Looking back… and, finally, forwards
Periodically, I’m reminded that half of my life is an utter clusterfuck of my own making. Through my own entirely unforgivable actions I’ve lost most of the people I thought were my closest friends. I’ve burnt bridges so completely and thoroughly that no amount of hammering and sawing is ever going to rebuild them.
I might have been mentally ill – in a dark, profound depression so private that not even my closest friends ever suspected- compounded by the brain tumour that was busily spending a decade or so fucking with my mental state, but there we are. I’m 42 and largely friendless – barring a few amazing exceptions.
And among the casualties was my beloved band. The core of the band were three of us who had played together since we were 15-16 when Madchester happened. Over the years various people came and went under various iterations of the band, but me, the drummer and the bassist were an inseparable unit for 20 years – and most of my happiest musical memories are bound up with the gigs we played and the songs I wrote for us.
We also have a tiny legacy of 17-18 songs we actually recorded (a fraction of the songs I actually wrote: a recent tally, allowing for my faulty memory, still clocked in at 104 titles I can remember).
Listening to them now does what music always does: transports me to a different time and place. The songs might be underpowered, vaguely silly, poorly recorded, badly played or even just plain ol’ bollocks, but they are bound up so closely with who I am (or was) that I find it impossible to be objective about them. These are the songs of my life: reflections of who and where I was at the time I wrote them. I destroyed it as effectively as I destroyed my other bonds, but unlike those bonds, there are tangible relics in the forms of the songs I wrote for us.
Jesus this is tedious isn’t it? Sorry. I’m just in a place where I finally have time to breathe and look back over the ruins of the last few years to the happier times beforehand… and, perhaps, to happier times ahead.
During the Britpop wars, we gallantly fought for the honour of Leeds. At music industry shindig Sound City – held in Leeds in 1996 – we were headlining the Duchess of York on Friday nights to crowds 200 strong while Embrace were third on the bill on Wednesday nights and Radiohead were supporting Sultans of Ping FC (true story). Personally, my ambitions were for actual commercial success. I slaved over my bouncy, 3-minute ditties with one simmering eye of resentment on the success enjoyed by second-tier bands like Dodgy and The Boo Radleys. “Why,” I wondered, “can’t it be me?”
The answer was, of course, that they were blessed with intangibles: some degree of luck. Not coming from Leeds. Being good looking. Maybe knowing the right person. Not having a taste for terrible shirts. The X factor, if you will. The usual things that separate success from failure in the notoriously fickle biz we call show. Creation records might have written to us to tell us we had some promise, but really we were like a billion other bands.
When we played In The City in Dublin in 1997, the Stereophonics were playing at the other venue, we were thrashing about on stage, billed by the official guidebook as “another of those West Yorkshire Britpop bands.” That, my friends, truly hurt – as accurate as the description might have been.
So, here is our recorded legacy – transferred from cassette into MP3 format, and with all the sound quality you’d expect.
After Sleepwalker crumbled, the band dissolved under twin pressures: being a three piece and the time-honoured killing fields of ‘musical difference’. Being a three piece is hard work – especially if you’re the singer and guitarist, at not particularly good at either. Moreover, my taste for unashamedly catchy choruses was irritating the other lads, who were moving on to more esoteric styles: particularly informed by the experimental likes The Beta Band in particular.
Try as I might, all I could write were irritatingly jaunty pop songs, and the lads wanted to go lo-fi and psychedelic.
Our split lasted under a year before we were drawn together by another shared experience: finding other musicians we got along with was hard. Bound at some deep psychological level, we got back together – determined to find a middle ground between my pop sensibilities and the kind of cool experimentation the lads fancied.
We did a bunch of mainly awful gigs with an entirely unsuitable keyboardist, and spent interminable hours recording aimlessly – hoping that we’d hit on something great by chance. If you wanted to draw an unlikely comparison, this was our post-Sgt. Pepper lull: messing around, assuming that something would happen eventually and we wouldn’t have to put any real spadework in.
I was afraid of pushing my tunes on the band so we churned out stuff that sounded superficially cool but never went anywhere. I’ve got hours of this guff on CD and can’t bring myself to transfer it. Here’s a sample.
And suddenly, we were all 30. Married. I had one kid with another on the way. For 7 dreary years, we’d allowed our skills to grow weak on the thin gruel of one gig a year and ‘rehearsals’ spent fucking around with echo effects. As a band we were nothing. The mates who’d followed us in the early years would occasionally ask when we were going to do something again…. and we never were. But, slowly, I’d started to write again. Dribs and drabs of songs that we could actually agree on.
The drummer invested in some recording gear and our sessions began to take some kind of shape. Slowly, bit by bit, we began to build a new sound for ourselves. Reining in my natural instincts for inane choruses, we started to build a rockier sound: a foundation for a burst of creativity that really we didn’t see coming.
I don’t have most of the tracks from this time, but the first two songs in this playlist indicate where we were: striving, perhaps a little self-consciously, to be ‘cooler’ and more grown up than we had been in our pomp.
And then, tragedy forced our hands. An old school friend was dying: in the terminal stages of Motor Neurone disease. A local pub hosted a ‘battle of the bands’ to raise money (to my eternal shame I have no idea whether the money was for charity or directly for his family) and we were shanghaied into pulling together a set. We played more in two months than we had in the preceding 8 years and suddenly remembered the joy of live playing.
And better still, we picked up an old school friend who could really play guitar. By the time he joined us, we had a tentative 10 song set lined up to make an actual album. He never got to play on it, but his arrival was the spark we needed to knuckle down.
Looking back on the internal chaos my life was in at the time – and the various psychological problems I was juggling – it amazes me that I found the time to write at all. And some of these songs I still rate.
We duly uploaded them to iTunes and Spotify and learned the hard way that there’s no money in it. Including equipment and time, we spent probably £10k on our album, only to earn the princely sum of £5.18 from streaming in the three years it was on distribution.
So, as both of you – my readership – are so loyal: here is the whole album for FREE.
Ian Freud isn’t my real name, of course – merely a moniker I adopted to maintain a degree of anonymity: it’s “Freudian” in reverse, which tickles me, but it also works as a plausible name. And so, by happenstance, that’s who I am now. Ian Freud is to me what”Elton John” is Reginald Dwight – albeit decidedly less flamboyant.
Of course, this is to protect myself from my own actions – as I alluded at the top of this post. I’m misunderstood and to some degree forced to live in the shadows.
And yet, I’ve found myself (as I drearily went on about in my last post) suddenly free from the constraints of collaboration. I don’t have to compromise my songs to accommodate the tastes of others, but am free – thanks to technology – to cobble together what I want to. I want collaborators (and have some lined up for a couple of songs that really need better musicianship) but I’ve suddenly got a fierce hunger to create again.
Would I like a band – to feel the joy of live performance again? Hell yes. Would I like someone to argue with about the structure of the songs or to force me to write better lyrics? Maybe more than ever.
But, for the time being it’s like a dam has burst. Half-finished ideas are coalescing into unified creative articles. The playing and recording might be rough. The songs might be inane tosh. But they keep coming and for first time in years I feel able to run with them, free from the fear of being judged by anyone else’s tastes. By the end of the spring, I will have an album together and as Jesus himself once said: fuck ’em.