We are saddened by the news that Cafe Society’s Raphael Doyle, lost his battle with motor neurones disease on Friday March 30th 2018.
If you didn’t catch the interview with him in 2016, here it is again.
His album “Never Closer” was released last year, and delivers his beautiful and sometimes troubled soul across 12 stunning tracks ...
A few weeks ago my attention was drawn to a video in which Tom Robinson [Tom Robinson Band / presenter on BBC radio] spoke about a project he’s working on with his old friend, Raphael Doyle.
Now, Crowd Funding has become the ‘in thing’ and many people pay it no mind, but this pledge was different.
And why? Because there’s real a story behind it – This is not just about a band expecting their fans to donate money in return for a signed photo, or a cheesy ringtone, thus ensuring the next album is made.
From what I’ve heard, the album is going to be something special musically – but not only that, this album is a genuine work of LOVE; not for profit. but for the sake of creativity, for the music ; it’s about old friends, and new, coming together to be a part of Raphael’s album – And they’re against the clock (for more than one reason) which makes it all the more compelling.
I was, of course, interested to know more about Raphael, who along with Tom Robinson and Hereward Kaye in the late 1960’s, formed the trio ‘Cafe Society’.
I should imagine you’re already familiar with Tom, and perhaps Hereward too [from his days with The Flying Pickets], but Raphael has clearly managed to remain off the radar – until now!
Born in Northern Ireland, Raphael absconded to England when he was 15 – An unconventional teenager, but a keen songwriter and poet – he found himself at Finchden Manor in Kent, before carving a career, one way or another, in music.
‘Cafe Society’ enjoyed a relative amount of success but it was short lived, and following the break up of the band in 1976, Raphael’s biography states that he was, at that time “Painfully short on confidence and increasingly dependent on drink”.
By the time he was 19 Raphael had already married Rose. Over 40 years later, through thick and thin, and with a clan of four children, they’re still going strong!
When I first spoke to him he was telling me about his return to living in the North East of England, having been lucky enough to buy back the very same house he and Rose had lived in as a young couple ; add to that his return to making music, and it would seem that there are many aspects of his life that are coming ‘full circle’.
“Never Closer” is the title of the album – Raphael sings us through a number of extraordinary tracks inspired by “a messy life encompassing darkness and recovery pain and love”, but at the end of it all, quite contentedly concludes – “The whole journey has definitely been worth it” ...
You can keep up with Raphael’s story, and the pledge campaign, as it unfolds via his website and social media, but in the meantime, we thought we’d attempt to extract some more of his memories about those early days as a musician.
HR : If you’re open to talking about it Raphael, I’d like to go back to 1968 – to Finchden Manor**, where you met up with Tom Robinson – what was life like there?
Raphael Doyle : Well, I was 15 when I arrived at Finchden.
I’d come from Northern Ireland where I’d had unhappy fallings out with a couple of schools. I was clashing with the conservative, Catholic environment of my upbringing, and I was a fledgling hippy in the world that didn’t like that.
Finchden was like another world entirely – suddenly you found yourself somewhere where you weren’t in the wrong all the time – where you could be yourself. It was very unstructured. Your time was your own.
HR : Were you encouraged to be creative?
RD : It wasn’t so much that you were encouraged to be creative, but more that you were given the space to be yourself.
So some people got into making things, some got into gardening, lots of us spent a lot of time talking. And there was a great spilling out of creativity, whether music, art, pottery, poetry. Whatever people had in them. Just in the time that I was there, there was Matthew Collings scribbling away amazing cartoon-like drawings, who has gone on to become a very highly regarded artist and art critic. There was Mike Medora who was playing searing blues guitar and he went on to do the festival circuit with Global Village Trucking company. There was Danny Kustow, still a much loved guitarist, who became famous beside Tom Robinson in TRB. There was the amazing and eccentric Robert Godfrey who went off to form the Enid, a legendary prog rock band, and he took with him a bunch of other boys, notably Francis Lickerish, another brilliant guitarist and multi-instrumentalist. And there was Tom and me, writing songs, putting groups together- and I guess we were encouraged, yes.
