Roger and Bob at Friars 1980 (photos: Bob
Another of our local
legends, The Sore Willies played Friars in 1980 and they almost came full
circle when they very nearly reformed supported the UK Subs again last
year after a thirty year gap. So what have the boys been up to?
We caught up with Roger and
Bob at a well known Aylesbury pub in April 2011.
for talking to the Friars Aylesbury website. I'm interviewing local legends for the
website and here we are with the nucleus of the Sore Willies!
BS Legends?!! Actually I
think Dave Stopps called us that on the news-sheet for the gig!
In 1980 you were described
as being at the epicentre of the Aylesbury music scene without actually
playing gigs? Was that the case?
BS But we had actually
played more gigs prior to that than anybody which is how people knew our
name. We had a seven song set and played gig after gig after gig. Dave
Stopps got to hear about us and we badgered him till we got a gig (about
two years!). There was a charity gig at the Civic before that Friars gig
and the promoter didn't know what he was doing and let a load of idiots
backstage. Some damage was caused to our dressing room and it was nothing
to do with us. We got blamed and we found it hard to get gigs after that.
Our name was sullied a bit and anyone who knew us knew it wasn't us but we
did find it hard to get gigs afterwards.
Was the band name a
hindrance? Certainly noticeable!
BS We were also known as the
Willies but everyone knew it was the Sore Willies.
RS When we were badgering
Dave for a gig, he asked what the name of the band was. I said the first
thing that came into my head which was The Sore Willies! That's honestly
where the name came from. Dave was saying you can't call the band that! So
the name stuck!
So by the time you did that
Friars gig in 1980, how long had you been together?
RS About a year to eighteen
BS Eighteen months yes.
About four months practicing as then we were doing as many gigs as we
could. We were all lads from Southcourt and started going to Friars right
from the first night of Phase Three. Then punk came along and we thought
we'd learn three chords and start a band.
So your gigs were ostensibly
RS Yes, but we also played
places like High Wycombe and anywhere we could really. The punk scene was
brilliant really. We would meet people who had a band and they might have
organised a gig in say Luton. They would offer us a chance to play and in
return we would put them on with us at a pub in Aylesbury. It was like an
exchange really. It was brilliant. We would meet so many good people. We
would put on gigs at The Britannia or The Oddfellows.
BS We hired the back of the
Oddfellows as many bands couldn't get gigs. The deal was we had to spruce
the place the up. So we spent a weekend painting and decorating and we put
a stage up. All the local bands at the time like The Liggers or The
Haircuts played there. Anyone who was anyone played there.
So you just missed out on
the Aylesbury Goes Flaccid period then?
BS Yes. But we were one of
the worst groups in Aylesbury but we would go out and get gigs. Roger
played guitar, I did bass and after a while it snowballed as people came
to see us because of our name and we weren't just playing in front of our
mates. So Dave gave us a gig at Friars in the end. We were probably the
first (local) punk band to play and probably the worst! We did get some
stick for that...you know "how the hell are they playing but we aren't"
etc. But it was punk (UK Subs) and Dave had to find two bands at
reasonably short notice so it was us and Liquid Stone (from Buckingham)
who were a really good band. We did a gig with them at a free festival,
Dinton Folly, and that's how we met them.
Playing Friars was a major
achievement for any local band.
RS We were the first band on
and the hall was packed which was unheard of for a third band.
BS All the town centre pubs
closed as they were "afraid of punks" I know that Ollie, the landlady of
The Green Man said she would rather have a pub full of punks than anybody
else. She served them when no-one else would. The only place to get a beer
was Friars so everyone piled in early so the hall was busy.
I remember the Bucks Herald
headlines about "the day the punks came to town" - the pubs just bought
into the media frenzy didn't they?
BS Yes. Everyone was proud to
be a punk but there was a lot of bad press because of trouble in the
street and some people were encouraging others to "beat a punk up".
RS The ironic thing is that
the first punk gig at Friars, The Stranglers in 1976 - we saw people from
school there all dolled up as punks and a year or so later at The Jam,
they were all in their parkas.
I remember those days of
people falling in to how they should be perceived and the rabbit tails on
BS - Malcolm McLaren decided
with the Sex Pistols that he could shock. Everyone came and tagged on the
coat-tails and got tarred with the same brush. The Pistols were brilliant
though. The first time I heard Anarchy in the UK, I thought it was the
best record I ever heard. So powerful, brilliant. We loved everything
about the punk vibe.
After Friars, how did you
evolve....or not evolve?
BS We did quite a few gigs
after Friars didn't we?
BS But then there was
a sea change in the band and we got a girl singer and went gothic and
called ourselves Blessed Are The Dead. We did a track on a local album.
So you were forerunners to
BS The singer was very
very gothic. We wore donkey jackets, how gothic is that?! Our music had
changed and we did get to be not that bad.
RS We were influenced by
horror films. We always had that mentality and this movement came about
and we had been writing songs like that for ages.
