This is a blog, partly, about how people’s memories fail them.
A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned The Gits in a blog.
I had been listening to an unreleased 9-song CD by the punk band from around 1990 which comprised English comedy performers Steve Bowditch, Stephen Frost and Canadian Alan Marriott. (These UK-based Gits are not to be confused with the Seattle band The Gits.)
One of my favourite tracks on the album is Albert Einstein. Part of the song is posted on YouTube.
I phoned up ex-Git Steve Bowditch to talk about their unreleased album.
“Could you do me a copy?” Steve asked. “I don’t have it. I used to have copies. I dunno what happened to them.”
Steve Bowditch was and is a member of The Greatest Show On Legs, the comedy troupe whose claim to fame is the Naked Balloon Dance. Performer Martin Soan started the Greatest Show On Legs as an adult Punch & Judy show. Then he was joined by the late legend Malcolm Hardee. And Steve Bowditch joined later.
“How did The Gits start?” I asked Steve.
“It was Stephen Frost,” he told me. “Stephen phoned me up and said Do you want to be the bass player in this punk band? and that was it. We practised in Alan Marriott’s flat in Mitchum. Steve was a punk fan and one of our first gigs was supporting the UK Subs at the Amersham Arms.”
“I thought I saw The Gits perform at the Astoria (since demolished) in Charing Cross Road in central London,” I said, “when Malcolm and I worked for Noel Gay TV.”
“No,” Steve told me. “But I remember we did perform at the Astoria, supporting John Otway. It was great to be playing to a packed Astoria.”
“I thought,” I said, “that we must have booked you to play on Jools Holland’s The Happening for BSB.”
“No,” said Steve. “The Greatest Show On Legs performed on that, but not The Gits.”
“What was the idea?” I asked. “A semi-comic punk band that might catch on and you might become millionaires?”
“I don’t know about being millionaires,” laughed Steve. “It was just really for the punk ethics. Stephen Frost wanted to have a punk band and that was that. He quite liked the Ramones. The first few gigs, we did the Ramones’ Suzy Is A Headbanger.
“I had always written comic songs for my act, so we started writing our own songs. Stephen wanted to write something about how you never see the drummer in a rock ‘n’ roll band. So he wrote a song about that. I had a thing about Albert Einstein and Stephen was keen on pub quizzes. So we wrote songs about them. Alan came up with God Squad because he couldn’t stand people banging on his door on Sunday mornings selling God.
“And, years ago when you got a packet of tea, you used to get a picture card in it showing animals and butterflies. I found this card in a drawer with a warthog on it, so just decided to write a song based on the back of a teabag card.”
“And what a fine song Warthog is,” I said.”
“Hog!” sang Steve, impressively remembering the lyrics from all those years ago.
“We played Glastonbury,” remembered Steve, “and at the Hope Festival a couple of times – and St Ives. We stayed in Taunton. Stephen’s parents lived in Penzance at the time.”
Comedian Stephen Frost’s father was Sir Terence Ernest Manitou Frost – Sir Terry Frost – a very highly-regarded artist and Royal Academician.
“His brother’s a famous artist, too,” said Steve. “Anthony – He lives on the edge of a cliff.”
“Don’t we all,” I said. “You’ve always been musical. You usually have a guitar in your act.”
“Right,” said Steve. “I play the violin now.”
“Well, I bought the violin to do a sort of Jack Benny with it: always promising to play it but never doing it. But then I realised I quite enjoyed playing it. I practise about 2-3 hours a day now. Mainly Irish folk songs – The Irish Washerwoman, Jackie Tar, Chicken Reel, stuff like that.”
“You were always guitar-based,” I said. “Was that because you wanted to be a musician or was it just another prop?”
“Just a way of getting through the act,” said Steve. “I was never really a stand-up comedian. I’ve always mucked around with props and music. Stand-ups have a certain something.”
“Madness,” I suggested. “Your musical career’s going even further at the Edinburgh Fringe this year.”
“The Dickie Richards and Steve Bowditch Comedy Show,” said Steve. “The idea is to write a new ukelele song every day, using suggestions from the audience, featuring The Two Yuris.”
“Your act as two Russian generals?”
“How long is your show’s run?” I asked.
