Access All Areas: The Ballad of Woozy Scamp

Access All Areas: The Ballad of Woozy Scamp

Most of what follows, unfortunately, happened.

Date: The end of days.
Venue: A zoo.
Crowd: The pale, bloated cadavers of decomposing festival-goers.

In the late summer of not very long ago we were invited to play a festival. Festivals are great fun for many reasons, even better if you play halfway up the bill. It leaves less time for your bassist to get involved in inebriation related shenanigans before the show.

At this particular festival, on the grounds of a local zoo (the absolute truth, I swear), the trouble starts upon arrival. On the drive in, queues of cars back up for miles from the entrance. Ritchie, ever the pragmatist, asks for help from the nearest stewards. The stewards shrug. This non-committal gesticulation of total and utter cluelessness would become company policy by the end of the weekend.

We eventually find the stage we are due to play, but nowhere to camp. Between ourselves and about three other bands in the same predicament, we resolve to pitch our tents where we’re parked. Enter: Grumpy Steward. Grumpy Steward projects the same unhappy demeanour as every other steward, but for some reason is actually making decisions. His latest involves us camping with the rest of the public. On the other side of the arena. For our troubles, and despite protestation, we are given wristbands with the lowest level of access. That means we’re lucky to be able to use the toilets, let alone get back stage.

So the wagon train rolls slowly around to what can reasonably be described as the Kansas City circa 1850. A conservative estimate would put the attendance at 10,000. That’s 10,000 people that have no clue what is going on, where to camp, where to park, where to get wrist bands, water or food. It becomes immediately and painfully apparent that this festival is doomed. Collectively, we decide to lean into it.

And get drunk.  

The festival miraculously starts, albeit 2 hours late. Our set, from what I recall through the whiskey induced haze, alters people’s perception of the world with its ground breaking innovation and musical prowess. Or it was dreadful. I’m really not sure. It was a pretty thick haze. But our bassist could’ve performed Mein Kampf with interpretive dance, and it still wouldn’t have been the most catastrophic part of the weekend. So the fact we didn’t get bottled is a win.

After we play, rumours start to circulate through the crowd. The promoter failed to raise the cash to pay for all the artists. This doesn’t matter to proles like us who play for free. But the rumours extend to the potential pulled performance of a prominent grime artist. To protect the innocent, we’ll call this particular rapper Woozy Scamp. But more on Woozy Scamp later.  

The music abruptly stops an hour and a half early. Bored, and not yet totally floored by the all-day drinking, we stagger towards the nearest place labelled ‘bar’. We casually wave our ‘Access No Areas’ wristbands and zig zag our way inside. Which is when we realise we’re in the VIP area. After looking around, it’s clear there are no VIPs. I look back at the steward who let us in, stood next to a gate that is wide open for all. We catch each other’s glance, and in that moment I see the quiet resignation of someone who gave up enforcing the rules.

“Guys, I think this place is falling apart.” I offer.

“What do you suggest?” Ritchie asks.

I shrug. “See what we can get for free?”  

At many major festivals, a large gate next to the main stage looms over the arena. More terrifying than the Gates of Mordor, it bars plebs like us from the wonders and candyland dreams of beyond. Tonight, we breach that barrier. Because there is literally no one guarding it.

It becomes apparent after a few moments that the rumours, along with our recent supposition, are true. What I’d hoped to see was a Hunger Games inspired mass of destruction. Guitars flying through the air. People garrotted with bass strings. Drums pumping the blood of war around adrenaline filled veins. Some front men just want to watch the world burn. But it’s no man’s land. It makes Gallipoli look like party central.

Amongst the post-apocalyptic debris, we scavenge for food. We find a sparsely populated marquee serving dinner to the few optimistic musicians that haven’t abandoned this fiasco altogether. Nicky and I resolve to fetch dinner for the crew. Confidently waving our inadequate wristbands, we stride past the uncaring staff to the bounteous feast. But as we’re being served, we’re denied by a familiar face.

“You’re not supposed to be here.” Grumpy Steward exclaims. I respect those who take pride in their work, and right now this guy is Sergeant at Arms. We make a swift exit before he sanctions a firing squad.

