The First Incarnation
The band Canis Strange was formed in 1976 at The Paston School, North Walsham (now Paston College). The band's personnel were a fluid mix of interested people, some instrumentalists, some not, drawn from the Fifth Form. The nucleus of the band formed around Paul Life, Mark Hobbs and Jezz Startup. Their first gig was as support for the Sixth Form band All Glass Apparatus in July 1976. This band consisted of Nigel Digby, John Stables, Chris Shorten and Mervyn Grand guesting on piano. It was their end of term concert, shortly after which they would be leaving the school. Canis Strange performed some four or five covers, the most memorable of which was their rendition of 'Frankenstein' by the Edgar Winter band.
The Summer of 1977 saw Canis Strange rehearsing on the school stage, behind the curtain in the gym/concert hall. At the invitation of Paul Life (bass) , Nigel Digby (guitar) who was just back from his first year at University also attended and Canis Strange became formalised as;
Mark Hobbs (guitar and vocals)
Nigel Digby (guitar and vocals)
Paul Life (bass)
Jezz Startup (drums)
This lineup remained stable for the next 18 months, and performed several gigs around the North Walsham area, mostly at the Bosa Chios, a cafe and bar in the Precinct at North Walsham, now a ladies clothing shop. The 'Bosa' was notorious amongst Paston pupils for its low-life owner Vick, but nevertheless saw many Sixth Formers skulking there playing pool and eyeing the numerous posters of scantily-clad women upstairs in the bar area. Arch-rivals of Canis Strange were a band called Pangea, featuring the 'talents' of the two Fiske brothers, with bass provided by Nick Walpole, a friend and contemporary of Nigel Digby now a member of Norfolk Police CID. Possibly Stu Oakley completed the line-up.
The zenith of the band's performances was the end of year concert at Paston School in 1978, on the stage where they had often rehearsed. Much of this performance was filmed, but the whereabouts of the film is at present unknown. The band effectively split for the first time after the last gig in December 1978, although there was never an 'official' declaration, leaving the way open to future incarnations!
Gigs & Set
1976 July (Paston School)
1977 23 July (Bosa Chios), 13 August (Bosa Chios)
1978 6 January (Bosa Chios), 7 April (Teen & 20, Sheringham), 8 April (Bosa Chios), 21 July (Paston School), 11 August* (The Mo, Sheringham), 23 September (Wroxham Broads Centre), 14 December (Paston School), 21 December (private party at Stalham Green)
* Not the full band. Jezz could not attend, so personnel were Nigel, Paul and John Stables, with Mark guesting
A typical set was the one performed at The Bosa Chios on 6th Jan 1978: Jumping Jack Flash, Wild Thing, Red House, Badge, Hey Joe, House of the Rising Sun, Lovesick Blues*, Johnny B Goode, Pretty Vacant. Other tracks played at the time or added later that year were Little Wing, Wishing Well, Don't Believe a Word, Can't Get Enough, and Million Miles Away.
* Original track improvised by Nick Parker guesting on vocals, and John Stables on drums.
After December 1978, the first Canis Strange never played together again. However, Jezz and Nigel recorded two crude albums of original material during 1979, with guest appearances from Lis Nichols (vocals), Paul (bass) and Digit Cooke (guitar). The next year, Jezz moved to Nottingham with Nigel to form the band 20/20 Vision with Andrew Milnes (sax) and Russell Hart-Davies (bass). This band played some of the original material from 1979 in and around Nottingham, and even travelled to Norwich to play at The Jacquard Club (21st January 1981...were you there?), where their mix of jazz-rock-punk was given a very warm reception. By this time Nigel was playing a Fender Stratocaster. He also had blue hair for a time! The band split later in 1981.
