15 January, 2006

Past masters II

Time for another dip into that shoebox:

- 'School Jazz Band (live) 12/11/92'

This particularly gruesome recording hails from a time when my involvement with the eponymous ensemble was thankfully coming to an end.

After just over two years plying a thankless trade as pianist within something that didn't know much about jazz and even less about being a band, I was fashioning my exit through a mixture of unprofessionalism (not turning up to rehearsals), outspokenness (arguing with the band "leader", a decidedly non-hirsute, overbearing individual moonlighting from his job as head of Maths) and plain pissing about.

I hadn't been able to cut all ties by the time of this concert, staged in the school hall, and which comprised a run through of the band's entire repertoire. Actually, lasting a little under 30 minutes it could no way have been called a proper concert. It barely fills one side of the C90 tape. Still, at least nobody made any pretence about charging an audience to attend.

The tape was made by someone who was ostensibly doing a music technology course, but in fact the quality of the recording is shit. For some reason he mixed everything with far too much "top" - treble - so the finished thing sounds like there's no bass at all. Though admittely he wasn't working with dynamite material. The actual performances are all tired affairs, reaching their nadir with a reading of 'Feelings' taken at a pace akin to an ageing carthorse struggling up a particularly steep mountain range.

Looking at my self-made inlay card I now see that the concert was actually a double bill with, of all people, the Leicestershire School of Music Clarinet Choir. I can't remember whether they or we were on first. Either way the interval prompted a mass exodus of folk who'd wisely realised there were better ways of spending an evening than listening to a load of unpleasant droning. And that was just the opening speech by the head of Music.

- 'The Beautiful South: Live at The Fleadh, 7/95'

I taped this off Radio 1. It's a dreadful gig, and I reckon this was the moment I gave up on The Beautiful South after a couple of years of devoted following.

I'd seen them live a couple of times the previous year, once as a winner of a Radio 1 competition to attend "an exclusive gig" in London, the other as an ordinary paying punter at Trentham Gardens, Stoke-On-Trent. Both occasions were ropey affairs, epitomised by lead singer Paul Heaton's grotesque appearance: fat, sweaty, boozed-up, rude…completely the opposite of the endearing image he'd fashioned as a Housemartin and in the early days of The Beautiful South.

The Trentham Gardens gig was also a bad night for other reasons. I'd volunteered to drive to the venue, a distance of 40 miles or so, with three of the people I'd been to Edinburgh with earlier that year. It was December, the roads were dreadful, there was fog everywhere, I got lost, none of the others seemed at all happy to be there (not helped by the fact I hadn't seen them for four months), I felt hugely ill-at-ease behind the wheel of my mum and dad's car, the parking at the venue was crap…

All in all a potent combination of malcontents and mayhem. Unsurprisingly, I didn't see or speak to two of my three companions ever again.

- 'Chris Evans 20/12/96'

I think I kept this as a memento of the man's legendary (at the time) tenure of the Radio 1 breakfast slot, which was to self-combust the following month when Matthew Bannister, station controller, refused to let Chris have Fridays off. The irony is that, by this point, the show had long lost the sparkling dynamism and impact it had boasted during its first 12 months. Sure enough this tape reveals a man obsessed with himself and his own lifestyle, devoting at least 15 minutes of airtime to a boring exchange of Christmas presents with his acolytes. At one point Chris promises to "show all of this stuff on the show tonight", a typically gratuitous reference to the equally self-obsessed TFI Friday. As memory serves he didn't.

- 'Demos - Spring 1997 (?)'

This is a tape of odds and ends I sang into my cassette recorder while sitting alone in my bedroom in the house I shared during my final year at university. Many an evening I spent upstairs in my tiny room, door closed, with a big mug of tea, my guitar, and some bits of paper upon which were chord sequences and random lyrics, in the hope some decent songs would emerge. What I'd do with the songs once they were written wasn't that important. I just needed some way of articulating myself in a way that was somehow more honest and substantial than the lazy banter and loaded jokes that passed for conversation with my housemates.

Listening back I have to admit to feeling a little impressed with the quality of the stuff musically, but the lyrics are just atrocious from start to finish. They're best summed up by this excruciatingly embarrassingly couplet, which I can only presume was my attempt at biting commentary upon the largely apathetic concerns of my fellow tenants and the student population in general:

"Every time I mention 'democracy'
It's just another can of beer and the fucking TV."

Ouch. Thankfully this never got a public airing. Until now, that is.

And of course in retrospect it's cruelly obvious that the people who were wielding those cans of beer and watching their "fucking TV" were having a much better time of things than I was.


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