The Second Greatest Show of My Life

The Second Greatest Show of My Life

Most of what follows, unfortunately, happened.

Date: Day 1.
Venue: Ground Zero for Underdogs everywhere.
Crowd: Unfairly good.

Our first gig was at a Royal British Legion hall, a veritable Mecca of punk rock if ever there was one.

After rehearsing and writing songs for what seemed like years, but was more likely around 6 months, eventually the decision was made to play our songs in front of actual real life people (On the wall where we rehearsed, our drummer had drawn a picture of a woman of questionable proportions). At this stage, we were unsure whether our music was fit for human consumption, but it seemed like a good idea to force feed the locals anyway to see if anyone was made sick.

All we needed was a venue, a promoter willing to put us on and some other bands. Luckily there were hundreds of local clubs that regularly gave slots to up and coming upstarts like us. Just kidding. There were zero. And that’s probably overestimating how many there were. So we decided to put on a show ourselves; a decision that came with its own unique set of challenges that we’d inevitably regret taking on.

We ended up hiring the local Royal British Legion hall because, well, it was about the only place that agreed to trust us. Say what you want about the RBL, but they were remarkably sanguine about a bunch of punk kids invading their space and wreaking havoc for a night. Our friend Murph, of wardrobe changing fame, got us in touch with a pretty popular local band to agree to play the show. Cold Dry Toast were duly added to the bill. (On a side note, Murph was legendary in our band for her ability to charm industry types; when a HUGE American touring band played a local hall, after 20 minutes of phone calls and spinning various lines of BS she was on the phone to the booking agent trying to get us the support slot. Alas, it didn’t work, but I’ve always maintained she’d have made an excellent band manager). We had a PA borrowed and ready to go and started telling everyone we knew about the show. What could possibly go wrong?

The day of the show, Cold Dry Toast pulled out. The reasons were unknown, though Murph informed us that they were pretty adept at pulling out of shows at the last minute. Years later they would do exactly the same thing.. to this day, we’ve only managed to play with them once, and that night they broke the PA.

The frantic search for a replacement was on. We asked everyone we knew, but came up short. Until Murph visited me at my day job (we worked in the same department). She brought with her Tim, one of the backroom guys. Tim, it should be said, was scary as balls. Tattooed to hell, with a stare that suggested prison wasn’t a destination but a state of mind. Tim was also one of the nicest guys I ever met.

“I hear you need a band tonight?” Tim asked, shaking my hand.

“Sure.” I replied verbally, whilst mentally willing him not to kill me. “What are you guys called?”

“Poison Bombshell.” It’s probably fine.

Poison Bombshell were a three piece and the very living definition of punk. 2 were skinheads. The guitarist played on crutches. The drummer put his stick through the snare drum. They had more tattoos between them than a channel 4 reality show. They could’ve, and probably should’ve, eaten us alive. The lyrics to their songs were also a thing of beauty; with one, which I’ll call Choking due to the repetition of the word at least 128 times, having the immortal rhyme “I’m choking. I’m not joking.”

The Underdogs still talk about their set to this day. It was a glorious, eye opening punk experience.. Swiftly pulled into focus when we took the stage. We, if it were not already painfully obvious from the tales contained within this blog, were a little out of our depth. We never took ourselves seriously. I believe our first set peaked when we played a 30 second song Jake and I wrote called Huh. The “words” were, in no particular order, “Huh, ugh, yeah, woo, blergh, wow.” And from there, our songwriting only got more childish.

But the crowd looked happy. And that is something that we’d spend the next however many years of our musical career trying to recreate. Punk fans, by their very nature, are very morose people. It comes with the territory. But for those 60 minutes, there was a perfection that I’ll never forget. A concentrated and euphoric serenity, photographed and treasured by my brain until my punk heart stops beating.

It was the second greatest gig my life.

And Nicky wasn’t there to ruin it.

Photo by Enrique Zepeda Venegas via Flickr.

 

A Toilet for My Pillow

A Toilet for My Pillow

Most of what follows, unfortunately, happened.

