Split Rivitt Archives

A rivitting read

Split Rivitt - Chris Warren, David Lyttelton, Dave Wilgrove, Barney Jeffrey, Mark Hughes

We recently featured a post about Split Rivitt, a largely unknown band from the UK’s R&B boom of the early 1980s. From our last post, you may recall that England’s 2009 Ashes Test victory over Australia had reminded the Good Doctor of the BBC’s Test Match Special theme, Soul Limbo by Booker T. & The MGs. Only an alternative version by Split Rivitt, who replaced the Hammond lead of the original recording with a searing new harmonica line (also tabbed). You can download the track from Amazon here.

Listen to

During our research we interviewed Peter Shertser of Red Lightnin’ Records, the track’s producer, as we could find out nothing about the band on line. Being the generous sort he is, Peter kindly promised the Harp Surgery team exclusive access to his Split Rivitt archive material. Well Otis dropped off the clippings this morning, so with our thanks to Peter, we are delighted to now bring you our ‘Rivitting’ scrap book.

Master tape

Master TapeHere is the master tape box information with 24 track divisions from the band’s recording of Soul Limbo, made at Rockfield Studios in Monmouth. It shows Peter Shertser of Red Lightnin’ Records as the Producer and indicates the instrument on each track. Tracks 13 and 14 show Mark ‘Harpdog’ Hughes’ lead harmonica (HCA LEAD), while tracks 18 and 19 show a mysterious Scottish harp. “we were aiming at our own wall of sound”This lends weight to Peter’s comment ‘we added more harp on top and bounced it all down. I seem to remember asking him to harmonise and layer it. We were aiming at our own wall of sound.’ Peter continues, ‘Scottish harp refers to my own nomenclature. It was so I could remember what it sounded like, in this case the Scottish bagpipe sounding harp. Listen to the layers on a BIG hi-fi and you may hear it in the mix.’ We hear it Peter – this is why the word ‘abrasive’ appears in so many of the reviews from that time!

‘The track never truly got the exposure it deserved because the distributor, Pinnacle, got into financial difficulty. But it was on BBC Radio 1’s A list and got a lot of airplay. In fact it charted briefly in the top 20. I don’t know how the track was chosen originally. I have always been a big Booker T. fan, so maybe I had something to do with it.’

‘Anyway I love off-the-wall stuff. I once recorded the Dambusters Theme with a Punk Band and tried to sell it to the Germans. It didn’t get very far. ‘ [The Propellers – Ed.]

Getting the Humph

Humphrey LytteltonHere’s the article about Humphrey Lyttelton which Peter mentioned last time (from the Daily Mail 18.Dec 1980) by Tim Satchell. ‘There are two types of people in life’ says jazz trumpeter, broadcaster and music historian Humphrey Lyttelton, ‘the prefects and the snotty-nosed-kids. And I’ve always been one of the latter.’ Surprisingly, he can’t sight read music. ‘But I do have a photographic memory for parts.’

Home is a three-sided house he had built, despite local opposition, in Barnet, Hertfordshire. He has a sound-proofed “There are two types of people in life. The prefects and the snotty-nosed kids”practise room, which has proved useful as his younger son David, 22, is a drummer with the new wave band Split Rivitt. ‘I like their music. I think he’s really rather good,’ says Humph.

‘My other son, Stephen – he’s 25 – studied the classical guitar and he’s still working in music, but in the sensible, business side with a record store chain. ‘ But while Lyttelton’s Eton contemporaries like Francis Pym and Lord Carrington are running the country, Humph is happy searching through the jazz archives.’

‘I do sometimes come across people I was at at school with. But in general our paths don’t cross. I wouldn’t want to change anything, you see. They’re the prefects in life – I’m still the snotty-nosed kid.’

Read all about it

Music PressThe cuttings in the image to the right are from the music press of the day. Peter Shertser remembers: ‘I organised what was supposed to be a package tour with Billy Boy Arnold & The Groundhogs, and Tommy Tucker & Split Rivitt. Unfortunately they ended up in different parts of the country at the same time and Tony McPhee subsequently dropped out of The Groundhogs!’

New Music News, in the build up to the“contenders in the current dredge-it-up climate” tour, writes: ‘The Red Lightnin’ R&B tour starts next month, featuring Tommy Tucker, Billy Boy Arnold and Split Rivitt. Arnold will be backed by a British band, featuring Tony McPhee on guitar, fellow ex-Groundhog Alan Fish on bass and former Rory Gallagher drummer Wilgar Campbell.’

