Bunch of Animals in This Town

Bunch of Animals in This Town

Most of what follows, unfortunately, happened.

Date: Long time ago, in a hive of scum and villainy far far away.
Venue: The thunderdome.
Crowd: Us.

The next song is a short one, but a good one.

A few miles down the road from our hometown lies a place that would’ve made Mos Eisley look like Kensington. At least, that’s what people from out of town thought. I went to school there. To me, it was another run down seaside town with not enough jobs and too many pound stores. To the rest of the band, it was renown for the drug use, homelessness and petrol station stabbings.

Naturally, we played there all the time.

On one such occasion we were already venturing into the bowels of the centre when Jake voiced his concerns.

“I don’t wanna play here.” Jake mumbles.

“We play here all the time.” I reassure him.

“But it’s not safe.” Jake is currently wearing a badge saying “See you in the pit”.

I sigh. I do this a lot in conversations with Jake. “We’ve been playing here for three years. Have you ever seen any trouble here?” Jake pauses, furrowing his brow. “Exactly. The second we actually see a fight, or anything else, then you can complain. ‘Till then? Suggest you shut up, or book the gigs yourself.”

Ritchie slams on the brakes as two guys fighting each other tussle and bumble into the road. We sit, watching this bizarre scene unfold. Fists are exchanged with reasonable commitment, before they stumble towards the car. I look to Ritchie for a solution. The answer comes in the form of a shrug.

The two struggle, rolling around on the bonnet of Ritchie’s car. It’s hard to pick a winner, the two are a blur of limbs. But as quickly as they’d appear, they scuffle and roll their way back onto the pavement and into the night.

I turn to Jake, awaiting the barrage of abuse and complaints. But he says nothing. Without saying a word, Richie drives on.

Bunch of animals in this town.

 

Photo by Katherine via Flickr.

The Punk Guide to Social Media

The Punk Guide to Social Media

Most of what follows, unfortunately, happened.

Date: Every minute of every day.
Venue: The WWW.
Crowd: 0-1 billion, depending on your popularity.

The internet has irrevocably changed the way we discover and consume music. No longer do we trade CDs with friends. Gone are the days of holding a tape recorder up to the radio on the off chance they’ll drop the new Wildhearts track. You never, ever, have to venture into another HMV.

Happy days.

But with brave new frontiers, come the indigenous population. Enter: social media. What follows is a punk’s guide to internet based promotion. How to get the best out of what technology has to offer your band.

 

Facebook

Facebook is the perfect platform for your band. Assuming you want your music buried amongst birthday notifications and pictures of cats in hats. The one chance you have is to name your band “Cats in Hats” in the vague hope someone looking for pictures of feline headgear stumbles across your musical offerings. It’s a niche market, but worth pursuing if you’re desperate.  

 

Twitter

Twitter restricts you to 140 characters. Which is perfect, because that’s 100 characters more than the average punk song. You can post your entire album’s lyrics and still have space for the thank you notes. The significant downside is that Tweeters cram the majority of Twitter space with snarky memes about Piers Morgan. And memes of cats wearing hats.

 

Instagram

Instagram, being a pictorial platform, is a critical addition to your band’s social media presence. It’s the most useful way of proving you were at practice. Except no one will see it, because Instagram is dominated by pictures from a milliner who makes bespoke hats for his pet cat Douglas. Douglas has 100 times more followers than your band.

 

Snapchat

Snapchat posts disappear after 5 seconds. This is approximately the same as the attention span of your average drummer. I’d recommend using it to organise practices, except most drummers still use Nokia 3310s. Therefore stick to using more conventional methods of rhythm section communication, like tattooing rehearsal time on the drummers forehead.     

 

Youtube

YouTube is the land you travel to in order to display your band’s new killer music video, crowdfunded and shot in an abandoned warehouse just east of Shoreditch. It’s free to post, and easy to share. But punk bands don’t have music videos. Your best option is to get grainy phone footage of a gig, and share it with your friends. Far more authentic. Douglas has a music video. He’s playing a piano whilst wearing a handmade, gluten free fedora.  

 

LinkedIn 

LinkedIn is for people with briefcases. If you carry a briefcase to practice, you’re either playing the world’s most compact guitar, or you stumbled into a rehearsal studio whilst looking for the local Starbucks. Even Douglas shuns LinkedIn. It’s beneath him.  

 

To summarise, Social Media is the system. And as punks, we brave new frontiers to do one thing: f**k the system.

Please follow: @B2Thebone
And like: facebook.com/Band2TheBone

 

Photo by Sean MacEntee via Flickr.

The Wedding Crashers

The Wedding Crashers

Most of what follows, unfortunately, happened.

Date: The Wedding Day.
Venue: Reception.
Crowd: Oh so many wedding guests.

If you stay in a band long enough, eventually your friends will need you for something. Someone will have a house party, played plenty of them. A friend learning stage tech at uni will need a guinea pig for her final show, played one of them too.

But then you’ll get old enough your friends will start getting married.

It’s hard to say no to a friend, but the image of playing “I Just Shat My Pants” in front of Grandpappy Oldface is the sort of thing that triggers my anxiety. For the record, “I Just Shat My Pants” was a surprise sleeper hit off our first demo “Hairier Than Sasquatch”.

