History of the Gutter Brothers 1984 - 1993

What follows is a year by year outline of the history of the band - it goes on a bit, but quite a lot went on! There are many more tales to tell over and above this summary of events, and many people who really deserve a mention - there were five of us in the band but we could never have achieved half of what we did without so many fantastic friends and associates, and corny though it is, without all the thousands of fans who, let's face it, were the reason we were able to avoid getting grown up jobs for so long :) We intend to add some links and more content to this section in future, but this is probably plenty for now!

1984: Tony Green arrived in London late in the year armed with a washboard and some experience of playing with Jug Bands in his home town of New Orleans. He soon heard about the street bands in Covent Garden, and it was there that he met Dennis Johnson, who was playing Tea Chest Bass at the time with Gordon Rimes in a duo called 'Slap and Tickle'. Den persuaded Gordon to have Tony join on washboard, and so began a partnership which would last on and off for almost ten years.

1985: Gutter Brothers, 1985Before the end of the winter, Gordon came down with a case of salmonella, and as they were too short of cash to wait for his recovery, Den and Tony joined forces with John Woodall, who had a solo show at the time, singing and playing guitar. They proclaimed themselves The Gutter Brothers, named after Tony's old drinking buddies in New Orleans, and over the next few months they were joined by Cliff (Stoddy) Stoddard on guitar and Anthony Aldridge on violin, and occasionally Dave Bounce on accordion, plus Fiona, the singing 'bottler'. The bottlers were the helpers who would extract the band's wages from the watching crowd, and as such were very important members of the outfit! This line-up played on the picket line and in working men's clubs around Yorkshire during the miners' strike. At some point during this period John Woodall became known as Johnny Reptile. That summer Tony Aldridge and Stoddy formed a swing duo and began visiting Covent Garden less frequently, and Dave Bounce was also seen less often. Towards the end of the year Gary Reynolds joined on guitar and assorted guest artists came and went, such as Johnny Hooper and Carl Mellor on Saxophone and Blue Lou the Aussie on mouth organ.

1986: Dennis left the band early in the year, either because he caught pneumonia or just got tired of trying to catch pneumonia! John, Gary and Tony joined up with a couple of French lads, Jean Luc on drums and Olivier on electric bass, and they started playing indoor gigs at pubs and small clubs in Central London. They also went busking on the tube, a definite low point in their careers according to Tony. Sometime in the middle of the year the French lads decided to leave to concentrate on their own project. Ads were placed for a new rhythm section and Steve Turner and Jeff Walker joined the band. The gigs continued and Steve started writing songs for the band. He met Den, who had been developing a newfound talent for writing lyrics, at one of the gigs and the pair decided Steve should try to write music for some of Dennis's lyrics. Steve later happened to see Dennis playing Tea Chest bass and was intrigued by the idea of playing skiffle. He persuaded the band to revisit their skiffle roots and they began playing this material with Steve on Tea Chest, following a couple of lessons from Den.

1987: The band decided to produce a tape of blues standards a la skiffle to sell on the street and at gigs. Gigs and busking continued until late 1987 when Steve slipped a disk through playing Tea Chest, and Dennis agreed to stand in for him temporarily. Gutter Brothers, 1987By the end of 87, it was apparent that Steve's back wasn't going to recover, and Steve's Tea Chest playing days were over - Dennis wasn't keen to continue playing and Tony decided it was about time to head home to New Orleans. At this point the Gutter Brothers disbanded. Meanwhile Steve and Dennis had been busy writing songs together, and Steve and Jeff decided to form a band to play the material. They recorded a few of the songs and then started thinking about finding a singer. Tony was still in the UK at this point so they approached him and he agreed to sing for them for a while. If nothing came of it then he planned to return home by mid 88. Steve played guitar and bass on the recordings so they started looking for a fourth member - Jeff recommended Chris Cawte, he liked the material and a new band was born and christened Frank. In order to make a few quid towards Chris's mortgage, the new band decided to go out busking with the old Gutter Brothers material - they approached Dennis and he agreed to get involved once again, and Steve moved to guitar. As it was effectively a separate entity they decided to keep the name The Gutter Brothers for their busking activities.

