« I had a teenage dream, On moonage days,
I’d be a freak out far out, In a purple haze,
Cruising Electric Ladyland, I’d be silver surfin’
In a rock and roll band. »
« Teenage Moonage » by the Stone Purple Haze Band
So, you wanna be a singer in a rock and roll BAND?
First, find a band, or find a band that needs a singer or find a band that needs a singer and plays the kind of stuff that you want to sing. This narrows down the choice immensely, so first, just find a band, any band.
How do you find a band?
It started with an ad in the local paper
« Are you EXPERIENCED? » read the title at the top of the ad
Sounds like Hendrix cover band. Can I sing Hendrix? Do I want to sing Hendrix covers? I’ve got to start somewhere.
« Hi, I’m ringing about your ad ….
« Can you sing? » asks the laid-back, deeply soporiphic voice on the other end. A voice thick with phlegmy nonchalance nurtured on years of cigarettes and alcohol. The voice reels off a long list of Hendrix numbers to learn for the audition and once the « dictation » is over I hit the local record shop looking for a Hendrix « greatest hits » compilation.
So, you have got as far as the audition phase. This is the point where you physically meet your possible, future band mates, who are not yet mates and might never become your mates. Banding is not bonding. This is about music and not friendship. The band needs a singer and not a soul mate.
It hasn’t occurred to me, but I might actually need a mike and I haven’t got one. I ring the voice again.
« I’ve got a mike » it says flatly. « I’ll see you later »
Later is late. Nine o’clock on a Sunday night, when normal folks have long finished dinner and are settled down ready to snooze off in front of the TV.
The voice lives only a few streets away. I can walk. I get to the « house » and – I’m walking down a tree lined street of neat two up, two down houses all with well tended gardens, then at the end almost out on a limb, almost in another universe is this run down, shuttered up pile of bricks set in an overgrown patch of waste ground. Surely this can’t be the place. I knock on the front door and after an eternity there is the creaking and clanking as the metal shutters are pushed slowly open. A skeletal hand appears beckoning me to the window, a gaunt and ghostly face, framed by long lank strands greasy hair, emerges from the sombre depths. « Side door » rasps the voice
« Do you always rehearse this late? » I ask, entering through the kitchen and into the «rehearsal room ».
The place is a mess. It’s a f***ing mess with a huge capital F. It’s a health hazard. Already from the outside, the house only looks fit for demolition, inside … the sink piled high with dishes, the walls thick with grease and yellow with nicotine, discarded empty dog food tins lie strewn across the floor, and stomach churning stench
The place stinks of wet dog, urine and shit – like proper shit, like faeces, like someone’s had diarreah, bowel cancer or lives on a heavy vegetarian diet and they’ve systematically crapped away their insides over days and never flushed the toilet.
Can I make it through this audition without catching something? Can I survive more than five minutes in this house without some kind of independent breathing apparatus?
So, I finally meet the voice who tells me his name is Patrick though people call him Jimmy and he bids me welcome to « Electric Ladyland » I want to laugh, but Patrick is so into Hendrix that he’s painted the name of Hendrix’s third and final studio album in big purple letters on his front door.
This is possibly the worst place that I have ever auditioned for a band, lord knows I’ve has some strange auditions. I once had to prove my vocal prowess over the phone, and another time I auditioned in a car, singing along to Highway to Hell, on a cassette player, the AC/DC classic doing it’s best to struggle out of the crappy car speakers.
Naked with strangers
Auditions are all the same. There you are in a room with four or five other guys you’ve never met before. You are finally all plugged in, miked up and ready to go, the drummer counts us in and you sing, but you’re not just singing, in a way you are baring your artistic soul. You are fragile, you are naked. You are stripping off in front of strangers. Try it some time, invite four of five complete strangers round to your house and stand naked in front of them. You don’t feel ridicule, you just feel vulnerable.
You sing or try to sing those three or four songs that the voice on the end of the phone has told you to « learn » and after twenty minutes … the verdict
Return to Electric Ladyland
There’s a limp, quivering, emaciated dog lying in a basket in the corner. There’s a fresh patch of (is that dog vomit?)
Patrick (AKA Jimmy) tells me that the dog is ill and for the moment he can’t afford to take him to the vet.
Patrick has red sunken eyes and a gaunt haggard face that has been ravaged by years of … Rock and Roll. (In comparison, Keith Richards is a picture of health.) He limps around the room, all quivering like his dog. He’s all lank greasy hair, torn jeans and a threadbare sweater held together more by the food stains down the front than any of the threads. He introduces me to three « clones » in similar degrees of frail decomposition. There’s Jean Paul the guitarist (AKA Mick) because he’s a Rolling Stones fan; Fabrice (AKA Chris) the drummer
« Chris? »
« Yeah he’s a big Magma fan » explains « Jimmy » so we call him Chris after the Magma drummer Christian Vander »
The last « clone » is Christophe, the keyboard player who logically should be AKA Chris but calls himself John, after his hero John Lord.
