Monday, October 30, 2006

"Back in the garage...”

There’s nothing more likely to bring a smile to the attention-starved musician’s lips than the word ‘rehearsal’. This, it should be said, isn’t strictly true in some cases. It’s a broad-faced lie, in fact, especially when it comes to me. I can’t see the point, I mean it’s not like you’re going to get a round of applause or anything, is it? And isn’t that the idea? The show-off must, after all, go on. And you have to pay for the privilege. 

Although there are bands who like nothing more than the regular routine of the Thursday night run through the set followed by a quick couple of goes at a new song and then knocking off in time for last orders (I used to be in one myself and it was marvelous fun at the time, and I believe James Brown follows a similar routine when not on the road) we are not a group renowned for our rehearsive habits. Folk in Stowmarket, for example, still talk in hushed, awed tones of the version of ‘Rubber Bullets’ we attempted on the back of two quick acoustic run-throughs at which no more than sixty per cent of the band were present at any one time.

This was an unfortunate aberration as usually this tried and trusted method allows new songs to at least limp in to the set before being fine-tuned over subsequent performances until by about the fourth or fifth time we play them, they have gained magnificent lives of their own. Or they are discreetly dropped to the bottom of the list, whichever seems more appropriate. Suffice to say, our 10CC repertoire has a separate piece of paper to itself these days. 

That method also explains why it is very rare to hear of any band member actually listening to any of the songs we perform live for their personal pleasure. On one occasion The Singer was so frightened by listening to ‘Band On The Run’ at home, and the hideous shape we’d twisted it into, that he took fear and threw it as far away as possible. What with The New Drummer having done his homework and rather confusingly having decided to play what’s actually on the original recordings rather than what ought to be, it has been decided that we should convene properly to thrash a few of these things out, figuratively if not literally, and it’s a three line whip – with one exception. 

We will not be joined by The Other Guitarist who, having methodically checked everyone’s availability, sourced a rehearsal room and negotiated a deal for its hire, finally put the phone down on the last transaction only to remember that he was supposed to be in Stoke that night. This is another reason why the regular weekly practice session has fallen out of fashion. Our real, grown up lives intervene, and we find ourselves taking kids to piano lessons, escorting them to quasi-military religious rallies (Boys Brigade, I believe they call it), stock checking electrical components in Brighton, being on planning business in Milan or, in this case, being called to Stoke. 

There are worse things than rehearsal, clearly. We are issued with a closely-typed email detailing what we need to run through. Worryingly, this seems to comprise a large percentage of the set and it seems that we will be enjoying the delights of an ex-carpet workshop long in to the night while our absent friend in the north settles back with the contents of the mini bar and a selection of premium-rate hotel TV movies. Which of us is living the rock n’ roll dream now, eh? Practice commences in time-honoured fashion. Three of us have a fag outside while we wait for The Drummer to turn up. 

He phones from a nearby McDonald’s and kindly takes the time to ask if we need any apple pies before promising to be there shortly. Once he’s in and set up proceedings continue as they have from time immemorial – I sit and play with the presets on the keyboard and try to find silly noises, and play some very bad Depeche Mode riffs. To vary proceedings I then try Axel F, and once this has been completed to everyone’s satisfaction we stretch out by trying The Icicle Works’ ‘Understanding Jane’. Needless to say, this is not part of our homework but it’s a blast, so we play it anyway. Once gathered towards the highlighted set list we diligently work our way through, playing things twice, going back over intros, sorting out some errant chords that have become ingrained through repetition and explaining drum fills in the usual way – “It sort of goes doof-de-doof doof blam” to a clearly perplexed drummer. 

A handy mnemonic for one run round the kit (it’s the intro for ‘down under’ as well as many other things) goes “flats in Dagenham”. This was once the subject of a mildly amusing mid-song fill when one batteriste of our acquaintance got as far as the part in question at a gig and then forgot the name of the town. He answered our queries afterwards by explaining that he’d been playing “houses in Chelmsford” in error. Insert your own drummer joke here…. After a while it’s actually fun – it’s a bit raw, a bit loose, and we’re suddenly fourteen year olds again, back in the garage and reveling in the joy of making really loud noises with electrical equipment for our own amusement - so much more fun than power tools and piano lessons. A final run through something a bit more familiar, just to reassure ourselves that we do really know what we’re doing, and a quick check as to what time we need to be at the venue and we’re done. 

These days we don’t need to wait outside for our parents to pick us up – basses are hoiked on to child seats, briefcases shunted aside to make room for amplifiers, and project folders shifted aside so that guitars have room on the back seat. And finally; The Drummer’s apple pie has cooled down enough for him to be able to eat it.

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