Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Part 4 - Let's Play Life...

As I mentioned in Part 3 - Flowers In The Dustbin, I started to play the guitar in 1977 mainly due to my discovery of Punk Rock and the offering of such sage advice from the likes of Alternative TV’s Mark Perry who said you only needed to know 3 chords and you could form a band.

The only problem with that was that you needed other people to form a band other than the "one man" type favoured three years earlier by Leo Sayer.

Fortunately my brother had an inkling to play the drums and my recollection tells me that at Xmas 1977 I received an electric guitar and small practice amp and my brother a snare drum and hi-hat and we promptly set to learning to play some of the songs we now knew should be simple to play cos, as people kept telling us, "them punk rockers can't play".

Well I beg to differ !

What I did discover was you really didn't need to learn the 3 chords previously demonstrated, you just needed to learn one chord shape, this one

If you are not, nor ever have been, a guitar player that diagram may look as indecipherable to you as a page full of a random foreign language. Hopefully, dear reader, you are a fan of the Ramones so I shall let Johnny demonstrate

That being a picture of the mighty Johnny Ramone playing the above diagrammed chord, commonly known as a barre chord.

The beauty of the barre chord is that if you move it up and down the fret board of a guitar the same shape becomes a different chord at each position. So at the first fret it is an F, at the 3rd fret a G, at the 5th an A and so on and so forth until you reach the dusty end of the neck. So you have a myriad of chords at your disposal all from learning to play one shape.

The down side of the barre chord is that for the inexperienced guitarist they are bloody difficult and excrutiatingly painful to play in equal measure. As you can see you are required to stretch one finger across the whole neck and hold down all the strings while at the same time using your remaining 3 available fingers to make the chord. Add to this using your thumb at the back of the neck to clamp down that stretched index digit and shifting that shape up and down the neck at a speed dictated by the punk rock we chose to play...well it bloody hurt and you had to persevere to make it sound anywhere close to acceptable. It may go some way to explaining why I have, in the ensuing years, avoided the use of barre chords whenever possible!

But persevere I did and my brother and I would wait for our parents to go out, set up the amp and drum kit-lite in the living room and thrash our way through such hits of the day as the Tom Robinson Bands "Up Against the Wall" and the Angelic Upstarts "Police Oppression". I'm certain at times it sounded bloody awful (oh those poor neighbours) but we were having a great time.

The next logical steps are two-fold; find the remaining members to make up a full band and then, write some of your own songs. We found a bass player who also played the saxophone and, calling ourselves "A Moment", we set to learning to play together. We played a few gigs at local church halls and at my 18th birthday party. But most importantly we started to write our own songs. I don't remember if it was the first one I/we wrote but a song called "Everything You Need" was born. I can't remember the words anymore but I can still play most of it.

(Actually I've just had a go and I can still play all of it. Now I wonder where the lyrics are ??? Oh yeah, we recorded it. I've just been up into my loft and retrieved a reel of tape containing the very first recordings we made. It's 30 years old, dated March 1981. Two songs are on this reel, "Happy Fields Of Thought" and "Everything You Need". I guess I need to get on to some people and try and get these songs digitised somehow. Watch this space)

Music became pretty much my reason for doing everything. Listening to it, making it, anything so long as it was music related. We went to endless gigs and dreamt about being as big as the bands we went to see. Hanging out and talking about how great your band was was almost as important as your band actually being great.

I don't remember when or how A Moment finished but by 1983 I was in another band called Pop Da Freak. I'd given up playing the guitar and just concentrated on being the singer. We dressed in leather and frills, wore make up and had vertical haircuts (well most of us did). We made a racket inspired by Joy Division, Magazine, Iggy Pop and the Velvet Underground (or so we thought) and there's an example of it right here.

Pop Da Freak - Play Life For Keeps by russh29

I've always been really proud of that song. The lyrics were based on a book called "Ringolevio" by Emmett Grogan which if you have any interest in the 60's counter culture is a book you should seek out and read.

Pop Da Freak would have folded in late 1986 and by 1987 I'd formed yet another new band, The Libertines (got there waaaay before ya Doherty). What we were doing back then would have been described as sounding very C86, what came to pick up the all encompassing description "Indie", whatever the hell that is. We had a fine old time. We picked up supports with some well known bands, played some big shows and I finally got to do something I'd dreamed about doing since back when my first single was either "Skweeze Me Pleeze Me", "The Wanderer" or "Solid Gold Easy Action" (don't know what I'm babbling on about ? Have a look here) I GOT TO MAKE A SINGLE OF MY OWN !!!

The Libertines "Smith Is A Liar"

It was recorded at The Workshop studio in Redditch near Birmingham, with co-production duties handled by my brother, who had ditched the drums in favour of the guitar and was by then making records of his own on a major label and heading for "pop star" status. "Smith Is A Liar" didn't sell many copies (I still have boxes of them around the house if anybody still wants to buy one) and I never got to hear it on the radio but I had finally made a record of my very own.

Despite it's abject failure we did some gigs to try and promote it and even made plans to release a second single, which would have been this

The Libertines "Wolf!"

The Libertines - Wolf! by russh29

But by now I needed a little more security in my life. I was about to become a Dad and I needed a job. I'd done a few gigs pretending to be a roadie for my brothers band and they were about to embark on their first major support tour of the UK. They asked me to go with them as the roadie and offered me what was then a handsome sum to do it. So I told my fellow Libertines that was it and, 25 days after the birth of my son, embarked on my first tour as a roadie, something that would occupy me for the next 8 years. But that story is for another time...

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