Rubber Johnny
Definitely not Dire Straits: Deptford’s Rubber Johnny are back on stage

Just like his winners at the Lee High Road bookies, wait four weeks for a new MERCURY MAN column and two come along at once. 853‘s special correspondent and turf investment adviser invites you to join him down the front and meet some SE8 musical legends…

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You know me, easy-going to a fault. Made for Tranquil Vale, if I could only get rid of this Catford accent.

Apart from opposing the Blue Meanies at each and every turn since day one – and needing to avoid soaps like the plague – there’s never been a period when your MM has lost it to any demented degree.

Never seen the sense in it really. Waste of time, in my view. Waste of energy. Waste of spirituality. Actually, I was intending to – (No you weren’t, get on with it – Ed)

However… and as howevers go it’s a pretty significant however – I have to tell you there’s been a gnawing, annoying issue between me and an exceptionally talented actor, director, writer, singer and songwriter. It stretches back to the late 1970s.

There’s been no real anger involved. I admired him like the brother I never had – and still do. But there was definitely a degree of angst.

Deptford – fun city

What it was all about, buddies, was the best band ever to come out of Deptford.

Squeeze? No, clever and catchy enough but flimsy in comparison.

Dire Straits? No. They went on to greater things but even they didn’t get you where this band got you.

I’ll listen to shouts from the back for the Electric Bluebirds (with violinist and Clark Gable lookalike Bobby Valentino), The Ya Ya’s and the Barflies (later the Palladinos).

And I’d love to hear how they’re all doing (if they are all still doing) from the well-versed live music veterans out there.

But the band that some people will say I’m obviously referring to is… yes, Rubber Johnny (my mum would have preferred them to remain as The Alleygators, but there you go).

Rubber Johnny
Rubber Johnny at the Royal Albert circa 1980 (© Steve Golton – see more)

The issue? Well, sometimes my enthusiasm gets the better of me (sometimes? – Ed) and for the best part of 40 years I’ve been lambasting the band’s leader and mentor, John Turner, for not capturing their songs on CD. (CDs?! Are you sure? – Ed.)

“John,” I’ve lambasted on innumerable occasions. “There are at least a dozen great Rubber Johnny songs and it’s nothing short of criminal that they’ve not been recorded. I’m not talking posterity, John, I’m talking…”

Actually, at that point I never knew exactly what I was talking (No change there then – Ed). But I did know that I cared for those songs like lost siblings. John, for his part, always took the lambast in his laconic stride.

He had the inscrutable look that said he knew about the wider picture and that the excitable individual in front of him did not.

Love among the suds

The songs? Well, they include Hangdog (movingly about Deptford); Guernica (movingly about the Spanish Civil War); Winston Brown (about Winston Brown – “No lawyer ever saw yer”); Dole Queue and Welfare State; 24-hour Surveillance; Holiday Camp (about borstal); SS (social security); Dr Giro; New Cross Special; Nicotine (the definitive song about smoking – “When I first took that little puff/ how was I to know what was in that stuff”); Joker’s On You Again; and the epic Laundriette (about love among the suds – “She gave me change at the laundriette/ she put me jeans in with her winceyette”.)

The style was reggae-punk and John’s brilliantly theatrical presentation – including the odd piercing monologue and the scrounger’s manic two-fingered delve into the SS kitty – made Friday nights a must in the Royal Albert in New Cross Road.

I never like to refer to my own perspicacities within the great scheme of things (Oh, yes you do – Ed) but I was going through a pre-midlife crisis at the time, and that music, those songs…

But, moving swiftly on, here’s the good news!

Original members of the band, led by Mr Turner, have recently reformed and played a couple of packed gigs locally via word of mouth. And… they’re at the Fox & Firkin at 316 Lewisham High Street (nearer the Cat than the clock tower) from 9-11pm next Wednesday, February 28.

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And here’s the great news. A live CD (!!!) from the gig at The Mitre in Greenwich last year should be available for purchase. Eureka!

See you there if I can get this shadow removed from my face in time.

  • Rubber Johnny play the Ron’s Speakeasy night at the Fox & Firkin, 316 Lewisham High Street SE13 6JZ, on Wednesday 28 February from 9pm. Free entry.
  • Got a story or a tip for Mercury Man? Drop him a line at mercuryman.853[at] or leave a comment below.