Tarragon was a band that billed itself as playing ‘ambiguous rock-folk’ which I always thought was a pretty fair assessment. All the music was self-penned. The band lasted almost 2 years but many the lovely social connections from it still last today.
Nepenthes Sloth’s Steve - In was in this band Steve first started to play lead guitar. Very dodgy lead guitar to beginning with, but it improved. His love for song writing carried on here from General Dogzbody. In retrospect it was trying hard to be a style that has already been, following favourite bands and not just one style, all of them! So in that aspect Steve feels the song writing, he led (imposed on the others?), was always a tad confused behind the curve, although a ‘Tarragon’ sound started to develop towards the end. Looking back now a few of the songs weren’t too bad!
The band, Steve’s summary:
Tarragon was formed after General Dogzbody split up and Steve linked up with the excellent bass player and multi-instrumentalist Simon. After jamming we thought it would be fun to form a band. We set up jams at Beesthorpe Hall near Newark and managed to convince a few other friends to come along and join in. Steve knew singer and keyboard player Debbie from Nottingham band Mushroyce, who had done gigs with General Dogzbody and were splitting up, with some other members going on to form Hairy Canary. Simon knew rock drummer Tris (with his impressive double kick drum set up) and Steve knew keyboard player Andi from the Nottingham rock social circles. Andi got Lisa to come along and sing with us and the debut line up was completed when we invited Lisa Moon to join in of vocals and sax.
It was a bit rough and ill-prepared, but we did our first gig at the Yorker in Nottingham and had lots of friendly support from our friends. The music was a range of styles we all liked, from various forms of rock to folk. After 2-3 gigs we had lost Lisa Moon and Tris but we lucky to have Dave join us on drums, who had been in Mushroyce with Debbie. We also had Tim guest with us doing some funny introductions (carrying on and broadening from what he did with General Dogzbody) and also created an excellent double act with Dave Lucy (Simon’s cousin) doing some great stand-up (like the Grey brothers – Blues brothers skit) and the infamous flaming sword fight which come on in the middle of a Hawkwind-esque style song called Processed Life. Tim had been doing stage shows with Hawkwind.
We gigged many venues in Nottingham and had a bit of a local following, but we were still 'finding ourselves' musically with compositions and arrangements (and ability) but it was fun and we were learning fast. The band also drafted in Becky, still at school but an amazing talent on flute (and later as a vocalist). It really added to the folk-rock sound - or rather rock-folk as we preferred to bill it!
The band had an early offer of recording. Rog Patterson (of excellent prog-acoustic duo Twice Bitten) had invested in a recording studio and needed some test crash dummies to try it out with before going into business. We jumped at the chance, but in retrospect it was probably way too early in our development. It meant we didn’t go into a studio later and do those same songs again, as they were already recorded. It was a shame as we were playing much better versions of them a year or so later, in sound, arrangement and talent.
This mk2 line up gigged for about 15 or so concerts but for reasons I can’t remember Becky, Andi and Lisa left. We bought in Jimmy Mayes (ex General Dogzbody with Steve) to cover keyboards with his Hammond Organ for a few gigs, notably the Grangemill Festival. While the festival was fantastic fun, and organised by Steve and Simon with a few others helping out, Tarragon had a disaster. We covered last minute for the absent Ozric Tentacles, that were booked but turned up too late, and we were ‘ill prepared’ to stand in, would be the most cautious and political way of explaining it!
I found it both a disappointing low but also a turning point. It would have been easy to give up, but the only way was up after that! Nigel joined the band on rhythm guitar. He was the sound engineer at the recordings (and Twice Bitten live), and we got on well and he brought in a load of enthusiasm which lifted us a bit. In turn Nigel got keyboardist Keith to join. Keith brought in some cutting-edge technology (a DX7 no less!) and with these two additions the quality of our sound greatly improved. I think after the Grangemill disaster we all felt we needed to pull our socks up and prove we could be much better.
The setlist had always been a bit of a miss-mash of styles but this mk3 line-up started developing direction in two ways: a more prog-rock edge with Nigel’s influence (a sort of early Genesis dual picking guitars) and, also a music instrumental jam side, from some of us, me certainly, being hugely influenced by the Ozric Tentacles, who were gathering momentum on the festival circuit. We tightened up the existing songs and added extended instrumental jams to most of them, notably ‘Sitting at the gates’, ‘In the City’, ‘Queen of Nowhere’ ‘Alternating Colours’ ‘Rainbow’ & Processed Life’ and added an epic prog track (Circles). The playing standards had significantly improved and the band got a lot tighter. We did some good gigs in Nottingham, at the University and a few other places in the East Midlands. Highlights came securing supports for the Ozric Tentacles on some of their UK tour and we went down well to some packed medium sized venues.