Time Out adds: ‘The latest visit by American keyboard-playing bluesman Tommy Tucker.. augurs well and marks the continued expansion of the blues/r&b organisation Red Lightnin’ , represented here as promoters, while they also make a foray into the singles market with Split Rivitt, who back Tucker on stage.’

Meanwhile Sounds review the single: ‘None for me, thank you, but both [with Keep On Running by The Details] obviously serious chart contenders in the current dredge-it-up climate. Rivitt make the playlist in seconds flat with this abrasive rehash of Booker T.’

Live at London’s The Venue

The Venue, London‘One evening of the tour’, recalls Peter Shertser, ‘was recorded live at Virgin’s Venue in Victoria, London. I licensed it to Catfish Records but never saw a penny in return. Alexis Korner and Billy Boy’s brother, Romeo, joined the band on stage that night. It was fantastic.’

The photo to the left is was taken at the jam session immediately after the evening. ‘On stage are Billy Boy Arnold (dark suited to the left) with Mark ‘Harpdog’ Hughes on harp to his left (also in a dark top). At the left hand mic is Billy Boy’s brother Romeo who, by the way did a great rare 45 many years ago with a blues/reggae beat featuring harmonica! I cannot remember who the other black singer was – someone from a big band; Aswad or similar. Then next to him is the lamented Barney and in the far right corner Martin Stone. On keyboards is Steve Darrington.’

Split Rivitt live at The Polytechnic of North London (PNL)

NME review - PNL gigAh yes, the Good Doctor’s alma mater, the left-wing bastion of sausage, chips, beans and tea that was the Polytechnic of North London. From the New Musical Express (NME), the newspaper that captured the Zeitgeist of the late 70s / early 80s revolution in UK popular and underground music with its radical, and often controversial, squalls of muso-journalism: “..Check this, blues fans – he can play a chromatic!”‘Completing the line-up is the very able Mark ‘Harpdog’ Hughes on gob-iron who’s obviously heard a track or two of Little Walter (a good place for any mouth-harpist to start), but who is apt to break into a more flowing, melodic style from time to time, particularly on the slower material – which I find refreshingly adventurous. Check this, blues fans – he can play a chromatic!

I say they’re funky but I don’t mean they’re a ‘funk band’, the like of which usually bore me to teeny pieces . For one thing they still have that abrasive sound of yer classic R&B and for another they do songs as opposed to endless two-chord jams, which has the effect – it seems to me anyway – of making them more ‘personal.’

What’s the word?

Split PersonalitiesAnd finally, from Black Echoes music newspaper: ‘..that record [Soul Limbo] is only one facet of a band with much more to say about white men playing black licks, as Mark explained.’

‘We got an R&B…well maybe a little more bluesy..tag over the last couple of months because we did that tour with Tommy Tucker and Billy Boy Arnold and the Red Lightnin’ thing and we were doing a much bluesier set. So when people came and saw us there was a lot more blues for that reason. But now – although I don’t know how many gigs we’re gonna be doing for a while – the blues element of the set will be taking a back seat.’

‘But with regards to your earlier comment about the Q Tips and The Step (two recently formed r&b/soul revival bands) without wanting to get involved in an inter-band conflict, and I think I can safely speak for everyone on this, I don’t actually have a lot of respect for them, because as far as I’m concerned they are just re-doing old numbers.’

And after being reminded that their current single is a hit tune from 1968? …’just a way of showing that was part of our [musical] roots. we’ve messed about with reggae and soul and with rhythm and blues and we’ve developed more of a sound now and I think when we record the songs we’ve been writing it’ll be more of our own sound.’

Acknowledgement

Thanks and full credit to Peter Shertser of Red Lightnin’ Records for sharing his Split Rivitt scrap book with the Harp Surgery.

In memory of Barney Jeffrey.

26 thoughts on “Split Rivitt Archives

  • December 1, 2009 at 10:01 am
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    In memory of Barney, who I am shocked to learn of his death and to the good times had with Split Rivitt in the early eighties, when I tried to manage the band.
    SR were truly original and underrated, their blend of music and influences changed the way and kind of music I listen to today.
    They did not get the break they deserved, possibly because of mismanagement to which I was largely responsible and the difficulties in getting a serious record label involved, as the band were not “pop” enough. They were a musicians band.
    If you see this boys, I hope you are all well.
    Michael Kramer

