Part 1: In The Beginning

I remember the first time that I met Gary Thorpe. It was in a GCSE Drama class and he ended up in a group with my friend Alastair and me to do a scene where Al and I were OAPs. Basically, we were just moaning about the state of yoof today and we’d already rehearsed it a couple of times before Gary joined. That meant that Gary got the criminally underwritten part of bingo caller. I think that Al and I got pretty good marks for that piece, Gary not so much. Eventually, we got pretty friendly with Gary and he even joined our 5-a-side team. By the time we reached 6th form, I’d acquired a reputation as an “entertaining” karaoke singer (ie keen but not very good – some things never change) Gary asked me if I wanted to be in a band. I said yes and we’d soon arranged an afternoon messing around with a few Oasis covers. After a few of these bedroom “rehearsals”, Gary gave me a phone-call; he’d booked a gig! Unfortunately, he’d booked it the night before one of my English A-Level exams. I remember the whole thing feeling slightly ridiculous since we’d never actually had a proper rehearsal. I hadn’t even realised that Stu was in the band! I also heard 2nd hand that Gary had named the band Transglobal Sultans after a song by The Jam (Transglobal Express) and a song by Dire Straits (Sultans of Swing) I told Gary that I wouldn’t be able to play the gig and, seeing as how I’d be moving to Manchester in a couple of months, it might be better if I left the band. I joked that I’d be remembered as being like Pete Best. I don’t know how well the gig went, it’s possible that they rocked the scout hall. What I do know is that I got a B in English.

I also remember being a mod. I guess it all stemmed from the Gallagher’s – they were always hanging around with ‘the modfather’ Paul Weller and talking about bands like The Jam, The Who and The Small Faces. So, I got into the music and I started to get into the fashion; I even went all the way to Brighton to get a proper army surplus fishtail parka. I guess like anyone else who joins any kind of youth movement, I was just looking for somewhere I felt that I belonged. Then I actually met some other mods and realised that I didn’t get it at all. I’d thought that the word mod was short for modernist. I thought this meant that you’d be into modern stuff but all the mods I met were only into the ’60s music. I loved all that stuff but I loved contemporary music as well. It also seemed that a lot of them didn’t get the irony in Jimmy’s line from Quadrophenia – “I don’t want to be like everybody else, that’s why I’m a mod, see?” By the time I left University I was pretty disillusioned with being a mod. I’ve still got the parka though and it’s probably still the warmest coat that I’ve ever owned.

The Cherry Tree was the nearest pub to my ex-girlfriend Charlotte’s house. Every week they had a pub quiz and most weeks we’d enter with her brother and her cousin. It was quite an odd quiz as, instead of having someone stand at the front and ask the questions, you got a question sheet and an answer sheet and then you got an hour to fill in the answers. I assume this has changed now since you could quite happily sit there and google all of the answers on your phone. Of course back then, none of us had phones with the internet (in fact we were all still on dial-up at home – dark days indeed) Anyway, we went one week and Gary happened to be in there having a drink with Jon, another guy I knew from school. They invited me to pull up a chair and we spent quite a bit of time catching up. As I left, I mentioned to Gary that if he ever put another band together and needed a singer then he should give me a call. A couple of days later he did.

About a week or so later Gary came round to mine with a cassette and instructions to learn the first five songs for a rehearsal that would take place a couple of weeks later. Part of our chat in the pub had been about being mods but even then I was a bit surprised by what these five songs were – Shake, originally a Sam Cooke song and You Better Believe It, both from The Small Faces debut album, The Who’s cover of a James Brown song, Just You And Me, The Jam’s Down In The Tubestation At Midnight and I Can’t Explain also by The Who. I’d only actually heard of the last two! I think Gary was taking the mod’s love of obscure songs too far. Anyway, I spent the time before our rehearsal transcribing the songs and trying the learn the cues. I was still feeling a bit nervous about singing these songs that I didn’t know in front of a room full of people who I also didn’t know. With this in mind, I convinced Charlotte’s brother, John, to come with me to the first rehearsal. He’d also been having guitar and singing lessons for quite a while so I figured he’s be just the kind of person you’d want in a band. As well as offering a bit of moral support I also wanted someone who could give an unbiased view as to how good the band actually was.

Of the other four guys in the band, I obviously knew Gary who was going to be playing lead guitar. I also knew the bassist, Tom, from school. He’d been one of the people from our end of the 6th form common room. I also recognised Anthony, the drummer but I’d never really had anything to do with him at school (he was always done the “cool” end of the common room) The final band member was Dave, the rhythm guitarist and he was a couple of years older than the rest of us. The rehearsal room itself was in the basement of the old post office building and was imaginatively titled, The Basement. It seemed like most of the building’s hot water pipes ran through the room and it was always very warm in there, especially once the five of us started playing. There was also a sign on the door saying that if you couldn’t hear something, try turning down everything else rather than turning that thing up. We ignored it.