“The 3rd to the 24th of August,” said Steve.
“So,” I said, “at the end, you’re going to have written 22 songs?”
“As an album?” I asked.
“If someone can explain this iTunes malarkey to us,” said Steve. “You told me we can’t talk to Steve Jobs because he’s dead.”
“Don’t let that stop you,” I said. “After Edinburgh, are you and Dickie being a duo?”
“No,” said Steve, “we’re just going up there for the Fringe and, after Edinburgh, it’s hopefully full steam ahead with a Greatest Show On Legs tour and we’ll get work. We’re at the Spiegeltent on the South Bank in London again this coming Saturday – at Wonderground – supporting Al Murray. That’s what we want to do. The high profile things. Well, we want to do ANY shows, really.
“The Greatest Show On Legs was really just… One minute you were on stage at the Astoria or the Montreal comedy festival and it’s a big, packed theatre and the next week you were performing in the fireplace at some pub in somewhere like Ramsgate with 30 or 40 drunk people and afterwards you were at the bar and you’d made friends with everybody. It was always a big variety from top to bottom. That was what Malcolm thrived on. We all enjoyed that.”
“Is the story in Malcolm’s autobiography true?” I asked. “that you joined the Greatest Show On Legs in a sound recording studio.”
“That’s right,” said Steve. “I knew Jacki Cook who had a shop in Greenwich – she now has The Emporium. I had a cine camera and used to make little films and she and her friends starred in one.
“Malcolm used to pop into Jacki’s shop. You know what he was like: larger-than-life and getting to know everybody everywhere. He told her: We’re looking for someone else to join in cos I can’t do that skinhead gag any more cos I’ll have a heart attack if I do it one more time. Someone who’s young and up for it.
“She said: Oh, you gotta meet Steve. He’s up for most things. So Malcolm came round and said: Oh, Jackie sent me round. She said you might wanna be in the show. Do you wanna fag?
“I said: Alright.
“He said: Can you dance?
“I said: Erm. Yeah.
“He said: Go on, then.
“So I did two steps sideways, two steps forwards, two steps backwards.
“OK, he said. Come round Saturday and meet the others.
“And that was my audition.”
This story is completely different to the one in Malcolm Hardee’s autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake. In that, he wrote:
Steve Bowditch was recruited when I was walking along the road by my house and saw this bloke sitting inside a recording studio, where he was making the tea. I just liked the look of his face. I went in and said to him:
“Do you want to be in a show?”
“Yes,” he said.
So he came round that afternoon, rehearsed about three numbers and next day he was in Rhyl, North Wales, performing with The Greatest Show on Legs.
Malcolm Hardee drowned in 2005.
“So the Greatest Show on Legs now,” I said to Steve Bowditch, “is you and Dickie Richards and Martin Soan. Why aren’t you all performing as the Greatest Show on Legs during your show in Edinburgh next month?”
“Martin couldn’t do it,” explained Steve, “because he’s got his own thing happening in Peckham – The Village Hall Experience – on 17th August, right slap-bang in the middle of the Fringe dates.”
“And then all three of you,” I said, “are performing in the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show on the final Friday of the Fringe…”
“Are we?” asked Steve.
“Oh dear,” I said. “Aren’t you?”
“Is Martin coming up for that?” Steve asked.
“Oh dear,” I said. “Yes, he’s travelling up specially to do that one night performance.”
“Right,” said Steve. “We’ll be there, then.”
“Oh good,” I said. “Do you have any photos of The Gits?”
“No,” said Steve.
“Have you got any publicity photos for your Edinburgh show with Dickie?” I asked.
“No,” said Steve.
“Or a Facebook page or anything?” I asked.
“No,” said Steve.
The Dickie Richards and Steve Bowditch Comedy Show is not listed in the Edinburgh Fringe Programme, but it runs 3rd-24th August at 2.10pm daily in Ciao Roma on South Bridge.
This blog is posted later than normal, because I was interrupted by The Scottish Sun wanting naked photos of The Greatest Show On Legs as they will appear in the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show – for the Women’s section of tomorrow’s newspaper.
It has had a terrible knock-on effect on the rest of my day but, for The Greatest Show On Legs, nude photos in the Sun is just an ordinary day for them.