Meet the band

I hate name-droppers, but I’m also a terrible hypocrite.

So if I sometimes vanish from view, it’s just because I’m bending down to pick up names I’ve scattered throughout the blog. But don’t worry: all of these stories just indicate what a total fuckwit I am, and how I hold onto opportunities like a post-nailing Jesus holds onto marbles.

For years I’ve been dining out on the story that I was at school with Mick Hucknall. Well, not dining out exactly, because I doubt there’s a person alive who’s actually impressed by that, but I’ve certainly mentioned it, and people have said “Oh God, I can’t believe I used to actually like Simply Red”. Full disclosure: I own Stars. I haven’t played it for about 15 years, but I own it.

I know: I sicken you. I sicken me too.

When I decided to write this, I went to Hucknall’s wikipedia page to find out what years he was at Audenshaw School with me. And it turns out he’s 10 years older than me: I went to the same school, but not in the same decade, which means there must have been another ghastly ginger twat in my year who I assumed was Hucknall. They must breed them where I was brought up.

Not that there’s anything wrong with ginger people. But there is a lot wrong with Mick Hucknall, not least his alarming resemblance to Charlie Drake.

So that’s my first brush with fame utterly rubbished. But it was a rubbish brush to start with, so I’m not too worried. However, now it gets more and more rubbish…

When I was around 20 or 22, I worked in a bar just around the corner from a rehearsal room used by a barrage of hopeful, short-lived, talentless nonentities. You know the type: 4 students who know 5 chords between them, and think they’re going to conquer the world. I’d been in plenty of these bands, because I play the drums a bit, and am crap enough at it to be making a living designing websites instead. Even good drummers are changed more often than underpants, and I’d probably played (badly) in a couple of dozen bands, mainly in garages or school music rooms.

Into the bar one day came a couple of likely lads who were using the rehearsal space, and complaining about their drummer. We chatted across the bar, and after a while I got asked to try out with them. So I did. We severely damaged couple of Beatles and Kinks songs, it went reasonably well for a first attempt, and nobody was killed, disfigured or sued, which is a pretty good result for a novice band.

But I didn’t like them. I’d read several books, whereas all this lot seemed to have read was several invitations to attend court dates. The singer was a gibbon looking for a fight, and I knew it wasn’t going to be fun playing in a band with him. And all I wanted was some fun. You don’t become a drummer if you want fame and money: you do it if you can count to 4, don’t value your hearing, and are crap enough at getting girls to gratefully accept those rejected by the bassist.

So I never went back after than first try-out, and didn’t give it another thought until I picked up a copy of Q Magazine 18 months later, and there they were in all their monobrowed, estate-chic, coked-up, precinct-monkey glory: Oasis. The band I turned down.

Not that it matters (I keep telling myself). I hated Liam on the first day, I’d never have lasted 18 months (I keep telling myself). The idea that I might have played drums on a seminal album is a nonsense (I keep telling myself).

I keep telling myself this stuff, but I’m not persuaded. Dammit. Dammit.

I used to work with a guy called Mark, whose claim to fame was that he’d come second in the 1995 Stars In Their Eyes final, performing as R.E.M’s Michael Stipe. Due credit: it might be cheesy, but he was uncannily good.

In around 1999 R.E.M. toured the UK and Mark, myself and 2 other colleagues got tickets. The gig was on a Saturday night, and that afternoon I got an excited call from Mark: he had incredible news. He told me he’d been shopping in Manchester and bumped into Radiohead’s Thom Yorke, who he knew to be a friend of R.E.M.

Having little or no shame, Mark had marched up to that well-known chirpy-chappy Yorke, and told him about Stars In Their Eyes. I’m trying to imagine what Thom Yorke thinks about cheesy Saturday evening Karaoke. I can’t imagine he’s a fan.

Anyway: Mark explaind how he’d always wanted to meet R.E.M, that he guessed Yorke was in town to see the gig; and bold as brass he asked if Yorke could arrange for him to get backstage and meet the band.

“Yeah, sure”, came the amazing reply, “I’ll organise backstage passes, just ask at the box office.” And with that, Thom Yorke ran away to write some inpenetrable music and destroy the reputation gained by OK Computer.

(Sorry, I’m still bitter about Kid A.)

When Mark called to tell me this story I began to wonder whether he’d had a stroke, I’d had a stroke, or Thom Yorke had had a stroke. There was no way on Earth that we’d have 4 backstage passes waiting at the box office. Couldn’t be true. Mark was being patronised.

But he insisted, and when we got to the gig, Mark leaped up the stairs into the MEN Arena 4 steps at a time, and bounded up to the box office while the rest of us stood back laughing. And then he returned, and we stopped laughing as he showed us 4 passes under his name, and a little handwritten note from Thom Yorke asking the passes to be given to Mark.


So we went to the gig, and it was fine for a band on the wane in a vast, charisma-free cattle-shed, and we sang along and had a jolly good time, and became increasingly excited about the after-show party. Gig over, encores completed, religion lost and man put on moon, we made our way to the stage-door to gain access. We showed our passes to a gaggle of bouncers the size of Ayers Rock, and we ushered into a large echoing room. It was just a massive, bare-brick box with a silk rope across the centre.

One one side of the rope were the Manchester glitterati. All the usual suspects: Tony Wilson, Noel Gallagher, some Happy Mondays and a Stone Rose. A few football players and actors.

And on the other side of the rope were us four, trying hard not to look like we’d blagged our way in, and feeling incredibly uncomfortable next to a line-up of people with increasingly severe disabilities. Every one of them was in a wheelchair, and some of them had drips and huge battery packs powering lifesaving hardware. And us: four perfectly healthy computer geeks.

In came R.E.M. to a burst of applause, wiping themselves with towels, and walking down the line of people in wheelchairs, politely shaking hands and saying hello. Michael Stipe looked like he had no idea what was happening, just totally otherworldly. He shook hands with us all without really connecting or focussing. But the querulous, puzzled look of the bassist Mike Mills will stay with me forever, as will the way he subtly looked up and down our bodies trying to identify what was wrong with us. Nothing Mike: except for the Stipe-impersinator at the end, who had clearly led Thom Yorke to believe he was mentally ill.

And then they were gone, across the silk rope barrier into That Other World where we didn’t belong. And 25 wheelchairs were trundled out, leaving the four of us to meekly sneak away, hoping nobody would confront us about our deception.