A Tale Of Junk Culture Part 3
In previous episodes of this historical tale we’ve talked about Junk Culture the ‘early days,’ in fact the days were so early they were before Junk Culture formed. We examined the motivation behind a young lad with the world ahead of him, a head of fluffy blonde hair and a keen interest in female anatomy (studied in mail order catalogues) throwing his life away playing in bands. So now we’re going to look into why I made it further than 99% of bedroom dreamers and actually played a show, and why I made it further than 80% of the 1% remainder from the above statistic and actually went on to play a second show, and ultimately we shall get an insight into why I am still dumb enough to still be one of the 0.1% of the aforementioned 1% still playing shows so many summers later. That is it for the math in this part, you can put down your pens and pencils; there will be no test afterwards (although the prose may be testing in itself).
Having spent what was probably more than a year practising several times a week in the vicarage, a first gig still eluded the members of NICE. Matt, Dan, Tom and I had tried everything we could to step up to the musical mantel, step onto the first rung of the ladder of fame and step out into the wide world of rock and roll. Our metaphors were getting thin and our desperation for stardom only grew stronger, along with a growing fascination with steps. I was buoyed up by the fact I now knew the fat string at the top of the guitar was referred to as the bottom string, and the recent purchase of an electronic tuner and a plectrum brought a certain professionalism to my performances during practices in the dinning room of the vicarage. But baring the chance a world famous record producer walking his dog down the muddy footpath behind our ‘rehearsal rooms’ would discover us we knew we had little chance of bothering the charts unless we got proactive, and maybe bought a step ladder.
We considered ourselves musically ready; we had a collection of ten or 11 songs together. Titles were taken from the contents of a book case in the dinning room where we rehearsed, themes were inspired by burgeoning teenage crushes. With song titles like ‘Making clothes for children’ and ‘Journey’ (probably more a homage to Jules Verne than an ode to psychedelic drugs) we felt sure we were on the right tracks. We even had a lament to languid lustful longings and teenage temptresses called ‘Caroline’ (bare in mind we were teenagers ourselves at the time and you will realise that is nowhere as creepy as it sounds). We were EMO before EMO existed, but with some loose fitting trousers and without the lank hair. I have no idea where our lyrical inspiration came from; none of us had so much as snogged a girl, let alone suffered the hellish machinations of a heart crushed by the disinterest of the opposite sex. We hadn’t even playfully cupped a breast in jest. Tom had bought the aforementioned Caroline an Easter egg and with no concept of the true meaning of the record had played her ‘Come Together’ by Primal Scream down the telephone line. Possibly slightly confused and concerned by a 13 year old (Tom was Matt’s younger brother) being so suggestive she hung up the phone and Tom decided to eat the egg himself. Such is the complexity of the heart and soul - we all yearn and suffer the torments of desire; the surety that the only way our burning soul can be saved is by the tender affections of those we try to assert our ardour on, but more often than not said fevered feelings can be quelled by eating half of a kilo of reasonably priced chocolate. Watching that delightful 80’s slice of Antipodean oddness ‘Round the Twist’ also helps, although results may vary according to the age of the viewer, and the decade in which the heart is wounded.
After several more aimless crushes the distractions of trying to ‘get off’ with girls appeared to abate briefly, and as if revealed through a clearing in patchy fog we reset our sights on our goal. We decided that if promoters refused to ring and offer us a support slot at Wembley Stadium we would have to take matters into our own hands. Being south of 16 years old - and not having the first idea of the complexities of live music promotion - we went with the only idea our intuition offered us and cobbled together a series of hand made felt tip decorated posters declaring our imminent appearance at Otley village hall.
If you’re reading this and haven’t enjoyed an upbringing in rural England then I’d best briefly explain what a village hall is. It’s a hall in a village. To be more precise it’s a small (usually wooden) hut built around one or other of the Queen’s jubilees, or at the time of her coronation. Often the construction involves a more than advisable amount of asbestos (I.E. ‘some’). For some reasons I’ve never figured out they almost always seem to be perched perilously on many small piles of bricks, giving them the appearance that they used to be great land ships until some bugger nicked their wheels, forever stranding them by a B road. Village Halls are usually used as the village crèche for young mums and as a meeting place for the old folk of the village to congregate, play cards and complain about the young mums of today. These two disparate user groups give each village hall a unique smell that you can’t find anywhere else - and heaven only knows why you would seek to – of nappies and stale baked goods, augmented with the tang of fusty air and rotting woodwork. They are truly unique and wonderful places and should be celebrated by all, albeit with a raised eyebrow and a peg to the nose.
