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Friars Interviews

Roger and Bob Surguy
The Sore Willies local legends

friars appearances 12/04/80

Roger and Bob at Friars 1980 (photos: Bob Surguy)

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.

Thanks 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 months.

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 local?

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 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.

BS Yes!

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 the Lambrettas!

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?

RS Yes.

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 Bauhaus!

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?

BS No!

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 it.

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 Subs!

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 now?

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 wishes.

This interview and its content are 2011 Mike O'Connor/ and may not be used in whole or in part without permission.


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