Friday, 25 October 2013

My Musical Beginnings....(Music Career part 1)

I first started learning how to play the guitar at primary school when I was about 10 (my teacher was called Dave Lister, although not the one from Red Dwarf), and even though I'm left-handed the school only had a stock of right-handed guitars so me and my left-handed friend Sam had to make do with playing the "wrong" way.  Several traditional songs and Beatles standards later (using only one-fingered chords) there was no going back....I wasn't great I have to admit, my fingers kept catching on the strings below and subsequently adding more notes and fingers to the chords I was playing didn't help much.

So I kind of gave up and decided to play bass instead....the Senseless Things were one of my favourite bands around 91/92 when I was 13/14 and Morgan Nicholls made me even more convinced that bass was where it was at.  Closely followed a few months down the line by Flea and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, although I never really attempted much in the way of his style (too afraid of breaking my strings I expect).

It might have helped if I had a bass at this point but no, all I had was the top string of an old battered acoustic guitar and in 1993 after an initial foray into solo recording under the name of Listy (nothing to do with my old teacher), myself and my brother Peter formed the band that would occupy our teenage years, Pyf Belly Machine.  Initial recordings were improvised (badly), my brother had an electric guitar and a keyboard, so more often than not we would record him playing guitar with me playing the drum pads of his keyboard into an old tape recorder and then play that back through the stereo while I played top string bass and he added keyboards.  Sometimes it would just be one take with a built in drumbeat from the keyboard. Slick.

While this was going on I had my own solo material under the name of Marvin (God knows why I chose that name).  I would use the same tricks - layering each instrument over the top of the last one while feeding the previous take through the speakers.  The songs, if you can call them that, were really pretty bad at that stage, one particularly memorable one called 'Neale James is a Saddo' was just me singing words I made up over the top of 'Shadow' by the Lurkers.  I think my brother may have guested on bicycle pump later on in the song.

But after 7 Pyf Belly Machine "albums" and 2 from Marvin in the space of about a year ("released" on our made up label Petit Rouge Ballon Records), some decent songs suddenly started to emerge i.e. we actually started writing them more than five minutes before we hit the record button.  During that time I had started college and we decided to add two of my mates to the Pyf Belly Machine lineup.  We swapped instruments a lot but it was essentially Peter on vocals and guitar, me on vocals and bass (I got a proper bass for Christmas in 1994), Gord on guitar and Swinhoe on drums.  We practiced every Wednesday afternoon, after the three college kids in the band had finished their maths corrections, over at Swinhoe's dad's house as that was where the drums were set up.  He had never played drums before buying them but we got by.

It usually had all 4 strings
We played a couple of gigs in Gord's parents' three car garage to a few mates before our live pinnacle at the Prior Pursglove College gig in Guisborough in March 1995.  Our instrument swapping had reached epic proportions by this point, I started the gig playing drums to a cover of 'Girls and Boys' by Blur, came to the front to do vocals and bass on two of our own, guitar for a cover of Ugly Kid Joe's 'Everything About You', back to bass for 3 more of our own before returning to drums for a cover of 'Jump Around' and remaining on the drum stool for our last song.  I started the song too fast and subsequently had to keep up that pace for the next 4 minutes, pulling all my best drummer grimaces in the process.  That would be Gord's final moment in the band, as the live version of PBM slimmed down to a 3-piece.

The 2-piece PBM carried on recording all throughout this period with two decent albums being made still using the old recording method, 'Quality Material' (Dec 94) and 'Joppa Pans' (Apr 95), with many of the live songs being included.  We had definitely settled down at this point into me playing bass and (keyboard) drums and Peter playing guitar and generally whoever wrote the lyrics singing.  Whoever wrote the song also had control of the sound too, Peter having influences such as Teenage Fanclub and Sebadoh while I had a little bit more of a pop punk, Senseless Things kind of style, which would remain in place on most PBM albums.

But then came the big change that turned the whole world of recording upside down......the 4 track Portastudio (to be continued......)

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