1988: Gutter Brothers Mk 3 started busking in Covent Garden (and memorably in Amsterdam in midwinter - more pneumonia). The band decided to make a new tape to sell, and rather than learn a whole new set of blues standards they chose to make use of the in house writing team of Dennis and Steve. Chris turned out to be a writer of considerable talent too, so between them they wrote what would become 'Isometric Boogie' at about the rate of a song a week - rehearsing and arranging the songs on the street and them recording them the following week for the new tape. The recordings were engineered and produced by Jez Coad, (Steve and Jeff's old guitarist) in his newly put together home studio. During this time they were seen performing on the street by a German TV producer who flew them to Munich to play at the German Top Of The Pops 200th edition party. Gutter Brothers, Covent Garden 1988From hanging out with the homeless in Covent Garden the band suddenly found themselves rubbing shoulders with the pop glitterati of the day, and during the trip the TV producer booked them to play at a small acoustic venue. The band went down a storm playing their normal street set and a few of the new original songs, getting 4 encores! It dawned on them after the gig that maybe they had a brighter future with the busking band than with Frank, and after their return to the UK they played very few further gigs as Frank. The new tape was completed in early summer, and started to sell by the boxload on the street, and they formed their own tiny record label called Fat Chance to handle the sales, ably assisted by Donald Barr, an old school friend of Steve's. There was also a crack team of bottlers without whom the sales would never have been so good - Jo Cocker, Emer Kilshaw (both fine singers to boot!) and Debbie Blackaby were probably the most notable, and the road crew and most of the band's partners also got roped in at various times. A distribution deal was signed with Spartan, and the album (now on vinyl) was on sale in Virgin and Tower records. They were spotted again on the street and ended up playing live on MTV Europe (in fact they were the first band to play live in the studio for the channel) and on a new talent show on ITV called First Exposure, which also happened to be the first break for Steve Coogan. They started promoting their own weekly gigs in a small theatre in Kings Cross called the Water Rats, which today is an established rock and indie venue. The gigs were regularly sold out and were lively sweaty affairs! Tony Visconti (he who discovered David Bowie) attended one of the gigs and offered them a record deal. They weighed up the offer and decided they were better off on their own, so turned him down. They were flown up to the Edinburgh Festival to take part in a showcase for the First Exposure TV show they had appeared in earlier in the year. At this point unfortunately Tony had to return to the States for personal reasons and the band was left in limbo for several weeks. Eventually they decided to regroup in New York with Tony, and spent the last two months of 88 busking and playing in every club they could get a gig (or a free meal!).

1989: The band returned to the UK and started gigging up and down the country, and busking in Covent Garden on every free weekend. They met film student Mark Reynolds, who asked them to write music for and appear in an advert he was making for Tetley's Bitter. His budget didn't stretch to a fee, so the band settled instead for his promise of promo videos for two of the songs from Isometric Boogie. Videos were shot on 16mm black and white film for Fat Cadillac and Everlasting in Camden and Bethnal Green, and the results were fabulous. A sponsorship from Heineken followed and put the band on the road in earnest, being supplied with transport and road managers of very varied quality! The rest of the year saw them playing to growing audiences up and down the country. They also travelled to Spain and Italy both for gigs and TV work. Jools Holland played the Fat Cadillac video on Jukebox Jury, and from this the video was picked up on and played on various shows - the distribution deal had fallen through by now though and the exposure was never really capitalised on. At the end of the year they returned to play in New York again, this time in bigger and better venues than the previous visit.

Capital Radio Festival, London 1991

1990: More intensive gigging - at festivals (including The Reading Festival) and bike shows, supporting the likes of Steve Harley, Dr Feelgood, Debbie Harry, Jools Holland etc. plus the first of several trips to Ireland. The band were still occasionally busking in Covent Garden. They commenced recording a second album to follow up Isometric Boogie, which by now had sold well over 20,000 copies - no mean feat for such a small operation! They signed a deal with an independent production company, having done some recording with Stiff Little Fingers management. Bruce Dickenson of Iron Maiden and Tony Martin of Black Sabbath both invited the GBs to play at their weddings, and by this time the skiffle sound was being stretched to the limit by the newer material and was becoming almost Metal-like in places, giving rise to the soubriquet 'The Loudest Skiffle Band In History'. Various radio sessions were also recorded this year, and they performed live on Jools Holland's Happening. Mark made a video for Stand Up Little Jesus, and started work on another for The Spoiler.

