Old Faces, Acquaintances – You Who Thought You Could Rearrange The End
That line and phrase is from a Roy Harper album called The Unknown Soldier, it’s got Dave Gilmour on it and Kate Bush pops up on a track. Something made me think of the album today and in turn, all the people I have played in bands with since the very first days.
I had just turned 15 in 1985 and Number 1 in the UK was Dancing In The Street by Mick Jagger and David Bowie – who were two of my favourite artists and the first band I formed, tried to do a cover of the song for a show we had booked in Nunhead, London. That show was my very first public performance.
If you want to get to know people exceptionally well over significant periods of time, and then totally lose touch with them, it’s a great idea to form a band and lead it!
That is what happens in bands, I soon found out. The band leader has to take the good stuff and all the blame. Thinking back, my strategy for success was flawed from an early age, but mentors in the basement rock’n’roll game, were very thin on the ground.
I have always been the band leader and built up deep vaults when it comes to receiving and storing ‘blame’ apportioned by others. In most cases, players who were unable to form and lead bands! It’s interesting to try and figure out really, because actually the reality is that the only thing you can control is forming and setting up the band, including rehearsals, song organisation and getting the first shows booked. After that, the band becomes a kind of organism that has destiny in its own hands and you just can’t control it.
You can lead it of course, but you can’t control it. Unless you run the band as a one man show that is, and for years and years and years – I never did do that. I figure I should have done.
Grey Meets Lionel!
In 1995 I performed at the Nad Al Sheba meeting in Dubai and was supporting Lionel Richie – he was kind enough to give me his take on the whole business of running a band and getting ahead in the music game.
The acts all had caravans as dressing rooms round the back of the huge main stage, walking round sometime after the soundcheck I noticed Lionel sitting in his caravan in front of a mirror and doing some basic make-up, so I took my chance.
‘Excuse me Lionel, I hope I’m not disturbing you. My name is Grey Cooper’ I said, ‘I’m in your support act and wondered if you had any up to date advice for getting ahead in the music business?’ He said ‘Hey Mr Grey! come on in now! are you in bands or in your band?’ I said ‘I’m in this band, but yes I have my band and that’s what I want to do’. Lionel replied ‘ Well that is a little similar to me, you see in music, you always have to work with other people, no matter what you do or what is happening. You have to work with other people, but you should never lose sight of what it is that you want to do and what you want to achieve from yourself or others. The trick is getting that across to the people around you and boy, you have to look good and sound good! Now, I can see you look good, I guess later I will find out if you sound good!’
What a gentleman! I loved him for giving me that time, and bought his albums when I got back to the UK. During the support slot I put down, every Steve Cropper lick or chop on a Soul Revue classic just meant a heck of a lot more. Lionel Richie more.
So, I have pretty much zero idea of where anyone I used to be in a band with is right now and that’s a shame – running a band can be paradoxically, the ultimate lonely pastime.
But I know at the time all of us thought, we could ‘rearrange the end’.