The Beta Band: Some Regal Words

Read the liner notes from their forthcoming collection…

The Beta Band’s six-disc retrospective, ‘The Regal Years (1997-2004)’, is coming soon – look for it on October 7th.

As fans of the still-missed British psych-rockers, Clash has put together a special top 10 Beta Band tracks, as selected by Super Furry Animals’ Cian Ciaran. Find said playlist here

Here, we’ve something equally special for Beta fans – the liner notes from ‘The Regal Years’, as penned by the band’s bassist Richard Greentree. We present this unedited. Wouldn’t want to play with madness…

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“All I had done to deserve it was to casually mention to someone that I played guitar… So when the Mighty Wigan Foot soldier, Mr Dave Haliwell (see man in sombrero riding a donkey somewhere on first album, I think... I mean: I think it's that album – fairly sure it’s a donkey) arrived through the bay window (on foot I hasten to add, as a rule he didn’t always ride a donkey), looking for me, and saying: ‘Hey, I’ve gotta job for you’ ...I honestly thought he was about to send me up country to get more Mr. Smashey’s peanuts for him and his not inconsiderable Wigan army… but no... He had a tape... Yes that’s right kids, an actual C60 little rickety plastic box that fitted inside another box that then made sound...

“I remember it was summer and a lovely sunny day because we – that's myself and the inhabitants of Mr Stevie Abbott's ( R.I.P) halfway house for migratory southerners and friends and guests – were all in the garden barbecuing and drinking small beers and engaged in various mindless conversation when the music stopped, a little fumbling pause, and then the first picked guitar notes of ‘Dry The Rain’ drifted across the garden... within minutes the whole of that little north London soiree was nodding along to the chorus and asking each other what they were listening to... ‘That's the new band I’m managin’...’ Dave was happily relaying in his dulcet northern twang… ‘An ‘ee’s the fookin’ bass playa!’

“Fast forward two days basking in the glory of being the bass player of this hot new band that I’d never met. It was two bells after the dogwatch and I was waiting at the east exit of Farringdon Tube station, as instructed... Waiting for these super cool, uber confident and painfully fashionable new cats on the block to come trotting around the corner and dismiss me with a single sneer...  When up stumbles this shaggy, be-sandalled and Oxfam-knitted-jumper child tramp... and before I could say, ‘Shoot off mate, I’m waiting for the coolest guys in the universe and the last thing I want them to think is that I’m with you when they slide up...’ he offers me his hand and says in the friendliest voice ever heard, ‘Hi, I’m John. Robin is parked just outside so shall we go?’

“Robin was indeed parked outside, in his borrowed silver Scirocco, with some obviously deeply personal musical mix-up/compilation pouring out of the sound system (I seem to recall a haunting gumbo of Elvis, ‘Swing Low Sweet Chariot’ and The KLF, all coming out at once) while he constantly adjusted sound levels and indicators, so that, in his chunky-knit off-white roll neck, he managed to give the impression that he was the missing link between Das Boot and Chitty Chitty Bang Bang.

“The Don was sat in the back. As I weighed up my surroundings it was obvious who was going to be asking the toughest questions... Mr Munson. Mr. Stig Mason... here is a man that could smash down a wall with his frown thought I... If this is an ejector seat then he’s the one with the button...

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The Beta Band, 'Dry The Rain'

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“They took me to a boat moored on the Thames for questioning – not their boat, just one conveniently furnished with a bar – but after ‘What records have you got?’ (John), ‘...and who is your favourite band?’ (Steve – you see how the answer was in the question? He’s spooky like that...), and finally: ‘What do you know about taxidermy?’ (Robin), I figured I had made it through round one, that there would be knock out stages and physical fitness tests... but the next meeting was actually the first rehearsal. Ah-ha! Another test I thought... but, ‘No Rich, it’s just a rehearsal man, we’ve got a gig coming up in King’s Cross...’  I took that as my formal acceptance. Steve said years later that he had known as we walked back down the companion ladder of that boat that this was the band... (Always the Prophet – sometimes with beard.)                              

“Everything from that point is pretty well documented, musically on this compilation, and historically at our mums’ houses in boxes, in the loft and next to the Christmas decorations... (both my mother and Steve’s were extremely proactive in the promotion of The Beta Band, although I think Steve’s took the title when she threatened to petition the Queen for someone’s head at Radio 1, after yet another of our beloved singles slipped from the playlist like a well-greased banana from the captain’s table in a storm at sea). So, when I knew I had to write something here, I went round to my mum’s and got HER scrapbooks full of press cuttings, magazines, old NMEs and hard photographic evidence of an obvious competition to look as daft as possible – never more obvious than when my young son, flicking through plenty of images of me wearing a variety of hair pieces,  finally asked: ‘Why are you wearing that silly wig daddy?’ When he was looking at pictures of my actual hair... 

“On reading through it I realised there is such a story to be written, at much greater length and when I don't have to be somewhere in 25 minutes... perhaps one hinging on how the naivety that was such a huge part of the music was clearly less well received by the press and the people working around us? When it came to us ‘Playing The Game’, well, I mean, we were always playing a game, just rarely was it the right one at the right time...  and ultimately, though it’s easy to reflect now on how we could have done a few things differently... Why bother? It worked didn’t it...?

“You are holding the result of all those years of trials and tribulation. We could have been a bit more press savvy, but maybe that would have cost us Steve’s echoing guitar part that leads us into the end section of ‘Dry The Rain’?  We could have said yes to some of the big advertisements, but we might have got too rich to find the drum and bass pattern in the chorus of ‘Quiet’? We could have stopped draining money out of the tour budgets by dragging a secondhand musical instrument store around the world, but then how many of you would have got to see the exhilaration of the four of us proudly beating the crap out of two drumkits at the end of ‘The House Song’ – the culmination of a show where every bell, train whistle, steel drum, tape machine, hammond organ, toy xylophone, real xylophone, turntable, pot and pan had been faithfully tapped, squeezed, spun or plucked in just the right order to make the exact sounds we wanted...

“And everybody was happy... Nah... I'll keep that. You keep this... and that can be that.”

Richard Greentree, 2013

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‘The Regal Years (1997-2004)’ is released on October 7th.

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Stream tracks by The Beta Band via Deezer, below...

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