BS I remember when we played
Friars and we put our set list out, the first song was called
Subterranean, do you remember that?
RS - Yes!
BS One of the crew looked at
the set list and said what does that say. It says Subterranean. What does
that mean. I said it means underground. He said "what, you mean like the
tube?(!)" I burst out laughing. Even for a punk band, some of our lyrics
were very pleasing.
Did you ever see yourselves
making a career in music?
RS For us it was a
laugh and we got away with it. We had no idea how to write a song when we
first started as everyone got caught up in the punk thing and we wondered
how long we could get away with it for! You kept going and got better at
You never had designs when
you were young of being a full time musician?
BS - We knew our limits and
knew it wasn't going to happen. To get anywhere these days, you have to be
at least competent and we weren't. We knew that. We knew our limits. We
were just a band playing in front of our mates and we knew we wouldn't be
any bigger than a local band. We were working class lads on the local
scene and happy with that. The drummer of the band lives in Chatham in
Kent and we don't see him much but Geoff the other guitarist lives in
Wingrave and plays in a band every weekend. We did actually have the
chance to reform..
RS Last year with the UK
BS But it never turned
out in the end. We thought one last hurrah!
RS Also we had no tapes of
the old songs and we couldn't remember the words! We sat in Bob's
conservatory and we couldn't remember any of the songs.
BS We would have written
some new ones though. But that came about through the recent Friars gigs.
We met an old band we hadn't seen for years and it was this guy's 50th
birthday and he had booked the UK Subs to play at his party as the best
gig he ever saw was the UK Subs and the Sore Willies at Friars. So could
we recreate the Sore Willies? It went wrong as there was a communication
breakdown with phone numbers and email addresses and when he saw him again
at the Buzzcocks gig, it had all been and gone sadly which was a bit of a
bugger. But Geoff is following local music and could play guitar at the
drop of a hat. I got my bass out again and started playing a few songs.
So in the intervening years,
what else have you done musically?
RS I was in a band with a
good following and played gigs with the likes of Billy Bragg and Wolfgang
Press. Then I started promoting gigs at The Buckingham Arms in the mid
1990s. I put on loads of bands that were doing the rounds locally. I
started off doing it once a month then it became fortnightly and finally
weekly. We ended up doing Friday and Saturday nights and they were packed
out. Then we (Bob and I) played a few gigs with a guitarist and a drum
machine called Slugbait.
A bit of a modern day Carter USM!
BS Sort of ! We really
enjoyed it. It was quite melodic really. Actually I filmed many of the
gigs at the Buckingham Arms. I have only recently seen a lot of the tapes
as the video camera broke and someone gave me one to see and convert the
tapes. Some really good ones, some good gigs. We met Joe Stopps for he
first time when he played in a band there called All Day Breakfast! We
have the video evidence!
I'll tease him about that!
RS Another thing we did
organise a five a side football match with local bands. We got Mix 96 on
board and they even did the draw live on the radio! Then we did a massive
gig at Stoke Mandeville for their first birthday party. We approached the
council who I must say were brilliant about it and wanted it to happen for
us to put a festival on in Aylesbury. We had planned to use the circus rig
at Oakfield Road and everyone was on board including the environmental
health people but the Police wouldn't allow us to do it. So we were
looking for another site and the council said we know it's not want you
want but we want this to happen so you can have Stoke Mandeville Stadium.
So we put on all the bands we put on at the Buckingham Arms on an all
dayer gig and we got over 1400 through the door.
You made it work despite the
venue - as you know, as we were both there, Friars only ever attempted it
once with the Clash and it was difficult logistically.
RS Actually Joe's band
opened proceedings. This gig at this point hasn't intended to be Mix 96's
birthday party, especially with the kind of music, but they came to us at
the eleventh hour and put money into it. But I was never ever interested
in making money out of these gigs, I just wanted to put the music on. I
was so proud of this event. It was around 1995 and it got a whole page in
the Bucks Herald the week after.
You used to go to Friars a
lot and I know you think that it stood out (amongst other gigs) which it
did with the iconic posters, what other special memories do you have?
RS I remember the
legendary Iggy Pop gig from 1977, the first date of the tour.
BS I remember a
freshly put up Iggy poster for Friars near the Borough Assembly Hall and I
pinched it on my way to work walking with it held out in front of me
because of the wet paste! I still have that. I apologise for that! He was
one of my heroes.
So tell us what you're up to
BS I play in an Oi
band but we haven't progressed to gigs yet. We all have something in
common, all being West Ham fans. A mate of mine, the manager of local band
The Riffs wants to be our manager and has got a good band together and we
have been promised a gig when we're ready but we're a long way from that.
We've been practicing a lot. I do miss not playing in a band with my
brother as we would bounce ideas off of each other.
Cheers gentlemen and best
This interview and its
content are © 2011 Mike O'Connor/www.aylesburyfriars.co.uk and may not
be used in whole or in part without permission.