On a wet and breezy day at the beginning of December a pirate ship bearing the Jolly Roger insignia sailed up Oxford Road and deposited The Captain (Sensible of The Damned) and his crew of brigands, Slim Jim Phantom (of Stray Cats), Chris Cheney (of The Living End) and Mike Peters of (The Alarm). This merry band of outlaws go by the name of The Jack Tars. The most alarm(ing) bunch of stray cats, living (leg)ends and the (eternally) damned that you are ever likely to encounter in this world! Formerly known as Dead Men Walking I’m not sure why they changed their name but they’re not knocking on heaven’s door just yet. In fact they seemed full of life!!
Opening for The Jack Tars came Louise Distras, just one girl and her guitar. With her black hair and bright red lips, in jeans and a Nirvana t-shirt, Louise made a striking figure. At this early stage there were around thirty people stood in the area in front of the stage, with a few more people sat on seats further back. An expressive performer with a powerful voice, Louise thanked people for coming down to see her set and said she was from Yorkshire, I had thought so from her accent but her website and Facebook pages only mention London! I noticed her altering the pitch of her guitar with a capo several times throughout the set. I particularly liked the song which included the lyric ‘I went down the Westgate’ and the chorus ‘Paint this town red’ so I wondered if she was from Wakefield or Leeds. although other Yorkshire cities have a Westgate too. The venue was starting to fill up a bit now and she told us that it was ‘A great honour to be here sharing a stage with The Jack Tars.’ ‘Great to hear songs from four such great song writers’ and said ‘I really must apologise for my generation for writing such shit songs’ In her last song Hand You Hold I picked up a bit of The Who/The Kinks vibe and she seemed to punch the air at the end. I have seen Louise before and had thought she was a bit of a female Billy Bragg with shouty vocals, so I hadn’t been particularly looking forward to seeing her again. The vocals weren’t particularly shouty this time and I was pleasantly surprised to find that I actually enjoyed the set.
What else but Captain Pugwash could be the introduction for Captain Sensible and his merry band of outlaws! They swaggered on stage with the red bereted Captain announcing ‘We are The Jack Tars! I’m Captain Sensible’ before introducing us to the other three crew members. Mike Peters, Slim Jim Phantom and Chris Cheney who form this supergroup. Although the self effacing Captain said they were just four friends who liked playing a bit of music together. They opened with a song they wrote and released as Dead Men Walking, Rock and Roll Kills, then followed that with Neat Neat Neat with Mike and Captain Sensible coveing the stage well and bantering with one another. Chris seemed a little quieter than the older geezers and Slim Jim just stood there playing his drums and looking the epitome of a cool teddy boy with his quiff and aviator shades. Rather than keeping his mouth organ in his pocket and getting it out as and when required Mike was wearing a contraption that looked like a customised orthodontic head piece which left him hands free to play his guitar at the same time, as and when required, which it was for Dead Man Blues.
A Stray Cats gig at Salford Uni was mentioned and then something about Manchester and someone shouted ‘And surrounding areas’ which Mike heard and said pointedly ‘Manchester and surrounding areas, which includes where I come from Rhyl’ the set consisted of songs from each band member’s back catalogue, with each one taking the lead vocals for ‘their’ songs, which included Runaway Boys (The Stray Cats), Damned Damned Damned (The Damned), The Stand (The Alarm) and before Prisoner of Society (The Living End), Mike said that their Australian friend Chris didn’t bring a flag, which was why he had a poster of a character from Prisoner Cell Block H Joan ‘The Freak‘ Ferguson, behind him instead, and Chris claimed she was his auntie.
Mike said they were going to do a song for Eddie from Australia, Eddie Cochran and asked ‘Eddie was Australian, right?’ He then also said he was Welsh also, and that he was from Long Island before they played one of their own songs Song for Eddie which could easily have passed for a The Damned song. Another of their own songs from their debut EP, which is only available at gigs, came in Crossroads which starts off with Slim Jim on drums and contained a bit of a biography of the band. Mike started narrating the story which has Chris stepping out from Melbourne and saying to the devil that he wanted to play the blues. Then someone stepped up from the deep south, Croydon in fact, and went up to Il Diavolo himself and said he wanted to start something off called Punk Rock. The Devil said ok but the price would come later in life when he asked him to wear a red beret and sing some Happy Talk! Next up came a guy from Long Lsland in New York with hair piled high, he went up to Il Diavolo and said he wanted to learn how to sit down and play the drums. The devil said no- one sits down, he would name him the King of Rock n Roll. Then Mike said ‘Ladies and gentelman the only person in the world who plays the drums stood up. Mr Slim Jim Phantom’ At this point The Captain took over the story telling, ‘Then The Devil, having a sense of humour, went to North Wales and asked where is Mike Peters? I want you to form a band called The Alarm, but one thing, I want you to get yourself a haircut stolen from Rod Stewart then you can call yourself The Alarm!’ Then as an aside he asked ‘Do you think I’m sexy?’ Quick as a flash Mike replied ‘I think you’re The Devil Captain.’ The best was to describe this song is to think of something like Cream’s version of Robert Johnson’s Crossroads done rockabilly style a la Stray Cats. It was certainly a popular one judging by the applause.