Dejected and hungry, we trudge around the backstage wasteland. Around this time, we realise Jake has been absent for some time. None of us remember the last time we saw him. This kind of disappearing act is not uncommon, especially after a war with whiskey. But this battleground is Grumpy Steward’s territory.

After a fruitless and uncharacteristically thorough search, he returns. We breathe a sigh of relief before seeking answers.

“Relax. I saw an old friend that played the main stage. He gave me his wrist band. Access all areas.”

Nicky presses him. Demanding to know where he’s been and if this place contains food. To be honest, we’re all eager to here if there’s somewhere to eat.

“I dunno. Found Woozy Scamp’s trailer though.”          

“Did you find food?!”

“No. I took a shower.”

Ladies and gentlemen. If there’s one lesson to be learned from our entire time together this past year, it’s this; when you get the opportunity to access all areas, you access ALL areas.

 

Photo by Emily Tan via Flickr.

What’s in a Name?

What’s in a Name?

Most of what follows, unfortunately, happened.

Date: Day 1. Ground zero. 
Venue: Probably a member’s bedroom. Or garage. Or bedroom in the garage. 
Crowd: The inner circle. 

When deciding on a name for your band, there is an unspoken list of guidelines that you must consider, lest you be the laughing stock of the punk community. Below is a list of some of these guidelines. These were not created by us, but handed down by generation after generation before us, and by the punk gods before them.

Feel free to get in touch if you have heard of any other such ‘rules’.

 

Beware the Trends

Since the first band was ever created (incidentally by Keith Richards as he’s immortal and cannot be killed by conventional weapons) there have been naming trends. In the 90s, it was law that your band must have a one word title. Any more and you were banished from the charts and destined to play basement clubs until the next Black Sabbath reunion. The 00s were plagued by the definite article; always ‘The’ Band, never ‘A’ Band.

But lately it’s all about making sure you Verb a Noun; Pierce the Veil, Bring me the Horizon or Sleeping with Sirens. By all means, jump on a trend and ride it all the way to Money Town. But just remember you may be judged poorly for it.

Unless you’re called Tickle the Weasel. That’s an awesome name.

 

Be More Wary of Acronyms

Always take time to consider your acronym. Fans are lazy at the best of times, but they’ll always find a way to shorten your name; Rage Against The Machine became RATM, Red Hot Chilli Peppers became RHCP. So the next time you call Bring Me The Horizon ‘BMTH’, spare a thought for Krazy Killer Klowns. They don’t get offered many shows anymore.

 

Joke Names

Joke names are to be exercised with extreme caution. Sure, it might look funny on the poster, but no one is going to take the anarchic political screamings of your band seriously if you’re called TBA.

It’s also very important to remember that you were not the first person to consider calling your band Free Beer. You barely scrape into the first 1000.

Putting the appropriate amount of thought into your band name is, quite frankly, crucial. It is your first impression, this is your handshake and your warm smile. If people don’t at least partially buy into your name on some level they are probably done with you before the lights go down. Names have power, choose them wisely. Oh, one last golden rule…

 

Never, ever, under any circumstance, use a pun in your name.

Unless you’re in a ska band. Then it’s mandatory.

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.

Money #2: Two Pounds, No Questions Asked

Money #2: Two Pounds, No Questions Asked

Most of what follows, unfortunately, happened. 

Date: More times than I care to remember. 
Venue: Whoever wasn’t paying. 
Crowd: Everyone except our dignity. 

When The Underdogs started out as a band, we rarely charged for shows. This wasn’t because we were particularly ‘punk rock’, or against the system, as such. It’s because I always forgot.

After a couple of years gigging we built up a great local following. We would regularly draw 200-300 people to the local sports bar we frequented, no mean feat for a sleepy little seaside town. For most of these, we were paid nothing. I don’t regret a single one of these gigs. Ritchie does, he hated me for it. But I loved playing, so when asked how much we charged I’d generally shrug and say “don’t worry about it”.

I was, it should be said, an idiot. This is the dumbest thing I ever did in the band, and I repeated the mistake dozens of times. As such, The Underdogs are effectively owed hundreds of pounds in back taxes.

