Someone asked me recently how long I’ve been playing guitar and it set me to thinking about my first band. First bands are never easy. The members are usually very young, don’t know each other and are musically and socially ill-equipped. As was the case with my band.
I was a young, sullen teenager and revolution was in the air.
Or, at least, it was in my bedroom.
I had a borrowed Japanese knock-off electric guitar, which I had to play unplugged. This didn’t matter. I knew three chords – which meant I could play along to at least two songs from the latest U2 album on my sister’s record player. As Bono himself so eloquently put it: ‘All I need is a red guitar, three chords and the truth.’ My guitar was a tannish- brown, but I had the three chords and I was about to embark on the mystic journey for the truth.
I didn’t always know that I wanted to be a rock star. I had always written stories and imagined that one day I might be a writer. Then, one night a local DJ played ‘Thunder Road’ by Bruce Springsteen and that was that. I didn’t, however, have any desire to play the guitar at that stage. I just wanted to stand in the spotlight, stage front, and recite grand speeches, like the one that prefixed ‘The River’, which I soon learned word for word. The guitar playing came later. Born of necessity.
At this time I happened to meet a drummer by the name of Mark. Mark had played drums since he was born, apparently, and was phenomenal. He told me he was in a band that was looking for a singer. I knew Mark’s musical preferences were similar to mine, so I figured I’d try out. I should, however, have asked what the other band member’s musical preferences were.
The band, it turned out, consisted of Mark, a bass player named Robbie and a guitarist named Paul. Robbie had a worrisome love of heavy metal and all its clichés. I liked The Smiths and U2. Robbie liked Norwegian death metal bands whose names I couldn’t even spell. His bass strap was a leather belt with metal studs, a la Iron Maiden, and he had a habit of bending over while playing and wiggling his tongue out in finest Gene Simmons tradition.
The guitarist Paul was a short, clean-cut little guy who, despite his appearance, also had a fondness for loud wailing guitars and pyrotechnics. Or so he said. To be honest, Paul wore the permanent look of someone not quite sure where he was, and he might just as easily have had a stack of Rick Astley LPs under his bed.
As musicians, Robbie and Paul couldn’t have been further apart. Robbie’s bass playing was the aural equivalent of a herd of irate buffalo stampeding across the plains. This style pervaded whether he was playing an obnoxiously loud song or a tender ballad. Paul, on the other hand, was a master of minimalism.
Paul only ever played two strings on his guitar.
Unfortunately, as opposed to being some form of innovative guitar style, this mode of playing seemed to be born out of the fact that his fingers couldn’t shape a full chord. Paul would eventually be the reason I learned how to play guitar.
And so it was, one warm summer’s evening, I met with Mark, Robbie and Paul for our first rehearsal. After we had dispensed with all the pleasantries, Robbie turned to me and asked: “Do you know ‘Rock You like a Hurricane’ by The Scorpions?”
My spider-sense was tingling. I had to admit that, no – despite my love of German rock – I wasn’t familiar with that chestnut.
“How about ‘Since You Been Gone’ by Rainbow?”
This continued for some time until we reached ‘Summer of 69’ by Bryan Adams, which must have been quite a comedown for Robbie. His next suggestion probably would have been Perry Como. ‘Summer of 69’ I knew, despite having long since crossed the line between Bryan Adams being cool and Bryan Adams sucking. That had happened somewhere between the ages of twelve and thirteen.
It’s a funny thing about ‘Summer of 69’. For a very long time in discos all over Ireland, young men and women – who weren’t born in 1969, never went to a drive-in or played a six-string – were punching the air and mouthing all the lyrics. Even now, somewhere in the world, an Irish person is asking a cover band to sing ‘Summer of 69’.
And hopefully that cover band is doing a better version of it than we did back at my first band rehearsal.
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