At one stage or another we all developed holes in our trousers. This was due to the physically demanding performances and the regularity of laying on a variety of stage flooring (outdoor marquess, patios, shopping centre tiles etc). It was, of course, also due to the cheapness of the fabric.
The suits had a three generation history. The Mark I was our own collection of personal stage wear. Session musicians in the band would wear “blacks”, which are as universally recognised as Dickies overalls for mechanics or leather elbow patches for teachers. “Blacks” comprise trousers, shirt, jacket and shoes. This seems simple enough but it’s surprising how there tends to only be a handful of camps that musical fashionistas fall into.
Many musicians adopt the School Uniform approach. They either dig out their sixth form clothes from their parents loft or they take a school uniform mentality and apply it to a new shopping experience. They might take their mum to help them pick something out from Burtons or they add the trousers and shirt to their weekly Tesco shop. They also have the same smart school shoes (probably Clarks) that seem to weather storms and be equally comfortable in either a school hall assembly, concert or a fifteen minute kick around on the field.
This includes variation of fit to the trousers and shirt whilst adding decretive aspects to suit the individuals style. These were the cool kids. It’s not sheer practicality in focus here, it’s the ability to personalise and add artistic touches.
Scrape it together
There are many shades of black and there are so many more when you wash that black fabric a thousand times. You can spot this type as they often have black trousers with a grey un-ironed shirt. The shirt used to be black, but that was ten years ago. The shirt is also massively oversized as this allows freedom of movement and also accommodates the belly growth after excessive drinking.
The non gender specific
This isn’t a particular camp as such, but I thought I’d mention that we had several musicians who were female or non gender specific (although that wasn’t really a phrase we used at the time). I have seen dresses that fit into the above style camps and whereas you’d assume a dress to be flattering and perhaps even sexy, this was certainly not always the case. I’ve seen females in suits that looked sharp and entrancing and dresses so practical and drab that they render the wearer almost invisible. The point I’m making is that musicians wear black and it doesn’t make too much of a difference if you have boobs or not.
Clancy and Moreton were definitely in the second category. They had a ‘Mods and Rockers’ vibe going on with turn-ups, Lambretta embroidered shirts and Doc Martins. The Duke was also into his Modifications as he would wear long coats, tiger print rockabilly shoes and loud shirts all stolen from the props department of his previous employment. I desperately wanted to be in the Mods category but at that time I was a School Uniform Blacks wearer. I wore the only smart clothes I had, which was my graduation suit bought from Ciro Citterio.
NB. I have now moved into the ‘Mods’ category but I sometimes dip into ‘scrape it together’ because I’m too lazy to stay on top of the latest trends.
One eventual wise move from the Duke was to insist on uniform appearance. The Mark II was born. This was a plain black, double breasted (Clancy insisted) suit with white shirt and white tie. All permanent members of the band would receive a suit purchased using our band account and we were entrusted with this quality piece of tailoring.
This was a great move as we looked much more professional, we looked like a proper band and it was easy to conform to if we needed to draft in deps (most musicians have a black suit and a white shirt). We kept a few spare ties as this was probably the most unusual item. It also affected our income as for some reason we were able to charge more per gig. This new look hailed the real start of our band and opened many doors.
We also upgraded the Mark II to include black and white jive shoes. I was issued with a pair of black and white dance shoes which were not nearly as cool as proper brogues. They were the cheapest jive shoes on the market and they had a strong plastic smell. They lasted surprisingly well considering the punishment we gave them. They were comfortable when you first put them on but after a two hour performance you realised that the non existent cushioning was akin to performing in slipper socks.
The Mark II suit was used on our first photo shoot. This was about as glamorous as all the other stories I’ve been writing. The Duke chatted to a wedding photographer and he agreed to take a band photo for us if we recommended him for all the other events we were booked for. We slipped into the service corridor of a large hotel and took the shot. The Duke was adamant that we looked cool and moody and not at all “Jazz Hands”. Despite the cheery photographer shouting:
we looked like we were at an undertakers convention. My Mark II suit was a couple of sizes too big and had shoulder pads that made me look like a cross between Rodney Trotter and a T-Bone steak!
It was in the Mark II that the Jive Lobster revealed himself and sparked the need for the Mark III. In fact, he revealed himself twice at the same venue but on different occasions. We had a regular gig at a large town hall and we would always try out new showpieces as we often had the same fans and we didn’t want them to think we were boring. The first reveal was a wardrobe malfunction due to badly designed braces. Whereas my Mark II had an oversized jacket, the Jive Lobster’s had an oversized waist. He would always wear braces to keep them up and during one song he felt them snap. I looked over and whilst trying to blow a saxophone and laugh uncontrollably, I saw him playing double bass with just his left hand whilst desperately pulling up his trousers with his right hand. He managed to finish the song, only flashing a modest amount of thigh two or three times.
The second occasion was one of the Jive Lobster’s finest moments. For a period of a year or two, he would join in the antics on the final song and jump off the stage with the rest of us. His jump on this occasion was from the top of the ten foot high speaker stack onto the dance floor in a Dave Lee Roth jump split. It was at full leg stretch that the trouser’s crotch gave out and flashed the audience. I love to imagine being in the crowd at that moment, dancing along and unassumingly looking up whilst a man in full splits falls towards me. I can see a pair of legs akimbo, a shiny black polyester suit pulled beyond its material strength, a small amount of loose fitting boxer short and a dark outline of unmentionables travelling quickly in my direction.
We gave the Mark II a ceremonial burning and took on the Mark III which was an equally cheap grey suit with black shirt and red tie, with others in red shirt and black tie. We later aborted the red shirts as they had so much polyester in them that they became sauna suits. They were unbearably sweaty and the moisture wasn’t able to escape so it just dripped into the trousers. It was unpleasant!