On Seeing Ye Nuns perform at Fiddler’s Elbow in Camden Town
By Eddie Shaw (bass player for the Monks)
As explained by our taxi driver, the nightclub, Fiddler’s Elbow, is located in a district that contains a number of rock and roll clubs. As he drove us there, he pointed out a couple of the clubs, along the way, before dropping us off. When we entered the club, I told the man, taking tickets at the front door that I was on the guest list. We were there to see a female rock group who performed covers of the Monks. For the record, I was the bass player and co-songwriter in this group that recorded with Polydor Records in the 1960s.
And now, approximately forty-seven years later, here I will see and hear a group, called Ye Nuns, who play the same songs we monks had written and recorded. In order to explain how any dedicated order works – It’s interesting to reflect on how one gets to become a monk – or a nun. In some cases – or according to Buddist practice; there are three stages or steps to achieve ordination. The initial stage is to reduce attachments toward life. The second stage is the elimination of desire and attachment to this samsara or cycle of life. And then in the third state, self-cherishing is eliminated.
But wait a minute! I was not in that kind of order. No! I belonged to a group of monks who played pre-punk music, pounding drums and banjos on stage. We were arses and elbows on our way down to heaven, if you know what I mean. It’s a serious business because becoming a monk or nun is a meaningful and worthwhile way to spend your life and to be of benefit to others – especially those who have the sentiments – Be a liar everywhere. Shut up! Don’t cry!
I know this – and being the kind of monks and, in this case, nuns that we are, I know very well that self-cherishing is a very important factor of this brother/sisterhood. Yes, tonight I was going to watch and listen to the sisterhood.
The big guy at the front door of Fiddler’s Green looked up my name on the guest list. When he found it, he stamped the mark of belonging on my wrist and the wrist of my wife. The place was packed, while a group of young performers performed onstage, pounding out loud rock music and people crowded around the stage, bobbing their heads and moving with the rhythm. As soon as Sherrie and I entered the club, someone recognized us and led us downstairs to the nuns’ dressing room, where they were getting ready to do their performance.
“Hi Eddie!” Enthusiastic females jumped up to give hugs, and introductions were made all around the room. In the hubbub, my voice had become weak from a suddenly acquired cold. I could only speak with a rasp, so I did my best to make it sound intentional.
Taking in the scene, I sensed that my appearance might be an important endorsement to these girls – an original monk showing up at their gig, to give benediction. It made me feel like I had been promoted to bishophood. And as the girls were finally ready for the stage, I was shocked when I glanced at one of them – suddenly startled, as if I were looking at a nun from the convent. My reaction to the image was automatic. When Delia Sparrow returned my gaze, I felt the impulse to look down and avoid direct eye contact. It’s not good to be impertinent in such company – but common sense returned. She is one of us! That’s what I told myself, in order to regain my composure and smile at her.
Ye Nuns mounted the stage and the audience cheered. Their first song was Monk Time, just as it would be if the monks were playing the concert. “Why do you kill all those kids in Vietnam. I’m a monk. You’re a monk. We’re all monks! “
Normally Andrea Croce would be playing the organ, but even as she was in the audience, she had the seventh nun, Charley Stone, doing her part on this night. Lolo Woods sang the vocals and she did it as a nun possessed by the powers of total pursuasian. Her vocals convinced me! Delia Sparrow played the guitar with chaotic enthusiasm. At times she would raise her eyes to the ceiling as if waiting for a blessing from a leering rock god – as if she were the subject of a fourteenth century painter. Debbie Greensmith sat in the back pounding on the drums. She was solid and forthright – no dabbling around with rhythmetic dogmas. She beats! Debbie Smith pummeled the banjo – and I might add, I think she did as good a job (or even better) that any original Monk – forgive me brothers for being so honest; I know a competent monk is supposed to lie at least once a day. Everyone does, you know. And as a monk bass player, I watched in astonishment while Kate Hodges demonstrated a nun’s obssession with hell’s own bass. It was no dream!
And I was surrounded, of course, by their most dedicated supporters – the people in the audience as well as Ian Greensmith (husband of a nun) and Geoff, Ye Nuns driver and roadie.
Monks and Nuns believe everything is possible. They give everything and they demand everything. Here on this stage, every song Ye Nuns played was a Monks song – as if we Monks might be doing it. I knew the routine, and it felt odd to be standing there in front of the stage, lookiing at these girls dressed in black and white habits, pounding out songs I performed many years ago. When they performed I Hate You But Call Me, the audience sang the lyrics along with the performers. In contrast: When we played it, in 1966, people became angry and in some towns, even attacked the stage. I did try to describe this, later, to someone who asked me what I thought about the performance – and how it was different now.
“People didn’t respond like this, except maybe in Hamburg,” I responded. I felt a rush of emotion and fought to avoid an unexpected display of affection (I think that’s what it was) – perhaps failing just a bit. I was trying to act cool, trying to show no emotion. Looking around, standing in the middle of the crowd, I often glimpsed some person pointing a camera at me, between people, taking snapshots of my behavior and expressions. Yes, it was a Monks concert at a different time and in a different place. I was absorbed and astounded.
Standing next to me was Austin Vince and his wife, Lois Pryce. Austin was the M.C. who introduced the Monks in our first reunion performance, in 1999, in New York’s Westbeth Theater. Beside being an M.C. for rock concerts, Austin is known for his long distance, motorcycle expeditions: twice round the world as part of the Mondo Enduro and Terra Circa trips; both adventures were produced as TV documentaries. In fact, he was featured in this month’s English motorcycle magazine, Bike. In it was an article about his and six other motorcyclists’ adventures on an expedition from Spain, down through the Sahara Desert. And here he is, now, standing next to me, singing along with Ye Nuns – “Higgle-dy Piggle-dy. Way down to heaven! Yeah!”
His wife, Lois Pryce stood behind me. She is a pretty, enthusiastic, and humorous woman. She is also noteworthy; having written a couple of world-wide published books regarding her own global adventures on a motorcycle. And not only that, she is a journalist who appears on a program about motorcycle adventure on BBC. Like everyone else, in the room, here we all were, bobbing our heads and shouting “Shut Up! Don’t Cry!”
And in the crowd with us, stood my lovely redheaded wife, Sherrie. She was laughing, singing, dancing and having a good time. We were happy!
And all the while – I was on a yellow brick road journey returning to – and going through a past I remember well. Here I was – listening to the songs I helped write; the spirit still alive as the Eucharist continued to be performed in a twenty-first century translation.
When Ye Nuns finished their last song, Sherrie nudged me, prompting me to get up onstage and take a bow with them. I jumped up on stage. My voice was gone, so I silently made the sign of the cross or some absurd imitation of it. It didn’t make any sense, but a few people did laugh. And the nuns all lined up on both sides of me while the crowd cheered and we all took a deep bow. After all – a monk or a nun carries a deep responsibility for oneself and for others. It’s all there, the show, the responsibility – the important songs like, “Who’s Got My Cuckoo?”
“It’s you hoo!”
And believe me – It was you, you! Ye Nuns who!
And after that, we all ran back down to the dressing room where we happily talked and compared notes about the required irresponsibilities of monks and nuns.
A final note: If any monk, nun, or communion partaker should get offended by my remarks – shut up and don’t cry – and don’t get your panties in a wad. We’re all monks! I don’t know anyone who is perfect, but this evening was as perfect as it gets.