Sunday, March 25, 2012

As Was

“It was twenty two years ago today…”

To Helstock, the official launch of the festival season and dedicated annually to the titular celebrant - The Fragrant and Charming Helen Mulley - upon the occasion of her birthday. Usually I get to reform at least one band for the occasion and this year I have also rosined up a new group – Theodore – and we open our set with a song called A Company of Strangers, which contains the couplet “What happened to those bright young things / Did we grow into the people we always wanted to be?” Afterward, co-curator Mr. Wendell pores over news clippings from the last century – actual pieces of paper marked with highlighter pen, imagine that - in which he, in his guise as rock and pop reporter for the local paper, discusses the prospects for the bright young things that Our Glorious Leader and I once were. In black and white pictures we are preserved, all big hair and billowing shirts earnestly looking to take on the world with our chorused guitars and our tasselled scarves. The past is a different country; even Cactus World News had a record deal back then.

As it happens, it also happens to be my actual birthday, which prompts me to recall that it is exactly twenty two years since the then bass player with As Is (and currently appearing at a punk festival near you with The Stupids) Ross Geraghty played his official last gig with the band at the end of a short tour we had organised ourselves and which climaxed with a show in a small cinema in South Wales. Singer James and I recall the highs and lows of the transitory life of the jobbing (i.e. broke) musician – sleeping six to a van on a lovingly-assembled pile of amplifiers and PA speakers beside the Manchester ship canal, where he was awoken both by condensation created by the band’s combined breath dripping from the van’s roof in a steady metronomic stream onto his face and the sound of something he felt only able to describe as ‘thwacking’ from outside. Having lustily thrown open the back doors of the van to greet the new morn (imagine that post-Judith scene with Graham Chapman in The Life of Brian) he recoiled slightly from the scene of an early morning fisherman beating his catch to death by repeatedly slamming it by the tail against the concrete canal wall.

“It wasn’t all bad though”, he reminds us. “There was that time in Leicester…” (the sadly lamented Princess Charlotte – along with The George Robey and The Powerhaus as much a fixture for the ascendant indie band as the Fillmore West was for a generation of peace and love-toting hippy bands from The Bay Area) “…where we were selling records on the pavement outside afterwards and that guy invited us back to his house, got us really stoned and then played the stereo version of Magical Mystery Tour while we looked through kaleidoscopes”. “You were leaning against the wardrobe”, I said. “That was the one that had the speaker with the bass mix on it” sighs James wistfully. “That really opened my eyes to what an amazing bass player Paul McCartney is” - this from a man who once performed a gig in a Dadaist prank billed as Thebeatles. “Then Ross got really paranoid and convinced everyone that the guy must be a serial killer and wouldn’t go into the kitchen” I recalled. As it happened, he took us all to the local greasy spoon the next morning and bought us breakfast, which was very kind considering he hadn’t even been to the gig.
We get up to perform a set comprised of songs from back in the day. When we get to the last number James prepares to open his throat to sing out the first line, which displays a remarkable prescience. “When this whole thing falls apart on us…” it runs “…looking back, it won’t seem real”.

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