An extract from In Search of Plainsong: The incredible story of how the group lost Bobby Ronga in a field in Wales.
With the album release and the prestigious showcase concert at Queen Elizabeth Hall, the autumn of 1972 should have been a happy time for Plainsong. It wasn’t. On the day after the Queen Elizabeth Hall concert, Plainsong played at Cardiff University. Following the show, the roadies Harry and John stayed in Cardiff at The Central Hotel. The band travelled back to London together. Bobby Ronga was very drunk on red wine.
Iain Matthews: For reasons only known to himself, Bobby had started to drink heavily. On the way home from the concert in Wales things came to a head. We had travelled together in one car. Somewhere along the return journey Bobby called out from the back seat, ‘Stop the car, I need to take a piss.’ On a dark country road we pulled over. Bobby staggered through a gate into a nearby field.
Roger Swallow who was only just finding his feet behind the drum kit was in the car on the way back from Wales that night.
Roger Swallow: We stopped in the middle of nowhere on the way to the Severn Bridge. We were tired and it was very late with another few hours to go. I also stepped out of the car to pee but I didn’t follow Bobby into the field. The mood wasn’t great waiting for him and getting no reply to our yells.
Iain Matthews: We waited. Ten minutes slipped by and he hadn’t come back. Considering his state, we decided to give him a while longer, but after twenty minutes we went into the field to look for him. He was nowhere to be found and after much discussion we had to decide what to do. Do we wait, do we search some more, do we report him lost or should we just leave him to it and go home? We eventually made the latter decision. It was late, we were tired and cranky, rightly or wrongly we just thought ‘fuck him’ and drove off. We got back to London feeling incredibly guilty about our decision and stopped at the house Bobby shared with his wife Gill to tell her. By this time it was almost three in the morning. We banged on the door until Gill came down to open it. We told her sheepishly that we had some bad news, we’d lost Bobby. ‘What do you mean?’ she giggled. ‘Bobby’s upstairs in bed. He’s been home for more than an hour.’ He had apparently taken a piss and in his drunken haze had lost his way out of the field and arrived back at the road around the corner from us. Confused as to why we would have left him and apparently angry too, he began hitchhiking home. By some huge stroke of fortune he had managed to get a lift from a passing car all the way back to London.
Roger Swallow: When Bobby’s wife answered the door and told us he was in bed our jaws dropped – and the incredulity hasn’t diminished over the years. How he beat us back is a complete mystery, maybe we stopped for something to eat but I don’t think so.
Iain Matthews: As we drove away that morning we decided that Bobby was becoming too much of a liability and something had to be done.
Whatever had to be done would have to wait for now. The agents at M.A.M. had brokered a deal with the BBC for Plainsong to appear in a televised show in front of a live audience. This was part of a series called In Concert, and they were due to record it in just over a week’s time, for which they’d need Bobby’s services. The Plainsong diary reports that they rehearsed at The Fishmongers’ Arms, the home of Wood Green Jazz Club, on the afternoons of Thursday 26th and Friday 27th, and at GCD studios in South West London on Sunday 29th in preparation for a trip to Shepherd’s Bush on Monday 30th October for the recording.
John Cornelius: We turned up at some grey BBC studios. Afterwards Dave Richards complained to me that he had barely appeared on the TV monitors and that Iain had hogged the whole thing.
Andy Roberts: I didn’t like the way they arranged the stage for that show and some of the camera angles were a bit off key. They put Roger Swallow’s drums up on a raised platform and that didn’t sit right either. It was done at the Shepherd’s Bush Theatre and introduced by Noel Edmonds. Noel came into the dressing room, he plainly didn’t know anything. He came up to me, stuck out his hand and said, ‘Hello Iain, it’s great to meet you at last.’ I thought I would have a bit of fun, so winked at Iain and said, ‘Good to meet you Noel have you met Andy?’ and introduced him to Iain. He was a complete muffin and we milked it and took the piss for the rest of the session.
The concert was in the can, but a lot of water was about to flow beneath the bridge before it was eventually broadcast.