When we were in the Fifth Form my friend Dave Varley bought The Rockingbirds' single Gradually Learning. Three things attracted him to the CD: the cover (see above), the sleeve's amusing pen portraits of the band (see here and here) and the 99p-for-four-tracks price tag. That fateful day at the Lincoln branch of Andy's Records I'm not sure Dave even knew he was buying a record by a British band.
The title track was pretty good but we were more attracted to the B-side, Love Has Gone and Made a Mess of Me, whose lyric "It's the same kind of luck/As being run down by a truck" appealed to our adolescent sense of humour.
MP3: The Rockingbirds - Love Has Gone and Made a Mess of Me
And that was that. The Rockingbirds released some singles, two well-received but commercially unsuccessful albums, played a bunch of gigs I never saw and disbanded in 1995. This track from their swan song Whatever Happened to the Rockingbirds is a fitting epitaph to a band out of step with the 90s Britpop explosion.
MP3: The Rockingbirds - Band of Dreams
Shortly after I moved to London in 1999 I met Big Steve Arlene whose band The Arlenes was keeping the North London twang flame alight. Steve suggested I might enjoy Come Down and Meet the Folks, the Sunday afternoon club he ran at Rosie O'Grady's in Camden with a chap called Alan Tyler. That name was familiar. I excitedly phoned Dave and told him I'd found out what had happened to The Rockingbirds, or at least their lead singer and songwriter. We headed to Camden Road in the hope of hearing the song that had amused us as teenagers.
One of the first times we went to Meet the Folks Alan played Love Has Gone and Made a Mess of Me. I was beside myself. Since then we've seen Alan Tyler play numerous times but never thought we'd get to see the actual Rockingbirds perform.
Last year the band reunited to play with Edwyn Collins at one of the Heavenly Records 18th birthday gigs at the South Bank Centre. It sold out before I could get a ticket. Thankfully a good time was had by all and the seed was sown for a few more live shows.
"Is this queue for The Rockingbirds? I never thought I'd say that."
- overheard outside The Dome, Tufnell Park, 18 April 2009
Last night Dave and I finally saw The Rockingbirds play. After about four songs Dave lent over to me and accurately observed,"It's going like a dream so far." I'd not seen so many fortysomethings dancing since I was last at a wedding and got particularly animated myself during the classic Jonathan Richman tribute Jonathan Jonathan.
Inside the Gradually Learning sleeve it says "Alan has golden shades and a platinum voice... He vows never to become a rock monster". It's always wonderful to attend a gig where so much affection is directed towards the band on stage. I think everyone at the Dome last night will forgive Alan's triumphant ascension onto the drum riser before the encore. Welcome back.
I'm Your Fan - includes Jonathan Jonathan
Amazon: The Rockingbirds - buy the re-issued album, it's superb!
myspace.com/rockingbirds - includes some great videos
myspace.com/alantylerandthelostsonsoflittlefield - Alan Tyler's current band
Come Down and Meet the Folks - still going strong