Last update: 8 March 2022
In the late 70s there was punk, but there was also Hot Matron And The Haemorrhages...
Born in 1976, Hot Matron was a 6th-form college band from Basingstoke that nevertheless included some talented musicians who went on to carve notable careers for themselves. Mind you, it didn't seem that that was very likely at the time.
A bit of a musical caravan, with members dropping in and out as the band umm... developed, Hot Matron was at best chaotic and at worst it was capable of making its own members cry. One of its earliest gigs was at the Basingstoke Drama Centre in Sarum Hill in 1976, with Steve Phillimore standing in for Steve Pimbblett (the band's most accomplished player) on bass, a "permanently stoned" Del Stoner on keyboards and Calvin Harris on harmonica. Drummer Mike Barnes remembers it with, at best, mixed feelings. "It was - and surely remains - one of the worst performances by any band in Basingstoke ever. Calvin had played with us just once before, at the Drama Hut in July 76 and, in all the chaos, he came out for one number with the wrong harmonica (i.e. in the wrong key) - and ended up in tears. I was so embarrassed that I hid in the dressing room until the very last punter had left the building."
I was asked to join following that gig because somebody found out that I owned a synthesiser, and they liked the idea of Hawkwind-esque effects behind the music. In contrast, I wanted to play widdly-widdly lines on it, which is why the marriage wasn't made in heaven. In the words of vocalist Ian Maynard, "As far as I can recall, Gordon became part of Hot Matron because we needed a fuller sound. But as Gordon says, it was musical differences that lead to a parting a few months later. I may be mistaken, but I dimly remember him suggesting that he had a 20-minute keyboard composition to play called The Retreat from Dunkirk, but Mike, Ian and I were more interested in going to the folk club and singing Acne Shanty. Happy times!". Mike Barnes picks up the story, "I think given our general lack of rehearsals - only marginally more than the amount of gigs we played - anything more than four minutes would have been beyond us. It was a pretty laissez faire regime: if one band member wasn't available, we'd play without them or get someone else in. As a strategy, this didn't always work." (To be honest, I have no memory of suggesting a 20-minute epic, but Ian isn't the only one to have mentioned this, so I fear that it may be true.)
As Ian also pointed out, there wasn't a real music scene in Basingstoke in 1976/77 and, if a band decided that it was able to play live without causing its audience irreparable harm, it had to find its own venues, which is what Hot Matron did. My first performance with them was at a Drama Hut gig sometime in the autumn of 1976, perhaps best remembered for Ian M. performing in in a pink dress that was later augmented by Watcher Of The Skies -esque headgear. But I played only a small handful of gigs before leaving in the summer of 1977, around the same time as Steve Pimbblett's departure. But that was far from the end of the band. "After Steve and Gordon left", Ian continued, "we went a bit more professional. We recruited Steve Harris on bass and Paul Coombes on keyboards, and were joined at various times by a woodwind section, Calvin on harmonica and even backing vocalists. We gigged for another couple of years, including a slot at the Marquee. I still have tapes of these concerts, but they haven't stood the test of time. Eventually we all went off to universities and other careers and lost touch with one another."
Despite its brevity, Hot Matron spun off at least two other short-lived bands, Cheesecake (which included Mike and me) and BDM which, if memory serves correctly, was an acronym of Bloody Diabolical Music. It would probably come as a surprise to anyone who heard the solitary Cheesecake/BDM double-header at Central Studio in Basingstoke on 15 July 1978 (the same day that Bob Dylan played just up the road in Blackbushe) that Cheesecake had rehearsed extensively over the previous weeks. But to say that there were tensions in the band is to understate the case. With a set including all manner of covers ranging from Santana to Steve Hillage to Genesis, as well as some original compositions, everyone had their own view about how it should sound and, in typical teenage style, nobody was going to back down. Even during the gig, there were heated arguments over the mix, and Mike Barnes' drum kit collapsed halfway through one of the numbers and had to be held together by hand until he could borrow a bass drum and some toms from elsewhere. A tape was recorded, I still have it and, despite a warmer reception than the performance perhaps deserved, nobody is going to hear it!
Following the demise of Hot Matron and its spin-offs, various members remained in the music industry, some as amateurs, others professionally. For example, Ian Sturgess played bass and guitar with Danielle Dax for three years, recorded several albums and toured extensively throughout the UK, Europe and Japan. Later, he also toured Spain and Hungary with Mike Barnes in the London-based band, The Balloons. More recently, Mike (who has written for Mojo, The Wire, and Prog magazines) wrote A New Day Yesterday: UK Progressive Rock & the 1970s, a seminal tome about the opposite end of the musical spectrum from Hot Matron. Of the others... who knows? It was, after all, 45 years ago. If you can fill in the gaps, please feel free to drop me a line.