The Loss of Tony "Bad Trunk" Illchester
As a manger of a popular beat combo there are some things that you expect to experience. They range from band line-up reshuffles and arguments about song credits to trashing of B&B rooms and Little Chef all day breakfasts at 1am in the night. I was never really prepared for what happened in Blackpool back in the early days of my talent management career.
I had only been working the circuit for about four months. I had taken a local band, "Arthur Lead-foot and the Barrel Makers", from obscurity and back again when I met up with Clive 'Mad Dog' Chivers. He was the lead singer of the ultra folk band, "The Corn Men of Coopers Hill". I wasn't a fan of their music, but Clive told me that a pirate station that was anchored in Lake Windermere had had their single, "I'll sow my seed in any furrow", on heavy rotation. The disc-jockey that had the 'drive-time' slot (I always wondered about a drive-time slot for the car-full thorough fares of Bowness and Kendal), a mean spinner by the name of Giles Humble, went as far to say that their unique sound was something that could become a musical landmark. On hearing this I bit the bullet and dropped Arthur Lead-foot and took on the Corn Men.
I like to think that I followed in the footsteps of some of the most famous music managers of all time like Colonel Parker and Brian Epstein. I created my own office, started a fanclub for the band, arranged gigs right across the north of England and thought big: I promised the band that, like The Beatles, we would conquer America.
Ultra folk was a difficult genre of music to sell to some of the club managers of the north of England, particularly those in cities like Manchester and Liverpool. It reached a point were I simply told them lies. When they heard the band and told me that they didn't sound punk or rock'n'roll or prog-rock at all, I simply informed them that they were going through an experimental period. It worked 80 % of the time, but even for folk hardliners this band were a bit extreme. That said, I still managed to get the band gigs in many of the top clubs. One memorable gig was in the British Legion club in Rochdale. We were invited back five times in a row and there would have been a sixth time had there not been the arson attack. Mad Dog's uncle ran the club, but it was not the family connection that got us the gig. It was the sound.
The band had long had a troubled history. From the very beginning of the band, the creative heart had been Mad Dog and Mike "Bad Trunk." Illchester. They had grown up together on farms that were only five miles apart. It was this creative pair who had created the ultra folk sound, but it was the recognition and the kudos of the one who's singular idea it was that drove a wedge between them. Although there was tension, they never let their misdirected anger get in the way of the creative vision of the band. The other band members were Steve "The Horse" Handon (percussion) and Milton "The Cutter" Harris (spoons, washboard and accordion). These guys were equally loyal to both the creators: they were slaves to the sound and they just wanted to have a moment in the sun and their names written into folk-lore.
Mad Dog (named on account of a crossbreed who lost it's marbles in a harvesting accident and went a shade of loopy on his father's farm) and Bad Trunk (named on account of a fierce fight he had with a wild oak near Preston which left the trunk of the tree with a delicate imprint of Mike's head) were never roomed together on tour. However, this gig in Blackpool meant that they either had to share the caravan or share the tent with me, The Horse and The Cutter. They knew it was better to stay clear of The Cutter the night before a gig, particularly if nerves took a hold of his guts.
The caravan was stationed just north of Blackpool, in Fleetwood, in a small crop of caravans that looked out over the Irish Sea. We had arrived in my van at about tea-time and decided to eat first and then organise the tent. After a four hour dinner that consisted of a heated argument with the landlord over the ploughman's lunch, a dodgy pint of cider and getting lost on the way back in the pitch black of the night, we managed to make it back as a band. Plus two groupies that Bad Trunk had picked up.
The tent was erected with out the help of Mad Dog or Bad Trunk as one was entertaining the groupies and the other was sulking. We three slightly merry men got the tent up and we were sleeping within the hour. I was awoken in the middle of the night by the sound of The Cutter turning onto his stomach. I decided that it was best to cut loose of the tent while I still had control of all my senses. As I slipped into the van I noticed the silhouettes in the small caravan window. The windless night played no tricks on my vision and I clearly saw what looked like two women pretending to ride a horse. I smiled to myself and thought, "Lucky bastard" as I closed the door of the van behind me.
It could not have been more than three hours later when the sun started to break and, although my neck had stiffened, I tried to look over at the caravan. I guessed that because my neck was tight I couldn't look all the way around so I couldn't see the caravan at first glance. I slipped into a slumber again, only to be woken by The Cutter with the morning sun blinding me through the side window. I had slept in an odd position in the passenger seat of the van so it was more comfortable for me to lean my chin on my shoulder. As my left leg was dead I had to drag that behind me as I got out of the car. Looking across at the place where the caravan had been I could see nothing except for a pair of skimpy pink knickers, a Thermos flask and tread marks that lead down the field. As I slammed the door in shock I heard a 'yelp' from the back of the van. Mad Dog put his face to the window and winced in the sunlight, "Where'd the caravan go? The bastard was sowing his seed all night."
I limped and dragged my leg along the tread marks and was followed by The Cutter and, later, by Mad Dog. The tread marks led to the edge of a small cliff, not more than ten feet in height, and then disappeared. The tide was out and there were no marks in the sands below. The caravan must have come loose with Bad Trunks exertions and rolled into the sea. That was the only explanation that I could think of. The police were later convinced of the same thing. No foul play was suggested and an accident was recorded for the movement of the caravan (although the cheap bastard owner of the caravan charged me for the whole bloody thing, even though I pointed out that two breeze blocks did not constitute a brake). There was no body so no murder or death could be recorded. The coast guard was told to look out for a floating caravan, but nothing came up. Bad Trunk and his groupies had disappeared. Back in the fifties James Dean had died at the wheel of his car, and Buddy Holly died in a plane going through a storm... even Elvis passing from this life on the toilet was significant enough to remember. Who would remember this in the Music Hall of Fame? Some die-hard fans think, to this day, that peoples from another planet robbed us of a talent. I have my own ideas, but I'll keep them to myself - for a while any way. Needless to say, the band broke up that morning and I needed a new band. It wasn't hard to find one: I walked a long the Blackpool Promenade and discovered "Hang'em High" - Preston's first alternative country and western quintet.