To the outsider, the idea of playing in a band conjures up images of adoring fans, free booze, endless groupies and a rapt audience eating from the palm of your hand. Unless you are in a handful of successful bands (particularly The Rolling Stones in the late sixties/early seventies) this is not the case.
Playing in a band generally means shelling out for expensive gear, finding somewhere to store that gear in your house, lugging that heavy gear to a rehearsal/gig in a car/van without giving yourself a hernia, setting that gear up in the early evening before the audience arrive at the venue, securing all loose leads to the floor with gaffa tape so that some idiot from the audience and/or band doesn’t break their neck tripping over them, waiting to start while the audience arrive, playing the actual gig, breaking down all the gear, loading the gear back into the car/van without exacerbating the hernia you have already given yourself, driving home and then lugging the gear back into your house without waking the rest of the house up at two in the morning.
So why do we do it? Well, for me, it’s all about that time playing the music. There are probably plenty of motives for being in a band. For some it may be fame, money, girls or a hundred other reasons. I do it because I just love music, love playing music, and love playing music with other people who love playing music. Does that sound too simplistic? Maybe it does, but you cannot beat that feeling when you are on that stage, everything with the band clicks and you get in, what overpaid sportsmen call, ‘The Zone’. The Zone is where you are not thinking about what your hands are doing, not thinking about what chord or vocal line comes next and you look down at yourself on the stage and you feel as one with the music, the audience and (not wanting to sound too much like a pretentious hack from the NME) with life itself.
Ok, we’re getting a little too deep here. Let’s go back to the beginning and discuss that all important First Band. Every musicians’ First Band should be a marker as to their ambitions, a call to arms for teenage rebellion, a sonic manifestation of political and social ideals.
My First Band was a three piece instrumental jazz-funk outfit.
Alright, let’s set some context here. I was fifteen, still learning the guitar, was heavily into seventies jazz fusion and I felt a need to express myself without having the slightest clue how to do so. My fellow co-conspiritors ( two of my oldest and best friends – Graham on keyboards/piano and Bruce on sax) got together in Graham’s mum’s dining room (that was where the piano was) and attempted to be the next Return to Forever.
This, unfortunately, we were not.
To be fair, me and Bruce had been playing less than a year and Graham had got his Grade 5 piano a few years before, so we were hardly likely to set the world on fire. The important thing was that it was fun, and by writing our own material it felt like we were achieving something. We went on to recruit a keyboard player ( with Graham moving on to drums) and a bassist and got onto the Derby Jazz gig programme (unfortunately the venue hadn’t renewed it’s music licence and we found out the gig was cancelled the night before…)
By now, Graham had been approached by some oiks in the year below us at school to drum in a band they were forming and had started playing some gigs performing cover versions of the rock persuasion. Graham (to his credit and my eternal gratitude) engineered an audition with the band for me and I turned up and jammed along with him, Simon on vocals and Chris on bass. There was a guitarist in the band already and I felt that all had gone well with him and that we had all gelled together well musically. A few days later the guitarist surprised everyone by quitting the band, and I was in.
The next 4-5 years were great fun. There’s a lot to be said for spending your late teenage years and early twenties playing in a band with your best mates. The experiences (and scrapes) are too numerous to mention (and may feature in a future blog…) but the overriding feeling was a sense of common purpose, that we were all in it together, a sort of trench mentality. We wrote, recorded and gigged together, not to any huge success, but enough to keep us interested.
Another one of the other interesting thing about being in a band is the interpersonal dynamics. If you think it’s hard maintaining a relationship with one person, imagine there’s four; changing allegiances, cliques, fallings out – it’s any wonder any band lasts more than a couple of years. Eventually, we all drifted apart and the band was no more. Since then, over the years I’ve played in about 7 or 8 other bands with varying degrees of success and talent (including playing with a certain band in 1990 who went on to have a number one single, a mere 7 years later…)Every single one of those bands has been fun to play in, and a great experience. Playing in a band is something I’ll probably do to some degree until I can’t stand up any more. Everybody should try it at least once. So, grab that guitar/mandolin/tambourine that’s been lying about the house, get hold of some other people of a similar persuasion and form a band; you never know, you might like it.