Belfast Telegraph

How a battered Fiat drove my roadie days into a ditch

By Mike Gilson

My sons play in an indie band. The 19-year-old is lead singer and guitarist, who writes some of the songs. The 20-year-old is guitarist and main songwriter.

You know how they say you shouldn't live your life through your kids? Wise words that I have failed to heed.

I always wanted to be in a band. Still do. I'd give everything up tomorrow to be in one.

I'd have to be in charge, mind, and my inability to take my acoustic guitar beyond the bridge on about 100 of the songs I half-know would not hold me back.

I'd like to think my own Edward Scissorhands-like guitar fumblings in the kitchen, when the boys were growing up, started them on their way, but they deny that.

So, when they started to get pretty damn good on the Fenders, I encouraged them all the way. When they started writing songs, of course, I thought they were better than anything the Velvet Underground had ever come up with.

When they formed a band and started playing pub gigs, I went to every one I could. An old fella at the back, while a huddle of their friends shuffled around a bit up front.

I became roadie, willing to lug amps and drum kits up and down the coast where they live, playing in fleapit pubs run by pony-tailed landlords with hearts of gold and a real love of live music, even though it lost them money.

I sort of saw myself as advisor/manager and urged them not to adopt their second name, Swamp, because it sounded awful. They ignored me, of course (that's why you can still find Swampband on Facebook, along with what I would say were some killer tunes) and continued to dismiss me when I told them to stick to their Hives/Strokes/Garage music that at least 30 of their mates liked, rather than diversify into 20-minute Krautrock electro wig-outs the sort of which got them banned from one town's Battle of the Bands contest when they went 17 minutes over their allotted time and refused to stop.

Talking of Battle of the Bands, that lifeblood of the pub-rock scene, I once embarrassed myself mightily by demanding to see the scorecards of the judges (I'd only had a couple of ales, officer, honest), who placed Swamp second behind a lamentable Two Door Cinema Club rip-off girl's blouse band. I think I might even have put it like that, too.

When they got in a girl on bass guitar, I embarrassed myself by applauding the decision, because it would widen their appeal.

Nothing worse than an old man pontificating on the advisability of leavening young male rock bands with a bit of femininity. It sounded wrong even as I was saying it.

I exaggerated my own credentials. Topper Headon, drummer of The Clash, stayed at my house once (true, but a friend of a friend). The beautiful Wendy James of Transvision Vamp came to a party I held (true, but I never spoke to her).

I once came last in a Uni talent contest, singing a bad version of Rip It Up by Orange Juice (very true). I saw The Smiths first-ever gig at the Ritz in Manchester (very untrue). I thought things were going well. Thought they liked my old tales, my boyish enthusiasm, my extremely sound advice and my truculence with judges, who stupidly don't recognise Swamp's nascent brilliance.

But I was wrong. As of last weekend, I am no longer even roadie. I have been stood down. Seems that the girl bassist (whom I suggested they get in!) now has a car and has made me redundant.

It's okay, they said, as I was beginning to plan the journey to next weekend's mini-festival, you don't need to come all (note: ALL) that way. My hopes of guiding them, Malcolm McClaren-like, to the top are ended. In truth, I suspect they've been looking to ditch me for quite a while.

Who needs to keep hearing old stories from an unrequited rock 'n' roller when you're actually living it in the now? I suspect Kate's battered Fiat was the excuse they needed to put me painlessly out of my misery.

This weekend it'll be just me, the old acoustic and another doomed attempt to reach the chorus of (Don't Fear) The Reaper.

Belfast Telegraph


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