“Or I Got Bored Of Rock In 1988”
Part four: In which 586 recruit a drummer, rehearse for the first time, play their first gig and make friends with another band, the quite frankly amazing Happycasio. ‘Twas a good couple of months. It’s worth noting that Johnny Borrell out of Razorlight was in the audience for that historic first show, but I couldn’t find anywhere to put that in the main text and I’m not entirely convinced anyone reading this would be that impressed. I wouldn’t be. But still, he was there. Apparently.
June 2000. Helen and I have not been going out for long, but we have decided to head to Somerset for the Glastonbury Festival. 2000 was the last year before the giant impenetrable fence was built, so Helen and I are the only two of our friend group to have actually paid for a ticket. Everyone else we speak to – literally everyone else – has jumped the fence. This couldn’t last, sadly, and in the year off that followed, festival site owner Michael Eavis unveiled the unscalable superfence. It would secure the festival borders and – most importantly – its future, but a little something of the atmosphere died off and we have since found ourselves in the peculiar situation where it is now impossible for someone to, as I did, decide to attend the week before the event on a whim.
This is my first festival, and it is a life changing experience. So many bands, so little time. As we arrive on the campsite the air is thick with possibility and the stink of cow shit. It’s a Thursday. The sun is setting as we come up to the Pyramid Stage and it looks wonderful. Call me a fucking hippy, but as we wander round the festival site taking it all in everything feels a bit magical. There really is nothing like it. We pitch our tent at the top of the hill in front of the Pyramid Stage and crack open the first bottle of the Asda Smart Price vodka we have snuck in. Life is sweet. Also camped nearby are Helen’s loud, obnoxious friend from the Camden Palace – that Deborah girl – and Helen’s ex-boyfriend, Russell. Russell is not happy that Helen has moved on. I later learn that at one point, with a friend for back-up, he had come looking for me, intending to kick my head in.
The friend was some guy named Grant Purser.
We are mere weeks away from – potentially – our first gig, but we still don’t have a drummer. We’ve told the promoter we’re definitely going to play, but the clock is tick-tock-ticking away. Deborah has mentioned a chap she knows from Worthing, but I’m sceptical. Worthing is the seaside town she and Helen had come from. It is lovely and all that, but it’s bloody miles away from us in London. How the Hell are we supposed to rehearse? Deborah is convinced he is the perfect candidate, but my doubts are fuelled by the fact he is in another band already. Alarm bells ring. I do NOT want to share MY drummer with some other fuckers. I want his or her full attention. That seemed to be the thing with drummers back then. They were all, without fail, in another band already. The drummer was some guy named Grant Purser.
I met Deborah towards the end of 1996 in a club in Worthing called The Factory. A sweaty (literally, condensation would drip down the concrete walls) indie/alternative club that had (sweaty) walls decorated by Worthing comic artist Jamie Hewlett (then famous for his comic Tank Girl). I fancied Deborah’s friend, so obviously found it easier to speak to Deborah. A small gang of bright young things including Deborah and myself began to hang out in Worthing cafes reading Melody Maker and NME and even formed our first band, Catharsis, although I don’t recall any music being written. Deborah had lyrics for songs such as It’s Hard To Be A Potato and What If Mr Benn Was A Size 16? that she would sing loudly to anybody that would listen.
Deborah was still singing “It’s Hard To Be A Potato” when I first met her, and she would continue to do so throughout the 586 days. I did contact her to find out how the lyrics went, but sadly she’s ignoring that particular request.
Grant was up in London for some reason or another and they hung out for a bit. She played him the 5 track demo we were hawking around. He didn’t think it was too bad.
I remember liking I’m Terribly Sorry and being impressed with Deborah’s vocals on it. I also thought there is no way I will be good enough to drum for this band and you may be too ‘electronic’ for me.
