1987 – 1993
Ian Hunter (vocals)
Jon Stewart Forester (guitar)
Paul Harrison (bass)
Dave Carter (drums)
Ian Wright (vocals)
Nick Birkin (drums)
Lenni Parkin (drums)
John Andrew (drums)
Mark Dennis (drums)
Dave Harker (bass)
About Rich Rags
Rich Rags began in around 1987 when guitarist Jon Stewart Forester recruited front man Ian Wright. The first couple of years saw a revolving door of members that included Mark Dennis of Re-Animator, Dave Harker, and John Andrew, later of Kingmaker, and a couple of solid demos were recorded at Steve Kirkby’s Animal Tracks studios in Alfred Gelder Street.
However, by the start of 1988 the band was on hiatus after the departure of Wright.
Meanwhile ex Black September front man, Ian Hunter, had recently joined Driffield-based goth biker combo, Stiff Kittens. Stiff Kittens had recently enjoyed a trio of singles in the indie chart, and were being managed by Psychedelic Furs / Gaye Bykers On Acid manager Tracy Lamont. However, after a showcase for several major labels at John Henry’s studio in London, the feedback had been mixed. Stiff Kittens were primarily a studio band, under the mentorship of local legend John Spence. However, it became apparent to the labels that although they looked the part, they were not particularly strong as a live band. The majors passed on Stiff Kittens, albeit David Ambrose at London Records decided to continue an interest in Hunter. After sending him up for auditions with several bands, it was decided that London Records would help Hunter form a new band of his own.
The first recruit was ex Flood of Lies bassist, Paul Harrison, quickly followed by whiz kid guitarist Paul Spink, and drummer Chig. Spinky departed pretty quickly after a showcase for Ambrose, but after a chance meeting with Jon Stewart Forester, Hunter cajoled him into auditioning for the now vacant guitarist position. However, after a couple of rehearsals, Forester politely declined the job, stating that his heart was really still in trying to give Rich Rags another go. In a somewhat bizarre turn of events, he then suggested Hunter and Harrison join a new line up of Rich Rags, along with soon-to-be Kingmaker drummer, John Andrew, and the new look RR made their debut on April 2nd 1989, at Spring Street Theatre, supporting the newly signed Re-Animator.
John Andrew departed amicably soon afterwards, being replaced by Barnsley based drummer, Lenni Parkin. This line up recorded a couple of demos, before heading to Fairview Studios with John Spence in December 1989, to record a 12″ 4-track EP, Bedlam, released on the band’s own Filthy Rich label. RR’s ethos was simply to play as many gigs as they could, in whichever toilet would give them a stage to play on, and 1990 saw them rack up over 200 gigs in 12 months, including their debut gig at London’s legendary Marquee Club. Rich Rags went on to play the Marquee no less than eleven times over the next three years, including a sell-out gig in April 1992.
Lenni Parkin departed in early 1990, to be replaced by drummer Nick Birkin from Doncaster band Ample Cleavage. The relentless gigging continued, maintaining a yearly gig count of around 150 shows, until Birkin’s anger management issues finally got to Forester, and he refused to ever walk out on a stage with him again.
The only issue was that the band had a choice support slot at the Marquee in just five days time, and the Marquee’s booker was not someone you wanted to pull a show on at less than a week’s notice. In typical Rich Rags fashion, pulling the gig was never an option, and just 24 hours after Birkin’s departure the band auditioned two potential new drummers in one afternoon. A decision was made by early evening and the unlucky candidate, Dave Carter, was then informed of the impending Marquee gig in four days time. In yet another Spinal Tap-esque drummer twist, Carter had been Birkin’s replacement in Ample Cleavage, and his departure saw ex Rich Rags drummer Lenni Parkin fill the vacated Cleavage drum stool.
At the time, the band ran the legendary and shabby rehearsal rooms on Anglo Wharf, down Wincolmlee (now demolished). However, in a once in a blue moon event, all the sessions were booked out for the entirety of the coming week. Not to be defeated, rehearsals began at 11pm, after that evening’s band had finished rehearsing, and continued until 7am the next morning – for the next 4 nights! The Marquee booking was honoured, and led to them getting a 5-star review in Kerrang, a major booking agent, and the support slot for the Dogs D’Amour’s up and coming Marquee residency shows.
By 1992, Rich Rags had taken it about as far as they could. They were getting regular features in the national rock press, doing bits of TV and radio, and pulling sizeable club crowds up and down the UK. However, the post Nirvana rock scene was a very different landscape, and the band’s cartoonish image made it difficult for them to progress musically. A record deal was inked with a Polygram offshoot, and the band headed back to Fairview in summer 1992, to record what was to be their only album. The entire process was fraught with issues from the first day; not least the band’s A&R man being sacked from their label, and been replaced by someone who had no empathy or emotional investment in the band.
With the album done, a release date set, and a 60 date UK and European tour locked in to promote it, the record label put the release date back by two months. The band ended up completing the tour with no album to promote, all the advertising budget on hold until the release, and unable to do anything but leave flyers in the clubs. Frustrations began to boil over between the members, not least Ian Hunter and Stu Forester, and despite the album making a brief chart entry at number 25, it was all over bar the shouting.
The death knell came courtesy of legendary music hack, Chris ‘Slasher’ Watts, who had been commissioned to do a double page feature on the band for Kerrang. Watts began the interview at a gig in the Midlands, and commented that during his research, he’d realised that Rich Rags had never had a bad review; something he thought was highly impressive. However, it also seemed to motivate him to redress this by writing a vicious article, and giving the band a crap live review to boot. It was pretty much “thank you and good night”. It had been four fun years, 600 gigs, lots of hard work, plus a lorry load of cheap cider and packs of ten Bensons. However, by early 1993, it was time to draw a line under things.
Harrison and Hunter both relocated to London soon after, with Harrison joining London glam Brit-poppers Last Great Dreamers, and Hunter joining a number of short-lived bands, before moving into the industry side of things. Stu Forester also moved south, a couple of years later, and ended up as guitarist for Gay Dad, touring the US with the Pretenders, as well as working globally as a guitar gun for hire. More recently, Forester has reinvented himself as a folk troubadour to huge acclaim, releasing several highly lauded albums of traditional folk/Americana, and living the good life in a croft in rural Aberdeenshire.
In a final twist, in 2005, some 12 years after calling it a day, Rich Rags were asked to participate in a TV documentary about the band. Both Ian Hunter and Paul Harrison initially filmed some interviews, with Stu Forester considering it, and Dave Carter missing, presumed couldn’t be arsed. However, it was decided to pass on it, if everyone wasn’t involved. As Stu Forester said, “Better to die young and leave a pretty corpse. We were here, and now we aren’t, and that’s good enough for me.”
Psycho Deadheads From Outer Space (LP, CD) – Warhammer, 1993
Singles / EPs
Bedlam (12″) – Filthy Rich, 1989
Generation Bubblegum Hell (Promo only 12″) – Warhammer, 1993
All Hull Let Loose (LP) – Hull City Council, 1992 (track: Radio Charlie Manson)
Trailers for the documentary that didn’t happen…