I still don’t know why Matt chose a village about ten miles from our own homes in Wickham Market. I have no idea why he chose a parish where we knew nobody and had no way of getting ourselves to, but he seemed sure of his choice in a sort of ‘build it and they will come’ way. We didn’t include a date on the poster, or details of door charges and concession rates. The poster featured as its focal point just our band name and the location of the happening. Underneath we made the bold claim that we were ‘as good as they say they are,’ and offered the opening time for the event as ‘dusk’ (an obscure homage to the recent Stone Roses gig at Spike Island). None of us thought to actually contact the caretakers of Otley Village Hall, book a PA system or even tell our parents about the gig. It wasn’t that we considered these mere details below the radar of our rock god status; we just didn’t consider them at all. We felt much the same way I did when I tried to find a doorway to Narnia in the back of my wardrobe a few years previously; we had a goal in our sights and were more blinkered than a pervert at a peep show.
With exuberant enthusiasm and an unshakeable belief that a life of stadium rock and solid gold toilets would be ours if we just put in a little graft we filled out pockets with drawing pins, hopped on our bikes and set forth to decorate the church notice boards and telegraph poles of the surrounding villages. By the time we reached Ufford (about a mile away) we realised what a mistake we had made in trying to cycle burdened with home made bill posters and pockets full of drawing pins. Wishing to avoid further perforations to our still developing genitalia we elected to put all the posters up outside Ufford Church and headed home confident in the knowledge we had done a good job.
You may have guessed already, but having decided on a gig miles from home, neglecting to actually book the venue and running a poster campaign within the confines of a single church notice board in a village with less than a hundred residents didn’t result in instant stardom. I’d love to be able to give you a fairytale ending to this part of the story whereby a kindly well wisher took us under their wing and pulled a few strings here and there but it just didn’t happen. Damned cruel world this can be sometimes, a boy makes misguided minimal effort and what happens? Nothing. Cruel and bastard-harsh world.
The non existent gig at Otley Village Hall didn’t so much pass by as drift from our collective consciousness, a bit like when you try not to think of a drunken mistake you’ve made, or try to ignore a large crack appearing in your bedroom ceiling above your pillow. Sure the plaster might come crashing down on your face while you sleep permanently scarring you so badly even your mother would struggle to love you, but on the other hand it might not.
Our dreams of world tours were replaced with a simple desire just to play anywhere, to anyone anyway we could. We wanted exposure with a greater swiftness and intensity than a flasher in a black leather raincoat outside a fast food restaurant during an unbearably hot day in August. A brief performance sonically violating the bemused local Christian youth group in the church hall realigned our desires, and we aimed just a little higher. I took it upon myself to book us a proper gig, with a crowd that actually wanted to be present rather than one that (based purely on the sounds they were being exposed to) were starting to question their faith.
With linear logic and an attention to detail that has probably never graced me since I took it on myself to organise our first concert. I chose Hatcheston Village Hall as the venue; it had the advantage of being about a mile away from our home Village and was therefore less likely to attract the local undesirables. These undesirables being the large gang of youths that spent their time outside the men’s public conveniences in the centre of the village yelling homophobic abuse at passers by. Many years later one of these delightful fellows gave me the opportunity to use the best comeback I have ever offered up to such abuse; when one particularly low fore headed boz-eyed specimen bellowed the accusation that I enjoyed partaking in fellatio in front of a large group of onlookers I retorted that he still owed me a tenner for performance of said pole polishing duties!
I contacted the caretaker of Hatcheston Village Hall who seemed to have no problem with a child hiring a building she was responsible for, it was either that or she was trying to get fired or get revenge on a fellow member of the parish council. The cost of hire was ten pounds a night and however many fifty pence pieces we needed for the electric meter.
I chose a date, photocopied some tickets and posters, and began the hard sell. As it turned out a great number of kids at my comprehensive school in Framlingham and the private school my band mates attended in Woodbridge were more than willing to part with a quid in exchange for a badly drawn paper ticket that promised them a night of entertainment from a band that were ‘as good as they say they are.’ At the time I was amazed that our fame had spread so fast. In retrospect I assume these kids relished the idea of spending a night without adult supervision at an event that looked just about passable as a properly organised concert. By the night of the gig we had sold a staggering one hundred tickets and about another fifty kids would show up on the door chancing their arm that they’d get into what was looking like the social event of the decade, and at that age we only had one and a half decades worth of experience to go on.