Rumble in Brighton came next with Mike announcing ‘Now Slim Jim Phantom is going to show us how we can have a rumble in Manchester and surrounding districts tonight’ a rockabilly song which had Slim Jim standing on the drum kit and still managing to play before he jumpred off and walked round the drum kit, banging cymbals as he went. The penultimate song of the main set came in a rousing Jack Tars version of 45 RPM. Then The Captain said ‘There’s only one thing we can do after that! Smash the place to pieces!’ which of course meant Smash It Up and Mike askeded ‘He’s so much better than Dave Vanian isn’t he?’ not really expecting an answer but an ardent Vanian fan shouted back ‘No’ whether he was or not it was a smashing end to The Jack Tars set. Mike thanked everyone for coming out and Captain Sensible said ‘It’s so much easier playing the bass!’ and they sailed off stage!
Not quite into the sunset though as, after lots of shouts for more they drifted back. Someone must have shouted something, which I didn’t hear but the Captain did as he said ‘Come up and I’ll do Happy Talk‘. This guy really did want a bit of Happy Talk as he got up ‘This man’s got bottle’ said Captain Sensible and asked his name, which was Sid and the Captain asked ‘You’re not my son are you?’ (thankfully wasn’t my Dad either!) Sid sang along with the Captain and was dancing along with him. At the end he got a ‘Cheers Sid’ from the Captain, and I wondered if the words ‘You’ve got to have a dream, if you don’t have a dream, how are you going to have a dream come true’ were poignant for Sid and his dream of singing Happy Talk with Captain Sensible really had come true. I hope so anyway!
Captain Sensible said he was asked would he like to do Top of the Pops with Sabbath? Zeppelin? No? How about The Alarm 68 Guns? Yeah? This was a great sing along number with lots of audience participation. I was just saying to my friend that they needed to do some more Stray Cats preferably Stray Cat Strut. I didn’t think they could possibly have heard me but they must have done as that came next and The Jars Tars version included a bass guitar solo and ended with Slim Jim on the drums! The Captain then said he’d like to sing Malcolm LcLaren’s favourite song New Rose, with Mike on backing vocals. I like that one too, a rousing song to end the night on a high! Captain Sensible said ‘Cheers Manchester! I’d like to thank Sid wherever he’s gone’ and off they went again!
There were still shouts for more so luckily they still hadn’t set sail for the sunset and came back. Chris Cheney held up the picture of his ‘Auntie’ and said he would going to give it to one of his adoring fans, and although a girl ran forward she wasn’t quick enough as Chris said he was ‘Going to give it to this bloke at the front who’s been there all night’ Captain Sensible told us they had been talking about the best bands they had seen, and one of his had been Queen at Lewisham Odeon in 1981. He said ‘My bird took me along and they were sensational!’ and they started playing We Will Rock You. ‘Which Queen song are we going to do?’ and I said to my friend I like Crazy Little Thing Called Love, how they heard me again, I really don’t know. as they said ‘No not that one’ and launched into a rockabilly version of Crazy Little Thing Called Love.
Staying with the rockabilly sound Rock This Town came next and we got for some final introductions from The Captain to ‘From The Cure Mike Peters, Simply Red Slim Jim Phantom, Men at Work Chris Cheney’ then Mike took over to introduce ‘Captain Sensible from Joy Divison and Take That!’ A final thank you very much, all took a bow and the show really was over this time! Although Captain Sensible came down to the front of stage chatting to fans and having pictures taken.
As The Captain said at the beginning they’re just four friends who like to play music together and the warmth and camaraderie between the four was apparent with lots of banter and ribbing throughout the show. A fan of any of the four bands they belong to should have enjoyed the show and a fan of all four bands would definitely have enjoyed The Jack Tars. Great fun and a thoroughly entertaining show!
Rock and Roll Kills
Neat Neat Neat
Dead Men Blues
Damned Damned Damned
Prisoner of Society
Song For Eddie
Sold Me Down The River
Rumble in Brighton
Smash It Up
Crazy Little Thing Called Love
Rock This Town
The Jack Tars are:
Captain Sensible of The Damned
Slim Jim Phantom of Stray Cats
Chris Cheney of The Living End,
Mike Peters of The Alarm.