“How I got bored of auditions”
With Deborah and Leigh gone, I got straight back to work with my uber-rockin’ rhythm section on disappointingly uber-rockin’ versions of my growing catalogue of electronic song sketches. This was a fail, so when a friend of mine introduced me to a chap who knew his synths and samplers and sequencers and was really into the whole dance music thing, I recruited him instantly. Andy Smith was an ex-raver who was into funky house. What could possibly go wrong?
With hindsight it was bleedin’ obvious that this was never going to work. The drummer was a big Red Hot Chilli Peppers fan and hated playing to the click track that was going to be necessary to achieve the sound I was after. The bassist wanted to be in Queen, but possibly without the dressing-up. The synth player hated guitars and guitar-based music. I had seen the electronic light, but I was still a guitarist. A guitarist with a fuckload of effects pedals, but a guitarist nonetheless. I was convinced I could make them fall in line, though. Blinkered and determined we soldiered on, searching endlessly for a singer. I would meet at least two new potential candidates every night after work and every single one of them was awful, unlikeable, or awful AND unlikeable. I gained confidence from their reactions to my demos and their desire to join my band, but not one of them struck me as being any good, let alone the sort of person I wanted to be in a band with.
One time I had a response to an NME ad from a singer who frequented one of the same clubs as me – London glam night Stay Beautiful – and was MASSIVELY obsessed with glam Britpop heroes Suede. I was (and still am) MASSIVELY obsessed with glam Britpop heroes Suede, so this seemed like it could be a winner. I arranged to meet him in a pub near East Croydon train station one sunny afternoon. Within two seconds of leaving the station building a young homeless woman asked me outright for money to buy crack. When I refused, she followed me down the road screaming and swearing for what seemed like an age. I arrived at the chosen meeting place – a dingy Wetherspoon’s pub – and caught the start of a fight kicking off between a group of five men by the bar. Another group in the corner hollered drunken abuse at my flared jeans. It was 4.30pm. Jesus Christ. I ordered a JD and coke and retired to the corner to wait for the singer. As soon as he walked in the door, I knew he was the man I was here to see. I was sat in the roughest pub I’d ever had to wait in, surrounded by fighting and jeering and pissed up Men-with-a-capital-M shooting me evil looks, all seemingly waiting for me to give them the excuse they needed to kick my arse. I was (/am) six feet three inches tall. The Prospective was a portly hairy dwarf in thick black eyeliner wearing electric pink fairy wings, a tight black shirt, tight black jeans and platform boots. I admired his balls – he was certainly confident – but I shit a brick. I thought we were going to get fucking lynched. We sat and talked for a bit, exchanging nervous glances at the other clientele until he finally produced his demo tape. I put my headphones on to listen. It was shit. Great.
After this I decided to get people to send me demo recordings before I would meet them. On top of the sweary crack addict and violent drunkards, I lived bloody miles from Croydon so had wasted the best part of four hours on meeting a singer who couldn’t bloody sing. One chap – influences Suede, The Verve, The Cure – sent me a home-recorded 22-track minidisc album complete with typed lyrics and commentary notes for each song, a covering letter/personal press release attesting to his genius, and a complete manifesto that sprawled over two sides of A4 paper. 22 tracks ranging from the fucking awful to the utterly dreadful, and I listened to them all. Twice, just in case I missed something. Awful awful awful. The nadir was a Suede rip-off called Metal Lover that stole the opening drum beat from Killing Of A Flash Boy and the chords to Heroine and opened with the lyric “oh-ho, the chemicals…” Is this really what people heard when they listened to my favourite band?! Shit the bed…I’ve still got his minidisc somewhere as I feel bad about throwing away another person’s art, so I debated listening to it for the purposes of this entry. I looked at the minidisc and the minidisc looked back at me, but in the end, common sense prevailed. Life is too short.
On and on I searched, placing ads in the NME and Loot and answering every ad I saw from a singer whose influences sounded remotely agreeable. It got to the point where I was seeing the same sad adverts repeating over and over again and recognising the same sad hopeful people I had already declined from the wording of their ads. I had grown cynical by the time I received a couple of voicemails from a Scottish fellow called Ainslie. He seemed pleasant enough over the phone, but after the previous months I wasn’t exactly hopeful. I met him in a pub just off The Strand after work one day but I was irritated to learn he didn’t have a demo. Convinced he was another timewaster, I booked in a session in a rehearsal studio anyway to try him out. Paul, Ian and Andy couldn’t make it, so my friend Dave came along to give a second opinion. Dave and I sat at one end of the room attempting to be cool and nonchalant. We weren’t hopeful. He pulled up a chair, got right in our faces and totally blew us away. The boy could sing. He sang a couple of his own songs, did a version of the James song Laid, and then we talked for a while about how he wanted to deconstruct his songs, with Primal Scream’s XTMNTR and Radiohead’s Kid A as the main references. I was excited. We had totally found our man. I set up a session with the rest of the band as soon as I could and prayed that it would go ok on the day.