The Second Incarnation
After a period in the musical wilderness, Paul Life thought it would be a good idea to reform Canis Strange for the Sheringham Carnival in 1985. It proved impossible to recruit Mark and Jezz into the scheme because of prior commitments and so Paul and Nigel advertised for a drummer. The first respondent was Ian Burrage whose expertise showed that the other two needed to look no further. The bad news was that there was only a week before the Carnival gig! The new Canis Strange rehearsed intensively and built up a set of covers, taken from the old set and also completely new to the band. The gig was on 7 August 1985 at The Mo in Sheringham, sponsored by Peter Cox. However the weather was bad, forcing the gig to be curtailed due to rain. Bob Brewster the landlord of The Crown Inn nearby took pity on the band and suggested a repeat performance outside the Crown the following week. This gig, on 14 August, with Nigel playing an additional acoustic set of original material and covers to eke out the set, was a great success. Afterwards, Paul had to return to Birmingham, but Nigel and Ian felt sure that they should continue as a band, setting the scene for the third incarnation of Canis Strange, and yet sowing the seeds of discord with the original members of the band.
The Third Incarnation, The Push for Fame
Nigel and Ian were left in Norfolk, and advertised for a bass player and a vocalist. The bassist chosen was Katie Silvester from West Runton. She was only 16 at the time but showed promise and had composed original material. She brought a distinct punk influence to the band which the two older members (Nigel was 27) might not have done. One of the first decisions to take was concerning the name. Nigel was determined that the name Canis Strange would become famous, as a sort of tribute to the older members. Later, he admitted that this had not been a good idea. Mindful of the legal complications that might arise if the band did become signed to a label, Nigel wrote to Paul suggesting that an agreement concerning the name should be down on paper. Paul took offence at this (the two did not talk again for several years), but it was decided to press on regardless.
A vocalist did not seem forthcoming, so Nigel remained as the main singer with Katie on harmonies, not an ideal solution because, as Nigel would later admit, he was not the world's best singer, and it tended to interfere with concentrating on the guitar part. Later, as Katie's confidence increased she took lead singing duties on some of her own compositions. After many hours of rehearsals and the purchase of PA equipment, in 1986 the band was ready to gig. It was a rather inauspicious start. The band had a dress rehearsal in the Coronation Hall in Mundesley at which it became clear that the PA was inadequate for the task, and where there was heckling from Katie's friends Peter Richards and Phil Innes, who later became firm friends of the band (see below). After this, Canis Strange were interviewed by the local press, but the photo later published with the article had the wrong names, Nigel (whose performance persona was going through an effeminate phase) being captioned as Katie and vice versa! There followed a disastrous first gig at Hoveton Village Hall on 14 March 1986, supported by Norwich band Choked On A Worm, to which hardly anyone came.
Rescue came in the form of Alistair Murphy, whose small independent recording studio Cromerzone was making a name for itself in North Norfolk. As part of the one-man organisation, Alistair arranged gigs at a Cromer club called The Melbourne, situated up a steep flight of stairs in the Melbourne Hotel (now known as Giovanni's). Under his umbrella, many local bands got good exposure: including Green Beach, Out of Egypt, Fat Alice, The Surf Ratz, Kaisers Advisers , Council of Ancients, The Real McCoy, and No Fix D'abode .
The Melbourne gigs got Canis Strange started, and they eventually played a great number of venues, such as The Village Inn (West Runton); The Unicorn (Aylsham), The Grove, The Lawyer, The Festival House, The Bell, The Mischief, The Jacquard, The Shirehall, Good Companions, Norwich Arts Centre, The Brickmakers and Maxwells (Norwich); The Brunswick and The Oakwood (Yarmouth); The Teen and Twenty Club (Sheringham); Kellys (Lowestoft); and Leisure Lees (Holt).
Meanwhile there came an unexpected development. Canis Strange had already begun recording four original tracks at Cromerzone in 1986 when there came an answer to the advertisement for a vocalist. This was in the form of George (real name Francesca Alderson), who had a distinctive, if untutored voice. She was immediately drafted in as a band member and added backing vocals to the first released recordings. Two of these tracks got airplay on Radio Broadland, and there were good gig reviews in the Evening News. However, after only a few gigs, George left the band, apparently not being able to cope with playing live. The potential dangers of the band's name were also apparent when the Radio Broadland DJ announced them as Canis Range. Mind you Broadland DJs were not generally renowned for their intelligence.
