Don Draper sums it up best in that awesome scene in Mad Men when he says that the word ‘nostalgia’ literally means a pain, associated with a memory. It’s an ache for a time you wish you could revisit, if only for a little while. Well played Don you really nailed that one.
That’s how I feel when I think about my band Boy Called Roy, possibly the greatest band ever to have lived on planet earth and definitely the most talented, sexiest and hardest group of young men ever to pick up an instrument, that’s a matter of historical fact.
On my way in to work this morning I was listening to the new record from a young band called Marmozets and by Christ, it’s amazing. Sometimes it’s hard to put in to words exactly what makes a record good. Good lyrics, good melodies, good production, good riffs all play a part but really what makes me love, rather than just appreciate a record is when you can hear the passion and the love that the band clearly have for their music and for each other. These kids are only 18 and they’ve put everything they have in to making this wonderful record, without letting anything stop them from doing what they want to do.
Now I’m not saying we could take Marmozets in a battle of the bands, no fucking way could we, but we did have that spark, that slightly chaotic energy that makes music fun and a little unpredictable. Listening to them really took me back. We made songs which we thought were amazing and it didn’t really matter to us what anyone else thought of them, which was probably for the best! Anyway here’s what I miss, starting with the boys in the band.
Skills: Accents, hiding, fighting
Likes: A good cigar, colourful trainers, scrumpy jack
Weaknesses: Cushion based OCD
I first met Nick at the infamous Ballard Hall, halls of residence in Sheffield. He was wearing a Wu Tang Clan sleeveless hoodie and greeted me by calling me a “fucking northern monkey.” I assume he meant it as a term of endearment as we remain friends to this day 13 years later. Nick’s role in the band was primarily lead guitar. I enjoyed the fact that he steadfastly refused to learn the actual song as a whole and would only actually know his individual lead guitar part. He never played guitar purely for fun either, only when we were doing band stuff.
Skills: Eating, choke-slamming, parenting
Likes: Chablis, pork, drum & bass
Weaknesses: Sink puker
Again, I met Adam in halls at the same time as I met Nick. When I first arrived at halls I was a bit disappointed because all the people I’d met seemed a little bit safe. Adam and Nick were sharing a room to begin with and I wandered past it one night and saw Adam spinning some D&B on his decks at a horrifically antisocial volume whilst swigging a clearly expensive Chablis straight out the bottle. I immediately decided that Adam and Nick would be my friends. Adam is really great at eating. One night at a party some poor fool had passed out and left an entire curry sitting out on the side, rice, naan, sides, the works, Adam was straight on that. The guys mate pathetically tried to stop him by saying, “don’t eat that, it’s his breakfast.” Adam’s response, “your breakfast? It’s my dinner sunshine, give it here.” Still makes me laugh to this day.
Instrument: Bass Guitar
Likes: Maths, cocktails, death metal
Steve joined the band slightly later after Adam started working in a shoe shop with him. Steve is a clever little fuck and was doing maths at Sheffield Uni. He ended up not only getting a first but also getting the highest degree mark that anyone at Sheff Uni has ever actually got in maths. It took him a bit of time to settle in and he described the rest of us as, “a complete bunch of wasters.” It’s a good job we had Steve as he was definitely the most organised, both musically speaking and in general life.
Instrument: Guitar, Vocals
Skills: Exceptionally gifted chef, ruggedly handsome but in a friendly accessible kind of way, musical genius
Likes: A good hearty stew and a pint of ale
Weaknesses: Lazy, moody, forgetful, can’t really sing
Me, the author, obvs. I started the band really. It was my idea and I found us a rehearsal room so we could get started so I take all the credit. I used to write the basic song structures just as chords on the guitar and then I’d take them to the boys and they’d become something different via a lengthy process of fighting and bickering. I wasn’t the original singer though, that role was thrust upon me due to a series of incidents and being the only band member who knew all the words to the songs (I can’t lie too much I still wanted to do it, I’m an incurable show off). The original singer was this guy :-
Instrument: Vocals, harmonica
Skills: Talking at great length on any subject, lyrical genius
Likes: Political debate, whisky, pizza
Weaknesses: If you put him in a straight jacket in a padded cell he’d still manage to make a mess and get lost.