Years later, once we realised that bands ought to be compensated for the hours and hours of rehearsal that go into every show, and once I got sick of Ritchie’s whining about me doing a bad job of negotiating, we started charging for gigs. Which brought about 2 unexpected results; 1 – Ritchie was happy. Ritchie was never happy. Unless he was on his third energy drink of a drive, in which case he would’ve agreed to clean Nicky’s bathroom. 2 – I began to realise how much bands were screwed over by promoters. You see, if you don’t charge for gigs, you can’t get underpaid. It’s a wonderful, ignorance inducing loophole in a very depressing system.  

Allow me to elucidate. Due to an inexplicably complex payment system, an extremely reputable London venue once paid us £2 for a headline show. And we had to argue for that. Having said that, at the same show the toilet in the dressing room directly above the stage began overflowing, resulting in a less than hygienic shower for the front row of the crowd. To whit; the venue probably needed the money more than we did. So maybe £2 is better than being soaked in p+++.

On more occasions than I care to bother counting, we’d travel hours in the ever petulant van (RIP Thunderdog One) to play a show for enough petrol money to get 1/8th of the way home.

I can also guarantee that if you are in a band, you have 100 of your own stories that match these. You’ve probably got worse. To that I say this: we were once booked to play a show at 11pm at a pub on the south coast legendary for physical forms of expression. Upon arrival, it transpired that the sound man had been sampling the local ale for the best part of his adult life and had as such gone AWOL. As had the sound equipment. The locals were rowdy and were in no mood for their music of choice being turned off so a band from out of town could fumble through 3 chords for half an hour.

After a prolonged argument, we decide to confront the promoter and say our goodbyes. The Underdogs were refusing to go on stage. This wasn’t about brown M&Ms or exercising star power, this was about our health and safety dammit. As a result, the promoter apologised, paid us £200 and sent us on our way. It’s the most we’ve ever been paid for the least we’ve ever had to play.

I’d like to think that the ‘universe’ has made good on its back taxes.

Photo by Tax Credits via Flickr. 

Sh*theads, Turds and the Promoters In Between

Sh*theads, Turds and the Promoters In Between

Most of what follows, unfortunately, happened.

Date: First and last time.
Venue: Football club, minus a broken light.
Crowd: Responsible.

Contrary to a common held belief in the DIY punk scene, not all promoters are Shitheads. Some promoters can also be Turds. There’s a difference. You see, a Shithead will do everything in their power to screw you out of money and/or time. They’ll welch on a fee. Lie about attendance. Charge you to use equipment. Whereas a Turd will just stink.

Lying in between these two extremes are myriad possibilities on a very eclectic spectrum. There are promoters who are Dickholes. Some can be an Anus. You even get Dildos. They will, respectively, piss on you, shit on you or try and fuck you.

You get Incompetent Niceguys. Conversely, you might meet a Competent Asshole. On more than one occasion, we have played shows where the promoter failed to appear. We call these the Groundhog. Imagine having so little confidence in your gig that even you fail to turn up. Would you go see that show?

Neither did anyone else.

Now if you’re a promoter reading this blog, human nature will dictate that you assume I’m talking about you. Trust me, I’m not. If you’re a promoter that has enough love for a music scene that you’re reading a Blog About A Punk Band You’ve Never Heard Of ™, then you’re off the hook. This isn’t about you. You’re awesome. Don’t ever go changing. We love promoters like you. You’re proof that there are also some shiny jewels in this bounteous sea of waste.

And also, can you give us a gig?

So the story goes like this. We are playing a show on the South Coast. The venue is a club by a football ground. We frequent one a few miles up the road, so our assumption is that this one will be just as popular with the local crowd.

Our assumption is correct. The turnout is fantastic. Furthermore, for reasons that elude me, we achieve a perfect storm of competence. Ritchie has Nicky’s intoxication levels just right, as a result the songs are the right tempo. Ritchie’s amp is on my side of the stage, so it’s not too loud. Jake remembered his bass and his tuner which is unprecedented. And I only had time for one beer before the show, so I remember all the words and keep the talk in between songs to a skeletal “hello” and “thank you”. Overall, I rate the show a B+.

At least I would do, but the Shithead promoter has other ideas. It transpires in the madness of the show that a light bulb has been broken. And not just any bulb. One of the really long ones that always flickers in any good horror movie. Shithead has also seen fit to pay for the breakage out of our agreed fee for the show. The fee, minus the breakage, leaves us with about £20 for a headline slot to a full venue.

