Autobiography – David J’s Music Life Story (so far…)
You must be very bored if you are reading this! It is a personal work in progress for my own amusement really, which I add to from time-to-time – it has been fun to write and to keep updating. Any views stated are personal, and no disrespect is intended to anyone, living or passed. If it’s a bit self-serving then rest assured – it is not as much so as the Pete Townshend autobiography….
Early memories are trips to my Gran’s, who had an upright piano, and I would spend hours tinkering on it. Gran used to buy sheet music from a stall in Romford Market, though she didn’t play often, and I’m not sure she could even read music. My mum also played a bit, and there was always talk of getting me lessons, and getting the piano to our house so I could play it. As I remember, my Dad vetoed that plan – I think he thought it would be too noisy in our terraced house.
At some stage during primary school days, after I had been off sick for a while, I returned to find during a music lesson that half the class (all girls, I think) were being taught the recorder. I had missed out on this, but was desperate to join, and the teacher eventually relented and gave me a ‘catch-up’ session so I could join. Nearly all the others had their own recorders by that time, and I could only use the school recorders during the lesson. So I badgered mum to get me a recorder, but these must have been expensive, as I ended up with a cheap yellow plastic thing, which caused a few laughs at school. But with that yellow toy thing, I learned to read music, and it got me going on a lifelong musical journey.
Fast forward, and my sister decided she wanted to buy a guitar for herself (which I pretty much hi-jacked when she lost interest two days later). I went with her to the music shop in North Romford to buy it – a veritable grotto of music gear, though generally on the cheap/cheerful side. She got a very basic 6 string guitar with traditionally high, almost unplayable action. It cost £6, I think. We also got a tuition book, by Dan Morgan. This was very chatty, and took half the book to introduce 2 chords, 4 string versions of C and G. Oh, it was so hard to get started, and I remember eventually serenading my mum with the accompaniment to ‘Oh dear, what can the matter be?’. I eventually got a Kay 6-string dreadnought, which was quite cheap and dull sounding, but was very playable.
In more affluent times in the early sixties, my Dad had, for some reason, bought a reel-to-reel tape recorder. So my first venture into recording started with that old Sobell recorder, with schoolmates Graham Shennan and Mark Fodder (we christened ourselves SLF – long before Stiff Little Fingers was formed). A few jams were recorded, some joke songs about some teachers, and some other stuff. Fortunately none of it survives. I particularly remember an attempt at composition where we each composed a line each. Graham also recorded the odd jam on a cassette player, and I particularly remember a jam at his house with Andy Brown. This was going nicely until I, for some reason, decided to change it to something quite different, technical and totally un-jammable. Maybe that was because around Graham’s house, his dad, Jock, would get us to sample some of his home wine production, which was probably stronger in alcohol than most strong spirits.
Other memories from this period include going to Richard Kania’s house, and hearing his latest piano exploits, he later got a Hohner Pianet, then a Fender Rhodes. He also had a rather clapped out Shaftsbury Electric guitar, which had a cheesey Hendrix sticker on, but I was very jealous of this guitar, as I didn’t have an electric, nor an amp.
Although it didn’t seem too bad at the time, I realise now that my family was very hard up. My Dad, a ‘roofer’, went through a series of health problems – hot bitumen exploding in his face, then severe back problems, finally being taken from us by cancer, when I was in the sixth form, a long drawn out illness with a lot of suffering. Cancer and other things took many of our relatives in a short space of time, and I remember being very introverted about it, never wanting to talk about it, and must have appeared quite dismissive, and I think my personality at that time was not too stable. Only now do I realise that it must have had quite a massive subconscious psychological effect on me.
One of my school-mates was Simon Rogers, who went on to go to the Royal College of music studying classical guitar, followed by joining The Fall, producing The Lightning Seeds (including Three Lions), and latterly writing music for TV and film – including the theme music to Hustle. I remember Simon as being a very popular and generous boy. He lived in Hornchurch, which was generally a class or two above the Dagenham Council estates, and his Dad was a cabinet maker by profession, who took to making guitars for Simon, when he became interested in guitar. My claim to fame is that I taught Simon how to tune his guitar, at a party, in about the 4th form, I think – he had acquired a Hofner solid-bodied electric guitar, which he had tuned to the first few notes of Hendrix’s Star Spangled Banner! At school, I used to go home for lunch, while some of the others, including Simon, Ricky Cordes, Richard Kania, used to go to the music room and play music. I don’t like to look back with regret, but I do regret that I didn’t try to join them, even just as a groupie! Another of the ‘Music Room’ crowd was Joey Stephens, who I didn’t really know, but was popular, maybe because he was renowned for being the “rich kid” at school. At various times, I saw him turn up with – a Gibson Les Paul, a Fender Telecaster, A Marshall amp…Joey himself played drums. Nothing much seemed to materialise from the Music Room crowd – if they did form a band nothing much came of it, I believe.
