Playing in the Band (For Fun), Part 1

As someone who never reads the comments, it’s strange how I’ve got to know that a number of Puffins have played in bands at one time or another, just like myself, so I’ve put together a two-part article about my time playing in amateur bands. Part 1 covers ‘the early years’, school and university bands, and mercifully is not padded out with any recordings of those early bands, although tapes do exist. I’ll stick with photos only for Part 1.

Part 2 covers my rather unlikely adventures with folk music. As a number of half-decent recordings were made of that band, YouTube videos of a few of them will be included for anybody who fancies a headache – available completely gratis. If you are expecting tales of debauchery, sex and drugs, fear and loathing in these articles, you will be sadly disappointed, although there are one or two mentions of rock’n’roll.

I hit my teens in the mid-60s, with youth culture centre-stage, and the pop explosion happening, so something I got into was…. playing in a band.

In the end, I enjoyed doing this for about 20 years, from 1963 – 1983. I was lucky to have had a father who also enjoyed music. He sang in a number of choirs, and had performed in his own amateur musical groups and musical theatre groups down the years. He was the proud owner of a 1920s banjo and ukulele, which had seen a fair bit of use.

The Old Man performing with the White Crotchets in February 1939 in Bishops Stortford, with WW2 on the horizon. He’s the guy with the guitar, who appears to be the one who got the girl on this occasion

Dad’s uke was small, as ukes are, which made it easy for a little boy to pretend it was really a guitar. I spent many happy hours standing on the dining table, which I imagined to be a concert stage, miming to early Beatles 45s when I was around 10 years old.

The Old Man worked out the chords to a number of pop songs of the time, which gave me a start, and I was also lucky enough to be given piano lessons, which gave me a fairly solid musical background – although I had a love/hate relationship with the lessons at the time.

I didn’t develop a real feel for playing, or a true understanding of the logical, almost mathematical underlying structure of music, until a few years after the lessons stopped. But thanks to those early lessons, I later found myself able to sit at the piano and play for hours on end to my heart’s content, making it all up as I went along.

This provided good entertainment for Mum while she slaved away in the kitchen. She often used to pop her head round the door to say how much she was enjoying my playing.

And as I grew older, I found that being in a band was quite a good way to meet girls…. and even if you were a nowhere man in a nowhere band, there’d usually be one or two girls in the entourage who’d quite like you.

Little bruv and I pose with Dad’s 20s Uke and Banjo

Reviewing the 20 years of my ‘pop career’, it turns out I was involved with eight different ensembles.

Band 1: The Earwigs (1963-64)

My primary school band, and the first band I ever performed in ‘public’ with – that ‘public’ being the other children in the school.

We played the Paul McCartney song “A World Without Love”, and “Juliet” by the Four Pennies, as I recall. Both were rather dreary songs actually, but they were riding high in the charts at the time. I think we played one other song, a bit more rock’n’roll, but I can’t remember what it was now.

Mercifully no recordings exist of The Earwigs. I was the only member who could actually play anything, i.e. strum a tune on the guitar. The other guitarist in the band had a home-made guitar constructed of various odd bits of wood. It made some sort of noise. The percussionist used a tiny drum from the school musical instruments box. I kind of kept it all together on my Spanish guitar.

However, we did have a singer who was ideal for the job. He was a real poser, and natural rebel, and was the one who suggested the third, edgier, number we played. He went on to get expelled from secondary school just before A levels for refusing to get his hair cut, and put together a pretty good band himself in later years.

I don’t recall whether the audience demanded an encore, but it’s unlikely. Yes. truth be told we weren’t very good, but as we were seniors in the school, the younger kids lapped it up – wow, a real pop group! I was quite surprised they enjoyed it, because I knew it wasn’t that good. The band’s name was a kind of insect tribute to the Beetles, and could also be taken as a hint as to the kind of ear-defenders that might have come in handy while listening to us.

Band 2: The Sawdust Grenadiers (circa 1968)

This was my first secondary school band, if you see what I mean. Now aged 14-15, and growing up a bit, I was delighted to discover that two boys in my class owned proper, real, electric guitars. One had a Hofner Galaxy, and the other boy had a Fender Telecaster (or Telecaster copy).

Yours truly only had the £8 (or was it 8/-?) Spanish six-string I’d been given for my birthday some years before, which meant I’d have to be the drummer in our new band. Someone managed to cadge a drum kit from somewhere, and we began practising from time to time in the cedarwood shed at the bottom of the garden.

Poor neighbours. They had to listen to the tedious, wooden guitar part from ‘Pictures of Matchstick Men’ time after time on what otherwise would have been quite pleasant afternoons.

After a few rehearsals, the band acquired a singer, who’d even appeared on a children’s talent show on the telly. He had personality, good looks, and a good voice, but soon got bored with the band. So I was called upon to be vocalist again. And then everything fizzled out.

As the family had owned a half-decent Philips tape recorder since 1961, I have recordings of The Grenadiers doing: All or Nothing; Baby Come Back; Bend Me, Shape Me; Get Off My Cloud; I Don’t Want Our Loving To Die; Lazy Sunday; Love is All Around; My Mind’s Eye; and of course Pictures of Matchstick Men.

