Wednesday 14 February 2024

Rock and Roll Stories #6 - What were you doing 45 years ago today....

Today is Valentines day. A very special day in the history of The False Dots. On this day in 1979, we had our first rehearsal - It is a proper Rock and Roll story in itself. 

It is a day that is burned into my memory for ever. Myself and Pete Conway had been working on getting a band together for the best part of a year. First we had to save up some money, as we had to procure guitars and amps, then we had to learn to play a few notes & chords. Then we had to write some songs and practice them. Then we had to find other members. On the 3rd February, we had a meeting where we met a prospective drummer and 2nd guitarist. We agreed that we'd have our first rehearsal in the disused caretakers cottage at Bunns Lane Works on Valentines day. 

This was a deliberate ploy by Pete and myself. The idea was we'd make it a party. We'd be so good that we'd automatically have an instant following and maybe some georgeous groupies. The cottage was the derelict former home of the yard caretaker. It had been empty for a couple of years, after the previous resident killed themselves. On of my brothers mates, a rather odd fellow called Donovan had moved in. On the first night, a ghost grabbed his bed and threw it down the stairs, with him in it. He moved straight out.  I was lucky that my Dad owned the site and said we could use the place as for rehearsals if we paid him £5 a week. We didn't have enough gear, so we hooked up with a couple of bands and did a deal on sharing gear and costs.  That was how Mill Hill Music Complex Studios originally came to be, asa  musicians collective, but that's another story.

The Cottage - Me with a cuppa to keep warm
Despite the ghost and the general state of delapidation (the plan had been to knock it down and put another workshop on the site), we were super excited. We were 16 years old and having a place to hang out and make music seemed super cool. We invited another band to come down and also have a rehearsal. The idea was that we'd watch each other, then have a little party. I recall buying six bottles of Strongbow and asking a few girls I rather liked from school. In my mind, I had a vision that we'd rock up, play the numbers we'd been strumming away on, and the girls would think we were better than the Clash and we'd be on our way to rock and roll heaven.

There were several flaws in our cunning plan. The first was that we'd never played with Dave the drummer and he'd never played with a band. He only knew two beats, Dave Beat 1 and Dave Beat 2. The second was that we'd promised a visit to our amazing new studio and it was a derelict house in an industrial esated. We'd nailed corrogated iron to the windows to secure it, as most of the window were broken. It was in the middle of winter and was absolutely freezing. The final and perhaps the worst part of all was we'd asked another band along to join us who could actually play. Seats for the audience? There were a couple of old, very smelly sofas in the place, hardly suitable for the amazonian Godesses we'd invited. We set up and we ran through a couple of songs before anyone turned up. The horrible truth struck. It was awful and we were rubbish. And the songs? A bunch of rants with screeching guitars thrashed wildly over the top.

 Looking back on this, reading old diaries, and dredging up memories, I am struck by just how similar 1979 and 2024 are. The then government had long passed its sell by date and was in the process of falling apart (there was an election in May and they were booted out). There was a refugee crisis on the news (the Vietnamese boat people), we'd just had the "Winter of Discontent", with seemingly endless strikes. Inflation was rampant and the Bank of England was in crisis. The employment prospects for pur generation seemed bleak, and the country seemed to be falling apart. The one big difference was the amazing music of the period. 

Our friends were genuinely excited. Ny sister took some pictures of the band on her Kodak Instamatic Camera in my back garden, before we went to the rehearsal. And the members?   We realised we'd totally overpromised, when we said we were the future of punk rock. Dave was a few years older than us. He was a nice enough bloke and didn't seem phased by the fact he'd walked into a complete car crash. Dave brought his girlfriend Mandy, she brought her guitar and the plan was to get her in the band, but for the first rehearsal, she didn't know the songs.

Dave was a big fan of The Heartbreakers and Tubeway Army. He lived in Finchley. He had the makings of a good drummer as he was a good timekeeper, but hadn't mastered fills etc, so could only really keep simple beats. My view was that he was very like Mo Tucker of The Velvet Underground in style, minimalist and tight, so ideal.

