Still on the wrong planet (video 1:37)

Still on the wrong planet (video 1:37)
Still on the wrong planet (video 1:37)
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What do lobster claws, frozen mackerel and a card game have to do with music? Everything…if you’re legendary RVA band Titfield Thunderbolt. The group made a rare appearance at Gallery 5’s Thursday opening for Richmond artist/sign painter William Pickett’s ART-SHOW!, where they played to a house that pretty much knew what they were in for – although Titfield always delivers unexpected surprises and this night was no exception.


Foot Fetish harking back to the lobster concert (but not live ones this time)



Pushing boundaries and doing the unexpected (and often unexplainable) pretty much sums up a band that’s about way more than music. Foot Fetish (Barry Fitzgerald) calls Tifield an “art band” that got its impetus from a 1969 VCU talent show. where Key Ring Torch (William Burke) saw “Jerry the Midget” do Three Dog Night’s “Easy to be Hard.” Sitting in the old gym’s bleachers he thought, “…how great it would be if there was a duo or something up there playing this weird electronic music with a really big noise.”

Titfield grew from two to five members, all incorporating a sense of the outrageous. Key Ring and Stymie the Hermit (Steve Wall) remember their friends “goading them on” in the beginning.


When they opened for just-breaking Alice Cooper at the String Factory in 1970, live lobsters and frozen mackerel were part of the show. At the Pass, I saw Batman Sportswear (Bob Hartman) phone his horn solo in from Philadelphia. Stymie really wanted to do a totally phoned in show, “We were going to have a picture of each of us on a podium with microphones and a phone… someone would come on stage and answer the phones and we’d start to play. We just didn’t have the technology back then.” Another show had Bo Janne Valvoline (Bo Jacobs) playing the card game “Go Fish” on stage with Key Ring until the crowd got restless.


Key Ring Torch in a bird head


Bo Janne Valvoline on drums


Lobsters on the keyboards and a phoned in horn solo (Palmyra PA. this time) took the Gallery 5 crowd back to the 70s. The show opened with a vintage Popeye cartoon with Olive Oyl singing “I Want a Clean Shaven Man.” When the screen came up, Stymie and Key Ring were being shaved on stage by stylist Gayle Leonard. The next 40 minutes featured electronica via iPads, keyboards, synth drums and guitar. The show energized the crowd (which did diminish over time) and the grey-haired faithful stayed to the end…rewarded by “Born on the Wrong Planet” ending with hardboiled eggs and animal masks being thrown from the stage. No encore, the band knew they couldn’t top themselves.





Key Ring Torch (Billy Burke): electronic

Stymie the Hermit (Steve Wall) guitar and electronic

Batman Sportsware (Bob Hartman): horn

Bo Janne Valvoline (Bo Jacobs): drums

Foot Fetish (Barry Fitzgerald): keyboard and guitar


Note: Pickett’s gallery exhibit runs through the month and includes a great band poster display produced by Richmond Graphics from the personal collections of Tom “Z” Zimmerman and Michael Maurice Garrett, both of Single Bullet fame. It’s a great snapshot of the 70’s and 80’s RVA music scene.



Some of the posters in the Richmond Graphics show

billy art new

A painting from Billy’s show


1 Comment

  1. What a memorable night ! Suddenly, I was at the String Factory in Richmond Virginia and it was 1970. I saw my youth re appear and suddenly , I felt alive again ! Thanks Barry, Steve

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