There’s always tomorrow

It has been a strange day today. I should have been sad and upset as I went to the funeral of a mate from school. But the humanist service was full of memories, some spoken and others remembered silently. All of them made me smile and when they played ‘Highway Star’ by his favourite band and one of the first songs we rehearsed together there was a tear or two. But most of my memories of Simon are happy ones. Here are some of the ones that can be repeated.

I met Simon in secondary school in 1976. He was introduced to me as ‘Skinny’ which I assumed was because of his physical appearance. Like me, there wasn’t much of him then. I later found out it was far more complex and involved his surname rhyming with ‘bones’. We were both asthmatic and therefore unable to take part in PE and Games lessons. We got talking and quickly discovered mutual interests in science fiction and, later, music. We both had a similar irreverent sense of humour which developed over the years, as did our friendship.

In later years in school, we started making short cine films with a group of like minded friends and a couple of open minded teachers. It was mainly science fiction and horror. Simon was always up for doing the stunts and we managed to kill him off several times. He was stabbed, strangled, drowned and thrown off a quarry face. No padding for Simon. We once started filming a comedy parody of school life, referencing amongst other things, 2001 A Space Odyssey. For this epic, we borrowed Simon’s sister’s dolls pram and floated it out to sea from Bracelet Bay, after first letting the Coastguards know what we were up to. We retrieved it, dried it off and I don’t know whether his sister ever knew.

Simon followed his artistic interests and after a year in art college he went to Worthing to study Theatre Design. I was in London at the same time and we often visited each other. I used to have a great time in Worthing thanks to Simon and his friends; one of the first times I visited we left the pub and four or five of us carried on in a friend’s flat. When we left, it was morning and we went back to Simon’s flat (where I was staying) and had a breakfast of burger, gravy and chips. It was the first time I experienced Simon’s sandwiches which consisted of a bit of whatever he was cooking at the time between two thickly buttered pieces of bread.

When Simon came back to Swansea, he joined the Swansea Little Theatre as a set designer and we formed a band. Simon was a clever and skilful drummer (in the studio, he would record his drum parts with no guide tracks and it was a rare occasion when he had to do a second take. That is gifted playing). He also played a bit of guitar and keyboards. He had been drumming with the Venture Scouts marching band before I picked up a guitar and by the time I was playing well enough to be in a band, he’d also started on the guitar. We swapped licks and he taught me barre chords and during this time Simon had written about half an album’s worth of songs. I had a little 4 track recorder and we spent several evenings recoding demo versions of our songs. He sang on his songs and I sang on mine. Probably the only musical skill Simon didn’t possess was the ability to sing. I still giggle at the version of a folky song I’d written where, while I try to sing the serious lyrics in the style of Bob Dylan, he is in the background trying to and succeeding in making me laugh.

We started rehearsing in Simon’s bedroom, on the top floor of his parent’s house. At our first gig, using all the settings and volumes that we’d used in rehearsals, the landlord of the pub stopped us and asked us to turn down as we were too loud. I pity Simon’s neighbours. We had to stop practising in the bedroom after Simon’s enthusiastic drumming caused cracks to appear in the ceiling of the room below.

We played in several bands together. Our first was Nightshade, which morphed into Fragile Earth and then Strange Attractor. We made some great friendships with the other guys in the band and it was great to see some of them today, some 25 years later, at the funeral. Niel sang and played bass, Jeff was the guitarist in later incarnations. Paul played bass with many of the versions of the band but it was Simon that was the most prolific writer, coming up with or contributing to many of the bands original songs.

We once played a local social club and we were going through a progressive rock period at the time, Simon had written a long piece, which we had recently recorded in a local studio and which lasted around 15 minutes. Imagine the looks of the elderly club members as we launched into ‘River of Fire’, which Simon had written because he was concerned about the way the planet was being ruined by deforestation. It went on for more than 18 minutes thanks to some extended soloing (this was prog). To be fair, they clapped and had a whip round for us and asked us back the following week. We left the long song off the set list for the second gig.