Pete was the bassplayer. Pete was charismatic, charming and semi psychotic at at times. We'd been mates since we were four years old and he was a very bright guy. From an Irish Republican family, he was a hater of the Monarchy and The British Establishment, so fell right in with the Sex Pistols ethos. He was always careful to 'look right' and decorated his bass accordingly. We wrote amazing lyrics and songs together as we progressed, but at this time most of the songs were rubbish. Most were about the drugery of life such as "The Factory" - "Beating a track, to the factory, I'm not a person, I'm a packer you see". Some were about social injustice and some were about nihilism. None were much fun. We set a three chord limit on all songs in the early days. Some only had one or two, but as Lou Reed had said that all you need is one chord if you have the right attitude, we thought we'd be fine. At that stage, Pete took the monica of "The Cadillac Kid", which he soon abandoned, when someone asked where his Cadillac was.

Then there was me. For the first rehearsal, I borrowed my sisters Kimbara Les Paul copy Guitar. Kimbara guitars looked amazing but were almost unplayable and are impossible to tune properly, even if we'd known how.  I could just about manage to play A, D, E and C chords as well as a couple of barre chords. I'd happily bought into the party plan, but as we ran through a few numbers with Dave, I started to feel sick. I'd asked girls I'd met from my new school. I'd started at Orange Hill the previous September. I knew the word would go back that we were a joke and a shambles. All my credibility would be gone. There were several bands at the school, including the Polecats, who were brilliant and had a top ten hit shortly after. It hadn't occurred to me that they'd take a year or two to get the band sorted and could all play in the first place. 

To make matters worse, Mandy had asked her friends band, which included Liz and Wendy. Wendy was the girlfriend of Abbo, who was the singer in UK Decay, a reasonably well established punk band from St Albans. Wendy was used to hanging around with musicians who knew what they were doing and could play. When they sat down and set up, we were horrified. They knew what they were doing and knew how to tune guitars etc. I went outside with Pete to discuss what we could do. Pete said "We'll smash it, lets just go mad and see what happens". 

The other friends arrived, We passed around the cider. Liz and Wendy did their thing. It was all very nice. One of the songs was a humourous rework of "The Halls of Montezuma" (The US Marines hymn). I recall thinking "They are pretty good". The girls were very pretty and could sing. Everyone who came was enjoying themselves. They only new three or four songs, so then it was our turn. We turned up the volume to "ear splitting" and then announced that we'd do the rehreasal standing on chairs, with the lights off and candles. We played them all three times faster than we had earlier and Pete was screaming and behaving like a madman. 

We got to the end of what we'd been doing, with Pete shouting "Dave Beat 1" or "Dave Beat 2" so he'd know what to play and everyone looked absolutely shell shocked. To this day, I've no idea whether we were brilliant, rubbish or both. The girls we'd invited seemed to like it. Dave and Mandy left at 10pm, to get the bus back to Finchley. The rest of us stayed until the early hours. There was a brief moment, after we had played our songs, just sitting with the friends, in a freezing cold room (The cold didn't help, the headline of the Times that day was the snowstorms.), drinking cider, that I realised it was the first time in my life I'd ever been truly happy and new what I wanted to do. There were no shenanigans, we had hoped that maybe, we'd be able to persuade one or other of the girls to join us upstairs, but when we mentioned that there was a ghost, that put paid to that. It was just that, for the first time, I was doing what I wanted on my own terms. Rock and Roll really does set you free. 

We scheduled another rehearsal for the next week. We decided that we'd not ask people again until we could actually play the songs properly. Once we got it together, we started asking friends down again, but it was never quite as manic as the first gig. We all had a huge laugh. I'd always assumed that the girls we invited thought we were awful, but were being polite. I saw one at a school reunion a few years ago who told me that it was the most rock and roll night of her life and that she loved it. 


The band are still going. Why not come down to see us at The Beehive in Bow. It's a great venue - CLiCK HERE FOR TICKETS

Our new single

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