The first rehearsal went well and even John was impressed by the musicianship of the rest of the band (although not impressed enough to accept my offer to join) We had a few more weeks where we rehearsed the same five songs and we had a lot of fun. Then Gary suggested that we learn some more songs and said that everyone should pick two songs as potential covers to learn. At the time I was slightly obsessed with Aftermath by The Rolling Stones and also The Zombies. I tried to find a copy of She’s Not There in my CD collection but didn’t have one so I suggested Paint It, Black and Time Of The Season. Anthony suggested Money (That’s What I Want), Dave suggested The Teacher by Super Furry Animals and I Fought The Law by The Clash which he’d covered with a previous band. Someone (not sure if it was Ant or Tom) selected Richard III by Supergrass and we also had a go at Day Tripper and You Really Got Me. I thought that this was a brilliant idea, really democratic and gave everyone a stake in the band. I was really excited about going to the next rehearsal and trying out these new songs, although we never did try Time Of The Season or Richard III.

And then Gary announced that he’d organised a gig for us. It was to be at Thorpe Arnold Cricket Club, supporting another local cover band, Clerical Error, for Children In Need. However, there were a few problems – Tom was away so he wouldn’t be able to play the gig, the only songs that we really knew properly where the original five and Money and we didn’t have a name.

The second of these was the easiest to sort out, we’d just play a really short set. The first was a bit trickier; one night I was round Dave’s house with Gary and he was really angry about the fact that Tom couldn’t play. Dave really had to calm him down and convince him that he’d be able to play all the bass parts. Fortunately, that calmed Gary down and we were going to play the gig as a four piece with Dave on bass. One night after a rehearsal, the five of us decided that we were going to have to come to a consensus on the name. It was all a bit like the scene in The Simpsons where they’re trying to come up with a name for Homer’s barbershop quartet. Gary suggested The Tremors, after the recent earthquake that had been felt in Melton. Dave suggested The High Squires, which does sound like it could be a band name from the ’60s but there was no way I was having my name in the band’s name. Fortunately, by this point I’d moved on from The Zombies and onto the MC5 and especially their seminal debut, Kick Out The Jams. The intro quotes the classic line about being part of the problem if you’re not part of the solution. That’s when we became The Solution.

With a couple of weeks to go before the gig, we stepped up our rehearsals to twice a week. Then, out of the blue, Gary suggested learning another song – Get Off My Cloud by The Rolling Stones. We were all a bit flabbergasted by this suggestion, even when he said that it wouldn’t be to play at the gig, just as something to mess around with a bit. The general consensus was that we’d rather just keep playing the six songs in the set in an attempt to get them right.

Then, the week before the gig, our new name was there in black and white in the Melton Times. I also found out that Clerical Error were so named because their singer was a vicar. At the time I was a bit concerned about how this would effect our credibility but a couple of months after the gig he ran off with their soundman’s wife so he was probably more rock ‘n’ roll than we were actually. When we met them, Gary introduced us as a mod cover band which slightly concerned them as they were worried we might be playing Substitute by The Who which was in their set-list. We laughed and said that the only Who song we knew was I Can’t Explain and it was all smiles from then on. They even asked if I’d be doing the old Roger Daltrey microphone swinging thing. I answered with a “we’ll see” and a knowing wink which I just think concerned them that I’d let go and hit something, or someone, with an errant microphone. However, they were kind enough to give us so long to soundcheck that we were able to go through our entire set.

Then we waited and watched the nerves rise as the cricket club filled up. When the time came, the singer from Clerical Error offered to do an introduction for us. Gary wanted us to start off-stage and then walk on after the intro but didn’t realise that the door nearest to the stage actually led to the ladies’ toilets so we didn’t go with that plan. I’d written us an introduction without telling anyone else which I had cribbed from The A-Team and which ended with the line, “if you have a venue, if no-one else will play and if you can find them, maybe you can hire The Solution”

The gig itself went okay, we weren’t amazing but we were young and energetic and the crowd politely clapped us. On-stage I’d paid homage to the Spinal Tap episode of The Simpsons by saying that there had been a bingo night at Sproxton Cricket Club the night before (true) and I thought they knew how to rock, but no-one rocks like Thorpe Arnold Cricket Club (not true) Unfortunately that didn’t go down as well as I’d expected. When introducing the band, I also introduced myself as Bruce Wayne before revealing a t-shirt saying “Batman” on it. That went down much better. I’d also done my best Daltrey microphone swing during the instrumental on I Can’t Explain and I’d actually managed to catch it. Dave had kept his promise to learn all of the bass parts except the one for the set closer, Down In The Tubestation At Midnight, for which he and Gary swapped instruments. Despite having played the song for months, we never really came up with a proper ending and so we had to come up with a secret signal so that everyone would end at the same time. What we came up with is that I’d put my hand behind my back, then everyone would play four bars and finish. It had worked in rehearsal and worked perfectly on-stage too. I also took the opportunity to change the “they smelt of pubs and wormwood scrubs” line to “they smelt of pub and cricket clubs”

After we’d finished I was absolutely buzzing. For probably the only time in my adult life I turned down the offer of a drink as I didn’t want to dull the sensation. Gary’s dad especially was very keen to let us know how good he thought we were. My parents, who had hidden out of sight round the corner when we’d actually played, weren’t quite so effusive with their praise. A couple of days later we all, including Tom, went round Gary’s grandparents’ house to watch the camcorder footage of the gig. We all had a good laugh at my “dancing” and it was so clear how nervous I’d been. However, the seeds had been sown for the front man that I’d become – the clothes, the leaving the stage and the nonsensical proclamations. I was also really excited about the future. I was in a band with some really talented guys, I’d just played my first ever gig and I couldn’t wait to do it again.

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