Another regret at this stage was achieving 100% in the 3rd year Music exam, and then not going on to take Music at O’level, because someone had convinced me it would be ‘too easy’. Idiot!
Back to Simon – we were all very much into Prog at that time – The Dagenham Roundhouse attracted some decent bands too, Focus, Greenslade etc. One day, Simon was at my house with his guitar, when I must have mentioned that I would love to get an electric guitar. I think Simon must have been going full on with the classical guitar at this point, because he offerred me his Red Hofner for a fiver, so he could then go and buy Yessongs, which had just came out. So I became owner of my first electric. I didn’t have an amp, of course, so my mum got me the cheapest one from her Freemans catalog. I didn’t realise that electric guitars needed a “proper” amp, so this was a step backwards. Shouts of ‘Turn it down!’ still resonate in my ears now, as I attempted go get a decent sound out of that thing. Both amp and guitar were eventually traded at a rip-off second-hand shop when I needed the beer money, which seemed the most important thing during the sixth-form.
In the summer of 76′, just before uni and after A levels, I got some well paid holiday jobs, which finally gave me enough cash to buy a new electric guitar, and I plumped for a Shergold Masquerader, which was made just up the road in Romford. I didn’t get an amp, but planned to pick one up at university. I still have that guitar, though much mutilated now. It had a nice neck, but the pickups were a bit puny, though they may have been ok with a proper amp. Several music sessions took place during this period, but no proper band was formed – I think we were all very aware that we were about to fly to different areas of the country for college and university purposes. My destination was Leeds.
At Leeds University, it was the heady days of some great bands appearing at the Leeds University venue, which was actually the uni Refectory, and was nicknamed “The Smarty Tube” because of its long thin profile. We saw bands like Thin Lizzy, Procol Harem, Bunch Of Stiffs (Elvis Costello, Ian Dury, Nick Lowe etc), The Damned, John Martyn, Graham Parker, The Chieftains etc. Me and some flatmates (Paul Spackman and Simon Rodgers – a different Simon), formed a band mainly to muck around with to start with. We played a lot of covers. I volunteered to play bass (a mistake as I started to resent it, as I was quite an effective guitarist by then), and also to sing (well, I am not a lead rock singer, but that was always fun, and was at least as good as Howard Devoto, lol!). A visit to some secondhand shops in Leeds yielded a bass, cabinet, mic and an amp (this turned out to be a now rather valuable Marshal Plexi 50 head…which I still have). To start with we didn’t have a drummer, and drum machines didn’t really exist then, so one day we had a friend of a friend came along to play drums with us. This was in the kitchen of a student flat unit, and no uni work got done that day by anyone in the building, as we shook the foundations. That session also saw a friend, who was taking an electronics design course, bring along a home-made synthesizer. We ask him if he could set it up to play the middle solo in Steely Dan’s King Of The World, which after a few knob twiddles and a few cable yanks, he did. That synth also would be worth a few bob nowadays. Great fun.
In the following years we kept the band going intermittently, and ended up rehearsing in the basement of our next student house. Well, not so much a basement, but more an old damp coal cellar, complete with water dripping down the walls, slugs and dank smells. We played quite a few Steely Dan covers, and tended to rehearse on a Sunday afternoon, which prompted our friendly student neighbours on one side to run an ad in the student rag mag that read “53 Headingly Mount request 55 Headingly Mount not to ‘Do It Again’ on a Sunday afternoon”. The neighbours on the other side were not students, but a normal Leeds family, and when we asked whether our rehearsals were disturbing them they said, “Oh no, we love it”!
I also played a lot of acoustic guitar at the time, on my old Kay 6-string. I should have played it more, as I now realise it was quite a girl magnet… I also started composing at this time.