I don’t use the term ‘flawed genius’ lightly but here we have one. I met Jamie at a party and liked him immediately. He sounds like Boris Johnson and looks like a beat poet. We started talking and I said I was starting a band and he said he was a singer. So I picked up a guitar with only four strings and told him to sing something and to my surprise he just started, in front of everyone. Singing his own crazy, imaginative lyrics which were almost like spoken word. His confidence amazed me, once we were rehearsing above a kebab shop and the owner came upstairs to tell us to, “shut the fuck up.” Jamie was halfway down a bottle of Jameson and retorted with, “you can’t stifle the creative process man!” He ended up leaving the band after a series of musical differences, he was the archetypal lead singer.
One of my favourite memories of jamie was when we were on stage playing a gig and I looked over at him trying to smoke a cigarette, drink a beer, sing in to his microphone and take his jacket off all at the same time. Legend.
So that’s the boys, here’s what I actually miss!
Rehearsing at Kurs Manor
Nick’s parents, Paul and Marcella Kurs are originally from Czechoslovakia and came over to Britain in the 1960’s. Together they started the family wine business. They import great wine, mainly from France and Paul will also help collectors to put together a portfolio. They live in a big old awesome house in Hertfordshire, which has a number of out buildings which include two wine cellars and an old stables and this was where we used to rehearse. As you can imagine it was fucking brilliant. Marcel cooks like a fucking maniac and after a weekend of rehearsing it was a matter of principle that we all sit down for a four course meal on the Sunday, this would be accompanied by a range of fine wines and lively debate. If you’re going to sit around the Kurs table then you better fucking well learn to have an opinion and quick! If you go to bed early Paul will say, “OK, good night pussy.” Marcel always takes an interest in what you’re doing with your life and will tell you straight if you’re making a mess of it. Some of her one liners are incredible, a personal favourite was when she asked my ex-girlfriend if she was pregnant. She was just fat.
Rehearsing at Kurs Manor was always a pleasure. I’ve got so many great memories of that place and quite honestly Marcel and Paul basically kept me alive for a while by supporting both Nick and myself through his final year of Uni. I’ll never really be able to thank them enough.
Recording at 2Fly Studios
This incredibly handsome man is Alan Smyth. He’s basically the Grand-Daddy of the Sheffield music scene, he’s recorded everything decent to come out of the city including Pulp, Long Blondes, Arctic Monkeys & 65 Days of Static. We recorded all of our demos at 2Fly studios which is basically just a very small shed on an industrial estate. Before we first went in to record with Smyth we were speculating as to what he might be like in person and for some reason Nick, having never actually met him, did an impression of him with a Scottish accent, introducing him thusly, “There’s 3 things Alan Smyth likes to do boys; drink Cinzano, eat pussy and make fucking fabulous music.” As it turned out he didn’t say anything like that and he wasn’t Scottish but he did come out with some belters. Every time we asked him to change something on the record he’d say something like, “I know. I’m five steps ahead of you, always.” To do our first demo we spent two 12 hour days in 2Fly studios during which time Alan didn’t eat any actual food, he just survived on black coffee, cigarettes and extra strong mints.
I don’t think he loved our music but I like to think he quite liked us. He told us that he’d never met a band with four egos the size of ours and that he didn’t actually produce our songs he just pressed record and then let us fight it out amongst ourselves. His exact words were, “You all think you’re the best, you all want to be in charge and you all want to be the lead singer.” He was dead right.
The last time we recorded at 2Fly we took a flip chart with us in a bid to be more organised and record our progress and note down what we still needed to do. By the end of day two the flip chart contained nothing except drawings of phalluses and a detailed sketch, drawn by Nick of a woman (he claimed it was my Mum) resting her tits on a tray.