Band 3: The Fatty Davies Band / The Bessie Barnes ‘Evil Muck’ Circus Road Show (1970-72)

By the time interest was rekindled in messing about in a band, we were all a couple of years older. In the meantime, I’d acquired an electric bass guitar, paid for with birthday and paper round money. It would have been a waste of time me getting a six-string electric as we already had two of those between us. So my future musical ‘career’ as a four-string player was determined by ‘circumstances’. We had also acquired a proper drummer, with drum kit, and we played a few gigs at school, and at youth clubs, and developed quite a good repertoire.

The names we came up with for the band were absolutely appalling. Interestingly, or not, I recently found a set list for a gig we did on 7/1/1972 at a local church youth club. It included a few good tunes:

  • Let’s Work Together (Wilbert Harrison – Canned Heat)
  • Money (The Beatles)
  • Politician (Cream)
  • I’m So Glad (Cream)
  • Shakin’ All Over (Johnny Kidd & the Pirates)
  • My Generation (The Who)
  • Jumping Jack Flash (Rolling Stones)
  • Back in the USSR (The Beatles)
  • Natural Born Boogie (Humble Pie)
  • ‘Coz I Luv You (Slade – requested by audience)
  • Better By You, Better Than Me (Spooky Tooth)
  • Mambo Rock (Bill Haley & His Comets)
  • Paranoid (Black Sabbath)
  • Foxy Lady (Jimi Hendrix)
  • Crossroads (Cream)
  • Jumping Jack Flash (Rolling Stones)

All the girls in the audience wanted to hear that evening was Slade, who were riding high at that time. Fortunately we had rehearsed the band’s current Number One, and were able to deliver a passable copy of the work. For a bass player like yours truly, the sliding, lolloping bassline is an absolute joy to play! I was delighted the tune was requested, but the rest of the band were absolutely disgusted.

Band 4: The DNT Band (1972)

My guitarist mate tried to get a band together during his first year at uni, which was my gap year. There were lots of plans, but only ever two rehearsals. He told me that one of the guys he’d recruited was an ex-Hawkwind guitarist and another an ex-Skin Alley drummer. I never established whether either claim was true or not. Boasting is all we ever did as far as this band was concerned.

Yours truly enjoying a ‘Moonshine’ jam session in The Barn, UEA

Band 5: Moonshine (1972-1973)

Later that year I was off to university, and the Old Man had the task of delivering me, all my stuff, plus two rather large coffin-shaped PA speaker cabinets, both precariously tied to the roof rack, to UEA in Norwich.

I soon met up with a fellow fresher who happened to be a drummer, and bizarrely came from the same London borough as me. We immediately discussed forming a band, as you do. But what about guitarists? Funny you should say that, but a couple of days later the pair of us were wandering through one of the student residences when we heard the sound of some quite pleasant guitar playing coming from a room – it was definitely live music – it wasn’t just somebody playing a record.

So we knocked on the door and introduced ourselves, and ‘Moonshine’ was born. The study bedroom contained 2 guitarists who were firing stuff off each other. One was a German lad, studying music, and the other was another London fellow, who had one of the biggest egos I’ve ever come across.

We used to dread him starting a guitar solo, because he would never stop. In the end I developed a subtle technique which I used regularly to stop him soloing endlessly. It involved strolling across the stage, and giving him a good solid kick in the ankle. It usually worked.

There were rehearsals and hangers-on, somebody got hold of an electric piano for me to play, we did a few gigs, and even got to play with a proper PA system when we were booked as support act to a ‘proper’ band who were playing at the Student Union.

In those days ‘jam sessions’ were pretty common. Basically a few musicians would get together, you’d all start playing, and play whatever came into your heads. Occasionally somebody might demonstrate a simple chord sequence,  or say ‘let’s play a 12-bar’, and then everybody would join in. Great fun. I have some tapes of one such session, and it’s amazing just how listenable some of it was. A few student friends would come along for the ride.

A memorable gig was one we played with a couple of other Norwich bands to celebrate the Vernal Equinox. We had two drummers that day, and we all played outdoors, on the grass, between the UEA Ziggurats. Nobody was electrocuted, fortunately, and you can see one of the afore-mentioned coffin-shaped PA speaker columns in the photo.

Moonshine play at the UEA Vernal Equinox Concert, 22/3/1973

The German guitarist went on to be a ‘somebody’ in the German music industry, and still plays in bands today, while the other guitarist went on to do something in the music business on the management side. Our main drummer became a language teacher, and has lived in Germany for the biggest part of his life. The other drummer, whose dad was something to do with US security services, went back to The States

By now I was almost fully grown up, and had ‘proper’ girlfriends, and other states of consciousness to explore, so I rather lost interest in playing music, and the hobby fell by the wayside for some years. Quite by chance, I found myself in a new band in 1981, and the old white bass guitar which had long since been sold, was soon to be replaced with a brand new black one. Part 2 of 2 to follow.

My Fender Mustang short-scale bass guitar, which delivers a punchy sound, and a very rich tone. Purchased for £120 on 17th September 1981, just in time to join my next band for their ‘big gig’. I still have this guitar today. You’d be paying  £800-1000 if you wanted an identical instrument now


© text & images NeverUpToTheJob 2021