The first album "Canis Strange" was sent off to various record companies, and entered for a competition in the music press. Despite invitations to London to talk to MCA and Virgin Records A&R people, nothing came of it. Opinion was generally favourable, but it was thought the band had some way to go yet. The competition reviewer considered the material "undeveloped" and thought the title of the third track (Love is a Disease) was "trite". A possible London gig (at The Garden (?) can't remember the name) fell through, and with it any hope of getting A&R people to see the band live. With hindsight, the band admitted it would have been better had they pushed for more gigs in London, but they were determined to fly the flag for Norfolk, as the recently defunct The Farmer's Boys had done, and possibly because they were too comfortable, living at their parents' homes.
For the next album, Canis Strange decided to go to a recording studio in Norwich, not because they disliked Cromerzone, but seeking a slightly higher quality of product than Alistair could then provide. The studio chosen was The Kitchen, off Duke Street. In restrospect, Nigel thought the atmosphere was not very friendly, the engineer plainly scornful of his playing at least, but good work was done and the resulting three tracks, including Katie's "Cannibal Races", sounded very professional. This second album "Mayhem and Fantasy" released in early 1987, also received airplay on Radio Broadland, and the band were invited to an on-air interview with Chrissie Jackson. The band were in the ascendant, getting much better live and with all three members now contributing to the original material. A few covers were also played, such as "Something Else" (Eddie Cochran) and "Havana Affair" (Ramones). The period 1987-88 was arguably when Canis Strange could be counted one of the top bands of North Norfolk. Despite this, it was never easy getting gigs, and agents would not touch bands playing original material. Phoning pubs or leaving tapes/CDs was a thankless task, especially when the managers of venues seemed to change from week to week.
Despite this, the number of gigs did increase, and later in 1987 the band recorded another album with Cromerzone. "Canis" only had two tracks, written by Katie and Ian respectively (see recordings below). Nigel was now finding it hard to write good material, his initial burst of creativity seeming to have dried up. Another change was fast approaching too. In 1988 Katie was 19 and decided to go travelling. She left West Runton planning a move to Cambridge on her return. Her final gig was at Norwich Arts Centre on 21 December 1988.
Nigel and Ian again advertised for a bass player and a singer. There followed a depressing series of auditions, when they discovered what a lot of time-wasters there were in the local music scene. The eventual new bassist was actually much closer to home, having been a member of No Fix D'abode, a band formed by Malcolm Birtwell and Neil Keeler after the demise of Green Beach, that had played with Canis Strange at the Melbourne. Chris Peters (Later of The Charge and Liquer) was a valuable addition to the band, and brought in writing skills of his own which refreshed the band's set. Nevertheless, the band now did many more covers than it had previously, introducing numbers from The Cure, David Bowie and Faith No More. This was reflected in the only recording released in this period "Under Cover", which Ian produced in 1990 from his own studio in Hickling.
In 1990 it became clear that Chris was unable to give his full concentration to the band, having started another band called The Charge, which was rehearsing and getting gigs. Ian and Nigel thought Chris should concentrate just on that band. Once again they found themselves looking for a bass player. A replacement was found in Piers Warren who lived in Norwich. The material rehearsed was very different, almost all cover versions, which, following the suggestions of the manager of The Lawyer, were more heavy than anything the band had played before. Because of this difference, it was decided to rename the band Blade Runner, after the well-known film that all three band members liked. So the name Canis Strange was at last put out to grass. There was to be just one more throw of the dice.
Blade Runner quickly built up a good set and their first booked gig was the relaunch at The Lawyer. However after the gig, Nigel was approached by the manager and told that the band would not be booked again because they were "too heavy". This from the man who had suggested it! Disgusted, Ian and Nigel threw in the towel. The combination of disappointment, disillusionment and weariness of the whole Norfolk music scene was a fatal mix. The band was over.
