by Olive Grove

Sometimes it seems hard to believe that the 1980’s actually existed. Not only was South Yorkshire’s steel and mining industries major employers, Sheffield Wednesday F.C were in the old first division. At a time when all this was under threat, it seems odd that four young men should turn to country music, but they did, I know, I was there.

Autumn 1986, a rough ‘n’ ready rootsy, North Country ‘n’ Western Punk echoed around Fargate and Chapel Walk, Sheffield, causing chaos in the queue for the late Star and turning the fruit and veg stall’s bananas brown.

This was Don Valley and the Rotherhides. They were Red Mires, acoustic guitar, Thorpe Hesley electric guitar, Kevin Flatts on snare drum, and Norton Lees. Norton had borrowed his grandfather’s double bass and was actually managing to get a sound out of it, the first time for many a decade.

pic © Olive Grove

The Rotherhides quickly started to draw large crowds in the streets of Sheffield, it wasn’t long before the phone started ringing, it was the unemployment benefit office asking them in for interviews.

With the addition of Roscoe Banks on banjo they became one of the best live acts in Britain. Their success never really translated into record sales and in early ’92 they decided to call it a day with farewell gigs at The Hallamshire Hotel, West Street, Sheffield.

pic © Olive Grove

Ten days later Norton got on a plane to Atlanta, Georgia, and at the Hamby Mountain Blugrass festival met up with the Keeper Hill Boys who true to their name kept him! Based in Valdosta, Georgia, Norton worked with them for a year around the Southern US, before the pull of Ward’s bitter and a decent cup of tea called him home.

At this point the trail goes cold, his whereabouts cannot be traced until ’94 when Norton gets talking to Geoff, the Safeway lorry driver, in the car park of Doncaster prison. Geoff tells Norton of a travelling carpet dealer he knows called Andy Weaver who is also an ace Blues singer. They swap phone numbers, Geoff giving his brother’s number and Norton giving his Great Aunt Mary-Margaret’s! Miraculously in the spring of ’95 Andy and Norton meet up in The Grapes, Trippet Lane and with the addition of drummer Mitch Genner, Chicken Legs Weaver, the band are born.

pic © Olive Grove

Early record company interest in their Urban Swamp Blues was quickly seen off by the recruitment of Tom Hogg, his guitar giving the band a harder, fuller sound. It was at this time that Chicken Legs began to be heard outside of Sheffield including several support slots with Babybird. After two years Tom decided to move on and it was then that Andy and Norton discoverd the dark, sleazy, minimalist sound that has become the Chicken Legs trademark. Unfortunately Mitch didn’t see it that way and left the band at the end of 1998.

pic © Anon

It took a long time to find the right drummer but find one they did. The mysterious E. J. Tankersby, once the king of the vertical ramp, he’d given up skateboarding to become a paradiddle salesman. Many still regard ‘Tank’ as the saviour of Chicken Legs Weaver – his three-year stint, yielded two fine CD singles and increased the bands following.

pic © Tracey Welch

In the summer of 2002 the sticks were passed onto former Comsat Angel, Mik Glaisher, making the sound sleazier still. Almost immediately the band moved up a gear, buying new suits and travelling over to Ithaca, upstate New York, to record with Johnny Dowd. The resulting, self-financed album ‘Nowhere’ received some excellent reviews but was largely ignored by the music industry.

pic © Martin Bedford

In the autumn of 2003 Norton started to collaborate with singer/songwriter Hazel Leigh. Her songs and vocal clarity bringing out a different side of Norton’s bass playing. Playing as an acoustic duo their early gigs have been promising. Their first demo has been well received. Norton’s project with Hazel Leigh is growing and developing, and should break out of Sheffield soon.

pic © Trish O’Shea

At the time of writing Chicken Legs Weaver continue to impress at gigs and have a new crop of excellent songs to record, but no label or backer.

Olive Grove, Spring 2004

More His-story!

Four years ago Norton asked me to make a contribution to this web-site. A lot of water has flowed under & over the bridge in Sheffield since then, so I’m back!

In the Autumn of 2004 Norton handed Chicken Legs Weaver his resignation. Some people were shocked by his decision, but, in retrospect, all concerned needed a change. As Jacky Hall wrote, reviewing Norton’s farewell gig in Sandman magazine, ‘Ten years may have been enough to explore all the potential ideas’.

The following Spring, Norton’s project with Hazel Leigh also came to an end, this, after completing an excellent debut mini-album with Justin Morey. The reason for the split is unclear, some say that the intensity of their live performances couldn’t be sustained, others, that Hazel’s ambitions lay in other areas. Whatever the reason, they’re still missed by some of Sheffield’s more discerning gig-goers.

One Monday afternoon in the Summer of 2005, Norton was walking up Sharrow Lane when he bumped into Ian Hutchinson, guitarist with popular Sheffield combo, Rumpus. Norton had just been to the Post Office to collect his Grand-mother’s pension, (she’d been dead 7 years, but it’s a tradition Norton likes to keep alive). Ian was out looking for his dog – Norton agreed to help. They eventually found the dog in the flats, but it wouldn’t go home – presumably, it had decided that life would be a lot better on Mount Street. Ian consoled himself by asking Norton back to his place to listen to some demos.

Norton was quite disturbed by Ian’s slightly deranged off-kilter pop/fucked-up folk tunes and immediately agreed to be involved in bringing them to life. Rumpus drummer, Dave Attwood also agreed to join what was now ‘Baby Long Legs’. Two lead guitarists were then recruited. Firstly, Hannah Swales, who’d previously been in Yamaguchi, (the band, not the place) and then Dan Botterill, who was liberated from that awful Supersonic Winds of Neptune with the aid of two bottles of very cheap cider.

pics © Dan Sumption

With songs about Floor Turtles, Felt Monkeys & Hard Boiled Eggs, they quickly acquired a devoted following, their gigs having a celebratory feel – great musicianship devoid of ego, odd time signatures, trombones & swanee whistles all combining to make it difficult not to smile.

The highlights, so far, have been the self-released ‘Beards at Dawn’ EP and an appearence at the 2007 Leeds ‘Carling’ Festival. Refreshingly, world domination does not appear to be on the agenda, their destination is unknown, but the journey looks bound to be fun.

Olive Grove, January 2008

….to be continued…..