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Forming a Band

There’s a very good chance your first band will be you and some close friends. There are few more exciting things to do as a teenager than forming a band with your mates. Sure, you’ll spend a disproportionate amount of time discussing how brilliant fame will be, arguing over band names, discussing stage clothes and stage moves, dreaming of the expensive gear that one day will be yours, and how great all the sex and drugs will be, but that’s all part of the fun and an integral part of the band experience…

My first band was formed when I was sixteen, with three mates from school. With a whole year’s guitar playing under my belt I was by far the most experienced. A novice drummer, a bass player with a very pointy bass who was thrash metal mad and a singer who was too nervous to sing filled out the line-up. I’m sure we must have had a name, but I’m buggered if I can remember it now and while we talked things over to death at school break times, I don’t think we ever managed more than a handful of rehearsals. Many burgeoning bands suffer this fate, as once the hard work of writing, rehearsing and being musically competent really kicks in, it is never too long before the cracks begin to show in your glorious plans for world domination.

Every band needs someone that will manage the thing, and that someone will become the boss by default (which makes things difficult in a group of mates – oh look, is that a crack I see?). Usually this will be the person with the most drive, which is often also the person with the most talent and the person who is writing the songs. This person wants to be a success and is prepared to work at it. Which is lucky, as they’ll have to work damn hard, for little or no return, with very little help. (It is ironic that the person most important to the music will inevitably be the one who has to spend the most time doing non-musical things, e.g. organising everything and everyone.)

If this person is really fortunate, they’ll have an ally, perhaps a co-writer, who is prepared to help them spread the load. There are plenty of people out there that enjoy playing music and are quite good at it, that enjoy playing gigs and enjoy being in a band… but who are also unprepared to lift a finger to help run the thing. You will meet these folks, they are everywhere, and at some point you will make a decision as to whether they’re worth carrying – as carry them you will. There are always compromises to be made. You’ll find yourself mulling over conundrums such as:

  • Does Simon’s car ownership offset his lack of bass playing ability?
  • Anna does tend to forget the words all the time – but she always brings weed to practice.
  • Is Barry’s talent on the drums worth more than the fact that he’s a miserable bastard who brings everyone down at every rehearsal?
  • Is Cathy’s unreliability and tendency to miss rehearsals worth more or less than the fact that she brings at least ten mates to every gig?

These become particularly difficult equations when the person in question is also a mate with whom you formed the band with. I once had a band made up of myself and two very good friends – Trevor and Den – one of whom, Trevor (drums), worked in tandem with me to run the band, and one of whom, Den (bass)… didn’t. The equation we had to solve was does Den’s undeniable status as lovely bloke + close friendship + cool looks = +/- his lack of musicality + growing tendency to miss rehearsals to attend meetings at another dodgy pyramid sales scheme he’s foolishly got himself involved with. Again.

In the end we fired him, a tough call that was clearly a little upsetting for all involved. He heroically covered any emotion by stating that he had to quit soon anyway, as he was going to move to Egypt. Wait, Egypt?! I didn’t realise that it was that sort of pyramid scheme, cool! I had visions of him moving all his stuff into the King’s Chamber of the Pyramid of Khufu in Giza, but in the end he never made the move. Nevertheless, in a fine example of his undeniable lovely bloke/lack of self-respect quota, Den did allow his replacement to borrow his amp and then ended up finding a new role as our roadie. I don’t want to give you an unfair impression though – sometimes firing people can be hugely enjoyable. More on that another time.

 I have vague recollections of another band while I was still at school. I didn’t hang around for long, leaving because of good old musical differences – in so far as my so-called best mate (the other guitarist) hated sharing the guitar spotlight with me and wanted me out. Hell, I hadn’t even noticed that there was a spotlight. But I did do my first public performance with these guys, an audition for our school dance in front of a handful of judges that didn’t like us, and a large proportion of our classmates.

We failed the audition, but curiously I can still recall all the songs we played – cover versions of Nirvana’s “Territorial Pissings”, Motley Crue’s “Dr Feelgood”, Bryan Adams’ “Summer of 69” and New Model Army’s “Get Me Out”. Which gives you a fair indication of some of the musical differences in the band. After I left, they did a bunch of shows at local parties and such like, filling me with jealousy as I watched on from the sidelines, unable to cash in on the popularity attained by my former comrades. “I used to be in this band you know” is a rubbish chat-up line. I moved on and started my own project forthwith.

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