We used to be brought out to play to visitors… I remember us being taken off on long journeys in George Lyward- the founder -in his old car to visit Lord and Lady somebody or other in a mansion, and he would give a fundraising talk, and Tom and I would sing a couple songs, and then wander outside where we chanced upon this old guy in ancient corduroys tending a rhubarb patch, who turned out to be the Lord himself. Very PG Wodehouse!
HR : Actually it sounds like fun, despite being a difficult time ...
There’s a great quote from Hereward [Kaye] about your songwriting, he says “The lyrics were all his own and smelt of trouble. How I longed to be deeply troubled like him!”
What was it about music, and songwriting that engaged you? Is it fair to say that without music, you may have strayed onto a very different path?
RD : Well, Hereward was right. I was a troubled young man. We all were at Finchden. But even before I went there, back in Northern Ireland, music and writing had become my escape valve.
I came from a little seaside town, and a Scottish wild card called Colvin Hamilton took over the swimming pool cafe and turned it into a venue – The Scene – and he would bring down bands from Belfast.
This was at the height of the early 60s R&B boom. ‘Van Morrison’ and ‘Them’ were the big name.
I was too young to be let in but I’d spend the weekend nights with my ear pressed to the blacked out plate glass window, listening to that raw, rough earthy music. And at home, and in friends’ houses, I was listening to Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, Nina Simone, Ray Charles, Buddy Guy, Robert Johnson, John Mayalls blues breakers ... So Music was already my landscape.
It didn’t stop me getting into trouble though! So it was arriving at Finchden, having a place of respite , the chance to heal and grow, and there to get together with Tom and start honing my musical instincts – that’s where my direction became set.
I became a musician at Finchden.
HR : It was Tom who introduced you to Hereward, in Middlesborough – what happened in the interim before you eventually moved to London and formed ‘Cafe Society’?
RD : Tom’s family were living in the north-east and I went up there with him for a holiday. A neighbour of his decided to introduce us to some other arty young folk she knew of from Middlesbrough, and that’s where Hereward came in.
We just clicked – it wasn’t so usual then to meet others passionately into writing and making music.
Hereward in Teesside and Tom and I in Kent would make reel to reel revox recordings of each new song and post them to each other, then when we’d meet 2 or 3 times a year and we’d have long sessions playing the songs to each other and trying out harmonies.
So then when we finally got together in London it was natural to get into a bedroom or a cellar and just spend hours playing and arranging and practicing.... We were buzzing on it.
HR : From what I’ve read, many people were buzzing about it, including Alexis Korner.
You had a really strong connection to him – how did that come about?
RD : Alexis had been at Finchden in his youth – he was an ‘old boy’.
While we were there his daughter Sappho stayed for a while ... I remember Alexis and Sappho singing the country blues song “Trouble In Mind” together. This was when Tom and I would be wheeled out to play for visitors and there were some powerful times when Alexis and us would play in a packed Oak Room to visitors and wild eyed disturbed adolescents ... So Alexis got to know us and became something of a mentor.
HR : Alexis was really big on the music scene, especially with ‘Blues Incorporated’ – how connected were you to all of that?
RD : I remember staying at his place in Queensway and meeting John Mayall – I was a bit dumbstruck. It wasn’t that long before that I’d been standing in the dark in a blues club in Belfast watching the ‘Blues Breakers’ with John Mayall and the new guitarist Peter Green playing stunning music, and here was the man standing before me. I don’t know what I mumbled but I think it was embarrassing. Another time I was sitting in Alexis’ front room with Andy Fraser who was someone Tom and I both loved very much. We’d been to see ‘Free’ at the Redcar Jazz club – the place of been jampacked and heaving and the band were incredible. And here was Andy talking to Alexis about what to do now Free had broken up. He put together a band called Toby. A little while later Hereward and I nicked his drummer Stan Speake, for the band we were putting together while we were waiting for Tom to come to London.
HR : So when Tom arrived, and ‘Cafe Society’ formed properly, what attracted you to the folk scene above any of the others?
RD : We didn’t really choose the folk scene. It was just that we were three guys with acoustic guitars, a focus on harmonies, writing our own songs. In those days you either put together a band and played places like the hundred club, or you went to the booming folk circuit. So we began there ...
HR : You landed a residency, as a 3 piece, at The Troubadour coffee house – what do you remember about those first performances?
RD : As far as I remember we had a residency at Bunjies first. We were playing around a lot of clubs- The Rising Sun in Tottenham Court road was a good one. But the Troubadour had the cachet; it had a more serious reputation.
