Bands always quote ‘the difficult third album’. The first album is the breakthrough product; it is a distillate of the songs the band has been writing and honing since it started. (I’m talking about proper bands here, not manufactured acts). They’ve had the filter of time and usually a number of live performances to weed out the weak stuff. The first album is quirky, it’s new and it defines the band. You buy/download/blag the album, listen to the tracks and decide whether you like it.
The second album tends to be the leftovers. The first album was a hit so the label wants more product, quickly, to ride the crest of the publicity wave. Maybe the band did Glastonbury or one of the other festivals. The second album can appear a bit weak or, if material has been written specially for it, disjointed.
If the band lasts until the third album, most people agree that it’s the hardest one to do. And that’s not a bad thing. Putting effort into the songs can create tension and tension can lead to some fantastic creativity. It can also destroy the band.
I’ve played in bands since the late 80’s. We started off thinking we were going to ‘make it’ and I’m not ashamed of that. After all, why start off thinking anything else? We had our own unique sound. For months it was a dissonant cacophony but it slowly came together until one venue owner described it as ‘post punk’. That was a little disappointing as we were all heavily influenced (so we thought) by 70’s rock. It was edgy (their word), complex (our word), loud (several venue owners comments) and progressive (we told the press). We played any gigs we could and some we shouldn’t have. We did back garden parties, charity gigs, last minute replacement gigs (we were the fourth emergency service for one Swansea venue), festivals and ‘battle of the bands’ competitions. We even released an album and, more surprisingly, sold some copies.
Fame, fortune and stardom wasn’t to be, though. We had personnel issues (we found it hard to keep bass players for some reason), some people were less enthusiastic than others and eventually, the band faded away. It briefly resurfaced, in different forms, over a few years but it was never as popular and we were never as enthusiastic. Eventually, after the band was dead and buried, I started playing in a duo which quickly expanded to a trio and manifested itself in various guises (including a short lived 6 piece with female lead singer) over the years.
I enjoyed the 12 years or so I was with them. The only instrument I didn’t play was the drums. We had some fantastic laughs. I remember the whole band being in hysterics just before going on stage in one club for no real reason. We had wound ourselves up and someone suggested, for shock value, going on stage naked. We didn’t but the first three numbers were played with tears in our eyes and very shaky vocals.
We played a club in the Welsh valleys where the entertainment secretary complained that the previous weeks act, ‘Abbamania’ only played Abba songs. He was genuinely surprised at this. We played a holiday camp and went on immediately after the furry mascot (played by a very hung-over student) and our screaming audience consisted of 50 or so 5 year olds.
We endured the inevitable bingo, support acts that were better or worse than us, dodgy venues that we really didn’t want to be in and some fantastic venues that we wanted to be in more often. We played a last minute gig in a pub to a largely silent and well dressed crowd.
Suits and ties were the norm but there was no reaction from them after the songs despite lots of alcohol flowing. To end the first half, we tried to re-energise them by playing a full-on, heads down rocking version of ‘Knocking on Heaven’s Door’. Still no reaction. Which was understandable when the landlord told us we were playing at a wake.
I stopped when my mum was ill and I had to spend time looking after her. It was the right time to take a break because the late nights were taking their toll. I found I didn’t miss it as I expected I would. Other things took over and while I miss the camaraderie and the adventures, I don’t miss playing the same songs every night three or four times a week. I still play occasionally – special guest appearances (which sounds great but the reality – fumbling to remember a chord sequence I haven’t played for several years while trying to look cool – isn’t so good).
We never got as far as the difficult third album. I beat you, bands. I got the third post!