Recently I decided it was time to purge my old videos having amassed far too many over the last 20 years – it appears I recorded everything! As a typical male I didn’t label any video so I had to play every tape to see what was a ‘keeper’ and what was destined for the dustbin. As it turned out my magpie tendencies led me to stockpile a load of junk video recordings.
There were highlights, one being a 3 hour video of footage from a long forgotten festival affectionately known as ‘Redmere’. Redmere (six miles from Littleport) Festival was the brainchild of Mick & Lee Gillett who, at the time, were heavily involved in the Ely Music Scene with their own band Wild Party Productions.
Redmere highlighted local talent – established as well as new bands. It was one of the new bands that stole the festival and the sad thing about their performance is not many people saw them. The festival was poorly attended and the band played two early afternoon slots, far too early for the masses that arrived later for the headliners. The band in question was Soham’s Nutmeg.
Nutmeg, in 1986, were a raw 60’s influenced garage band with a singer that had so much energy that you really need to watch the footage to comprehend.
Andrew Clifton (who set up Molesworth Records based in Sawtry while at school!) was one of the first people to see potential in Nutmeg and released the celebrated 12″ single “And In England They’re Going Mental”. What follows is a history of Nutmeg in the words of Andrew Clifton. Andrew kindly agreed to allow us to reproduce his article to tie-in with this early Nutmeg footage. All of Andrew’s other band associations can be found on his music publishing website, Leave’s Music.
A Personal Recollection Of Nutmeg
By Andrew Clifton (in 2001)
I came across Nutmeg when I was on the panel judging the 1985 Cambs Association of Youth Clubs Bands Competition held in Sawtry. Nutmeg were representing Soham and came second to the mellifluent Peterborough reggae group Quadro. Nutmeg were inexperienced but had a raw garage band vitality. Their short sharp songs such as “Walking Into Town With The Girls”, “It Came Together (It Wasn’t Easy)” and “Shit Off, Scotty!” were idiosyncratic but also clearly rooted in teenage experience. With his swirling long hair, unfashionable 70s gear and wildly energetic performance, Tom Dalpra was a particularly engaging frontman. As much of their set was spent retuning and restringing, he also had to work hard to keep the audience’s attention between songs, a talent he quickly perfected.>
During 1986-7 I booked Nutmeg for a couple of gigs and they showed the Sawtry Village College performance hadn’t been a fluke. They improved in leaps and bounds, Tom quite literally. And, as Maria Barbieri pointed out in a Scene And Heard review, Matthew Hobbs and new member Rich Scurrah looked the archetypal rock guitarists. Simon Palastanga played bass and Neil Taylor drummed.
And in England they’re going mental
“And In England They’re Going Mental” was the funniest and most striking part of Nutmeg’s performance, Tom improvising verses of what was happening in other countries between guitar freakout choruses to the title refrain. We agreed they would record it as their first single, at The Music Room, a new Peterborough studio which was basically the staff and equipment of the demolished Stix moved along Fitzwilliam Street into Live Music. The song’s spontaneity was preserved by recording versions live in the studio. Dave Colton engineered and Baz Voce spliced together the best two halves. “You’re The Only One” had some equally surrealistic touches. “Walking In The Rain” was much more conventional. I recall having to arrive late from a gig I was promoting; as I walked up the stairs I heard the playback of this unfamiliar song and thought I had come the wrong day.
Released in 1987 as a 12″ EP, “And In England They’re Going Mental” received positive reviews across the board, from Music Week through NME to Underground. At first it seemed it would be as successful as the Pleasureheads’ release and I was not surprised when the band’s manager told me the distributors had informed him it had sold out. Having regretted not releasing a second Pleasureheads single, I had resolved to follow up this EP quickly. The band had mentioned recording a cover version, and in an unreleased Seeds track called “Did He Die?” I thought I had found a perfectly bizarre sequel to “And In England”. Sadly their manager told me this was a direction they no longer wished to follow. Instead Nutmeg were adding classic rock songs to their set to broaden their appeal, and their song writing was moving in the same direction.
Just afterwards, I discovered that lines must have been crossed somewhere: although it had sold rapidly at first, hundreds of the EP remained unsold. Perhaps this was because, surprisingly, it hadn’t received a single play on national radio. I don’t know, but this was a bit of a shock. Despite a repromotion (featuring ads designed by young fans of the band) when Nutmeg won the 1988 Cambridge Rock Competition, I ended up receiving unsold boxes from Backs.
Nevertheless “And In England”‘s uniqueness ensures a trickle of sales to this day, as collectors gradually find out about it. A decade ago I discovered that the record had been used by a West Indian broadcaster to accompany a clip of an England cricket team batting collapse. Last year (2000) a New Zealander, phoning in to Mark Radcliffe on Radio 1, revealed it had been used ‘down under’ for the same purpose. What a pity England have started winning again!
I’m going to make you stars.
John Williams, head of A&R, Polydor Records.
