35 May

35 May - A personal recollection

by Mike the bass player

The Band

The 35th Of May - a “brain-child” musical project of Pete Smith. The band formed as Pete moved his focus away from the group he’d been playing in with brother Rob -  the Skiff-Skats. Pete wanted to form a pop/soul/roots band and showcase his own original songwriting. This was despite the respectable success the Skiff-Skats were already enjoying at the time with TV, radio and an album (Skiff-Skat Stuff) gaining glowing reviews.

The band Pete assembled had daunting pedigree, especially to a “green” bass player like myself: Avis (AKA “Roma Pierre”) used to be a backing singer for Eddie Grant. Pete himself had been in various groups including Lee Kosmin and the wonderful Skiff-Skats (who I’d paid to go and see). Eryl Price-Davies played with The Look on their tour promoting the hit “I Am The Beat”. Stewart had played as a session player on various hits and in many collaborations with Eryl and Martin Turner from Wishbone Ash. Lee Partis played drums on Kirsty MacColl’s “There's a guy works down the chip shop swears he's Elvis” single and toured with Jah Wobble’s band. The bass player I replaced had played in Boney M. But he wanted to be paid for rehearsals. This caused some friction with the others and opened an opportunity for me.

Dublin Castle Gig

In the original line-up with Terry Anderson on drums, we all played a storming set at our first of many gigs at the Dublin Castle in Camden, London. I think we played the gig before we signed a management deal with Nigel Thompson and his silent associate Ken Trench (of Mirror Group pension fund fame).

Song for Amnesty International

Pete had penned a soul anthem called “Everybody’s got the Right To Live”. We were told it had been picked up by Paul Gambaccini and put on the short-list for Amnesty International’s theme song for 1987. Ultimately Amnesty didn’t choose any song to promote their cause at the time, but “Everybody’s Got The Right To Live” would have been a great anthem in promoting human rights. How many lives could have been saved if it had been used, hmm?

Management Interest

We’d had interest and offers from several established management agents, but the group consensus was to go for “nice-guy new-boy” Nigel Thompson. In trying to shape us up for stardom Nigel got various stylists involved in dressing us. Initially we all got grubby white suits (from Camden Market), then 50’s style zoot-suits. Avis was of course exempted from these indignities and wore a selection of lovely dresses instead. These image changes didn’t stick and I remember one final attempt where  the concept became individualising each band member’s innate style: A stylist dressed me as John-boy out of the Waltons at the start of a rehearsal - much to the amusement of the rest of the band.

Studio Time and Lost Soul E.P.

Our first studio session was at The Greenhouse Studios (I think). Nigel bought the producer Pete Moss in for us. Pete Moss had worked with many famous female vocalists (i.e. Cilla Black and the like) before. I think he also penned the theme tune to Grange Hill! The band only did one song (All The Way There) and Pete Moss didn’t spend much time with the band. He focused mainly on Avis’ vocals in-between phone calls. The resulting demo had great singing but the band performance was rather lack-lustre.

Our second attempt at recording was more successful. Although I forget the name of the producer, I do remember going to Madness’ Zar-Jazz recording studio in the Caledonian Road to do 4 songs with our new drummer, Lee Partis. Pete had a connection with the group Madness because some of them had played occasionally in the Skiff-Skats. The demo mix on this site is not the final mix, but only a rough day 2 mix and lacks some backing vocals and additional mixing from the final version. The final mix was scheduled to be mastered and made into a 12” 4 track EP, then touted around the major labels. The sleeve artwork (a suggestive pic in the style of Lou Reed’s Transformer album art) was prepared and we were all set for stardom...

Management Failures

We were playing a gig at the Bull and Gate in Kentish Town when our manager Nigel arrived in the audience during our set. He stuck out like a sore thumb in trying to be anonymous: He was wearing a wide-brimmed hat, sunglasses and a raincoat with the collars turned up. Something seemed obviously wrong with him. He told us after the gig that he’d been implicated in something (to do with Boy George I think) and was in the process of having a nervous breakdown. Our management contract effectively ended there and then.

Last Gig At The London Midland And Scottish Arms

While some people in the band liked gigging regularly and wanted to continue, others were getting tired of the effort needed to perform regularly on stage. I guess the knock-back from our recently collapsed management deal and failed promises was too difficult to recover from for the band.

Our last set at the London, Midland and Scottish Arms in Hendon was a sad and rather drunken farewell. I was fortunate to continue on playing with Pete in the Blue Rhythm Methodists, who were formed purely for rhythm section practice and to tighten 35 May up (and because we liked playing together). Pete, Lee and myself went on to play for another few years and incorporated some of Pete’s songs with our blues covers. Pete also continued playing with Avis in the swing blues band “Roma Pierre and her Back Door Men” and various other bands, while also busking in London with his solo blues and bluegrass material.

I loved my time in the 35 May and remember my time in the group fondly. Pete was an inspiration, a true friend and a resource for all sorts of eclectic and rare music.

35 May