Anatomy of a Frog Juggler
Well I had to kick the site off with something, so I guess a blog about myself and where Steamhead comes from would be a good starting point.
The elements in the "Technology - Music - Drama - Life" strap-line may seem strange bedfellows, but they pretty much sum up my interests, with the first three primarily defining the fourth. So the Steamhead site is essentially a blog site where I will talk about each of those things, either as opinion, or reviews of "product" in those categories. Of course these days Technology can also be a great enabler of the other three, so be prepared for cross-over blogs as well.
Whilst this site won't have any comment sections, you can still join in the conversations via the Facebook and Twitter social media channels, I didn't see any point trying to replicate what has already been done ;-)
But how have Technology, Music and Drama shaped my life, and brought me to this point? Read on McDuff...
Acting up as a child
I guess I started acting early, first on stage at the age of 5, as one of the orphans in Studio Player's production of Oliver, this was also when my singing started, and got further developed in local choirs. Acting went from strength to strength with many leading roles, ironically going full circle to me landing the part of Oliver at the Nottingham Theatre Royal in 1978.
This wasn't a full production of Oliver, but a short segment inside the Ken Dodd Laughter show, which had a 3 week run to reopen the newly rebuilt Theatre Royal. I did 26 of the 36 performances, so I got 1 night off each week, and thoroughly enjoyed it. I had a great time, getting spit at by Spit the Dog and even heckled by Statler and Waldorf at the dress rehearsal - "Hey that kid wasn't half bad" - "No he was all bad". We did 2 shows a night, but only 1 finale, for the second show all us kids got sent home after our bits, because Ken Dodd was well known for running on, and on, and on to the wee small hours. Except for the last night, when two fake Policemen arrested him on stage, so we could have a final finale, in particular so everyone in the production could be on the new stage as it was blessed by the Bishop of Nottingham.
All the right notes
Senior school pretty much put an end to my involvement in drama, there just wasn't the time, but I did manage to keep an interest in music, learning to play Cornet, Trumpet and French Horn. I also got to learn that the French Horn is one of the worst instruments to play Christmas Carols on outside in December. Every other brass instrument you can wear gloves, fingerless gloves at least, but with the French Horn, wearing a glove on your right hand makes it very difficult to keep hold of the instrument as your hand keeps slipping out of the bell.
The last couple of years at Senior School saw me trade in the Horn for the Microphone, via a brief stint on bass, when I joined the band Stella as lead singer, occasionally also dabbling on keyboards too.
Chicken in a minefield!
In the third year I also discovered I was really good at something else too - computer programming. It was a new subject in school and it just came naturally to me, so it wasn't long before I was writing my own computer games on the old Commodore Pet, way before the days of Megadrives, Playstations and X-Boxes. One particular game proved so popular I would walk into the computer room at lunch and all the computers in the room wouldn't be kids trying to finish their homework, they'd be playing my Chicken in a Minefield game. I recently discovered the game had also made its way to other schools in the area. I even managed to write a fully functional sequencer, way before most people even knew what one was to get myself a grade A for my O Level.
Notes for bytes
My passion for both music and technology carried on through college, but when it came to coming out of college (Sixth Form) we were right in the middle of Thatcher's Britain, graduates were coming out of university straight onto the dole, so I thought long and hard about university. Eventually I decided that if I could get a job doing what I wanted with just my A Levels, then I'd forego a degree. With all the uncertainties of the era getting a job in music wasn't a secure option, so a computing career looked to be the best way to get those notes in my wallet.
Pretty quickly I landed a job with Boots as an operations analyst, specialising in Workload Automation on a product then called OPC, and 33 years later not only am I still working with it, I developed a new Programming Language called Workload Automation Programming Language (WAPL) which is now part of the product, and I get to travel the world talking about it.
WAPL greatly simplified the process of using the Workload Automation program interface, which I once likened to juggling frogs, meaning it's tricky, but you can learn to do it, which I proved once in a presentation in the USA by juggling some bean bag frogs. Something that has stuck with me, so now whenever I present in the US, frogs have to be involved.
During the eighties I found myself half inheriting a lighting rig in the final death throes of Stella/New World Asylum. The other inheritee went on to join a band called Steam Kittens, and I joined Headstrong, so the lights were operated as Steamhead Stagecraft as a going concern for many years.
