Listen to Episode 1 ‘Munch’
Dad manager Neil Sparks is unable to contain his excitement as he is invited to not one, but two breakfast meetings in London to discuss his son Dorian’s band. Meanwhile, Black Pig landlord – Fergal, tells Donald, to stop booking terrible bands with stupid names that bring no one otherwise, he will face the old heave-ho.
Listen to Episode 2 ‘Breakfast (Neil goes to London part 1)’
Neil gets the train to London to have a ‘munch’ and some brunch and then maybe a spot of lunch with various music industry movers and shakers, but possibly bites off more than he can chew. Meanwhile, Joyce tries to calm Fergal down after a band express their feelings about the landlord with a spray can.
Listen to Episode 3 ‘Brunch (Neil goes to London part 2)’
Black Pig landlord Fergal and his son-in-law Donald have a showdown regarding the way forward for the Black Pig pub and come up with a food-based solution. Meanwhile, Neil continues with his meetings in London and then reports back to The Sickness at their band rehearsal.
Listen to Episode 4 ‘Radio Savage’
Neil has an exciting breakthrough with the band, but also has to manage a tricky situation regarding Dorian’s hopes and fears for the future. Meanwhile, Joyce tells her husband Fergal he has to choose between her or the carpet during a row over the pub refurbishment.
‘Breakfast Meeting’ by Neil Sparks
Ep 1 bonus song
‘Sell Your Nan’ by Gary Gold featuring Memphis
Ep 2 bonus song
‘Sausage Rock ‘n’ Rolls’ by Oliver Bottomly feat. Joyce
Ep 3 bonus song
Golden Ears began life after a stressful meeting with the landlord of a music venue in Kentish Town. I was an eager new music promoter keen to restore the venue to its former glory. The place was on its knees, but it had massive potential and the best sound system in London.
The landlord saw himself in me, as he was back in the late 1970s when he had set up one of the first live music venues in London and witnessed the rise and fall of Punks, New Romantics, C86, Madchester, Grunge, Brit-pop and Indie.
But he had spent the intervening 30 years pulling pints and wanted out. He no longer had the energy or desire to run a music venue. His dreams were for his cattle farm back in Ireland, or for going on a cruise. Peace and quiet. Not the thud, thud, thud of a bass drum coming through the floor of an early evening while he was trying to watch ‘Embarrassing Bodies’ upstairs on TV. We had looked into each other’s eyes, spaghetti western style, and saw that we wanted different things.
“If we could just give the place a clean?” I asked.
“And some of the locals are a bit weird..”
And so on. Anyway, we tried our best to turn things around, but just as the Bull & Gate was rediscovering its former glory, news broke that it was to be sold and turned into a Gastro Pub. Bands were to be replaced by the triple fried chips cooked in goose fat ‘coz that’s what people wanted’. We tried to resist and asked Coldplay to come back and play on the roof in protest. But not only were there health and safety implications, the band were also too busy. And so we threw a week of sold-out shows called ‘Play Your Respects’ to say goodbye to the place. It culminated in an Ed Harcourt singalong around the old piano. It felt an apt way to say goodbye.
It was not long after thus that the idea for Golden Ears popped into my head. The music industry, in general, is a very serious business, full of conflict and dashed hopes and dreams, and it seemed quite fertile (futile?) ground for a comedy or a tragedy. A ready-made world full of colourful characters.
None more comedic or tragic than the Dad Manager. Or ‘Damager’ as he is sometimes known. After all, I was a dad myself, and I managed bands. Plus, I’d been in a band. It was something I knew all about. And toilet venues were another thing I knew all about (the name given to small music venues – a sadly endangered species these days!). In fact, at the Bull and Gate, you literally had to go through the toilet to get to the back room where the bands played.
Before long, I found myself doing voices on my iPhone whenever the mood took me, and slowly it became a secret addiction. Anytime, anyplace, anywhere, I would pull out the phone go to voice memo and start recording, after a few drinks, cycling to work, in the toilet. Or after a tricky meeting with a live agent or furious tour manager. I even got arrested doing it while driving. Hours and hours of it and slowly, the voices in my head became voices on my phone.
Then came the tricky process of piecing it all together into a thing – a situation where these characters could all live and breathe and interact and fight. Years passed with me getting nowhere, but slowly the jigsaw took shape, and it was time to get in the studio. By chance, an old friend Nainesh and guitarist in a band called Flotation Toy Warning, contacted me about his new studio in Forest Hill, fantastically named Snorkel Studios. He wanted to know if any bands needed studio time. Little did he know what he was letting himself in for.
We met, and after 3 pints at the French house in Soho, I booked a day at Snorkel Studios to record episode 1. The studio was in Forest Hill, a few streets from where I grew up, which made it all feel quite special, like I was going back to my roots. In truth, travelling down to the studio on that first morning felt a bit confusing and adulterous. I couldn’t quite work out why I was doing it. What was I going to do with more recordings anyway? By the return journey, 10 hours later, I was on cloud nine. Another studio session followed, and then another. And well, one thing led to another.
And so here we are. Golden Ears is what I would call a comedy-drama set in the grassroots of the UK music industry. The narrative follows the ups and downs of dad-manager Neil Sparks, a 49-year-old travel agent who decides to manage his unemployable son Dorian’s band The Sickness.
Initially, I wanted it to be a witty satire on the music industry, shining a light on the hopes and fears that get stoked up when people might get what they think they want, and how this can bring out the good and mainly bad in people. The plan was to delve into the nature of art, fame and success and unravel the human condition in a funny, compelling and believable way – (cue Star Trek music) to boldly work out who we are as human beings and why we are here. The nature of existence and the meaning of life. Those old chestnuts. But as I embarked on it, I realised that actually, it was more about how some food is funny. Like sausage rolls. Or ‘Sausage Rock’ n’ Rolls’.
I’m still not exactly sure why I have done this. Sneaking down to a recording studio to do silly voices into a microphone is clearly some kind of mid-life crisis. It also doubles up as therapy and fulfils some needy desire to express myself. And, it ticks the quest for immortality box too.
But whatever the reason, it has been A LOT of fun – and Snorkel Studio became a refuge where I could get it all out of my system. The guitar riff is from the song ‘For the Dead’ by Gene. I love the slightly melancholic lilting melody, and it seemed to fit. Meanwhile, the music of Cherry Ghost accompanied me, almost religiously via Spotify, on the overland train from Highbury Corner to Forest Hill while I scribbled final notes before donning the headphones a la’ Toast Of London’ for a hard days graft ‘doing voices’ with Nainesh at the helm, a bit like Clem Fandango.