Date: The coldest day since records began.
Venue: A toilet.
Crowd: Just me and the rats.

I was in my late teens when I first slept in a toilet.

In the early days of gig life The Underdogs used to frequent a village hall. It was one of the few venues in the sleepy seaside town that would allow a bunch of adolescents through the door. It was perfect. We’d hire the hall, ask our friends to play and invite everyone we knew.

There was, however, one problem. It was a 10 minute car journey out of town. Most gigs we were able to arrange transport from friends, friends of friends or kind strangers with a trustworthy demeanour. One night, however, we miscalculated.

After we finish our set, we pack everything away and load up the taxi we ordered. But we somehow have an excess of a bass amp, several instruments and most importantly, 2 people.

Jake and I volunteer to stay behind. I say volunteer. I feel duty bound and put my name forward, Jake however simply isn’t quick enough to reserve a space in the car. Nicky, ever the sportsman, says he’ll order us a pizza when he gets home and promises to come pick us up in the morning.

So Jake and I settle in for the night, consigned to spending the night in a village hall.

Which is when the electricity runs out. In our haste to pack and get everyone back home we’d forgotten the power ran on a meter that took special tokens you bought from the owner. We had failed to buy enough of this life force to make it through the night. We barely made it to midnight before the lights duly shut down. And with them, the heat.

It was mid-November.

Solace temporarily arrives in the form of the pizza man who is understandably confused and more than a little nervous about the lack of any light in the building. I could kiss Nicky at this point. Until I realise he hasn’t paid for it. Nicky would later explain he thought we had money. I would later retort that if we’d had money, we would’ve been in a separate taxi. The delivery man is less interested in conversation or any form of bartering so leaves with the sustenance and with it my faith in humanity.

So light, food and heatless, Jake and I find some space to lay our heads for the night. Approximately 2.8 seconds later, Jake is asleep. It is at this exact time that I realise I am the coldest I have ever been in my life. The old tennis net I found is serving virtually no purpose as a makeshift blanket. I put it down to the copious amount of holes nets are typically blessed with and discard the item, trudging off in search of another form of heat.

2 hours later, after huddling in a corner, exploring under the stage (big mistake) and trying in vain to remove the stage curtain to use as a blanket, I eventually stumble into the toilet. Which has a heater. This heater, this heavenly square foot of holy design, is inexplicably pumping out heat in spite of the lack of electricity in the building. The toilet was radiating with the heat of a 1000 exploding suns. It was like some sort of punk miracle.

So I curl up next to the toilet, and I sleep. I sleep the dreamless sleep of a kid in the dark cuddled up in dry puddles of urine.

The morning, as promised, brings with it a sleepier than usual Nicky. He rubs his eyes as he steps out of the car.

“You alright?” I ask.

Nicky groans before adding. “Nah, man. Didn’t sleep at all.”

The lesson, if there is one, is that sometimes in a band you can be riding high having the time of your live. Other times, you just gotta sleep where other people shit.

Photo by darkday via Flickr.

Story Time with Jake – Rehearsal Space Needed

Story Time with Jake – Rehearsal Space Needed

The following tales come straight from the mouth of our bass player, Jake. 

 

Most of what follows, unfortunately, happened.

Date: The earliest days of The Underdogs. 
Venue: Bedrooms and basements. 
Crowd: Understanding friends and a mum. 

Let’s be honest for a moment here people. You are never going to pull off a gig without rehearsing. It doesn’t how much raw talent you’ve packed into your plucking finger, stick-twirling wrist, vocal chords or whatever the hell it is that bass players do. You just won’t make it. So you rehearse. You get your ragtag band of musical wannabes and you wrangle a date out of them when you can all actually meet up and make some fucking noise. But where? You’re all broke, you aren’t famous yet. No fancy studio for you. You’re working with the bare minimum here; you need walls, a roof and electricity. And frankly, anything that ticks those boxes in one way or another is now your temple of sound.

