Who knows? Memory is a fickle thing. Like making a film, we choose what to remember, what to recall, what to forget. So the story below may have been unintentionally changed during the intervening years. Like all good history, a certain judicious editing and some appropriate embellishing helps it pack a more meaningful punch. But - hey! - enough of my yacking!
So, back to summer 1995: Oasis and Blur were duking it out in the charts. Brit Pop was in the air and we all thought it was the mid 60’s once again. Down on the South Coast my group, Shambolic, was on the much ignored at the time, but now completely forgotten, Still Hazy After All These Beers tour which consisted of a gig in Worthing Battle of the Bands (we lost), one free festival at Sussex University and two painful gigs in dreadful Brighton pubs for no money.
Our very badly photocopied poster with which we promoted the tour in Brighton laundrette windows reads as if I was trying to provoke an audience rather than attract one. Underneath the group’s name was the motto, or threat, “We flip you over and play your b side”. A little further down, and against a backdrop of three silhouetted figures, the following quotes were helpfully italicised:
Adrian (drums): Actually I’m a chartered surveyor.
Roger (bass): I don’t worry about rhythm or notes that much. It’s more instinctive than that.
Tim (guitar and horn): I tend to get the girls.
Down at the bottom the blurb painfully suggested three chords, two haircuts, one pound entry fee; zero talent.
And if you had paid that one pound, what would you have got? There’s a live tape out there which includes a performance of my song (and later book) Hit and Run Lover at one of the larger gigs on the Beers Tour of 1995. ‘Out there’ in this case means there’s a tape in my kitchen drawer and probably Roger the bassist’s got a copy too. So about as out there as a gay sixteen year old in China.
Anyway, the ‘limited edition’ tape contains the full performance of Shambolic playing the ‘anti racism and transgender awareness’ free festival at Sussex University in 1995. It wasn’t quite Woodstock. Various local bands were interspersed with humourless harangues by po-faced left-wing student politicians who all seemed to be bearded ex public school boys called Josh talking shite about the working class. Despite this, it was a lovely early June evening and there was a large and mellow crowd. Roger handed the guy on the sound deck, a stoned student, a C90 tape of Gerry Rafferty to record over. And so Shambolic at Sussex University has been preserved for posterity with occasional leaks from Baker Street in the quiet bits where the roar of the crowd should have won the audio scrap with 70’s AOR. But the quality of what’s committed to that tape? Need it be said? It’s not quite the Who Live at Leeds.
It starts with a voice shouting out: “Get off you wankers,” as I drunkenly try to tune up before petulantly demanding another beer. Denied, I ask the audience to raise their hand when they think I’m in tune. The mike picks up mild derision from the massed ranks of not too interested students who - to be fair - had just suffered a twenty minute oration from the co-chair of the Sussex University Revolutionary Communist Party on the subject of, oh I forget. I don’t think even he knew what he was banging on about. Leftie bollocks anyway. I was pissed so I wasn’t really listening. Roger, bored of my tuning and trying to move things along, stormed up to the mike and yelled like a smacked arse, “Okay you might recognise the start of this one, the rest of it is called Hit and Run Lover.”
Sadly, Roger forgot that he had a bass strapped to him and so clumsily smashed the neck of it against the mike stand as he turned to go back to stage left. BOOM! Cue much hilarity amongst the audience at our expense. Actually at Roger’s expense because I can remember joining in the derision, curling my fist and shaking it rhythmically in his direction. Wanker! Good start. Good band harmony.
So how should the song have started? Well I used to graft the chord sequence from Nirvana’s Smell’s Like Teen Spirit to cheaply liven up the beginning of Hit and Run Lover. It confused people long enough into listening before I lurched into my own song. It was a musical amuse-bouche. However, at this gig, on this recording, shall we say I adopted a more 'freestyle' approach?
I hit one or two stray chords shockingly out of tune before crashing into Smells Like Teen Spirit. The thing is though, being pissed, even I was confused as to what I was supposed to be playing. Random chord followed random chord as I thrashed the guitar desperately trying to find my way back to the tune. Roger, never quick in these matters, frantically tried to work out what I was up to and, not surprisingly, failed. His bass is mostly quiet in this introductory period except at those key points where a wrong note might be exposed most mercilessly. At those points he plucked his thick strings as hard as he fucking could. TWANG! Meanwhile Adrian delayed his entry until he thought he knew the beat. And then changed it four times in the opening ten seconds. For some reason he threw in an epileptic drum roll just as I was quieting down for the verse. Absolute anarchy. This wasn’t freeform jazz – it was a haphazard shambles without even the excuse of deliberate dissonance to redeem itself. Crap, in fact.
My voice comes in, hoarse, drunken and out of tune. Words are stumbled over, ad lib asides offered between lines; solos are fluffed. The tape records the band sticking shakily to the predefined structure of verse-chorus, verse-chorus, before I go rogue by forgetting the middle eight - brazenly yelling into the mike, “Don’t worry, they won’t notice, carry on”. I then proceed to ruin this by standing on my guitar lead pulling it noisily out onto the stage floor cutting off what was already shaping up to be a pitiful and painfully out of tune axe-man solo. Adrian stops drumming, Roger continues his bass and, sans guitar, I rap some observational bollocks about some bloke in the audience’s mother giving a crap hand job for a tenner. Roger stops in disgust just as Adrian comes flying in on the crash symbol like he was providing the soundtrack to the second coming. And so Hit and Run Lover ends on a fluffed and out of place drum solo accompanied by a barely heard, and off mike, ‘wanker’ from yours truly directed at who knows who.
A pensive, almost shocked, silence greets the end of this master class in mediocrity. Bring back the commie guy for some serious hard line Marxist shit! Anything but this!
“Can I have a hot dog?” I bellow drunkenly into the mike. This probably made more sense at the time and yet now serves as a fittingly appropriate coda to the song, the band and the era.
And yet I can't remember a time when I was happier.