Will it never end? - Part IV

DISCLAIMER: Some names in the following account have been changed to protect people's identities. If anyone reading this feels offended or that I have slighted them in any way, I truly apologise. If anyone reading this can learn any lessons about how not to succeed in the world of music, then all the better.

THE STORY SO FAR... Ayesha has suffered what a schism, ie half the band have quit. It's back to Cyberlizard and Rob (again).

Ayesha (cont'd)

I still believed in the basic musical vision that had led to the forming of the band, ie I was still as mule-headed and stubborn as ever, like two monitors both pulling at the same dead mouse. At this point I was not working, so I had plenty of time on my hands to do music. In fact, without music I didn't know what else I could do. Certainly at that point in history I'd more or less given up all hope of a normal, nine-to-five-house-in-suburbia-with-two-foreign-holidays-a-year career. I was ridden by a few obsessions at the time, and music oddly both filled a gap and drove me on restlessly.

Philosophising aside, it was time to put the ads out.

Our first new recruit was a chap called Alan Mulhead, a delightfully boffinish guitarist. Strictly speaking we didn't need another guitar, but Alan played MIDI guitar so I reasoned he would be able to fill out keyboard sounds. Apart from being a good musician he was also a garden-shed-geek and had built foot pedals, etc, etc. Living at home, he was also able to drive a very flash car, while his job in electronics didn't demand a smart haircut - hence he had a huge frizzy bush to offset his specs. I liked him, even though I occasionally used to get peeved at his forgetfulness and call him a "clot-faced doodlebug" (quote from Sir Nigel Molesworth). The MIDI guitar didn't really sound like the keyboards, but I felt we were building a team.

Our next man was Kev, a diamond young geezer who was really together and played excellent bass. He was into Queen and Status Quo, but was very versatile and could sing a bit too. He also ran his own cleaning business and yet still managed to make it from south-west London to practise in Catford. Kev actually turned out to be a real stalwart and stuck it the longest - looking back, his loyalty must have been stretched.

Singers were always going to be a problem, however. Not many people wanted to sing this sort of stuff, and of those that did, not all of them could sing. Alan brought a mate along who reckoned he could sing but who more or less just talked the songs, so that was a non-starter. We then had a reply from a young Geordie called Jay. Jay could sing well, being into the current metal wave of such bands as Guns 'N' Roses (not really my cup of tea, but technically very good). He had a few rehearsals with us, but unfortunately he got frightened off by some unknown goon at a party we all went to, and we never heard from him again. [Strange to relate I think I might have seen him a few years later at the Amersham Arms in New Cross with some musos who were supporting Jayne County. He was talking some nonsense in an American accent but I could have sworn it was him. The dark glasses didn't help].

So the four of us plodded along. By this time I had bought a second-hand sequencer, the mighty QX1, and was spending hours locked in my bedroom arranging material (luckily my landlady was rather deaf). Unfortunately we hadn't yet worked out how to get the sequencer synching with Rob on the drums, so we never were able to incorporate it into the act. In any event, without a singer we were going nowhere. Slowly the whole thing was running into the sands again.

Alan was the first to fall by the wayside. We liked him, but he was so forgetful that one day he just forgot to turn up. We were getting somewhat impatient of his erratic behaviour, so we put an ad out in Loot for his replacement - which he saw. That night we had a message on Rob's answer machine: "I resign".

In the end even good old Kev couldn't see it going any further. One night I'd gone round to Rob's for practise, only to hear that Kev had phoned, saying he'd joined another band. We didn't bear him any ill will, in fact we couldn't blame him. We just sat on the settee, laughed a little hollowly and put the kettle and the video on.

There were a couple of halfhearted attempts to get people in after that. One girl answered an ad and came round with a video of her, accompanied by her boyfriend-cum-manager, but as it was rather glam-cum-sexy-babe-type stuff, that was a non-starter. We then got in touch with two other guys who needed a drummer and a guitarist, and their bassist came around. I forget his name, but he hardly ever stopped talking from the moment he entered Rob's front room till the moment he walked out the drive. His last words seemed to be that most of the compromise would have to be on our part. We waited until he had gone, then fell about laughing.

And that was it, really. About five years of playing together, and Rob and I had very little to show for it apart from a few tapes and photographs and some amusing anecdotes. At the time it seemed a bitter pill to swallow, especially for me as I felt I'd been an albatross around his neck. Another proverb springs to mind, that a chain is only as strong as its weakest link. Maybe I'd been the weak link in the past, but I also felt I'd had to put up with a few myself.

Rob married Figen, his girlfriend, that year, and slowly it dawned on me that I couldn't just go round there any more and help myself to snacks out of the fridge, etc. I needed a break from the whole business and to sort the rest of my life out.

Mike, Rob, Jack and Cyberlizard

I spent the next few months getting back on my feet. Apart from having psychotherapy to try to get my head back together, I also made one of the best decisions of my life and embarked on a secretarial course. Now instead of a skill-less bum I was a certified touch-typist, capable of using a word processor. I was the only male on the course, but I got on well with the women on it and we had some good laughs.

