A flagrant festival of nostalgia today — my apologies to the 6,999,996 of you were were not members of the short-lived heavy metal band Anne Heap of Frogs in Bishop’s Stortford in the late 1980s. This post is for me, Andy, Richard and Eddie (and maybe our mums).
The ticket you see above is from the first Anne Heap of Frogs concert, played on the evening of Saturday 26 September 1987, at the URC Church Hall in Water Lane, Bishop’s Stortford. Astonishing to think that was 28 years ago.
Any history of Anne Heap of Frogs is necessarily brief, since the lifetime of the band was less than a year, during most of which we did nothing. Nevertheless, I’m recording what history I can remember, since it was the first band I was ever in that did anything other than practice.
- Andy Charles — bass guitar
- Eddie Cooper — drums
- Mike Taylor — guitar, backing vocals
- Richard Whitbread — lead vocals, keyboards
We formed at short notice specifically for our first gig, supporting another local band called “Haywire”. As best I can remember, Haywire were Eddie’s friends, and he got the band together as a favour to them. Andy and I had jammed together previously, though he had mostly played keyboard, and Richard was an old friend of mine, who I’d tried to jam with before I could actually play guitar — playing at that time through an ad hoc amplifier constructed from the separate pre- and post-amp boxes from a home-brew amplifier built by my dad’s friend Steve, together with an old speaker from my parents’ radiogram.
The name of the band was decided on at a party shortly after we formed: it might even have been before the first rehearsal. Each of the four members, plus our friend Chris Hedley, suggested a name. We each ordered them, adding up the ordering points to determine which of the names was most popular. To my horror, the winning name was “Large Doner Please”, which I flatly refused. Instead, we adopted the second placed name, “A Heap of Frogs”, which mutated to “An Heap of Frogs” (as in “An History of Britain”), and from there to its final form — not named after any particular Anne. Of the five suggested names, the only other one I remember was “Emerald Eclair”, taken from the name of one of Andy’s instrumentals.
We played a very short set, which I seem to remember consisted of only four songs, none of them original. The only songs I can remember from that gig are opening with Eddie Cochran’s C’mon Everybody and closing with Chuck Berry’s Johnny B. Goode. The odds are good that we played Smoke on the Water as one of the other two songs, but I don’t honestly remember. All of the songs were played in a rather heavy-handed Heavy Metal style.
Here’s an example of our meticulously constructed chord sheets:
My memories of that first gig are hazy. I do recall that Haywire had arranged for a huge PA, with seven-foot-tall speaker stacks, which nevertheless failed to raise Richard’s vocals to the level of audibility above Eddie’s drumming. Still. we went down gratifyingly well for a band that had existed for roughly a fortnight. I remember something like two thirds of the audience leaving before the end of Haywire’s set, so we actually played to three times as many people as the act we were meant to be supporting.
In the aftermath of our success, Richard was keen to work hard on the band, even talking about touring, which in retrospect was a crazy idea. He and Eddie were both keen to change the band’s name to something more serious, but Andy and I, perceiving that we clearly weren’t serious, refused to allow this: the name, we felt, was our greatest asset.
Several months later, we were approached to play at the URC Hall again. This time we were to be the headline act, supported by a band called “Iff”, whose set I remember mostly for a very creditable cover version of Dire Straits’ Industrial Disease, interpolating the theme music from Scooby Doo.
We took this gig much more seriously, preparing a set of twenty or so songs, all but two of them covers. This might have been artistically uninspiring, but did give our audience a point of reference. Of the two original songs, one, The Frog, took its lyrics from the Hillare Belloc poem of the same name:
Be kind and tender to the frog, and do not call him names
As Slimy-Skin, or Polly-Wog, or likewise, Ugly James,
Or Gape-A-Grin, or Toad-Gone-Wrong, or Billy-Bandy-Knees;
The frog is justly sensitive to epithets like these
No animal will more repay a treatment kind and fair
At least, so lonely people say
Who keep a frog (and, by the way,
They are extremely rare)
The music to this was intended to be in a sort of a deliberately ungainly, shambling seven time, but invariably mutated itself into a sort of a deliberately ungainly, shambling four by the end of the first verse, so in the end we gave in and re-wrote it in four.
