The band basically evolved out of a place named ‘Scarf Studios’ in the East End of London. In the early days ‘Scarf’ was just a rehearsal studio with very little recording going on.
The first ever ‘official’ recording session (at Scarf 1980) involved John Spinks, Tony Lewis, Alan Jackman and a singer named Jimmy Boswell. It was called ‘Sirus B’. Tony wasn’t really singing out front then. Jimmy was the vocalist in the band at the time, especially as he had a big, brand new van. “Sirus B” only did two gigs and it all fell apart. It was a case of more van than content
Somewhere during 1981 / 1982 a guy named Allan Alderson took over co-ownership of Scarf Studios. At that time John was in a local hard rock band named ‘Running Blind’ Tony was in an indie-style group called ‘Precious Pups’ Alan was playing with various cover bands working the London pub circuit.
After a while, Scarf started to adopt a more ‘Recording Studio’ approach and became a social gathering point for local musicians. Other East End faces like Paul Dianno from Iron Maiden and some of the lesser known punk bands often rehearsed and recorded at Scarf. The guys (still pre-Outfield), also helped with various sessions, albeit as a backing band, one of which was with Louise Goffin (Carol Kings daughter).
Around the same time Allan suggested that John should hook up with Mark Lewis (a studio engineer at Scarf) as a musical team mate. Being a bit of an entrepreneur, Alan offered John and Mark some free downtime studio hours in hope of getting them a publishing deal (of some description), consequently, Allan basically started acting in somewhat of an early management role.
John and Mark experimented with lots of styles of music together. Feeling encouraged bywhat he was hearing, Allan Alderson started playing the demo’s to various people in the music biz who subsequently asked if they could see the band play live…a band that didn’t really exist.
The Baseball Boys
John wrote the words ‘Baseball Boys’ on the spine of one of their demo cassettes, albeit it was a similar name to one of the street gangs from the movie, ‘The Warriors’. It marked the first time ‘they’ (John and Mark) were thought of as a band.
One of the ‘varied’ demos that John and Mark had recorded together got the attention of a young production company. Within weeks John and Mark were offered a production deal. Basically it was just allowing the production company access to some of the songs. Mark would not commit to any production deal with John, leaving him to go it alone thus putting a bit of a strain on their relationship. The deal with the production company, nor the songs, went anywhere.
Realizing that things had not gone as planned with the production company, Allan Alderson once again stepped in and took over the reins in John’s song writing career. Although a band of some description had continued to operate during that short production period (mainly based around John, Alan Jackman and a couple of various bass players), Allan Alderson still continued to encourage and push John in the direction of his song writing. Allan Alderson suggested that John should resume his working association with Mark Lewis. John and Mark rebuilt their friendship and the songs started to roll off (usually about one per week).
At that time, John and Mark had started to incorporate various other musicians who frequented the studio to help on the demos. Alan Jackman was almost always involved (although another drummer ‘Ted Butler’ from the Precious Pups auditioned and played on a couple of tracks along the way). By then another friend ‘Nigel Palmer’ had started to rotate with Mark as the house / band’s studio engineer at Scarf.
Things moved along and John, Mark, Alan Jackman, and a school teacher friend named Ian McNaughton (on bass and lead vocals) did a couple of gigs retaining the name Baseball Boys. That particular permutation of The Baseball Boys also fell apart, seemingly due to Ian’s lack of commitment to the project.
Late 1982 / Early 1983
About that same time, John and Mark went to see Tony play in his band named ‘Precious Pups’ at the Bridge House pub in the East End of London. Although the PP’s played an original set of songs with Tony on vocals, John was a bit confused as to why Tony was singing (as John thought) in the wrong vocal register. John had previously seen Tony sing a cover version of The Police’s ‘Message in a Bottle’ with Johnny Wick’s covers band, Freeway.
Soon after, John asked Tony (as a long-standing friend), to come and sing on some newly written Baseball Boy’s demo’s, (albeit in his higher register). Tony agreed and chose to join the Baseball Boys on a permanent basis. Everybody went through a ‘getting to know you again’ period and it was around that time that the Baseball Boys recorded their first self funded single, ‘Never Told Lies’.
The newer demo’s with Mark now serving mainly as the engineer (although again ‘back in the band’ so to speak) started to get some feedback from people inside the music industry. The band then set out on an 18 month-long stint of gigs in pubs and clubs around the UK.
On the day of the third show (at the ‘Mitre’ pub in south London), Mark Lewis’s mum called the venue during sound check (6pm) to say that Mark couldn’t make the gig. Everybody was a bit upset at being let down at the last moment but John, Tony and Alan carried on regardless and played their first show as a three piece band.