No need to ask the musical influences of this band of early fiftysomething, seventies survivors.
« What are you called? »
« Eh? » expressed by the three clones in collective grunt
« What’s the band name? »
A Band With No Name*
There are no hard and fast rules for choosing a band name, save that it should be, catchy, evocative, easy to remember easy to say and short enough to print on a T shirt. A band name doesn’t always need to reflect your musical style but it helps.
I am at present auditioning for a band with no name because at the moment there is no band.
« We’ve decided to get our old band back together » explains Mick.
Is this new old band or old band new?
I’ve got this bloody lyric’s been bouncing around in my head for days,
Hey man !
Gotta quit the band
Gotta quit this rock ‘n’ roll suicide plan »
It’s thumping and pounding about like a great big rubber ball on speed. It’s giving me a headache. The whole band is giving me a headache. I’ve got to get out of this band (if it’s the last thing I ever do.)
This band, this bloody song, like I’m on the verge, I’m on the edge
Once there was that teenage dream of being in a band. We all wanted to be Ziggy Stardust
I had a teenage dream On moonage days
I’d be a freak out far out In a purple haze
Cruising electric Ladyland
I’d be silver surfin’ In a rock and roll band
Now, flogging an old dead horse
Cranking it up Wank some life out the corpse
Drive in out Saturdays Across the land
No one gives a fuck You’re just a rock and roll band
No one wanna know whose shirt you wear
No one concerned about the way you are
Don’t wanna live this dream ‘cos now it’s real
My teenage moonage got a nightmare feel
Hey man ! Gotta to quit the band,
Gotta quit this , Rock and roll suicide plan
Our moonage teenage, Just gone white noise trash
Gotta quit, I gotta save my ass.
Drive In Saturday
Another Saturday night, screaming down the rafters in some far flung middle of nowhere seedy shit hole. Up at the mike, screaming out my lungs to the point of breathless implosion. Screaming to the point of physical pain, where I feel I’ll haemorrage. Got to turn up the stage amps. Dirty looks and dirty words from the guitarist, as he roars full throttle into one of his set piece solos cutting me off mid-verse.
Another Saturday night, another bloody dead beat gig for the benefit of no one around. A few pissed punters propping up the bar as we murder yet more jurassic classics. No one really gives a shit what we play, tonight, they just want noise and noise is what we do best
« We’ve got two kilos up there tonight » enthuses Chris, our lead guitarist/manager/artisitic director and owner of all the gear sitting in the two vans that we need to get the gear to every gig. The 24 track mixing desk, the wall of amps, the miles and miles of cables …
« Two kilos isn’t that a bit much ? »
« We’re going to be bloody loud. » he beams, beaming an evil beam and rubbing his hands together in a conspiratorial clasp
This isn’t Wembley Stadium or Madison Square Garden, it’s only benefit gig in a local community centre. We don’t need a wall of sound and no matter how many watts or kilos we can muster, by the end of the first set, I can’t hear myself singing above the noise.
I’ve had bands where we had no gear, old gear, crap gear, but by some miracle I could always hear myself sing, now ironically, I’m in a band with so much gear that no one can hear anything at all, especially Chris who only wants to hear himself.
It’s a guitarist thing. Guitarists are what guitartists are
Time to leave, but how can I announce my imminent departure ?
*The band did eventually get a name after I left – The Stone Purple Haze Band
And here is the finished song
I had a teenage dream on moonage days
I’d be a freak out, far out, in a purple haze
Cruising Electric Ladyland,
I’d be silver surfing in a rock ‘n’ roll band
Wanna a métal guru, I gotta be you
Diamond dog rebel in a Stardust hue
White light white heat, need a ballroom blitz,
The boys are back in town for a little fix
I wanna a rock ‘n’ roll band
I wanna be that special man
I Wanna live, I don’t wanna die
Maybe I just wanna fly
Teenage middle age, flogging a dead horse
Crank it up, wank it up gig, out an old corpse
Drive in out Saturdays across the land,
Never mind the bollocks, you’re just a rock ‘n’ roll band
No one wanna know whose shirt you wear,
No one care about the way you are,
Don’t wanna live this dream ,now the nightmare’s real
Teenage moonage, cold turkey feel
I’ve got a rock ‘n’ roll band
(Say) It’s nothing spécial man
No way to live, wanna let it die
Cracked actor babe, flown too high.
It’s been a long road on the road to nowhere,
(There’s) no life on Mars, I know – I’ve been there
Walking through my sunken dream,
Wake up, break up, gotta scream
Hey man gotta quit this band
Gotta quit this rock ‘n’ roll suicide plan
My teenage moonage, white noise trash
Gotta quit , save my God-given ass
Rock ‘n’ roll, so over-rated
I just wanna be sedated
Now, I’m down with who I am
I came on too loaded man