It’s a Shit Business ~ Why do Middle-Aged People Continue to Play in Bands?

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I’m not talking Blur here, who managed to reform without having split up and created a great deal of excitement thus engendering huge ticket sales and everything that dominoes beyond i.e. spondoolicks. (And good luck to them).

Like the League of Gentlemen’s Les McQueen, for some people the bright lights never came. Or rather they almost came once, but not quite. Larry Parnes/Chas Chandler/Geoff Travis/Alan McGee was interested at one point, came to see you at the Bull & Gate, but they went with Billy Fury/Jimi Hendrix/The Smiths/Oasis instead. Their loss…

Some don’t even make it that far. Never a whiff of an in-store signing. Artie Fufkin? Chance would be a fine thing. I’d love to be able to kick that guy’s ass. Like Fat Cat city boys riding around on Harleys at the weekend, the world is full of middle-aged (and in the music biz that means an age bracket of 28-70) people doing (as they say in Australia) The Band Thing.

I am prompted in this direction on this particular morn (don’t think for a minute that this piece isn’t just a little too close to the bone for my liking) by the following experience.

I am in the process of putting together a CD reissue of an album for a little label that specialises in pop, folk and psychedelia from the mid-sixties to mid-seventies. These are not bootlegs, but official releases sanctioned under licence by the owners of the copyright. They are lovingly put together by a compiler (I am one of several enthusiasts who contribute to the label), a designer and overseen by a Head Honcho (for want of a better tag). This is a small-time operation in a niche, but worldwide, market. Money is involved and split accordingly, but no-one gets rich. The idea is to propel music out there, to you and me, to people who never heard it, or perhaps weren’t even born the first time around. Because we love the music and want to share it.

About two years ago I suggested to HH that we look into applying for the licence to reissue a little gem of an album recorded by a boy-girl duo in America in the late 60s. Ten little songs, eight originals and two covers, chiming in at barely half-an-hour. Not a world-beating album, probably not a classic, but a minor gem without doubt. A Google throws up very little info on this partnership and it’s obvious the album is a) little-known and b) hard to get hold of. We applied and heard nothing. A year on, I asked if it was worth another go? We re-applied for the licence and within a month or two got an affirmative subject to usual contractual obligations.

Bingo! We’re in business. Of course, it never crossed my mind for a second that the artist doesn’t want their little gem to be heard. Thanks to the wonders of the net, one of the artists was tracked down and a dialogue-by-email was begun. They think we’re ripping them off. HH convinced them, with great diplomacy that that’s not the case, far from it.

What we’d like is your recollections, any nice memories of gigs, songwriting, getting signed, who championed you at the time, who were your inspirations/influences etc. Plus any bonus unreleased tracks in the vaults and any contemporary photos or even a photo of you now (with family, dog or guitar – it doesn’t matter) so that we can put together a really nice package; a document to tell your story in your words. To give you the opportunity you never had four decades ago.

What I got was the briefest of paragraphs stating that the company had fucked up the recording, but this is what we’ve done since 1980…

Imagine I am writing sleevenotes on a lost-now-found ultra rare tape of the Beatles in Hamburg. For my sleevenotes I write solely about Paul’s collaborations with Stevie, Jacko and Costello in the wake of Lennon’s murder and Wings’ demise. It wouldn’t work would it?

Oh dear, I fear this is coming across as a rant. I guess I’m not familiar with the concept of having been so burned by the biz at a young age that you’d want to erase all memory. I’m just familiar with the near-miss/if only syndrome and the joy of discovering that someone wants to listen to your old music and ask you all about it.

And I haven’t really addressed the title of this piece. Why do we (yeah, I mean I and my friends and millions of others) do it? Play in bands for no money with outgoings on equipment, petrol, rehearsal room hire, driving for hours, stuck in traffic, committed to playing dates and rehearsing when you’d rather be at home in front of the telly. Yet still you do it. A drug? Of sorts.

It could just be that sometimes it’s just a bit of fun; an expensive hobby that enables you to you meet like-minded souls and forge great, enduring friendships. And, amongst all the bloody heartache and misery, it is that which makes it all worthwhile. Amen.

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