I can remember the drive to the practice studios vividly. Mark, my housemate, had dragged me away from singing in my bedroom and convinced me to try out for his band. It is 1997 and I’m 26 years old, sitting next to Mark, cracking jokes and laughing a little too loudly as he drives me to Windsor. I was shitting myself.
I can’t remember a time when music hasn’t been part of my life. I started singing as soon as I could talk. My first memory of going on stage was at a Christmas Party when I was four years old. I’ve no idea what I sang, but I do remember the round of applause I received. I went on to perform at school concerts and like most children I would sing loudly along to the radio (it was the height of two-tone in the late 1970’s and my 8 year old self was hooked.)
Every Thursday I would watch Top of the Pops and stare in awe as these otherworldly acts performed in front of the awkwardly dancing audience. But at no point did I consider forming a band myself. You see, growing up in a village in the heart of Suffolk, it didn’t even occur to me that it was possible. Bands were what other people did. That was what I meant by otherworldly. I wasn’t talking about David Bowie in full Ziggy pomp, or the pansexual antics of Human League, Visage and the other New Romantics of my early teens; just that music was created and played by people different to those I knew and grew up with.
We arrived at Running Frog studios and I was hustled into the rehearsal studio. The rest of the band had arrived early and were setting up. Everyone seemed friendly enough but the thing that caught my eye was their equipment. They had Marshall stacks and Gibson Les Paul guitars. The snare was whip crack loud – Mark was the loudest drummer I ever had the pleasure to sing in front of, and responsible for the tinnitus I still have today – and the bass was, well, a bass. As they warmed up the sound was incredible; I couldn’t believe it, they sounded just like you heard on the record. I was blown away.
“What songs do you know?”
“Er, Oasis, Blur. Most things by Radiohead.”
“OK. Why don’t we start with High and Dry.”
The music started up and I sang. High and Dry is not the easiest of songs to sing, there’s a lot of falsetto, but difficulty never came into it as my nerves were so bad I was all over the place. When the song finished Mark gave me a grin and a thumbs up, but I knew I’d blown it. We played a couple more songs and then I went home, dejected.
A week or so later I was asked by the band to sing with them at an open mic night at a pub in West London. We went along and the place was packed. There were the odd punk band, a couple of acoustic singer-songwriters and us. We were one of the last ones on but seeing the other acts perform relaxed me. Nobody was brilliant, they were mostly trying out new material or using the event for a try out like us. When it was our turn, the band set up, adjusted the levels, and as I stood there looking out at the motley group of musicians who’d been on earlier, I thought to myself “Sod it,” and went for it.
I was told about a year later by Derek, part rhythm guitarist, part Duracell bunny, that the conversation the band had afterwards went along the lines of “Well, he’s no Dan (previous singer), but he’ll do.” I’d made it. Spudgun were about to take on the world.
Our first gig took place at a pub called the Good Companions in Slough. Rarely has a pub so spectacularly failed to live up to its billing. It was a shithole, but it was a shithole that was two minutes walk from where we lived. Having met in the car park, we walked in on mass to be greeted by the landlord. He was over 6 foot, both tall and broad, covered in tattoos with a shaved head. And I thought I was nervous before the audition.
He showed us the playing area – a corner by the front window that had had it’s table and chairs removed – and we started setting up. At the other end of the pub were a group of very big, heavily tattooed men, knocking back pints with raucous abandon. I asked the landlord if it was someone’s birthday. “No,” he replied. “Someone’s just got out after a long stretch.”
I turned back to the rest of the band and found Damian, our lead guitarist, being shouted at by Elaine, my singing partner. He’d managed to take up half the ‘performance area’ with his array of pedals and she was having none of it. I could leave, I thought. Nobody would notice and Elaine could take up the slack. At that moment one of the ‘birthday’ group walked up to me.
“Are you in the band?”
“What do you do?”
“I’m the singer”
“You better be good.”
The fact I’m alive to write this shows that we weren’t too bad.
This blog is dedicated to the memory of Mark Given. Still thinking of you, big man. All facts correct at time of writing. Any errors probably due to failing memory than malicious intent.