Monday, March 21, 2011

The Alcoves II: Punk's Dead And We Don't Have A Van

I was watching the Bill Grundy show when the infamous Sex Pistols interview amazed everyone. This wasn't because I was tuned in to the music sub-culture. There were only three TV channels in England at that time and we'd just got done with tea.

I really had very little interest in music at all. My record collection consisted of a handful of K-Tel compilations (accidentally rendered coolish by T. Rex and The Sweet), and "Remember You're A Womble" by Mike Batt. I was thirteen.

By the time The Alcoves were ready for their first gig, the death of punk had been written on every available Tube station wall and I was spending every lunchtime at Cloud 7 record store. I wasn't usually buying anything, but it was the place to smoke cigarettes and to annoy Dave, the manager, by asking him if he'd got the new single by a band that didn't exist. ("Ummm... Five Snotty Bastards? Fink we're gettin' that in Fursday.")

I had bleached hair, an Anti-Nazi League badge, and a nicotine addiction I would never break.

And a band.

The band, however, did not have what most bands have. A van. In fact at the time of our first show none of us were old enough to hold a UK driver's licence.

One of the recurring themes of The Alcoves is that these kinds of details never seemed to bother us. And I am puzzled by this because for most of my life I have been a worried overplanner. Fortunately, our first gig at The Hoy Club in Harpenden was only a mile from The Francis Residence that served as our back-up practice space (until we discovered why you're not supposed to play a bass through regular hi-fi speakers).

We were sharing the bill with Force Majeure. The plan was to use their amps, but we still had to get the remainder of our gear to the club. This is when we discovered that drums are big.

I don't know where we found the pram. I suppose it might have been at The Francis Residence, but given that Mrs. F. hadn't given birth for fifteen years this seems unlikely. Actually, the thing was so big that it comfortably (even luxuriously) could be called a perambulator. A baby carriage, complete with heavily-sprung suspension and bicycle wheels. Had it been much bigger it would have come with a horse attached.

This really looked like DIY music. The drums were placed in and lashed to the pram with bungee cords and gaffer (duct) tape. As we pushed the contraption past afternoon shoppers the overall effect reminded me of a NASA lunar buggy with a Tosco cymbal radar dish.

When we got to the club, Force Majeure, who were clearly a real band since they wore leather jackets and had no pram, were setting up. We had just liberated the last of the drums when the lead singer flew across the stage. I was extremely impressed with the move until I realized he'd been electrocuted. Through his teeth. And that the power had gone out.

Once his band mates had determined that it was only a minor shock, Roo was dispatched back to The Francis Residence to get 13 Amp fuses.

An hour later the lead singer of Force Majeure was flat on his back again suggesting that maybe we needed an electrician.

Somebody got the wiring sorted out. I know it wasn't me. I was busily becoming acquainted with a hitherto unknown element of being in a band. Stage fright.

I didn't mention this to anyone until a couple of years later in a pub before a Split Here gig. As I'll describe in part... IX maybe, The Alcoves were not long-lived, and I was now playing in Split Here with Olly, Dai Norman and Harvey McGavin. My stage fright was as bad as ever and heightened this particular evening by the prospect of playing to several hundred people at the F.E. college.

As I sipped my beer I looked at Dai and noticed he was defining "a whiter shade of pale." I smiled weakly.

"Why the fuck are we doing this?" I said.

He replied with a smile that was upside down. "No idea."

I later figured out why the fuck we were doing it, but that can wait till part IV.

So we played our first gig. I don't know what we sounded like. For the most part we started and stopped at the same time and people clapped a lot. Those of you who have gone through this process will understand the oddity of being at the center of something that frequently seems to be on the edge of disaster. Or maybe that just reflects my personal ineptitude. But my main recollection of the "feel" of the gig was that of being in a large pram that was bouncing down a grassy hillside. Exhilarating, but with the constant threat that we were about to hit a tree.


  1. This is great.

    I think I had that Top of the Pops record as well. Jeepster wasn't it?
    Cripes, I think I still have it.

  2. Rite there was a series of 'em all with girls in tight tops on the cover.

  3. I just got home from school to see a big black bulldozer murdering a tree...

  4. They're tearing up the wasteland where we used to play and some of us cried when we got sent away...

  5. Nope, I only remember the first bit.

  6. I probably got it wrong. I didn't write it. I seem to recall that later on a bird dies, some trees catch fire, and the listener is left in no doubt that property developers are much naughtier than schoolboys with guitars and paint.

  7. I remember where the band name came from, stickers wasn't it?

  8. Yeah I guess we remembered how much time it took in The Alcoves to make stickers from scratch and figured matching the name to a pre-existing, self-adhesive sheet would save time. Lucky we weren't called "29p" or "Jaffa."

  9. Very true, although I can think of worse.

  10. If you're waiting for Part III I'm writing it now.

  11. Looking forward to it.

  12. I should bloody well hope so it's 6:40 a.m.

  13. Alrighty then Anonymous. More nostaliafodder posted. G'nite.

  14. Oh how ironic. I missed the G. Bass players, I swear.

  15. Thank you and goodnight.