In any case, we decline the wedding gig invite on the grounds our punk sound would not be what the crowd would enjoy. We are promptly offerered £300 to perform and agree without a second thought for the guests’ audio well-being. It’s important to stay true to your punk values.  

We had a song called “Gas Chamber”. We used to open sets with it. It was the loudest, most aggressive we ever got as a band and it was great fun to set the bar high at a show. One glance around the room upon arrival, and I refuse to play it.

“We have to play Gas Chamber! It’s our best song! They’ll love it.” Ritchie argues. I glance over at the kids table, and politely disagree. “If we’re not playing Gas Chamber, I’m not playing Erotic Lunging.” He retorts.

“I’m not sure that was ever an option.” I offer.

In hindsight, we could’ve had better names for our songs.

After ten minutes of haggling, three threats of quitting and at least one serious case of “I’m going home”, we reach an accord. Deep in our back catalogue we have a few lighter tracks. We decide to play those, take our time between songs and at some point we’ll call it a day and put some Lionel Ritchie on the iPod.

But the songs in the last minute set are woefully under rehearsed. With every song littered with more mistakes than a pro life rally, it becomes embarrassing, even more so when the newlyweds try to slow dance to Sausage Festival.

After a not entirely unreasonable amount of time, we decide to offer the speakers up to Endless Love and call it day, but we’re stopped in our tracks by a particularly disgruntled Groom.

“You HAVE to play Gas Chamber! It’s our favourite song!”

“See?!” Our guitarist Captain Smug chimes in.

I breath an unholy amount of regret deep into my shame filled lungs and survey the room. This wouldn’t be the first time I disappointed a room full of OAPs.

So we play Gas Chamber. The Bride and Groom dance. The room taps its feet as if this were the party jam they’d been waiting for the whole day. And there, throwing shapes left and right in the middle of the dance floor, is the Bride’s Grandma.

We should definitely crash more weddings.  

 

Photo by Kimberly Vardeman via Flickr.

The Album Rules

The Album Rules

Date: Time immemorial.
Venue: Your head.
Crowd: Potentially 0 if you screw it up. 

Punk crushes societal boundaries. Lays waste to the bureaucratic nanny state that controls and dictates our every day, neutered existence with rules and regulations. Anarchy remains the last great vestige of hope in an otherwise regimented life.

So, naturally, there are strict guidelines you must adhere to when deciding on the track order for your band’s new album. We call these simply; The Album Rules.

Generation after generation pass these rules down unthinkingly. The Underdogs did not create them. Our forefathers, and their four fathers (and so on, and so on) before them birthed these timeless principles. When putting together your new album, follow these rules lest it be cursed and destined for your local charity store.

Tracks 1, 2 + 4

These must be your singles. The three songs you want most in the earholes of your adoring public sit here on your album, and nowhere else. These are the gems you will release. But for the love of all that is Joe Strummer, NEVER ever release them. There’s nothing punk rock about a single release. You may as well be Britney.

BONUS: Your band earns extra points if you can begin track 1 and 4 with audio from an obscure, preferably black and white, movie.

Track 3

Your quirky track resides here. It will generally be in an odd time signature. It will always be written by your bass player.

Track 5

Track 5 is where you bury the bodies. This is the song that you wrote at the last minute to boost the number of tracks so your fans didn’t feel steamed at paying more pounds than there are songs.

BONUS: Legitimise the songs existence by giving it the same name as the album.

Track 6

It doesn’t matter what song you out here. Every music fan since time immemorial, bar none, skips Track 6. It’s the Bermuda Triangle of music. They just heard the nonsense you served up at Track 5. This song has no hope. You’re better off leaving it blank.

Track 7

No song on your album will be better than this one. Seven’s the key number. It’s generally when your fans will start to tune out and start thinking about better albums. Cram your best song here so they don’t miss it.

BONUS: Extra points for crowbarring Bill Hicks audio into the Middle 8.

Track 8

The eighth song on your album is genre specific. If you’re a metal band, you’re going to want to put your heartfelt ballad here. Ska band? This is your instrumental. If you’re a punk band, this song must be about alcohol, the opposite sex or driving at inappropriate speeds. Every other song is a thinly veiled critique of the current government, so you must give the fans a break. Sing about parties.

Track 9

After the first three singles (that you didn’t release) go triple platinum, the record label (which you’re not signed to) will insist on capitalising and releasing a fourth (which you MUST not release). Enter: Track 9. It’ll be a good song, but everyone will know the barrel has been scraped.

Track 10

Track 10 is where you bury the other body that wouldn’t fit in Track 5’s shallow grave. This is where you must hide the Courtcase Waiting To Happen TM. Every punk band has a track identical to a NOFX song. Put it here.

NOTE: Since you cannot sue yourselves for plagiary, NOFX  are exempt from the Track 10 rule.

Track 11

Choose a sexual position, food stuff and/or swear word. Write a song about it then place it here.

Track 12+

Should never exist. It is known fact that every album ever written only has 11 tracks. If you happen to write more, congratulations. Record them, then put them in a folder ready for a B-Sides album. When the time comes, you must burn that folder. No one wants to listen to your B-Sides.

 

The most important thing to remember when choosing the order of your songs is that no one cares. Happy recording!

 

Photo by Leonid Mamchenkov via Flickr

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.