We advertised for a drummer, and a good semi-pro depping drummer called Max joined us. He was used to playing dance gigs in Manchester, but loved the idea of doing our rock covers, and wanted us to get out properly to do some gigs, which we never really did. He had endless enthusiasm, and a set of RotoToms which seemed to increase in number each week, and took up most of the cellar and squeezed each of the rest of us into a corner. We ended up quite a tight unit (or, at least, a tightly squeezed unit!). Things which stick in the memory now are Max’s attempt to play fills using all his RotoToms, and either running out of bars to play them, or running out of drums (in which case he would invariably turn up next time with a new additional RotoTom), or, Paul’s total failure to play the piano riff from ‘Do It Again’, and Simon’s morose fed-up look when he was trying a guitar solo and it just wasn’t happening – (which is a look I see quite often nowadays, in others, and in the mirror!)
That was about it for uni. I remember writing some songs and recording using 2 cassette recorders, bouncing from one to another. The songs had a common theme of failed relationships, and were quite bitter. An intense 7-month relationship in the first year of uni affected me deeply when it ended, and I don’t think I really recovered until near the end of the final year. At that point, Gill, (who I had known since the beginning of the first year) and I started going out, and we continued together in our early working life, through the Thatcher years, and got married in 1982. She is still putting up with me….
Early work days – home composing and recording
I was totally broke when uni finished, and as most friends were dispersing around the country, I looked for a decent job to start straight away in whatever area offered it. This ended up being in Hatfield, Herts, close enough to London to keep in touch with a few friends also in the area. Any kind of music project seemed pretty impractical though, so other things took priority for a while. During this time, money was being earned and spent too, and I ended up borrowing £500 from Gill to buy my first really decent guitar, a Martin D28 bought from Ivor Mairants in London. Having something like that of quality really motivates one. This was the start of learning to play in a much more technical style, and a studied a lot of John Renbourn, Steffen Grossman and Bert Jansch styles. The only way of playing outside seemed to be via local Folk Clubs. A couple of visits to St Albans Folk club made me realise that this wasn’t for me at that stage, and music projects would be personal things for many years. A good business career in Engineering Software, and the formation of our own company meant spare time was more restricted. I did find time to take classical guitar lessons for a year. I didn’t want to take exams (I should have, I realise now), but still ended up playing some very advanced pieces quite well – by Villa Lobos, Bach, and in particular my favourite classical piece – English Suite by John W Duarte, which I still play. A nice classical guitar was bought – a Sakurai/Kohno model.
The interest in recording still was there though. At the time, the ‘amateur’ recording market was very limited, and very expensive for what it was. Teac brought out a cassette machine called the A108 Sync, which allowed the 2 tracks on it to be recorded individually and in sync, by having a combined playback/record head. I used that for a while, but then could afford a Teac A3440, which was a proper 4-track reel-to-reel machine, and the start of some major fun in my spare time. I was a bit dissatisfied with quality though, and only learnt later that it was de rigour to use it with an optional dbx noise reduction unit. The A3440 was eventually replaced by a Fostex M80, which I used alongside a 4-track Soundscape DAW unit initially – an early affordable DAW. Upgrades to Soundscape system continued until recently – I still now use a full Soundscape32 Mixpander9 system. That will probably have to be replaced fairly soon as it is getting a bit old and SSL, who took Soundscape over, have stopped supporting it.
Peter Kershaw’s drum machine
In the days when I was working for a small tech company, I met Peter Kershaw, a harware/software engineer, who told me about his project to develop a drum machine. This was being developed, I gather, with liaison with drummer Warren Cann, of Ultravox. There wasn’t anything similar available at that time, other than in high-pro circles. Peter let me borrow this drum machine for a short while and I did some recording with it. The sounds were pretty un-drum like, and the cymbals were just bursts of noise. It seemed pretty cool though, but I thought the fact that these sounds were not like real drums would limit its appeal – for which I was proved well wrong by the likes of the Roland TR808 etc. I ended up buying a little Roland TR505 when it came out – I lent that to someone years later, and it has yet to return.
