The following text was kindly submitted by Ray Moody:
Nisa - A melodic rock band from Hull 1976 - 1978
Dave White and Chris Sammut had come out of an experimental type of rock band called Flower which was a loose ensemble of musicians who indulged in smoking lots of pot, wild dancing and general ‘Hippieness’ on stage. When Flower faded, Chris and Dave began trying to form a new band by initially attempting to work with some of the musicians from Flower. They formed the nucleus of the new band and one of their friends suggested the name Nisa for it including designing an emblem. John Harrison was recruited on lead guitar but they began to find that their original choice for a bass player wasn’t going to work. Dave then suggested to Chris that I should join the band.
Dave, Chris and I had already played together in a covers band at the start of the Seventies called Smokey Joe and I had recently been ‘sacked’ from my latest covers band, literally due to musical differences. I was therefore at a bit of a low ebb having been playing regular gigs since the late Sixties and there not being much happening on the local scene. I had also recently met a guy who I believe was a roadie for future Hull recording band Dead Fingers Talk, he had seen me carrying my Fender Jazz Bass and after asking me if I could play it gave me the address of a house on a notorious housing estate in Hull called Branholme. He claimed that DFTs bass player had just left the band and that I should audition. I rehearsed a few Lou Reed tracks off the ‘Rock and Roll Animal’ album and turned up the next day, as requested, for the audition. To do this I had to first catch a bus to the outskirts of Hull and then carry my precious and ‘very heavy’ Fender Jazz guitar under the various dark underpasses that make up the Bransholme Council Estate. Arriving at the address I knocked on the door for 15 minutes but all to no avail. Deciding that I could get relieved off my guitar at any moment I hastily beat a retreat back to the nearest bus stop.
A few days later I met Dave and when he suggested to me that I should join a band whose gigs would be sporadic and that we might play some gigs for free I wasn’t too keen on the idea. I had a strong belief that if your music was worth listening to then you should be paid for playing it. Nevertheless, I went down to Chris Sammut’s house for an ‘audition’ and it seemed to work well as I enjoyed making up my own bass lines instead of having to try to interpret someone else’s.
After a few weeks of rehearsals I realized that a weak area for the band was the vocals, Chris wrote all of the songs and naturally wanted to sing them but he didn’t have a particularly strong voice. I suggested to Chris that Pauline (My then girlfriend) should come down and audition. Chris didn’t seem too keen at first but eventually agreed to give it a go and when Pauline or Ginge’ as she was then known turned up Chris was impressed with her vocals but rather than fully relinquish his vocals suggested sharing them.
What I began to realize was that my years of playing Top Twenty Tunes and working with local agents and gigging meant that I could in some way help to offer some kind of management to the band, helping to direct it, whilst Chris was busy spending his time coming up with very original sounding musical ideas.
The rehearsals continued in Chris’s front room with much beating on the walls from the neighbours. All the bands I had previously been in were well organized with both their own PA systems and their own transport. The only transport we had was Chris Sammut’s Redifusion 5 cwt van borrowed from his job as a Television Repair Man. Nevertheless, we continued to rehearse and having learnt about 4 of Chris’s original songs plus a cover version, decided to play our first gig at the Bull Public House on Beverley Road in Hull.
As a band, everything was done on a shoestring and the gear was very limited, but Chris had an excellent Hammond C3 organ complete with Leslie Speaker. At this, our first gig, we wondered just how this rough pub crowd would take us and nearly died as we saw that sat close to the stage was one of the toughest guys in Hull. Nervously we kicked off our limited set and at the end of the first song there was silence, but then the tough guy on the front row began to clap and taking his cue the rest soon followed. The remainder of the set continued to go down well and we finished with the Sixties track ‘Kites’ by Simon Dupree and The Big Sound.
As a band we knew that we had something special, I had been in many bands and never felt that magical feeling that this band had. Realising that trying to become the top or second best group in Hull meant nothing, we considered how we could get noticed nationally. We decided to enter the 1977 Melody Maker Rock Contest and our regional heat was booked for us at Leeds Met University. Once again rehearsals had to take place in Chris’s front room and we had to limit this as the neighbours were by now both reporting us to the Police and the local Council.
The day of the Melody Maker Rock Contest duly arrived and we found that each of the bands were only allowed to play one track each and that this had to be limited to 4 minutes or the power would be switched off!. Being that our songs tended to last up to 8 minutes this would prove difficult. All bands also had to use the mikes and amps already set-up on the stage
To make an impression and stand out from the other bands we had decided to dress up for the gig, Chris wore a high necked cloak on the keyboards, I wore a Monks Cowl and Ginge had made a Renaissance period looking dress out of some very limited material. We had decided to play ‘So Lonely’, a great track and one that we had been well rehearsed. Chris was still responsible for singing the first verse, after which Ginge would come in. Unfortunately, as we were rushed on stage, nobody set a mike up at the keyboards perhaps believing that Ginge would be doing all of the singing. Chris never noticed, and played the introduction of the song, when it came to the part where he should come in, no voice came out as there was no mike for him to sing into! Ginge took over the vocals on the second verse but we have clearly spoilt our moment and didn’t win the heat despite admiration from other rock bands.
