The rather ambiguous-sounding name Hard Meat suggests all sorts – perhaps the title of an Andy Warhol film or a Scandinavian porn mag, maybe even the name of a militant anti-vegetarian group…so you may be relieved to know that the Hard Meat I’m referring to here is a 60s/70s band from Birmingham. Even then one might expect them to be Black Sabbath soundalikes, complete with controversial lyrics and dubious imagery - however, they had a far softer and more psychedelic/folk/acid rock sound and one does wonder why they chose such a name.
Their first single was a cover of the Beatles’ Rain’ (b/w ‘Burning Up Years’ which was covered by NZ band Human Instinct - many thanks to the reader who corrected the info stated on here earlier) released in 1969 on Island, and they went on to make two albums for Warner Brothers, ‘Hard Meat’ and ‘Through A Window’.
It is the last track on ‘Through A Window’ entitled ‘The Ballad of Marmalade Emma and Teddy Grimes’ (also released as a single in 1970), which has been on continuous play in my mind this week. I just love its uplifting feel, and an overall sound reminiscent of Traffic and early Faces. I was also intrigued by its subject matter because Marmalade Emma and Teddy Grimes were real characters who, through the late 1800s/early 1900s, resided in the historic town of Colchester, which is just a few miles from where I live.
It’s assumed that Hard Meat were spending some time in the Essex countryside when they heard talk of these legendary local characters in a pub and were so struck by the stories that they decided to write a song about them.
Hard Meat: The Ballad of Marmalade Emma and Teddy Grimes
Marmalade Emma and Teddy Grimes, pictured below in 1910, lived as eccentric tramps and roamed the streets of Colchester begging and blagging all that they needed to live on, drinking beer slops from the local pubs, sleeping in ditches and hedges, and probably managing to get by very adequately on very little. The local community tolerated them in spite of some controversy and brushes with the law – on the 1891 Census Emma registered her occupation as ‘prostitute’, the only one on the list, and was also sent to prison briefly for swearing at a policeman. Story has it that on her return from the clink some local lads asked her where she’d been, to which she replied, “to college”.
Reproduced by courtesy of Essex Record Office
I find this picture so captivating, you can just imagine the feisty Emma, standing proudly here in her best bag-lady attire, swearing at anyone who looked down at her, and by her side her devoted life partner, looking dignified and solemn, wondering where the next meal would come from and whether their bed for that night would be in a hedgerow or under a bridge.
It’s rather endearing to think they are immortalised both here in this evocative early photograph and contrastingly so on vinyl by a Midlands rock band called Hard Meat.