Many years were spent in the 80’s and 90’s privately maintaining my musical hobby. I did do some outside recording for a few other bands/artists at this time, with quite pleasing results. Songwriting continued too, but with no aim at all of getting them to the outside world, and hence most of my own recordings were left in a very raw, mostly unfinished state. Still that was the fun of it., and, as I am currently writing for my first proper solo recording, I have a mass of material from those days which I can pick and choose from. It seems that, even if one thinks a previous composition is pretty crap, there are always some good bits in there – probably the motivation for the music in the first place.
I find a good songwriting technique is to base something on an initial idea, or live experience (e.g. “that woman done me wrong…” ) and then twist around until it becomes complete fiction, but some of the emotion from the original idea will still remain. In that way one can write about personal things without anyone knowing….
Towards the end of the 90’s, after a particularly heavy period of software work, I decided that I wanted to seek out others to play with again. Jam sessions seemed the best way forward, so I went down to South Hill Park on a Saturday morning, where a Blues Jam was advertised. On entering the Cellar Bar, there was just 3 guys there, 2 Saxophone players and a Cornet player. They were playing jazz standards, and some jazz blues. We got chatting, and they said there was normally quite a few others turning up, and said I should come down the following week. I think I took a guitar the next week, but with several other guitarists turning up too, a decided to take a bass the next week. The sessions seemed to grow in popularity, and my sense of wanting that ‘complete’ sound led me to taking a drum kit down in future weeks too. By a bit of manoeuvring, I managed to get others to play Bass and Drums and then went back to mainly playing guitar there. There was a kind-of reluctance to play any rock or folk there, and the several guitarists that turned up all kept to clean jazz sounds. At the end of one session, I set my amp to get a good rock sound, and showed off a bit. This turned a few heads, and from then on there was a fair proportion of rock coming into the jam repertoire.
As part of this group, an excellent Jazz Baritone Sax player called George Haslam ran frequent 4 week courses, I think titled something like ‘Learning The Blues’. As part of this, the attendees would divide into ‘groups’, with the view of having a concert at the end where each group would play to the others. The group I was in seemed quite well balanced, with some keen and competent musicians, and for some reason I ended up as a kind of musical director for this group (maybe because I brought the drum kit!). We rehearsed 2 songs, the Sonny Boy Williamson blues song ‘Help Me’, and a Gary Moore song ‘Only Fool In Town’. Come the concert, we went down a storm, and had obviously taken the whole thing up a level from the norm, which also proved a motivation to others in the future to take it further. There were a few comments I heard from people in some of the other bands, in a bit of a jealous tone – “You must have worked pretty hard at that – shame our group didn’t” and “That was so good, I would have made and effort to come and see it, what’s more I would have PAID to see it”. I was inwardly quite chuffed about this, and seemed to be deemed some kind of musical director/organiser for the group for a while after that, but more satisfying to see people who were really just part-time musicians with no pretensions set out to achieve something in performance satisfying and worthwhile.
Some time after this, the suggestion came out from some discussions (I am not sure who’s idea it was originally) that the blues jammers group should put on an evening concert for friends, family or the public even. I am not sure how it came to happen, by I ended up as the chief organiser for this. Well I think most people said I did a good job in the end, but I learnt one life lesson – I am not thick-skinned enough to take all the selfish nonsense that some people like to come up with. I wasn’t an expert at organising these things, and doubtless made mistakes, but some people just set out to make life difficult, and that was not what any volunteer organiser needs. I ended up organising 2 of these concerts, the first was a big success, the second not so much, as many of the original participants were already moving on musically in different directions – me included, and some egos had grown too. The event was continued regularly for quite a few years by others who joined the group, and remained quite a success, I gather.
For that first concert, in November 2001, I wanted to get as many of the regular attendees performing on at least one piece as far as possible. I initially asked people to let me know if they wanted to play. Practically no-one came forward. So I set about getting phone numbers of everyone and talking at length with them on the phone, trying to persuade them to play. In the end, only one guy didn’t play.
