After the timely demise of Songs from The Blue House I kept myself occupied musically by strumming along with the songs of Tony James Shevlin for much of last year, but as pleasant a distraction as that was I found myself still in need of a project. Over many years, ‘the project’ has taken the form of such divers articles as The Perfectly Good Guitars, Theodore, short-lived cover-wranglers Balls Deep and even an exploratory effort which involved playing Bruce Springsteen’s Born to Run album from soup to nuts.
These collaborative enterprises generally involve identifying an initial construct* followed by a general phone around to see who is interested in coming aboard for the trip. With The Fragrant and Charming Helen Mulley and I both being at the same loose end it made sense to see if there were some way we could run a few banners up a number of random flagpoles and see if anyone saluted. We threw a few ideas around with long time co-conspirator Mr Wendell before it occurred to us that very many of our original songs had a narrative structure to them - indeed they frequently employed the second-person accusatory tone so beloved of both Justin Timberlake and Arthur Hamilton. I wondered if we might put together a loose narrative involving extant compositions of ours and then, in order to keep things fresh, write some bespoke numbers where this concatenation of material displayed obvious plot holes. This would be our Babbacombe Lee, our Desperado**! We didn’t necessarily have to explain to anyone what we were doing, but it might make for a satisfying performance art project, we considered - perhaps ultimately to be staged in a similar fashion to that of the PGGs, wherein the band had characters assigned to them, the script providing a lattice which allowed us to put the songs in context.
About this time the Ip-Art Festival was casting around for volunteers to perform and although being well aware of both the benefits and limitations of being selected to take part, I thought I might throw our collective hat into the ring despite not actually having a line-up, photo, web presence or biography (all of these elements seemed more important to the organisers than an actual sample of our music, the links to which weren’t required until the fourth and last page of the online application form***). Without necessarily meaning to participate in an act of Dadaist art-terrorism, I typed out a suitably pretentious**** biography, found a picture on my phone that we’d taken of a pretty hastily-assembled early version of the group at the Coggeshall Cricket Week and Beer Festival (we finished with a version of ‘I Think We’re Alone Now’ on that occasion) and hit ENTER.And blow me if we didn’t get the gig.
*”Why don’t we play all the guitars we own during the course of one show?”, “Why don’t we play a classic album all the way through?” and on one occasion “Hey – we all look good in this stag weekend photo – let’s form a band so we can use it!”
**We decided to name the nascent show after the set-opening scene setter, so it will be emblazoned on the flyers as “Helen and the Neighbourhood Dogs – Where Are They Now?” Not sure we’ve thought this through properly, tbh.*** I’ve been doing this long enough that I remember when submissions were on cassette.
****I know - even judging by my standards...