In January 1981 Sheep Worrying was big news. With a magazine that started off as a fanzine for the Dangerous Brothers, now a regular gigging band at the forefront of an original music scene that was growing in strength around Somerset, and now a mouthpiece for some anarcho-socialist ideology, a record label and a regular focal point for new bands with monthly showcase gigs at the Art Centre and now with a Theatre group that was producing original, controversial and overtly political shows, the whole had been picked up by the regional media and was gaining momentum across the county.
On January 10th the ‘Reverend Henry Prince’ play by Charles Mander had its premiere at the Art Centre and was a sellout. It was also the first event witnessed by new Art Centre manager Ian Hague
Eugene Byrne remembers “We had a discussion beforehand saying Mr Miles cant stop us now so lets do it. It’s the play we should have done and now we can. “
Kim Newman recalls “We saw Charlie as a professional writer and assumed it would be stage ready- but it wasn’t quite so I had to write an ending. I wrote Princes death scene. Charlie’s ending was a damp squib and didn’t say what happened to characters, like the ending of Monty Python where the audience come on and shut it down. But I remembered that when Prince had died he’d said that on the 3rd day he would rise and the new order would begin. So I wanted the Cult standing around waiting for this and accepting he was a loony after all. I wrote a song ‘The Dawn of the new Millenium’ – Hell for most heaven for some, the dawn of the new millennium’. Prince boasted about it. Sings I’m gonna live forever and ever then has a heart attack. The stage goes black, Tim says on the 3rd day he will rise, but people drift away one by one till there’s just Tim left. I also remember that Butland was a martinet as director. “
And there was also a wider media interest as Steve Roberts from Charisma films turned up. Kim recalls “He had directed Sir Henry at Rawlinson End then later Max Headroom. He wanted to do a film about the Prince story -based on a novel called Abode of Love by Aubrey Menen and then found Charlie’s book and then heard about the playso came down. We talked to Charlie about writing a script. There had already been a TV play in 70s and I had already started writing Jago and that used some background, but the project never happened. “
On Jan 13 the Sheep Worrying RPM feature was broadcast and within a month 105 bands had got in touch. Brian recalls “This was a very exciting time. We had the gigs and plays at the Art Centre and other bands were copying what we were doing around the County. Even better the Art Centre had agreed to revive the Youth Theatre as we’d shown the demand for it. Ian Hague took over as manager but John Ridley was the one who re-launched the BYT. 1981 was also the year of a major Somerset Arts project called ‘Somerset 81’. Me and Kim wrote a song for it – but Kims lyrics were a tad on the ‘anti’ side…all incest sodomy burning witches, cadmium, nuclear waste….not the message the sponsors were looking for.”
The Showcase gigs continue on 16 Jan with the DBs, Fractured Entertainment, Rotfabrik and Barbded Wire . Down in South Somerset musicians were also getting their act together. Mick Rawlings from Fractured Entertainment based in Chard and Crewkerne produced their own fanzine ‘Human Debris’ meanwhile over in Yeovil Debbie Gooch and offshoots of punk band the Mob was bringing out ‘All the Madmen’ .
On Jan 23-the DBs played a powerful gig at Trinity Hall in Bristol .
Bouyed by the success, Smedley and Coram visited South West Arts in Exeter with a view to getting grant aid from the regions key arts promoter but were told they didn’t regard rock as an art form. “Another establishment knock back – but no surprise. So instead we widened our contacts with the anti-establishment.”
On Feb 16 Sheep Worrying Magazine met with the Wiveliscombe counter culture scene and put out a joint back to back magazine Jointly with Smoke and Whispers upping the circulation to 1500
On Feb 6 the Art Centre showcase gig feature Das Kapital, Good Grief, Pure Motivation and the Market Gardeners
On Feb 7 the DBs played Sussex University in Brighton and were broadcast over Radio Falmer care of SW member Rob Hackwill who had been in Another England and Prince and was a student there.
