The other day whilst flicking around the channels on Sky plus, I came across the BBC 4 channel. It’s a bit of an arty farty channel I suppose, and at the time, they were showing some clips of the great Jimi Hendrix.
I think I have mentioned a few times before that I am a bit of a musician, and up to a few years ago, spent many many years from my late teens onwards playing in bands. Even though I very much fell out of love with the gigging thing, seeing that clip of Jimi working his magic, made me a little wistful and whimsical for a while, and got me thinking about the ‘old days’.
I on the whole enjoyed my time traveling around East Anglia, and sometimes further a field, but I would be lying if I said that towards the end of my ‘career’ I was still enjoying it. Friday and Saturday nights were becoming more and more of a grind. Getting home from work, lifting what seemed to be increasingly heavier pieces of equipment in to the back of the car, and driving to some pub. Trying to set all the gear up, untangling endless lengths of wire, that were rolled up neatly when they were put away after the last gig, and generally having to deal with ‘The public’
This is the part that probably put the final nail in the coffin for me…….’the public’. Trying to set the gear up in a space no bigger than a parking slot, while at the same time some complete twat insisted on playing darts over your head…….no really! You see, primarily, one needs to a ‘people person’ to play in bands, after all, you are aiming to entertain them. I was never really cut out for that if I am honest. I would have been far happier, if we had turned up, set up in peace, locked the doors, and just played for our own amusement, while sinking a few beers. Unfortunately that is not how the world of showbiz works, and so me and it fell out.
Having said all that, some very good times, and some very amusing times were had. I don’t know why it is, but musicians being their own kind of breed, seem to find humour in the unlikeliest of places, and it seems to find them too. So even though I never reached the dizzy heights of throwing TV’s out of hotel bedroom windows, or driving Rolls Royce’s into swimming pools, I thought I would like to share with you, a few of the, what I consider to be, funniest memories of those heady days.
I hope my memories translate ok onto paper (Or screen) and it doesn’t sink into the pit of "You had to be there" I will try my damnedest to recreate the atmospheres etc, and hope you enjoy them. Also, I didn’t know weather to start with the weakest story first and build to a crescendo, or start with a bang, before the rest fizzle out due to lack of interest! I decided upon the latter.
Perhaps a little back story, a brief description of the chaps in the band etc, just to help you along.
Jim – Lead guitar. Jim is about six foot five, bald, lanky, and of erratic Irish/Liverpudlian descent. Despite this, he sounded like he was from Eton…….weird. A pretty full on kind of character, enthusiastic, blinkered, driven etc. The strangest thing about Jim, was that he could play the guitar as good as, if not technically better than Jimi Henrix himself, seriously, I am bloody hard to please in any area of life, but there were times when he blew our minds. Amazing really, seeing as the man had absolutely no natural gift for music what so ever! Technically he didn’t know a minor seventh from a flattened ninth, but somehow, on a good day he was exhilarating. Playing it behind the head and everything! Despite his fiery rock guitar playing, he more often than not wore slacks and brogues to a gig! odd. He was nick named "The swinging accountant."
Dave – Drums and vocals. When I first joined the band in 1792, Dave was about fifty-two. Heavily built (A liking for vindaloos and red wine) bald, and very Northern. Not backwards in coming forwards. Popular, charismatic, centre of attention, but a very good bloke. Viscous sense of humour, took the piss out of Jim constantly. Not the greatest drummer or singer in the world, but a real enthusiast. Many a time we have been sitting in Jim’s front room watching a video of us at a gig, and Dave would say "Christ, do I really sound like that when I sing?" while I cried with laughter behind a cushion.
Me – Keyboards/Guitar (sometimes) Harmonica and vocals. (Big head!) I was a very shy innocent twenty-one year old when I joined the band. Being the way I am (A bit of a perfectionist) Nothing was ever good enough, nothing ever sounded right, "Why aren’t they listening?" etc etc. despite all of this griping, my heart was in the right place, I just wanted us to be great.
Now here we come to a bit of a problem. The bass player. The position of bass player in our band seemed to be a transient one. Very similar to the drummer in ‘Spinal Tap’ Theirs kept dying in bizarre gardening accidents etc, ours died or left……..Ah, Spinal Tap, the second funniest film in cinematic history. If you don’t know what the funniest is, I suggest you stop reading this, and go and watch bloody ‘Friends’ or something. ……Oh don’t get me started on ‘Friends’…….no seriously, don’t…….too late. It’s bollocks isn’t it? People I knew kept rattling on about it, so I forced myself to sit and watch an episode once. I managed five minutes. The studio audience were laughing, but I genuinely didn’t understand why, it simply wasn’t funny…….I mean, at all.
And no it’s not because it’s American, all of ‘Spinal Tap were Americans, playing English characters I grant you, but never the less, American. I love Frasier, that’s American, thinking about it though; the two main characters are quintessentially English. Pompous, stuffy, snobby, aloof, and the episodes quite often end in farce, a very English humour. Anyway, I have gone off track. Back to the bass players.
Steve was the first…….he died. Alcoholism didn’t help. I remember his funeral. We were standing at the grave side, and Dave uttered one of his immortal lines. Now, the name of the band was the ‘JSJ Blues band’ the JSJ being the letters of the first names of the original members of the band.