  • June 22, 2010 at 3:15 am
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    I have just heard about Barney’s death, literally just read about it tonight, and I’m still reeling from the shock – albeit some two years on from the tragic event. I’m gutted, actually: I loved that guy, even though I hadn’t spoken to him nor seen him since 1988. Regarding Split Rivitt’s demise, following it, Barney and drummer Dave Lyttelton ultimately ended up in a 3-piece pop band with me called “Listen”. This must have been about 1981, or thereabouts. I’d been playing guitar in Chalk Farm with an African band, “Movement X”, led by Nigerian drummer/vocalist, Mo Osman (tremendous!) and a Jamaican bass player called Dwight. Having seen an ad for a band featuring the ex-Split Rivitt members, I went along to audition as their potential blues-and-soul vocalist (Dave Wilgrove having left the group). In the Chalk Farm studio that day, as I recall, were Barney, Dave, Mark Hughes (harp) and Chris Warren (guitar). There was also a sax player, whose name eludes me, and a cocky young bloke called Toby on keys. (He was good though, and was also an aspiring producer). We jammed on a funk-type song of mine, and after the audition, Barney, Dave and Chris took me back to their squat round the corner. Here, rather naively, I left a whole cassette of my material for them to listen to, whilst they made up their mind about me. I was more of a writer than a perfomer – then, as now; and there was another contender for the job, a black guy, whose richer, soulful voice they stated frankly that they preferred. But the fact that I had a whole batch of songs already written and demo’d seemed to impress them, as they had little or no original material to speak of. Having duly persuaded them to take on my material, Mark Hughes eventually dropped out, as did the keyboard player and Listen became a 4-piece with Barney, Dave, Chris and me. Chris the guitarist also eventually dropped out as he clearly wasn’t happy playing Listen’s poppier stuff, though he was an excellent axe man, leaving his slick rythmic mark on a song used to promote the band, also entitled “Listen”. (Recorded at Jigsaw Studios – then run by Dave Williams, in Purley). For several months, Barney, Dave and I rehearsed regularly, splitting the sessions between Camden Town studios, and my mum’s front room in Ilford – depending on how squint we were! (Very squint, actually.) With a freebie photo session, courtesy of Stiff Records’ Claire Muller – sorted by Barney’s then girlfriend, Barbara Dean – we ultimately managed to bullshit our way into the offices of Priority Records on the back of the “Listen” track (which could be loosely described, style-wide, as UB40 meets Culture Club meets Police…sort of). Despite Barney’s constant piss-taking of the managing director!, we were subsequently offered a recording and publishing contract. (As I further recall, Barney’s dad, the actor Peter Jeffrey, very kindly got a showbiz lawyer friend to peruse and tease out the more awful clauses, of which there were many, as we soon discovered.) Realising the dodgy implications of signing with Priority Records, then, the idea was consigned to the bin of dubious music-biz dreams. Lacking any real impetus or gigging aspirations, although we never fell out, after a couple of years, the three of us a musical unit inevitably drifted apart. I haven’t seen Dave since 1985, when he played Simmons electric drums for me on the track “Rescue Me (Imagination)” at Bark Studios, in Walthamstow. I last saw Barney in person a few years later in a Hampstead theatre pub, in 1988, where his sister Vicky was in a play called “Woyzeck”. HIs mum, actress Yvonne Bonhomie (apologies if the spelling is wrong) was also there, as were his younger sisters. But my most enduring memory of Barney is that of him thumping out a great boogie-woogie blues on my mum’s old, upright, out-of-tune piano. It was a Saturday morning and he surprised the hell out of me! I’d always hoped I’d meet up with him again one of these days – guess now it will have to be in heaven. Definitely one of the most intelligent, articulate and talented guys I’ve had the pleasure of knowing and being around. God bless you, Barney Bear. (And you Dave, wherever you are.)

  • June 22, 2010 at 11:35 pm
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    Wow! DJ this is invaluable. Thank you so much for adding your memories. Do you have any clues as to the whereabouts of Mark Hughes?

