As stories go, this isn’t much. No big themes, no lessons to learn. Just a little piece about growing up, and a rite of passage for some of my generation. It all sprang to mind when I was out for a walk this morning and passed the pub where the first band I was in played its first gig.
History, perhaps, but there’s no tale to be told there. Better to slip forward a couple of years. We’d booked the hall on Stainbeck Lane for the gig, and we were sharing the bill with another band, friends from school. Some of us had been in one band together before, but there’d been a splintering of the ways. After all, we were 16, a time when – for boys, at least – every discussion or argument becomes a testosterone pissing contest, and some fractures refuse to heal easily.
Amplifiers, drums kits were hauled over – this was 1970 and few parents had cars that could act as taxis and Ford Transits. It felt like a real gig.
Funnily, I don’t even remember the name of our band. The other one – the one I’d been in before – was Naked Lunch, lifted (just like Soft Machine) from the writing of William Burroughs. So cool, right? Yeah, we were in Leeds and on it.
Where they were a quartet, we were a trio. Guitar, drums, then me on bass. We took our music seriously. That was easy to tell, because we sat down to play and the entire set was instrumental. Well, all of it except for the final song (a cover of ‘The Clear Out’ by Jack Bruce, if you’re interested, or if you’re male).
I was the singer, at least in name. But we hadn’t actually rehearsed with vocals because a) we didn’t have a microphone, and b) how hard could it be?
The answer to b) was: very.
The other band had a mic. Just the one, there, waiting for me. I was standing, for once, playing the riff, I prowled up to the microphone, trying to look very rock’n’roll in a turquoise cotton singlet with black piping, a pair of loon pants, and hair that wasn’t anywhere near as long as I would have wanted. If I hadn’t been so scrawny I’d have looked less idiotic.
Time for the first verse. I stood there, smiling, ready for stardom.
I discovered I couldn’t sing and play at the same time. It was, as they say, awkward. The members of the other band gathered at the side of the stage wondering what was going on. The members of my band kept glaring at me as I shook my head and shrugged. Verse, chorus, bridge, solo, verse, chorus. And then, thankfully, it was over.
The gig was a success. I think it was, anyway; in my memory it was. Each musician made a little money after expenses (hall rental, having tickets printed). At any age, that’s success.
A friend of mine had come to watch. Gail. She lived in Cheadle Hulme and we’d met on holiday on the Isle of Man three years before. In the timesince she’d blossomed into a hippie of sorts, someone with a love of acting. Not boyfriend and girlfriend, you understand. Platonic. My parents had borrowed a camp bed for her to sleep in the living room.
I felt embarrassed. After all, messing up in front of someone you like – and I definitely did like her – is horrific at any age. But at 16? It’s monumental.
Still, that night, as we sat in the dark of the living room, for one shining second it didn’t matter any more as she kissed me, and all the sense of failure vanished.
There were more gigs over the years. Some where I played bass, somewhere I played guitar and sang. Some were great, some were awful. But that one sticks in my mind.
*the bass in the picture wasn’t mine. I belonged to a young man known as Pererkin the ferret stranger, who also took the photograph.