I Am The Drummer (In A Rock ‘n’ Roll Band)

This weekend we have mostly been recycling. At least that’s what I call it; Mrs Aitchworld calls it dumpster diving, despite not even being American. To explain, the mechanics in the garage over the road have ordered in a big skip and are having a clear out. The owners of the garage decided they would utilise it to clear out their homes as well and they turned up on Saturday afternoon and disgorged the entire contents of a Mitsubishi Shogun into the skip. It’s a long wheel base one, so there was plenty coming out of it!

I only paid scant regard as it was happening, but after they had gone, I noticed there was a large amount of primary coloured plastic now adorning the skip. This could only mean one thing – kids’ toys! It was hard to tell from across the yard to the garage, but there looked to be several items in near perfect condition, lying now in what the owners thought would be their final resting place. My intrigue was piqued though so I had to inspect further.

There were indeed many toys, all of them in good order and working condition and the mountain of plastic tat we already have in the playroom has swollen somewhat. As regular readers (if any exist outside of my head) will know, there is a musical theme that runs through this blog and music is something I hold dear, so I was especially pleased that I could rescue a small keyboard (in working order still with batteries in it) and a complete toddler-sized drum kit from said skip. The stand for the cymbal was missing, but I soon fashioned one with a bit of dowel and a couple of screws and a few washers.

Now most parents couldn’t think of anything worse than a drum kit that a toddler can play, but I like it. For a start, when I can hear Henry or Arthur bashing away at the drums or playing the keyboard, I know where they are. It gives me and Mrs Aitchworld a chance to get on with something else without constant supervision of the boys. The time to worry is when it all goes quiet.

Considering music is so important to me, it is something of a surprise that I waited until I was about 42 before I actually learned to play a musical instrument seriously, which was when I started to go to Ukulele club. First rule etc., etc. Beyond this, I have been known to have the odd toot on a harmonica over the years, but I wouldn’t say I was proficient in any way with one. Same goes for the keyboard – I can knock out a rough tune but I’m no Rick Wakeman. I tried to learn the guitar when I first went to high school, but the teacher was crap and didn’t inspire me at all and so I soon gave up.

I would love for the boys to be able to play instruments. It’s down to them, of course, but I will be trying to influence them. However, if I am totally honest with myself, it may be that I am trying to live my life vicariously through them now; for them to take up the baton where I dropped it. I’m not talking about the giving up of the guitar lessons. No, I’m talking about me and some guys from school; we had a band but we didn’t try hard.

By any stretch of the imagination, it was a short-lived affair, starting when we were about 17 and ending, when we were, erm, well about 17 really. A friend, Karl “Woody” Wood, had parents who owned a holiday cottage in Wales somewhere and visited it most weekends. He offered their home as a place for us to converge and practice our music. We weren’t so much a garage band as a living room, spilling out into the conservatory, band. We were middle class kids living in a small market town in Cheshire, after all. We had to give him some credit for this, so we did it by way of the band’s name and called ourselves Woody’s Comet.

The line-up consisted of Steve, who played guitar. Only he didn’t. He just owned a guitar and a fancy amp with various inputs that we could all use. He justified his position in the band by stating that he was musical and came from a musical family – his four sisters and his mum could all play instruments with flair and to be fair, Steve could play the trumpet. But not the guitar. Not a single note. We did suggest that he play his trumpet in the band, but this was stupid, for a rock group, apparently.

We also had Mark, who did have a guitar and could actually play it, so until Steve got to grips with it, we at least had a guitarist. We could sort out guitar pecking orders at a later date – we had enough issues in the rhythm section for now to contend with.

Damon could, he said, play drums but he didn’t own a kit. He said he was saving to get one. So that’s okay then. Complementing this rhythm section was not one, but two bass players, Jez and Karl (Woody). Having a surplus of talent, if that’s what we could call it (and if we’re being entirely honest about things, we couldn’t) should be a good thing, but Jez and Karl couldn’t agree on who was going to be lead bassist and who was going to be the rhythm bassist. It was a never ending battle. At least they had bass guitars and were reasonably proficient at playing them.

Finally, complementing the line-up was yours truly, on vocals and keyboard, the latter of which doubled up as a drum machine until Damon had saved up enough money from helping his dad on his ice cream round to buy a drum kit, and I also provided a tape-to-tape ghetto blaster with several line-in ports that would allow me overdub and mix.

The only problem with the keyboard aspect of my position in the band was that the instrument in question belonged to my mother and it wasn’t allowed to leave the house under any circumstances. I wasn’t a lot better than Damon in that respect. Any synthesiser sounds and drum beats would have to be overdubbed later from the comfort of the Aitchworld familial home.