For this first concert, we took the main part of the group from the blues concert, and rehearsed eight songs. Wanting to expand the brief, we decided to include self-written songs. For a couple of the band this was a new venture, but they came up with really good songs, and we played those plus some of mine, composed specifically for the line-up. This was great fun for all of us, I think, and it was a nice tight little band. After this, and for the next concert, as people’s different styles were coming more to the fore, we split the group and formed into different bands – one more singer-songwriter-like, one pub-rock, and mine was folky. We didn’t really have enough rehearsal time to do all this justice though, which was partly the cause of the next concert not being so successful. The other reason was that some people were getting quite sniffy about these events going away from ‘the blues’. Most, if not all those players continued in music from this point, taking things to the next level, so hopefully everyone looks back on that time on being interesting and constructive – I certainly do. I myself moved on into playing solo, folk and singer-songwriter areas, which at the time was a great relief from the pressures and frustrations of organising and of bands.
The Acoustic/ Folk club days
During the same period, I started playing with one of the Achilles Heel group, Gary Webb. He used to go out to singarounds, folk club singers’ nights and similar things singing and playing covers from Neil Young, David Gray etc. Gary has a voice with a nice edge of ‘quality’ to it. He took it all very seriously, and took singing lessons too. One thing he didn’t do was write his own songs, though he had written poetry and prose in the past, so we met at his house and composed a song together. Gary is writing to this day, in a very distinctive, personal style.
Gary and his partner, Mandy, used to go abroad for a period each summer in their camper van, and as we also had a camper van, we arranged to meet up with them somewhere near Cahors. We spent an enjoyable time touring around, playing songs in the evening around the site, and drinking lots of wine. I vowed during that time that when I got back I would suss out the local folk club scene with a view to playing. I had previously paid a visit as audience to the Anchor Folk Club in Byfleet. This was run by Mike Peach, and he created a relaxed but formal event that was very appealing and felt ‘professional’. Also, unlike many of the Folk Clubs around at the time, the club was more accepting of a wider genre of styles, not just traditional folk.
So I went to play there when I got back, which was quite daunting, but I did ok, and gained confidence. Subsequent involvement with the club resulted in an appearance at Caversham Folk Festival, an extended set at the club, and an appearance entertaining the mayor of Woking! I was only an intermittent attendee, but the people at the club were always friendly. The club is still going strong.
Meanwhile, when Gary got back, we rehearsed a couple of songs, and managed to get a spot at an event called ‘Unplugged and Intimate’. This was a very popular event at the time, it filled the Cellar Bar most weeks, and the quality of artists appearing was very high and quite intimidating, and rumour had it that BBC DJs were frequent attendees. We played our two songs, enjoyed it immensely, and went down a storm. Gary and I played at a few more times, sometimes at the Windsor Fire Station club, together and solo, never quite reaching the heights of ‘Unplugged and Intimate’. It was never really a solid project, and we drifted apart, each doing our own solo performances.
It was a great shame that Unplugged and Intimate stopped soon afterwards. I don’t know the true reason for that, but suspect that the South Hill Park management made it impractical – they always seemed to have too much of a ‘money-making’ attitude towards things like this, and often seemed reluctant to carry out their role as a charitable arts centre for budding artists and the community.
Singing and Violin
Singing and playing guitar at folk clubs and open-mikes was a great experience. One would get rather excited and nervous beforehand, but then a kind of performance ‘persona’ would take over, which I am sure is true for most performers both amateur and professional, at all levels.
I wanted to improve my singing. I generally played guitar in a finger-picking style, which was quite low in volume, and for un-amplified venues, meant singing quietly to keep in balance. I had never sought to improve my singing before (largely, as one person said, I sang to accompany the guitar, rather than the other way around!). So I embarked on a year of singing lessons, with Kathryn Page, a local singing teacher who did a lot of work in musical theatre. She quickly identified me as ‘not being a natural singer’, and then set me on a journey of doing lots of technical work, as well as singing songs way out of my comfort zone (“Mr Bojangles”, anyone?). But soon I noticed myself that a much better quality was coming across in my voice, that I was learning proper singing technique too. I also got comments from outside, people praising my singing, for the first time ever! I even took a grade 5 exam and passed with distinction! A very enjoyable period of musical exploration. On the downside, I have since learnt that not being a ‘natural singer’, means that once I stopped the exercises, my technique soon fell away, and singing once again became peppered with Normal Wisdom sounds and unpleasant grunts! At this current time (Aug 2019), one of my main areas of work is to get back to the quality I once had then.