Deborah wasn’t getting anywhere on the organisational front, so she gave me Grant’s number in order for rehearsal to be arranged. A text was dispatched. He replied quickly. This was a good start. Drummers are notoriously flaky. It turned out that his father Malcolm is also a musician and had converted the Purser family garage into a rehearsal studio, so Grant suggested we come down to Worthing and use that for a couple of all-day intensive rehearsals before the gig. I was up for that and so were Deborah, Simon and Sam, so we put some dates in the diary. I spent a couple of evenings at Sam’s flat in Victoria Park teaching her the songs and then we were off. After our introduction at the Vibe Bar I had given her a copy of the demo. She also seemed to like the demos, but whilst she owned two bass guitars, she didn’t know how to play either of them. She had two or three weeks to learn…
I remember thinking that you’d looked to me like an indie kid, and we’d talked about bands like you were an indie kid and that your demo did not sound like an indie kid’s band. Wasn’t sure if that was good for me or not. I really liked Oh Suzie – that was the song that made me think you/we could sound like a ‘real’ band rather than a ‘my mate’s in a band’ band. And I remember playing along in my bedroom and practising my rock poses, obviously. Mark (Heffernan) still swears I had a bass stance. I swear I didn’t. Though, I barely moved, in fairness, so maybe he mistook shyness for standing still and posing! And I remember thinking back to Year 10 P.E. and pretending I was Nicky Wire with my tennis racket and laughing at how things turn out. I thought I’m Terribly Sorry was hilarious and why hadn’t anyone thought of that before?
Any train journey to the seaside is exciting, but one to rehearse, finally, with the band you’ve been planning obsessively in your head for years is even more so. Even if some of your new bandmates (Deborah) are late so you miss the train you were planning to get and end up having to wait ages for the next one. And the journey to Worthing is especially awesome if you, like me, are obsessed with the band Suede. Not only is Worthing mentioned in first album closer The Next Life, but the train goes though Haywards Heath, the (oh yes) satellite town where Brett Anderson and Mat Osman grew up. Then on the right, as you head from Hove to Worthing, looms a giant building that is either a school or a church that basically looks like Hogwarts. On the left is the constant threat of a glimpse of sea. I was buzzing.
We met Grant at the station and followed him to his parents’ house. I wasn’t sure what to make of him. He seemed a bit stand-offish, a bit cool. I didn’t think he liked me, but we needed a drummer and we only had a couple of weeks to go so I went with it, made all friendly and let him lead the way. When we arrived at the house, he took us to the back garden and the studio. I fell in love with it instantly. Situated at the bottom of the Purser family garden, the studio was a big converted garage with a control room on the side, containing a big old vintage mixing desk under a window looking in on the live room. The live room was long and rectangular, with a drum riser at the far end, two Marshall stack guitar amps, a Trace Elliott bass amp, a PA and various mic stands. If it was at the bottom of my garden, I’d never spend any time in the house. I was seriously impressed. Next to the PA mixer in the live room was a digital 8 track recording unit. Ooh. If things went well, maybe we could even record it…
We picked our floor space and started setting up our instruments. I tuned my guitar up and, while checking my sounds, cranked out the riff to Blur’s She’s So High. Grant took the cue and started drumming along, perfectly recreating Dave Rowntree’s drums. Here was a man with potential.
Once we started on our songs, things were much more tentative. We tried I’m Terribly Sorry first, utilising a backing track with a click track to keep Grant in time. He wasn’t happy about playing to a click, but said he’d give it a go. The backing track kicked in…
…and we were well ropey. Hmm. We tried again. Still ropey. Two weeks didn’t seem like a lot of time all of a sudden. Fuck. We tried once more. It was awful. We kept going out of time with the backing, and once Simon and I kicked in with the guitars it sounded inaudible anyway, so we couldn’t tell until the quiet bits. My vision of a My Bloody Valentine-gone-hip-hop beast was disappearing down the pan. Fuck fuck fuck. We took a break, stepping outside into the summer sun. After some panicked discussion, it was decided to try a different song, but to ditch out the backing tracks. Grant looked visibly relieved.
