Wednesday, 7 October 2015

THEME

Foreword: I've been putting this entry off for YEARS. At least since the archival entries that made up most of 2009 / 2010 on here and certainly since the last couple of years marked the 20th anniversary of this chunk of the story. But my blogging OCD demands it... primarily so one day, Silvery Archeologists will be able to reconstruct all these entries into a nice chronological tale. Blame my ongoing fascination with Time Travel fiction reaching a peak with the (unlikely to ever be released 4th Silvery album) John Titor nonsense last year and works by Jack Finney and the latest Stephen King. This certainly isn't the first chapter, but a good place to start for now. It's really 2 articles fused together - the brief outline of my first amateur band, and one about a long lost demo tape I made as a kid in 1994. Reading it back, it serves neither really. It adds very little to the main Silvery story, but while I half remember most of it, somehow it feels right to commit some of it to the internet. It's just a purge of memories for myself really. And who knows, at the very least, my son might one day read all these as he makes sense of the dozens of cassettes and minidiscs that daddy left in a box in the spare room. If he does, he need to keep in mind that daddy was just learning back then. It should all be taken as it was intended - experiments by a clueless kid into how this music thing works. Anyway.

That's a picture of Theme down there. L-R Adam, Matt, Ilias and me, WANKERED inside a photobooth somewhere in Hatfield, sometime in early 1996. Probably the only picture of us all in one frame. And the only one to suitably hide my stupid Marc Bolan hair that cursed those University years. So where to start on Theme? This is a difficult one, but has been promised for a long time. I guess the point of this piece to two pronged - much of the Silvery material is actually from a musical written with hindsight about the whole Theme episode both celebrating and reimagining it as something more than it actually was, and the fact that a few Theme songs made it onto Silvery releases (I've tackled those on here before). 'Star Of The Sea' was originally titled 'The Selling Of Theme To The Majors', for example. Theme was my first 'proper' band and the (with a few bumps in between) immediate forerunners of Silvery. It had a lifespan roughly coinciding with the Britpop Wars of the 1990s and I'd like to think partly responsible for the whole Cool Britannia thing. At least in our stomping ground of Hatfield, which was within easy striking distance of the bright lights and major label moneybags of the capital. But we never got further than the Student Unions and the occasional shopping trip down to London to look at Tower Records and HMV. Happy days.

I'd been calling my imaginary band ~Theme~ for a good year before they actual existed and have fond memories of Summer '94 spent demoing (see below) both in preparation for the new academic year away at university and exorcizing previous musical attempts that achieved nothing other than to ram home just how hard this music lark was going to be. That Summer, my last in the family home in Hampshire, I was about 6 months on from having learnt my first guitar chord (Dm, swiftly followed by Am) and had begun writing what were starting to be actual 'songs'. Very much a bedroom dreamer. I'd progressed on to needing more sophisticated demos and dabbled using the age old process of two tape players connected up and overdubbing during playback with very little control of levels or sound quality. Amateurish, but an excellent way to learn the craft. WHY OH WHY did no one think to buy me a 4-track machine back then? Probably because no one knew I was trying to make songs. A trip to Tandys for the correct leads was a revelation. This was going to HAPPEN. Once I got on a roll, I would tape over anything I could find. This was the days of free tapes coming with music magazines and I got through so many. I wish I'd kept them all at least so I'd have some hint as to what they sounded like now. I'd start doing the drums on whatever I could find (Tupperware, shoeboxes, thighs) then add guitar, singing and usually if the original guitar was too quiet another few layers of guitar of gradually unwinding tuning. It was great, with each layer diminishing the audio quality by quite a bit. It's almost poetic I'm writing this all at the very same desk I did it all on 21 years ago, sat next to the same Hitachi tape player that was responsible for most of the audio flaws.