I still considered myself primarily a guitarist (with main competence in acoustic finger-style, and with my own style on electric, maybe owing a lot to Neil Young), veering towards being mainly a songwriter/composer/arranger. The technical extremes sought by many guitarists (particularly electric guitarists) has never really interested me, and I don’t feel the need to play Hendrix, Beck, etc pieces off pat. There are a lot of great guitarists out there nowadays and the number of covers/tribute bands around gives plenty of paid opportunity for those guitarists to show their skills. But I did feel the need to add another instrument to my quiver, something a bit different to guitar, but with some crossover maybe. A first attempt with a banjo was not successful – I just didn’t like it! So I decided to try the violin. After concentrating on folk fiddle for a while, I got enticed with some of the classical repertoire, and took lessons, again taking exams and getting to working at grade 7 standard. This allowed me to experience the wonderful feeling of joining and playing with an orchestra. Violins players seem often sort after by orchestras locally, so my inexperience was tolerated. I ended up playing a few concerts with Crowthorne Symphony Orchestra, including Elgar’s Enigma Variations, and also played my favourite classical orchestral piece – Ralph Vaughan William’s Fantasia on A Theme of Thomas Tallis. Great stuff! It is a very ‘organic’ experience playing the violin – one gets to feel the instrument is part of you – I guess that is the same with guitar, but the lack of frets gives a lot more scope for different levels of ‘feel’. I can understand now why most people becoming expert at violin start off very young
In late 2008/2009 we went to see a concert in Bracknell at South Hill Park’s Cellar Bar featuring a folk band called Uiscedwr. Looking at their Myspace page the next day, I saw a comment from someone in Bracknell, and on clicking to their Myspace page, noted that they were looking to form a band. This turned out to be Baz and Maxine Celia, and they played as a duo called Spriggan Mist. They had recently got an offer of a gig at 3 Wishes Faery Festival, and were looking to form a band to play there. My wife, Gill, and I ended up joining them, together with percussionist Andy Wilkin, and then drummer Shaun Finch (after we got louder and rockier after I got my Les Paul out!). We stayed with them for two and a half years, until summer 2011, playing the 3 Wishes Festival 3 times in all and many other gigs. We played some of my compositions too, which they still sometimes play at their gigs. They are still going very strong, particularly in the field of pagan rock.
Post Spriggan Mist
Between 2011 and 2014 included most of the period playing classical violin, but also a period composing new songs. A brief attempt at finding others to play with amounted to frustration, as most people seemed to want to play covers, or weren’t compatible for the rather speculative and narrow niche I had looked to then.
But the pleasures of music are such that they can be enjoyed alone too. It can be very fulfilling creating music with other people, but also sometimes there are difficulties which create major downs as well as major ups. I guess the professionals learn to ride those, but for someone who makes zero money out of their music, then sometimes one has to take a step back and get things back in perspective, for a decent while. That situation has occurred more recently too.
By Summer 2014, I had started to want to play with others again. so subscribed to some of the musician ‘dating’ sites. Preferably just a duo…. the prospect of a full band seemed unappealing.
Quiet Wish Duo
I was on holiday in the Lake District when I got a message from one of the musician sites, but couldn’t read it until I had got home and got a paid subscription. This turned out to be from a Carola Baer, who lived quite local to me, and was looking around for collaborations for people interested in her music, and also helping out with her collaborator’s music too. She wasn’t interested in a full band either at that stage, preferring a quieter type of music then too. The music she had posted showed she had a nice voice, in the Stevie Nicks vein, played guitar and keys well, and had some interesting songs too, all well presented. I made contact – she was on holiday in France, we exchanged messages and agreed to meet up when she got back.
So then started the Quiet Wish duo project. I think, at the time, it suited us both very well indeed. We started off as a more-or-less acoustic duo, then gradually added a bit of technology – loops, pads etc. Carola liked the kind of trip-hop feel of bands like Massive Attack, and this kind of music appealed to me too, especially the tech aspect, which suited my mind-set, partly due to my computer training. We had a rich period creating compositions, often stemming from loops we laid down. This period was probably the most fulfilling collaboration I have had in music, as I felt that there was a real sense of magic about it, she did too, and we were genuinely becoming greater than the sum of our parts. For about two years, we carried on successfully as a duo, culminating in a very well received appearance at Weyfest festival. We created two home-recorded CDs on my recording set-up, ‘Change’ and ‘Walk With Care’, some of which were sold or distributed, and, to me, they are a suitable, if raw, reminder of what we were doing. I felt there was a lot more there for the duo to give and to achieve, and we were only just becoming more honed. But by then the call of a band could be heard…..