The Underdogs have had our fair share of rehearsal spaces, by now you’ve heard about the ever-creepy and dank crypt under the church, but there have been some others along the way. Hold on to your mohawks punk-rockers and moon-stompers, it’s time for a trip down memory lane…

A Front-room Band

I guess like most bands, our first jam was just in a friend’s front-room. We grabbed some beaten up old guitars and thrashed out some dirty tunes whilst Graham warbled along about the girl that just broke his heart.. Or not caring about school. Something like that. And that would have been ok for one night, one golden night where a few friends got musical after a drink too many. But no, we came back to that front-room, to those beaten up guitars, time and time again.

So we moved a couple of amps into one corner, started cranking the volume like we had something to prove. And maybe we did. Before long it was like a true practice space, there were discarded pizza boxes covered in half scribbled lyrics and empty cans everywhere. We never managed to get a drum kit in there, our then drummer would sit in front of the sofa and just beat different cushions. I’m sure in his head the arm of the sofa sounded just like a hi hat, and him vigorously kicking the front was basically a perfect imitation of a bass drum. Somebody’s well-worn in arse mould was a snare,and the tasseled brown cushion the perfect ride. Of course to us the whole thing was just largely inaudible, muffled thumps. But not even magical sofa drums can last forever, we lost access to the front-room after an incident involving a 3am tuesday night rehearsal, a sleepy topless man and some “decorative” swords.

A Bedroom Band.

Eventually wee moved things upstairs… and into a different house entirely. It’s funny how quickly you can wear out your welcome when you play late-night punk at mid-day volumes. A wonderful lady friend of ours, Murph, offered to let us rehearse in her bedroom, it was right at the top of a house with no adjoining properties, so long as we didn’t go past 11pm… ish she was happy. We even managed to lug a drum kit all the way up the stairs. Our (new but still not Nicky) drummer was ecstatic. The bedroom was great, it always smelt quite nice… well, at the beginning of rehearsal, and there was enough clearance for some jumping.

And best yet it introduced me to one of our lady friends most incredible talents. She had a long wardrobe, all sliding doors. We’d be midway through rehearsal and she’d waltz in.

“I’m heading to the pub, just gonna get changed.” She’d say.

“Oh sure, want us to call it there?” Graham would offer, ever the punk-gentleman.

“Nah, keep playing.”

And with that she’d open one end of her wardrobe and step inside, the door sliding closed behind her like the beginning of the weirdest magic trick in the book. Minutes later she would emerge from the other end of the wardrobe in a completely different outfit. Total transformation. I think once she even did her hair in there. It became a game. She’d step in and we’d start to play and basically race her. She rarely lost. Unfortunately a few months later she had to move out and we lost another rehearsal space… but maybe this time it was for the best…

A Garage Band. Finally.

Yes. At last! We were finally a bona fide Garage Band. We found a garage with power that we could rehearse in, and no one cared, the place was insulated enough the noise didn’t bother anyone nearby. Rehearsal space jackpot. And it was free. And the owner of the garage, mum of a friend, was the flat-out nicest person alive. It may not be very rock ‘n’ roll to admit this, but we all like a cuppa. This lovely lady would periodically bring us tea while we rehearsed… and tell us we sounded good, not that she liked the music but she knew we were enjoying ourselves and she could hear the improvements. This was some sort of positive-reinforcement, tea-induced powerhouse of a rehearsal space.

We were there for about a year all in all and we came on leaps and bounds in that time. Probably due to the tea. Alas, all good things must come to an end, the garage needed to be repurposed for something else and were apologetically asked to move on. After being offered a home-cooked goodbye meal by the lady of the house. Seriously. It’s tough to be angry at the world when someone is being that unfailingly pleasant to you.

And now we rehearse in a church crypt. Swings and roundabouts eh? Or rather, bedrooms and basements eh?

The lesson behind all this? Anywhere can work as a rehearsal space if you want it enough. But try to find  somewhere with free tea.

Photo by Soundof78 via Flickr.