We had a plan. Sort of. I wrote a few lyrics (I still remember the title of the first song I penned, “Children of the Night” – Mark claimed recently he still might have my scribbles of this song somewhere) and even designed an album cover of sorts, but I did it in the size and shape of a cassette case because that was the format our music would first be produced onto. The rest of the band would then come up with a tune to suit the lyrics. This was how all bands did it, right?

Well they may have but it didn’t work for us. None of us could agree on a tune. Naturally I had the basis of a tune in my head when I composed the lyrics, Steve had another once he saw them, Jez and Woody were arguing about who was the lead bassist, Mark sat quietly in the corner and every time Damon came up with anything it was summarily dismissed as sounding too much like the tune emanating from his dad’s ice cream van.

Eventually, Damon quit and Woody got married; I should have known we wouldn’t get far. It was the summer of ’89…

I jest. Woody didn’t really get married. Damon didn’t have a role to quit from because he never got the drum kit. His dad was also a woodwork teacher as well as running an ice-cream van and he did whittle some drumsticks up on the school lathe, but the drum kit to go with them was never forthcoming.

I don’t recall now whether we ever recorded much. I vaguely remember a tape-cassette existing of some of our work, but I have no idea how much or whatever happened to it. In fact I don’t remember us actually playing much at all either. It was about this time that we discovered alcohol and smoking, aided and abetted by the off licence that would serve us, knowing full well that we were underage, and the girl of only a couple of years older than us who worked there and used to advise on what best to drink to get the maximum hit. It was something different every week.

In particular I remember the snakebite we made using Special Brew and Diamond White. In fact just thinking about it has conjured up the taste of it in my mouth. This is probably why we tried something different every week because we didn’t want to taste it a third time. How we managed to clear up the vomit from the bathroom (and kitchen, and conservatory, and front lawn, and patio) before Woody’s mum and dad returned from their weekend in Wales is both a mystery and a miracle.

Needless to say, this activity got in the way of actually playing and being creative. I do have a vague memory of us playing something only to find at the end of it we hadn’t started the tape to record our masterpiece. I guess it was at this point that we decided that we weren’t quite cut out for it.

We had fun along the way though, and this is what I would like for Arthur and Henry, minus the smoking and drinking-until-they-vomit part of it obviously. But the creativity and the teamwork has got to be good for them. It’s part of what made me the well-rounded character that I am today. There’s no pressure though and to be honest, on the keyboard we dug out of the skip there is a record function and they have already committed more to tape than Woody’s Comet ever did so they are already ahead of me! I could have the next Hanson on my hands here…

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Never Forget You…

My favourite singer isn’t known for being a singer at all; he is the drummer with Queen, Roger Taylor. He does, however, have a superb voice. In my opinion, and I am somewhat in a minority on this but I just don’t care because I’m right, it is better than Freddie’s was. Nearly all of my favourite Queen songs are ones that Roger wrote and took lead vocals on. It is said that he can hit a high E in full voice. Despite attending Ukulele club, I have no idea neither what a high E might be, nor what full voice is; it isn’t something we do on a regular basis but I’m impressed nonetheless.

I have no idea why I actually ponder all of this, or why I am even writing about it, but it is the sort of unimportant shite that keeps me awake at nights sometimes. I think it came about because Henry had a throat infection and sounded a little hoarse, not unlike Roger, when he was singing the clean-up song to himself the other evening when he was tidying his toys away.

I think another reason was that on CBeebies the other evening there was cartoon with an accompanying song by an outfit called Tee and Mo that grabbed my attention for being, unusually, actually rather good. When I googled Tee and Mo it turns out the singer behind the song I so liked was Lauren Laverne, who outside of her TV presenting career is better known in the music world for being from the band Kenickie.

It got me thinking how other rock stars might sing to their children. I wonder if Roger and other rock singers with a really strong voice, such as Noddy Holder, David Coverdale, Brian Johnstone, Rod Stewart or Steven Tyler to name a few, sing lullabies or the clean-up song. Do they sing it in full voice? Do they hit a high E halfway through Incy Wincy Spider?

Generally I hate children’s TV. There is the odd programme I can stand and my current favourite of the crop is the cartoon Nora and Nelly. It is a cause of some debate in the Aitchworld household; Mrs Aitchworld insists they live in a caravan, despite the fact the listings clearly say it is set in a holiday park. I side with the listings and maintain they are merely on vacation, although I have to confess to being a little bemused that they seem to still be there in winter – most holiday parks close for the winter. This is suggesting I am paying rather more attention to the programme than I should do.