We used to go down there and do floor spots on other people’s nights and gradually we were building up a following.
So then we got a night of our own-Tuesday nights.
It was a wonderful time, a very atmospheric place to try out new songs, to practice our harmonies. We had a captive audience in a little space and it became a shared experience. I think we had a very distinctive blend.
Tom was serious about the nuts and bolts of arrangements and song structure. Hereward was a showman, flamboyant in his songs and performance, and I would escape into the music and let my soul pour out. It made for a dynamic blend.
And we were all fans, we all loved music, for us the people we listened to were our heroes and we wanted to join them.
HR : And it wasn’t long before you did, was it?
RD : No – By now we were trying to get a deal. That was the big Next step in those days. First you build up a bit of a following, then you got management, then you got a deal.
We got a manager. Hereward knew John McCoy who ran music venues in and around Middlesbrough where he came from.
John went on to become Chris Rea’s manager and got him signed and started on his career. We used to go up and play at the Kirk, the most happening club on Teesside at the time, which John owned and ran. He listened to our stuff and wasn’t quite sure what to make of it but he agreed to manage us, and one thing led to another and it resulted in Ray Davies of ‘The Kinks’ coming down to the troubadour to check us out. It was the same night Alexis was headlining for us so there was a real buzz in the air.
Ray did a bit of a floor spot with us standing alongside not quite able to believe what was happening.
Ray saw something in us, I think, that chimed with his own sense of song.
He signed us up to his new indie label Konk -the first one in the country-and he himself produced our first album.
HR : Presumably that opened a few doors?
RD : Sure. From playing the London folk clubs, suddenly we were getting support act slots on national tours.
We supported ‘The Kinks’ a whole bunch of times, which was a bit odd because we were this very well mannered acoustic trio in the middle of the stage set up for this raucous pop rock band and the audiences were kind of looking for a good time. But we went down surprisingly well on those tours.
HR : Didn’t you also open for Barclay James Harvest?
RD : Yes -That was a bit weird because they were a full blown prog rock band with colours and smoke and atmospherics and everyone took the whole thing very seriously!
I think for some of them a support band was just a necessary evil so we felt a bit sidelined. But luckily a lot of their audiences were the listening kind and enjoyed what we did. Also I have to say that Woolly Wolstenholme was a really sweet guy and he was always very encouraging and would make time for us. We learned a great deal on all of those shows.
Sometimes it’s when you’re not doing your own show, but having to make your mark in someone else’s, that you can learn most about holding true to yourself and standing firm as a performer.
Then I remember we did the Alan Hull solo album tour. Alan was big at that point as the singer songwriter of Lindisfarne so it was a much better match for us as an acoustic trio. He did the whole tour solo and the audiences were great for us. Mind you the dressing room was a place to be .... A parade of beautiful people hobnobbing with the latest thing ... Eh, that’d be him, not us!
HR : So as things progressed, and you were having this amount of success as a trio, what prompted you to add more members and form a ‘proper’ band, changing the dynamic, and presumably the sound?
RD : Well, as I said, we weren’t really a folk group. We did love people like Neil Young, Paul Simon, Dylan... We used to finish with a James Taylor song “Lo and behold” . Tom always really liked Richard Thompson. I remember at The Troubadour we used to sing the Fairport song ‘Meet on the Ledge’. But really our folk credentials were accidental. We always saw ourselves as a band.
Hereward and I had both been in blues bands, and played the raunchier end of R&B pop. Tom’s musical interests ranged really widely. He was a big fan of early ‘Manfred Mann’. He and I were besotted with ‘The Band’, “Music from Big Pink”. So really we were just waiting for the chance to expand and go electric – unfortunately it happened just as Ray Davies was making the first album with us. He signed an acoustic trio, but while Ray was supervising recording us at Konk, a process in which we didn’t feel we had much say, we were off down the road when not needed in the studio, doing our own demos in a little place in Holloway with a drummer and a bass player and a keyboard player. We abandoned the folk circuit and started to play the pub scene. The Golden Lion in Fulham, The Three Kings in North End Road where the unknown Elvis Costello was forcing himself on the attentions of a bemused audience! Upstairs at Ronnie Scott’s. There was a new buzz around and we wanted to spread our wings.
