friend of Rib gave The Ug Brothers a big fat zero in every category and made stupid comments about who the different band members looked like, such as Teenage Fanclub. After he had scribbled all of this down, he hurriedly left the premises without waiting to see what transpired.

Poor David Treharne had to read the comments and give out the scores to the crowd at the end of evening. Had the friend of Rib given The Ug Brothers even one point in one of the three categories, they would have tied for first place, and two would have given them the win they deserved. But as he gave the band no points at all out of 30, The Ug Brothers came second by a margin of one point, and the Jamiroquai covers band won. Thus had Rib’s main competitor in the competition been successfully removed. Rib went on to win the final. David was extremely apologetic to The Ug Brothers about what had happened, he really felt terrible. But that was the end of that.

The band badly needed a proper demo, so they set about trying to make one. Most of the live recordings, the Ugstrumentals, preceeded the demo, which turned in to an album that the band called Cute But Weird. Graham came up with the name after a few experiences with some of the more eccentric Ug Sisters. Graham also made the cover for the album using his Amiga 1000, which was state-of-the-art computer tech in those days.

The Ug Temple - the back cover of the Cute But Weird CD from The Ug Brothers.

The Ug Temple – the back cover of the Cute But Weird CD from The Ug Brothers.

Cute But Weird was recorded on George’s old Tascam 244 portastudio and with Dave’s Alesis Quadraverb GT. The Ug Brothers used whatever mics they had and a few more borrowed from the very kind Jade, who owned Custard the Cat, a rather wonderful alternative fashion, clothing and jewelry store downstairs in the Real McCoy Arcade. The drums and bass were recorded together through the PA desk to make a stereo mix on two of the tracks, leaving two more for vocals and guitar. It was mixed down onto DAT.

The pre-vocal recordings, the Cute But Weird Ugstrumentals, sometimes have two guitar tracks, where the better one was chosen to remain and the other sacrificed to make room for Natalie.

There were more shows throughout the summer, including a rather acrimonious event at The George and Dragon where Rib had been hired as a support band for The Ug Brothers and were not happy about their lower status. The Ug Brothers were not especially kindly disposed towards Rib for being nobbled in the contest in the spring just gone.

A couple of the Ug Brothers had… a word or two… with the judge who had given them zero points and he left the venue with his tail between his legs. Rib’s guitarist attempted to sabotage George’s effects pedals, possibly more out of not understanding what the controls did than pure malice, as they shared George’s rig for the night, but he was ultimately thwarted and everything worked out fine. At the end of the night, the venue refused to pay the bands a penny, which caused a scene. Eventually everybody went home in a grump.

There were also considerable tensions growing within the band, particularly between Graham and George. Graham was somewhat cheesed off by George’s groupie conquests and that manifested itself in passive aggression, silence, moodiness, constatnly telling George to turn down so that he could not hear what he was playing even with his head pressed against his speaker cab, and general negativity and derision to any new music that George created and presented to the band. Cliff and Dave both tried to act as mediators, but in the end it just didn’t work.

In September 1995, the night before what turned out to be the final gig that The Ug Brothers played, they were at The Cavern to drum up some support for their forthcoming show. A fabulous band called Funkweed were playing that night and in the audience were three young Polish people who were going to be returning to their homeland the following day, having spent a fortnight at a local language school. Elwira, Agneska and Lukasz were their names. Everyone got along tremendously well and the three Polish revellers stayed in touch with George throughout the whole of the next year, when they came again to study. This meeting planted a seed in George’s mind of how he could travel the world without having to rely on flaky musicians, but that was to be another tale.

The next evening The Ug Brothers played The Cavern and did a fabulous job. Shortly after, George decided he had had enough of the stresses and tensions within the band and the difficulties of trying to make a living as a musician, especially when many venues expected bands to play for free or refused to pay even after agreeing a fee, so told the others that he quit. Natalie was the most shocked, but they all accepted his decision. And that was the end of that.

Later, even when George was living in Prague, people would occasionally recognise him. “Aren’t you that guy who used to play guitar in that band in England, The Ug Brothers?” they would ask.

Later still, George and Dave would form Flicker. Graham tried playing drums in a couple of other outfits, but his heart was never in it and it never lasted. He has not played a single beat other than on an electronic practice kit in his bedroom for many years, as far as we can tell. Natalie married an Australian man and moved to Australia many years ago.

All in all the band could have been so much bigger. They had a massive potential and in the end it was all ruined by a few lingering touches and sidelong glances. At least there are still some recordings to enjoy and to remember The Ug Brothers by.