On Feb 13 the DBs played the White Horse, Launceston and took Fractured Entertainment with them. At the same time the DBs signed up to Bristol based Circus Records to be part of their album project ‘the Circus Comes to Town’ from which was to come their second album ‘Going Shopping’
On 20 March Sheep Worrying received an offensive letter from Yeovil band the Bikini Mutants, the first hint of any criticism and the start of a slightly fraught history with Yeovil. However, some ancient footage of the Scarlet Downs playing at Nether Compton Village Hall in 1981 survives and sort of sums up the period. For bands in Somerset
John Parish was one of the leading lights of the new wave scene there and recalls “I was in a band called Thieves Like Us and we stopped gigging in December 1980. Then I met Rob Ellis and Dave Dalliore working in the record counter at Smiths. I was a drummer but wanted to be a guitarist so Rob took up drums and I became a frontman and singer-guitarist. We formed a band-The Headless Horsemen and moved to a little cottage near Crewkerne to rehearse and got involved in Sheep Worrying which was a big part of helping us get gigs. “
On 21 March Sheep Worrying decided to bring out a Compilation album of Somerset bands- Smed recalls “We held a meeting in the Art Centre and bands were all asked to contribute £10 or £20 what they could afford and a track. The album was to be called Tubular Sheep.”
Mar 27 saw the Showcase gig featuring Pure Motivation,Negative Earth and the Skillet Lickers
On April 8 –the Dangerous Brothers went into the studio in Bristol and recorded ‘Secret Seven’ a song written by Smedley in an awkward 7/8 time signature. The band signed away their lives for £1 – a cheque that was never cashed.The deal included not being able to record the song anywhere else for 10 years .
By April Dave Newton had moved back to Bridgwater from Leeds and was getting back involved. His first project was a Sheep Worrying Film Club at the Art Centre . Kim gave him a book of 16mm films he could hire for £2 and he came up with a programme including the classic ‘A Bucket of Blood’ which was shown on Apr 16 . Kim wrote the film club notes.
On 18 Apr-SWT did “My One Little Murder Won’t Do any Harm” by Kim Newman and BYT also made a comeback with a series of sketches called “Those Romans” . in ‘Murder’ Smedley played a Hoagy Carmichael style pianist and specially wrote ‘The Okeefenokee Swamp Stomp’ for the show plus a 1920s style ballad called ‘Catriona Kaye’ with Kim
Kim recalls “ The play was important because it introduced characaters that I still write about today Catriona Kaye and Edwin Winthrop. Jago was a sequel to it. I remember a good seance scene with a terrific punchline. Liz Hickling was possessed by the spirit of the Dave Keighron character. The lights came up and there I was murdered. There was a gasp and at that point I let a blood capsule out of my mouth. I also remember that in rehearsal Pat Hallam gave a big scream of shock and disgust.”
The surprise star of the show was Dave Newton in his first acting role as a shell shock victim
On April 20-the DBs played at Bath Roxpot supported by the Telescreens and on Apr 21 Smedley did a Radio Bristol interview about Sheep Worrying then on April 23 the DBs played at the Bristol Stonehouse
Apr 25 the Showcase gig featured Ancient Voices, Squashed Piranha and the Struggle and at the gig TUBULAR SHEEP RELEASED was released. The cassette album included 12 bands and the DBs did ‘Do the Washing up’ on it.
On May 8 the DBs played the Sherston hotel Wells + Squashed Piranha + Rotfabrik
On May 14-Bristol Stonehouse started regular Sheep Worrying ‘Bristol’ Showcase gigs starting with -Squashed Piranha, The System and the Rot
May 16 the Art Centre showcase gig featured Good Grief, Mind Tunnel, Desperate Hours, Orgasm, Garbage,Oofys pals, The Condemned and the Space Hamsters
On May 20 the DBS were officially signed up by CIRCUS RECORDS for the album ‘The Circus comes to Town’
June 5 the Art Centre showcase gig featured the Mob.
June 27 Sheep Worrying put on the first non-local gig with ‘Mother Gong’ who were also playing Glastonbury. Didier Malherbe handed out strawberries. Probably full of drugs.
June 29-Bristol showcase gig at the Stonehouse featured the Headless Horsemen + Red Factory
9 July Bristol Stonehouse gig featured Squashed Piranhas, the Noiz Boiz and Thin Air.
July 10 Launceston White Horse featured the DBs ,the Struggle and the Market Gardeners
July 11 Art Centre showcase gig saw Shiva, The Noiz Boiz, Victory boogie woogie and Uncle Freds Lucky Tandem.
The Dangerous Brothers then had it’s final line up change as Dave Newton came back in, contributing heavily to their contribution to the next Cassette album ‘Dark Side of the Sheep’ with an instrumental called “Temple of the Inner Thought”
Dave recalls “We were rehearsing in Flo’s pit . Butland wanted to do an Eno song ‘Babys on fire’, I was just using the fuzz button on my HH amp , Butland was off his head repeatedly hitting a syn drum. We were just jamming about taking the piss about pretentious hippy music .I was just glad to be back in the band”
Brian added “In fact there was a looming split in the band. I was writing daft quirky non serious stuff like ‘The wonderful work of a worm’ but Butland and Neal were wanting to go a different direction. They’d outgrown the comedy and wanted something a bit more cerebral I guess. ‘Temple of the Inner Thought’ was the last thing we ever did. It summed it all up really, we were all just doing our own thing. They were spacing away while I was trying to fit a Shadows style bass riff into it and Dave Newton was playing echo laden slide guitar with some tin ornament he’d got off his gran. And…we decided to put that on the album!”