The Strangers and Burning Ambitions
Pete Richards and Phil Innes, along with Pete's girlfriend Cindy and Katie's sister Jo, and another friend Nick Wakeman became followers of Canis Strange, riding in the van which the band acquired, helping to shift the equipment, and calling themselves The Strangers. The band van was a long wheelbase Bedford, which had been modified with windows in the side. It was painted black with the band logo painted on. So keen were Pete, Phil and Nick on the music that they formed another band called Burning Ambitions with Katie doubling on drums and bass. They wrote their own material, usually supporting Canis Strange at various events, being part of Jewels In The Crown, and actually became quite good before ultimately falling apart. There is one released album, recorded and produced by Nigel. Nick played drums, except on one track where he took vocals, a role he carried on when he joined Chris Peters in The Charge after Burning Ambitions had split. In line with their obsession with The Ramones, they took new names. Pete and Phil became brothers Jimmy and Micky Jazz, Nick became Kermit Suicide, and Katie became Eloise Slick.
After Canis Strange
After Canis Strange aka Blade Runner folded, the lives of the various members diverged. Katie remained in Cambridge playing in the bands The Babysitters and Renigade. After a long break from playing live, she played drums for London-based ska band The Apocryphalites in 2006-07. She joined Cambridge band Cosycosy on bass in 2006 and the band went on to support rockers Inme at the Junction, as well as supporting Hawkwind at Ford Fest. She now plays bass in The Ladybirds Jazz Band. Ian continues to write and produce his own material under the name Stonehead, and until recently, played in his band Fenrir. Ian has a music download page featuring both old and new material he has written or collaborated in here. Ian is also collaborating with musicians from all over the world via the music site MCS and is mid way through a new album. Chris moved to Norwich and remained in the music scene, now being in Liqueur, a Cure tribute band. After a brief period of rehearsing with a potential band in Cromer, which came to nothing, Nigel had a four year sabbatical, writing books and articles and pursuing his architectural model-making business. In 1994 he joined North Norfolk band Razor Sharp, who have built up a solid business, playing covers at local venues such as The Crown, and supporting Doctor Feelgood whenever they play in the area. He now also teaches at his Red House School of Rock Guitar. Piers never played in another band and now farms in Norfolk. Of the original band, Jezz is now a film director and producer and Paul works for Glaxo.
Cromerzone still exists, Alistair now writing and producing material for distribution on the internet, as well as producing albums from time to time for other people. In 1990 he formed a band called Half Life, with Ian on drums and later Nigel on bass, which played a number of local and Norwich gigs and released several albums on the Cromerzone label.
After a number of years, Paul and Nigel began speaking again, and always hoped for some kind of band reunion, the original three members of the band regularly meeting for short stays in North Norfolk. The nearest it came to Canis Strange playing together again was on the occasion of Paul's wedding in 2006. Paul and Nigel joined forces with a vocalist Steve Macey and drummer Ken to play two sets of covers very similar to those Canis Strange played, or would have loved to be able to play! Although Jezz had given up drums, John Stables guested on one number which was the next best thing, and Mark Hobbs took vocals on another. This was the closest the original band had been to playing together for 28 years! The event was repeated at Steve's wedding the following year, and it is hoped to bring the band (who are based near Hatfield) to Norfolk in the present year.
In retrospect, it is a shame that Canis Strange could not have hung on for another couple of years, as the 90s saw a resurgence in British guitar-based music. It is not unrealistic to suggest that the music Canis Strange produced would have been classed "Britpop" along with Blur, Suede, Pulp and their contemporaries.
There are no recordings on vinyl, but there were several releases on cassette tape by Cromerzone, both under the band name and on compilations. Alistair is presently working on remastering the old tapes. All the old tapes have already been or are in the process of being transferred to CD, and in the first instance, contact for possible availability.
- Canis Strange Live: Jumping Jack Flash, Wild Thing, Red House, Badge, Hey Joe, House of the Rising Sun, Lovesick Blues, Pretty Vacant. Recorded at The Bosa Chios, North Walsham 6/1/78.
- Canis Strange Collection: Red House, Jealous Man, Jumping Jack Flash, Can't Get Enough, Dr.White's, House of the Rising Sun, Don't Believe a Word, Red House (again), The Vick and Sandra Story, Million Miles Away, Badge, Hey Joe, Stairway to Heaven. All rehearsals recorded April-September 1978.
