performing ferrets

The Performing Ferret Band originally came from Maidstone, a medium sized town in the middle of Kent. There wasn't a lot of opportunity for bands in Maidstone so most aspiring artists travelled further afield in search of venues to annoy the general population. In most cases, this mean either the Red Lion at Northfleet or the coast. In our case, it meant Manchester.

Maidstone did have the singular advantage (such that it was) that there was so little going on that one almost had a captive audience who, starved of more competent bands, would go and see anything anyone would put on. After a while, the Ferrets got into the business of putting on bands other than themselves, usually at East Farleigh village hall, some 3 miles or so south east of the town.

And so on one memorable occasion, we decided to give Maidstone folk a treat with top Factory recording artist Kevin Hewick (who was a friend of ours and had made the terrible error of showing some interest in us). Having persuaded him to make the epic journey from Leicester, we set about the business of sticking our A4 sized photocopied posters around the town and ringing the vicar's wife to book the hall.

It didn't go well. Dougie and his skinhead chums turned up and became quickly bored of making up their own songs between ours. They had no idea what Factory Records were (aren't all records made in a factory?), let alone who Kevin Hewick might be. About four songs into our supporting set, one of their number lobbed a glass at the stage, the fragments of which cut through the bottom skin of the snare drum.

"Call the Police, Nige" urged our then bassist, Mary.

"OK" I said. "What's the number?"

And so it was that we gradually came to the conclusion that Maidstone was not really the land of milk and honey as far as aspiring pop groups were concerned. We had played a few gigs in Manchester (which joy of joys, hadn't involved us hiring a venue, hiring a bar, printing posters, having drums destroyed) and so the band migrated northwards. Well, I say the band - actually I mean Maguire and I, Coich having been at Manchester Uni for the last couple of years and Skillers having gone to Nottingham to study alcohol abuse in its many forms.

There was copious quantities of milk and honey in Manchester and, we discovered, larger amounts of Boddingtons, Holts and Robinsons ale which we set about diminishing. We also played a few gigs in the city's seedier venues, our favourite of which was the basement of the Cyprus Tavern.

One winter's night, we set out for the Cyprus, instruments in hand. Unlike other groups who had vans or battered old 2CVs, we either walked or took the bus to our performances, although we occasionally permitted Coich the luxury of a taxi to take his drums. On this particular night, Coich was walking with us, his drums having been installed earlier in the day. As we walked down Oxford Street with snow falling about us, a girl in our entourage suddenly scooped up a handful of the stuff and rubbed it in Coich's beard.

I'm not entirely sure who this girl was. In the heady days of 1980, Coich had an alarming number of female followers (as well as the beard) who he used to encourage to come to our gigs. We had a theory that he actually used to pick girls up to provide us with an audience, as he was a self-sacrificing sort of lad. Unfortunately, he was not the well balanced individual that we know and love today and the snow in the beard was not a good idea.

I will spare you most of the details of what happened next (mainly because I can't remember 'em) but it wasn't pleasant. A number of objects (including people) were thrown about the street and at one point, Coich tried to gnaw his way through a bus stop. Maguire had a pet rat at the time that used to reside in the hood of his parka. The rat, usually silent, poked his head up at the stars and began roaring loudly with something that vaguely resembled laughter. Some of us tried to put some distance between us and Coich as he flew at the doors of the Midland Hotel, only to be borne aloft by the concierge and lobbed into some shrubs outside the Central Library.

The girl who had so offended him came up to me and questioned this seemingly extreme reaction to snow in the beard.

"What if I'd shaved it off?" she asked.