Musically it was quiet, but occasionally Rob, Mick, myself and a friend of ours, "Taffy Clapton" would meet up for a jam in the studio. Mick was trying to move to guitar at this point and was into indie and fuzz boxes, so I would switch to the keyboards or his Rickenbacker bass for those "mellow moments" (sic). Between the four of us we managed to kick up quite a wall of noise.

In 1992 I actually, on the strength of my word-processing and secretarial qualifications, managed to wangle my way back into the IT industry. Actually they kept me on Employment Training money for as long as they could, but they were good people to work for and I learn a lot from them. I think it helped that my supervisor who interviewed me found out that I liked Rush, which was his favourite band. He was also a regular Kerrang! reader. Dave, if you're out there reading this, I owe you one. So I was now working again, and I had moved into a good house share with two other lads. My worldly joys were complete when I met Mrs Cyberlizard-to-be and we started courting, as they used to say. Interestingly, though, early on in the relationship we did have a, eh, interesting debate about the role of music in my life. But my wife has been very good and tolerant in that respect.

I did audition during this period for the group that Thomas was now playing in, "Sensitive Pachyderm". They seemed to have a bit of a problem with personnel turnover despite seemingly being relatively successful (relative to me, most bands were successful at that point), and this time it was the bassist and singer that had walked out. I met up with Thomas and the band's guitarist, Jon, for a drink and we all got on well. However, the audition itself was a disaster. I had gone back to playing my first bass, a tough but battered copy which had a neck problem that I was unaware of (duh....). My old Kay 50 watt amp had trouble keeping up and was buzzing from a loose cover, and worst of all, Jon, despite being a likeable man, turned out to be a bit of a control freak who wanted to supervise each note that I played. He examined my bass and announced that I'd need to buy a Fender Precision for about 300 (I, being the bassist, obviously didn't get to choose). We left it there, but next day Thomas phoned me, somewhat shamefacedly, beat about the bush a bit and then told me I hadn't got in. It turned out to be a blessing, really. Although they played the Marquee, they never could keep a stable lineup, and in the end it went a bit pear-shaped, culminating in Thomas's departure. It was a pity, because Jon did write some great songs, but then in music it's also about the chemistry of personalities. Coincidentally, Rob joined the band on drums at one point, only to quit later because he couldn't handle Jon telling him how to play either.

Bizarrely enough, three of us - Rob, Thomas and myself - all went out to a country studio one day to audition for the same band. I was auditioning on the bass and played reasonably well this time, but nothing came of it. Incidentally, lest you be impressed by the "country studio" bit, I should add that it was part of a farm, had mildew on the walls and the carpets, and looked the sort of place where you could catch TB if you hung around too long. I haven't been there since, but I think what keeps them in business is the fact that there's nobody else offering such a facility (practise, not TB) for miles around.

Now my self-confidence was returning, I felt the pull of group playing again, and put a tentative ad out in either Loot or the local paper. At first this seemed another doomed project, as I was rusty and the only people who responded were ones who wanted to do covers and "make some money" (ha!). I auditioned with one once, a teacher training candidate, and I played so erratically that I was embarrassed. Another guy was quite good but wanted me to play bass in what I think was an R'n'B band, which wasn't my cup of tea. Still, I persisted with another ad some time later, and soon afterwards I got a call from Mike.

After some of the loons I'd had to deal with, Mike was a refreshing change. He was a silver-haired accountant, married with kids, who was doing quite nicely in life but had the itch to play. Money was no object for Mike (within reason): he just needed to get out of the house for a few hours and have a jam. He was a pretty fair player too, and had some interesting old equipment that looked as if it had come out of a time capsule, notably a huge canvas-covered valve amp that took a little while to warm up and had the big plastic knobs, etc, which are so hip today.

Our first attempts beyond initial jam sessions at getting a group together weren't too successful. We had a jam down at the Catford studios with Rob plus a friend of mine, "Biff", on the keyboards. Rob was as superb as ever but family commitments meant he couldn't commit himself, while Biff was suffering quite poor health at the time. Also I was still keen to play the guitar and keyboards rather than the bass, so nothing came of it. Another night we went round to our old friend Thomas to see if he was interested in doing something, but again it was another unproductive session. Thomas tried to play as many notes as possible during his solo and afterwards began rambling on about his keyboard rig, at which point Mike ingenuously smiled, "I'm afraid it doesn't mean anything to me, Tom." So this first attempt failed, followed shortly by a curious interlude....

Byzantine Mk X (or whatever it was)

I can't clearly remember how this came about, but it might have been after one of my infrequent meetings with Lesley at a party at her place. I think we got talking about the old days (sic), and how good it would be to play together again, etc (musos are a maudlin lot sometimes). So tentatively we contacted Thomas, who was the only one of the originals available.

