Monday, 23 July 2012

Then there was music...


Hello? Police? I want to report a crime against music...

So, the story of the band...

I'm guessing most people start a band because they want to be cool or they want the chicks (or guys) or, best of all, because they idolise a band so much that they learn to play an instrument. I wanted a band so that I could hear what my songs sounded like outside of my head for a change. For my two schoolfriends - let's call them Ringo and Paul, for the purposes of satire - it was a combination of cool and chicks.

First off, we needed a name. That was easy - Bad Timing. More than a band name, it summed up my angst-ridden adolescence at the time!

We had one song to rehearse, Coffin Nails, and I had a notebook of lyrics (many of which still survive) to follow. Somehow I found rehearsal rooms only a bus ride away. I still had my Casio VL-1 (I'd eventually graduate to a Yamaha CS-01 Micro Mono-synth - and by graduate, I mean that I'd buy one - not learn to play it properly).

On the big day we arrived at the railway arches, paid at the desk and went inside. It was like entering another world. The walls seemed to hum with the distant throbbing of other bands making music. The atmosphere reeked of sweat and ozone and leather jackets. 

"Room six - door's open," the musico at the desk told us, pausing to sneer like a rock star. Either that or he had a naturally sneery face. Or he thought my Casio VL-1 wasn't harsh enough. Or all three.

Room six was an Aladdin's Cave, with instruments. As promised, there was a keyboard, microphones and a drumkit. Brilliant. I handed out lyrics sheets (they'd forgotten to bring copies, much as I'd anticipated) and attempted to explain how the song went. Which is no easy thing when you can't write music or play to any discernible degree. 

There was but one rule: no swearing. I intended to record the session. The plan was to nail Coffin Nails, if you see what I mean, and then go through my notebook to see which songs worked for us. I could also tweak the lyrics if need be. I hoped it would transform my writing ability. 

We set up and our vocalist (John, remember?) approached the mic. He tried testing one, two, three, blushed scarlet and then declared sheepishly that he couldn't sing. Not because of a lack of talent - we never got that far to form an opinion. He meant that he was too self-conscious to sing. Not a brilliant trait in a lead vocalist and something I'd have thought he would have encountered before.

So, singer and drummer swapped places - John on drums and Ringo now on lead vocals. Which actually wasn't that bad because the drummer couldn't really play either. And, let's not forget, my rudimentary keyboard skills were unlikely to give Richard Clayderman or Jeff Lynne a run for their money.

And so we began. After an hour of hammering Coffin Nails to death, pardon the pun, we took a break. Machine coffee and chocolate bars in hand, we checked out the grafitti strewn across every inch of wall and ceiling, and John added our name. A 'real' band next door, who sounded like a punk version of Pink Floyd (Punk Floyd?) reignited our enthusiasm.

"Let's do this!" someone might have said.

I returned to the large keyboard in situ - the one with a few dead keys, and struck up what had become the opening chords.

"Okay guys, one run through and then we'll get a perfect take. And then we'll move on."

We were mid song and I was thinking about how great this all was, and wondering why the rooms were so affordable, when a train passed overhead. I say overhead, but it sounded like it was about to come through the walls. It was an immersive locomotive experience. I think the lights dimmed too. Rock and rolling stock, as you might say.

Back to the grind. There was too much laughing and joking around, so we took a quick break. I came back from the loo to find our vocalist-turned-drummer lighting up a joint - for his nerves - and slumping in the corner. Clearly, he'd started the rock and roll life early.

As if to balance the mood, I started ranting. If someone is mellow there is no point ranting, but that wasn't going to stop me.

Somehow we made it through to the end of a three-hour session, with our friendship and my aspirations intact. We had one song on tape. The same song. Over and over in a variety of hideous takes. It turned out that making music was harder than I thought.

I still had hope though. Along with a clutch of other songs that I was determined to get on tape come hell or high water. We made plans to return in a couple of weeks, and retured to the pub. Where our drummer turned vocalist (Ringo, not John) reclaimed his drumsticks and posed them out of his back pocket at the bar, in case any passing groupie was looking for a musician to worship.

I made copies of the tape for each of them and gave them another copy of the lyric sheet to learn. Three weeks on, when no one had bothered (yes, of course I tested them - I was and am that fixated), I gave them an ultimatum. Which of course they ignored. And thus ended Bad Timing.

There was an aftermath, of sorts. We were offered a gig at a pub in Hackney, but that's another story. And I went on to write more lyrics - some of them passable and some merely dire. I sent material off to Safari Records, for Toyah Wilcox to consider, and they sent it back. I joined the International Songwriters Association and bought tapes of drum tracks. I bought a Yamaha CS-01, like I said, and I once (literally, once) rehearsed with a real musician playing background keyboards for him to tweak his own songs. In a sense it was a teeny tiny rock & roll story of a dream that, unnurtured, died. But it was never forgotten. I'm pleased to say that the music world struggled on without me. 


Bang Bang Bang Bang
Another nail in your coffin.
Bang Bang Bang Bang
Not long to go.
Bang Bang Bang Bang
Gone too far for stopping
But just remember,
It's the way you chose.

6 comments:

  1. Excellent! Really enjoyed reading this piece Derek :)

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  2. Thanks, Wolf. I thought you'd enjoy it!

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  3. Derek, I really like the name of your band. If nothing else, these are great memories. Good for you for at least pursuing your dream, if only for a short while. :)

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  4. Hiya Margaret. It was definitely one of those occasions when everything seemed to come into focus - and that's when memories are made. Years later I stayed with a friend who had a baby grand piano and it was surprising how many lyrics I still remembered (and still couldn't play along to properly!). In our society we place great store by achievement and external success; I sometimes think we don't give enough credence to just 'doing' and then seeing what happens.

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  5. What a great story, I really enjoyed reading it. Your lead vocalist realizing he was afraid to sing when he stepped up to the mic cracked me up. Definitely a problem there. :)

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    1. Hi, Julie. From what I recall of the cassette tape the other vocalist has his own problems too - little things like a lack rhythm and the absence of a decent signing voice.

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