Quiet Wish Band
I remained on good terms with my old band, Spriggan Mist, and they were now presenting themselves as more of a folk-prog band. Together with a similar band, Kindred Spirit, they had organised a one-day prog festival called ‘Four Play Prog Festival’.
When one of the bands booked for the festival pulled out last minute, I got a call from Baz asking “Dave – how ‘prog’ are Quiet Wish?”. Of course I said yes, we were a bit Prog! Well it just so happened that Carola and I had recently had a jam session with ambient guitarist Dave Salsbury, which resulted in a few, ambling, but quite prog-like pieces that could be evolved. So I asked Dave if he would want to join us for half the set, as a trio? He agreed (i think with some trepidation!), and we went down very well, with good reviews too.
So we found ourselves almost totally by accident pulled into the ‘prog’ fold. Dave agreed to join us properly, and the jams and songs composed by us fell into the ‘fringe prog’ genre without us having to make any special effort. Generally we would jam around some core musical ideas (which may have originated from any of us) at my studio, which I would also record and subsequently mix, and send to the band. Carola would create lyrics and melodies from these (often based on her ‘jam singing’) and create a first song structure. She would then normally come back to my studio and we would record the lyrics, and often evolve the song structure more. This we would then send to the others, and at subsequent rehearsals, we would all contribute heavily to evolving the piece from this point, working on our parts at home too. The resulting songs had an evolving, ethereal quality, with also some nice riffs, guitar playing and solos, drums parts, keys layers, loops and, of course, a very distinctive and attractive lead vocal from Carola. We would also evolve recordings like this too, and our two home-produced CDs “Closer” and “Ruby Dawn” were done largely in this way.
A drummer was recruited later in the year, Geraint Herbert, who fitted in very well. We played at a couple of house concerts at my place, and the band was taking shape. With the ‘Spriggan Mist’ connection again, we managed to get a substitute gig at a local venue (The Acoustic Couch). Unfortunately Geraint couldn’t make it, and we eventually ended up with Matt Manning as dep. This process was not without difficulty though, and this was perhaps the first sign that a rocky road lay ahead (or at least a road with lots of high spots and low spots).
Almost accidentally, Matt became our band drummer from then on until close to the disbandment. I was very active from this point trying to get us gigs, and also doing many recordings of songs/pieces being developed. I also created a couple of home-grown CDs of our music to circulate and even sell at gigs. (Although these recordings were of a band in its early days, and weren’t produced to a ‘professional’ level, they encountered quite a bit of love from various people, and that was very encouraging).
One contact I made was with a Prog Radio DJ, Steve Gould, who ran a show with Midlands Metalheads. I sent him our CD, and he played a track on the show, and seemed quite impressed. He mentioned that he had a vague idea of putting on a bit of a ‘festival’ in the near future. Hence we ended up playing at the inaugural ‘Fusion’ Progressive music festival, which will be in its third year in 2020. Also out of this connection we ended up being signed to a label – Progressive Gears Records.
Another avenue I pursued was in Southampton, where Geoff Tucker ran promotions for progressive bands, at the now defunct Talking Heads venue, and later at the 1865 (both superb places to play and to watch). It was/is very enjoyable just to go to these concerts, normally on a Sunday, and is a very comfortable experience for the gig-goer. I gave Geoff a copy of our CD, and he said he would look out for gig opportunities for us. We ended up playing support for a prog covers band (Progspawn) at a charity gig, and then subsequently we ended up playing three more times at Geoff’s promotions, each time seeming to go down extremely well, and creating a bit of a following (as well as selling out of CDs and selling a few t-shirts!).
