Norman & The Worms

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Band Members

  • Phil Burdett - vocals, guitar
  • Martin Gore - vocals, guitar
  • Steve Gallacher - bass guitar
  • Pete Hobbs - drums

History

Norman & The Worms was a band active from mid-1977 till mid-1979. This was the first band that Martin Gore had joined. The band has been described by Martin as "a middle-of-the-road West Coast orientated band" which played "nice songs".[1] Phil Burdett is responsible for creating the band, starting out with only Martin at first. Phil: "When I wanted to get a band together when I was 13 or 14, my first thought was to form a blues band, because I already knew loads of blues songs — it's easy to play... badly! It was only when I started listening to chart stuff that I realised there was other stuff. When I first met Martin, he was always talking about music, which kind of surprised me. I thought somebody like him — he was a bit of a swot at school - would just like what was in the charts and that's it.[2] He was always very quiet, but there was something slightly [different] about him, and there was something slightly different about me too, so that's how we sort of paired off."[3]

The band began by performing covers only, but both Phil and Martin would gradually learn to write songs, which would later on take over their setlists at gigs. Phil: "Martin wanted to learn guitar so I decided to learn him what I knew, which wasn't a lot at the time, but he picked it up very quickly.[3] He was something of a natural.[2] He would write songs quite prolifically. Looking back on it, he treated it like an exercise. He was diligent, as he was with his homework at school. I think that's how he does things. He was always quite fastidious about the words. They didn't really say anything, though.[4]

Musical Style

Phil explains the band name to author Simon Spence, saying that he had named his guitar, which was "a white telecaster copy, the worst guitar"[5], Norman, meaning that Phil and Burdett would be The Worms.[4] Phil adds: "We thought [the name] Norman & The Worms fitted [the music scene] because of what we looked like as well – we didn't look like punks, we were the least threatening band, we weren't even a punk band, we weren't playing punk. It was nothing like it.[4] I actually loved [punk] and weirdly I wanted it to do what it wanted to do because up to that point my heroes were not punk at all and the very antithesis of punk. [Martin and I] were writing some interesting songs at the time and we went out as this strange band and the punk happened, halfway through this band."[6]

The musical style of Norman & The Worms is hard to pin down: while they did not like mainstream music and did like punk music, their style seems to have been a mishmash of folk, country, singer-songwriter, and glamrock. Locally well-known drummer Pete Hobbs describes the songs as having been "... like the Average White band – every song seemed to remind me of another tune, like The Beatles. Some were even sort of country & western-type things, almost Steely Dan-type stuff."[4] Richard Seager, writer for the local fanzine 'Strange Stories' at the time, confirms that Norman & The Worms were anything but punk: "[They] didn't fit in with the scene [...]. I think they became part of the scene because they were happy to play for nothing even though their music was totally at odds with what you could call the sound of the scene."[4] Sue Paget of The Vandals (as well as of No Romance In China) echoes this statement: "Martin and Phil Burdett were a very odd couple. They used to walk around school with white coats on, like what you'd wear in a science lab, with 'Norman & The Worms' painted on the back. They didn't quite fit in with the punk scene, but they were around."[4] Phil describes NATW's unique style similarly: "I looked like a sort of Marc Bolan gone to seed. I had long, wide hair, a tangled mess, Martin had what looked like a bubble perm. I used to say – and Martin agreed with me on this – that we were actually closer to the spirit of punk. The idea was it didn't matter what you looked like. We used to wear flares way before Kevin Rowland [of Dexys Midnight Runners] was advocating it. It was good in a way because it set us apart, we were more of a fifth column, a sort of insurgency in the Basildon punk scene."[4]

