Bobby Valentino

The Hank Wangford Band

Bobby was poached by Hank from the Electric Bluebirds at the beginning of 1984 and, apparently, he was quite keen to join because the outfit also contained the fantastic musicians B. J. Cole and Andy Roberts. With these musician in the line-up there was the opportunity to do a couple of numbers with “twin fiddles” - Andy, although known as a great guitarist, played violin when he was at school however BV had to write out the parts.

It was in August 1984 when Hank first performed at the Edinburgh Festival; it was to become a residency for his band over the next few years. As is the way of the Festival, the first year was a financial disaster. The only profit made was in selling T-shirts emblazoned with the HWB logo and the slogan “Hankie Goes to Hollyrood” (“Relax” was a big hit that year). Thus giving legs to the joke - the band only existed to sell “products”.

In the five years that Bobby was part of Hank’s band they: recorded 3 albums; filmed 2 TV series for Channel 4 - “The A-Z of C&W” and “Big Big Country”, which attracted audiences of between 2 and 4 million at a time when “The Last Resort” with Jonathon Ross was being watched by 750,000; performed and wrote an acclaimed and house record breaking musical, C. H. A. P. S (Cowboy, Horseriding And Preforming School) at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East (the previous record was held by “Oh, What a Lovely War”); toured constantly all over the British Isles and Europe; recorded a couple of “TV specials”, including the bizarre “Christmas in Strangeways” with the band being filmed in concert on Boxing Day with, literally, a captive audience in Manchester's notorious Victorian jail and they wrote a couple of songs together.

When asked about his memories of doing shows with Hank Bobby came up with the following: "Some of the gigs were interesting. During the Miners Strike of ‘84/‘85 the band played a great many benefit shows for the miners organized by the Greater London Council, - who had a rather interesting take on benefit bit . The GLC paid all the expenses: hire of the venue; hire of the P.A.; payment of the band‘s fee; costs of printing, distributing and advertising the tickets and the hire of box office and security staff then - all the receipts from the sale of the tickets going to the miners strike fund! Not quite the way “benefit” should work.”

“At one of the “Gigs for the Unemployed”, at Fulham Town Hall, the GLC had hired actors to pretend to be Young Conservatives (surely an oxymoron) to “demonstrate” against the shows, and the GLC, outside the venue and they were horrified when I suggested that we should donate to Tory Party funds.”

“The most unfortunate of the GLC gigs was in Jubilee Gardens, next to the Thames and County Hall, again during the miners strike. Being slightly anti-establishment Ken Livingston and the Council refused to allow the police on site but hired unemployed people for backstage security - checking passes etc. It was quite a large festival type atmosphere; there were two or three stages and food stalls purveying the finger food of the world. The audience was about ten thousand strong and as we were on at about 4 o’clock on a perfect Sunday afternoon by the river, many of them were families.

Just before the start of our set both Ken and Arthur Scargill, the miner’s leader, made rabble rousing speeches. Ken’s, as usual, was great at persuading the crowd of miner’s cause with his humour and sarcasm, Arthur's speech was just a bunch of ultra-leftie slogans shouted at the top of his voice – I winced as I knew it wasn’t working with the London family audience.”

“At the beginning of the second number of the set (probably a pre-arranged signal) a gang of about fifteen skin’eads, from the National Front, surged out of the crowd, invading the stage, intent on aggression and attemped to ruin the afternoon. Apparently they had done the same to the Redskins, a well known very left leaning band of the time (who were part of the same management stable as Hank and Billy Bragg), about 15 minutes before on the second stage.”

“Well, the whole thing was a bit of a mess, Hank got fairly badly kicked and I saw an Ovation Acoustic Guitar being swung toward me. Automatically turning away to protect the violin, my back took the force of the blow. The guitar shattered against my shoulder blades. It was one of those classic cases of adrenaline dulling any pain because of the “flight or fight“ syndrome type thing I suppose, because it didn’t hurt for at least ten minutes and then it hurt like hell as the bruises started to appear.

But I was very lucky. B.J. Cole, sitting behind his pedal steel had hardly noticed what was happening so he didn’t see the jagged remains of the Ovation Acoustic being swung at him. It was a splintered remnant, the end of the fingerboard and the remains of the body that had survived the impact with my back, that made contact with his face and went through the side of his nose and then through his top and bottom lip. He ended up needing about fifteen stitches and grew a beard to cover the scar for a couple of years.”

“One fantastic sight that I will never forget is that of a huge Rasta, with his dreadlocks steaming out behind him, swinging a lighting safety chain above his head and chasing the fascist idiots off the stage - they fled like sheep in the face of his single handed onslaught. Apparently certain elements in the crowd, inspired by the noble action of said Rastafarian, took it upon themselves to give the flock a good kicking. I was really pleased to hear, from BJ later, that the skin’eads were left waiting, bleeding and bruised, in the hospital corridor (they’d all ended up at the same one) for hours as nobody wanted to treat them as an emergency”

“It didn’t ruin the afternoon, if anything it bought the people more together. The police were allowed (or more probably they insisted) on to the festival site and they were wonderfully sensitive about it, being dressed in shirt sleeves with no ties or helmets, though there did seem be a certain sense of smugness about it. After that the GLC hired professional show security companies for all their big gigs.”

The Hank Wangford Band and Bobby parted company when Bobby was offered a recording contract by Big Life Records.

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