Part 2: The Cover Band Years

Part 1 is here

In the early days the five of us were really close, hanging around with each other all the time with that kind of gang mentality you read about in all the clichéd band histories. We had some brilliant nights out. The first time that Gary ever took us to The Shed, which he’s happened upon while waiting for a train and discovered a mod night on there, and we spent all night sat downstairs playing drinking games and Tom got drunk on Guinness. Winning a broken TV from a band in a dance-off at another night in The Shed. The night where Gary got us invites backstage at The Charlotte from a band he knew but we soon left to go and watch the LA Doors instead because it was rubbish. Nights out in Melton and Nottingham, card nights round Dave’s. It couldn’t last.

I started 2002 in an optimistic mood; Gary had booked us two gigs at The Shed and we’d been trying some new songs in rehearsal. The first of the gigs was at “Shake”, The Shed’s mod night. We’d all been along to one of their previous nights which happened to be their 2nd anniversary, the highlight of which had been receiving a free cassette of songs:

Still unlistened to

Still unlistened to

Unfortunately, as we got closer to the gig, Gary started to take the whole “mod” thing a bit far. He started introducing some Northern Soul classics into rehearsals, although only those that had been covered by The Jam. He also started to drop some of the “non-mod” songs that we’d been playing. The Teacher by Super Furry Animals being a case in point; it was cut because it “didn’t fit”. He was also getting far too excited by the fact the night was called “Shake” and that we were covering The Small Faces song of the same name. Eventually, when the gig came round, the set list looked like this:

Money (That’s What I Want)
I Can’t Explain
You Better Believe It
Big Bird
Heatwave
Shake
In The Midnight Hour
Day Tripper
Too Much Monkey Business
Paint It, Black
Tin Soldier
You Really Got Me
Wham Bam Thank You Mam
Down In The Tubestation At Midnight

So, since Big Bird, Heatwave and In The Midnight Hour were based on covers by The Jam, that gave us 4 Jam songs, 4 Small Faces songs, 1 by The Kinks and 1 by The Who. I thought mod was meant to mean modern but here we had only one song that had been released during any of our lifetimes and even then only because Dave was a couple of years older than the rest of us.

The actual date of the gig is lost in the midst of time and the only reason that I can remember the set-list is because I found a copy stashed with some other papers.

It’s still weird to think that this was the only gig that the five of us actually played together. We were still having fun; we let Gary take the lead vocals on Too Much Monkey Business (our Ringo moment) It was also the first time that I ever jumped off the stage at The Shed, although I rather ruined the effect when I broke a microphone cable that I didn’t realise I was standing on. I was even more confused when I started singing into the now unattached microphone and no noise came out of the speakers. I had to scramble back onto the stage and steal someone else’s mic.

We were definitely better the second time around; Gary’s drilling of us through the same songs over and over again made us sound really tight on stage. However, there was definitely an element of tension creeping into the rehearsals. You could see Gary getting annoyed whenever Ant and Dave would swap instruments. Then they’d start playing quick blasts of Fell In Love With A Girl by The White Stripes or (Drawing) Rings Around The Word by Super Furry Animals and Tom and I would join in. I was never sure whether Gary was annoyed because he didn’t know the songs and so couldn’t join in or because the songs “weren’t mod” and so were preventing us from practising In The Midnight Hour for the thousandth time.

I also think he wasn’t very impressed by my alternate lyrics for Big Bird. Seeing as how this was the time before universal internet, I’d get the lyrics for songs by putting them onto MiniDisc, listening to them and transcribing the words. I used MiniDisc because it was portable and rewinding and pausing were easier than with cassette. At the time I had a problem with the opening line, “Open up the sky” I remember thinking that the sky was already pretty open. So I started thinking about what you could open up and I couldn’t stop thinking about a shop, which led me to:

Open up the shop
Cos I want to buy some bread
If you don’t do it quickly
I’m going to end up dead

Cos I’ve been preaching on the mountain
And I’ve got 5000 to feed
All we’ve got’s some fish
Some bread it what we need

Get on up big bird…

Yes, I’d confused the sermon on the mount with the feeding of the 5,000 and then imagined Jesus trying to get a corner shop (possibly run by Big Bird) to open up and sell him some bread before his angry followers kill him. I can’t possibly imagine what Gary might have objected to.