So with one thing and another the Konk relationship fizzled out.
HR : ‘Cafe Society’ were dubbed band of the year by Sounds magazine in 1976, but the same year saw the arrival of ‘The Sex Pistols’ and a whole new scene – what impact did Punk have on you and the rest of the band?
RD : We had built up an expanded following as a band and it felt like we had lots to do. But Ray Davies brought in a production team to work on our second album, who were nice guys but they were not about new music.
We were trying to make a go of it with them, and Hereward and I were both newly married and putting a lot of time into that side of things – so the impact of punk, for me at least, Was Tom turning up one night to visit me and sitting down in the front room and telling me how he had been going to the hundred club and seeing this group – ‘The Sex Pistols’ – and that everything was changing.
Tom was going out nights and seeing them and ‘The Clash’, the new bands, and he knew that the album we were recording was redundant.
And he did the right thing. He went off and he dived into the deep end of this new wave.
A few short months later Hereward and I were standing at the back of the Lyceum on the Strand looking in disbelief at this mass of thousands of people all with their backs to us, Facing forwards, arms raised and yelling to the rafters for TRB.
We didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. I think we did both, but very proudly.
HR : It seems at that point, Tom was destined to go a different route – did you and Hereward plan to continue?
RD : When Tom announced he was leaving I didn’t want, for myself, to carry on. But Hereward really wanted us to finish the album, which was looking more of a Hereward album anyway. So we continued. But it was without any real sense of ownership or involvement or hope.
Really, it was over when Tom left.
HR : What direction did you take musically after the band broke up for good?
RD : I put together a band doing mostly my songs and some of my favourites. There was still a healthy pub rock circuit in London and we were playing places like the golden lion in Fulham and the Stapleton near Crouch end where the Jam were making their mark. There was a buzz – EMI were interested. Robert Plant came down to check us out. But the truth is my confidence was in bits ... I would be sick and need a drink before going on. I couldn’t handle the business side – promoters, A&R men. Aargh. It freaks me out just remembering it. You either have the balls to be a good self promoter or you don’t. I didn’t. I carried on writing songs and playing in many different settings – clubs, in pubs, in schools, and made a couple of albums with a gospel rock band in England and in the states. Later I returned to the blues with an old friend Paul Davey on guitar. I always loved Paul’s playing and he has a quality to him which is very authentic. He is not flashy, he’s like The early Peter Green I saw all those years ago in Belfast. But essentially I think I’m still what you might call a soul/folk singer. I love to make contemporary music that is now on the surface, but plunging deep into the timeless in the feel
HR : Some 40 years later there seem to be a lot of things that are coming full circle in your life ... in music particularly ...
RD : Yeah – Really when I look back my life has been about life, but music is a thread that runs through it either in the actual doing of it or in the yearning for it. I absolutely love making music. And that special magical thing of making music with really good musicians, where an unspoken understanding happens and creates a platform on which something even better then you know how to make, actually suddenly happens.
A moment outside time.
I remember seeing an interview with a very respectable English poet John Betjeman – he was old and in failing health and he was asked rather respectfully if he had any regrets. And he said “yes. I wish I’d had more sex “. That’s how I feel about that level of music making. And that’s why am so blown away with what’s been happening. Everything I’ve hungered for has come to me this year. Making a new album, working with great people, and a really special night at the Troubadour.
HR : Oh yes – the show at The Troubadour – how did it feel to perform there again? Was the atmosphere the same?
RD : Actually, the atmosphere was even better than before!
I’ve just been listening to a recording of the opening song, “Give Us A Break”. It’s a song of Tom’s he and I used to do back at Finchden and we did it acoustically to start the night and it was magic. Then a series of great artists doing floor spots, then me with a spot-on young band, and Tom and Hereward getting up to join in. It was a 10 course meal by candle light! And the audience .... They might as well have been on stage, we were all so involved together.
HR : You remained friends with Tom, and Hereward – as you say they played with you recently, and have teamed in for your Solo album “Never Closer” – how does it feel to be back in their company on a creative level?
RD : Well you know we haven’t been strangers to each other.
Hereward and I are brothers in law as well as friends so there’s always been opportunities for us to get the guitars out and play together.