Performances

First gig, in Martin's living room

After performing and recording songs in each other bedrooms, Phil began searching for a way to expand his musical horizon.[4] Steve Burton, friend of Depeche Mode at the time, has probably seen Norman & The Worms first concert in spring 1978, which in hindsight functioned more as a warm-up concert for future gigs. Steve: "It was in Martin's living room. I always remember the big build-up to seeing them perform. I think Martin's mum and dad went out and we turned the settee round in his living room and they had it set up, him and Phil Burdett, and they just did a concert in his living room. Probably about ten of us sat in his front room, just enjoying a concert. I've still got a photograph of it: it was one of the first concerts I went to, really."[4] It is possible that Andy Fletcher was also present. In an interview done by Jugurtha Harchaoui for the March 2009 issue of French magazine Vox Pop, Andy is transcribed as saying that he has attended a NATW concert in "a club" called "The Living Room"[7]. There is no evidence of there having been a club named like that, and so it might be possible that this is just a poor translation, meaning that Andy indeed saw NATW play in Martin's living room. Andy says of this event: "I thought: "Wow! Finally a young bloke who knows how to write songs!" I swear that it happened like that."

Second gig, 6th form common room

The band's first "proper" concert would be sometime later in the sixth form common [room] at Nicholas School. Phil explains: "[W]e invited our [class] year to come and see it. I think they were expecting us to do lots of covers, and they were quite surprised that we had songs that we'd written. Martin was quite a nervous person but we were both confident in putting it across. [...] There's a photograph of me and Martin playing in the sixth form common room, and purely by coincidence, Andy [Fletcher] is sitting in between us in the background. You can see him in between the two of us. I only noticed it when someone showed it to me the other day. He was always around."[3]

Right after this concert, NATW asked a bass player to join, named Steve Gallacher. Steve: "I also went to Nicholas School and was a year or so below Martin and Phil, in the same year and class as [Dreaming Of Me single artwork designer] Mark Crick. I already met Martin at various sixth form parties we had had, where Martin would take turns on guitar quite proficiently, and I had gotten to know him better on a German exchange trip. I played guitar with some school friends in my year, called Lee Murray and Laurence "Lol" Saville, all three of us were on guitar. We were one of the support bands at this gig in the sixth form common room, playing a few covers, about three or four numbers. Phil Burdett introduced us to the crowd, and asked us for the name of the band. When we couldn't come up with anything, he called us 'The Band With No Name'. On the back of that gig I was approached by Martin and he asked if I could play bass. I had played a 6 string guitar up until then but just said "Yes I could". I had access to my uncle's bass guitar so I used that one to learn the set in Martin's bedroom, with him and Phil. I think the way I play bass now was influenced by Martin as he had very clear ideas of how bass lines should sound, and he would sing them to me as I was learning them."[8]

In early August 1978, NATW played two consecutive Mondays (so possibly August 7th and 14th) at Basildon's Van Gogh Club[9]. The others on the bills were Grinder, Mik Bostik, Get Together Band / Grinder, The Vandals.

Fifth gig, Basildon Rock Festival report from fanzine Strange Stories

After another school gig where NATW were supported by another local band called The Neatelllls, NATW were scheduled to perform at the first Basildon Rock festival at Gloucester Park on August 20th 1978[10], supporting Grinder. Phil and Martin didn't want to give an acoustic gig, so they asked The Neatelllls' drummer Pete Hobbs, who would later also join the band No Romance In China, to be a part of their band. It appears that, in return for borrowing Pete Hobbs from The Neatelllls, Martin Gore would also play for their band, as evidenced by Robert Marlow: "There was another local band at school at the same time as Norman and The Worms that Martin also played in, together with two hippies. I can't remember their names but one of them wrote Television Set."[2] The person who wrote this was The Neatelllls bandmember Jason Knott, of whom Vince Clarke says that he was "a friend of Martin's",[2] although Basildon photographer Tim Williams claims that Knott was a friend of Vince Clarke too.[11] Marlow goes on to claim that "Martin wrote a catchy synth riff to Television Set so it ended up in [Depeche Mode's] set."[2]

Pete remembers one of his contributions to NATW: "When I used to see After The Fire at the Marquee with the Youth Fellowship, they used to play the theme tune to Thunderbirds before they came on. I thought it was a fantastic entrance. I said: why don't we do one? So we did Skippy the Bush Kangaroo. We used to have the Skippy theme tune and then Norman & The Worms would come on and do Skippy and Martin would be doing kangeroo noises down the microphone."[4] Phil, who also adds that they played the tune "not ironically, not the way Dead Kennedys would do it"[4], states that this concert at the Basildon Rock Festival "has since become something of a legend" due to Martin's noises.[2]