We became the emergency band for the Coach House in Wind Street – we could play at short notice, and often filled in for bands that cancelled at the last minute. I remember them as being great gigs. Alas, the recordings I have tell a slightly different story. But always solid in the background, keeping things on track was Simon’s drumming. I learned to write and play in odd time signatures thanks to Simon (‘No two bars in the same time signature’ was our war cry. Probably chanted in 13/8 time).

Ramtops came next – a five piece band with the addition of Lloyd on guitar and Steve on vocals and guitar, playing more modern covers and more catchy and upbeat rock originals. We played a gig in front of a thousand or so in Singleton Park, where once again we were asked to turn down as we were drowning out the near by ‘It’s a Knockout’ competition. Mr McHenry, Shine and for a brief moment, Alibi were the last bands we shared.

For the first few years of our band career, Simon was driving a bright blue Bedford CF van. In true musician’s style, it would occasionally deposit vital components on the road. One afternoon we were driving back from getting it fixed somewhere and the exhaust fell off – from the manifold back. The cab filled with fumes and we drove on for a bit with Simon and I hanging our heads out of the windows. Eventually, Simon got a Mini and he would rock up to rehearsals and gigs with it crammed full of drum kit. Only he could load and unload it as attempts by me and others inevitably led to some obscure bit of drummist kit being left on the road. And we could never identify the item either.

It later years we drifted apart a bit as our lives changed direction. But I kept in touch and as our birthday’s were exactly three months apart (with Simon being the older) I would always mark the New Year with a text message which usually went along the lines of ‘happy birthday you old git’, to which he would reply with something equally derogatory, and three months later I would get the same ‘happy birthday you old git’ back. The last time I saw Simon was last year at his mother’s funeral. He’d lost weight but seemed fine and, to my shame, the promised ‘I’ll call around sometime’ never happened.

Because ‘there’s always tomorrow’, isn’t there?

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Band international

Having played in many obscure places (Cwm Blwdylostintime and Llchwllynprwnounceable to name but two), we ventured into unknown territory last night with a visit to a little place called England. Many of you will not have heard of this small, obscure location and we had to look it up on a map. But we had the booking and, treating it as a challenge, we set off for the borderlands.

We had to sneak across the border. At the wire there were searchlights in all the watch towers, so we waited for all the lights to go out during a bombing raid and then… oh, no, wait. That’s ‘The Great Escape’. We drove boldly past a sign that said ‘Welcome to England’ (or was it you are welcome to England?) and in no time at all we were in Hereford.

Hereford Welsh club was formed in 1966 after the Welsh valley miners who moved to the area decided they wanted a place to keep their traditions alive. It’s a great club, well maintained and with a good crowd. So many clubs are in decline these days and the buildings are tired and unloved; here was one that clearly had a membership who cared for it.

Tonight we were more of a cabaret band so it was on with the ‘tidy clothes’ to play the three 45 minute sets throughout the evening. As with any new gig, the first impression is key and we put the charm on, turned the volume down and even did a little sound check. We came on, opened with Heroes and immediately received warm applause; from then on we had the audience and the evening went very well.

Our version of ‘Air That I Breathe’ was a little on the fast side, and every time I tried to sing the chorus I started laughing. I had to turn away from the audience and no matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t sing it. My version of ‘Daydream Believer’ differed from the rest of the band by at least one semitone, and in places two or more. I don’t know what happened there. But overall, it was a great evening and we were appreciated by the club.

As usual, the journey home was full of strange lights, philosophical debates and the great dilemma – to stop at MacDonalds or not.

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From the Vault

Great gig last night at the Vault. See yesterday’s post for details of what it was all about. Thanks to everyone who gave us support, both on the night and through publicity, donations and, of course, the venue itself.

Here are some photos from the night.

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Free Gig

Last year I wrote about Neil Grant, a mate with whom I was fortunate to share the stage on many occasions and who sadly passed away far too early. This is the post. 

