What (Musical) Difference Does It Make? Or, How The Silent Witch, Snooker and Snoozing Karmically Combined To End My Musical (Non) Career.

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Pete Townshend: I know how he feels.

Whatever anyone tells you, being in a band is a pain in the arse.

Starting a band seems like a massive pain and you’d think that it must get easier once you’ve finally found a group of people who can play a little bit and who get on and who want to play the same sort of music.  But it doesn’t.  It gets even worse.

You read about big bands and they all complain that the only good thing about touring, for example, is the hour on stage and everything else is bloody awful.  These people aren’t driving the vans, moving the gear, sorting the gigs, checking the equipment, packing down, finding parking spaces outside venues so you don’t kill yourself carrying amps, and all the rest of the shitty crap that goes with being in a band.   And they still say it’s crap.  Yeah.

Me?  I didn’t even really enjoy playing live all that much.  I didn’t mind it, although all the aforementioned things and more besides took the shine off it.  I always got nervous and my nervousness manifested itself through the medium of sleep.

I’m not narcoleptic in general, but I always – always – found myself being shaken awake by someone who was demanding of me, “What are you doing?  You’re supposed to be onstage.  Why are you asleep?”

 And I don’t mean I’d slope off to the van, or a quiet little spot somewhere and lay down for a snooze, I mean I just conked out totally wherever I was sat.  In pubs, clubs, venues on the toilet circuit the length and breadth of Britain, you name it, I’ve slept in it –  while other bands were on, while records were blaring out, while Little Gray was shoving chips up my schnoz, etc.  No problems.  As I like to glibly comment, “I’m fantastic in bed.  I can go to sleep like that.”

 I was alright once I woke up but when I wake up, I do like to have a cup of tea.  So, while my mates were being all rock ‘n’ roll, swigging Jack Daniels from the bottle onstage, I was bent over my amp, slurping on a mug of tea between songs.

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From left to right: Graham ‘Knocker’ Norton (no relation); Moggy’s head; Christian Dawson and Middlerabbit, still bleary.  Cup of tea not pictured.  The Cavern, Liverpool.

Here’s a demo we did back in the day as we didn’t say back then.

A lot of people describe me as a snob, especially when it comes to musical taste.  I tend to agree with them because it’s easier, but I don’t really.  I think I’m the same as everybody else:  I just like some things and don’t like others.  I don’t have an agenda.  I was kicked out of the last band I was in for, among other reasons, the old chestnut of musical differences.  In our case, unusually, it was true.  I thought I shared the same musical tastes as my bandmates, but it turned out I didn’t.

When we first started, I was already sharing a flat with a drummer.  The reasons for that were twofold.  1. My (recent) ex-girlfriend had dumped me and I couldn’t afford the rent on our flat by myself.  2.  Drummers, unlike guitar players, are like rocking horse shit, so I thought that if I lived with a decent one I could keep an eye on him and get him involved in any bands I was starting.  Finding drummers is hard.

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All drummers everywhere.  It’s because they spend their time hitting things.  It’s not good for you.

I replied to an advert in Antone’s Guitar Shop on Beverley Road, for musicians into The Beatles, Stones, The Who and The Kinks to form an original band with the bass player, whose advert it was.  I dropped a tape of a couple of demos that the drummer and I had made to him in Kwik Save, where he worked and, reasonably impressed, he arranged a rehearsal with a lad he knew who fancied singing and it went alright.

After a while the drummer, who was by now attending music college (or ‘Rock School’ as I teased him) was getting drum lessons and they ruined him.  From being a kid who really enjoyed playing the drums, he became a kid who was permanently dissatisfied with his playing.  He was on a permanent, rhythmical bum trip, as they’d have said at Altamont.

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Everybody at Rock School, ever.

The bass player was into the bands he’d put on his advert and the singer was big on Neil Young (see “Yummy, Yummy, Yummy”)  You know the sort of thing I was into, and the drummer had returned to a Hip Hop phase, principally the west coast G Funk that was just coming into vogue.  I was into it too, to a certain extent having already forced myself into early-mid 80s Hip Hop (Something Like A Phenomenon) and, as I lived with him, we listened to the same stuff in the living room.

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Conquistadors of G Funk: Snoop Doggy Dogg and friends.

After a while, the bass player’s previously preferred drummer – with whom he’d played in a covers band for some years – returned from finding himself in India and, having heard some of our rehearsal tapes, said that he wanted in.

By this point, the – current – drummer had gotten himself a new girlfriend who was a travesty to women as far as I was concerned.

What would happen –every night – was this:  the pair of them would come in from work about teatime, go in the kitchen, make tea, which consisted of something and chips, bring it through to the living room and eat it in front of the telly.  Then, as now, I ate only sporadically, so I wasn’t involved.  What was on the telly tended to be snooker.  I can’t be doing with snooker.  I mean, I can’t do it.  It’s like plumbing.  I can appreciate the skill it takes to to do it – to hit small balls over that distance, with that precision – but like a skilled plumber fixing a toilet, I don’t want to watch anyone doing it.   I was in a bad mood to start with.  Might have been a bit of the old low blood sugar.