Aug 20 Art Centre gig featured Stiff Bennet and the Memos, Fractured Entertainment and intensified chaos
The DB’s call it a day
Sept 4 was to be the DBs final gig. This showcase gig was given over to the Circus Records people to promote the album. The DBs, the Bite and Riz Wah Wah all played but Sheep Worrying writer Dave Keighron gave the band a bad review . After the gig Butland and Alan Gadd quit the band and it never played again.
During September Sheep Worrying however was still on the up and the ending of the Dangerous Brothers probably had a positive effect as it could no longer be seen as just a vehicle for them. The second Casette album “Dark Side of the Sheep” (catalogued at SW006) came out
On 11 and 12 September the SW Theatre group did another Kim Newman/Brian Smedley musical “The Gold Diggers of 1981” directed by Tim Mander .
On Mon 28 Sep Sheep Worrying put on their most famous gig as underground counter culture anarchists CRASS play the Art Centre supported by Dirt + Annie Anxiety . And for only £1
Richard Gardner had just got on the board of the art centre and remembers his introduction was this gig “It ended with one light on the band and their anarchist flags and looked like a medeaval battle ground. A single side spot caught everyone in silhouette. I wondered where they got the money. Everything was controlled and worked on. We even closed the bar because we wanted to let under age kids in”
Oct 9 The Art Centre showcase gig featured Mind Tunnel, Red Factory and the Bad Detectives
19 Oct Another blow as Sheep Worrying receives the official verdict from South West Arts supremo John De La Couer who calls Sheep Worrying “Self indulgent and too broad” and reminds them that “We’re making cuts to existing organisations anyway”
Having finished University and now without the Dangerous Brothers, Smedley is putting himself full time into Sheep Worrying. Eugene has moved to Bristol and believes Sheep Worrying should relocate there. When Brian rejects this he teams up with now Bristol based Rod Jones to bring out a local fanzine there called ‘Brian’. Which is the first project for their Megalomedia Corporation.
Meanwhile back in Bridgwater new members were signing up. Market Gardeners frontman Stuart Croskell was in the Navy when he wasn’t on stage. Now he was encouraged to take up playwriting, as was Dave Butland, so a whole range of writers were presenting themselves alongside Kim Newman and Charlie Mander. Then at the same time, with a lack of Dangerous Brothers, Brian was trying to turn Club Whoopee into a replacement by getting together Sheep Worrying actors and doing ‘songs from the shows’.
On 21 Dec it was Club Whoopee that performed at the Sheep Worrying Xmas Party
On 22 Dec the rock showcases continued with the Noiz Boiz, the Act, Quasar and Ski Plan 43. SW issue 24 came out with a Dalek emerging from the cover and an interview featuring blues legend Alexis Korner . At the same time Sheep Worrying decided to get some offices at 18 Queen Street. Brian recalls “It was a cold and very small top floor room, but it was ours. We met there, rehearsed when we could and it seemed like a step in the right direction,”
Meanwhile, although Sheep Worrying was going from strength to strength the Art Centre was going through a series of crises. Richard Gardner recalls “Charles Mander talked me into being on the board. Then I got to know John Allen , the eminence gris of the place, the Horsemans, the Puseys, Bob Rogers . Then suddenly I was the Chairman and it turned out we had a deficit of £8,000. Ian Hague had been there for a year and fingers pointed in his direction as we found IOU’s everywhere and he’d used Art Centre money to rent a car.We met with the council and sorted out the deficit and Bob Rogers then built up a surplus. This all happened at one long meeting which started at 7.30 and ended at 9 minutes past 3 in the morning. We called ourselves the 3.09 Club.”
Brian said “For us we knew nothing of the Art Centres finances. We just knew that our rock gigs were well attended and our bar take alone subsidised their classical music programme. Our Theatre group gave their drama programme a credibility and our Magazine promoted their events. Pretty much everyone supported what Sheep Worrying was doing and that summer a group of our members volunteered to repair the theatre roof and redecorate the place, which earned us lots of brownie points. By the end of 1981 Sheep Worrying was on a high and we were looking forward to whatever 1982 would bring.”