Caught by the River

Caught by the Reaper: Barrie Masters

4th October 2019

Kevin Pearce bids a fond farewell to the Eddie and the Hot Rods singer, who died this week aged 63.

Photo: Ulla Lemberg

One of the many mysteries of my life is why I can only ever remember the words to Eddie and the Hot Rods’ hit ‘Do Anything You Wanna Do’. I have no idea why. It is, I guess, a bit like Van Morrison might say: it’s not why, why, why, it just is. And speaking of why, there was that story of the demonic Dominic Cummings sitting in Cabinet meetings and asking constantly: ‘Why? Why? Why?’ Did any Minister just stare him down and say: ‘It just is!’ ?

Then today, at lunch, just checking the latest cyclone of news, there was a story about Dominic Grieve challenging Dominic Raab about Dominic Cummings, and it looked like the day’s earworm would be: “Three Doms is just another word for nothing left to lose” when the sad news about the sudden death of Barrie Masters, singer of Eddie and the Hot Rods, caught the eye, and wiping away a tear it seemed only right to burst into a reckless and word-perfect rendition of ‘Do Anything You Wanna Do’ as a fond tribute, which naturally involved clambering onto a kitchen chair, tossing the mobile from hand to hand as if it was the pencil-thin microphone Barrie used in his heyday, and which for some reason I also associate warmly with the great Val Doonican, then taking a flying leap before the final chorus, which of course is when someone comes into the room. ‘What the hell are you up to now?’ ‘Well, I was just reading the news headlines and…’ ‘Tsk, I thought you normally claimed the news made you feel like jumping off a cliff, so I suppose a kitchen chair is safer.’

The point is ‘Do Anything You Wanna Do’ will always be intrinsically linked to the summer of 1977 so it always has a special place in my heart. I was 13 at the time, and there is a lovely John Sebastian song about being 13 and musically proverbially knee-high and hearing a couple of Sun Records tunes on the radio and never being the same again. There is something sacred about what shapes you when you are 13. I am not making the case that the summer of 1977 was better than any other year, but it stays with me, and ‘Do Anything You Wanna Do’ is in the mix, along with say ‘Oh Lori’, ‘Lido Shuffle’, ‘Spanish Stroll’, ‘Roadrunner’, as songs that you would hear on the radio at teatime, with Roger Scott on Capital. And Donna Summer’s ‘I Feel Love’, naturally, which I seem to recall Geoff Travis choosing as his single of the week in Record Mirror, claiming daftly to be the only fan of disco and punk, along with The Jam’s ‘All Around The World’, another of the songs of that summer, which is itself linked to the group appearing on Marc Bolan’s TV show, as did Generation X memorably, and yes Eddie and the Hot Rods, with Barrie cavorting around like a frenzied Frankie Abbott trying to move like Jagger (a compliment!). 

The other thing that somehow always gets tangled up in my mind with Barrie is Citizen Smith, the old TV comedy series, and maybe a certain similarity between Barrie and Robert Lindsay as Wolfie Smith, a certain charm and out-of-time quality to their personas. For there was a sense with the Hot Rods that people were sniffy and snooty about them, which always made them more endearing, and maybe there was a weird mix of being perceived by some as quaint and by others as a threat. Oddly, watching a TV appearance of ‘Do You Anything You Wanna Do’ today I am struck by how guitarist Graeme Douglas resembles Speed from Citizen Smith, but then I always thought Mike Mills from REM was Ken from Citizen Smith, so maybe it’s me.

I don’t think there was a Hot Rods LP out around the time of their big hit, so that meant working back. I remember getting a cassette of their Teenage Depression LP and alongside great songs like ‘On The Run’ I particularly loved the covers of The Who’s ‘The Kids Are Alright’, Joe Tex’s ‘Show Me’ and Otis or Sam Cooke’s ‘Shake’, and strongly suspect others will have a year or two later made the connection between hearing those tracks for the first time and becoming interested in the mod revival.

The other big thing was finding a copy of the Hot Rods’ Live at The Marquee EP for a pound in one of those very odd clothes shops that used to be along Oxford Street. The version of ’96 Tears’ that opens that record still seems like one of this world’s wonders to me, and I would be happy to argue with anyone that there is a very strong connection between that and the technique Subway Sect’s Rob Symmons used to employ, and indeed still does. I used to love Barrie’s faux American accent on the introductions, and the EP added to the mythology around the old Marquee, so aptly my first ever gig was at The Marquee to see XTC at an under-16s show one afternoon in half term back in 1978. How cool was that?

So many stupid things stick in the mind, and I can recall the music writer Dave McCullough reviewing The Undertones’ ‘Teenage Kicks’ and comparing one track to the Rods’ ‘Marquee Cha-Cha’ and the Bay City Rollers, which is just perfect. And that wasn’t the only link between the Hot Rods and the Irish punk explosion, as Stiff Little Fingers’ finest moment ‘Alternative Ulster’ was produced by Ed Hollis, who managed and produced the Rods and co-wrote ‘Do Anything You Wanna Do’. There is a lovely paragraph about Ed, by the way, in a tribute to Mark Hollis, written by Richard Williams for his Blue Moment blog.

I can’t claim to have been a close follower of Eddie and the Hot Rods’ progress since 1977. I did love some of the later singles like ‘Quit This Town’, ‘Life on the Line’, and in particular ‘Media Messiahs’. And I would argue with anyone that their catalogue includes some real classics hidden away like ‘Highlands One Hopefuls Two’ and the ATV-ish ‘Distortion May Be Expected’. I never saw Eddie and the Hot Rods live, but I have friends who saw them in recent years who said they were wonderful. I can believe it, being someone who saw the Real Thing ripping it up around our local park a few summers back. Some people never lose it, whoever’s in the band with them. 

There is another old song, ‘Geno’, written by another person who changed my life, which goes: ‘You fed me, you bred me, I’ll remember your name’. So, here’s to you Barrie, may you always shine as brightly as the light from the TV studios catching that star-shaped necklace you always wore way back when. Right, where’s that kitchen chair?

Barrie Masters, 1956 – 2019


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