Friday, 31 July 2015

DESTINED FOR GREATNESS (MY HISTORY OF MUSIC-MAKING (SORT OF))

This is still the silly season, right?


You know what they always said about the Sixties? That if you could remember them you weren't there? Whereas with Eighties, it's those who want to remember them who weren't there. There was not a whole lot to do back then, except to wait for dole cheques to arrive or the internet to be invented. Plus there were only four TV channels, so instead we used to form bands. Some people said they did this as a means of protest against the Thatcherite tyranny which pedagogically imposed itself upon our lives. But I think the real reason was that it was something to do with your hands. For example, I myself had two hands and I was in two bands. It all went something like this...

The best way to describe my first combo might be via the famous Buzzcocks lyric: “We came from nowhere/ And we're heading straight back there.” Fair enough in itself. But we figured we could cut out that whole middle man.

'Liverpool Explodes', a chronicle of punk history in that fair city, had just come out and been read enthusiastically by myself and my pub drinking mates. It recounted a scene built around a central notion, that music was only of any real use as a jumping-off point for daft art projects and Dadaist provocations. So practitioners would endlessly configure and reconfigure into outfits with an absurd and ludicrous name, some absurd and ludicrous stage attire and perform under some over-arching absurd and ludicrous concept. This was to be performed for one night only, then everyone involved was expected to start from scratch again. Any variance from this was, in the parlance of the day, “rockist”. Bands that tried to go on to do a second gig would be met by punk picket lines.

We considered this and decided it was a bit extreme. But only a bit, and that was where we came in. The weak link was clearly that first gig business. Cut that out and you remove even the possibility of a band performing a second. Problem over. So we formed a band with the concept that the less we actually did the truer to the purity of our vision we were. We'd sit around and discuss what sort of band we might be, in the most abstract and conceptual terms we could muster. We'd ponder, for example, the prospect of our having a name. Not, I hope you understand, consider names for possible use. Most certainly not! Instead we'd consider whether considering the possibility of a name was a violation of our most vital principle or not. Then not decide anything. Then buy more drinks.

We weren't, you see, part of the system like bands who had names and instruments assigned to individual members, or for that matter agreement on who those individual members might be. Instead our philosophy was, if you're not doing something you could be doing anything – inactivity sets you free. It was only much later I discovered that, thinking along similar lines, the Residents had figured the way their new album would sound the best would be to give it a release date of never. Everyone was then at liberty to just imagine the way they wanted it to sound. They based this on the Theory of Obscurity devised by N Senada, a Bavarian music theorist who they had made up.

Besides most bands never rise above the level of pub talk anyway, never get as far as all the sweaty business of lugging amps to rehearsals or the writing stuff down involved in booking gigs. So we already had those music-making bands outnumbered. If we kept up the not doing anything, we might be bringing the whole music industry to a grinding halt. Our way was clearly better. Mostly through being easier.

We kept this up on successive Saturday nights for many months. When I think back, it was our earlier work which was the best. In the beginning it was all about the not making any music, and later that just seemed to change somehow…


My second band were formed after I'd moved to Brighton, out of the inhabitants of my student house. You could still get grants in those days, and perhaps reflecting such enhanced purchasing power this time we had instruments. I suppose what I should have done is invite my original bandmates to come down to Brighton and picket one of our sessions. But alas I didn't think of that until just now.

Some of these were even musical instruments - an acoustic guitar, an electric bass, a harmonica and drums. Though by strict definiton the drums were really the pots and pans from the kitchen. And this distinction came to light when the poor soul who had to share the house with us came in to say he was in full support of our musical endeavours, but could he at least have a couple of pans to make his tea with. We complied and left that bit on the session tape. To cut it out would have been commercial.

In fact so far had I come on my musical journey that we even had a name – The Search for Gravity Waves, the title of a Physics textbook which sat on the shelf. We were supposed to take a different name from a different textbook for each different session, but somehow the Search for Gravity Waves stuck. Perhaps it was just too good a name to pass over. Or perhaps we were just too damn lazy to look a bit further down the shelf.

I was chief vocalist and songwriter. I expect we decided that to not be commercial. If it was that, it bloody worked. My material ranged from surrealist imagery to social realism to stuff I'd just made up. We were particularly proud of 'Everybody Does the Washing Up in Hollingdean Terrace', a salute to the excess cleanliness of our humble abode.

Our tracks were played on the local radio. But only because we played them. We talked ourselves into a slot on the student radio station, where we'd play the work of our musical heroes then our own stuff, and defy people to tell the difference. Nobody could. Probably because they weren't listening in the first place. But the point still stood.

Our model this time wasn't Liverpool punk but the Velvet Underground. They hadn't been popular in their day, but their music had later become highly influential. So if we were even more unpopular – and in our case even we didn't think we were any good – then it followed logically we'd go on to have an even more legendary status. We were destined for greatness, that much was obvious.

Now it may be objected at this point that Search for Gravity Waves are yet to achieve greatness. As you might have noticed, we seem strangely absent from Eighties nostalgia shows. But I reckon we still might make it. In fact, now I come to think of it, the pension plan is pretty much dependent on that...

6 comments:

  1. [arms folded] Come on then, let's hear some '...Gravity Waves' [arms folded]

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  2. Ah, yes well… it's only for the real heads, you know...

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  3. You'd have ended up being Gavin Gravity Waves. Not a bad moniker mind you. Jeremy's husband is still known as Tim Science round these parts, from his erstwhile band Science Never Sleeps.

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    1. Gavin Gravity Waves… It's actually got a bit of a ring to it!

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    2. Shortened to Gavinty Waves.

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    3. Hey man, we were a collective! I wasn't like no leader or nothin'!

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