Or I got bored of rock in 1988
Part three: in which some actual songs are actually performed in front of actual people, and sexual networks are utilised to find band members.
“To the exes: to Helen, Anna, Gemma and Mark. If you hadn’t fucked us, none of us would know each other.”
– early 586 band biography.
The Funky Munky, Camberwell. Thursday. It is our first night DJing here and it appears to be going well. It is going well. A bunch of our friends have joined us, and with We Got Bored Of Rock In 1988 ‘ruling’ East London on a Monday, we are convinced that domination of both sides of the river is imminent. The first night was fucking great. Unlimited bar tab? Yes please. Dancing punters? Yes please? Request for I’ve Had The Time Of My Life? Fuck off. The night flew by, and by the time it was all over we were hammered and up for a party. Mark Milan only lived round the corner, so co-promoter Dave White, my co-songwriter Deborah, Mark’s future wife Sarah, 586 muse Suzie and I – along with a couple of locals Mark knew – all stumbled round to his flat, picking up booze on the way. We piled into Mark’s living room, put some old dub records on and danced around his living room. It was tremendous fun, all of us talking absolute bollocks to anyone and everyone who would listen. Deborah and I very quickly did what we always did when we were drunk: we started talking up how amazing our band – the band with no members and only a handful of finished songs – was going to be. Someone – I can’t remember who – called our bluff. “Play us some songs!” he asked, pointing at the acoustic guitar in the corner.
“Yeah!” followed up another wag. “Play us some songs!”
At this point I have never sung in front of anyone before. Well, apart from Deborah, but that doesn’t count. I am shitting a brick, but on the plus side, I’m roaringly drunk. What could possibly go wrong? It feels like everyone is waiting. Not quite on tenterhooks, but certainly after all our bluster there is an expectation. I decide that actually, I don’t want to do this. Deborah has other ideas. Oh fuck. I pick up the guitar and we tear into Oh Suzie. Suzie is sat on a sofa directly in front of us and is highly amused. Or at least she seems to be. I can’t really look her in the eye. Or indeed her general direction. I picked a spot on the ceiling and refused to take my eyes from it. When we finish, everyone applauds. Blimey. Someone – no, not Suzie – starts dissecting the lyrics. They like that the song tells a story. Hurrah! We are asked to play more, so we play Like Good Liars, Eloping With The Devil and then cover Pulp’s Something Changed as a duet. It feels GOOD. We still don’t have a bassist or a drummer but boosted by this, we have something else we needed: confidence. Previously we could talk a good fight (assuming an appropriate level of alcohol was consumed, but that was all it was, just talk. We get back to the serious business of talking bullshit whilst drinking heavily and eventually everyone either goes home or finds a corner to pass out in.
Fired up by finally performing, the search for bandmates now starts in earnest. I started going out with a blonde girl named Vicky who lived in a little village in deepest, darkest Cambridgeshire. Her often hammered best friend Gemma had started seeing a chap who was – apparently – “beautiful”, could play guitar and program samplers, had a home studio and lived in a train station. He sounded cool so a meeting was arranged; we hooked up in a pub in Waterloo station. Simon Dempsey was even hairier than me. He had an amazing mop of proto-Harry-from-One-Direction-styled hair and played me some demos that featured house-influenced dance tracks, some guitar-y stuff and some hip-hop. The hip-hop stuff in particular sounded awesome, though the guy rapping over the top was called Kevin. Simon had potential, so we arranged a recording session at his home. The usual false starts put paid to the first session or two, but eventually we sorted a date and stuck to it. His house was part of Ewell West train station in Surrey. It was dingy, reeked of marijuana and looked like it was going to fall apart. It really was part of a train station. He lived there with a bunch of other guys who were all from Dymchurch and all unemployed. My main memory of the room is smokey darkness, the coldness of the house and the FHM pin-ups on the wall. Deborah’s is of the knife marks on the wall made by one of Simon’s angry exes.