Rik Wheatley of The Vermin had attended NATW's concerts at the Van Gogh, and would also attend their concert at the Woodlands Youth Centre on September 19th 1978.[9] Of the latter, he remembers Mik Bostik as the opening act, and NATW "would do 20 minutes, and then you'd have a horrible rock band, The Opposition. [...] We'd all go [to concert nights at local clubs] purely because it was live music there was nothing else to do. And you didn't mind sitting through the acts you didn't like, like Norman & The Worms, because we were all there together; everyone would use the same equipment and cheer everybody on. But NATW were a strange duo, very bizarre, to be in the middle of 50 hard-core punks and getting cheered. That's how boring it was, you were so glad to be out watching live music."[4]

By now, NATW's concert setlists were a mix of covers like 'American Pie', and original songs like Martin Gore's 'See You'. Phil had written a song called 'Saxophone Joe', a song he describes as "probably a misguided stab at Steely Dan."[4] Phil adds: "People were mystified [by us]. We were usually about third on the bill of about six local punk bands, and we'd sound like The Carpenters by comparison. I don't know if it was balls or stupidity but we'd be playing a country song in the middle of a punk gig. We didn't fit it but we were tolerated. It was different to a city like London or Manchester, where things were really happening. Locally, in Basildon, everyone was just trying to help everyone else, no matter what you did."[4] Martin's friend Mark Crick attended many of their concerts: "The thing that was exceptional was that they mostly did their own material. I remember seeing Martin singing a song called 'Green Grass' – for me it was a shiver-down-the-spine moment: my God, that's my friend up there and it's a fantastic performance, it's a great song, and it's their own creation. You didn't see that so often round the pubs in Basildon. Phil was a very funny bloke, very self-deprecating. If there was a particularly nice applause, he would say thank you for your sympathy, that sort of thing."[4] It is likely that NATW also performed at Woodlands school because Basildonian Mark Saunders is quoted on that website as saying, "I remember [...] Norman and the Worms [performing at a Friday-night disco], featuring, as I recall, one Vince Clarke." Whether Vince Clarke was actually there or whether this Mark is just mixing up Martin's and Vince's names is not known.

Drummer Pete Hobbs remembers a disappointing contest in a pub near 'Peter Pan's Playground' in Southend-On-Sea: "A bloke from Radio Basildon liked Norman & The Worms and wanted us to go into this talent competition, to win 1,000 pounds or whatever it was. He drove us down on the back of his van, with the drums. We were expecting all these people, all this talent, but there were just four acts, it was like a heat. There was some girl of about ten singing some song off the telly, a tap-dancer, us, and this other disco-type funk band who were all very young. We came third. It was just a disaster. It was probably my fault. The drum kit I had at the time was very cheap – when I played it the pedal turned around. I tried to fix it down as much as I could but it used to turn around – and at this talent contest it came off and I had to get down on the floor to try and put it back on. Burdett looked at me and saw me on the floor and burst out laughing."[4]

'Strange Stories' benefit gig

Martin Mann, future husband of Vince Martin's one-time girlfriend Deb Danahay, recalls NATW entering another talent contest at the Castle Mayne pub in Basildon, probably in mid-1979. "I don't know why they decided to go in for it. Norman & The Worms were probably just trying to be a contemporary pop/rock band, but it wasn't a pub for them, really; it was more of a family pub, but it was — and still is — renowned for live music. [...] What I can remember from that night is that Phil Burdett had a stinking cold and he was sticking Vicks Sinex up his nose to try and clear his nasal passages — he began their set by saying, 'I dedicate this number to Vic Sinex!'"[2] Andy Fletcher's friend Rob Andrews was also there and remembers the band losing out to a Tom Jones impersonator, "despite the will of the crowd".[2] Steve Gallacher adds that the Neatelllls were playing there that night too, meaning that Pete Hobbs probably drummed for both the Neatelllls and NATW that night.[8]

By 1979, they played a few benefit gigs for the local fanzine 'Strange Stories' at the Basildon Arts Centre. One of them took place at the Towngate Theatre on May 19th 1979[12]; NATW were on the same bill as Grinder, Hitler's Pyjamas, and Boredom (see fourth photo to the right).

