It was 30 years ago today (originally posted 25/2/14)

By ProgBlog, Mar 30 2014 08:38PM

Last weekend was the 30th anniversary of my first live performance. Orycta, the first band I’d been in, never performed. The break-up of Orycta, precipitated by members spreading out across the country in pursuit of higher education, led to some impressive gigs by Bill Burford who was at the core of a number of bands at Keele who went under different names including Innuendo and Men of Principle and, under the guidance of guitarist Mark Hancock, they played some clever, original Art-Rock. Their crowning glory was as a support act at a Keele University summer ball, headlined by Wishbone Ash. I was roadie and unofficial photographer for them that day. Bill, resident in east Cumbria, is currently performing with Water’s Edge who play what can be best described as ‘intelligent adult rock’. They are currently in the studio finalising their fifth album, Silent Applause.

I attempted to form a band in my first year at uni but a shortage of musician friends who were into prog meant the attempt ended in failure. My next venture was in 1983, when friend and work colleague Alistair Penny suggested that there was an opportunity to perform at a series of community concerts in Thornton Heath. As a prelude to this possible gig, Alistair and I helped out as stage hands and then got drafted in as full time members of the local amateur dramatics group. We saw this move as a necessary step towards a band performance, though landing roles in Oliver (I was Mr Sourberry) had not been part of the original plan.

I had bought myself a Casio MT-40 synthesizer and began working on some material that might be suitable. Alistair was to be the keyboard player though at the time he’d not learned how to play. Eric Whitton, my flatmate and friend from Barrow was drafted in on guitar and the beat was provided by the Casio. We called ourselves BCC2, having previously lived in a flat in Beechcroft Close in Streatham. I resurrected and rearranged an Orycta song called Pure Chants for the performance, a paean to the Neolithic stone circle near Ulverston in Cumbria which was to be the only hint towards prog. The next song was a pastiche of electro-pop which happened to be popular around that time; based on a kind of Kraftwerk keyboard riff played on the brass preset, I composed a song called Tracey in Pixie Boots that also featured a short keyboard solo (flute pre-set). Eric provided the last song for our 15-minute set, the short and not-at-all sweet True Love Song.

We were faced with the challenge of rehearsing the material to get it to a stage where we felt we’d be ready to play it live. As the dates approached we realised that we were not going to be ready and invoked plan B, the pre-recorded backing tracks. These were recorded one evening in the week before the concerts with me doubling up on bass and keyboards for Pure Chants and playing keyboards on Tracey with Alistair on bass. It had been decided that we’d mount the Casio on two cassette tape decks, one for playback and the other for recording the event and we’d do the vocals live; I was to sing my songs and Eric would sing his True Love Song.

We asked the MC to introduce us with Alan Freeman’s lines from ELP’s triple live album which worked rather well because we’d managed to get a slot immediately after the interval. He duly complied, with a deadpan delivery: “Welcome back my friends to the show that never ends. Ladies and gentlemen, B C C”

Over the three nights 23rd, 24th and 25th February 1984, we played our brand of subversive rock to around 250 friends, children, parents and grandparents. I’m not entirely sure how it really went down with the residents of Thornton Heath but we did get applause and, from a personal perspective, it was thoroughly enjoyable. There were a very limited number of musical acts on the bill but the competition seemed to think we were ok and no one twigged that we’d used backing tapes. Even the solo on Tracey was regarded in a favourable light – Eric was asked by some of his colleagues if our keyboard player would join their band!

For the concerts the next year (February 21st, 22nd and 23rd) we added a female vocalist, expanded the keyboard rig and as a group, invested in a state of the art Roland TR606 drum machine. We even changed our name to HTLV III, the European preference for the name of the virus that would later become called HIV – Alistair and I were both employees of the National Blood Transfusion Service and HIV transmission through blood products was just becoming understood. Shirley Singh was from our drama group and had hung around with members of the fledgling New Romantic movement. Alistair acquired a very nice Korg monophonic analogue synthesizer, an organ and a portable synthesizer. The set was performed live and included Pure Chants (as a crowd pleaser) and a group composition, Anthony, which was influenced by Shirley’s appreciation of Bauhaus – she was aware that I liked Brian Eno and Bauhaus had done a cover version of Eno’s Third Uncle. We even used to run through Bela Lugosi’s Dead at rehearsals.

With a rotating amber warning light erected under the keyboard stand (an upgrade from the 1984 lighting effect - a series of flashbulbs fired off at the same time) and much better make-up (mine was based on Peter Gabriel’s make up as depicted on Plays Live), the 1985 concerts were more satisfactory than 1984. The final gig of 1985 was to be the end of my live music career – Eric moved out of the immediate area and my bass was stolen during a break-in at my basement flat that November when I was on holiday in Tenerife and was not replaced until 1988.

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