I was working in Topman, Oxford Circus, at the time. Most employees were poncey little kids with a chip on their shoulder and pin up tattoos on their forearms. I was probably one of them. Then I met a kid named James Whatley, a lad after my own heart. He had a thing for Bob Dylan and a belief that the Libertines had saved the face of English soft Rock and Roll. We got on from the start.
He was in a band called 'the Pistons' at the time and lived in a dis-used pub in Bermondsey. I remember going down there most evenings, pushing past the ghetto boys on the estate in our skinny jeans to buy Red Stripe from the corner shop, then going back to his to play some tunes. I would hum along or blow the harmonica whilst he and the other guys played their own songs or busted out some Beatles tunes in their pokey rooms. It was good fun.
One night I got a phone call at silly o'clock in the morning asking if I could drive down to South London in my Volkswagen Camper van. When I arrived, the boys proceeded to pack up their lives in the back of my beat up people carrier and told me to get moving (they didn't want to pay the rent) As we began to pull away, the boss turned up looking angry and confused. After being threatened with Police action, we coolly talked our way out of the situation and drove on to Peckham (consciously forgetting to give a forwarding address)
We even went over to Kilkeel, Northern Ireland for the Mourne Rock and Blues Festival 2006. There, we did stuff that wasn't really good for us but made us feel on top of the world. I was known as 'Uncle Phil' and would follow the band around with a spring in my step and a beer in my pocket. Highlight of the weekend was nearly getting into a fight with the UK Guns and Roses and almost getting thrown out of the hostel we were staying in because some jumped up prick thought he owned the small fishing village. It was a blur of a weekend.
'The Pistons' were a pure Rock and Roll band, relying on simple chord structures but really impressing with an energy and passion that saw them steal the show in Ireland. '453' was a powerful piece about the ride home across the river on a rowdy bus. 'Lady Left Behind' and 'Lions Share' were more English than a fat man with a hanky on his head, eating an ice cream on Brighton beach. The spirit of the Libertines streamed through their songs. Not many people turned up to their gigs but when we were all there, we got caught up in the music and normally came out dripping in beer. James usually bled from the finger tips for a few days after and amps would have to be replaced.
We lost contact for a year or so as I fucked off round the world to get away from my mundane life, but on my return 'The Pistons' had disbanded. 'The Dirty Notes' took their place, but James was still delivering the Peckham inspired lyrics backed up by powerful guitar riffs and ear splitting drum solos. 'The Dirty Notes' began to experiment with new sounds and musical processes but never lost that Rock and Roll edge. Slowing their songs down tenfold but still retaining a Ska sound that Suggs would have been proud of. With intensely dark and broody recordings, such as 'Bored' and 'Messed up,' an insight into the turmoil of South London life, 'The Dirty Notes' produced nothing like the manufactured, happy pop we hear from so many bands these days. 'The Ballad of Peckham Rye' also comments on the more miserable side of life south of the river. And with other opinionated demos, like 'Generation Roll Over' and 'Broken English,' their catalogue paints a picture of a broken society that most of us worry about each and every day.
And then 'The Dirty Notes' decided to hang up their microphones like a bolt from the blue. Mr Whatley was reduced to singing in his Peckham flat hoping for the next big break. Like the man he is, he didn't let himself or his audience down. 'The New Cut Gang' emerged from the flames with a dark, fast tempo pop that reflected his maturity and musical evolution. Obviously mirroring his change in mentality, songs such as 'Love', 'Pretty City Girl', and 'Have You Seen Her?' focus on the brighter things in life. Removing the shackles of London life depression, Whatley and his band retain a murky undercurrent but brighten the edges.
The trio, all school friends, consisting of Whatley on Bass, Thomas Loxley (guitar and vocals) and Patrick Dixon (drums) have been tearing up the stage since the latter end of 2009. James' journey through the underground of the London music scene brings with it a determination and eagerness to please his audience. Influenced by Soledad Brothers, Gun Club, the Modern Lovers, the White Stripes and the Clash, to name but a few, James describes their sound as 'modern Rock and Roll/Dark Pop, with driving bass lines, Bluesy guitar licks and pounding drums.' The band argue that a burning desire to put on a good show to the few hardcore that trawl the small clubs and pubs, makes for a fresh Rock and Roll experience.
'The New Cut Gang' are tirelessly setting up their amps and guitars across London. Gigging at venues such as the Dublin Castle, the New Cross Inn and Victoria E1, the boys also set up at underground warehouses and squats across the city. Current winners of the London Fringe New Music Award, held at E1ectric in East London, 'the NcG' are starting to attract admiration from discerning audiences. Collecting their award at the Waldorf Hotel, the Fringe celebrates new talent across the capital, much like the world renowned festival held in Edinburgh. I for one will be looking out for Mr Whatley and his boys because I have seen and heard him struggle through the saturated landscape of new music in London. And with a record deal in the pipeline, their sound will hopefully hit the mainstream very soon.
Spare change guv'ner?