The Strolling Ones
In about 1978 they became interested in home taping.This soon became a new hobby, recording strange conversations and jokes, which later evolved into comedy sketches, influenced mainly by Spike Milligan and Monty Python.
In 1981 the duo became a group called Us, and started recording music; either a capella cover versions or original percussion pieces, while still maintaining the comedy aspect of their tapes.
At the end of 1982 the band started writing lyrics. The first few lyrics, written in one day, were of course terrible, with titles lke "I Think I've Got a Twelve Foot Chocolate Cake", but were funny because of their badness - the boys were fans of William MacGonagall.
By 1983 The name Us seemed insufficient, and a new name was sought. Turning to a copy of The Unexplained magazine, they pointed into it randomly, and found the words "27 August". They decided that this was too absurd a name, even for the early eighties, so they tried a different page. The name "27 August" came up again. Fate had decided and the name was adopted.
Also in 1983 Martin wrote two songs with the intention of having them taken seriously. They were "Disco Medusa" and "Icefall", and were written as a reaction to the awful lyrics of a song by one-hit-wonders Jimmy the Hoover. Sadly, however, "Disco Medusa" and "Icefall" were also crap, and rapidly became a band in-joke, even intruding on the boys' other interest, Warhammer.
That year also saw a tune (sort of) for "Disco Medusa", as the words were allegedly "sung" by Martin over a 12" of Ashford and Simpson's "Found a Cure".
1984 also brought an end to the name 27 August, and a welter of short-lived names ensued, some of which had tapes recorded under that name: Skeleton Pudding, Upsilon 47, and My Brain Paths Don't Include That Kind Of Curiosity. I Can Only Act Within My Limitations, You Know. which was the first ever band name to take up two sentences. There followed a (fairly creative) month as The Same, after which "The Strolling Ones" (TSO for short) was settled on, and has since refused to go away.
The Strolling Ones had been going under different names for a few years, until they decided on the name in late 1984. Almost their first act was to damage the (new) family stereo, but they had already recorded "Return of the Calamitous Wart", which appeared in December on Fugitive Pieces, a tape compilation on the Jabberwok label run by Andrew Trussler and Richard Youngs.
In November the gift of a Casio revolutionised The Strolling Ones - not that they ever learned to play it. "Disco Medusa" found a permanent beat on the 'Disco 2' setting and numerous classics followed, including "Rip-off" and "Sledgehammer" - two years before Peter Gabriel, but also not as good.
"Icefall", a tape of these offerings, (which curiously didn't feature the song of that name) was sent to Jabberwok, who hated it. Perhaps this was due to the sound quality, but the songs didn't seem to be up to much.
Rock and Roll Should Have Stopped With Bill Haley
To compensate for this rejection, the Woks invited TSO to Harpenden (see below), and also invited them to collaborate on a project called "Rock and Roll Should Have Stopped With Bill Haley", a scheme to destroy thirty years of progress from within by sampling, overdubbing and looping popular music. This was eventually released as a cassette the following year, and was favourably reviewed in the Harpenden Citizen by the ever dependable Eben Black, who went on to work for the News of the World.
In 1985 the brothers visited Harpenden, staying at Richard Youngs's home for a weekend to record some music with Youngs's band Omming For Woks. They recorded five tracks:
- Disco Medusa (bearing no resemblance to Ashford and Simpson)
- Crowd Scene (a recorded converstion between the four, chopped into sections and bounced onto a shorter track)
- Icefall (an instrumental version built round a Simple Minds-when-they-were-good sample)
- Quinky Sploodot
- Music for Dead Zebras
These tracks, under the single title "My Life in the B.O.G." appeared on the compilation cassette The Great Difficult Music Swindle.
The four also collaborated on "Schloorbloorp", a 45-minute piece which anticipated Drum and Bass by nearly a decade. This track was also reversed as "Proolbroolhcs" and remixed as "Woodlice - Your Fourteen-legged Friends".
Attempts were made to foist this music onto the general public but were unavailing: one tape was sold, to Matt Kinnison, and the record companies approached by the band all ran away, leaving only a headed rejection slip from Cherry Red for the band's scrapbook.
In June 1985 TSO got their hands on a combined tape recorder and amplifier, which they named Fadget. This was a boost to their sound, as they could now overdub properly. Cue lots of weirdness, but still with the humour and improvised sketches which had been a staple since they started recording.
At the end of 1985 the Strolling Ones split up, not, as predicted, in San Francisco, but in the lounge during an argument about a piece of scrap paper that Martin refused to throw away. Of course the brothers stayed together (under the temporary name 'Stop!') but that was it for TSO. Next came the strange, postal Well Crucial.
The Strolling Ones reformed in 1987 (secretly at first) and had a second wind in 1988-89 with the cassettes If I Catch You Strolling and Bridge Over Troubled Water, and the film Two Minds Working As None; a brace of gigs for anti-poll tax benefits followed in 1989, but that was that, as the brothers were now living in different parts of the country.
in January and June 2005 The Strolling Ones played two gigs at The Klinker in London; both were well-received, as TSO had somewhere picked up some musical ability, despite all their attempts to the contrary. Further stuff remains a possibility.