Bandwidth (originally posted 19/7/13)

By ProgBlog, Mar 30 2014 08:47PM

It was at school that I first ventured into learning a musical instrument. I bought my first bass guitar in 1977, shortly after my 18th birthday. The guitar was a sunburst-finish Fender Precision copy devoid of any manufacturer’s details and cost £59 from home electrical shop Kelly’s. I also bought an unbranded 15 Watt practice amp for £30 which was so basic I didn’t find out that it had an on/off switch until I sold it over a year later. Why a bass? I reasoned that there was a surfeit of aspiring guitarists around, and learning a bass from scratch was always going to be easier than figuring out six strings. As much as I admired the work of Robert Fripp, Steve Howe and John McLaughlin, I had always sympathised with what I considered to be the unsung hero of a band. Jazz rock bassists like Jeff Clyne, Hugh Hopper and Stanley Clarke demonstrated instrumental virtuosity but there was also a cohort of rock exponents, including Paul McCartney, Chris Squire, John Entwistle, John Wetton, Jack Bruce and Martin Turner, who added a distinct dynamism that is best summed up by the term ‘English school’.

At around the same time as I was investing in four strings my friend Bill Burford bought himself a second-hand Premier drum kit for something over £100. This was set up in his bedroom, and we would invite various guitar-playing school friends over to jam. Phil Watson, part of the album loan faction with his copy of Visions of the Emerald Beyond by the Mahavishnu Orchestra, provided guitar lines for Heart of the Sunrise and Sunshine of Your Love. John Bull had loaned out some Pink Floyd bootlegs and when he attended our jam sessions they tended to be based around early Floyd songs. Though this was enjoyable, it was rather directionless. We admired some of the same bands, but none of us expressed any desire to form a band together.

I always wanted to be in a band with keyboards, so when fellow Infield Park resident John Carrott walked into Woolworth’s one day and came out with a organ, the moment arrived. Bill Burford, John Carrott and I had overlapping musical tastes that included a penchant for the dark dynamic power improvisations of King Crimson and the psychedelic loose early Pink Floyd improvisations; anything prog.

The organ had a great faraway, dreamy Floyd sound, so we rehearsed A Saucerful of Secrets, Set the Controls for the Heart of the Sun, Careful with that Axe, Eugene, plus a few jointly-penned rambling compositions. We were all interested in geology so the band adopted the moniker Orycta, a truncated name for the Cambrian trilobite Oryctocephalus.

John Carrott delved deeper into the structure of jazz chords and bought himself an Elka electric piano. Bill Burford studied drumming and was forever adding extra pieces of percussion to his kit. I used the bass as another lead instrument, helped by a rather clunky fuzz-wah pedal.

The line-up was further expanded by amateur operatic singer Elaine Hart, Steve Bassett on guitar and Joe Chavez on frequency generator. Steve Bassett was really a bassist (he owned a rather nice Shergold which were in vogue because at the time they were the models of choice for Mike Rutherford) but he also owned a Les Paul copy. Joe Chavez was not a musician, but owned a number of electronic gadgets and a large stereo radio cassette deck for recording the band. This was later replaced by a second hand Revox reel-to-reel tape recorder. This augmented line-up was responsible for a couple of new songs: Communication Between Electric Bodies Under Sodium Lamp (a structured jam based on King Crimson’s Providence and named after a bootlegged Crimson recording entitled Vista of Sweaty Bodies Under Arc Lamp); and Chanel No.19, a song with my lyrics and a tricky section with a rather odd meter (19/16 time was one guess). Most material was recorded onto tape and we’d treat the playback sessions as though we were being invited to critique a new album that one of us had just bought. Orycta drifted apart when the members went off to different universities without ever having played a concert.

Sometime in 1979 during my first year at University I put up an advert on the college notice board looking for a drummer, a guitarist and a keyboard player, specifically interested in prog. The advert was answered by a drummer who lived in Bexleyheath, also close to my hall of residence. I no longer remember his name, but he was not a full time student at Goldsmiths’. He took drum lessons at evening classes held at the college and had a full time job (working for Rothman’s cigarettes). We got on quite well because of our shared musical idols. Bill Bruford was one of his heroes, and it transpired that he’d seen the 1972-4 Crimson live. We had a couple of jams (he was a good drummer) and invited a guitarist along to try out. I wasn’t present for this audition and the guitarist was rejected, possibly because he wasn’t in favour of the proposed musical direction, or possibly because he was too good. There’s a rumour that this guitarist subsequently surfaced in some band that was just hitting the big time. This band might have been Landscape, but they didn’t have a guitarist. I used to think that he became the guitarist for Level 42, but that’s hard to believe. Sadly, nothing became of the venture because there was no further interest from guitarists or keyboard players. There was also the fact that I didn’t have any transportation, and revision for my first year exams interfered with any plans. It wasn’t until 1984 that I first performed live...

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