The only way is up
The early months of 1988 saw Nutmeg on a roll the like of which most bands can only dream. Their manager made them a limited company and released their favourite song “Why You Lie” on their own Fenrock label. Nutmeg entered the Cambridge Rock Band Competition and beat over forty other groups to become the first ever unanimous winners. They won several of the contest’s other prizes, including a new Washburn axe for Matthew Hobbs as best guitarist. TV producer and dj Trevor Dann (who would soon become head of music at Radio 1) proclaimed Nutmeg his favourite band during his five year stint presenting “The Rock Show”. But topping it all was the acclaim of one of the judges, John Williams, head of A&R at Polydor Records. He said, “I’m going to make you stars.”
By the summer it had all turned sour. Williams booked them into a top studio with John Jacobs. They found it an overwhelming experience. Nutmeg were at ease with Jacobs but felt that Williams had a different agenda. He suggested removing some members of the band. Tom Dalpra believed Williams was more interested in him as a solo performer. This seems to be borne out by the session tapes which have Tom’s piano-playing way to the fore and the guitars mixed low.
Nutmeg rebuilt morale with a return visit to Dave Colton’s Music Room which recaptured their ’60s R’n’B/early ’70s heavy rock guitar-fuelled live sound. Any hopes that Polydor would release the sessions as a debut album were quickly dashed. The disappointment compounded Matthew’s drink problems which would lead to long absences from the line-up.
Any hopes that Polydor would release the sessions as a debut album were quickly dashed.
No release on Polydor also meant no more bookings by the powerful Asgard agency who had given them several prestigious support slots. But live performance was what they did best, and on the road they went, clocking up five gigs some weeks, despite holding down full-time jobs. They also secured a Monday night residency at Gossips in Soho. Reviewers often compared them to Iggy Pop and the Rolling Stones, but increasingly this was for their tough, sharp sound rather than just their choice of cover versions.
The famous publishers Sparta Florida signed them. With the help of a £7,000 bank loan, Nutmeg recorded ten songs at the impressive Minstrel Court Studio in Royston. The resulting album, “Electric Putty”, was released on vinyl, cassette and CD in editions of 1,000 each on the Ground label. Depressingly, both the LPs and cassettes were faulty and had to be re-made, causing the launch to be delayed until Spring 1990. No matter; it received plaudits from the likes of Melody Maker, Kerrang and Metal Hammer, all of whom followed up with even better live reviews.
Nutmeg struck up a friendship with the equally hard-gigging but better-known Senseless Things who, at that time, recorded for the indie Decoy Records. The first time Nutmeg had supported them, the Senseless Things admitted they had been “blown off the stage”. To their credit the Things gigged regularly with Nutmeg thereafter, usually as their support.
There was no way the metal band could top Nutmeg.
This was in contrast to another incident I witnessed where Nutmeg performed a Red Nose charity gig in Sawtry. The support act was a young metal band from the American air base at Alconbury. They were cock-a-hoop at having won an inter-base talent contest and, spurred on by their large and drunken entourage, demanded at the last moment that they should headline. Nutmeg took this in their stride – an early night for a change! Predictably they were awesome. Not only a brilliantly rocking band, but Tom entered into the comedic spirit of the charity by stripping down to his red nose-decorated underpants, ripping them off to – shock horror – another pair underneath. There was no way the metal band could top Nutmeg. Indeed they struggled to make any impression on the satiated audience, most of whom wandered away, leaving the disillusioned Americans to fight amongst themselves. Word spread quickly at Alconbury and it was so humiliating that the band changed its name, re-emerging only after months of woodshedding.
Nutmeg announce their disbandment
Through the summer of 1990 there was a big buzz about Nutmeg in London as the band to see for a fun time. The arrival of US bands such as Soundgarden, The Screaming Trees and Mudhoney, who professed the influence of late-’60s/early-’70s British rock groups, suddenly made Nutmeg seem ever so contemporary. Booking agency incompetence meant a North American tour was cancelled the day before they were due to set off, but things looked better in 1991 when Nutmeg were signed to Hawkwind’s management agency. Their tour-mates, The Senseless Things, signed to the major, Epic. And yet, despite the evidence of “Electric Putty”, A&R men still saw Nutmeg as “only” a live act. Eventually Nutmeg announced their disbandment “for contractual and financial reasons” and played their farewell gig at The Junction in Cambridge on August 1st, 1992.
A&R men still saw Nutmeg as a live act.
Sadly Matthew Hobbs died. Simon Palastanga joined The Chaps for a while and is now a dj. As well as recording solo tribal dance-related work, Richard Scurrah formed Earthstar with Neil Taylor. Tom Dalpra found his spiritual home in The Lonely, “a Cambridge institution” that has played ’70s music since the ’70s, and he also guests on Kimberley Rew’s latest album. All four have been involved in some of Tim Harding’s bizarre T.H(c)3.2 and arTcH projects on his Pretentious Moi? label. Tim has been trying to persuade them to write a book about their experiences. Campop News says Tom has released an autobiographical video which includes Nutmeg concert footage.
In 1998 Nutmeg reformed for a one-off gig. Nutmeg earn a place in rock history as one of the “nearly bands”, who really deserved to make it. They are certainly a fondly remembered part of Cambs rock history. Unfortunately their memory could be swamped by the number of other Nutmegs. Currently there are at least three bands of that name in America, one in Germany, another in Sweden; and the Australian Nutmeg has released records too. But I bet our Nutmeg was the only one named after the soccer ploy…