Thursday, March 24, 2011

The Alcoves III: Bop!

Having solved our transportation issues with the pram, the next problem was the school dress code.

I often wished, for numerous reasons, that I went to a Catholic school for girls; particularly one with a uniform that could pass for tartan. It was a wonderful thing to see the transformation that six inches of abbreviated hemline and soap in the hair could produce. However, I was forced to work within other guidelines.

Our school rules were lengthy and detailed. They included "No blatant eating in public," which meant that sucking effetely on a Polo mint outside of class was acceptable, but walking down the High Street with half a bun protruding from your gob was not.

Hair was to be kept "off the collar and off the eyebrows." Presumably this rule was added around 1964 when the last threat from electric guitars disrupting the status quo was unleashed. However, nowhere did the rules say "Thou shalt not bleach your hair and add crimson flashes."

Socks should have been a problem since I preferred dayglo pink ones and the school rules stipulated they should be "of a color that does not draw undue attention to the individual." Clearly this rule left considerable scope for interpretation, particularly by individuals like me who felt they were due a great deal of attention. I suspect the primary reason I was not asked to return home for grey ones was that the schoolmasters' attention didn't get lower than my hair.

We were compelled to wear suits. Fortunately local thrift stores were brimming with jackets with thin lapels and matching narrow trousers from the late fifties and sixties. It's quite boggling to imagine how many dead grandfathers appear in echoed outline in band photographs of the period.

Out of the indistinguishable columns of small boys in clerical grey there emerged pockets of people who clearly weren't getting enough sleep. They invariably smelled of cigarettes, and if you were silly enough to be a prefect and grab one of them by the aforementioned narrow lapels you might find they had razor blades underneath.

A bifurcation had occurred. There were now two school uniforms.

It may have been through this sartorial coding that we met The Stern Bops. Or at least how I did. I imagine Olly knew them through Gez.

I felt an immediate bond. Like The Alcoves, The Stern Bops were a four-piece with three boys and a girl. And the lead singer, Ade Clarke, played bass. At this time I knew of only two people who could sing and play bass: Phil Lynott and Suzi Quatro. Ade was clearly neither of them, but he was incredibly charming and liked The Alcoves. In Dave Foster I recognized a fellow physicist and felt it best not to discuss the matter. Simon Dodds intimidated me, but that may have been because his job as a drummer required him to hit things really hard and he had red hair. I didn't see much of Tracey Thorn at first because, by virtue of having a vagina, she violated one of the oldest school rules concerning who was eligible to be a pupil. Initially she seemed stand-offish when we started playing gigs with The Stern Bops, but I discovered that this was a result of our shared problem of pre-gig nausea and frequent visits to the loo.

The Alcoves' sound was essentially an accident. "Minimalist pop" probably describes it, partly because Roo didn't use any guitar pedals and played mostly open chords producing a tinkly, clean jangle. I stuck with Rotosound flatwounds that have a naturally low-attack, poppy bop, and Olly's drumming owed a lot more to Ringo Starr than Keith Moon. And Bev sang rather than screamed.

The Stern Bops packed more of a punch. Dave played delightful lead lines over Tracey's chords while Ade and Simon provided the driving force. The Alcoves could achieve power pop with enough wattage, but The Stern Bops started there and worked up. Interestingly though, our songs had considerable thematic overlap. The period is known, mistakenly in my opinion, for songs of anarchy and nihilism. Both The Alcoves and The Stern Bops spent plenty of time in the more traditional waters of broken hearts.

"Lampshade" and "Boys Cry Too" are two of my favorite pop songs, not just by The Stern Bops but of the entire genre. One reason I started learning how to play guitar was so I could play them.

The Stern Bops sound had got me thinking about ours. I also needed to learn to play guitar so I could write guitar lines. In fact The Stern Bops had inadvertently become responsible for my ill-fated attempt to turn The Alcoves into a five-piece.

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