To be quite honest, playing gigs was often more trouble than it was worth. It takes quite a large amount of organisation and man hours to get four people and a load of equipment to Derby on a Tuesday night to play to an audience of five people and an Alsation. If it weren’t for the cheap beer and two for one sambuca shots we might as well needn’t have bothered. BCR gigs were always quite unpredictable, someone would usually break a string or forget the whole song and we also had a habit of playing all of our material as fast as we possibly could. 1,2,3,4 GO!!! This, combined with the often terrible sound quality at small live music venues meant that sometimes it was just a slightly bewildering experience for the audience. Sometimes though, when it went right it was fucking amazing. We always had an energy and a good presence on stage. We always gave it everything and people seemed to like that we weren’t the most accomplished musicians in the world but at least we didn’t just stand there trying to look cool.
The first gig we did with me as the singer was a good one and was summed up by this amazing reviewer :-
“The frontman drawls his way through a tight set of upbeat, catchy numbers which accompany his infectious and impossibly large grin. It’s a smile so ample that the guy’s head looks like a honeydew melon with a segment hacked out of it.”
– Gigwise 2005
I was quite pleased with this review even though Nick did call me Melon Head for about 2 years.
The Creative Process
Generally speaking what happened was, one of us had an idea, a riff, a few chords, a bit of a song and would present it to the group, usually caveated with a small speech along the lines of, “It’s not finished, and I only wrote it in like 5 minutes and I haven’t really got any lyrics for it yet…”
Then we’d all have an argument about how the rest of it should go. This was usually accompanied by some top class bantz like this classic exchange:
Adam: “Nick that guitar part is making me want to vomit everywhere whenever you play it.”
Nick: “Your face makes me want to vomit.”
And so on and so forth. You had to stand up for your ideas, especially if it was a song you’d written. What we’d usually do is try it one of two ways and try to reach a consensus on which sounded better and go with that, once a decision had been made it could never be changed!
Our other issue was that we got bored quite easily, this used to infuriate the hell out of Steve in particular. We’d write an amazing opening to a song, then we’d do the verse and then we’d cobble together a chorus and then we’d go, “I reckon that’s pretty much done! Verse, chorus, end. Job done.”
If we didn’t do this then we usually ended up complicating it beyond belief which usually involved Adam doing thirty different drum beats in one song, curated by Steve and his mathematical brain going, “OK, 4/4 beat for four bars then it’s double time for half a bar then it goes in to disco beat for eight bars then go on to the ride for 4 bars then back on to high hat for two bars then it’s half time for one bar then back to disco beat then the breakdown then the end.”
Pretty difficult to remember especially given the industrial volumes of cannabis we were fond of smoking.
Being your own gang
This is what being in a band is really all about. It’s you lot versus the world. The best moments aren’t playing gigs and looking cool and pulling loads of groupies (‘cos that certainly NEVER happened). It’s the moment when you finally nail that new song you’ve been working on for ages and everyone gets it right all the way through for the first time. You feel a sense of triumph that you and your ragtag bunch of mates have managed to create something together out of nothing. When you reach a point where you feel confident playing together and you get your instruments sounding good, there really is no better feeling, it’s fucking magic! Then once you’ve done it, you don’t really care if anyone else hears it, just as long as you’ve managed to record a tinny version of it on to a CD which you can listen to over and over again for the rest of the night and enjoy.
I had a chat with Adam the other night and we both said how much we miss it and how we took it for granted at the time. You can’t go back though, it was a perfect little moment in time which none of us will ever forget. Nick used to record a lot of our rehearsals on his video camera but the footage has disappeared. Adam swears that some of it is on the hard drive of a now defunct computer which may or may not still be in his shed. What I wouldn’t give to sit down and watch a bit of that. Maybe in another 10 years.