Saturday, December 6, 2014
Five years ago, in December 2009, I posted a blog, The Importance of the Name, on Hard Meat, a British trio that released two albums on Warner Bros. in 1970 and then vanished. Recently, Michael Gray, the former manager of the band Big Front Yard featuring the Dolan brothers, kindly wrote to me and provided information on the fate of the Dolan brothers, whom he knew very well. I thank Mr. Gray, author of several important books on Bob Dylan, for taking the time to write. Please visit his blog, www.michaelgray.net.
Here is Mr. Gray's report:
You asked for more information on Hard Meat. On drummer Mick Carless, I have no information, but in their post-Hard Meat days I knew Mike and Steve Dolan very well, so I can tell you a bit about them. Mike Dolan died on August 2nd, 2014, from brain cancer, after having survived the throat cancer he had fought against a few years earlier. Steve, the younger brother, died on May 22, 2000.
I met the Dolans in 1973 when we all lived in West Malvern, Worcestershire. They played a few local gigs with a changing assortment of other local musicians; I met them by going to one or two of these gigs.
At some point in 1974 they became Big Front Yard (another bad name? – anyway, taken from a SF short story Mike admired) and I became their manager. They got nowhere.
When exactly they became Big Front Yard I’m not sure, but it only became a fixture after Mike and Sue went to London, supposedly for a week, while he rehearsed with, and joined, a group named Forsyth… and came home a few days later, Forsyth having broken up. They paid Mike off with £30. This was in March 1974.
£30 was about the amount Big Front Yard were being paid for some of their gigs: £30 to be shared between the band, roadie Phil, me and the petrol. They played gigs all around the Birmingham area in the mid-1970s. It was that weary period punk soon abolished, when groups had to be fine musicians with loads of heavy-maintenance equipment and one gas-guzzling old van after another to transport all that gear and themselves, just to be able to play in a pub for next to nothing.
Mike was the leader of the group, lead guitarist and lead vocalist. He lived down a winding hill just outside West Malvern, in a cottage that had once been a country pub and was still called The Bell, with his wife Sue (whose sister lived in the Napa Valley in California) and Jesse, their very Just-William little boy. (Sue and Jesse both live in California now.) The others in the group all lived around town.
The first drummer, I believe, was Alan Mennie, always known as Min, and he was older. If he’s still alive, he’ll be 73 now. My then-wife and I had a house on a hill, with two stories at the front but four at the back, and these extra layers were flats we rented out. In 1974 Min and girlfriend Dot had one of them. Min and I played chess together from time to time. I can’t remember when Min quit the group, but it must have been at some point soon after February 1975, when he was playing on the recording session they did at Birmingham’s commercial radio station BRMB (which are on YouTube). Min gets credits on albums by King Crimson and Pete Sinfield, and was always somewhat jazz-oriented. Many years later – in the early 1990s – he and Dot co-owned a house in a little village in Turkey with Mike Dolan and his girlfriend Glenn, and I remember calling in there once and seeing Mike emerging from the sea with his surfboard, looking far healthier than he’d ever looked in the 1970s of his youth.
Min seems to have disappeared without trace now, along with Dot and the son they had called Jamie. We’ve googled till we’re blue in the face but cannot find them.
There were a couple of drummers after Min – one whose name I’ve forgotten and one called Keith Baker, who was a local postman, and who in 1976 also became a tenant of a flat at our house. At one point early on, the band also included an organ player, and he’s to be heard to good effect on "Mad John’s Dream," the B-side of their one single. The A-side was "Money-Go-Round," a Dolan composition. It was recorded in a nearby barn, and issued on Rampant Records, a label formed by my then-wife and I specially to release their record. At some point around the end of 1974 they added a second guitarist, Sam Sun (Keith Sampson, I think), who is on the BRMB sessions and the single and was a long-time stalwart of their gigs. He’s dead now too. I believe he killed himself.
Live and on record, Big Front Yard sounded pretty much like Hard Meat – which, impressively, the Dolans rarely mentioned in BFY days. Big Front Yard played a couple of London gigs (Newlands Tavern, Peckham, Feb 19, 1975: fee £20) they hoped A & R men would come to, but nothing. They sent a demo cassette to John Peel. Nothing.
Mike also had a little home studio at The Bell, and there produced, and played guitar on, a couple of tracks by childhood friend of mine, Peter Harrison – whose splendidly politically incorrect stage name was Huge Black Gussie Watson – which I have on a home-made CD. Peter died in 2007. Steve played bass on an unissued track by Edwin Dude which I produced in 1981 and have yet to give up on…
I last spoke to Mike on the telephone when he was living in Cornwall in another relationship that broke up subsequently. In his last two or three years he spent half his time in Bromsgrove, Worcestershire, with his final partner Jackie, and half his time, also with her, in another little village house in Turkey, having quarreled irretrievably with Min and Dot over their previous shared Turkey house.
As Michael Gray indicates, several recordings of Big Front Yard are available on YouTube.