Thunderdog One

Thunderdog One

Most of what follows, unfortunately, happened.

Date: 2 days after we got our first van.
Venue: A famous venue on the South coast.
Crowd: The legal term is ‘witnesses’.

There is a checklist of things you need to accomplish before you are to be considered a ‘proper band’. You can rehearse and gig until your fingers are blood soaked stumps, but until the following list is complete, you’re not in the club.

  1. Someone has to quit.
  2. You need to invest in terrible t-shirts.
  3. And an even worse recording.
  4. Then, you buy a van.

Whilst driving to gigs in separate cars affords you certain gaming and performance art opportunities , nothing compares to touring the country, locked in a sweat and other bodily fluid infused tin bucket.

Band vans are generally acquired through an enormous amount of hard work. The average performance fee for Punk Band You’ve Never Heard Of ranges anywhere between £30 and £0. Deduct the cost of food and travel and you begin to see how much starvation and petrol siphoning is necessary to purchase a van for any more than sexual favours and/or magic beans.

Enter: Thunderdog One.

In a previous life, Thunderdog One was a minibus. The previous owner had removed several rear seats however, rendering her perfect for a touring band, if they weren’t too fussy about needing to get anywhere quickly and/or at all. She was rusty. One of her rear windows never shut properly. And everyone had to lean forward when travelling uphill.

But she was free. Which coincidentally, after 3 years as a band, was exactly how much money we had accrued.

Moreover, it meant we were part of the club. The elite club of bands that toured, played sell out shows in strange towns and had other bands actually talk to them.

“Where’s your fucking bass player?!” A promoter would enquire.

“Oh, he’s in the van kind Sir.” I would reply. As opposed to “Probably lost on the Piccadilly Line”, which was more regular. But no more. Not with Thunderdog One.  

Two days after we acquire Thunderdog One, we take her on the maiden voyage to a town on the South coast. We are due to open a show for one of the best punk bands in the country, who we’ll call The Fibres. Ritchie drives for many reasons, the most pertinent of which being due to certain legalities he’s the only one allowed to. Being the driver of a punk band essentially means you’re the responsible adult.

We arrive at the venue. Ritchie begins the ordeal of parallel parking a vehicle three times bigger than he’s used to, as I stare at the headliner’s van in all its weathered glory. I contemplate my newly instilled zest for bandlife as we inch closer. Ritchie teases Thunderdog One further into the space. We had made it. We had finally ticked off number 4 on the list. The Underdogs had attained punk credibility. As we edge closer to The Fibres’ van. Closer. And closer. And–

Thunderdog One comes to a sudden but inevitable stop, accompanied by the kind of crunch that as a general rule, never signifies good news. When driving your new van, there’s never a ‘good’ crunching sound.

Which means that we were in the club for a grand total of 8 seconds before Ritchie reversed us into the first apparent obstacle.

There is a brief exchange of words between those in the band. Nicky, ever the pragmatist, suggests we run. Which I’d accept without argument, except some of The Fibres are sat in the front seat of their van staring right at me.

Jake suggests we can probably take them in a fight, clearly not taking into account that firstly, none of us are even vaguely proficient in a street combat situation. And secondly, there’s seven of them.

Whilst I explain the finer points of simple Fist Maths to Jake, The Fibres send an envoy to Thunderdog One. The other six exit their van. My affinity for panicking photoshops chains and other improvised weaponry into their hands. Suddenly Nicky’s suggestion doesn’t seem a bad one.

Ritchie exits and converses with The Fibres’ envoy. He nods sullenly before returning and fishing some papers from the glovebox. This is accompanied by an inter-Underdog exchange that went something like, but not necessarily:

Me: “What are those? Do they own the van now? Are we gonna have to hitch a ride home?!”

Ritchie: “Insurance papers.”

Jake: “We have insurance?”

Nicky: “What’s insurance?”

The Fibres, it transpired, were one of the nicest, and best insured, bands we ever met. They never became friends, but at least they didn’t kick us out of the club.

Thunderdog One went on to live a long and healthy life as the newest member of a Punk Band You’ve Never Heard Of. She was loved by all who sailed on her.

Until she broke down permanently. Then got broken into by someone who didn’t realise she was broken. Then became the home of a homeless person.

All of which, unfortunately, happened.   

Photo by Corrie Barlklimore via Flickr.

Miming Under the Influence

Miming Under the Influence

Most of what follows, unfortunately, happened.

Date: The last time. Jake swears.
Venue: Small local club.
Crowd: Double, due to blurred vision.

Being in a band is like travelling by car with your drummer behind the wheel. You can have the best intentions to arrive at your destination in one piece, by really you’re at the mercy of their ability and at best, they’re probably drunk.

When Nicky drinks, he plays too fast. This isn’t a case of perfectionism in the face of an immeasurable speed increase. It’s the difference between adhering to the speed limit and freewheeling down a mountainside with the brake lines cut.

Conversely, when Nicky is high, he plays too slowly. Imagine being stuck behind a mobility scooter on a dual carriageway and you’ll start to empathise.