The following day, Allan Alderson called a meeting at John’s house with just Alan, Tony and John present (not Mark). Allan Alderson ‘in a moment of leadership’ suggested that Alan, Tony and John should carry on without Mark. Allen then went on to inform Mark that he was no longer a band member.
John, Tony and Alan did carry on, although there were many times where they were near to calling it a day feeling that it was almost impossible to break into the music business. That said, the band still continued to record at Scarf Studios, with Nigel Palmer now as their permanent engineer. The guys seemed to be in the studio night and day (literally). (John……) I remember one night (during winter) when it was so cold we all needed to play in our coats and scarf’s on. Alan (Plug by then) was playing ‘percussion’ overdubs kneeling on the studio floor at about 2am. It was absolutely freezing cold and his hands were almost blue, so much so, he could barely hold the sticks.
Another memory (John recalls) was watching Tony scream ‘Don’t turn your back on me baby’ whilst recording the demo for ‘Taking My Chances’, albeit in the middle of the night when all concerned were trying hard not to fall asleep through tiredness. We then started looking for some weird noises to put in the drop down section and found a German DJ talking on some pirate radio station. It was all hit and miss but we seemed to make it work. Towards the end of 1983 things had started to slow down and it began to feel like the band was going around in circles playing the same venues. There was a certain point in the development where Allan Alderson called John to one side and explained, quote, “ I’m hitting a brick wall with the industry. I feel as though I’ve taken the band as far as I can”, (albeit with him being a studio manager). Allan then suggested that he intended approaching some established major management companies on the band’s behalf.
Allan Alderson eventually made contact with Kip Krones and took John to meet Kip at MAM management in London. Allan by then had also found the band a publicist who started to get them some reviews in the British music press. One of his [the publicist’s] contacts turned out to be a guy named Derek Oliver from Kerrang (rock magazine) who wrote the band an amazing review (almost as if one of their mum’s had written it).
Kip (after hearing the demo’s) started working alongside Allan Alderson in developing the bands future. Allan was now dealing solely with the musical / studio development and Kip more with the business end of things. It was during the summer of 1984 that John wrote most of Play Deep. Although the band already had a lot of songs in the bag (i.e. Nervous Alibi, I Don’t Need Her, Taking My Chances, 61 seconds and Mystery Man) there were no obvious sounding hits. Allan Alderson made it clear to John how important it was to have those ‘hits.’ The next three songs that John wrote were ‘Your Love’, ‘Every Time You Cry’ and ‘All The Love’ (originally with Piano). After that John wrote Say It Isn’t So and, later on, Talk to Me.
As time went by, and with endless gigs under their belt, the band’s first real big show (to an audience of thirty thousand) was at Knebworth, playing as Andy Peircy’s backing band. (Andy was previously the front man for the group ‘After the Fire’ who had a Top 5 hit in the States with Der Kommissar).
By this point EMI in England had started to show interest in the band. Kip’s contact at EMI (London) had put him in touch with his counter part in the states, a guy named Steve Ralbovski. During the second half of 1984 the band seemed to move up a gear in concert / gig appearances, ending up as the support band on the Grand Slam’s final tour (featuring Phil Lynott from Thin Lizzy). John, Tony and Alan were now all taking time off from work to do the shows, driving long distances from the East End and back again in the middle of the night after the shows were over. (John…….) “I still remember Tony playing the first song of the Grand Slam tour ‘totally out of tune’. He had just been given his new status bass which had no head stock and he couldn’t see the dots on his fret board, thus he played every note of the song (Tiny Lights) a semi tone sharp”, I think the audience thought we were ‘avant garde.
In November of 1984 Kip Krones took John off to New York to meet Steve Ralbovsky (by then at Columbia Records) and Bill Whittman (the band’s first producer). That trip was multi-purpose, one of which was an exercise to get the songs finished. To that end, John was left (encouraged by Kip) to walk the streets of NY for the first time ‘soaking up the atmosphere’ and listening to American Radio on a ghetto blaster that Kip had bought (haggled) off a street tramp for $5 dollars.
In early 1985, (whilst Johns mum was seriously ill) all three members of the band went back to New York to do pre-production for ‘Play Deep’ at Top Cat studios (albeit some of the songs were still somewhat incomplete). At the band’s request they were given studio time at the Record Plant at which the middle 8 for Every Time You Cry was demo’d for the first time (by luck). That whole experience was a bittersweet time for John, the band was getting ready to record ‘Play Deep’ whilst knowing his mum only had a short time to live.
The band went into Air Studios on February 12th, 1985 to make their 1st album. The first track recorded was ‘Taking My Chances’. On the second day at Air, just after John had finished recording the guide guitar for ‘Your Love’, Allan Alderson came to the studio and accompanied John to the hospital whereupon his mum died later that same day February13th.