The Steamhead lighting rig came to an end in 1994 when I decided to hang up my mic and lighting controller and make sure I didn't miss my family growing up. But of course once music is in your blood it's hard to shake it, so in the late nineties I decided to try and help local bands with the new fangled internet thingy. At this point there was no Social Media, no Web 2.0, even MySpace wasn't even the faintest of glimmerings in anyone's eye. So I decided to set up a website, build simple profile pages for bands, publish reviews and provide a gig guide. I'd pretty much gained Steamhead as my knickname so Steamhead.com was the obvious choice to call the site, and for about 5 years it was a great success, getting loads of hits and helping bands out, but eventually it became too much work, so I either had to do it full time, or scrap it - and back then nobody had figured out how to make any money from the internet.
So after years of being in bands that wrote original material after about 6 years off, I got back into it, but this time with cover bands, the original material circuit was proving harder to generate at a local level. I started back with Russ again as the first singer for Sack Sabbath, back when it was a full Black Sabbath tribute, not just the Ozzy era, so we also did Dio and Tony Martin. But this co-incided with my success as a frog juggler, so Rob Reid stepped in to avoid gig clashes. A little later I joined Russ again for Out In The Cold which eventually was to cover some old Headstrong stuff as well, but we never got that far. We have been dabbling in the studio, who knows what might happen when me and Russ actually get some spare time at the same time.
Now though I'm back in a band, the Steve Naylor Band, a classic rock covers band, also building up a good following.
Turning full circle again
As well as getting back into music, events in my life reawakened dramatic my tendencies as well, and I found myself going to more and more diverse shows, even ending up with a bit part in the Mundo Jazz Podcast. This in turn led to my son getting a great little scene in the audio drama The Light of September alongside the great Robert Picardo, and I ended up on the cutting room floor.
I also found myself on the road crew for a very theatrical band called Hell, where each one of their gigs was like putting on a rock opera. As well as various set up duties I found myself on stage as a flame bearing monk (and nearly set fire to my head at Demontfort Hall), a plague doctor and finally the demon Baphomet in front of thousands at the Bloodstock Open Air festival in 2017. My main job though was making sure front man Dave Bower got all his props and costume changes, including getting him into this costume in the 90 seconds or so between songs.
But life does some strange things, after all this time, I'm singing again, flirting around the edges of drama, and using technology in both my job, and in my studio where I hope to help more acts get there material out there. So Technology - Music - Drama - Life applies to two generations of my family now, and hopefully to many more people via this site.
Apart from a short lived "front room band" with me on Bass and Vocals and Craig Reynolds on Guitar, this was my first real band.
- Vocals/Keys - Dean Harrison
- Guitars - Dave Rigley/Jono Owen
- Bass - Craig Reynolds
- Drums - Mick Rice (replacing Mark Watson)
We managed to build quite a good local following, and played an epic farewell gig at Kirk Hallam Comprehensive.
Stella did record one song in the studio, well more exactly on a four track, called Blood and Iron, but nobody knows where that is now.
However me and Craig got back together a few years ago and knocked out a cheesy version of the band's title track Stella in the Steamhead Studio.
Keep an eye on the Stella Soundcloud Page, there's an orchestrated version of the intro to The Slave on there, and who knows what else might turn up.
Apart a stint in a band called Predator, with Kev Rice who went on to form Taurea and Proj-ekt, I joined Headstrong and soon struck up a strong writing partnership with Russ Saxton. Within the first few rehearsals the song Settle The Score was written, using a riff that was already in progress and adding words on to become a sequel to the Stella song Rough Justice. I also brought lyrics with me from Stella for the long researched song about the Titanic, which became the fan favourite song Out In The Cold
- Vocals/Keys - Dean Harrison
- Guitars - Russ Saxton/Steve Gilbert
- Bass - Paul Morley
- Drums - Simon Timms
We recorded two demos Days of Darkness, all of which can be heard on Soundcloud.
Straight after Headstong I joined the remains of Shock Split to form new band Freakzone.
- Vocals - Dean Harrison
- Guitar - Richard Ashford
- Bass/Vocals - Bobby Young
- Drums - Alan Ellis
Freakzone, did incredibly well in a very short space of time, so much so I was missing my first son grow up so I called it a day on all my music for a while.
Annoyingly we were offered a recording contract as I walked off stage for my farewell gig.
Bobby and Alan went on to form The Adhesive Experience that I guest sang with once. Alan went on to teach drums and taught both my sons to play drums