Despite the success of the second gig, a strange form of atrophy had started to set in and we’d started going out less as a group. It was as if everyone had their own idea of where to take the band next.

Gary had a lot of big plans for the band but he seemed to be flitting from one to another like a butterfly. He said that he knew a guy who could rent us a PA system. I was a bit naive as to why we might need one but he said that having access to one would mean that we could theoretically play anywhere.

One day, he said that this guy was going to be playing in The Bricklayer’s Arms, a pub in Melton. Gary asked if I fancied going down with him so I arranged to meet him in the pub with my girlfriend. We went but Gary never showed up. It was a slightly dingy pub and the singer wasn’t really our thing so we had our drinks and made a quick escape. When I saw Gary later he just said that he’d changed his mind and asked if the PA was any good. I had no idea but when the guy sang you could hear him through the speakers.

At one point, I was seeing quite a bit of Gary. We spent quite a lot of time talking about music and I lent him a few of my CDs; a couple of mod compilations and Let It Bleed and Exile On Main Street by The Rolling Stones. We also went to one of the most boring football games I have ever seen when we saw Leicester City and Everton draw 0-0.

For some reason he also asked me for a lot of romantic advice. I assume that because I had a long-term girlfriend he thought I must be some kind of expert in the area. I was anything but. There was a girl he liked who he was friends with. I told him that he should just tell her how he felt. He ignored this advice and instead drove her all the way to London and took her on the London Eye. Unfortunately for him, she never realised what day it way – February 14th.

He was also suggesting things like playing unplugged gigs as a two-piece acoustic act. Knowing that I was a fan, he even suggested that we might play a couple of Stones songs such as 19th Nervous Breakdown. However, we spent an afternoon messing around with some stuff acoustically and the only songs that I really remember doing were That’s Entertainment and WIld Wood, both written by Paul Weller. Saying that, I did come close to convincing Gary to let us try The Beatles’ classic Rain with the band after I pointed out that The Jam had covered it once.

His biggest idea was the most divisive though. He really wanted to get a PA system and his suggestion was that we each started putting aside some money towards getting one. He pointed out that if we were playing for a sports team rather than a band then we’d have to be paying some kind of membership fee. This idea went down like a lead balloon.

Ant had given me a cassette with five demos that he’d recorded of his own songs. I remember being absolutely blown away by them and I’d stayed in the car after I got home just so I could play them again. They had, and indeed still have, an amazing youthful energy to them. In fact we returned to two of these tracks, I Don’t Know What It Is and I Wanna Be Retro, during later incarnations of the band. Be Young, Be Drunk, Be Happy was re-written and briefly in the sixth circle’s playlist while for some reason we never played Going Nowhere Fast or Your Own Medicine. I made copies for Dave and Tom and they agreed that they were brilliant songs and that we should be trying them. All we had to do was convince Gary.

Meanwhile Dave was busy lending me the Police boxset, recommending that I listen to a couple of tracks. Apparently they were very un-Police-like tracks that he thought we could try as a band but I could never bring myself to actually listen to the Police. Ant used to have a good laugh whenever he saw it in my house claiming that I was becoming a fan of Sting but it only ever gathered dust.

Dave had also been trying his hand at songwriting. He’d brought along a song called Crabby to one of our rehearsals (sample lyric, “Hey little crabby take a walk on the beach”) We tried it out a couple of times but it was soon quietly put away. It wasn’t a great song but I felt that it deserved better. However, it was clear that Gary wasn’t that keen.

I had some lyrics written and I suggested to Dave that we get together and see if we could write anything together. He was up for it and invited me round one night. When I got there, I was pretty surprised to see that Gary was there too. I had three or four “songs” that I was reasonably happy with but there was one of them that I thought would be perfect – While You Wait. In my head it was a bit ’60s, a bit Beatle-y, I thought that it could probably fit into our set of covers with no problem.

I sat there in one of the armchairs and started to sing it acappella. When I’d finished, Gary looked at me and dismissed it with the line, “What’s that called then? While You Wait?” It still feels like such a pithy put-down. Unsurprisingly, following this frosty exchange, nothing actually got written.

Tom had already decided his future career – Pope. After our sound check at The Shed before that second gig, Tom and I had gone to McDonald’s to get something to eat. We got to talking about what our dream job would be and came to the conclusion that it would obviously be musician. However, Tom said that if the band didn’t work out for any reason that he’d quite like to be the Queen. I pointed out the fact that the position is hereditary and so he changed his answer to Pope.

