This may turn into a series. Then again, it may not.
I met Squander Two through music: we were both in bands that kicked around Glasgow, so when he stayed at my house the other week we shared war stories about the dubious joys of playing music in public. The topic shifted to bands we’d been in as teenagers, and in particular a band I’d been in called Western Dream. After yet another tale of pomposity, stupidity and utter incompetence, Squander Two said: “You really ought to blog about this.” So here goes.
Western Dream were rubbish – even worse than the name suggests – but of course we didn’t believe that at the time. We were mighty warriors of rock, snake-hipped sex monsters with zero self-awareness, precious little playing ability, lots of spots and a singer called Kevin (he’s not called that now, so I don’t feel bad naming him). Kevin was a lyrical genius whose take on Margaret Thatcher, if played on the radio, would have changed British society overnight:
She’s cold as ice
She’s as welcome as lice
We all liked U2, but Kevin really liked U2. In fact, he liked U2 so much that he tried to be Bono. He adopted Bono’s on-stage drawl and even dressed like him – cowboy boots, black jeans, ruffled shirt… think Live Aid Bono and you get the idea. It was a pretty good facsimile, but Kevin differed from Bono in one key respect: Bono could sing.
Don’t get me wrong, Kevin could sing too – and when he was good, he was very good indeed. Unfortunately his relationship with the tune was rather rocky, and the slightest distraction would send his voice wildly off-key, never to return. As a result, rehearsals were essential: Kevin needed to rehearse songs until his body sang them on autopilot, because if he didn’t then he’d lose the key and howl like a recently bereaved walrus.
I can’t stress this enough: when he had the key, Kevin was a fantastic singer. When he lost the key, he created the worst noise imaginable, a sound that could smash glass, peel paint and make Shaun Ryder sound like Pavarotti. You know those old hand-cranked air raid sirens? Imagine one of them being forcibly inserted into a cat’s arse while Mariah Carey does a vocal warm-up inside a dustbin that’s being beaten with baseball bats.
We were booked to play Hot Gossip (yes, really) in Ardrossan, a pretty rough pub in a pretty rough bit of a pretty rough town. Two of the audience were in traction: one of them, I discovered later on, had escaped from a mental hospital. It was that kind of place. Still, we were going to get Â£130 for playing there. Sure, it was danger money but hey! We would win over the hostile crowd with our sheer rock power!
Just before the gig, Kevin spotted a rather attractive and relatively un-pierced girl at the bar. He caught her eye, got a smile, and swaggered over. The rock band frontman in full effect. After a brief chat, the conversation turned to music.
K: So what bands do you like?
Girl: All kinds of stuff. U2’s probably my favourite.
I can’t be sure, but I reckon that at this point Kevin’s voice magically transformed from deepest Ayrshire to begorrah-I’m-a-little-leprechaun as he did a little jig and waved a shillelagh.
K: Cool. We do a few U2 songs, you know. What’s your favourite?
Girl: Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For. I love that song.
K: Well baby, I’ll sing that song for you tonight.
I don’t think he actually said that last bit, but I’m sure he wanted to. Possibly with a Colgate tooth-flare and a sexy wink. It doesn’t really matter, though: Whatever the actual words were, Kevin promised to play Still Haven’t Found… and came over to tell us.
Me: I don’t think that’s a good idea.
K: Why not? You know how to play it.
Me: That’s not the point. We haven’t rehearsed it.
K: Come on, it’s easy!
Me: We’ll fuck it up.
K: No we won’t.
I wasn’t happy, but the rest of the band wanted to do it. Grudgingly I agreed, so we decided to do the song the way U2 was currently doing it live: one guitar and one vocal, then the rest of the band would kick in after the first chorus.
Mid-gig, Kevin announced that we were going to do a song “for a friend of mine”. I stomped on my delay pedal and started the riff. Kevin moved forward. He started to sing.
I have climbed highest mountains…
It was beautiful.
I have run through the fields…
It was like alchemy: take a bunch of ordinary, rather cloddish blokes, add a decent song and the result is something stunning. If you closed your eyes you wouldn’t hear a duff bunch of teenage wannabes; you’d hear one of the world’s biggest bands at the peak of their powers.
Only to be with you…
Kevin’s new friend was pretty impressed. So were we.
Into the chorus.
But I still haven’t found what I’m looking for…
The audience is singing along. Even the fella in traction. The girl is melting. Kevin’s not going home alone tonight.
The chorus ends, David the drummer clicks the sticks for a count-in, Chris the bassist slides down to the first note. Click-click-click-der-der-der – yeah!
We are kicking. Swiss-watch timing, perfect playing, the crowd’s totally into it. Kevin’s got his foot up on the monitor, Live Aid Bono in full effect. Into the second verse.
Waaaaaaaaaagh belEEEEEEEEEEEEVE inna KEEENGDUM CU-U-UUUUM!
Kevin’s lost the key. He doesn’t know he’s lost the key. He’s wiggling his arse in front of the crowd, yelping. They’re pissing themselves laughing. We’re pissing ourselves laughing. Traction man’s going to end up in casualty if he laughs any harder.
aaanallda KULLAAAAAS BLEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEED eeento WUNNNN!
David’s playing the drums with tears in his eyes. My gut hurts. Chris is hunched over, howling.
There’s around 70 people in the room, and every single one of them is absolutely killing themselves laughing.
He’s spinning now, oblivious to the effect he’s having. Occasionally he’ll stare right into the U2 girl’s eyes, at which point she does a very impressive job of looking awe-struck. The second he looks away, of course, she’s banging on the bar with her fists. The same happens with the rest of the crowd: when Kevin looks at them, they quickly put on their serious faces. When his eyes move on, they’re laughing even harder than before. The only one who doesn’t notice is Kevin. He’s deafened by the speakers, blinded by ego, honking like a startled goose.
burra stEEEEEEEEEEEEL HAVVA FAAAAAAAAHND WARRAMLOOOOOKINFAAAAAAAAAA!
The song ends. The audience gives a huge ironic cheer. Kevin turns around, beaming, and sees us.
David’s face-down on the snare drum, weeping.
Chris is sat next to his bass amp, giggling like a loon.
My cheeks are streaked with tears.
Kevin beams. “What’s next?””