Tomorrow night, we’re playing a memorial gig for him at The Vault, Wind Street, Swansea. You are all welcome – even those of you from foreign parts. It will be a great night as all of his former band mates are turning up and in addition to the three bands playing, I’m sure there’ll be jams and guest appearances. It’ll be a sad night too, as Neil won’t be adding his unique sound (and unique lyrics) to the set.

At the request of Neil’s widow, we will be collecting for The Stroke Association.

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That and this

Rufus allowed me a lie-in on Saturday morning. Of course, he checked on me several times between 5.30 and 6.30, just to make sure everything was okay but he didn’t insist I got up until just before 7am. After all, there was sunshine to take advantage of and he had to make sure the garden was still there.

After we’d patrolled the grounds and breakfasted, we set off for Broadpool. It was a bit windy for the dragonflies and damselflies I was hoping to take photos of but it’a a nice spot and there’s plenty for Rufus to explore too. Conscious of the last time we visited here, when Rufus managed to find and roll in something too horrible for words, I kept him away from the second pond and we contented ourselves with a stroll around Broadpool itself. In the distance, two riders took their horses across the road and up towards the ridge of Cefn Bryn.

After our circumnavigation of the pool, we crossed over to the other side of the road and I threw sticks for Rufus to chase. He tends to keep them for himself and the only way to retrieve them is to find another one because, as we all know, the best stick is the one just about to be thrown. So we progressed along, stick by stick. I managed to satisfy Rufus’ exacting standards as measured by the lack of barking. Only once was I reminded that stick throwing must be carried out quickly and efficiently.

On the way home, we stopped at the wood on Fairwood common for another little stroll. This one was amongst long grass and ferns and Rufus managed to get the equivalent of a shower just by walking through them. There were hundreds of blackberries and I regretted not bringing a container to put them in.

With Rufus safely home for a rest, I got ready to play in the band in the evening. This was a christening booked by people who had seen us play in a pub. From previous experience, not the best recipe as how we play in a pub is rarely appropriate for parties unless the audience is a pub crowd. We can turn our hand to most things, but we don’t really want to as it’s not what we do best or what we enjoy the most. Nevertheless, the night went well and it was a welcome earlyish finish.

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The Insiderz re-graded

Following on from Friday’s poor exam results, the Minister in charge of band performances has re-graded our report in the light of new evidence from last night’s gig.We achieved a ‘B’ last night, with the comment ‘good effort, nice to see the Insiderz back on form’.

If you read the last post then you’ll see that I was looking for signs that we could learn from our mistakes and get back on top of things. I think we did. The main problems were addressed – we kept the volume down to reasonable levels, the songs were tighter and better arranged and the guitar sounds were more defined and less mushy. That meant the overall sound was better, and that meant we played better. I enjoyed the gig. The guy that randomly whirled about, always not quite hitting my mic stand, enjoyed. The couples dancing to the slow numbers enjoyed. The landlord enjoyed (we know because  he gave us a little extra money) and our guest harmonica player enjoyed. We passed the first test, lets see how we get on with the next ones.

It’s not all serious work with the band, though. We have a laugh, too. Last night, as we got to the venue, the entrance to the car park was blocked by two guys carrying a large blue sofa. They were struggling but as I was on a main road, I couldn’t wait, so I had to go around. The one way system meant it took longer than I would have liked and by the time I was heading back to the pub again, the two guys with the sofa had made it to the main shopping street and were making their way slowly past pubs, restaurants and other establishments. At least they had somewhere to rest should the need arise.

As we packed up, with everything broken down and all but the drum kit in the car, one punter was still pleading with us to play ‘just one more, one more, go on, just one more’. I suggested Stuey sing acapella but it wasn’t to be as he didn’t know the words!

The photos from last night’s gig show rare, backstage views. It proves conclusively that Mike the drummer doesn’t sneak off for a pint while we’re playing long, drawn out solos, which is the main reason I placed the camera there.

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