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The Highs and Lows of Bass Players

One of my bands desperately needed a new bass player – we’d fired one guy, Mark, essentially for being a miserable bastard that couldn’t take a joke, and for refusing to wear anything other than trainers, blue jeans and a black shirt on stage. If nothing else, this is a reflection on our rather misplaced priorities at the time, as Mark was a very decent bass player.

And in retrospect, despite feeling great at the time, firing Mark was a grievous error. We were never able to really replace him and, as a result, the band lost a lot of momentum, just when we were really hitting our stride. In fact we tried three replacements in quick succession, and every one of the new bass players transpired to have some serious mental health issues.

Bear in mind here that pretty much every musician has some form of mental health issue, so to have them serious enough to stand out from everybody else means they must be pretty damn bad.

Anyway, the last of these, a chap by the name of Jake, responded to an ad and we all got together at the singer’s house for a cup of tea and a chat. On asking him what sort of stuff he’d played on lately, he promptly pulled out a handful of CDs by one of my favourite bands of the time. WOW. He seemed like a nice guy and was a very good bass player, and he loved our stuff. Perfect!

However, as the weeks wore on, it became clear that he had some mental health issues that dwarfed those of the previous two incumbents. This culminated in a bizarre gig, which as luck would have it was one of our biggest shows yet, a prestigious support slot to an international touring act.

I still have the video footage of the show. Jake starts off just fine, but as the gig goes on and the effects of the alcohol and the valium kick in, you can see him just sort of disintegrate, and he ends up standing there on stage with his arms wide open, looking like a sort of sad and lost indie Jesus, wondering what to do and what he should be playing. This is not the sort of thing you want in your band, unless you have a very weird band.

Things went bad from worse that night as we were accused by the opening act on the bill of stealing their bass guitar. Well this was fighting talk, as what sort of arsehole band steals another band’s equipment? Well, actually, quite a few do, but we bloody well didn’t! Fighting talk begets fighting action, and in the end it all kicked off out the back of the venue – it was getting pretty nasty, one of the enemy even punched my girlfriend in the face, and shortly the police arrived and broke things up.

(I must confess at this point that I wasn’t involved personally in said fight. Myself and my good friend Richard were enjoying the rare luxury of a proper dressing room, and having noted that there appeared to be a surplus of fire extinguishers in there – and no fire – had decided that it was only fair to engage in a fire extinguisher duel. I would never have believed you could fit so much foam in so small a container, but that’s science for you.)

Anyway, bruised and battered (or in my case, dripping in foam) we shuffled off home, suggesting that under the circumstances we wished we had stolen their bloody bass.

Luckily in the morning it turned out that we had. We got a phone call from the police informing us that a certain Jake had been captured on the venue’s CCTV camera walking out with the bass guitar in question, and perhaps he’d like to return it to the venue before he was arrested. Well that was embarrassing. Nice one Jake. I’m not sure what the lesson is here to be honest, other than don’t give Jake the bass gig if he turns up to audition for your band.

As a curious footnote to this story, I played a solo show some fifteen years later and got chatting to a guy in the audience afterwards. Turned out he was the dude who owned the stolen bass – and in the end he was a bit gutted to get it back, as his Gran had felt so sorry for him that she had offered to buy him a new one!

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