To be honest the whole thing was a fiasco. I think we had one complete session in Lesley's front room. Lesley wanted to rearrange some of the material, which Thomas and I weren't too sure about, and then we had an argument about the name of the band: Lesley and I wanted to retain the Byzantine moniker, but Thomas ummed and aahed and said he wanted to call it something like 'Back In The Box' (title of a Hawkwind song) or 'Ladyhawk' (anyone spot the band reference there?). We shot poor old Thomas down in flames, after which he then gave us another lecture on the fantastic capabilities of his equipment. This put me in an ill humour some days later when around at Thomas's parents, our keyboard player took an hour to fix what I considered to be a relatively easy problem with MIDI connections. Lesley never turned up and later reported car trouble. The omens were not good.

With the runup to my wedding only weeks away, Mrs Cyberlizard (as she is now) and I received a Saturday afternoon telephone call from Lesley.

"Thomas has just called me and said he's leaving the band!"

"WHAT?!....." (To be honest, my reactions were pretty mixed by now).

"Yeah, and listen to this.... he then tried to SELL ME his keyboard amp!"

Well, truth is often stranger than fiction. The Shameless One later phoned me himself, sounding somewhat shamefaced, saying how sorry he was but he wanted to get into a more pro band, etc.... I couldn't be angry with him, he was so apologetic. In any case it was almost a relief with the wedding so close. This time the corpse was truly laid to rest.

Back to Mike's place

Mrs CBLzd and I got married in April 1992 and moved into a rented flat in the middle of town. As luck would have it, one day we bumped into Mike and his family in the supermarket. He was as affable as ever and still keen to have a jam, so we renewed our acquaintanceship (friendship would be a better word, as he is a terrific guy) and started having sessions again. As the partner in a local firm of accountants, he also had access to his offices a few miles away at the weekend, and so we adopted a Saturday-morning jam policy. He would come round in his 4x4 and we would load up with the guitars, the basses and the MIDI gear, and we would set up in an office at the other hand and jam and learn material until a mutually agreed lunchtime.

After a while we decided we ought to think about getting a proper band together, so I put some ads out. We had a couple of replies, one of whom was a stocky, enthusiastic singer called Jack. Jack was one of the most musically-orientated people I have ever met, being not only a card-carrying rock magazine reader and singer but also a manager of a record retail outlet. He also turned out to be a great singer. He and Mike hit it off too as they were both pretty much into the rock mainstream. It was at this point that I decided I was going to switch over to bass full-time, since (a) I was fed up with advertising for bassists and (b) I liked the instrument anyway, being a big fan of Geddy Lee and Jack Bruce. Furthermore I had become aware that my playing skills on the guitar would need considerable quality time to get me up to the standard expected of Nineties players, while my performance keyboard playing was really limited to sustained chords held down organ fashion. It is a decision I have not regretted since.

We now had a line-up of guitar, bass and singer, with the mighty QX1 pushing out the drums and keyboard parts. I still felt we could do with a keyboard player, though, so I arranged for my young friend Simon to come along one day. He wanted to play guitar but I was hoping to get him to play at least 50% keyboard parts, since I respected Mike's guitar playing greatly as well. I have always felt that there was a bit of a misunderstanding at this point, because for some years after I laboured under the impression that I might have given Mike the idea that I was trying to replace him, which wasn't the case at all. Simon also quickly put paid to any ideas of him playing keyboards: he was a 100% guitar player. Jack liked him.

Mike rang me up a short while later. "Good guitar player, isn't he?"

"Er, yeah!"

"That's okay then, because I've got to pull out for a while... we're moving house."

I think this was a genuine thing on Mike's part, but I worried about it until years after he assured me that he hadn't felt pushed out. I do regret not having played with Mike more since then, but who knows.... a couple of reunion jams might be around the corner.

The Band With No Name

So now it was Jack, Simon and myself, plus the sequencer. Jack was adamant that we should do some covers and get a proper drummer with a view to doing gigs, which was going to be difficult as Catford Studio was closing down (soon to be demolished) and with Mike gone we had no ready-made practise room. One night we actually booked a rehearsal room on a hospital site and had a practise up there, with Rob sitting in on the drums. I think Jack couldn't actually make it that night, so we ended up playing as a power trio plus sequenced keyboards. I remember that this was the first time I'd got a drummer to play along to a sequencer, using a drum track going through headphones, and I felt pleased that at last this side of things was working.

Sadly Jack was always torn by conflicting priorities. Not only was he married and in a busy retail job, but he was also a keen supporter of one of the big London clubs, which took him away most Saturday afternoons and left less time in the week. The final breaking point came when he was offered another branch, or branches, somewhere in Kent. He was actually pretty good and said he didn't want to hold us back, which I respected, but it was a case of the promised telephone call that never got made. This was before Christmas, and early in the New Year Simon and I began to reconcile ourselves to the idea that we wouldn't be playing with him again. Apart from the fact that he was a good singer, we liked Jack and our political discussions down the pub. But it was not to be.

To be continued..... in the Space Truckers

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