In the early years, we’d never know which particular drug was coursing through his veins until the first count in. Since getting a drummer to abstain from excess is impossible, Ritchie developed a finely tuned formula to guarantee he’d play the songs at the correct tempo. The trick was to ensure he had exactly the same amount of each drug in his system.

Consequently, they frequently had conversations that went along these lines.

RITCHIE: “How many pints have you had?”

NICKY: “I lost count.”

RITCHIE: “Go smoke a joint. Now.”

Which understandably made Nicky quite fond of Ritchie. I imagine it’s the kind of parenting Keith Richards was subjected to.

Tonight’s show is a headline show at a small local rock club. At this stage in our career we have, for reasons unknown, become fairly reliable at drawing a crowd in our hometown. So the club is full, the band is excited, and Nicky is drunk. So far so typical.

With our set imminent, the time comes for Nicky to balance his intoxication. He is followed outside by a ‘slightly more drunk than usual’ Jake. This wouldn’t be a problem, except Nicky’s ability to spot potential danger is inversely proportional to how shitfaced he is. Couple this with Jake’s propensity for auto suggestion, and it isn’t long before Jake is passed out on the floor outside the club. Jake, it turns out, does not share Nicky’s constitution.

It is 10 minutes until showtime.

Moments later Jake is half roused by Ritchie and isn’t exactly looking his best. The medical definition is polypharmacy intoxication; to wit, Jake is high as balls.

It takes approximately 0.2 seconds to realise that, in his current condition, Jake will not be playing the show.

“You think he needs a beer?” Nicky offers.

Given the predicament, it doesn’t seem an unreasonable suggestion. Life is about balance. I begin to agree with Nicky, before Ritchie takes charge. Within seconds Jake is furnished with water and asked how many fingers Ritchie is holding up. He is only out by a couple, which satisfies us enough to drag him in the direction of the stage, strap on his bass and prop him up against a speaker.

Ritchie and I exchange nervous glances as Nicky counts us in at the mercifully correct tempo. The first song kicks in and the crowd surges forward in a wave of sweat and limbs. Jake stares unblinking at the mess of energy before him, and for a moment I panic that A&E was perhaps a more appropriate location to take him than onstage. Which is when he explodes into action.

Jake jumps, flails and headbangs through the remainder of the song with a chaotic energy that would power a small country. It’s a sort of haphazard ferocity, perfectly straddling the boundary between ballet and collapsing. It is, in a sense, punk perfection.

Then my ears catch up with my eyes.

Jake is miming. His pick is hitting nothing but air. Meanwhile, his fret hand isn’t even in the same postcode as a note. What’s more, he keeps this up for the entire set. 11 songs and he doesn’t play a single note. It is simultaneously the most idiotic and genius thing I’ve ever seen; if you’d seen him outside, you’d know Jake was never in any danger of hitting a correct note.

And somehow the crowd don’t notice.

30 minutes later, the final bass-less chord rings out. Ritchie and I share a relieved look and turn to Nicky. We allow ourselves the kind of self congratulatory thumbs up that should be reserved for being safely away from the blast zone.

So it’s no surprise that an uneasy hush descends over the crowd. Something has their attention. In unison we turn to see the focus of their consideration. It is, of course, Jake.

He has no idea the set is finished. Instead, he’s silently thrashing about like he’s headlining The Underworld as some sort of punk circus mime.

Slowly, but inevitably, the puzzled crowd disperses as Ritchie tames Jake. No one is sure what they just witnessed, but they’re pretty sure it was unique.

We learned an important lesson that night. Never mime under the influence.  

Photo by Paul Hudson via Flickr

Tales from the Ritchie – Take 39

Tales from the Ritchie – Take 39

It’s time to once again hand over the mic. This time, please welcome to the stage our guitarist/roadie/driver/designated adult Ritchie.

Most of what follows, unfortunately, happened. 

Date: Every time I close my eyes.
Venue: A bedroom recording studio.
Crowd: Two impatient musicians.

I know how to play the song. Everyone else knows that I know how to play the song. Which makes the fact that we’re currently on take 37 quite infuriating for all involved.

Every one of those takes has something different wrong with it. A different bum note or missed beat each time. And each take is getting progressively worse as my confidence drains out of me with every bead of sweat.

I joined the band after they made their first recording, “Songs To Slaughter Cats To,” and there was one song on that where my part was originally played by Graham, our other guitarist. My solo consisted of just four notes. Four notes. That’s fewer notes than Jake knows in total. Yet EVERY SINGLE TIME I managed to play my part wrong. It became a running joke, not just within the band, but all three of our fans, that I would play it wrong.

As such, I never became very confident with my lead chops. No one ever expected much of me and that was fine. There was very little pressure. Until now. Now, the meter is ticking up.

I decided that I wanted to challenge myself as a musician. I can’t remember why. Something about personal development or some such. I am starting to regret it greatly.