Why didn’t I change channel?  Well, I’d moved into his flat and, as subtenant, I felt like I had fewer rights than he did.  I did, although probably not relating to the telly.  Mind you, it was his telly as well.

His girlfriend would virtually never speak.  The only words I ever heard her say were, “Nice chips,” as she watched the snooker, apparently happily.  I referred to her – not in front of the drummer – obviously, as ‘The Silent Witch’.

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This is the best I could come up with to illustrate  ‘The Silent Witch‘.  To her credit, she wasn’t a ginger.

I didn’t object to her eating chips or enjoying them.  What I did object to – and it’s not all that reasonable sounding – was the speed at which she ate them.  You’ve never seen anyone take so long to eat a plate of chips.  Hours.  It took hours.  I was at the point at which I had to naff off into my room so that I wouldn’t leap from my chair, grab a handful from her plate and shove them down her throat, shouting, “Fucking get them down you, love.  Faster!  Do it.”

 I tried to engage her in conversation often, but it was no good.  Either she had nothing to say about anything, or she just had nothing to say about anything to me.  It was a bit odd because the drummer’s previous girlfriend (Anna) was excellent.  We got on extremely well.

Anyway, it was getting to the point where I was getting sick of watching boring fucking snooker, sitting in a silence in the living room that was only punctuated by the slow, slow sounds of The Silent Witch’s interminable masticating.  Every night.

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From left to right:  Sleepy, Somnolent, Torpid and Soporific: boring snooker players getting their karma.  Snow White not pictured as she’s buggered off to make the best of it with her step mother.

The reason I described her as a travesty to women is because she just wanted to do whatever her boyfriend wanted to do and not to make any fuss.  It’s not a heinous crime, is it?  It was irritating for me, but it also wasn’t really any of my business.

One day, about nine months in, the drummer confided in me that he was concerned that he had lost the ability to hold a conversation with anybody about anything.  I wasn’t surprised.

“Maybe it’s because you and your girlfriend never speak,” I offered.

“Yeah,  I think it might be time to move on,”  he said.

I was pleased, but I kept my mouth shut.  What I also kept my mouth shut about was my private concern about what the past nine months might have done to his brain.

Diversion – 2000AD

 I was never very big on comics.  I had The Beano, The Dandy and Whizzer & Chips sometimes when I was a kid but the superhero stuff didn’t really appeal.  I liked Batman on telly, but that was about it.

For Christmas one year, I got given a 2000AD annual by my Grandma and, like everything else with words printed on it in my vicinity, I read it.  I wasn’t very taken, but one story stuck with me.

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2000AD Annual.  Not the one I had, but it’ll do.

It was about a prison planet for criminals who were always breaking out of prison.  It started off showing our protagonist, this hardened criminal, being taken there on a spaceship.  When he got off the ship and onto the planet he was complaining about how it stank and all that.  His sentence was like those American prison terms that people get sometimes: about 4000 years or something.

It was shit, being on this prison planet, what with the stink and all the criminals and that, so what the authorities had was a sort of time travel dentist’s chair which criminals could opt to go in and time travel to the end of their sentences.  It showed this young kid who had a fifty year sentence who took the chair.  When he got out he was an old man.  The protagonist watched this and said to himself that going in the chair would kill him, what with him having a 4000 year sentence.  A prison guard heard him and laughed.  He said, “They all take the chair in the end! Ha ha,”

 Anyway, what happened was our protagonist stole some tools, broke into the place with the time travel chair and adjusted it so it turned into a spaceship.  Yeah, I know.  Right?

The next day, he went to the laughing guard and told him he was right, he couldn’t stand it and he wanted to take the chair.  The laughing guard, two dimensional stereotype as he was, laughed and led him off.

In the chair, it was our protagonist’s turn to laugh as he blasted up and away from the prison planet.

But, as had been foreshadowed in the first panel, the smell turned out to be relevant.  Once you’d smelled the atmosphere of the planet, your body could no longer function without it.  So our man started choking to death and had to fly back down and spend the rest of his life there.  Guess what the laughing guard did?  Yeah.

What concerned me was , what would happen to the people who took the chair if you could never leave the prison planet because of the toxic air?  Maybe they had a sort of retirement village on the other side of the planet; I don’t know, it wasn’t made clear and though I wasn’t a fan of loose ends in stories, and the spaceship made out of chair was a bit of a stretch,  I enjoyed it.

End of Diversion

 

The drummer dumped The Silent Witch and met another girl, Helen, who was more or less her polar opposite.  Helen was young, very pretty indeed and not without character.  The impression I got from her was that she might not have known exactly what it was that she did want, but she sure as hell knew precisely what she didn’t want.  And what she didn’t want was a bloke who expected to her to park her arse next to him in front of the snooker all night, working on the world record for longest time taken to eat a plate of chips, not speaking and doing whatever her bloke said.

