Gather round boys and girls and let Uncle Dave tell you about the Boothill Foot Tappers.
It’s the early 1980s and punk rock is pretty much dead. A number of bands are experimenting with combining the spirit and energy of punk with more traditional forms of music. The best-known example is probably the Pogues version of traditional Irish folk music, but there are also people like The Men They Couldn’t Hang and The Oyster Band doing the same thing for English folk music. And then there’s cowpunk which combined punk’s energy with country and western music. One of the best groups in this area was the Boothill Foot-Tappers.
I’m not sure when I first saw the Boothills. I have two definite memories of seeing them, but I’m pretty sure I saw them a few other times too. My first definite memory was seeing them at the Wally Foster Community Centre in Hackney. That would have been in 1984 or 1985. They were on the bill as The Joeys and Kevin Sizey. I think we were probably there as Billy Bragg was topping the bill. The other time was at a big GLC festival in Battersea Park in about 1986. They weren’t quite as ubiquitous at GLC events as the Hank Wangford Band, but I’d be surprised if they didn’t play at least a couple of GLC festivals in Victoria Park.
They were the kind of band who always left you with a huge smile on your face. Their songs were infectious and happy and they all looked as thought they were having a lot of fun.
In 1985 they released their album Ain’t That Far From Boothill. To be honest, it was a slight disappointment – but only because it struggled to capture the raw excitement of seeing them play live. I didn’t buy the album as one of my flatmates had a copy. I did, however, buy a copy of the single “Get Your Feet Out Of My Shoes” which became one of my most played singles over the next decade or so. It was a near-perfect slice of musical relationship angst. It’s actually the only single that I still own – even though I have nothing to play it on.
Not long after the album was released, the band split up. I’m not sure what happened, but their name just stopped appearing on bills. Singer Wendy May started the Locomotion club night at the Town and Country Club and a few years later the banjo play Chris Thompson resurfaced in The Barely Works (now there’s another band I’d love to see play again).
And that looked like it was going to be the full story. The band would always be nothing but a few great memories. A couple of years ago I tried to track down the album and found that it had been released on CD. Listening to it now, it’s actually far better than I remembered. And “Get Your Feet Out Of My Shoes” is still one of my all-time favourite songs.
But the story wasn’t completely over. Last night I was one of a hundred or fifty or so people who watched the Boothill Foot-Tappers play a one-off reunion gig at the 100 Club. It was drummer Danny Heatley’s 50th birthday and they used that as an excuse for a party which all of their old fans were invited to. Sadly guitarist Kevin Walsh died a couple of years ago, but the rest of the band were all there.
“Old fans” was an accurate description too. It looked to me like exactly the same audience that had followed the band twenty-five years ago but we’d all aged twent-yfive years, put on a few pounds and gained a few grey hairs. There was a small number of younger people there, but I suspect they were all children of the original fans.
It’s can be a bit dicey when a much-loved band get back together decades later. There’s always the worry that that haven’t still got it. But within moments of them getting onto the stage it was obvious that there wasn’t going to be a problem. The band were every bit as tight as they had always been. In fact I had forgetten just how good they were. They played pretty much everything that you could have wanted – well other than “Chasing Women” which no-one remembered the lyrics to. They even played “True Blues” and its anti-Tory lyrics (I like coffee and I like tea / But I don’t like Tories, no sirree) were as apposite as they were twenty-five years ago.
Those of you who were there will already know what a great night it was. Those of you who weren’t had never heard of the Boothill Foot-Tappers before reading this article. But I highly recommend buying the CD and then patiently waiting to see if they ever do another reunion.
I promise you, it’ll be worth the wait.