Steve Gallacher informs us that in 1978 and/or 1979, NATW also played at the The Double Six pub in Basildon.[8] Vince Clarke had also played there with No Romance In China once, and when he was asked about that performance, he explained about the pub: "They had a jam night on Wednesdays. There was a drum kit in there already set up and you just went on and did your songs."[2]

Steve also states: "I also remember rehearsing in one of the art classes at Nicholas School. I first met Vince Clark there. I noticed that he was playing a sunburst stratocaster copy which must have been tricky to play as one of the higher frets was missing."[8]

Somewhere halfway through 1979, Martin joined the bands French Look and Composition Of Sound, and his attention to Norman & The Worms dwindled. Phil Burdett summarises the ever-increasing distance best: "Martin had a few friends in every camp. He would drift about. He was always a vague person to talk to. Never seemed to focus. He would suddenly become passionate about a Sparks B-side, and you'd think he was talking about the Spanish Civil war or something. This is a classic example of Martin Gore the invisible man: I didn't actually know if he was working or doing his A-levels. His life was a mystery to me. We didn't particularly care, beyond: have you got any money for this weekend? OK, you're paying."[4]

Guest appearances

Phil reveals that, for NATW's recording sessions, another set of hands came into play. Phil: "We had a guy called Martin Sage who used to hit his school satchel with an egg whisk as a drum."[4] It is unclear how often this guy participated in the band's activities, and if this was before or after the additions of Steve Gallacher and Pete Hobbs.

By coincidence, Vince Clarke was also at the aforementioned talent contest at the Castle Mayne pub, because he had created a temporary band with a few unspecified friends just for that contest. He told author Jonathan Miller that he remembers being allowed to perform with Norman & The Worms: "I played bass for one gig. I think I probably borrowed [Andy] Fletcher's bass."[2] The connection between Vince Clarke and Andy Fletcher (and his bass guitar) suggests that the two of them had already formed No Romance In China.

'See You' and 'Photograph Of You'

Martin Gore has said in many interviews that 'See You' is the first song he wrote, although he is not consistent on stating his age when he wrote it, ranging from having been 13 to 18 years old. Martin said in 1982: "[The middle eight of 'See You' is] good. Serious. But funny. I like it because those words aren't used much in songs. It's just the things people say. I can't tell the story behind it. It's private."[13] Martin Gore's girlfriend from 1981 till 1983, Anne Swindell, claims that 'See You' was written after an exchange trip to Erfde, Germany, saying: "He met somebody there during the exchange trip."[4] Martin went on this exchange trip three times between 1976 and 1978, and Andy said in 1982 that "[Martin] wrote 'See You' five years ago when he was sixteen"[14], so the song was probably written in 1977. When MTV Germany interviewed people in Erfde who had met Martin Gore during those years, a woman named Birgit Biehl claims to have had a fling with Martin back then[15], which could mean that 'See You' is about her. Incidentally, then-future NATW bandmember Steve was also on that exchange trip in 1977, and remembers "I got to know Martin better on that exchange trip. He had brought his guitar along, and I remember him being asked by schoolmates to play songs on the ferry across to Hamburg. One of the songs he played often was 'Reds In My Bed' by 10cc."[8] Phil Burdett told author Jonathan Miller: "[After only playing covers], we thought we'd write some stuff; I wrote a couple of things that were probably pretty awful, but one of the songs that Martin wrote at that time was later recorded by Depeche Mode — that was 'See You'; we used to [perform] a version of that, sort of a mid-tempo acoustic ballad, because we were both writing our material on acoustic guitars."[2] Phil Burdett also said to author Simon Spence: "I invented the riff for 'See You'." Vince Clarke has heard NATW's version of 'See You' and claims that Depeche Mode's version of this song became completely different.[4]

Author Simon Spence also reports that Depeche Mode's song 'Photograph Of You' was also written during this time. Steve Gallacher revealed: "I still have a selection of text book pages where Martin wrote out the chords to the songs for me to learn. It was probably the first time the chords had been written down. These pages included original songs 'See You' and 'Photograph of You', 'Green Grass' and 'Saxophone Joe', which we played live."[8]