1991: The recordings from the previous year didn't attract the hoped-for record deal and the project was scrapped. The band were seen on the street (once again!!!) by a TV producer called Michele Buck, who asked them to write the soundtrack for an ITV Comedy Drama starring Harry Enfield and Alison Steadman, called Gone To The Dogs. This led to them getting asked to write music for the Fools and Horses Xmas special, Miami Twice. The rest of the year whilst not doing soundtrack work the band gigged relentlessly, both in UK and Europe, playing at bigger venues and some large festivals - the largest of which saw them perform to around 12,000 people. They went busking for the last time towards the end of the year and Tony married his long term girlfriend Keady in El Paso, Texas. A record deal was finally signed with Elvis Costello's Demon Records and an album released featuring the songs used for the Gone To The Dogs soundtrack.

Gutter Brothers at The Grand, Clapham, 1992

1992: The gigging was still fairly relentless, but soundtrack recording was starting to conflict with live work. Chris and Steve wrote soundtrack music for a series of Boon. Mark finished the video for The Spoiler - literally spoiled by the fact that the original recording was never released and the song was completely revamped for the Gone To The Dogs album! Meanwhile sales of Gone To The Dogs were disappointing, largely due to distribution problems. Dennis decided he'd had enough of travelling and trying to hear his Tea Chest on stage through the monitors, and announced his departure once again. His last gig was in September, and the band continued with Steve moving back to electric bass, the sound developing into a metally funky blues feel, whilst still retaining those swampy skiffle roots. They recorded an EP called The Failsafe with the new line up, featuring a version of Summer In The City by Lovin' Spoonful which they covered for Fools and Horses, and Mark made a suitably edgy video to accompany it. They went on a UK support tour with Dr Feelgood and the new line up started to gel.

1993: By now unfortunately the conflict between soundtrack work and live playing had become unworkable, and they realised they had to decide where their future lay. Chris realized that family commitments meant he had to pursue the soundtrack work, and so announced his departure. Faced with trying to find a replacement so soon after Den had left, Tony decided it really was time he went home to raise a family, so the band decided to call it a day while they were still ahead. They played a farewell tour of the UK and Ireland, recording and filming the final concert at London's Mean Fiddler in front of a capacity crowd. The resulting live album and video were subsequently released through mail order to fans.

There was a reunion tour of UK and Ireland about a year later in 1994, and then a single one off gig at the start of 1997 at the Borderline in London.

After the band split in 93, Tony returned to his hometown of New Orleans and sung for avant-garde rock band Frank Spencer Quartet for a few years, but more recently has been concentrating on writing and performing his own material. Chris continues to write soundtracks, and over the last few years has been playing live with two tribute bands which have somehow ended up with two Gutter Brothers apiece: with Steve in the Led Zeppelin tribute Letz Zep, and with Jeff in the exceptionally authentic Genesis tribute G2. Jeff has been spotted now and again on Top Of The Pops having played sessions for several big name artists. Steve played for a while with Tenpole Tudor after the GBs split, but subsequently quit full time music.

Jez has continued to produce music of varying shapes and sizes, probably most notable working on a couple of albums with Committments singer Andrew Strong, and Mark went on to direct a full length feature film called 'Mutant Dog - A Life on the Run'. Dennis Johnson, Covent Garden 1988 This heavily featured the Prodigy both performing and acting, but unfortunately they decided to block the film's release in 1996 for reasons best known to themselves. Mark is still fighting to get the film out to this day, and has asked us to let anyone who has an interest in the film know that he has no intention of giving up the fight!

Dennis moved to Gloucestershire after he left the band, and found a quieter life in the country. He wrote very little after this time although he did pen a few further songs for the GBs before they split. He played in a Cheltenham-based Skiffle band called the Jibberin Rex for several years during this time. Sadly, Den died on Dec 24th 2002 after being ill for some time. The rest of the band and extended family such as Mark and Jez all attended his funeral and decided the GBs should get back together for a gig or two to bang a few of the old tunes out for Den, and to this end they played a one-off memorial concert at their old stomping ground of the Mean Fiddler in Harlesden on Dec 27th 2003.

The memorial concert was so well attended and so enjoyable (despite the reasons for it happening), the band played another three dates in Feb 2005 and a further three in summer 2006. All this renewed activity led to talk of attempting to write new material using some of Den's previously unused lyrics. In January 2007 the band reconvened to experiment with this and to perform a one-off sold out gig at the Borderline. After a further couple of weeks in July 2007 together enough new material was finished to record an album. Recording will commence in January 2008 with Jez Coad producing and provided the results are good a release should be on sale by summer 2008