Many swimming-pools of ink have been spilled, using entire forests of paper, regarding the famous four from Kidneypond, England. The tropes are beyond cliché, rendering their complex multidimensional personalities down into a small helping of flat adjectives: there was Jen, the witty cynical one; Paula, the sweet lyrical one with the unquenchable smile; Georgie, the quiet rationalist; and Tigger, the sad, goofy one with a penchant for hedgehogs. The press called them "the 'fic four" and "the braidy bunch". Their catchy melodies and upbeat tempos grabbed ears by the millions, while their irrepressible charm snared cameras and hearts.
"But what," the prototypical behind-the-scenes documentary will then inevitably ask, "were they really like?"
We can't ever really know what they were like, as people; even the most intimate of friends inevitably have unspoken thoughts between them, and the four's fame only further isolated them – sometimes even from each other.
Ultimately, they were just people – a group of four friends who grew up in difficult circumstances, came together to do what they loved best, worked hard at it, found a success they had certainly dreamed of but never really expected, and were ultimately torn apart by forces surrounding that success. As Jen observed in 1970: "In the end, we were just four birds from the 'pond, who were mates and played together in a band that got really, really popular – but it was still just a band."
There is, however, much to be learned about them – and about ourselves – from the facts that are known, including hundreds of hours of interviews. Most published written works on the Kids from Kidneypond are either references of some sort (such as The Beatriffics A to Z and What a Day: A Completely Beatriffic Studio Diary) or else recitations of the public facts with a few new tidbits thrown in so people who own all the other books will want to buy the new one.
This book, however, is going to take a different approach. We have no new information; just a deep appreciation for what The Beatriffics meant to a generation, a deep empathy for their tragedies and triumphs, and sufficient levels of OCD to wade through our vast collection of press clippings, recording sessions, and (oh yeah) several hundred hours of interviews, in search of those elusive moments where the practiced "triffic" gloss momentarily allows a glimpse of the inner lives of the creative geniuses who formed the greatest pop band in the history of ever.
Chapter 1: Setting the Stage
Kidneypond – often referred to humorously and disparagingly in the regional rhyming-slang as "Liverpool" – was, by the early 1940s, a declining industrial town on the banks of the Sludge estuary in central northern England. Neighborhood houses were famously left unlocked because everyone knew there was nothing worth stealing. The Luftwaffe didn't bother wasting bombs on it, even though they had spares left over from Coventry. Factory owners would often set up stalls in the village square trying to sell all manner of industrial produce, from aircraft to heavy artillery to machine-tool parts, because the government simply wasn't buying.
Paula McCreight's father Alfred had planned for his daughter to be a factory seamstress. "I wonted 'er to 'ave better then we 'ad wen we wuz comin' oop", he told Kidneypond Beat magazine many years later. When she showed early signs of songwriting talent, he was at first skeptical but soon found himself won over when she began writing very personal, heartfelt songs about sewing, assembly-line planning, and the merits of diligent accounting. A few of these songs later became hits for The Beatriffics, including "Join Together", "We Can Sort It Out" and "Mr. Tax Collector".
Jen Marks's father Karl was a disgraced scion of the Marks and Spencer retail giant; he had run away to sea but occasionally popped by the house to borrow things. Her mother, Alice, was very much a free spirit who hadn't wanted children; when she found herself unaccountably pregnant after a three-hour blackout during which Karl had apparently popped 'round to borrow the rest of her life, she fell into a deep despair – from which she finally emerged upon realizing that her sister had so many children that she probably wouldn't notice one more. Upon being toilet-trained, young Jen was told to "run 'round to aunt Agatha's and just follow along with the rest of them," which she obediently did.
Tragically, not long after this, Alice vanished and was never seen again; those who last saw her seem oddly reluctant to discuss the matter, except for one fellow who told some outrageous tale about a waistcoat-wearing rabbit clutching a pocket-watch and saying something about being late.
By the time Paula was regularly entertaining crowds at the Sludgeside Music Jam and Biscuits Festival with her handmade seven-string guitar, Jen was well known as a bit of a loner and rebel who was also covertly fascinated by the art of guitarmaking. She first showed up at the festival intending to cause disruption by coating a biscuit with Marmite and eating it in front of the staid old jam-lovers, but instead found herself drawn to Paula's unique playing style.
Paula, widely known as a "good girl" with a bright future, confessed shyly to rebel Jen that she also liked Marmite, and the two promptly wrote their first song together, "Mama Don't Give Me No more Jam Blues". This was quickly followed by a number of similar rockabilly-flavored tunes with breakfast themes – widely seen as a precursor to their much-discussed lyrical exploration of lunch and dinner only a few years later.
It was three years after this that the two first met Georgina "Georgie" Sanders. Georgie, nearly two years younger than Jen and Paula, was clearly in awe of their musical abilities and especially Paula's unusual guitar, and promptly built one of her own. Her family being dirt-poor, however, she had to use rat-gut for strings – which turned out to have a very distinctive acoustic quality, and gave Georgie's guitar the unique sound that was destined become a "Beatriffic" hallmark. It also led to Georgie's self-described role as the group's "rat strummer".
Rachel Veronica Tigher, by then commonly referred to as "Tigger" due to her willingness to try (almost) anything once, had been playing percussive desktop items for a competing group, Ann Arbor and the Michiganders. When Jen, Paula, and Georgie found themselves needing only a drummer in order to have a proper group, they all agreed that Tigger was what the group needed, and promptly worked out a complex strategy to ensure that she didn't get away. This involved the creation of several fictional competing bands to bid for Tigger's services. A "battle of the bands" was to take place at the next village fete – at which the competing bands would mysteriously fail to show up – whereupon Jen, Paul, and Georgie (who were by then calling themselves The Wage Slaves) would offer Tigger a consolation gig.
After having a good laugh about this pointlessly complex and duplicitous plan, they instead approached Tigger directly and invited her to join The Wage Slaves; "not being a total idiot", as Tigger later observed – and recognizing excellent rat-gutting chops when she saw them – Tigger joined at once.