  • June 23, 2010 at 8:33 pm
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    You are very welcome, Wilf – there is so much more I could write! – learning of Barney’s death has really opened up so many poignant memories. (I can only apologise for a few typo mistakes, but you’ll appreciate I wrote that in the early hours and in a fairly emotional state.) Don’t wish to get too self-indulgent at this juncture, but those heady days in the early 1980s were very difficult for me, so the band experience with Barney and Dave was integral to my mental survival at the time – a real creative, cathartic life-saver. I’m no stranger to bereavement, but somehow reading of Barney’s premature death really brought home the fragility of one’s mortality, because he was so full of restless energy, a real livewire with an opinion on everything. He could be really charming – and really rude on occasions! – but he was never, ever boring and possessed a great sense of humour. He was also deeply intuitive – indeed so was Dave. I found them both extremely stimulating individuals and very wise souls indeed (if a little too fond of the funny cigarettes during rehearsals in those days – to my endless frustration!) They were good guys to have in your corner and we really believed we could change each other’s lives at that time. But too much gigging for too little reward had taken its toll on him and Dave – all of Split Rivitt, infact. This was apparent every time II broached the subject of us doing some in Listen! But whereas they’d spent all their time gigging, I’d been working at home, writing and recording onto a Revox, learning to bounce tracks back and forth to produce (extremely raw!) mono demos. No drum machines in those days, and definitely no sampling! You also played through from beginning to end and mistakes stayed put!). Regarding Mark Hughes, I’m sorry to say I can offer no enlightenment concerning his musical legacy or present whereabouts. I met him a few times at the squat, after the initial rehearsal, and that was it. He seemed like a good guy and he knew he was a good harp player. So did I. Split Rivitt were all good: solid, tight players. But I was 2 or 3 older than them, I think, and within ‘Movement X’, I’d been playing with guys who were about 8 years older than me; and who, quite frankly, could play any soul and blues lick you care to think of; and it would just have a totally different feel to most white, anglo-saxon bands. Let’s just say it sounded more authentic. I only got in (as a white, anglo-saxon myself) because I’d worked as a guitar salesman at Orange music in the 1970s. Subsequently, I’d got to learn quite a few of the old Stax-type soul riffs from some of the black American session musicans who used to use the studios beneath the shop. So as good as SR were at the RnB stuff, there was no way I wanted to recreate that stuff, especially after 9 months rehearsing with the likes of Movement X, which all came to nothing. As I’ve said, apart from Barney and Dave, the rest of the guys in the band wanted to be taken seriously as blues musicians, whatever. But I’d got over that particular ambition.

  • June 23, 2010 at 9:00 pm
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    (I submitted before finishing, sorry, so just to finish off from my last comment…) What I really wanted to do was utilise their black influences and obvious rhythm-playing abilities. (Barney and Dave were quite simply one of the tightest rhythm units I’ve ever jammed with – when they were straight! – and I’ve still got the rehearsal tapes to prove it…including those from my mum’s front room.) And to blend and distill these qualities with my eclectic songwriting/lyrical aspirations – be those lyrics twee, pop-type nursery rhymes, or deeply introspective, suicidal metaphors – whatever! But if there was any way I could have accomodated a blues harp in there somewhere, then let me say that Mark Hughes would have been the man for the job. From what I heard, he was a superb player. Infact, after hearing him, I went straight out and got a little blues harp. I’m still trying to play it! And I hope he still is…

  • December 31, 2010 at 6:20 am
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    Barney was a great bloke and a mighty bass player.
    R.I.P.
    Mark Hughes was a true master on the harp. Frighteningly talented but fragile. R.I.P.

  • January 1, 2011 at 6:56 pm
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    Hi Tom – thanks for your comments. We note with great sorrow you have added Mark Hughes RIP. Can you email me further details. We have been trying to find out more about Mark and his outstanding contribution to music and the harmonica. Regreattably we only seem to draw blanks. Thanks in advance. Wilf

  • January 1, 2012 at 7:53 pm
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    I saw Split Rivitt a lot back in the day must have been ten times or more. Their gigs were always well attended and quite a few kids followed them around from North London where they were from. I often wondered why success eluded them, I guess they just werent fashionable enough but I thought they were as good as 9 Below Zero who were similar in style. Rivitt had a lot of good originals and some blinding covers like Soul Limbo and Houseparty by the Showstoppers where Mark used the harp as a police siren! Rest in Peace Barney and Mark you were bloody great.

  • January 2, 2012 at 12:06 am
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    Thanks for the memories Nick. Brings it all back to life. Heady days!

  • March 1, 2012 at 8:13 pm
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    Hi, the band were great and very nearly got signed by a major – I brought them to america where we arranged rehearsal studios and they showcased to the major LA based record companies. Brother Michael did a fantastic job – a committed and supportive manager…. yes I remember those times…
    the days of ‘ spliff withit ‘

  • April 1, 2012 at 9:44 pm
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    Wow – hi Lee! Thank you so much for your comment. Looks like we’ve got a real tribute corner to the band. But what happened to the harp man?????

  • June 4, 2012 at 8:37 pm
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    I sincerely hope the Mark Hughes RIP is not accurate. I knew Mark very well in the early to mid-1990s and saw a lot of him. He sometimes mentioned that he used to play mouth organ. He had his problems, which I won’t go into, but he was a lovely guy.

    Can anybody elaborate?

  • November 5, 2012 at 9:45 pm
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    Hi, I’m Mark’s sister and found this link after searching for Split Rivitt on Google. Sadly, I have to confirm that Mark died 10 years ago on 2nd November 2002 after a long battle with depression. He was, as Tom F rightly says, incredibly talented, but also extremely fragile, and is greatly missed by his family.

