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.

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