So it was back to the drawing board and we returned to Hull. It was then that the lead guitarist decided that he would like to concentrate more on writing and producing Christian music and so we had to look around for a replacement. Ginge and I saw a advert written on a postcard in a newsagents shop window on Spring Bank Avenue in Hull. In broken English the card read, ‘I am a 21 year old French guy, I play guitar, my heroes are Led Zep and AC/DC’. We went round to the guy’s flat on Beverley Road where we met Pascal Le Lyon and knew that he must be good when we saw that he had an immaculate Gibson Les Paul guitar. We arranged for him to come and audition for us at our flat down Grafton Street in Hull, a street where a decade later the Hull’s first breakthrough band the Housemartins would also base themselves.
The next day the group nervously assembled all its gear in the back room of our Grafton Street flat and we quickly ran through the chords of the songs with Pascal. The moment then arrived for the run through of the first number, ‘So Lonely’, We all gasped in amazement. the sound was electric, the band and Pascal simply gelled as one. It was magical, the circle was complete and we all knew that we had taken the next step on the road to success’.
The very next day we pooled our limited resources together and booked into Keith Herd’s Willerby Studio and recorded ‘So Lonely’,
By the mid Seventies there were few, if any, rock venues left in Hull and seeing a Rock Contest being held at the Blind Institute on Beverley Road in Hull we decided to enter and pleased with our first recording of ‘So Lonely’ booked ourselves into Keith Herd’s Studio again to record more tracks the day after the contest. We were totally relying on winning the prize money of 20 pounds to pay towards the studio and didn’t consider what would happen if we didn’t win.
Meanwhile I had, had songs coming into my head for years but they tended to be either weak or simply copies of chart hits with the lyrics changed, then one day I was walking down Plane Street in Hull and a song came into my head, ‘I Aint No Angel’ the words said, ‘I can’t always smile’, it was a song about me. I showed the band the completed song the next day and within an hour we had nailed it.
On the night of the Blind Institute Rock gig we played ‘So Lonely’ and ‘I Aint No Angel’ they both went down well but the audience had to decide who amongst the 20 acts had won, this was based on the amount of applause each of the bands got at the end. It was neck and neck between us and another band who called their music a new label called ‘Punk’ and to show their contempt for the audience had hidden for most of their set under a parachute! We badly needed the money for Keith Herd’s Studio and fortunately the other band succumbed.
The next day we recorded four tracks in Keith Herd’s Studio and then planned to take the tapes down to London and get the record companies to listen to them.
We camped in a tent at a site in Chigwell and tried to get into various record companies, most said that we needed to book appointment but some allowed us to leave the tapes and return later in the week for a verdict. The most hopeful verdict at the end of the week was Island Records. A guy named Ritchie Griffiths kindly sat and listened to the tapes with Dave and Chris and liked what he heard, I will need to see you play live in London he said, to see how you go down. Today, we would have simply asked him the name of an agent or place where we might be able to get a London gig, but then the gigs seemed to be like gold and it seemed amateur to ask.
That night in the tent we had a discussion about what you needed to make it and I suggested that looks were important. Somehow this upset Chris and next thing we knew he had boarded a train back to Hull.
The following day we returned to Hull and Chris had chilled out a little but the following day there was a confrontation with Dave and he decided to leave the band. ‘If he’s leaving then I’m leaving,’ explained Chris and he also resigned. Here we were, with Island Records wanting to see us play a gig in London and two guys had left the band. We should have been concentrating on how to get the London gig and they were talking about going to college to learn music theory.
A week later, the situation got worse as Pascal was ordered to leave the country and return to France as he had been signing on the dole for a year, it had now stopped and he couldn’t support himself.
So the two remaining members of Nisa had to decide what to do next. I was a weekly reader of the Melody Maker and had noticed that a new independent record label in Cambridge was getting some good reviews. I sent the owner, Lee Wood, at Raw Records, Kings Parade, Cambridge a copy of our recording of ‘I ain’t no Angel’. We rang him a while later and he said he liked the song and invited us down to Cambridge. He then booked us into Spaceward Studios in Cambridge to record it. I had recently met another Hull drummer who I had previously worked with and as Dave didn’t seem to want to come back I offered the guy the chance to record Angel with us in Cambridge. Another reason for this was that we had no transport and he did. I also advertised for a guitarist to fill in for Pascal as we hoped to get him back into the country. The studio was terrible, it wasn’t built for our type of music and with hindsight we should simply have asked Raw Records to pay for a one day session in Keith Herds studio to produce a ‘perfect’ version of Angel.