  • November 21, 2012 at 11:50 pm
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    Georgia, thank you for answering our question. We’re honoured that you’ve made contact on behalf of Mark’s family. Our deepest love and sympathy to you all. His contribution to music and the harmonica will never be forgotten.

  • February 6, 2013 at 11:20 am
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    Just a follow up on some of the comments …
    I saw Split Rivitt a number of times in the early 80’s and being a bit of a collector of memorabilia, I took the set lists off the front mike at the end of a couple of the gigs…and I found these the other day…
    in case anyone out there is interested
    on the 7th Jan 1980 at the Marquee, the running order was..
    Cant be still, Db Disapproval, Can you see, Desperation, Juke, Hold on, Unchain my heart, Safe from you, Soul Limbo, Dog-a-bone, One step and Gibson Creek
    On March 22nd 1980, again at the Marquee, supporting a band called Headline, the order went
    Can’t be still, Unchain my heart, Desperation, Db Disapproval, Blues don’t knock here, Safe from you, Juke, Stop now, Say it with feeling, Intros, Gibson Creek, Don’t get around much, Dog-a-bone, Hold on I’m coming, One step ahead, Soul Limbo, House party/ Soul Limbo (repeated)

  • February 6, 2013 at 11:32 pm
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    Thanks for your very valuable contribution Graeme. This is priceless information!

  • June 7, 2013 at 11:54 pm
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    Having just seen Chris Warren and Charlie Paul in a mini Rivitt reunion after 30 years, in a north london pub this week. It was brilliant to see them again. I always thought the band was worthy of so much more, I must say it was a priveledge to be involved, life changing and an education. Chris gave me a wonderful set of photos from those days and our trip to Hollywood. True to say I was more than a bit naive about the music business back then, but tried hard to break the band from the strong grass roots following. The songs By Wilgrove and Warren were mature for their time and would stand up today, maybe in a funky accoustic way. Splitt Rivitt, musicianship was extremely advanced for such a young band, incredibly tight, with soaring harmonica from the late Mark Hughes…they always blew me away! Seeing Chris and the 6th member Charlie was heartwarming, stories flowed, Barney and Mark fondly remembered….oh to do it all over again….yeah! MK

  • June 10, 2013 at 2:25 pm
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    Really sad to hear about Barney & Mark, I have many great memories of them both.
    Can not believe it is over 30 years since we were all enjoying those fantastic tunes. My brother Dave and I often reminisce over a few beers about the ‘Rivitt Years’..

  • August 1, 2013 at 3:22 pm
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    Georgia,

    I don’t think we ever met but I saw a lot of Isobel in the early 90s. I also saw a great deal of Mark. I’m so terribly, terribly sad to hear this. Mark was a very nice guy. So shy and unprepossessing. So talented.

    Would it be possible for you to let me have Isobel’s email address. I’d very much like to contact her personally about this.

    Ian

  • August 12, 2013 at 9:43 am
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    Really sad to hear about Barney & Mark, I have many great memories of them both.
    Can not believe it is over 30 years since we were all enjoying those fantastic tunes. My brother Dave and I often reminisce over a few beers about the ‘Rivitt Years’..

  • August 17, 2013 at 3:01 pm
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    Ian I don’t appear to have Isobel’s email address…

  • October 25, 2013 at 4:44 pm
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    Very sad to now read of Mark Hughes’ death – my condolences to his family. Only met him a few times, and his musical talent left a huge impression on me. But, like Barney, he will not be forgotten…

  • October 25, 2013 at 8:29 pm
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    Thanks for visiting DJ. Would that we could wind back the clock….

  • November 30, 2013 at 2:00 pm
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    Split Rivitt now that’s a blast from the past I was good friends with Dave and Chris many moons ago of often wondered what happened to you chaps sad to hear about Barney and Mark my condolences to their families also a shame I contrived to miss the SR reunion alas I never heard about it.

    Hope you’re well Dave and Chris I seem to recall putting Dave up for a whiles or at least my Mum did be good to get intouch and reminisce.

    Col.

  • December 13, 2016 at 7:11 pm
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    Wotcha.
    ‘thought it about time for some new material to be added here – seeing as everyone else has gone quiet.
    I shall see what I can come up with over the coming weeks.
    Have a fun and peaceful Christmas.
    Cheers. 🍻
    Dave Wilgrove

  • December 13, 2016 at 9:06 pm
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    Lord Wilgrove, thank you for dropping in. Anything you can add will always be very welcome. Merry Christmas to you dear friend.

    Doc

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