Thursday 10 December 2020

2020 - The year of living miserably


his week sees an important anniversary in my life. It is 40 years since my band, The False Dots, performed our very first gig. When the band started, nearly two years previously, we had no idea just how difficult it would be to get to a point where we could do a gig. In hindsight, not being able to play a note was a far bigger impediment than we realised. We were a punk band, we wrote our own songs, so we had no real idea of just how awful we were. To be honest, that was the least of our concerns. Todays wannabees dream of getting on the BGT or Pop Idol and reaching the stars. We wanted to be an underground band, not a bunch of sellouts. Like the Clash, we wouldn't go on Top of the Pops, this was a principle, but unlike the Clash, it was unlikely that anyone would ask us. At the end of the first year of the band, we had a  big punch up. It had gradually dawned on us that we were complete rubbish. Having lived, breathed and dreamed of nothing but the band for a year, the rude awakening that we were simply no good was a bitter blow. We stopped playing and I stopped talking to my co-founder. This persisted for about three months. We'd been mates since we were four, but our friendship exploded. 

I decided to be realistic. I had no idea what I wanted to do, but playing a set of rubbish music was definetly not what I wanted. I did other things for three months, then I had a chance meeting with my co-founder. We went to the pub, drank too much and he said "Why don't we give it another go?". I said "The songs are rubbish, it's pointless". He then said "Why don't we dump them all and just write one at a time and not move on until it songs great". Previously, we'd churned out banal lyrics and simply put a few chords on top. We decided to work on the songs. They would have a story, the songs would have a hook. We'd get better musicians around us. We'd learn to play better. We did all of these things. We then recorded a demo. In the first incarnation, we'd invite mates round to rehearsals, that would be more like parties than serious rehearsals. This time, no one came. We'd become a standing joke amongst our mates, but the demo was unexpectedly good. We'd done our homework. The songs sounded powerful and interesting. Armed with the demo, we set about getting gigs. This proved harder than we thought. Then disaster. My co-founder got a girlfriend and decided to quit. I couldn't believe it. But I knew we had a great band and good songs, so I recruited a mate from school to replace him. Our guitarist, Paul Hircombe, who was only 14, switched to bass. Our new recruit sang and played lead. He was a talented guitarist. Frustrated by the lack of interest from promoters, I decided to set up our own gig at The Harwood Hall in Mill Hill. Then to my shock, my old mateand co-founder announced that he wanted to come back. As the band had sounded musically better without him, it was agreed that he'd come back on vocals and Paul, who was a talented musician would stay on bass. 

40 years ago, we made our way to the Harwood Hall, with two other bands and a big crowd of mates. We charged a quid to get in and paid the other two bands £20 to play. To my horror, my best mate and co-founder never showed up. But we agreed to do it anyway. In truth it wasn't great, but it was a great night. Even better, I made a profit. We immediately decided to do another one in January and do it properly, sharing singing duties. Sadly, my friendship with my best mate never recovered. 

Fast forward 40 years. At the start of the year, I started planning to do a 40 year reunion and memorial gig for Paul. He played with the band for 28 years, before moving to Portsmouth then dying in 2012 of cancer. We've been recording the songs for a number of years and the idea was to release the album and do the gig this week, reconnecting with as many people as we could from the years of the band. and then......

It became clear to me in April that it was not worth planning anything for this year. In July, with "Eat Out to Help Out", it appeared that maybe things were improving, but that misguided scheme simply set us back to square one. Yesterday, I got to thinking about that night at Harwood Hall 40 years ago. The music scene has changed beyond recognition. Vinyl went and bizarrly returned (well not so bizarre to us vinyl nuts), it may well be that grassroots gigs are almost a thing of the past as venues are driven to the wall by the covid crisis. Back in 1980, getting on telly was almost impossible even for established artists, except for shows in graveyard slots (such as the Old Grey Whistle Test) on BBC2. Now any wannabee can get on the reality TV talent shows, usually the worse they are, the better. Sadly though bands that want to follow our route and write their own original material and play their own instruments are still unwelcome.

I think the last gig I went to this year was Judy Collins at the Union Chapel in early March. This will be the year that I've been to the least gigs since 1976, before I discovered music. So what for 2021?

I've been thinking about what 2021 holds. I just hope that the UK population buys into the immunisation programme and the government gets it ramped up quickly. I hope that 2021 is a year of holidays, gigs, pubs, friends, football, and just living with joy. 

I hope that we see the back of Donald Trump for good. I hope that my dire worries about Brexit are not founded and that I am totally wrong. I hope that there are enough small venues left standing to allow some sort of resumption of  grassroots music scene. I hope that we can meet friends in the pubs and clubs as we please. I hope that we can have some decent holidays. But most of all, I hope my friends and family stay healthy.

This was the year of living miserably. I will follow the advice of the nuns at St Vincents when I was a kid there. If we had suffering, they'd say "offer it up for the Holy Souls". I hope that the Holy Souls can do their stuff and spare us any more of this.

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