The audition finally came through and Ainslie aced it. He led us through some of his songs, and improvised over some of my sketches. Best of all was an 8 minute Krautrock/ambient techno hybrid that Andy and I had written. I was so proud of it. Ainslie improvised a melody and it was so totally, utterly right that I couldn’t believe it. The session ended on a high. As soon as he left we were all in full agreement: he HAD to be our frontman.
I left him a message the day after saying that we really wanted him to join our band, and Dave, Helen, a friend of Helen’s and I went to Brighton for a long weekend. I was jubilant: this band was going to be fucking awesome. We were all in the car on Brighton seafront, slagging off the debut single I had just bought by some band called The Libertines, when my mobile started ringing. It was Ainslie. I was buzzing and chipper.
He wasn’t up for it.
He had really enjoyed playing with us and we were all really nice and the songs were interesting, but he wanted to do something even MORE electronic, with electronic drums and synth bass, not a band. The musician’s equivalent of “it’s not you, its me.”
I hung up and was a bit gutted. I had met so many people by now and this had been the only good one. What the Hell was I going to do now?
The search for a singer continued.
I leaped headlong into a musical rebound fling with a young singer called Steve who I quite liked. He didn’t have the best voice, but he had a good attitude and he looked cool. I wasn’t sure about his name, though. I had some acquaintances in a band called Contempo, who had received a slagging off in the NME that had really stuck with me. They were branded as a band “…so suburban they have three members called Steve.” This had stung. Would two members called Steve be running the risk of similar ridicule in the press? We hadn’t written any songs together yet, but I felt I had to think of these things. More pressingly, he couldn’t write melodies. I needed someone to write vocal melodies. I was writing what I thought were good instrumentals but had no idea how to write a vocal line over the top. Convinced I could push him into it, I set up a rehearsal with Ian, Paul and Andy. All three of them thought his voice was shit.
I tried to argue the point – I was convinced he had potential – but they weren’t having any of it. I tried to write some songs with him regardless, but it was like banging my head against a brick wall. He didn’t even want to try, so another one bit the dust.
One Saturday we held an open audition. We would play some of my rocked-up instrumentals, and some potentials would come in and do their thing over the top. A four hour session was set up with a new singer every half hour. Some friends came along and had a few beers and gave second opinions. Come the end of the day, we still had no singer. This was getting really depressing.
On Sunday I decided to send Ainslie a text to see how he was getting on, and to offer my services as a guitarist if he was getting anything off the ground. He didn’t respond. On Monday I read a newspaper whose front page promised to reveal the line-up for a new BBC pop star-hunting talent show called Fame Academy. I knew what was coming before I even got to the article. I turned the page to see a picture of Ainslie staring right back at me in amongst the other hopefuls. Ah. I tuned in each week and watched his progress over the show with a pinch of bitterness. On the one hand, I kind of wanted him to do well as he was – from my experience – a nice guy. On the other, this show was bloody awful and he wasn’t really coming across as well as I thought he had when he auditioned for us. He was better than this. Regardless of whether it was with us or someone else. He certainly wasn’t writing the sort of songs he’d told us he bloody wanted to write.
While he did his thing on the TV each week, Ian, Paul, Andy and I continued plugging away. I was getting really fed up with the singer situation and the overall sound just wasn’t what I had hoped for. One song had developed an intro that just felt a bit…metal. We took time off for Christmas and as the year ended I realised I hadn’t actually achieved anything I had set out to do. I was sick of trying to keep everyone interested – Andy didn’t like the punkier, guitar-y songs, Ian and Paul were less keen on the electronic side, and I felt stuck in the middle, making too many compromises and feeling unsatisfied with the results. Realising that we were never going to agree on the musical direction I decided to fuck it all off and broke up the band.
I looked back over the year and thought about all the people I had met and collaborated with. Only two stood out: obviously Ainslie, who was by this time riding high in the pop charts with his debut single, and Deborah, who wasn’t. I had no idea what she was up to. Either way, as I listened to the handful of songs we had written together I realised that I needed to win her back. But how?
When (spoilers!) Deborah and started working with Simon Dempsey, he and I recorded a version of half the 8 minute song I had written with Andy Smith that is mentioned above. We never finished this, and sadly the original demo – complete with massive synth spaz-out outro – is now lost to the mists of time. I am still kind of convinced that one day I will find it, but for now, here is mine & Simon’s version.