I got on with Helen really well – still do – not that they’re together anymore because I was awoken at three o’ clock one morning by what sounded like an irate baboon wrecking the living room.  I got up and staggered towards the grunting and rumbling only to find the drummer making a big deal out of attempting to tear the Yellow pages in half.

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Angry Baboon.  Intact Yellow Pages not pictured.

I asked him what the fuck he was playing at and he could barely speak – no shit after the past nine months.  He was practically foaming at the mouth, I’ve never seen anyone go so berserk.  Not outside of mental institutions, anyway.  I gathered that Helen had said or done something.

“You need to go to bed and stop acting like a baboon,” I told him, eliciting a primal, animalistic howl.  I went back to bed and left him to it.

This was around the time of the other drummer’s return from being cosmic in India and asking if he could join, so when the bass player told me that Cosmic India Drummer was interested, all I said was, “Yeah?  Don’t put him off.”

 In the end, I moved out on the same day he got kicked out.  The official reason for it was that he was only into Hip Hop and not what the rest of us liked.  Which wasn’t my issue with him: my issue was that he’d turned into a miserable, self-flagellating drummer who now spent more time beating himself up than beating drum skins.  And had developed  a ridiculous sense of entitlement as far as how women should behave around him.  And lost the ability to take part in a conversation.

The freshly spiritually aware drummer joined and everything went much smoother after that.  

 

When I got kicked out six years later for the same broad reason – I didn’t like what they liked, it was more or less true.  That and the onstage tea drinking.  We’d started knocking on a bit and the others were what I’d describe as ‘desperate’ to get somewhere.  Desperation is an unappealing characteristic, especially if you actually are desperate for something and I wanted no part of it.  I’d reached the point where I wasn’t that arsed about being rich and famous if it meant I had to jump through a bunch of hoops because I already did that at work.  Writing songs and playing the guitar was my joy and I didn’t want to wreck that.  I was happy to keep toddling on, pleasing ourselves.  I wasn’t even really interested in playing live, to be honest: I don’t need patting on the head for doing something.  In the end, what broke the camel’s back was my adamant assertion that Girls Aloud were better than Kings of Leon.

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Girls Aloud: Letting the funky music do the talking, talking.  I don’t recognise any of Tweedy’s marriages and am prepared to take her on: all she has to do is call however, I may have to eat her baby in the same way that a new lion taking over a pride from a previous, defeated alpha male would.

It seemed to be the most preposterous statement that anyone had ever made to our singer, who lost the ability to speak in coherent sentences once I’d said it.  Perhaps it was catching, the inability to speak.

I suppose that was me getting my karma again: I’d not made any effort to keep the old drummer in the band when I could have because he was getting on my tits.  As I was getting on everybody’s tits, I probably had it coming.

I was still pissed off at being kicked out, though.  You see, I’d thought that we dreamed the same dream.  I thought that we weren’t going to be pissing about trying to copy what anyone else was doing just for the sake of getting somewhere.  I thought what we were doing meant something, but it turned out it didn’t really.

At the sacking, ironically, at the very same pub that I was dumped in before (see: Yummy, Yummy, Yummy): The Queens, I asked them what they were going to do next.  They said they were just going to carry on and, finally, get somewhere without me holding them back.  I told them they’d be a covers band within six months.  They laughed at me as I walked out of the pub.  Like two dimensional prison guards on planets with addictively toxic atmospheres.

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The Queen’s, Hull: racist landlord (no longer there, fortunately) not pictured.

They renamed themselves and tried to preserve some shred of my dignity by telling the minor press that wrote about us that I’d left of my own volition.  I had no interest in charitable dignity, so I told everybody who asked that I hadn’t walked, I’d been sacked because I was into Girls Aloud and drinking tea on stage.  Most people sympathized with the remaining members… who became a Kings of Leon cover band a few months later.

My ex who’d dumped me in the same pub years before told me she’d not been in a single relationship since she dumped me and it was all my fault.  As I’ve not been in a single band since that one, I do occasionally wonder if the universe isn’t a bit more ordered than I give it credit for.  It couldn’t be much less ordered because I don’t give it any credit at all for that.

I’ve got up and played the odd song here and there and, this summer, I’m rejoining my erstwhile bandmates to play a couple of weddings.  I don’t mind doing that really, even though it’s covers and I’m not really interested in doing that sort of thing because my brain insists that I create, rather than just replicate.

The difference is, for me, now I don’t care and then I did.  I suspect that the exact same thing is also true of my ex-bandmates, bless their bourgoise little socks.  I wonder if I’ll drop off whilst hanging around?

I’m still having my cup of tea when I play though.

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An innocent cup of tea, minding its own business.

 

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