Steve Cannell interviewed.

It's almost the 'lost' period of Birdland's history: the 18 months or so following the release of their one-and-only long-player. With no record company support the band toured during early 1993 with a new rhythm section and a set containing several new songs. Press reviews were not great and after that - silence.

It was a great thrill then to receive an email in June 2008 from a member of that touring party. Steve Cannell played bass for Birdland on the tour and has good memories of the experience. He kindly agreed to answer some questions about the time - shedding positive light on what, from a distance, looked like a dark period.


You said your initial role with the band was on the merchandise stall during the album tour. How did that come about?

Birdland had signed a merchandising deal with a company called ACME in Northampton. This meant that ACME supplied both the merchandise and a vendor for the tour.
I had been working for ACME for a few years, firstly as a t-shirt printer and then as a self-employed merchandiser, going on the road with bands which ACME had merchandising deals with.

Previous to the Birdland album tour I had already worked with The Cramps, Inspiral Carpets, The Fall, Pop Will Eat Itself and many others.

The tour to support the album in early 1991 was one of the band's biggest but behind the scenes things seemed to be going sour quite quickly. Do you have any particular memories from that time?

The album tour was great fun. I became firm friends with all four of the band very quickly as we had many common interests such as movies, retro tv, videos and music.
Rob and I would spent days off scouting for second hand shops in whatever town we were in and in the evenings the band and I would go to clubs or restaurants. It was exciting - I was made to feel part of 'the team'.

The crew were also really good and having been on many tours where both band and/or crew can be up their own arses this was an enjoyable experience. I don't recall things going sour. There was the expected stresses of record sales but I assumed this was normal.

By the Spring of 1992, the original four members were touting for a new record deal that never arrived - and they presumably split over that summer. What's the background to you joining later that year?

After the tour ended I kept in touch with both Lee and Rob. I lived in Northampton and they were at their parents in Kingsbury near Tamworth and, as I had a car, it was no problem to drive to them. We would also have evenings out in Northampton and if I was on tour with a band I would get them on the guest list.

I vaguely remember that they had been rehearsing with a kid (whose name escapes me) on the bass. It was not a permanent arrangement as he was in a band called Crystal Injection who then went on to support us on the subsequent tour. They may even have done a gig with him but again, it's all vague now. As for who was the drummer, I can't honestly remember although it wasn't Kale. Lee asked me to come along to a rehearsal and it just happened from there.

I saw from some press cuttings that you'd played in bands before. Tell me a little bit about your musical background.

I had been playing bass since I was 16 in two local Northampton bands called Re-set to Innocence and The Rocking Turks. Both bands had a notorious local reputation. The first was an early 80s punk band and there were a few incidents of trouble at local pubs. The Rocking Turks were a proto Oasis-type band. We enjoyed some local success and from my touring connections we got to support a few bands such as Pop Will Eat Itself and Dr Feelgood. After that I began to manage a band from Northampton called Awesome Wells. Again from my merchandising work I got them on a few support slots and we released a single with a little help from Daniel Ash from Bauhaus.

I called it a day managing them when the Birdland opportunity arose and they changed their name to Cain. They supported Birdland at the Islington Powerhaus gig.

To be honest, I don't even know the name of the drummer you played with.

His name was Chris, although his surname also escapes me. When we began to rehearse we auditioned a few drummers. He was by far the best. Not sure where he came from but could have been Birmingham way. He certainly had the accent! He was a really nice guy and a good solid drummer.

Tell us a little bit about the months leading up to the tour in March/April 1993. The band introduced some new songs and a different sound, so presumably you had a period of rehearsals and trying stuff out?

We did a good few months rehearsing prior to the tour. I felt it was quite intense but having not been in an 'established' band before I assumed that this was what you did!
It was in a tiny studio/rehearsal room in Tamworth. I can remember driving up the motorway a lot but then on the weeks before the tour I would not bother going home but would crash on Lee's floor. The rehearsal room was bloody cold I remember! We became really tight and focussed before the tour and had good feelings for the future. The new songs were working well and the whole set flowed.

I don't have much information about the tour itself - and what I do have is not always very complimentary. You seem to have much more positive memories.

Obviously joining an established band was a big thing for me and many of the memories of the tour were really good. We had a mini bus, tour manager, roadie, merchandising and we all tried to make it professional - although on a smaller scale.

The first night at Newcastle was, in my opinion, great with a really positive atmosphere and the second at the Mad Music Club was a riot. The gigs at Rock Cty in Nottingham and my home town of Northampton went down a storm but the Southampton gig wasn't great and the subsequent scathing review in the music press did dampen things. I remember the so-called 'journalist' who wrote it was hypocritically nice-as-pie to us all backstage.

Towards the end of the March/April tour we had a falling out with the support band Crystal Injection which turned unpleasant. But it ended on a high with the gig at the Venue in London which had at least 600 people and was brilliant.
The second half of the tour had some really good gigs with Harlow and Bedford being highlights. The Scottish gigs were cancelled and the last gig I did with them was at Norwich.

Do you know what the longer term plan was - if there was one? Were Rob and Lee still looking for someone to put out Birdland records?

When we started to rehearse for the tour we went to see a guy called John who was the boss of another merchandising company I worked for. He agreed to have a look at the financial / legal side of the band and produce the tour t-shirt. Things were a mess and many problems began to appear. I think the band knew who was to blame.
There was definite talk of trying to sort it all out and then move on with more records.

Did you ever demo anything with the band?

No. Lee and Rob had recorded some demos before I joined, containing new songs and I think the plan was to re-record better quality versions at some time.

What happened after the tour? Did the band properly split or did things just fizzle out?

During the tour I found out my girlfriend was pregnant and, unlike Lee and Rob, I had a mortgage and bills, etc. to pay. The constant driving up the motorway and the fact that I couldn't work was taking its toll on me financially. It became clear that the band wasn't going the way any of us wanted. I think in their hearts both Lee and Rob knew this. I explained it the best I could. I think Rob understood but Lee was angry - understandably.

I'm really not sure what happened after I left. I disappeared on a long European tour. I think they may have done a few more gigs without me but not sure.

Did you play with any other bands afterwards?

No. I recently helped out a local band in a managerial role but they didn't last long. Their bass player now plays for Maps.

It can't always be easy joining a band that's had a certain profile and image - especially one that's seen to be 'on the way down' (even if that's not strictly true). Overall, what do you remember most about your time in Birdland?

I remember when I worked with the band on the album tour I would watch them and so want to be in that band. A year later and I was nervously waiting backstage ready to do just that! The pride, excitement and joy of been on stage with two talented good friends: Rob was a good mate and Lee a real character and a tremendous musician.