I wish there was a punchline to the story. I wish I could say I retorted with something pithy, but I probably just sputtered and muttered under my breath and asked for another gig. I want to say that Nicky let a fire extinguisher off in this venue, but that was another time in a venue that just didn’t deserve it. I wish I could say Shithead listened to Ritchie’s excellent reasoning that perhaps docking our pay wasn’t the moral or ethical thing to do, but  I think the guy just really liked his strip light. I’d hoped that Jake would explode in boundless rage, but on this occasion I’m sad to say we just got screwed. So that’s it. Tale over.

The moral of the story, to paraphrase Henry Hill, is that sometimes you just gotta take a beating. And there’s nothing you can do about it.

I’m just kidding. Nicky took a shit behind the bar.

Photo by Exile on Ontario St via Flickr.

Rehearsal Schmearsal

Rehearsal Schmearsal

When rehearsing with your band, expect nothing. And prepare to be disappointed.

Due to Jake’s family ties to the clergy, The Underdogs rehearse in the underground crypt of a Church. On the one hand, this has its benefits. Firstly, we have essentially been allowed to practice for free. The only time the parish council asked us to contribute anything was when they asked us to perform at the church fete. This was only allowed to happen once. And with sound reason.

Secondly, it allows us certain opportunities. That is to say, when inevitably someone didn’t show up, or we are simply bored, we seek entertainment elsewhere in the building.

Most of what follows, unfortunately, happened in a house of God.

Date: Practice(s).
Venue: A place of worship.
Crowd: The band. And maybe, depending on your faith, God.

Bombing the Reichstag

When Nicky failed to show up for two months, the rest of us took it upon ourselves to draw a map of the Reichstag on a piece of A4 paper, replete with a waving Hitler. Different locations were assigned numerical values and the paper was then placed on the floor beneath the bell tower.

At the top of the bell tower, there was a trap door of sorts, which opened up to overlook the church floor below. It was, to be blunt, f**king high up. Two band members would then drop tiny screwed up pieces of paper from this trap door, whilst the third stood by the Reichstag and scored points.

I forget who won, but Hitler was definitely killed.

 

Bon Jovi Sermon

Burned into the very fabric of my memory, with little sign of ever disappearing, are the lyrics to Always by seminal rockers Bon Jovi. I put this down to very sound musical listening choices in my youth.

As a result, I have led several Bon Jovi sermons to the rest of the band from the church pulpit. Much like our version of I Spy, it’s very much a performance piece than actual game. What happens is this; I call out, line by line, the lyrics to the mid 90s rock anthem Always. The band replies, from the pues, to each line by repeating it in unison. This continues until a) laughter, or b) Ritchie Sambora’s solo. Whichever comes first.

This past time serves no practical purpose, beyond once again cementing those lyrics into my long term memory bank.

EDIT: Since drafting this blog, Jake has reminded me this game was played with many other Bon Jovi songs, You Give Love a Bad Name being his particular sermon of choice.

 

On the other hand, there have been numerous occasions where the church has worked against us. There are far too many to reasonably take your time, but i’ll share my two favourites with you. 

The Church Bell

For reasons never explained to me, the means with which you sound the church bell is the most nondescript piece of blue nylon rope. Nothing like the inches thick you can imagine a monk dangling from.

Consequently, it is very easy to pull it thinking it’s just a piece of blue rope, simply to see what it does. The answer? It rings the church bell. Loudly. It is, after all, a church bell. These things weren’t designed with subtlety in mind.

Furthermore, The Underdogs tend to rehearse after dark. On one occasion following a gig, a friend was storing some equipment. He probably rang it a good three times before being stopped. It was 1am.

 

It Would Be Nice

The final tale I’ll leave you with involves a special guest.

It is late, the band has been drinking in a nearby establishment, and the time feels right for a quick practice. But for reasons I forget, we cannot access the crypt located underground. Instead, it feels like a good idea just to practice in the vestry, a room located very much above ground. Within clear earshot of several local residents, many of whom frequent the church. And have the vicar’s number, should they wish to complain about a punk band practising at 11 o clock at night.

We decide to have fun with a couple of cover songs. Which we do. At full volume. The vicar himself interrupts us, wearing a demeanour of confusion as much as anger.

We are in the closing phrases of this…

We don’t finish the song.

Photo by David via Flickr.