We moved on to Eloping With The Devil. Without all the samples and loops it sounded different, but I liked it. It was still kind of loping hip-hop, just a bit more lo-fi. A bit more Blur. I could live with that. Reasonably pleased with how it was sounding, we moved on to Oh Suzie. It sounded great, in a tentative kind of way. We bashed through the pair of them a couple of times and before we knew it hometime beckoned. Grant set up the 8 track to record the two songs and I took a copy on minidisc with me. I listened to nothing else for the next week. I was in love with my new band. We were going to be AMAZING!
I remember thinking I was shit and you guys wouldn’t be rushing to ask me to join…. I sort of remember either overhearing or being told that you and Sam had snuck a peek at my CDs and seen a couple of Bis singles and this was a good thing for you.
We travelled down again the following week, set up and got ready to do it all over again. Grant and I played She’s So High again, but got to work as soon as everyone else was set up. The second rehearsal was STRESSFUL. We got our heads down, kept faffing to a minimum and by the end of the day we had a five song setlist featuring Eloping With The Devil, Like Good Liars, ….wires, Oh Suzie and I Am Not A Monkey. Neither my ego nor I was overly happy about opening with a song Deborah sang solo, but I figured I was singing harmonies and it would take some pressure off, so I could live with it. I guessed.
When the fateful day arrived, I was nervous. Really nervous. I obsessed about everything, especially what to wear. In the end, my Duran Duran obsession won and I went with a white blazer with the sleeves rolled up over worn-denim flares, brown shoes and a Belle & Sebastian t-shirt. We were due on around 9ish, with Remodel on after and Yeti headlining. When the venue opened, Mark and Leigh were wandering around working the room and looking sharp in matching Merc suits, all relaxed smiles and friendly welcomes. I was a ball of nervous energy, completely incapable of holding a conversation longer than two minutes long and heading to the bar and back with alarming frequency. Things only got worse the closer we got to 9pm. When stage time finally came, we were all shitting it.
I was terrified. I know I’d be fine for gigs afterwards, but I was very nervous about the first one. Not about standing up in front of people or anything (I was teaching English and did that sort of thing all day) but actually playing an instrument in public that wasn’t the flute was scary. I think we played about 5 songs and we were probably ropey at best, but I think we were quite pleased with ourselves anyway!
In the end, opening with Eloping turned out to be a good thing: it calmed my nerves slightly and I was able to expend some energy jumping about while playing. And when we kicked into Like Good Liars and I finally did start singing…it was ok! Not exactly Scott Walker, barely Damon Albarn yawning, but not awful either. By the time I realised I was enjoying myself hugely it was all over.
We unplugged our instruments and got off the stage. Our friends were encouraging, which was great, but – and this was even better – complete strangers came to us with compliments. I wasn’t expecting that. In previous bands I would come offstage and we would be lucky if anyone, even our friends, acknowledged we had played. From the very beginning, 586 was different. It wasn’t a hassle to get friends to come support us and every gig would end with us making new friends who would also come see us again. It was a genuinely exciting time. From this gig onwards, life began to accelerate. Every gig would be better than the last, building and building until it all went tits-up. But more of that later.
Remodel took to the stage quickly and I was jealous. They looked like a band. Well, Leigh and Mark did. Their matching suits looked great, but the bassist looked like he had just fallen out of bed, with his shirt hanging out and his trousers loose and saggy. Their set was good though. Really good. Certainly better than Yeti, who were every inch the boring bassist’s side project one expected.
We were trolleyed come the end of the night and were delighted to be asked back to play at The Pleasure Unit again. We were very much up for that. From this point on we settled very quickly into a routine. We would rehearse once or twice a week in London or sometimes Worthing, with Deborah and I having a Lambrini-fuelled writing session once a week at either her flat in Whitechapel or my parents’ house in Erith. She and I would then travel to Simon’s for a recording session to properly demo the songs, which would be sent to the others to learn. This was useful for Sam, as she was still new to her instrument, but Grant very quickly started ignoring our demos and doing what he liked on the drums. I didn’t mind though. What he did was normally better anyway. He drummed like Dave Rowntree. That worked for me. The electronics were gently consigned to the past and we started to relax into a beaten-up kind of wonky pop sound.
