I used to be in a band. Impressed? Don’t be. Many of my friends have also been in bands, as have lots of people I follow on Twitter and Facebook. In fact, who am I kidding? You’ve probably been in a band, too.
My son’s in one. His friends, their parents, his school teachers and his driving instructor – they’ve been in bands, too. The bloke who runs the corner shop; Alex the dreadlocked postman; Angela the goth next door; and both Stuart and Freda, who I met on holiday in Spain last summer – all in bands.
Yet even though there’s nothing special about being in a band, no matter how brief a person’s musical career is, you can bet that they’ve got a story to tell about when they were in a band. And tell it they will, at length.
I’ve been lucky enough to meet some quite successful musicians, whose stories are worth hearing. But with heavy heart, I can report that (unless they’re being interviewed) the more successful the musician, the less likely they are to tell you all about it. And vice versa.
The most vocal, the ones who’ll tell you chapter-and-verse about it, were in a band for a few weeks when they were at school. They played mostly covers. But they’d also written a couple of their own, called things like Total War and Let’s Destroy Everything, damning indictments of the capitalist system. Decades later, they can remember every word. Sometimes they actually sing bits of these compositions to me, to illustrate just how hilarious they were. No, they hadn’t got as far as playing any gigs, but did rehearse a few times. Actually, they did once tape one of their rehearsals, and would I like to hear it?
Then there are those whose group did get as far as playing three or four gigs to their mates at the school disco or local pub. It was 30 years ago, but they can – and will – still recount every detail at length. Which member of the band broke a string; the wrath of the pub landlord when their set went on too long; the backstage recriminations.
Others took things a bit more seriously. Maybe their bands had played some out-of-town gigs, or some support slots at central London venues. They’ll spin well-rehearsed tales of how they once played at the Hope & Anchor with Eddie & the Hot Rods, or third on the bill at the Dublin Castle, where they’d met the bass player from Suede, who was really a great guy.
Some, of course, are active in bands now. Men – again, they are usually men – playing pointless 12-bar blues in bands with names like Tumblin’ Dice and The Penge Po’ Boys. (What is it with those apostrophes?) They insist on recounting how they used to go and see Alvin Lee “back in the day”, and how he’d been the equal of Eric Clapton.
OK, I concede that there are people who’ve been in bands – pretty good bands – and who don’t go on about it. My friend Kev, for instance. I’ve known Kev for years, but discovered only recently that he’d been in a skinny-tied band called The Aerosols (“everyone used to call us The Arseholes”) who released a single in 1978 on the Jet label. I was impressed. Not just with the single, whose monochrome paper picture-sleeve oozes new-wave cool, but with Kev’s modesty in not mentioning it.
The trouble is, I made Kev up. Because, let’s be honest: if you had such a string to your bow, you’d tell everybody you met for the rest of your life, wouldn’t you?
I do understand the impetus to relive these youthful glories. Because, you know – being in a band was kind of fun, sometimes. I like to think that I’ve recovered from the many disappointments and setbacks I suffered during my musical career. Still, I find it hard to sympathise with those less successful than my band, or to share their glee in their lack of ambition. And the many musicians who were more successful and ambitious than my group probably don’t need my approval.
So yes, I was in a band. But I won’t bore you with the details.
Last modified: November 25, 2017