Wishbone Ash, the gatefold sleeve of ‘Argus’
Long, long ago, back when the coal measures were still being laid down beneath South Yorkshire, some youths formed a band. They were 14 or 15 years of age, they were keen if not competent musicians and they were inspired to emulate their rock idols.
Nightmare in the scout hut
Several of the band had been members of 5th Barnsley Scout Group, which gave them access to the Scout Hut on Queen’s Drive, Wilthorpe for practicing. They’d mostly been to the same junior schools, although the 11+ had separated them more recently, so the band was a reunion of old friends as much as a musical endeavour. They chose to go by the (perhaps ill-advised) name of Nightmare, but- hey- it was the mid-1970s and they were teens into hard rock so this sort of thing has to be accepted-something dark and brooding was essential (think Black Sabbath). We did, briefly, flirt with the idea of naming the band after Paul’s best friend at grammar school. He was called Lyndon Scarfe and, one over-excited evening, it seemed to us like a brilliant idea to steal his name for the band. He thought it was bonkers and, upon immature reflection, we tended to agree. This, though, was the first appearance of Lyndon is our story; it is not to be his last.
The members of Nightmare were Gary Whittaker on lead guitar (now an august professor of virology at Cornell University), Paul Nash on rhythm guitar (of whom more later), Nigel Pease on drums (now lecturer in creative music technology at Doncaster College), Mike on bass, a Polish boy called Andy on vocals (apologies to both for my forgetfulness) and, me, John Kruse, the late comer to the band on flute and later bass guitar.
I’ve told the story of Nightmare in the first part of my autobiography Freak or smoothy?I eventually fell out with the rest of the band over a girl called Melanie- the full miserable details of this cock-up and misunderstanding being set out in the book. I don’t want to repeat here what I’ve already recounted there; my reason for writing this post is to explore some musical connections and conjunctions as part of my purpose of excavating and examining the rock archaeology of South Yorkshire.
As may be imagined, we had a range of motivations for getting involved. Our love of rock is a given, but there were other factors: Gary’s older brother was already in a band so I think there was some sibling rivalry involved; being in a band was being in one of the best gangs in the world; being in a band was one of the best boasts you could have at school to shut up other boys and to impress girls- and the potential pulling power of rock stardom was no small element in our activities, I’m sure (though in my case it brought grief in due course); there was, lastly, perhaps, pure musical genius. Most of us didn’t have this- but maybe a few did enjoy natural talent, as I shall demonstrate. Most of us are imitators rather than innovators, content to try to reproduce what we hear on our records and at live gigs; some, however, listen to one thing but then hear something different (and new) in their heads.
Our influences were numerous. ‘Musical differences’ are usually cited as the reason for splits (not ‘both fancying Melanie’) and this is a real issue. I liked Deep Purple, Rainbow and Led Zep, Nigel liked Queen and King Crimson, Gary liked Wishbone Ash. It will often be hard to find common ground between disparate tastes- and these differences become more apparent as time passes. We were all fans of local heroes Son of a Bitch, naturally, and saw Bitch play several times at Barnsley Civic Hall. We also made expeditions to Sheffield city hall to see Hawkwind (I was very keen to see this gig because my goddess Diane at school was such a fan) and we also saw Wishbone Ash on the tour for their 1976 album New England. We studied every aspect of the gigs- lighting, speakers, instruments, stage craft- for guidance (although as Nightmare we only played one concert- and that to an audience mainly composed of dismayed and disapproving adults). However it was actually Wishbone Ash’s 1972 album Argus that was most significant to us. The first song we ever learned as a band was the closing track Throw down the sword– impressively, after forty years, I can still pay the riff, so deeply are certain memories imprinted.
Our career as Nightmare lasted barely a year, but it set us all on musical paths we are still pursuing to some degree or other, whether professionally or personally. It also was a milestone event in the rock archaeology of South Yorkshire, as I shall recount in a later post dealing with the emergence of Goth in South and west Yorkshire.
The aural backdrop to what I’ve just described is to be found on a separate page on this site: ‘Freak or smoothy?’- a soundtrack to the novel