Realizing that it wasn’t a success we were then booked into Manfred Mann’s Studio, The Workhouse, on the Old Kent Road to rerecord Angel, I used the same line up of covering musicians but once again the production wasn’t quite right.
So finally, we were booked into the Kinks Studio, Konk in Hornsey. By now Chris Sammut had agreed to come back and record with us. Pascal was still banned from entering the UK for not being able to support himself and I managed to get one of the top guitarists in Hull, Ron Hales, to come down to Konk and record with us. Ron had been in recording bands Red Dirt and Snake Eye’. Because the other drummer had been so supportive to me when Nisa had split I decided to stick with him rather than ask Dave White back for the session.
The recording in Konk Studios where the Kinks had recorded so many great tracks went well and Ron Hales lead break was brilliant. Chris Sammut played on the white grand piano that must have featured on so many great Kink tracks. We played snooker on the same tables that Ray and Dave Davies would have played on.
Unfortunately, Raw Records ceased trading not long after this and our single was never released and remains in the Konk Studio Vaults to this very day.
But by 1978 Pascal had managed to sneak back into the country and I managed to get Nisa back together. I had written some new songs and Chris Sammut had also written probably one of his best ever songs, called ‘Ice Capped Mountains’.
We went into rehearsals prior to going back into the studios to record the new tracks. Musically we were just as good but as a unit it didn’t just seem the same.
We went back into Keith Herd’s studio and recorded three new tracks written by me. There was time at the end to record ‘Ice Capped Mountains’ but Chris didn’t want to record it.
Ginge and I took the tapes again to London, but it was now the era of Punk and record companies were looking for this ‘new sound’. Never the less we rang Ritchie Griffiths at Island Records and he remembered us an the name of our band and once again asked when we were going to gig in London.
Back in Hull. Chris and Dave didn’t seem to want to do anything unless there was a recording contract and they once again mentioned going to college to study music. I had recently left Teacher Training college where I had been studying as it allowed me as a student time to be a musician as well. I was signing on and pretty penniless and the electricity had been cut off. On visiting Pauline’s relatives in Leeds I noticed that they wanted conductors on the buses. Hull was also dead for rock venues by then and I thought it would be a better place to get rock gigs and to earn the money to buy a professional PA system as we had been lacking one.
So the remaining three members of Nisa moved to Leeds together with our Roadie, Graham Santos. We got a two roomed flat in Harehills and lived together while I slowly earned the money from my job as a bus conductor to buy a H & H PA system. We found a place to rehearse in the Belle Isle Church Tower and we found a drummer who had already been in a pro rock band. Chris had given us permission to continue to use his songs and we learnt to play his latest ‘Ice Capped Mountains’ brilliantly, we got this and all the other songs so tight that we didn’t even notice that the keyboards were missing. Meanwhile I looked around for an agent to get us rock gigs in Yorkshire and I found one. Sending him the tapes he fixed us up with a support gig. I intended to get the band ready for the road and then to ask Chris to rejoin us. But then the inevitable happened! Pascal’s parents in Rouen, France needed him to return home as they were ill and needed him to support them, so he left. The very next week we had a break in at the flat and the H & H PA system I have slowly saved up for and bought, piece by piece were stolen. So too was Pascal’s original Vox AC30 amp. We were never going to play that gig in London for Island Records.
Rather than it being a total disaster I returned to Keith Herd’s studio and recorded three more tracks with the new drummer and a friend of his on guitar. By now Punk groups had caused so much trouble in record companies that no one was allowed to take tapes in any more and they have to be posted. I sent the new recordings and this time got a positive letter off the A and R man at CBS. He thought that I could write good songs and encouraged me to send others in the future.
But the writing was on the wall and within a year I had retrained at college and got a teaching job, within a further two years I have become a college lecturer. Over the years Pauline (Ginge) and I have returned to the studios and have recorded new material, but to no avail. In the mid 1990s I retuned to Hull as a lecturer at Hull College. In the halcyon days of Nisa in 1977 I had begun to write a great song called ‘When I’m a Man’ but couldn’t finish it, then in the late 1990s I finally completed it. It sounded so much like Nisa that I called it the last Nisa track. I contacted Dave White to join me in rehearsals ready to record it and booked a final return to Herdy’s. Dave thought about it and then declined. Pauline and I recorded that track and others with substitute musicians.
When I look back and listen to the music and the songs that we were creating back then, I often wonder how somebody on the cusp of possibly ‘making it’ could say, ‘I’m leaving’ or ‘I’m going to college’ as though fame and fortune are so easy to come by. William Shakespeare once said, ‘There is a tide in the lives of men, which if taken at the flood, can lead to great riches’. I believe that people need to know just when their tide is in.
Pauline Flint (vocals), Pascal De Lyon (Lead guitar), Ray Moody (bass guitar), Chris Sammut (keyboards), Dave White (drums).
All information kindly supplied by Ray Moody. 2011.
All recorded and photographic material copyright Ray Moody. 2011.
Special thanks to: R. Moody.