MUSIC IN MANCHESTER
(Manchester Bands Section)
WITCHWOOD 21 JUNE 00
`CHAPTER IV.'A NEW HOPE'
So, Steve decides to form his own band.
Obviously, he picks the two musicians nearest to him; Carl Burns (A drummer of some year's experience) and Tommy Crooks (A guitarist of somewhat less experience, but bags of attitude.) They will be called: ARK (What else would you call yourself when you're anticipating a hard rain?)
They anticipate no problems with providing music, but who's going to sing? They all decide to have a go.
Steve's not really the type, and can't sing and play bass at the same time. (His bass playing being an essential part of the equation.)
Tommy sounds like Alex Harvey with a sore throat. (A very bad sore throat.)
Carl shows some promise, but there are 2 problems with him becoming the new Don Henley:
1/ He insists on all lights being out and no-one looking at him when ever he sings (Bit of a problem when it comes to gigs.)
2/ Singing drummers are shit.
Right, they need a singer.
Enter Pete Nakamura, someone known to all of them through his friendship with Steve's brother. (More on that bastard later.) Never been a singer, (or a hummer or a whistler, come to that,) but walks like one. Never been a lyricist either, but shows a natural talent. Suddenly ARK's primitive daubs begin to look like paintings. This thing could run and run.
They embark on a fairly grim tour of the UK. But Hey! At least they're getting on! The last tour Steve, Carl and Tommy had been on was like the first twenty minutes of 'Saving Private Ryan'. Compared to that, playing to 2 men and a dog on a rainy Thursday in Liverpool is a piece of piss!!
The 'Getting On' bit lasts slightly shorter than anticipated. Carl Burns jumps ship 2 days before the London gig.
Luckily, Steve's brother Paul (I told you we'd get to him,) plays the drums, (or did do, bit rusty to be honest. Still, he does his best) and is roped in to (hopefully) save the day. All goes well and he becomes a permanent fixture.
There follows some more gigs, including a trip to Tommy's native Scotland. For this trip, Tommy asks one of his friends to give the other three members of the band exclusive use of his home for the duration of the tour. Amazingly, he agrees. He has obviously never met anyone in a band. Luckily, the three in question don't quite fit the standard rock 'n' roll profile, and so none of them shit in the sink or steal his TV. (Or, for that matter, shit in his TV and steal the sink.) They even leave some money to cover the use of his phone. (Not enough, obviously, but you can't expect miracles, unless Smokey Robinson is staying in your house) The gigs go very well. The band are showing an unprecedented unity and singularity of vision. Something will have to give.
Next on the agenda is some recording. Dates are booked at a studio in Manchester. The band record 3 songs. Tommy succeeds in blowing up the amp kindly loaned to him by the owner of the studio. Despite this, the owner (another Pete) is (seemingly) quite taken with the band and agrees to play keyboards both in the studio and live, at the forthcoming Castlefield Festival. A rehearsal is hastily convened.
Perhaps too hastily.
The gig is Ok. (its only 4 songs) but the keyboard parts bear scant relation to the ones heard at the rehearsal. The reasons offered for this are:
1/ The band didn't rehearse enough.
2/ The keyboard at the rehearsal wasn't good enough.
Ok then. With some more dates are coming up, the band rehearse some more (despite their collective loathing of the whole process of rehearsing.) Tommy lives in Scotland, by the way, so he's not exactly handy.
Q/ Why do the band hate rehearsing?
A/ Its shit?
B/ They're bone idle?
C/ A and B?
The answer is of course; C.
Despite this extensive rehearsing, the Keyboards at the next gig are, if anything, less polished than the Castlelfield gig. The cry of 'What key's it in?' can be heard before every song. (As if anyone else has a clue! Keys are good for opening tins of corned beef as far as this lot are concerned.)
Still, everyone is in good spirits. Tommy, having driven down from Scotland, is driving straight home, ready to meet the rest of the band 2 days later for the next gig. Warm handshakes and mutual compliments are exchanged, 'See you at the next one!!' Shouts Tommy as he drives away. It's obvious to anyone with a modicum of common sense (e.g. Neville the driver,) he'll never play with ARK again. No-one in the band suspects a thing.
For the next gig, Pete the keyboard man (or "Nosferatu" as he is now affectionately known) is again in evidence. Guitar will be provided by one Colin Burns (no relation) who has been with the band from the outset in the role of guitar technician/ road manager/ back line roadie/ fold back mixer. (i.e. everything bar Musician. He'd have been groupie too but no-one fancied him.) He has been up all night learning the songs. Fortunately, he always looks like he's been up all night, so it won't affect the bands image (!) on stage.