My song “Feet on the Floor”, on the new album, wouldn’t be the same without Herry’s harmonies. And he’s put a lovely, subtle keyboard part on “Kiltermon”, one of the most important songs for me.
Tom though, his part in this has been crucial.
He says he sees himself as executive producer, just making sure it happens but leaving the music up to me.
The truth is he is much more than that.
Looking back to the beginning, I wouldn’t even be a serious musician but for Tom. And so to be doing this album in partnership with him is just fantastic.
The sense of coming full circle, of completion, of fulfilment is really strong in my life this year.
This album is a big example of that, and Tom and Hereward and myself getting up on stage together at the troubadour, and being in the studio together looking into each others eyes, listening to each other, singing together, is deeply wonderful for me.
HR : You’ve said recently, that the recording process took the magic out of the music in the early days, so what has changed for you with this solo record?
RD : The heart went out of the music in the recording process in the 70s for us because it was an artificial environment and a rather autocratic structure. Music is about musicians sharing from their souls together, and that sharing combining, meeting in the air and combining into something extra. That just can’t happen in a compartmentalised and splintered and structured and often rather heartless recording process. It’s not always like that of course, but too often it has been. We need to get back to the magic of creativity. With this album it’s very different. I suppose it’s not too strong to say that this album is an act of love. And everybody involved in it is acting with creative integrity and with mutual regard. It’s a great thing to be part of.
HR : What was your inspiration for putting these songs together, now?
RD : Back in the spring I noticed that I couldn’t grip the plectrum when I was playing the guitar. That led me to check some things out, and I was diagnosed with motor neuron disease in April.
I’ve had a good long summer since my diagnosis, holding the condition at arms length, and it’s been great – But it is increasingly something that I am living with day by day so it is a big part of the reality of this stage of my life, and will only continue to be so, and more so ...
So it’s true to say that all this has come about in response to my diagnosis: Tom and my son Louis started looking at the songs that had never really seen the light of day, and talking about making an album – they were both very much spurred on to bring this about with me because time is an issue.
I wasn’t sure ... I certainly didn’t want to make an album just for the sake of it.
I wanted it to exist primarily as a piece of work in its own right, and have not wanted my health issue to be a dominant factor in what I’ve been doing – but the reality and beauty and urgency of this project has come about in trying to get these tracks down while it is still possible.
Every stage of this process, of building this album, has been full of surprises.
It’s incredibly alive. It’s the story of a life. And it’s a great collaboration between creative artists – not just me, but Louis, the brilliant Gerry Diver, Tom and everyone who’s contributed..
HR : As you say there, the album also features your son Louis – what does it mean to you to be able to have this creative relationship with him, and your other children?
RD : It’s been brilliant doing this with Louis. I always say he outstripped me musically a long time ago. The work he’s done, from his early band the Cadets, to Slides, and now the Spare Room is often amazing. When he and I started looking at the songs for this album we started to get some of those shivery moments, like I used to get rehearsing in the cellar in Clapham with cafe society. I remember the rehearsal before the troubadour, we got the band together at the Music Room in New Cross and I had Louis on one side of me and my other son Jess on bass guitar on the other side, and we were all blasting out harmonies and it was like something in me just took off and flew up into the air. To be doing this together, at The Troubadour, and in the studio, and at such a wonderful high standard, is something that it’s hard to explain.
It’s just beautiful.
HR : When are you hoping for it to be released?
RD : We are making the album with crowd funding – pledge music – so people are pre-ordering their copies and that helps pay for the cost of making it.
The aim is to release it in January – hopefully on the 6th, my birthday – when I’m 64!
HR : And what can listeners expect?
RD : Well, the answer to that changes every week and every time we go back in the studio. It was going to be a good album, but there is all kinds of magic brewing in the cauldron. What can I say. I’m blown away by some of the things we’ve done. Gerry Diver is doing some extraordinary work on arrangements and production. Louis has written some great music, played brilliant guitar and found lovely musicians and I, I promise you, am singing my heart out. I tell you, I’m a happy man. But there’s lots of previews on the PledgeMusic page, with some videos of different songs from the album or the Troubadour – keep watching.
It’s at https://raphaeldoyle.bandcamp.com/ , and my Facebook page raphaeldoylemusic
“I Come From Ireland” – a spoken word track is currently claiming worldwide acclaim, having made it to a feature in the Huffington Post!