I was feeling like quite the successful business man, I had even booked a support band in the shape of our friend’s punk band ‘Ken Liver’ to kick off proceedings and to offer the punters more bang for their buck. Ken Liver told me they were a punk band, a phrase that meant nothing to me at all; I think I assumed it was some sort of dance routine.
For reasons I still don’t understand, a music shop in Ipswich called Sounds Plus offered me the use of a rudimentary PA rig for free, and in exchange we offered them advertising in the form of a plastic bag pinned to the wall of the small foyer of the venue. On the morning of the gig we fetched the PA from Ipswich (over an hour away on the bus) and somehow talked a parent into helping us lug it to Hatcheston.
Ever the voice of reason and calm logic my dad pointed out the night before the big gig that we could probably do with some insurance in the shape of someone who had already passed through puberty wandering around to make sure the place didn’t get destroyed. While my dad may have boyish looks he also has an enormous soup strainer moustache that makes it clear to all he finished his ‘special journey’ several decades ago. His concerns weren’t as mad as they may sound, my dad has been heavily involved in youth work for as long as I’ve been alive and was all to aware of what unruly teenagers are capable of. Unconvinced that my burly school friend Leighton (who offered to work the door in exchange for a box of penny chews) would be the only necessary muscle ying to my dad’s security yang. He roped in the Terry the Loss Adjustor (who lived next door) to help out, probably hoping his skills as a Insurance Loss Adjustor wouldn’t become a large part of his role for the night. Kindly Terry’s daughter Clare-Marie and her mate Lucy offered to run the merchandise stall, the merchandise consisting entirely of peppermint crèmes with our band name NICE etched onto the surface. Naturally they sold out in minutes, I had deliberately chosen a village with no pub so the kids had nowhere else to go, and those not old or wise enough to bring booze needed some kid of mild altering hit.
By the time we were putting this gig on we had been to a few ‘proper’ gigs at the students union at the UEA (the University in Norwich) and at Colchester Uni (where I saw Damon Albarn throwing up behind a bus) and felt sure we knew how to create a realistic and electrifying rock concert. Our plan was a simple one; we shut all the curtains and borrowed a four bulb row of disco lights and a strobe light large enough to take down light aircraft. The rest of the stage effects would be covered by our mate Tim blowing cigar smoke into an empty pop bottle and squeezing it back out from stage left in the vague direction of our feet. The University gigs we had been to were stiflingly hot and sweaty, to mirror this at our own concert we turned all the blow heaters on full blast for the entire afternoon before the doors opened. Everyone must have been wilting as they crammed into the hall around PM, not that we could see them, we had turned the lights off because gigs are always, yer know, kinda dark and hot.
We felt a little deflated by the fact the stage at Hatcheston Village Hall was only ten centimetres high so we formed a barricade in front of the stage by placing the huge fold out trestle tables (of the type you only find in Village Halls) on their sides with the tops facing the audience. The drum riser was made by piling up folded up tables and precariously placing Tom’s drum kit on the top.
As Ken Liver played through a set of what in retrospect were pretty decent punk covers – augmented only by my dad yelling at them for swearing on stage – and we hid away in the kitchen waiting for our big moment. The kitchen was behind the stage and a heavy red velvet curtain gave us the perfect opportunity to make a grand entrance when Tim played the intro music that would signal that our time had come. There were two other doors leading from the kitchen; one led to the outside world where (and I kid you not) screaming girls banged their fists on the door, wanting a piece of our singer Dan. This not entirely unwanted attention forced him to use the cupboard behind the other door as a makeshift toilet and he was forced to use a gossamer thin plastic cup as a makeshift urinal. His emergence from the aforementioned call of nature avec cup is quite wonderfully captured on the video Dan’s dad made of the evening. Nothing would make those baying girls go away; we tried everything, by which I mean we tried opening the door and frisbeeing a surprising number of plastic trays at them.