He is more than equal to the task (despite not being loud enough. In fact, he is the only guitarist ever that isn't asked to turn down at the soundcheck.)
The gig proves to be one of the bands best. Tapes that exist give testament to a much tighter unit than has been evidenced so far. (And also to someone shouting 'What key's it in?' between every song. Clue: It isn't Colin.)
With the ever reliable Mr Burns on board, it's obvious that the man with no memory on the ivories will have to go. Unfortunately, this results in him taking his ball home as regards studio time, so another solution is needed to complete recording for the album that the band have been threatening to release for some time.
Fortunately, the 'Band on the Wall' comes to the rescue.
The 'Band on the Wall' is a club in Manchester with an impressive recording studio attached. It's agreed that the band will play a gig which will be recorded and form the basis (with overdubs) for the album.
This solution seems to suit all concerned and spirits are again high when the gig and subsequent recording session go very well. Fate, of course, is loathe to let anything go smoothly for the ARK boys. The next session is hastily cancelled by the Band on the Wall until the small matter of the ongoing Police investigation into items stolen while ARK were playing/recording is cleared up.
Apparently, ARK are alleged to have stolen a very expensive piece of recording equipment on the day of the gig. (bearing in mind they were about to record, and may well have wanted to use said piece of kit) Having stolen this equipment , they are then alleged to have turned up 2 days later, spent a day recording, had some photos done upstairs (thereby placing themselves at the scene of the crime) and stolen another expensive piece of equipment, before enquiring when they would be welcome again. (presumably to steal something else) This ludicrous accusation is treated with the contempt it deserves, and is subsequently given short shrift by the police, who turn up expecting a gang of young scallies. On meeting Steve and Colin, with a collective age of 110, they dismiss all charges. (except wearing an excessively loud shirt in a built up area between the hours of 11pm and 7am. Colin is guilty as charged.)
Nonetheless, despite being given another gig at the B.O.T.W. as a sign of good faith, no more recording takes place there; the album is finally completed at I.N.C.H. studios.
Now read on.."
Then there’s bassist Steve Hanley. He’s played over 2,000 gigs gigs the fall. In 20 years he’s made a living out of doing something he still enjoys i.e. being a musician. As long as he continues to enjoy it he’ll carry on.
Less than 12 months ago both Ark and Top Loader played at the Castlefield `Water Edge’ festival, and Top Loader were crap. Now they are in the top 10, receiving extensive airplay and media coverage. It’s a matter of being in the right place at the right time. Tonight is definitely not the right place or the time
Tonight at he Witchwood Ark are playing to a crowd of 8.
Tonight on the longest day of the year, the day when the heavens have seemingly emptied the years rainfall allocation in 4 hours over Manchester
Mind you Steve has played to an even smaller crowd.
`Just because there’s only 8 doesn’t mean we’re crap’
Manager Barry interjects `We’ve got an album made and labels such as Cooking Vinyl are expressing an interest. Music today is just a bland blanket of mediocrity. There nothing new, nobody willing to try something different
This is the man who’s has just been stopped by the bouncer on the door because he isn’t on the guest list
Barry ` But I’m the manager’
Doorman `Look mate no-one has given me your name’
So guitarist Colin Burns is sought from the changing room to vouch for his manager.
What else can go wrong. We’ll find out in a few minutes
The ban are due on at 10:30. Except at 10:30 there’s another band, Airlock, plugging in their amps.
`What going on here?’ rings around the empty venue Airlock begin their set at 10:30
`If we’re not on by 11:00 were F*****g off!’
10:50 and the Ark take to the stage
Like the ever growing rumble of a freight train Steve’s bass kick in and yeah, they are different. Heavily bass lead but with Steve brother Paul proving a solid back up on the drums. How he manages to contort his 6 foot frame into the drum seat is a sight in itself.
It’s a good job he links well with Steve because during the second number Colin has to leave the stage to change his guitar, and they jam for a few minutes, ever the professional. Pete Keogh (vocals) tries to look non plussed, belying his `Lets get this over & f**k off’ look
And at 11:45 it is
Barry, the manager, head in hands, mutter through fingers splayed over his face:
`Two thousand gigs and then this’
The Rock’n’Roll life eh?