‘Wreckless’ Eric Goulden scored a huge hit in 1977 with Whole Wide World which, if anything, simply compounded his insecurity, which in turn led to increased drinking, which in turn compounded his insecurity etc etc etc . . .
By the mid-80s, unfamous and uncertain, he relocated to Kent where he bumped into The Milkshakes‘ bass player Russ Wilkins (then working in an electrical shop) in 1985 and asked him if he’d like to join Eric’s new band.
Wilkins agreed, suggesting that fellow former Milkshake Bruce Brand would make a suitably unhinged drummer to complete the trio.
Following a few gigs – including a particularly drunken foray to the Edinburgh Fringe Festival which convinced Goulden to give up the sauce – the three-piece band settled on the name The Len Bright Combo (at the suggestion of Brand) and found a venue in which to record their first album: Upchurch Village Hall.
The hall had a wooden floor, a metal roof and loads of windows (ergo copious reverb) and the two-day session ended up sounding like Joe Meek recording The Kinks in a cave!
Costing the princely sum of £86 – including the artwork featuring the band playing on the remains of a burnt-out caravan on the Isle of Sheppey – the self-titled album showcased Goulden’s caustically English brand of songwriting, such as on the anti-Yuppie anthem Young, Upwardly Mobile . . . And Stupid.
Released in February 1986 on Wilkins’ own Empire label, the album’s “juvenile sense of fun” carried through to the gigs that followed. One such gig ended with “a skinhead throwing a hippy at us onstage”.
Despite favourable reviews and good airplay (notably Andy Kershaw on Radio 1), the album sold less than 2,000 copies. But the combo soldiered on and recorded a second album – It’s Combo Time.
Then, when driving home on the M25 from a gig in Bristol, their van struck a “party-goer on pills walking down the motorway in the pouring rain”, according to Eric, killing him instantly.
Goulden tells the story: “Russ and Bruce were asleep in the back of the van, I’d just closed my eyes. The next thing I knew the driver sounds like he’s having a hysterical fit, there was this glass shower and the van was spinning until the wheels ended up in the storm drain. It was like ending up in one of my songs at the time.”
The trauma marked the beginning of the end for The Len Bright Combo. They split in January 1987.
“We couldn’t carry on after that. We almost didn’t even like each other anymore. Of course, we do now” ponders Goulden. “Maybe it’s time to re-form the Combo”.
Vocals, Guitar, Organ
Bass, vocals, cello, piano