Battle of the Bands

Battle of the Bands

Most of what follows, unfortunately, happened.

Date: Judgement Day.
Venue: The trenches.
Crowd: On our side.

There are two types of Battle of the Bands. One is a festering wasteland of arduous futility created in the degenerate filth laden mind of someone who truly despises musicians. The other is worse.

The misconception is that there can be merit in judging one band to be better than another. The problem for me is that punk is about community. You forge friendships in the damp infested basement shows that transcend prejudice and defy societal boundaries. There isn’t a band we’ve played with that I’ve disliked; Nor a musician I’ve shared a stage with that has deserved anything but respect and love.

Except The Monochrome Rainbows. They were insufferable.

Over the years, The Underdogs have had the distinctly underwhelming privilege of experiencing both types of battle of the bands. We’ll call them, for the record, Type Sh** and Type Sh**ter. The latter, and by far worse of the two, is judged by the fans. When you reduce this model to its component parts, what you essentially have is a competition judged on how many friends a band can drag to a show. The problem with this model for us is that The Underdogs have no friends. None that like us enough to come along to a show to raise their hands at the designated time anyway.

Type Sh** battles on the other hand are judged by a panel. Whilst this is indeed the least flawed of the two, the caveat would simply be this; the Hindenburg was the least flawed blimp design of the 1920s. We’ve played our fair share of these, but one particular appearance stands out.

The battle was in North Kent. A venue we had not yet seen. We arrive in plenty of time, a miracle in itself. Jake must’ve sacrificed a teeny bopper before we left because this would not be the first time the punk gods rule in our favour.

As I said, punk is about community. Helping your brothers in their time of need. But something about Battle of the Bands just turns people into insufferable f***wits. The atmosphere is frostier than an eskimos underwear drawer, and just as demoralising to our self-confidence.

“Hi, we’re The Underdogs.” We offer to the nearest musician who breaks protocol and makes eye contact.

“Ugh.” Comes the response. Punks aren’t typically known for their witty repartee, but this was going to be a long, conversation-less night.

We are on immediately after a band we’ll call The Monochrome Rainbows. They are what we aspire to be; that is to say, they clearly have talent. By the end of the set the crowd are so in awe they’d follow the singer to the ends of the Earth. The final song includes a guitar solo so technical and dripping with prowess you’d think the guitarist was possessed by a punk rock demon. Conversely, ours trips up getting onstage.  

Relative to The Monochrome Rainbows our performance is a thing of faultless adequacy. We were vanilla ice cream on a Tuesday; fine in the moment, but ultimately uninspiring to the point you’d wonder why you bothered.

The punk gods, in their infinite wisdom, choose to brainwash the judges and award us first place.

Following the decision, and given the restless crowd, we use our own version of eyebrow based semaphore to plan a swift exit. But as we bundle our mediocrity into the car, I realise my bladder has other ideas. As you’ve no doubt already aware from reading these tales, my bladder does not play nicely when full. I make the executive decision to void the contents in a legal place this time, and swiftly visit the little front man’s room.

I walk in and find two members of The Monochrome Rainbows with a marker pen permanently furnishing the wall of the bathroom with some fresh literature. Furthermore, The Underdogs are the subject of the aforementioned critique likening our collective character to that of female genitalia. It occurs to me they don’t like us.

They turn to face me. I open my mouth to say something about the new sweary wall motif, but think better of it. For one, they are much, much bigger than me and disinclined to agree with whatever I have to say, given their assumptions about my personality’s similarity to a sexual organ. Secondly, and most importantly, I’m full of urine and afraid if they beat me up I’ll wet myself.  

But they don’t recognise me.

In the ensuing, panicked wee, I rack my brains to figure out why my rear end is not being irrevocably kicked. I consider the theory that perhaps they think I look like I could handle myself in a street combat situation, but settle on the idea that they probably didn’t bother to watch our set. Ergo, they have no idea who The Underdogs are, just that they were bested in musical battle by them.