And me? What were my plans for the band? I wanted a bit of everything; I was happy doing covers but I wanted to be doing different covers, more classic rock ‘n’ roll and more modern stuff. This was the era of The Strokes and The White Stripes, exciting things were happening but we were stuck down a mod cul-de-sac. I also thought we should be doing our own songs. What Ant had written would have fitted in brilliantly with a more modern choice of cover (some might say that I Don’t Know What It Is would have fitted in a little too well with Fell In Love With A Girl)

I guess I was just trying to keep everyone happy. I also had a feeling that people wanted me to replace Gary as the “leader” of the band. I admit I was tempted but I had no real desire to be in charge. I thought that Gary had done a pretty good job in putting the band together, sorting out rehearsals and organising some gigs. Yes, he could have done with listening to us more but there’s no guarantee that I would have been any better. I also think he had a bit of the Brian Jones fear as well. I’m not sure that he would have been able to write any songs so if we started writing our own material, he’d be left out and he’d start losing control. That’s why I think he wasn’t so keen as the rest of us for trying Ant’s songs.

So, there was already a bit of tension around when along came the two bombshells that really signaled the beginning of the end. Firstly Dave announced that he was moving to Nottingham and so would be leaving the band. He told us to carry on and that he really thought we could make it. Dave was also really self-depreciating; claiming that he was too old to be a rock ‘n’ roll star anyway. I had some serious reservations. Not only did the band sound better musically with two guitarists but I felt that Dave was the only one of us who was able to contain Gary in any way.

Then, only a few weeks before our next gig, Gary phoned me – Ant had quit the band. I was surprised and yet, not surprised at all. It had been obvious that he hadn’t been happy for a while but he’d never said anything to me about actually quitting. Gary was really pissed off. I tried to calm him down, pointing out how great a drummer Ant was and saying that I’d go and have a word with him in a couple of weeks, when everything was a bit more relaxed.

In the meantime Gary was adamant that he wanted to cancel the gig. I pointed out that doing this, especially at such short notice, might get us an unwanted reputation around Leicester as unreliable. All we’d have to do is get a drummer in for a one-off gig. admittedly, neither of us knew any drummers. The only ones I could think of were Dave, who had already quit the band, and the drummer from the band that we’d supported for our first gig.

So, we headed back to rehearsal with Pete behind the kit. He was a nice enough bloke and a reasonable drummer who already knew some of the songs in our set since he was already in a cover band. However, he wasn’t as good as Ant and there’s just something a bit off about a drummer wearing gloves.

We started off trying out the same set as above but Gary soon started cutting it down. I think I started to lose my passion for the whole thing when he axed Paint It, Black as I saw that as “my” song, my original pick for the band. A couple of weeks of uninspiring rehearsals followed before we headed back to The Shed to play:

Money
I Can’t Explain
Big Bird
Shake
In The Midnight Hour
Daytripper
Too Much Monkey Business
Tin Soldier
Wham Bam Thank You Mam
Down In The Tubestation At Midnight

A rather lacklustre performance all round. When I introduced the band, I said that we had an on-loan drummer and introduced Pete as Ringo. This led to the logical conclusion of introducing Tom as Paul, Gary as George and myself as John. Pete took it well but Gary wasn’t happy asking what I’d been up to after the gig. I pointed out that it was just a joke.

At the time, you used to get half of your band’s door take. It cost £3 to get in so you’d get £1.50 for each person that said they’d come to see you when they paid. The only people who came to see us were Gary’s dad and his friend so Gary, Tom and myself finished the evening £1 richer.

Pete left as soon as we’d finished. We thanked him for all of his help and then, about ten minutes later we left too. It was hardly the triumphal high of our first two gigs and I think we were all quite happy to leave.

I only ever saw Gary a few times after that. We never really spoke about organising any more rehearsals or gigs and, after a while, he stopped calling me and he stopped coming out. The last time I saw him was in The Welby pub in Melton. It was the May bank holiday, the day of the big Melton Show. We were all walking from there into town but Gary had driven so he offered to give a couple of people a lift. We told him what pub we’d be in but we never saw him again. He disappeared, just like Keyser Söze.

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