The other original song, Don’t Fall in Line, started off as a set of lyrics by Eddie. I gave it a fairly canonical Rock & Roll rhythm and chord-sequence, though with a more-interesting-than-usual bassline. Richard wrote the tune, and Andy and I together wrote the music for the middle section, deliberately choosing chords as far away from the original tonality as we could. The effect was strangely Ozzy Osbourne-like.
We rehearsed quite a lot in the run-up to the gig, managing some monumentous feats of disorganisation, including one occasion on which we started practising no less than two and half hours after the nominal start time, due to the necessity of picking up various equipment and people.
Backstage at the URC church hall, there was a lot of old furniture, which Andy and I were keen to have sitting around on-stage while we performed, reasoning the combination of surrealism and comfort would be A Good Thing. Predictably, Richard and Eddie wouldn’t allow this, complaining that we weren’t taking the band seriously. We tried to explain that this was exactly the point, but in the end we were forced to give in.
The PA this time was much more makeshift than previously: my guitar amp, and three other combo amps borrowed from friends for the occasion — one of them from my sister’s then-current boyfriend, who I think lasted only a couple of months but was there when we needed him. Still, the sound was clearer than the PA had made it. Still not clear by any means, but at least Richard was audible.
The setlist was along these lines:
(I’m pretty sure we dropped the cover of Deep Purple‘s “Maybe I’m a
Leo” because I couldn’t accurately sing and play the guitar riff simultaneously.)
One that got away was UFO’s Doctor Doctor — dropped because Eddie couldn’t play the compound-time rhythm. Other songs that didn’t make it seem to have included our own Don’t Fall in Line (maybe we’d not yet written it?) and Motley Crue’s Smoking in the Boys’ Room (just because I hated it).
My main memory of the performance itself is of the inflatable frogs: we managed to borrow four of these from various sources, and they started the set perched jauntily on the speakers (see the newspaper photo below). Later in the set, they somehow made their way into a heap in the middle of the stage, which Richard kicked apart in a frenzy of passion during one of the more exciting sections of Lights Out. Most enjoyable.
At one point, I played a solo using only controls on the delay and flanger pedals, obviously consisting only of special effects. I thought this was terribly original, and it was only the best part of fifteen years later that I realised it sounded almost exactly like some of the stuff Hendrix used to do — for example, in Moon, Turn the Tides … gently gently away on Electric Ladyland. Ah well.
(That’s me on the left with the guitar, Andy on the right with the bass, and Eddit behind the drums. Richard’s out of shot, unfortunately — I presume behind the keyboard that you can just see on the left.)
Another highlight of the set was me forgetting the chords to the Scorpions‘ Still Loving You and edging behind the speakers to read them from my music folder. Also, I broke one of my strings during Twist and Shout, our encore, got confused about where my fingers were supposed to go on the remaining strings, and played the rest of the song in a different key from Andy. The audience didn’t really care by that stage, though.
Artistically, the highlight was undoubtedly the way we finished the main set: the finale was Ted Nugent’s I am a Predator, a very straight-ahead twelve-bar blues. But rather than winding it up with a big thrash on the dominant seventh, we cut off dead after the first beat of bar ten of the final verse, leaving the audience singing the final line unaccompanied. Oh well, I enjoyed it. You had to be there, I suppose.
Here’s what the local newspaper thought:
Shortly after this triumphant gig, we tried to record two songs using Andy’s four-track recorder (a Tascam Porta-ONE): they were our own Don’t Fall in Line, and our cover of UFO’s Shoot Shoot, a favourite of Eddie’s. The session was not successful: we spent more than half the time trying to figure out how to record drums. By the time we got to recording the vocal, Andy had become so bored that he was riding his bicycle around the hall we were using as a studio — which was amusing, but possibly not conducive to concentration.
This tape, together with a very poor-quality recording of the second URC hall gig, are all that remains now of the material of Anne Heap of Frogs: shortly after the single recording session, the band split, due to the proverbial “musical differences” (i.e. Eddie and Richard wouldn’t let us have soft furnishings on the stage.)