Ken Liver finished their set and our roadie/ stage manager/ provider of teenage smoke Tim prepared the stage by walking around it and pretending to play Matt’s guitar, we know he did this because not only were we peeping through the curtain but it’s also captured on the video of the night. We went on to bewilderingly rapturous applause considering nobody in the room had ever seen or heard us before, and most of those present had quite probably never even been to a gig before. Maybe we created such a magnificent scene of pure throbbing sexiness on that stage the girls just lost control? Perhaps everyone in the room was dangerously dehydrated from the sweltering heat? Just maybe they screamed due to the fact that half the fuse board had blown out when we took to the stage, meaning the only light in the room was a pulsating strobe light so piercing in its brightness you could see the thoughts of the person in front of you each time it flashed? I’m pretty sure it was the sexy thing though.
We hammered through our set and much to my hormonal joy my performance had the complete attention of a very attractive girl in the front row. I learnt an important lesson on stage that night in Hatcheston; it’s always more important to look like you know what you’re doing with a bass guitar then it is to actually know what you’re doing with a bass guitar. Considering I hadn’t gone to the trouble of actually learning a couple of the songs we played that night and played the remainder with a cavalier attitude to key, tempo and putting the notes in the right places I still managed to earn the fluttering eyelids of a handful of girls. I peered out from behind my stupid floppy fringe (it looked like a comb-over that had been turned ninety degrees and blown dried in a candyfloss machine) at the swooning girls as they turned their attention equally to each band member and I knew with a grave certainty that this lark of being in a band was something I wanted to do a whole lot more of.
It wasn’t like we knew nothing about girls, I had a plethora of girls who claimed taking things further would ‘ruin our friendship’ and we had a particularly special friend called Hester who demystified the opposite sex in the most innocent ways possible. I greatly preferred her explanations of the ways birds and bees have sex with each other than I did the wolf skull diagrams employed by our school RE teacher during sex education. Like most internal organs the ovaries look pretty terrifying out of context, and ‘out of context’ is a way of viewing our organs none of us wish to experience – preferring them to remain safely tucked away actually inside our bodies.
So while the fleeting affections of several girls was great and all, it was the focussed attention of one particular girl called Laura (who had made her way to stand right in front of me) that really caught my attention. In fact on the video of the night you can see me trying to wave to her whilst playing; I may have found out that playing in a band can go some way to attracting female attention, I was yet to figure out how to make the next romantic move. As it turns out Laura took care of that aspect a week later when she kicked shut her bedroom door, pinned me to it and proceeded to carefully examine every aspect of my dental hygiene with her talented tongue. Oh yes, being in a band had got me my first proper snog, and it was with a groupie. There are certain things in life you only get to do once, and the memory and anecdotal armoury of such events stay with you for life. I will always be eternally grateful to Laura for giving me the coolest first kiss of anyone I know. It’s just a shame I made a noise like a pantomime dame when she surprised me with her affections in the way she did. She dumped me a few weeks later because I told her I thought Guns and Roses were shit.
Musically my first ever gig ended in the coolest way possible – we were back stage (by which I mean the kitchen) when my dad bounded through the curtain holding a smashed vodka bottle as evidence that the crowd wanted more. I don’t think anything I’ll experience for as long as I live will be as rock and roll as that moment right there.
NICE continued to play the occasional gig, make the occasional short film (seriously) and build an underground base (no kidding) for the next few years. We changed our name periodically (Morris 1000, The Benaults, The Listeners and probably more) and sadly it would be many years before I played another show to so many people. My cut of the profit that night was £15, it would also be many more years before I would make as much money as that from playing a gig. As my bandmates started to take school seriously and knuckled down to the prospect of having "careers," band practices (or ‘bandies’ as we called them) became less frequent and musical directions more bizarre and challenging. Had it not been for a chance meeting with an extremely drunk young punk in the smoking area of Suffolk College around the same time I dare say NICE may have been my last musical adventure.
Re: A Tale Of Junk Culture Part 3
Hahaha classic. Can't believe you have it on youtube. Not bad for some kids making a movie in a time when editing gear was near non existent.
Re: A Tale Of Junk Culture Part 3
Cheers! The 'editing suit' belonged the the singers dad, it took up a whole shed and was basically a bank of VCRs, an Omega computer and some sort of weird huge console thing!
Re: A Tale Of Junk Culture Part 3
Actually if you've got time to kill you can watch one of the short films we made a year or so later - Lawsie blog: The Listener, four kids, one camera and an old editing console
I should warn you though, once that time has gone you'll never get it back!
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