Monday, 24 August 2009

Sing Our Own Song

About a week before our penultimate gig my brother’s keyboard stand collapsed. Due to one of those boring facts about maths that says we can’t work out trigonometry, and yet we can do the maths to catch a ball, my brother was able to catch his synthesizer – but the second, higher, keyboard crashed down and made a nice solid sound as it connected with the floor.

That, as it turned out, was the last sound it made that day – repeated attempts to turn it back on failed miserably. We were well and truly shafted. In less than seven days we were due to play our second gig at a local pub, having sent off a tape to the events manager about a month previously.

Back then I was mostly playing songs with my brother – highly keyboard based songs that were sub-Pet Shop Boys with the occasional New Order bass line thrown in for good luck.

At the time I still owned a car and lived at home – so we drove 20 miles to the only music repair place we knew and left the keyboard with them marked “urgent”


We owned two keyboards – a Yamaha SY85 synthesiser (which I still have) and a smaller Yamaha keyboard (since replaced with a Korg). The SY85 was a slightly unreliable studio tool – in that you had to pre-program all the songs and if you tried to play anything live over the top then most of the sounds would cut out: the 2nd Keyboard meant that we could just use the built-in rhythms and be a bit more “loose” during some of the songs – using the superior tones of the Synth on the non-programmed songs. Also you had to watch the disks on the SY85 as they had a habit of not writing properly and producing a sound not unlike a snail on acid.


A quick call to my Uncle and we picked up an even smaller keyboard with cheesier drum patterns and sounds and began praying to any higher power that would listen that our own 2nd keyboard would be ready in time.

Fortunately it was – and we found ourselves playing our songs to a drunk, dis-interested crowd who were only there for the main event. Half-way through my guitar solo a drunk bloke came up onto the stage and started trying to talk to me. I don’t know what it is that attracts drunk men to me, but this was not the first time (the first time being in a strange town when a man in a car pulled up and asked me to go home with him – I declined). I can’t remember what he said, but it was something about some guitarist or other. If you’ve never been approached by a drunk whilst trying to concentrate on something and in a position where you can’t immediately leave then I can tell you that it’s very unnerving. A similar thing also happened the one time I went busking with my brother. We got there, realised we only knew three songs that we could both play and managed five minutes before a Born Again Christian joined us with his guitar and promptly started trying to convert us.

Back to the night at the pub - I went home thoroughly disheartened at the crowd’s response, having decided to never again perform in public – and then stupidly allowed the event organiser to convince me to play again the next week. The upshot was that he’d just had another act cancel and he wanted to make sure he still got paid. I never should have said yes – it was far too short notice for any of my friends to attend and we started the evening with an audience of one person – who promptly got up and left after the first song.

Afterwards backstage the manager of the pub grimly handed me my £30 (which barely covered the costs of the keyboard or I wouldn’t have taken it) and suggested I leave a long gap before thinking about coming back again.

And that was when it hit me – truly hit me – that we were well and truly fecking awful. It was two years before I even wrote another song.

So cut forward a few years and I’m working in this call centre doing Communications (a thankless task, as the one thing people don’t like to do in business is talk to one another) – the Christmas party was coming up and I was dreading it. I don’t really like parties at the best of time – you can always tell me by looking for the one in the corner with a book.

And I decided it would be a good idea to try and put a band together for the night out of staff (inspired by another contract elsewhere where 9 staff had put together a Blues Brothers band). I approached the “Fluffy” Team (every works has a fluffy team – they don’t actually do anything much and appear to be there only to put forward the kind of daft ideas that eventually convince you that everyone in the company is insane – most recently a High School Musical themed party) and got consent to go ahead and promises of funding.

So I advertised for members and got three responses: one from a Call Centre agent who claimed to be able to sing (we will call him K) and could provide us with a drummer from the same department (we will call him S) – the second response was from a guitarist (NR) and most importantly I had a response from a woman whom we shall refer to here as Argent.

And so Argent, myself and NR turned up at the rehearsal room – with no sign of K or S, but decided to go ahead anyway. I don’t know whether any of you have ever hired a rehearsal room, but whenever I’ve hired one I’ve always found myself practicing in a room next to a singer who sounds like he’s having a painful bowel movement – this was no exception (for anyone interested I have christened such bands The Sons Of Mu – based on the fact that the singer always seems to be grunting Mu mu mu)

About half way through the first hour K turned up, fashionably late with a small entourage of females who sit in the shadows looking vaguely embarrassed as we set up and performed a version of Mustang Sally. It went reasonably well by the end of the session.

So the finalised band listing was K on lead vocals (and he actually had quite a good “rock” voice – i.e. throaty and powerful), NR on lead guitar, myself on bass and rhythm (depending on the song) and Argent on keyboard and backing vocals when she remembered.

And so we carried on for another couple of weeks with varying degrees of turnout – sometimes K & S would turn up, sometimes they wouldn’t – but we were certainly starting to sound pretty good. Having obtained the promise of funding I was paying for the rehearsal space on my own, but we had expanded our repertoire to include “Don’t Look Back In Anger” (song by Oasis) and were still trying to come up with a name for this fledgling group.

Finally we admitted defeat on names and simply referred to ourselves as The Band With No Name (turns out there was already a band called this – but what can you do?).

We were just discussing the option to make the rehearsals more frequent in time for the party when K dropped his bombshell – he was looking for another job, would be gone before the party but wanted to still be in the band for the gig.

I knew this was never going to happen (there are very serious cobblers reasons for non-staff members not attending parties) but asked anyway: the management promptly withdrew the support and the funding, leaving me heavily out of pocket.

Argent and I have remained good friends since and occasionally work towards what we are now calling “That Difficult Second Album” – which, co-incidentally, is due out at about the same time as the second coming, as well as rehearsing together whilst her husband and cats politely hide away elsewhere in the house.

I’ve only played once live since The Band With No Name – at an Open Mike night in my home town. Half-way through my first song a drunk got out of the audience and started asking me awkward questions (possibly about astrophysics for all I know)

Perhaps the universe is trying to tell me something?


the watercats said...

hhhmmmmm.. it appears you must have some sort of alcoholics attractant! Luckily we haven't come across this phenomena...yet...
Glad to hear you're not giving up though, it would be a travesty if you did!....

Lydia said...

Jeez, what a shame you keep getting bugged by drunks! I bet when I was a drunk I used to do that to musicians I adored and who I wished would adore me. Since I can't go back in time, I'll simply apologize to you!

I'm awfully glad you haven't given up and agree with those Cats.

Don't Feed The Pixies said...

Watercats - wouldn't mind so much if they weren't all minging! (he he)

Lydia - thanks :)

Anonymous said...

Yes it's telling you to stay focused, and to be stubborn towards all these obstacles.