Dissolution

Already during the writing process, Phil noticed creative differences between him and Martin. With the arrival of synthesiser music, their separation seemed unavoidable. "We wrote songs which I tried to make melodic and soulful and he wanted to make strange and weird.[6] The whole synthpop thing started up, and you could tell that he was leaning towards that, and I wasn't, basically. I was leaning dramatically away from it. He got into it more and more, and I didn't realise how much he was into it until he sort of formed another band, and found some other people.[3] When the post-punk thing happened, I used to like some of the bands that became known as Krautrock, Can, Neu and the newer ones as well, Deutsch Amerikanische Freundschaft and Einsturzende Neubauten who were pure noise and distortion and the English versions of that like Cabaret Voltaire; I loved all of that. I thought there’s a synth thing going on and Martin got into it, so he buggered off and did Depeche Mode. Suddenly [Depeche Mode] turned into this really twee pop with no substance. I don’t hate pop music but I thought, with everything he knew, and the stuff he liked, I thought he would have gone towards Throbbing Gristle rather than this thing that happened, which seemed like it was going to be over in five minutes. For all I know he’s now a multi-millionaire and I’m sitting in a pub in Leigh.[6] I taught him how to play guitar and he was a better guitar player than he is, well, what he’s ended up as."[6]

After Norman & The Worms finally disbanded, Phil Burdett went on to become a successful singer/songwriter in his own right, having written several albums both solo as well as as a live act called 'Phil Burdett & The New World Troubadours'.[2] He was also the subject of a 1992 documentary called 'Give Me Memphis, Basildon', focusing on both Phil and Basildon.

Steve Gallacher tells us: "I look back on this time with great fondness and it's what got me into playing bass. Whilst I have not had the level of success of Martin and Phil, I have certainly enjoyed playing bass over the years and still do. I was lucky enough to meet up with Martin at the O2 Arena in London a few years ago. I was attending their concert there and surprisingly managed to get a message to come backstage. Martin remembered who I was and we had a chat about old times. I still see Pete Hobbs in and around Southend-on-Sea quite regularly and occasionally bump into Phil Burdett."[8]

Links

philburdett.com

References

  1. Source: Smash Hits magazine, July 9th 1981 edition.
  2. 2.00 2.01 2.02 2.03 2.04 2.05 2.06 2.07 2.08 2.09 2.10 2.11 Source: Stripped by Jonathan Miller, 2001.
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 Source: Random Access Memory, 2005.
  4. 4.00 4.01 4.02 4.03 4.04 4.05 4.06 4.07 4.08 4.09 4.10 4.11 4.12 4.13 4.14 4.15 4.16 4.17 4.18 4.19 Source: Just Can't Get Enough by Simon Spence, 2011.
  5. While Phil Burdett is quoted in Simon Spence's 'Just Can't Get Enough' biography as saying that it was a "stratocaster copy", band member Steve Gallacher told Depechemode-live.com on 2017-12-21 that he is sure it was a telecaster copy. Steve also told us: "Amazingly Phil never had a proper guitar strap, but used a piece of string."
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 6.3 Source: Interview with Phil Burdett for musicriot.co.uk, 2014.
  7. Vox Pop magazine France, March 2009 edition, interview with Martin Gore and Andy Fletcher.
  8. 8.0 8.1 8.2 8.3 8.4 8.5 8.6 2017-12-21 - Email conversation between Steve Gallacher and Depechemode-live.com
  9. 9.0 9.1 Source: http://www.southendpunk.com/html/1978gigs.html.
  10. While the fanzine report says that this festival took place on August 10th in 1978, Basildon.com and Southendpunk.com state that it took place on August 20th in 1978.
  11. Source: Facebook page Basildon: New Town - New Life
  12. Source: http://www.southendpunk.com/html/1979gigs.html
  13. 1982-03-xx - New Sounds New Styles (UK) - No Time To Even Think
  14. 1982-05-xx - Electric Sleeve Notes (UK) - Depeche Mode
  15. Source: 2005-10-15 - MTV (Germany) - MTV Masters