Sadly, the resulting 'master' cassette was ceremonially burnt on the eve of our first proper studio session about 3 years later for some reason (Hoxton '97 - read about it below). Like it would bring us luck. Even then it seemed like an ancient unnecessary reminder of when I didn't have a clue. The truth was, I still didn't, but it seemed like an genuine but empty gesture that would appear more meaningful than it was. All it did was to immediately make me wish I hadn't done it and right now I would LOVE to have those recordings back. I've asked around, but of course no one would've kept terrible recordings of terrible songs from 20 years ago. So I have a massive hole in the Silvery archive. All the songs still exist in various forms of course as I have SO MANY cassettes of other recordings and rerecordings of the same material (earlier acoustic demos, later full band rehearsal jams, even some live and unsophisticated 4-Track demos) but none displaying that sheer raw na├»ve mad energy of the 'solo' versions I did that Summer. I'm not sure I would have the patience to do that now. Or the time. Especially the drumming-on-shoeboxes drums. Although I must add, the drumming sounded AMAZING. Just how I wanted it - booming and glammy. Like everything was played on floor toms. 'Texture' was accidently added by loud nasal breathing while doing it and the occasional 'hmmm' or 'haaaa' as I remembered to change beat. What a mess. Oh well. So from memory, that Summer 1994 tape included: 

She's A Butterfly
For some reason in the Summer of '94 this was going to be the BIG single. I just can't see it now and recall I was sick of it by the time that Winter rolled around. Featuring the one drum intro that Suede hadn't used up until that point (the 'boom tsh bombom tsh' one) it recounted the events of a night out in Eastleigh. In 2015 that would probably be the most exciting 'real' thing to sing about, Sillyford Mod style. Not so 20 years ago. Its fate was all but confirmed once it was presented to the full band a few months later and played over and over again and somehow morphed into the theme tune from '80 Days Around The World With Willy Fog'. Blame the bassline. Of course, 10 years later, I'd have killed for that. Slated as the first single, opening track on the tape and at later live performances early the following year. But the less said about those the better.

Oh The Swine
More a showcase for my newly learnt F#m to A change. Like that was a new thing for guitarists to do. I really liked this one but I'm not sure it was ever played with the band. Recounting another night out, this time in WInchester. So, fittingly, sounding a bit more classy.

Emptiness
Build around the same 4 chords repeating throughout (possibly the only 4 chords I knew at that point) and thematically pinched off an Auteurs b-side ('Vacant Lot' I think?) 'Emptiness' recounts my last visit to see my Grampa a few years before. For some reason I think it was all hinged on the memory of some of his awful glass ornaments. The chord sequence was lifted much later (and, to be honest, wasted) on 'Christmas Is Easy', the still-born attempt at a Silvery Christmas song in 2012 that only served to prove I'd never attempt the 'band' thing again.

Among The Idols
A fan favourite in that first year at Uni. He really liked it. Along with the Butterfly song above given the indignity of being played live at those early gigs and for that I don't think it's ever really forgiven me. In our top 5 best songs for most of the Uni years. And the pre-chorus bridge has been recycled so many times in other songs, but I'm not sure on anything actually released. Might be worth a revisit.

Why Should Tonight Be Different
A suitably Smithsy title and, not for the last time, a chorus I couldn't actually sing. A tricky A to C#m under the song title = nope. I'd introduced the tricky 'B' chord into songs by this point and I had some trouble making the shape when demoing this and started to feel genuinely worried about having to record properly in front of people. Scary business this worrying-about-things-that-will-never-happen thing. Like much of these recordings, the trebly and hissy sound really sounded magical. Not least on this recording.

Singer AKA 'Sally Spoke'
'The Drowners' in all but name. And, naturally, not as good. Even most of the lyrics. Actually that's unfair, as at the time I thought this was good. In its only other recording with the drummer it got given the same intro as 'I Want To Break Free' for LOLZ. And not for the last time, a comedy addition made the song even better and was retained as a key feature.

The Pilot Scheme
A little sad acoustic ditty about watching trains in South Wales with Pa. Except for some reason set in 1958. The forerunner of 'Warship Class' on the first album.

Blousy AKA 'Does She Know?'
Punk verses and a funk chorus. Really good intro riff that was recycled (at least, the open strings and bar chords idea) for 'Horrors'. Really should go back to that riff as originally intended. Also, oh to have a song called 'Blousy' now.

Edward Bear
That point where you realise another summer is over. Strange to think that even at 15 or 16 I was nostalgic for earlier Summers. A lazybones song told from the viewpoint of my old Pooh Bear for some reason. Looking back, just an exercise in learning about playing a chord and raising the shape up the neck instead of going to the trouble of changing finger position. So, essentially, the reason I'm such a miserably bad guitarist now.