- Dog Tired in Sheringham (Canis Strange Live): Laura Ashley, Soap, Seagull, Who Knows Where the Time Goes?, Red House, Blue Suede Shoes, Moving On, Jumping Jack Flash, Hey Joe, Alethea, Somebody Calling, Can't Change You, Knocking on Heaven's Door, Ready For Love, Little Wing, The Fool and Me, Route 66. Recorded August 1985.
- Canis Strange: Laura Ashley, Habitat World, Love is a Disease, Maker of Mistakes. Recorded Cromerzone April/May 1986.
- Mayhem and Fantasy: Cannibal Races, TV Detective, Doctor Delight. Recorded The Kitchen, Norwich, December 1986.
- Canis: Sarah With a Scythe, Raving Roger. Recorded Cromerzone 1987(?)
- Under Cover: She Sells Sanctuary, Raving Roger, Is This The Life. Recorded February 1990
- Old Stomping Ground: Digstomp, Girl in the Corner, Noise, Theme, No More a Warrior, Polyesterphonic, Black Heart, Flight 158. Recorded April 1979, Nigel & Jezz solo.
- Padlock: Follow Your Heart, Stones Don't Mind, Closer, Circles, Beacon, Can't Change You, 21 Today, Don't Be Too Sure, In, Fool No More, Schoolgirls, Free Laughs. Recorded September 1979, Nigel & Jezz solo.
- 20/20 Vision: Laura Ashley, Zero-X, Knockin' on Heaven's Door, Walk Away, How About You?, The Sleeza, Threshold of Vision, Don't Be Too Sure, Mandolin, In, Love is a Disease, Purple Pervert, Departure, Wall of Mirrors, Blue Suede Shoes. All rehearsals recorded November-December 1980
- Threshold of Vision: Departure, UFO, Cinematograph, Threshold of Vision, Green is All, Bustling Streets (We're all gonna die). Recorded April-October 1981, Nigel solo.
- Creeping to the Cross (Burn Baby Burn): Is It a Dream?, Here Comes the Judgement Day, Ode to Sharon, Hypothermia. Recorded September 1987 at Chunk Studios, Paston, mixed at Cromerzone October 1987. Burning Ambitions only release.
Original band: Mark played a Stratocaster copy in sunburst through an HH guitar head and a 2x12 speaker cabinet. Nigel played an Avon (Rose Morris) copy of a Telecaster in cream, and also a CMI copy of the Gibson 6/12 double neck in cherry red, through an HH 212 100W combo. Paul had the best guitar, a Fender Musicmaster Bass in cream, with a strap made out of an old fur stole, through an Orange head and 4x12 cabinet. The PA was an HH head through two speaker cabinets of uncertain origin. There was no foldback. Jezz's drumkit may have been Pearl.
Later band: Nigel played a 1977 Stratocaster in 'walnut' and in 1986 bought a Westone Spectrum in black as a No.2 guitar. His amp was still the HH combo. For about 12 to 18 months he used a head-mounted microphone by Shure before reverting to using a mic stand.
Additional Miscellaneous Information
Paul Life's Escort may indeed have been called The Shag Wagon but he sported a tasteful sunstrip at the time bearing the legend 'Pat Travers' - a Canadian heavy metal guitarist - the letters of which we'd doctored to read 'Spat Ravers'... (Paston School Alternative Website - Robert Watson)
Canis Strange started out with Mark Hobbs on guitar, John Bain on guitar, Jezz Startup on drums and Paul Life on bass. We went through our most 'famous' stage with a trio of Tucker-Grange-Hill-esque gigs in the main hall with me, Jezz, Paul, and Nigel Digby on lead guitar and played the Bosa Chios several (drunk) occasions. (Paston School alternative Website - Mark Hobbs)
Another early member, Paul Addison, possessor of a very politically-incorrect nickname which I can't really repeat, fancied himself on keyboards. Having no cash, his resourceful (and, let's face it, pretty clever) father made him an organ (fnaagh fnaagh) which resembled an electric glockenspiel. Crap was the word, and I suspect dangerous was another. On this fine instrument, Addison penned the now infamous 'Ritual' which one of your correspondants referred to in the piece on 'Strange. It was, needless to say, utter shite. (Paston School alternative Website - Mark Hobbs)