1983. With a year under my belt at the RNCM and now on a concerted mission to escape, no matter what it might take, I had joined forces with two similarly likeminded friends to form a ‘horn section’. Trumpet, trombone, and sax, we called ourselves ‘Rebop’, a nod to the retro and all things ‘Bebop’, a 1940’s jazz sub-genre that was making a comeback in pop music at this time. Local Manchester bands such as ‘The Jazz Defektors’ and ‘Carmel’ would look to include brassy ‘bebop inspired’ elements if they could, not to mention ‘Working Week’ with the great Harry Becket, and Sade, who we would later meet whilst supporting her at the Ritz with the aforementioned JD’s. So it was simple, with a horn section, we could bolt ourselves onto the ‘already successful’ and rise from our classical ashes like the proverbial phoenix, but with no further need to hang out with our throwback friends in the college refectory. Not that simple, as it turned out.
‘Rebop’ soon augmented itself into a full band and inexplicably changed it’s name to ‘Blast of Defiance’, a move which would inevitably cause embarrassment and shame, thrusting us in a trajectory that was going nowhere, fast.
And then a light bulb illuminated itself.
Why don’t we write to Tony Wilson? Surely he would be able to assist us in our quest for freedom, and ideally, stardom? In our eyes, this man was the definition of cool. Not for the fact that he was the ‘anchor man’ for ‘Granada Reports’ but more specifically because he co-owned the ‘Hacienda’, the coolest club in Manchester by far, and also ran ‘Factory Records’ which, a few years earlier, had signed ‘Joy Division’. (I say ‘signed’, but in actual fact nobody signed anything at Factory. Their 50/50 deals were all hung on a handshake, a two fingered gesture to the ‘established’ mainstream record industry that had tap-rooted itself to the smug of London, and where it remains to date)
Our sax player, who was studying at the University, and to be fair, had a better chance of writing anything legible, was enlisted to pen our request, which when loosely transcribed, read, ‘Giz a job’. We certainly didn’t expect a reply, but a couple of weeks later, when the three of us found ourselves in the same room (as of course this was before emailing, texting and tweeting) it became apparent that Mr Wilson would like to have us perform for him in a private audition at the Hacienda at 10.30 AM the following Saturday morning. Nothing like this had ever happened to any of us before, it felt like we had won the ‘pools’ and we hadn’t even met the man. After much deliberation and frantic rehearsal we chose the Charlie Parker classic, ‘Yardbird Suite’ as our test piece. When the day came, and with the music memorised, we would embark on an adrenalin-fuelled walk down Oxford Road and on to Whitworth Street West where the curves of the Hacienda waited patiently for us. As we turned the corner, the first thing I spotted was Tony’s ‘British Racing Green’ MK 2 Jaguar parked up outside. From memory it was a ‘Vicarage’ rebuild with classic exterior and ‘state of the art’ interior and like the Union Jack, raised high above Her Majesty’s palace, this was proof enough that he was actually in there and we weren’t taking part in some kind of cruel dream (I have, from this point in my life, had a deep and meaningful love affair with the Jaguar MK2, indeed I would, some years later, buy for myself an inferior ‘Old English White’ example which would massively back fire on me as the ‘classic’ market crashed in the early 90’s, but would at least compensate me on my wedding day)
We were to set up on the dance floor, which was strewn with plastic cups, cans, bottles and flattened cigarettes, evidence of a popular Friday night out. This giant ex-ship-building space seemed unusually quiet and empty and as we looked up to the balcony just to the right of the famous suspended DJ booth, like something out of Hollywood, three shadows could just be made out. I instinctively new this was going to be important.
The music industry today is, perhaps, one of the rudest and ill-mannered environments known to man. As a songwriter, I can tell you that communication, be it to deliver the good news or the bad, is an essential commodity if the creative juices are to be kept flowing. Ironic then, that the advancement of technology which has opened up creative opportunity for so many (that would have ordinarily fallen at the first expensive hurdle) has allowed people in power to treat their associates with such disrespect. I am of course talking about the ‘unanswered email’.
Thanks to the MP3, finished mixes these days are delivered in this way. Fast and convenient, seconds after the production is complete it can be sitting in the ‘A n R’s’ inbox.
If I turn in a piece of work that is deemed ‘great’, I am showered with a plethora of email goo.
“this is genius” “loving the vibe” “out and out smash”
It will just keep coming.
If I turn in a piece of work, that is deemed ‘not great’, I am, then hit, by a wall of deafening silence. Then, of course, comes the dilemma.
Are they being rude? Or perhaps the email has not reached them? Self doubt, paranoia and a sinking Sunday feeling (even though it might be Tuesday) sets in and you know it’s only wishful thinking to suspect the technology may have let you down. I am of course not advocating going back to the days of driving to the post office with a cassette tape (always special delivery, to avoid the fabricated ‘lost in the post’ old turkey) and waiting for the phone call months later to receive feedback. No. Email is much better. It is the people at the other end who are to blame. Email has spawned an unwelcome culture of laziness, an inability to engage and just be honest.
“your tune is shit” “your lyrics are weak” “no one will play this”, would be music to my ears.
Back at the Hacienda, we wait patiently for the signal.
“ok darlings” Wilson shouts out, “off you go”
And so we did, blasting out our ‘Yardbird’ with defiance.
And then there was silence. But, soon enough, out of the morning fug of this unlit industrial space, emerged a small and skinny man with ‘John Cooper Clark’ hair. We honestly thought he was one of the staff, helping to clear up the place from the previous night.
“Hi, I’m Vini, I’d like you to play on my next album”
None of us new much about ‘The Durutti Column’, a post punk guitar and drum combo, that showcased the genius of Vini Reilly. Indeed it wasn’t until we got home and offloaded the news to our ‘viola playing’ housemate that we could judge, by his vivid shade of green, how special the gig we had landed was.
With a date in the diary to record at ‘Strawberry Studios”, I had somehow, from somewhere, landed the beginnings of my great escape. Tony Wilson, may you rest in peace.