The break-up of the band in June 2019 was a very stressful affair, though in fact a lot of the previous few months leading up were also very stressful. We had been developing and recording, slowly, a CD which was meant to be our first ‘proper’ CD, but, for whatever reasons, we didn’t get far enough, quickly enough, and didn’t achieve the standard we wanted within the time-frame we had set ourselves. This was one of several issues which caused mounting problems, which we didn’t deal with very well at all in the end. We had had previous band meetings to resolve our issues, and in each case, it seemed like we had got back on track. Nerves are too raw to be able to air the whys and wherefores of the break-up publicly, and it would serve no useful purpose, but suffice to say there are differing views about what and why it happened and how it all came about – so if you do read or hear anything, please bear in mind that there is likely to be at least one other side to the story. One major frustration for myself was that, at previous band meets, we had agreed to not conduct aggressive dialogue over text and email, and that, should the signs occur that this was starting, we should stop and physically meet up to talk things through, – a method which had always worked in the past. Suffice to say that we didn’t do this at the end, and the break-up was done entirely over text and email. At the moment of writing this, the last time we actually met (and spoke) was before the break up, and we had been on good terms…..we almost always were when we met up, and the negativity that non-physical communication and social media seems to encourage has been well and truly brought home to me.
Our last gig was probably our best received of all – at the 1865 towards the end of May, and it felt like we could take a good step towards being on par with well-established acts. By the end of June, the band was over. So it seems that a lot of potential was abandoned, and wasted. Hopefully some of the band members will be able to build on the kudos the band achieved in their future projects, so it wouldn’t have been a complete waste.
One thing which I learnt from the experience of being in a band that was getting great reviews and making great musical progress – and that is that some people can easily be thrown into an aggressive, unpleasant jealousy – people that one may have counted as friends. They will try to undermine things whenever they can, by casting doubt on aspects of the band or the music, or the musicianship or commitment of some members. They often try to do this passive-aggressively, normally to other friends, but also sometimes slyly to band members themselves directly or indirectly. They think they are doing this incognito, but they are always found out. These are people who like to pull the wings off butterflies, and they are not worthy of any consideration.
There is more info on Quiet Wish at the website www.quietwish.com.
My first thought, quite soon after the break-up of Quiet Wish was to try to ‘get back on the bike’ as soon as possible, or at least play some music, despite stress levels still not dissipated. I thought that maybe I would have one more ‘proper’ band left in me, although I had previously been determined that Quiet Wish would be the final one for me, especially having put such dedication into it for so long. Well after a few very enjoyable fun and informal jams with no commitments whatsoever, an incident occurred which reminded me how difficult interactions in bands could be. People often seem to misunderstand each other, or misinterpret things, or mis-remember things (or have short memories), which is maybe only human nature, and generally any resulting problem should be able to be sorted by respectful dialogue. But when someone has a short fuse and wants to make a crisis out of it to support their own agenda, or over-sensitivities (and egos), the result can easily be unjustified anger, jealously, resentment, aggression, confrontation, insults, disrespect or other negativity. I asked myself, first, whether my own particular personality can unintentionally contribute to this in others, and, secondly, regardless of that, did I really want to put myself through that type of thing (again)? The answer was easy: no, not now, and probably not ever again. I am done with all the non-musical luggage that seems to have to be carried, and I am very happy to be artistically largely on my own from now on – there are lots of things I want to do, and I will strive to avoid all the negativity, at all costs, in the future.
As of Aug 2019, I am gearing up to venture on a new project – which is to at last finally complete and record a collection of my own songs and musical creations and also, in parallel, create accompanying music videos – solo, singer/songwriter acoustic or electric with guest musicians for some tracks. This is aimed to be a good culmination of all the various aspects of music and video that I have been interested in during my life so far, and will hopefully give me a lot of personal satisfaction to achieve something I am proud of. I hope to achieve a good standard all round, but don’t really mind if it remains a personal thing and doesn’t create any outside interest. It has aroused in me an interest in short film-making too, which is a nice topping to the cake! I am giving myself at least the next year to get all this sorted, along with various other things in my life. Having devoted myself musically entirely and exclusively to Quiet Wish in the previous 5 years, it is now getting late in the day at my age, and health decline becomes more likely to set in at my age, so it is best I get going on this, and at least feel I have tied up some loose ends. Whether any of this will ever be taken out on the road, or performed publicly at all, remains to be seen. But I hope something good will come out of it, and just making a bit of money for charity will make it more than worthwhile. (Also the ‘QWT’ project could well be taken further in the coming months, and we can see if we can get the great music being produced by many in the ‘grass roots’ area shared with the world by a new, different means.)
Thanks and kind thoughts to everyone mentioned above for aiding and abetting this musical journey (and also to many not mentioned).
To be continued (hopefully).