I had started to write great swathes of protestations about how I’m not all that interested in it and that it hasn’t got under my skin, but then I realised that, last week, as I was in the throes of planning a business trip to Ireland, I had started to ponder whereabouts in the country the caravan park is and whether I could visit it. Even now, as I write this from my hotel room in Tullamore, I haven’t completely reconciled the fact that I can’t actually visit a cartoon campsite while I am in the country it is supposedly in. Even though the thought has crossed my mind that if you changed the voiceover to a different accent, the holiday park could easily be in Skegness, a part of me still thinks I might be able to find it, with a bit of luck and local guidance.

All this aside, and lining up my excuses, the reason I pay any notice to this programme at all is because the music, both the theme tune and incidental during the programme, is rather catchy and really quite good. It has replaced Peppa Pig as my favourite TV programme. Ahem, favourite children’s TV programme, that is. Even Arthur is singing along to the theme now. He’s getting all the notes, but not necessarily in the right order.

Which, along a long and winding road, brings me inevitably to the Tellytubbies. Or, more pertinently, new Tellytubbies. The boys, apparently, love it. I’ve caught small segments of it as I pass through the room when the boys have it on the television, but I’m yet to watch a full episode. What I have discovered is that the Teletubbies have had baby Tellytubbies. How the hell did that happen? In order to find out, I made the grave mistake of googling “Tubby Sex”…

In The Night Garden, as I have documented previously, is another of those TV programmes I cannot abide yet somehow, the other Saturday afternoon, I found myself in an inflatable theatre in a carpark at the Trafford Centre to watch Night Garden Live. If you think the television programme is bad, I recommend you stay away from this. But, and it is a big but, if you do give it a body swerve, you will miss the most spectacular looks of amazement on your child(ren)’s face(s). Arthur and Henry loved it. They were transfixed.

The look of wonder and awe on their faces almost forced an unmanly moment and I very nearly welled up, and that wasn’t because of the cost of it all, which was not insubstantial. For the four of us it cost £70. The show lasted 52 minutes (yes, I timed it), which works out at a shade under £1.35/minute. I saw telephone lines advertised for lower rates than this when I was searching for tubby sex on the internet.

For the entire 52 minutes of the show though, Arthur and Henry sat stock-still, staring at the stage, fascinated with everything that was going on. They pointed every time the image of a Pinky Ponk was projected onto the wall of the tent. They laughed every time Iggle Piggle fell over backwards. This shouldn’t be encouraged because back at home Arthur has tried doing the same thing and ended up with a headache. 

Normally Henry is itching to move – he simply cannot stay in one place for any length of time, but for the entire duration of the show he remained exactly where he was seated. That almost never happens. It was worth every penny.

We also took the boys last weekend to Rewind North. For those unfamiliar with it, it is an ‘80s festival, held just outside Macclesfield, featuring a couple of big names who stand out amongst a sea of acts you can barely remember from the ‘80s, most of whom you assumed were long since dead. 

Still on a children’s TV theme, one of the acts was the lead singer of the Noisettes, who also voices the character of Teal in the children’s cartoon Abney and Teal. I have no idea how she came to be on the bill because she was only born in 1981 and therefore the charts in the 1980s were completely untroubled by her music, as far as I know. There was no explanation in the blurb about the festival.

The boys loved it. We spread out a picnic blanket, slathered them in sunblock, put their sunhats on and we all relaxed. The boys danced and sang, had drums and maracas to shake and it was bliss. Of course it sparked some dispute. Everything always does. I claimed that the boys love of music was because I am always playing it in the car whenever they travel with me. I have a memory stick plugged into the car full of my favourite music. Mrs Aitchworld said it was just as much her because she has Radio 1 on in her car. Of course this is patently untrue because Radio 1 don’t play music; it’s all just noise.

I drove the boys home at about 5pm, with music, naturally, into the care of babysitters (thanks Grandma, Grandad and Leanne) and then got a taxi back to the festival so I could have a few drinks and enjoy more ageing music. If I’m honest with myself, music in the 1980s was pretty poor and time can only improve so much of it, but enjoy it I did.

I don’t even remember who the closing act of the night were. I don’t mean I don’t remember them from the ‘80s, I mean the effects of the alcohol had kicked in. Not really having much at all to drink for the last 16 months or so means that a very small amount goes a very long way. Coupled to the fact that although there was a strong security presence and thorough bag searches for illicit booze, having the boys in a pushchair meant we were able to secrete various bottles of hooch around parts of the pushchair and get it in, rather than pay the exorbitant prices of a festival beer-tent! We were modern-day bootleggers. The boys are starting to earn their keep, at last! However, as we felt compelled to consume our entire haul, it all ended up rather messy.