S (Steve, the dead bass player)
J (Joe, went to America, bet he liked Friends!)
So there we are standing In the rain, grey skies, weeping family, and in a break in proceedings, Dave say’s in a quite audible northern voice……."I suppose we will have to call it the JJ blues band now will we?"
There was Eddie, Mick, Malcolm, and another Dave on bass over the years, and God knows how many stand ins. Anyway, so to the story…….It’s not going to be worth it now is it! Oh well, you can say, "I suppose you had to be there," at the end can’t you.
Don’t’ ask me how, it was a long long time ago, in a galaxy far far away, but we ended up playing at someone’s house party. The vast majority of the people there were young ladies, around about the age of late teens or early twenties. Bizarrely, seeing as they were relatively young, they seemed to like what we did, and their ‘leader’ tottered up to us, and asked us if we would play at her twenty first birthday party in a few weeks time. It was to be held at a rather well to do pub/restaurant in a local village. We readily agreed, and those few weeks later we turn up at the said venue.
We unloaded all the gear, and proceeded to set it up. It was quite a large room, we were setting up in front of the French windows, a health and safety no no these days I am sure! And the wood paneled walls were lined with paintings. Staff from the pub bustled around, laying the fine looking table. It looked as though it was going to be a very fine banquet indeed. The young lady who’s birthday it was, we will call her Julia, wandered up to us, and said that we didn’t need to start playing till after the meal, so would we like to have a drink at the bar, on the house. She was left coughing and spluttering in a cloud of dust, as we hot footed it to the bar. A pint in one hand, and a Lambert and Butler gold in the other, ah, that was heaven for me in those days. Now it’s a horlicks and an Ibuprofen.
The drink went down very nicely, and another round was bought. It just so happened, that this particular night I was staying at Jim’s house, so no driving for me! Jim, being a bit of a fidgeter, sidled up to Julia when she was at the bar, and asked if she was ready for us yet. She said "Oh no, we are only on the first course."
Another round, another fag, another round…….Then some friends of mine came in (I had friends in those days) And yet more drinking and frivolity ensued. The time by now must have been rolling around to about ten thirty. Jim once again sidled up to Julia, and asked if she was ready for us. "Oh no" said Julia, "We have got the speeches yet.
Once again the barman was busy. Anyway, about eleven thirtyish, Julia informed us that it was now time for the party to really start. I couldn’t tell you how many drinks I had had, but lets put it this way, we had been at the bar from seven-thirty till eleven thirty, and I hadn’t been swilling orange juice. We staggered into the room, I think I sort of bounced into the room, off of various items of furniture, and climbed behind our instruments. Now even though I was pretty smashed, I could still do it. It was like second nature somehow, sort of auto pilot.
Being a bit of a cynic, even in those days, I had been here enough times before, to know that rock bands don’t go down well at family parties. It happened time and time again, somebody would see you in a pub full of heaving sweaty bikers, all would be rockin’ and they would come up to you at the end of the gig, and say "You guysss are fucking Brillliant. Would you come and play at my wedding in a monthssss time?" I would be standing in the background shaking my head furiously, but Jim being Jim would agree anyway. It was always the same, playing ‘Roadhouse blues’ to aunt Maude was never going to work, and here we were again. Sigh.
We had done three or four songs, and each had been greeted with a less than polite smattering of applause. Some of the older folk even had tissue paper sticking out of there ears! I think even Julia was beginning to wonder if this had been one of her better ideas.
Even in my pickled and addled state, I could tell things weren’t going too well. "I know" I thought to myself, "Hit ‘em with sssssome jokessss. Yeah humour, that can’t go wrong can it?"
I was holding onto my keyboards for grim death, it stopped the swaying a little, a leaned forward. I said into the microphone "Wow, I couldn’t help but noticcce, that there are a lot of lovely looking young ladiessss here thissss evening."
Now just try and picture the scene, The whole room was in complete silence, every set of eyes were fixed upon the pissed idiot swaying around behind his keyboards. The oldies had even taken the serviettes out of their ears, to hear what piece of comedy gold was going to come out of this blokes mouth. Little children stopped skidding across the floor, aunt Maude stared in anticipation, grannies and granddads, friends and neighbours, Julia’s very well to do mummy and daddy, all the staff, and all the band behind me.
I could sense the anticipation, I could tell that this master of wit, this Goliath in the world of entertainment, had got them eating out of the palm of his hand. I thought I deserved to milk the situation somewhat, so I reiterated…….
"Yes that’s right ladies and gentlemen, there are some absolutely gorgeousss young ladies here tonight……."
And then I hit them with it, my big punch line. I leaned a little closer to the mic, and said in my deepest voice…….
"I think I’ll have a wank later!"…….
I have never ever before been deafened by such silence. A few jaws slackened, a few eyebrows raised, I can’t be sure, but I think the father was being given the kiss of life at one point, but not one sound was made, that was until I heard Dave the drummer behind me just groan……."Oh God."
I have no memory of how the rest of the evening went. I think the brain has some clever way of wiping out horrific memories. I often wonder how Julia is now. I wonder if she left university with that degree in business studies, and went on to be something big in the city. Or did her parents disown her, and she was left to turn to crack, and a life of prostitution. If you’re reading this, I’m sorry Julia, really sorry!
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