Are you sitting comfortably? This is a tale of music, fashion, loyalty, bad policing, and of all things, the best chicken soup I ever tasted - though not necessarily in that order.
When the Wellington fashionistas who ran Guava of Bananas Hair Company took over the Rock Theatre in 1980 (which had once hosted Aussie band Midnight Oil), they renamed it Billy The Club, a name derived from a novel by William Burroughs, signifying that changes were afoot. My band Life In The Fridge Exists played there several times, once to an audience of one single person...until the police turned up in force and stood menacingly in a row at the back, blocking the auditorium doors. I had no choice but to invite our solitary fan to join us on stage. It seemed unfair not to.
All good things must come to an end, and that gig proved to be the final straw for Billy The Club's management (including the gorgeous Kerry Hessel, who'd played sax on one of the four tracks we released on on vinyl) no matter how fashionable and forward thinking they might have been (and, believe me, they were). We were banned from ever playing again. Until we got a call begging us to come back, that is.
Why the change of heart? It only came out much later that the band they'd booked to play, The Steroids, were insisting that we play support for them or they wouldn't go on.
The Steroids were a wonderful group, who had taken us under their wing. I came to love Alan the guitarist and Andy the bass player dearly. They had some excellent original songs, but also covered everything from Pere Ubu to XTC. Their Gang of Four covers were so good, I was vastly disappointed when I finally got to see the actual Gang of Four live for myself. Alan Jannson went on to write and produce How Bizarre by OMC, which you may recognize if, like me, you are of a certain age.
Which brings me back to much happier times, Billy The Club's Queen's Birthday Weekender, the first time we played there. We were one of a dozen or so bands to play over two days. I remember the rehearsals vividly: loads of fashionable young people, each with a job to do - though it was hard to work out quite what those jobs were. Hmmm. Then quite suddenly, everyone took a break, and the guy who was running the kitchen (his job was a little easier to guess) brought in a huge pot of chicken soup and dished out bowls for everyone.
It was nothing like you would get in a restaurant (unless you were lucky enough to work in the kitchens); it still had bones in it. But it was absolutely delicious, and I have spent the past 43 years recreating it whenever I can. This time I decided to try making it in my slow cooker. Though it wasn't in the original soup, if you like barley, add a heaped tablespoonful.
A quick explanation of what I mean by pan drippings: I roasted the chicken on a wire rack above a roasting tray half full of boiling water. I either use these for making a gravy, or I save it for soup.
If the two-stage process is inconvenient for you, I suppose you could always put everything in at the start and cook it for six hours straight.
6 good serves; fewer if people are expecting seconds.
For the first stage:
1 stripped carcase of a roast chicken, plus any pan drippings you may have saved
1 stick of celery, plus a few leaves if you have them
1 large bay leaf
1/4 teaspoon dried sage
a pinch of dried thyme
1 heaped teaspoon salt
a pinch of black pepper
a shake of white pepper, if you have it
3 pints of water
For the second stage:
1 smallish leek
1 - 2 tomatoes (I used one and a half)
1/4 cup frozen peas
a handful of chopped parsley
1 heaped tablespoon pearl barley (optional)
Peel then slice the onion into medium slices. Peel the carrot, halve it lengthways and chop into medium chunks. Slice the celery so it's roughly the same size as the carrot.
Add the vegetables to the slow cooker along with the chicken carcase, the pan drippings (minus most of the fat), the herbs and seasonings, and 3 pints of water.
Pop on the lid, set the cooker on high, and leave it for four hours.
Just before the cooking time is up, split your leek down the centre, and wash the inside and outside of each leaf well. Slice it not too coarsely, not too finely.
Chop the tomatoes (peel them first, if you like), chop the parsley (if you have some) and measure out the frozen peas.
Lift the lid of the slow cooker and, working quickly, give everything a stir before adding the vegetables you just prepared. Put the lid back on, and leave it to cook for another two hours.
This is the first time I've ever made chicken soup in my slow cooker, and I can honestly say it tastes better than any I've ever made in the past.
The bones are still a bit annoying, but on the plus side it's an exact match for my memory of the soup I once ate at Billy The Club forty-three years ago. And I am now a huge fan of making soups in slow cookers.
NB! BE SURE TO WARN PEOPLE ABOUT SMALL BONES!!!
Any questions? You can use the comments form at the bottom of the page.
Did you know?
You'll find recipes at the back of all the books in the Send for Octavius Guy series: