I hesitate to use the term “Bucket List”, but shall we just say that on Sunday I got to tick off one of my lifelong ambitions.
I got to play in a band.
I’ve talked elsewhere here about what a huge part music has always played in my life. Since the early seventies, I have bought records, later cassettes, then CD’s, and finally digital downloads (yes I know it’s unfashionable and quaintly old fashioned but I do still like to pay for my music). I got a summer job in a film processing factory when I was 15 and used the money to buy my first hi-fi. Since then I’ve owned radios, turntables, reel-to-reels, 8-tracks, tape-decks, Walkmans, Diskmans, iPods, iPads and most other music related devices devised by man. We have shelves and shelves of neatly organised CD’s, and the ones that don’t fit on the shelves are stacked in boxes in the wardrobe.
But always a consumer. A passive listener. Well OK, not so passive in the late seventies, there was a fair bit of drunken jumping up and down and indiscriminate spitting going on in those raucous days. What I mean is, I was always in the mosh-pit looking up, rather than on the stage looking down, which was where I always really wanted to be.
The urge to make music has never gone away. I’ve owned three or four guitars over the years, and devoted many hours to learning to play them, with faltering, painful progress and ultimately limited success. A couple of years ago I bought a keyboard and have had a little more success with that. The logical and predictable layout of the keys seems to make more sense to my methodical mind.
Any road up. During my last stay in hospital I got a phone call from my great island friend Al. I was to hurry up and get fit because he and a few of our drinking buddies were forming a band, and I was to play keyboards. Strictly weekend-warrior stuff. Mostly covers and spoofs, and lots of beer and laughs. No pressure. No minimum entry qualifications. I was thrilled of course, and a little scared.
So, on Sunday, the official house band of The Legless Arms held its first band practice in our friend Rob’s barn. The venue carefully selected for it’s geographical and sonic isolation, we weren’t going to disturb anybody other than ourselves and a few sheep. The great thing about bands of middle-aged men is that they always have equipment and instruments disproportionate to their talent. Between us, we were able to assemble an impressive array of loud amps, expensive guitars, keyboards, mikes and other stage paraphernalia. About the only thing missing was a laser light-show and a smoke machine.
We don’t have a name yet. This has been the subject of much beer-fueled debate. Front runner at the moment is The Surfdale Palm Court Orchestra, an obvious choice because none of us live in Surfdale, we are not an orchestra, and we don’t play palm-court music. The other contender is The Bad Livers, which I think has a certain ring, but there is some concern that this might already be taken.
Let me introduce the band. Put your hands together please for… on vocals and rhythm guitar Big Al Knight. On lead guitar (a very nice Gibson SG), is Rob “Rob” Meriddith. Bruce Davis-Goff on Bass (absent due to surprise mother-in-law visit). On vocals and percussion, a big Waiheke welcome for Helix Daunting (A.K.A. Alex Duncan) and the lovely Vrinda. And finally on keyboards, for the very first time anywhere in the world, please give it up for Linds “Chemo Boy” Redding. SFX:Wild applause.
Incidentally, the band has collectively decided to dispense with the services of a drummer. They tend to smell, drive expensive cars into hotel swimming-pools, and choke on their own vomit.
The plan was, we were all to turn up with one song we wanted to do. I chose “Send Lawyers, Guns & Money” by Warren Zevon. Alan came up with a demented, punk/psycho-Billy version of “Viva Las Vegas” in tribute to Legless Arms totem and role model Hunter S. Thompson, and Rob surprised us with a ska/reggae arrangement of John Denver’s “Leaving on a Jet Plane”, which Alex quickly re-wrote on the spot as a moving lament on the perils of over imbibing during international air travel entitled “Heaving on a Jet Plane.” Finally our star vocalist Vrinda, belted out another Alex composition, a heartbreaking twelve-bar blues “Growing Old Ain’t Easy”
Getting old ain’t easy,
though it comes with perks.
Your couch becomes your best friend,
while your kids turn into jerks.
Your friends and neighbors drift apart,
and so does your mid-section.
You search and search on-line for things
to give your life direction.
I’m getting older…
So how were we? Well absolutely bloody terrible obviously.
Unorganised, uncoordinated, unprepared, and unskilled. But also utterly unrepentant and uplifted. Most of the time we just made an unholy din, but there were a few fleeting moments where, entirely co-incidentally, we all found ourselves playing roughly the same chords and notes more or less at the same time. For just a brief few seconds, we were actually making real music. And it was totally bloody joyous and transcendent.
I can’t wait for next Sunday.