Friday, 20 May 2011

Rock Family Trees... and other stories

After yesterday’s post, with my mind full of Suede recollections, I thought it was high time I looked out Pete Frame’s Suede-themed ‘Rock Family Tree’. I’m a massive fan of his band line-up trees – appealing as they do to the diagram-geek in me, and no doubt a subconscious influence on my own ‘Saliva Tree’ diagrams. All things considered, then, it’s probably one of my life’s big achievements to actually be featured on one (albeit only riding on the coat tails of a friend with genuine musical talent!). Nothing can detract from the fact that I was once the lead singer of a band only four degrees of separation away from Morrissey...


On Wednesday I blogged about Artmagic, yesterday I blogged about Suede – so today I thought I’d complete the circle in unashamedly self-indulgent and reverse chronological fashion by mentioning my old band TED, aka The Electric Daffodils.

As Richard Oakes’ wikipedia page correctly points out, we in fact started life (embarrassingly for me) as ‘PIPATED’ aka Plug-in Peter and The Electric Daffodils. The origin of this is lost in the sands of time, it was all a big joke. At this stage, aged 13, the entire purpose of the band was to meet round each other’s houses and make stupid noises into microphones. In the year that followed we recorded classics like ‘Uncle Doug’ (screaming into microphones), ’30 Seconds of Noise’ (screaming into microphones), ‘PC Thirty One (a truncated Beatles cover that ended up with us screaming into microphones) and... well, you get the picture.

By 92, we’d dropped the ‘Plug-in Peter’ and decided to get a bit more serious. Richard and I had become obsessed with PiL and The Cure, and started to flex our songwriting muscles. He wrote tunes, I wrote words – so I became the singer by default.

We lived in a strange little world, gently exploring the private fantasy of being in a ‘proper band’ – in my case ignoring the fact that I genuinely possessed not one iota of musical or singing talent. We met round our friend Colin’s house to record what we thought of as our ‘debut album’ – 30 original songs. Lyrically I didn’t confine myself to the usual teen fodder... ‘Pretentious’ could possibly just about cover it. ‘Jupiter and Thetis’ was inspired by an Ingres painting. ‘Last Days’ was about the death of Picasso. One song, ‘The Empty Upper Victorian Modernism’ had lyrics which I improvised on the spot (with the net result that they were shit). All the songs were strictly one-take wonders, usually with Rich being note perfect and me off key and off tempo like a first-round X Factor reject.

To give us our due, though, looking back these bedroom based rehearsals were just sheer fun – a completely safe environment to mess about. It speaks volumes that I was happy to sit in a room and sing my most embarrassing teen poetry to Richard and he never ever laughed. I like to think I also gave him a bit of space to try out some songwriting ideas.

When our ‘debut album’ (entitled ‘Sod It!’) was ‘released’ we recorded several copies and gave them to classmates to listen to. Most people were mildly impressed with Richard’s guitar playing, but less enamoured of my opaque lyrical mumblings. This was best summed up by a class-mate who re-christened our band ‘BOB’ – aka ‘Bunch of Bollocks’

Undeterred, we started work on our difficult second album. I wanted this to be even more serious and introverted – a statement of drab teeny angst called ‘Outside’ with twelve tracks thematically linked. We moved out of Colin’s bedroom and started to rehearse in various church halls in Poole.

Our attempts to rehearse with live drums and bass proved difficult – several school colleagues came and quickly went, but eventually we found a regular drummer – a 13 year old friend of a friend called Phil. I took on the bassist role for want of any alternative.

Around this time we played our first and only gig at the ‘Alf a Crown Bar’ in Poole. Amazingly we still have the entire thing, including the soundcheck, on cassette tape. Our rehearsal of the song ‘Tondo’ is memorably stopped mid flow by an angry man with a strong Dorset accent who storms in to complain about the noise.

The gig was a family party, a context for which our music was crashingly inappropriate. This is best demonstrated by the cover versions we foisted on grannies and kids that evening – ‘Pornography’ by The Cure, and ‘Four Enclosed Walls’ by PiL. The latter garnered nothing, not a single solitary smile or handclap. Needless to say we never got to do our encore.

Undeterred once again, we booked into a local studio to launch our assault on the mainstream record industry – with a taster demo of our ‘Outside’ album.

‘Sally’s Studio’ was a makeshift recording facility run by a young guy called Jason from a house in Poole. Richard, Phil and I rolled up on the big day somewhat unprepared. He wanted to lay down the TED rhythm section first and overdub vocals and guitar later – not realizing that Richard’s guitar was the only trace of glue that held our performances together. We had to hurriedly crouch on the floor and write out song structures – yet still, several takes later, Jason announced there was “little he could do” about my lack of rhythm.

Richard stepped up and delivered four beautiful, first-take guitar overdubs whilst Phil and I turned green with envy.

“Wow, that was really, really good!”, enthused Jason. He was clearly finding the disparity in our abilities difficult to fathom, a feeling no doubt exacerbated when I came to put my wispy, frail, weedy vocal overdubs on the four tracks, ‘Outside’, ‘Parsifal Song’, ‘Doomed Man’s Smile’ and ‘Secant’.

The demo tape was (as you might expect) rejected by all the labels we sent it to – including Suede’s parent label Nude. A year later however, Richard sent the band a copy of the tape as evidence of his own songwriting. I gather they thought it was quite good – although as Suede manager Charlie later said to me “the singing was shit”.

Richard did come close on several occasions to re-using Sod It and Outside era TED bits for Suede songs – although admittedly the only time a TED fragment actually made it to disc was when the melody for ‘Outside’ became the bridge section of the Suede b-side ‘Together’.

One day we’ll unleash our third album. The world had better watch out…

2 comments:

  1. Sorry for being such a tit all those years ago. I do remember having TED = BOB tipp-exed on my pencil case. I think I was just jealous. Hope all is well. Steve

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    1. Ha ha! Don't worry Steve. I remember lots of people being absolutely horrible at school but you weren't one of them, I knew everything you said back then was lighthearted and joky (and you were right we were, mostly, a bunch of bollocks…) I'm good thanks, hope things are grand with you. Pete

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