The second Pleasure Unit show was much, much better than the first. It was our turn to work the room with relaxed smiles this time. Leigh, Mark, Dave White and I DJed and we even befriended another band. They were called Happycasio! and were amazing. Absolutely amazing. A six-piece band of friends whom I initially dismissed as being another bunch of Joy Division wannabes, as their set progressed I found myself warming to them more and more. The singer looked like a bruiser and sounded a bit like Ian Curtis. There were two guitarists, a tall, blonde, floppy fringed fella and a slightly shorter guy with a mop of curly hair and an English Civil War-era moustache. While he played in a choppy, physical way, the blonde chap was a bit funkier, but in a white boy indie way. The two opposing styles complimented each other really well. We all fancied the bass player, a brunette named Cat who we found out was going out with the blonde guy.
I thought they sounded like Joy Division, but I don’t like Joy Division and I DID like them. And I didn’t fancy Cat, I fancied the guitarist who looked like a cavalier. I remember they had a theremin, which made me think they were ace – and good songs that speeded up at the chorus so we could sway along. It was only really Mark’s voice (so many Marks!) that sounded like Ian Curtis, not really the band.
After their set, we bounded over to tell them how good they were. And we meant it! They were brilliant. They had electronics and post-punk doom bass and interesting guitars and I loved them. They did the same after our set and we had a big old inter-band love-in. They were not only fantastic, but really nice people too.
At the end of the night, we discovered that they appeared to have stolen our bass guitar. They couldn’t have…?
It’s OK! They hadn’t. They had taken it by accident though. I had a really friendly telephone conversation with the singer, whose name turned out to be Mark, while I was on my lunch break at work. He was super nice. We sorted out an instrument swap and he told me he had bootlegged our gig. Amazing!
Things were going swimmingly. We had played two well-received shows, we were friends with two also-brilliant bands and we were looking forward to our first show at a venue that wasn’t the Pleasure Unit, though they had also asked us back AGAIN as well. Through We Got Bored Of Rock In 1988 we had wangled a gig at The Vibe Bar. As we were there every week and knew all the bar staff by now, we decided to rehearse extra hard so as not to look silly. A last rehearsal was booked for a Saturday morning as we couldn’t get a later slot in any of our usual studios. Simon hadn’t been keen, but he had acquiesced eventually.
Grant, Sam, Deborah and I were all on time, but an hour and a half into the rehearsal it became apparent Simon wasn’t going to be joining us. We were pissed off. Although we ranted for a little while, by the time the session came to a close, we had come round to the idea that it was funny and that getting wound up about it was silly. Though we did have an idea. We would all text him at the same time with the same word. Just the one word, one very simple word to give him some abuse for not turning up. We laughed to ourselves as we all typed the word ‘cunt’ into a new SMS and hit the ‘send’ button simultaneously, giggling like schoolgirls.
We would not hear back from Simon for a very long time. A mere handful of gigs in, and Simon Dempsey had left 586.
Although I’m sure it was Grant who told me once that both he and Russell were going to beat me senseless at Glastonbury 2000, when I asked him about it for this he remembered events slightly differently. So, for completeness…
Steve: So, Glastonbury 2000. You wanted to give me a kicking, eh? Tell me about that.
Grant: One of those bright young things was a guy called Russell who had recently split up with a girl called Helen. You were at Glastonbury with Helen and Russell wanted to kick your head in. I believe I talked him out of it.
So there you go.
OMG it’s a recording of the first 586 rehearsal! Live from the Purser family studio on Saturday 10th April 2004. Look out for the bum note on the guitar towards the beginning of Eloping With The Devil.
Eloping With The Devil
Well, not bonus content, but a link: Happycasio!’s MySpace. I’d recommend going straight to Other Side Of Town. It’s epic, and one of the best things they ever recorded. My favourite of their recordings could be found on the Big Shaped & Square Sized EP, but sadly that isn’t online. In the unlikely event that any of Happycasio! are reading this, GUYS. GET IT ONLINE. IT’S STILL BRILLIANT.
Oh, and PS: it still bums me off that you never recorded Unlikely Sources.