It isn’t much more complicated than my four note solo. It isn’t even going to be as prominent on the recording. Yet I insist that I get to play it perfectly. Not punk rock perfectly where it sounds vaguely correct, but properly correct. So people will, at the very least, think those are the notes I intended to play.  

If I can do this, I know my mum would be proud of my musicianship. She might start to think that the £10 she spent on guitar lessons every week for three years was well spent. I say she “would” be proud, as there’s going to be a large number of naughty words on the recording and I will be too scared to play it in front of her. And also, what she doesn’t know is that £10 could buy a lot of cigarettes in those days and that I told Mr Hallett after three weeks that I didn’t think guitar lessons were for me as they weren’t punk.

As I mess up take 38, I can hear Graham and our mate Baz, who we convinced to record us, both sigh loudly. Even though we are paying Baz by the hour and so he gets a bit more cash with every increasing take, he is far past the point where he wants to take the guitar off me and play the part himself just to get it over and done with.

Both the other people in the room can play the guitar better than me, and it is credit to their characters that they don’t just grab the guitar from me and play it. Well, credit to their characters and that fact that the guitar is left handed and neither of them are.

I pray for the ground to open up and to be swallowed by the Sarlacc. Then I remember that few punks are religious. And even fewer watch Star Wars.

Take 39…

Pic by goatling via Flickr

Zen and the Art of Thunderdogsh*t

Zen and the Art of Thunderdogsh*t

Most of what follows, unfortunately, happened.

Date: 3 or 4 years after we began.
Venue: Local club/Online/Phone.
Crowd: The plaintiffs, mostly.

This particular tale of band drudgery and misery concerns an altercation with another punk band, the subject of which was our band’s name. Now here’s the tricky part. For reasons detailed in our first post Welcome to Our World, names have been changed. So what follows is an approximation.

First, forgive us. We’ve been in each others’ company for weeks without a formal introduction. Hi. We’re The Underdogs. Come in and stay a while. Rest your weary bones by the fire. Try the veal.

Now, to the crux of the altercation. The Underdogs, whilst not the most challengingly long name, does include 4 syllables. Which for a genre predicated on brevity, is simply too much for some punks to handle. What can I say? True punks push boundaries. Take that, society.

As a result of this unnaturally lengthy name, we were advertised by someone we’ll call Well-Meaning But Lazy Promoter as ‘The Dogs’. After some initial concern, the gig was actually very well attended. Almost too well.

After the gig, we found out why.

“Who the hell are you guys? You’re not The Dogs.” A disarmingly disgruntled crowd member yelled at us after the gig.

“No, we’re The Underdogs. I think there was a mix up with the posters. People here tend to call us that in conversation, but we always advertise with the full name.” I explained.

“We travelled from Oxford to see you.”

“Why?” Jake chimes in. Ever the member exuding the most self-confidence.

“We thought you were The Dogs.”

At this point Nicky would’ve chimed in with a joke about canine anatomy, but thankfully he was in the green room relieving a fire extinguisher of its contents (which is a tale for another time).

After doing our best to clear up the misunderstanding and apologising on behalf of Well-Meaning But Lazy Promoter to the justifiably grumpy fans of The Dogs, we went our separate ways. Crisis averted.

No. We are The Underdogs. We exist in a state of perpetual crisis.   

A week later, a message board post was brought to my attention, which in turn I shared with the band. The post detailed, with a vocabulary as varied and flowery as Jake’s, the author’s somewhat negative opinion of our band and how most importantly, we had stolen their band name.

The post was titled ‘The Undershit Dogfuck’. Moreover, it was written by none other than The Dogs.  

“They should’ve put ‘shit’ last, instead of ‘fuck’.” Jake, not unreasonably, observes. “Amateurs.”

At this point in our existence, we were 3 or 4 years old as a band. Which in punk years is about 117. As such, I was long in the dentures enough to know that I should behave in a calm manner. Serenity begets serenity.

“I’m gonna call them dickheads.” I mutter as I begin to type. My fragile sense of self worth shatters at the merest hint of criticism, but levelling hate at my brothers brings forth the red mist. And significantly reduces verbosity.  

Ritchie rightly intervenes and takes point at the keyboard. What ensues is a very calmly explained position that follows pretty much this reasoning.

1 – We were not aware The Dogs existed, so any similarity is accidental. For that we apologise.  

2 – That said, the names are notably different. Confusion was only down to one Well-Meaning But Lazy Promoter and for that we apologise.

3 – We are a tiny band playing tiny shows in and around our hometown. We have a long way to walk before we tread on The Dogs’ toes.

4 – There were two Nirvanas.

Ritchie excels when the situation calls for a grown up. The two factions agree to an uneasy truce.

But not long after, whilst idling at home, I receive a call.

“Hey, is this Graham? We’d love to book your band for a show. Just checking, is your band still called Thunderdogshit?” The caller hangs up. Jake, at least, was much happier with the relative quality of the pun. 

The moral of the story? Research your band name. Or at the very least, have some really great puns ready for an argument.    

Photo by State Library of NSW via Flickr.