Wednesday, 29 October 2008

Gonna Be A Man

When I first started sitting in pubs a couple of years back with a pint, some baccy and a notepad, I had the grand idea of seeing if I had enough material for a book, after all, everyone supposedly has one in them. My intention was to write down with fondness and perspective some of my experiences as a musician, particularly the heady days of my time in London in the late '80's and early '90's in a couple of bands who were big enough not to be small time, but small enough not to be big time. As a title, `Dusty Rainbows' sprang to mind and I've had it scrawled on my red folder of beer stained scribblings ever since. The rainbows I had in mind are the dreams manifested in hopes and struggles against fantastic odds trying to get somewhere in the business of music. What it is to be young and fearless.

I recently related a tale to Ben Wardle (after reading his excellent blog A&Rmchair about my own experiences with "the world's most argumentative band, and Europe's most stoned producer" and he strongly urged me to get writing a blog. Who's going to publish a book by me anyway and more to the point when would I ever have time to write it ? Small doses I think I can deal with though... time will tell.

`Dusty Rainbows' (the song) contains the immortal words "I was once a part, a part of the scene, I liked the kind of people who liked people like me", which just about sums it up. I have only recently come to realise that `Dusty Rainbows' was also probably intended by it's author to be the name of the character in the song (a kind of parallel universe Ziggy Stardust perhaps) as well as the song title. I love that. It's called poetry. I get all fired up by people with real inspiration, people to whom artistry comes naturally, flows through them and makes you say "Wow, I wish I'd thought of that". I was lucky that when I moved to London from Sheffield in March 1988, I immediately ended up in a band with one of them.

My digs were in Camberwell through a friend, in a lovely house, the bus journey to work was a mind-blower, up the Elephant and round the Castle, across the majestic River Thames past Westminster, up Whitehall to Trafalgar Square, round to Piccadilly and finally to that great ship itself Broacasting House.

I had landed a job at Auntie Beeb, in the Sound Archive, which was a dream enough in itself for a lad from the North East. All those Peel sessions I'd been dying to get my hands on, curated by the kind of fellow you want to meet on your first day in a big new job, who takes you down to the BBC bar for 3 pints (on a lunchtime) and becomes a friend for life. I got the immediate impression I was going to like it there very much. Phil and I were to spend many a lunchtime over the years having `just one more' and yakking about music until the cows came home, mind you we usually made it back to the office, unlike our boss.

It was at a cheese and wine `do' in the old archive office, stuffed with filing cabinets and bound volumes of dusty pages, that Phil introduced me to Ged Murphy, (now a senior Film Editor, but twenty years ago still working his way up through the ranks) who had written some songs with a friend of his and were looking for a drummer. "I'm your man" I said immediately, with all the confidence of youth. After playing in about a dozen bands in Teesside and then at my place of further education, Sheffield, I was pretty cocky. It was agreed that I needed to meet his friend, and where better than the astoundingly cheap BBC Club ? (Blimey, a pint of bitter's cheaper than it is in Sheffield !)

Chris Spence turned out to be a fascinating and engaging soul, he and Ged went well together, Ged being just about the nicest guy you could meet. He'd always buy you a pint but just loved other people's cigarettes (" I'll buy some later" soon became a familiar refrain). Their songs didn't sound like any of the other bands I'd played with, they were original and fun, and had proper tunes ! Initially a trio, we started gigging very quickly, we still had some way to go in terms of finesse, Chris and Ged used to swap between lead guitar and bass depending who had written the song, but the songs were great. It was the first time I can remember having a song pop randomly into my head while going about my day, and realise it was one of ours.

Ged had a big USA psych thing called `Gonna Be A Man' , and Chris had amongst others `You Are The Sun', a fully formed English pop classic. After a very short spell where names like Apricot Hair, The Flying Pavement and The Acid Spangles were tried and tested, we finally settled on Honey Smugglers from a poem on a Kevin Ayers LP sleeve. We'd started at `A' in my LP collection and the prospect of spending three days going all the way to Z probably hastened their eagerness to agree that it was a fine name.

I'd been in London for about two months, and was already in a band and out and about with my A-Z looking for the the bloody rehearsal room. The only way to experience London ! I'd written on my A-Z , `Get Lost In The World's Toilet' in a drunken yearning for Sheffield, but the truth is I loved the capital from the outset. If you wanted to be at the centre of possibilities, nothing else compared.

ACID SPANGLES `Gonna Be A Man' (Hi-Fashion, Caledonian Rd 21/7/88)

ACID SPANGLES `You Are The Sun' (Hi-Fashion, Caledonian Rd 21/7/88)