Ironically, our improvement was possibly the demise – as I remember it at least. Tarragon got invited to put a track on a compilation record; to be on vinyl was quite a thrill back then. However, the band were split 50/50 about what track to put on. Half wanting the prog track and the others wanting a track with a more Ozrics style instrumental passage included. It became clear there were musical difference in how we wanted to promote ourselves and direction ahead, and the band split up. Simon, Nigel and Keith went on to form the more prog based Weirdstone while Debbie, Dave and Steve went on to create the more Ozrics/Zappa influenced Fremsley Starecase.
The final concert was on the huge stage in summer in Nottingham Market Square. It was the sort of appearance we had been always working for, but ironically was the goodbye gig as we knew we were splitting up at this point. I thought we played really well there and also the last 10 or so gigs before that. We had turned it around from being a bit of a fun/joke band into a pretty decent one by the end of it. It was sad we were splitting up just as we were getting good. In retrospect hanging on a bit longer could have also seen us get ‘fashionable’ and caught in the new wave of stomping rock-bias folk-rock as bands, like the Waterboys and Levellers, who suddenly became very popular.
The biggest joy of Tarragon for me was the brilliant social side; the band and all the lovely friends that supported us. It was like a bit of a family and they were wonderfully free and fun times, which I remember extremely fondly. I have stayed friends with so many of them ever since. My biggest regrets are that we never recorded a studio album when playing in our prime in the latter stages, I think it would have done us good and still been listenable to today. The other regret is losing a number of video recordings. One of the Mk2 line up exists from the Mardi Gras but it wasn’t our best sound.
I did also have a great musicians ego boost associated with Tarragon one night, when I was backpacking around the USA a few years later. I was at a party in Santa Cruz, California after meeting up with some work experience students from the UK, who at the amusement park over summer. In front of a load of cool Calofirnians, we were at a beach party with, after I picked up a guitar to twiddle on, with this student goes 'Hey I remember you, you were in that band that played at Cambridge University; you were really good!' ...wow! I got treated like a rock star by the locals after that! The whole British 'rock-star' process was also aided and boosted a few days later by those same locals seeing me have a 2 hour long chat with John Entwhistle (Who bass player) at the bar after he'd done a gig there ...another story!
Steve did organise a Tarragon reunion concert many years later, in 2010. It was set in a large hall in Cornwall. The line-up was Becky - lead vocals, Simon - Bass, Keith - Keyboards, Andi - Keyboards as the original members. We had rehearsed a couple of times with Dave on drums, but he had to drop out a few days before the gig. To make an even larger reunion feel, Lisa was passing and briefly said ‘hi’ at one of the rehearsals at Beesthorpe Hall. We were very lucky to have skilled and experienced drummer, Wez (stepbrother to Simon) agree to stand in on the day, having not even heard the tracks and not rehearsed with us apart from a few hours before the gig; he did a fantastic job for us and allowed the reunion to go ahead. We also had Sarah and Elizabeth be special guests to do some backing vocals, so having a front line of 3 female vocalists was ironically just like the very first gig. Colin, Simon's brother, also joined the band on the day, playing flute & whistle. It was also the first time we had both Andi and Keith on the same stage playing keyboards. Also, Wayne, from Cornwall, was invited to guest with us on guitar for his first public concert! Some video footage of this gig exists.
No idea if there’ll be another reunion! Any takers?
Tarragon wasn't just about the musicians playing but the social circle around it and I would also like to thank Vivian, who gave up many hours doing sound engineering for us, not only at gigs but also at so many rehearsals too, as well as building us PA we couldn't afford to buy new.
Also to Jo who would sit on the door for us at gigs and to Glenn, Colin and Chris for help, loading and support. Also to Bethan for support at gigs and for doing the fabulous artwork we used on newsletters and posters. Also Simon's parents who let us use the house and tollerated all those rehearsals.
One very sad note - The videos on here also inclued Dave Lucy, who very sadly passed away, and it was the loss of a lovely, funny and intellegent person that was also a friend. I hope the videos are a way of remembering one element of that fun side of him. He 'interviews' Simon and Tris on the first band video, has one of the intro routines with Tim on another and can be seen doing the wonderful flaming sword fight routine with Tim on another. Remembered fondly! RIP.
Thank you Vivian for the lovely photo