I had come armed with a couple of bottles of rosé wine and a CDR with all the separate parts for I’m Terribly Sorry But I Can’t Actually Remember Your Name. Simon loaded them into his sequencer, the three of us had a listen to the song and a chat about the lyrics and the mood of it, and then we commenced work. We re-recorded most of the guitars first, then went mental on the percussion and whistles. I had forgotten that one of the guitar takes I had recorded at home ended with feedback being cut off by my mother comings into the room and screaming at me to stop making such awful noise. We used an EQ to turn her up, found some harp samples to make the middle 8 more exciting, and tapped a Pringles pot with a biro and put the resulting loop through a filter. Deb noticed that Simon had a cello and decided that the song NEEDED some cello. Simon was quite self-deprecating. He assured us he couldn’t really play it, and anyway, the strings were old so it would sound like crap. Deborah was insistent, so into the booth he went. With one improvised take he nailed it. Deb and I were bouncing up and down on his bed with excitement. Now only one thing was left: the vocals. Deb went first. I was putting things off as long as possible. She sounded great. The fucker. How was I supposed to follow that? I downed some wine and reluctantly went into the recording booth. Half an hour later, it was all done. Could have been worse, could have been better. When the night was finally over, we mixed it down and listened to the finished product. He had taken my rough recording of I’m Terribly Sorry and turned it into something that felt astonishing. We couldn’t stop playing it. He was in. We didn’t know what he was going to play onstage – the fucker could play everything – but he was in. We immediately set up more recording sessions. We were going to demo EVERYTHING.
Oh Suzie was next, then “…wires”, and then Like Good Liars. They were sounding really great. Deborah had a weird dream about marrying Simon in Vegas and came up with chords and lyrics for a song called Eloping With The Devil. By this time I was obsessed with Timbaland’s productions for Aaliyah and Missy Elliott, and I could hear this song as a loping, fuzzy Specials-do-hip-hop thing. I spent some time in my studio (bedroom) at my parents’ house creating a sleazy, Timbaland-inspired instrumental that was slow and dirty, with a sample from Blur’s Death Of A Party. Deb and I did some more work on it and then we transferred it to Simon’s studio, recorded vocals and fuzzed-up synth and it was done. It was our best demo yet.
Eventually Dave and Mark stopped doing the Vibe Bar. They realised before Deborah and I that it just wasn’t going anywhere: we would never get a shot at that sought-after later-in-the-week slot. We carried on, convinced that we were DJing somewhere cool and it would kick off eventually. We invited Mark and Leigh from Remodel to DJ with us for a bit and a loose entourage began to form. As Deborah and I started finishing demos, we triumphantly played them to our friends and ambivalent Monday evening drinkers, waiting for the day some random would come up and ask us what the amazing song we were playing was. There wasn’t exactly a queue, but our friends seemed encouraging.
Then, finally, Remodel had good news. They had been offered their first gig. It was to be at The Pleasure Unit in Bethnal Green supporting a Libertines offshoot called Yeti, led by bassist and obligatory boring one John Hassall. There was another slot on the bill, and if Deborah and I could get something together, it could be our first gig. We had Simon, Deborah had a friend based in Worthing who was provisionally interested in playing drums, and we had 4 weeks to get a set together. I was utterly desperate to play, but we didn’t have a bassist. I had really wanted Mark Milan to play as he was a friend and an amazing bassist, but he was too busy. In all honesty I’m fairly sure he just wasn’t into it but was too polite to say. Deborah and I umm-ed and ahh-ed over what to do.
Monday came round and once more I found myself playing demos in the Vibe Bar. At some point in the night, Mark Heff introduced me to his girlfriend, Samantha. She owned two bass guitars, as two separate friends of hers had bought her a bass guitar for her 21st birthday thinking she should be a bassist. She had never learnt to play either of them. Her favourite bands were Bis, My Life Story and Blur. Deborah and I were hammered, loved a good story and time was running out.
We had totally found our woman.
The first 586 demo, as recorded in mine and Simon’s bedrooms and then used to entice band members to join us.