Space Cadet
A Baggy shuffle, for some reason. A mistake in the timing of my original cornflakes box drumming became part of all subsequent recordings, but, naturally, it's that first demo that I am most fond of. Like a sped up Motion Picture version of 'Moonage Daydream' and that's saying something. A later version had first notable use of a bass guitar on ANY recording I had made. And boy did it make a difference. I suddenly 'got' what a bass is about. It adds 'bass' to the sound.

Where Angels Go To Die
The forerunner of all the long slow songs that blighted me over the years. And that title! A shorter, better, version of 'Life & Non Life' off Etiquette. Essentially the same song. *shakes fist at Suede's 'Pantomime Horse'*

Globe
See above, but with more chords and a better chorus. Unfortunately, 'more chords' meant it didn't hang around that long, despite me constantly revising it over the years. The best of which was a 7 minute version recorded as soon as I'd met a drummer. Did end up part of our first ever proper studio session in 1997 (see below) but due to time constraints was never mixed and still to this day languishes somewhere in the 3 VHS mastertapes I've got from that session. Would LOVE to find a machine so I can have a listen. Unfortunately, I'm pretty sure there is no machine capable of doing that these days. Silvery's own John Titor adventure could revolve around that.

So anyway. I took this tape to uni that September almost as a companion - all I'd learnt from the last year contained in a cassette. Of course, predictably, I was too embarrassed to play it to anyone. In my new student halls I shared a room with Matt so he became the drummer. Ilias heard us making a racket (usually a Wednesday afternoon) so joined on bass. They were both brilliant players and I found by this point, I could fake it pretty well in a 'live' setting. Especially as we were playing 'my' songs, so I was never found out when we did a cover version because we never did. On paper, it was all there. In practise (or more accurately 'lack' of practise) it was going to take a looooooong time. Especially the singing as we didn't own a microphone. Or stand. That first year we played 2 gigs (May and June I think), both in The Font, the student union bar on campus. They weren't very good or long gigs. I'd never heard a bass guitar through a PA before, or sung into a microphone on stage. And the songs were, that tell tale sign of a young band, really really too fast. The next time we were to take to that stage was the following February with the addition of Adam on guitar. He came from my hometown (and indeed, went to the same college as me) and we had a few sessions together in my living room as very green wannabe guitarists that same summer before I went away. I can't remember why he came up to uni late but we hit the gigging circuit running when he finally did. I say running. The gigs continued to be shit, but at least it felt like a band. More songs followed:

Samba
These next ones were done a bit later than this original 'lost' 1994 tape at Christmas. But looking back 21 years later, it's all one body of work really. No discernible improvement in writing or playing. Suede said one of the b-sides of 'So Young' would be called 'Samba', but no song of that name ever came out so, naturally, I nicked it. I had an idea this would be the one we played live on The Word (possibly with Bernard Butler on guitar). Close to Suede's 'Dolly' but with more glam / flamenco feel. I occasionally think about retrying this one. Strangely still a unique song in the extended catalogue and those early versions a testament to the power of Matt's drumming.

Daisy Fields, Waterloo
A waltz. And nicked off a song played by our resident 6th Form older-boys-60s-type-band called Flare. They were amazing and wore fur coats and played Stones songs. Still don't know if the song this ripped off was a cover or original but, hey, thanks guys.

Ace Face
The cheekiest of these early songs, and built around the 'John I'm Only Dancing' guitar intro. Seemed to be about a looming Menswear radio gig at Bristol Sound City (Easter '95) and I was nervous they wouldn't be as good as the live picture in that months Select magazine suggested. That Easter break, they were perfect. Lots was happening - Gene, Supergrass. It felt nice to be the Hatfield branch of Britpop. The song got a revamp about 4 years later when I was sending out acoustic demos when I finally bought a 4 track tape machine. That will make another blog entry I hope. Still occasionally enjoy playing it when no one's listening. Not that they were back then, of course.

Everyone's Turning To Stone
'My Insatiable One' but already recycling that good bit from 'Among The Idols' as mentioned earlier. Another that I figured might be worth digging out at some point. A classic case in point that what I now consider our better songs were never actually played live.