And so, The Underdogs gained their second nemesis.

The moral of the story is this; Battle of the Bands shows can get in the sea. The losers always think they should win. The winners rarely deserve to win. And the punk community? Well, that’s the real loser.

And The Monochrome Rainbows. They also lost.


Photo by Jakob Jankiewicz 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.

Story Time with Jake – Power Poses

Story Time with Jake – Power Poses

Here’s our bassist Jake to take you through some performance basics. 

Most of what follows, unfortunately, happened. 

Date: Every gig.
Venue: Every venue.
Crowd: With or without. 

Putting on a good show is down to a few different things, different factors of which musical talent is just the tip of the iceberg. Well, bit more than the tip actually, but you get my drift. There are other things. Energy for example, you go out there like it’s your 9-5 and no one is gonna have fun. Go out there like it’s your dream and everyone will. It is your dream isn’t? Because if it isn’t? Stop now.

But this brings me onto another point. Power poses. You’re out there on stage, feeling like a rock god, looking like a rock god, hell, to the people in the audience you ARE a rock god. So you’d best give ‘em what they want and pose like one. Strike a pose, not like Vogue, but like you’re the living embodiment of all the rage and rock that mosh pit is pouring out, like you’re the biggest bollocked bastard in the room.



You have choices galore you lucky git. You don’t have anything to get in the way like an actual instrument. And even the mic stand can be an excellent prop. You can cradle it like a lover and strangle it like… well a lover sometimes. But step away from the mic for a bit and consider…

Rock Jesus – Legs together, arms flung out to the side, you are the melodic martyr!

Foetal – Get down, get low, curl in on yourself because the rock is just too much. If you can, bring the mic into the huddle with you for some low and intense vocals. Rocking back and forth is acceptable.

Cocky Pirate – One leg up on a monitor (if you are lucky enough to play somewhere with those) and lean your arm across it. Stare out across the crowd as if they’ve hidden all your booty/rum. Bonus points if you do this while drinking rum.



Guitar Sex – That’s right, you’ve got an axe to grind… in the sexiest kind of way. Drop that six string betwixt your legs and pretend you’re the last stripper on shift.

Sky Beam – guitar to the sky like you are summoning angels with your playing. If you’re a lead guitarist you probably think you are.

Gettin’ Low – This isn’t a limbo-style maneuver, more of a hunch, bend over at the waist and just try to drop your guitar to about knee level, all while hammering the strings like they’re on fire. Bonus points if you actually set them on fire.

There is No Spoon – This is a limbo move. Bend back as far as you can like you’re dodgin’ bullets while you play. Woah.



One Stick Salute – One stick, thrust triumphantly into the air while your other arm frantically tries to keep everything going.

Two Stick Salute – Both sticks in the air, best saved for the end of the song because there are some things even your mighty legs can’t do.

I See You – Pick a poor sap in the crowd and use one stick to point at them through the maze of toms and cymbals on your kit. Fix your best demented look and nod like they just agreed to a murder-suicide pact.

Standing Ovation – Best used at the very end of the set, tower over your kit like the beat-god you are and smash everything in reach with the power of your mighty arms. Imagine there are ants all over your kit, or pop fans. Whatever it takes to get you thrashing like an enraged kraken. When you are done throw the sticks carelessly over your shoulder and stride off stage. Bonus points if a cymbal falls over as you exit.



Basically the same as the guitarist but way better because yours is bigger.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Jake’s opinions do not necessarily coincide with the rest of the band.


Now, obviously these are just a few to get you going. In the white hot fire of gigging your body will automatically contort and bend itself into physical expressions of rock and roll. Trust me. But, only if you remember the golden rule, have fun. You can’t channel the music into power poses the likes of which Olympus will envy if you don’t have some bloody fun out there.

Photo by Andreas Ivarsson via Flickr

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.

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.