Band life revolved more around shopping at the Galleria and visiting the Hilltop chippie than learning our craft in the port-a-cabins that the Band Society borrowed most evening. Oh, and Viva Pizza in Hatfield, near Asda who we got our Sunday dinner from weekly. They actually called us once concerned when we hadn't ordered from them one Sunday. Drinks in the Font were plentiful. It was a good productive time, with studies leaking into songwriting (Philosophy and Physics still form a big chunk of the Silvery words) and Britpop exploding just down the railway line was inspiring. Remember the Hatfield rail crash? That was in our back garden. I was always writing and demoing material, more often than not either with a confused Ilias or Adam. I've still got HOURS of this material on cassette. Some ideas were good enough to develop, some were just to see what would happen if we did 'this' or 'that'. Off the top of my head, some other tunes that we did as a band after that first body of work from Summer 1995 through the next 18 months:

Peter Ruff
Bowie's take on 'Waiting For The Man' riff sped up and turned into the theme tune of an imaginary BBC kids show, like Mr Benn. Celebrating the weekend adventures of my pals from home. Each gets a line using codenames to avoid embarrassment.

Bardot
We're well into Theme's imperial phase now. The songs weren't getting better, but we had developed more in jokes. Build around Thurman's 'Famous' which I saw them do on The Beat that summer, which I still enjoy immensely. The title is unrelated to the lyrics, but every teenage songwriter surely has a song called 'Bardot'? Technical note: By this point I'd dispensed with the Tupperware box drums and did acoustic demos, usually with a layer of electric over the top to illustrate that it was an 'electric' song. Getting the correct fuzz finally killed the hifi amp. RIP.

Cover Version
Essentially the same song as above in the solid 1995 Britpop style. But somehow much better than our previous attempts and songs that go 'cha cha-cha plink'. Or at least, less embarrassing to play. Should be redone at some point as it has quite pleasing words and a solid 'La La La' outro. Occasionally still dragged out when I have Pro Tools running and am low on ideas.

Ramally Bridge
Although spelt wrong, this one was another homage to a local landmark. And by this time it was deemed necessary to have lots of chords in songs. Lesson 1: Lots of chords doth not maketh a good song. Although I'm still fond of the chorus in this one and it cleared the way for some of the later 'lots of chord' songs. Again, would've been worth presenting to Silvery circa 2005 just to see where it would've gone. Assume Echobelly wouldn't have sued for the hefty theft from 'Car Fiction'.

Downer
Yep, 'Downer'. Another slowie that was recycled into better songs over the years and the song that is still brought up regularly (along with 'Globe') when we joke about just how shit we were. Played live usually because I could actually sing the 'soaring' chorus relatively well. File in the 'FFS' folder.

Skyliner
The 'I Feel Fine' riff played wrong and lots of bad words about mountains. A good half speed chorus. Enjoyable to play live to get the 6 people in the audience going. The guitar line on this got reused as the bridge in 'The Ronald Opus' on Etiquette. A fair lift.

See Through People
I loved the Big White Stairs' 'Non-Star' so pinched the idea. A nice play on See Through as in sussing out a deceptive person, and See Through as in ghost. Would've probably helped though if anyone knew what the songs were called or could hear the buried-deep-in-the-mix vocals. Some of it ended up in '1994' from the first album. This one also made it to our first studio session. Naturally, that recording wasn't as good at those early rehearsal room ones. £600 in 1997 money down the pan. From this same era came 'Revolving' and 'Foreign Exchange' and a couple of others which you might know from the first two Silvery albums. I think the clues are there if you'd like to imagine what these other ones sounded like.

You can tell we meant business by now because Matt's mum made us up some t-shirts with song titles on. I had a blue See Through People one. It was brilliant. Wish I'd kept more. The khaki Skyliner one was excellent. By now we'd played our biggest gigs. Early on in the big Hutton Hall upstairs (where we'd seen Rolf Harris and Baby D play that term and any number of AMAZING tribute bands) and because that was actually 'OK' we were allowed to play a headline show the following month. I have these two gigs on tape still. They certainly were not 'OK' but it felt nice to be making progress. By now we'd be wearing policeman uniforms and judo gear on stage. And jumping on top of each other or throwing guitars around. All the other uni bands could play exceptionally well and just stuck to crowd pleasing covers. So generally, we were a bit of a joke. But you could tell there was some respect from our musical siblings that we were actually trying to do a proper band thing. Why didn't we try to get a couple of gigs in London? It wasn't really on our radar. That was for PROPER bands. It was one hell of an eye opener a few years later when I found out it REALLY REALLY WASN'T. It's fair to say those early gigs put me right off playing live. I was embarrassed and it seemed like a necessary evil a band had to do. It took me YEARS to get over it. Singing live, rounding up an audience. The internet really really helped later on. I dunno how we got away with it all back then.

She's Got To Know
Ooooh yeah into 1997 now and the final body of Theme songs. This was the first song to have clown keyboards on it when done at that first studio session mentioned above. February 1997 in Hoxton. A fair old drive down from Hatfield, and an even long drive back with our TERRIBLE new recording. I lost the vote with the keyboard overdub and they ended up very low in the mix. Have since been told I was right which pleased me. Again, some of this one was chopped up into other later songs. I wish the singing wasn't so bad on that whole session because some of these tunes were half decent. Special nod to Adam and Ilias' stop-start gypsy scale outro.

Odeon
'Dear Prudence' played by Cardiacs. That was the idea. Essentially one chord throughout ('C') which made it easy for our bassist to remember. Which strangely he never did. Toyed with digging this out for Silvery as I REALLY like the main riff. A later 'reunion' jam with Matt and Adam at some point in 2002 or 3 saw the song reborn as a kind of 'Just' by Radiohead. The same session tape included a version of Ilias' instrumental called '43 Golds' (AKA 'Welfare Whores') which, unbelievably ended up called 'Hype Jam' on some Bowie bootlegs thanks to me being a wanker.

Never Ever
The forerunner of all the later Silvery Glammy-Pop tunes but not quite as good. The lead track on that Hoxton '97 demo tape. Good pop fade out though. Fluffed intro, which was nicked off 'Among The Idols'. I learned early on that recycling the good bits of rubbish songs was a workable idea. I think that's thanks to owning dozens of Bowie bootlegs. Again, when I recently rediscovered a rehearsal demo of it I was like FFS that's how it should've sounded. Indeed, hindsight tells me that the 3 songs we did shouldn't have been the ones we recorded at great expense. Maybe history would've been more kind if we'd recorded, say, 'Skyliner', 'Ace Face' and, I dunno, 'Samba'? But back then you see, we had decent home demos of them so it was seen as a waste of money. I say 'decent'...

It kind of fizzed out after that. Exams loomed. Drinking loomed. Theme (minus Adam but with the addition of a musically forgetful organ player) played one London gig well after uni, a diabolically terrible set at The Rock Garden in early 1998. As well rehearsed as we got (instrumentally) by the end, we had forgotten it all by that one. And what rehearsal we did do still didn't include the singing. I was too shy, even in front of the band. What a wuss. I'd really have to sort that out. But it felt good relocating to Islington and rehearsing a band actually in a PROPER studio. Adam and myself ended up living in Islington once he'd finished uni and we had a year or so of the kind of scrapes you read about Carl and Pete having around the same time (1998) in the same postcode. We became 'Scissors' and toyed with getting a drummer and bassist and gigging but never did. Jamming usually consisted of making up joke songs ('Jazz Mags' stands out) and dabbling with building an acoustic two-man live set. But to be honest, we just didn't have the bottle to do it, or the money to rehearse properly. They were fun days though and BOY do I regret not just DOING IT. Scissors and our respective girlfriends would go to see gigs and drink loads. I look back fondly. Later on Adam and Matt would dabble with the early incarnations of Silvery. I have a tape of Matt drumming on versions of 'Two Halves Of The Same Boy' and '1994' from about 2003, and of course Adam switched to bass and was there for some of the key 2001 - 2002 first troublesome gigs which he wrote about on here a couple of years ago. So that ties that up nicely.

Once Theme was done for that first Summer living in London It felt like the passing of something. The end of this first difficult fact finding phase. And now as I write this as my London years are behind me, I feel so terribly nostalgic for that time. Probably more so than for what was to come later on. I'm sorry to say the next few years were spend in hibernation in a big Islington townhouse making demos and half heartedly scouring the Musicians Wanted ads. I eventually joined a band as the bassist because at 23, I felt too old. That story is picked up on another post on here a while back. If anything, it made me determined to work hard on this music malarkey and I vowed the next time I was on stage it would be GOOD. And 3 years, a lot of false starts and ups and downs later, it was. More or less.                 

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