All Good Things
27th April 1998, is forever etched in the memory, playing a first gig at the legendary Band On The Wall, Manchester.
The band Proud Mary are playing, and as bass player, I was about to reach another milestone, treading the same steps as Terry Callier, Ian Curtis, Gill Scott Heron and Pete Shelley once did.
I was late for sound check, and met with silence on entering, hurriedly mounting the stage carrying the Fender Precision bass guitar, I'd recently acquired from Johnny Roadhouse Music shop.
It’d replaced an Epiphone A-260.
Bass version of the red Gibson Johnny Marr used in early Smith’s performances, that was supposedly causing feedback on stage, so no matter how much I loved it, it had to go.
I’d just done a 6-2 shift and as bandmates huddled together, I plugged in alone, breaking the gig rule of doing the bass guitar sound check last.
Our singer, Greg, emerged from the conflab to ask where I’d been.
“At work, mate,” I told him.
He glanced towards his fellow band members, before turning in silence towards the dressing room.
I’d got my priorities wrong, and a job would simply get in the way.
The verdict was damning and as always, unspoken.
We’d recently featured in the Manchester Evening News’ weekly music pull-out, together with a group photo and I called as many people I could that Friday tea-time, with the essential news that we were in the paper.
“You look like you’re out of that Sesame Street song - One of these kids is not like the other one”, was one comment on seeing the accompanying band pic.
They had a point.
The standard Jagger/Gallagher band haircut was only present on four out of the five band mates, as the group shot only amplified the number three head, smack in the middle, looking a touch too pleased to be there.
If I’d been in a Blackpool novelty photo booth and picked the celebrity background option as ‘1990’s UK Guitar band’, it would have had a very similar outcome.
The article confirmed to the world our new band name; Proud Mary.
Taken from a 1969 Creedence Clearwater Revival song, it wasn’t something that had any lasting impact on first hearing it.
Starting out a year ago, we were 'Hustler', and although not a truly great band name like New Order or The Rolling Stones, it’d pass the ‘So, what’s your band called?’ piss-take-test easily, leaving a second of thoughtful silence after delivery, as the case with most decent ones.
Whether it be my mum or mates at work, the response on hearing our new band name was uncannily the same, always prompting a further question;
“Proud fuckin’ Mary?”
Preparation for world domination was underway and the fact several other bands were already called Hustler, would’ve meant problems when the inevitable happened, so reluctantly, had to be ditched.
The MEN write up was positive, tipping us for big things, but also referenced the elephant in the rehearsal room; the thing I’d hoped would remain unnoticed and could pretend to be in as much shock as everyone else if ever exposed -
Proud Mary were a country band.
It’d crept under my limited musical radar as clothes, lyrics and sound were covertly directed down the C&W path, hiding in plain sight, but it was only when the MEN pointed it out in print that the penny finally dropped, even ending their write up with the word, “Yeehaw!”
It was ok to sound county; Happy Mondays second album, Bummed, opened with a country song, called ‘Country Song’.
It was ok to like country; I’d been brought up listening to Johnny Cash and Glen Campbell stuff from my parents vinyl collection.
What didn’t sit well was being in a band originating from Oldham singing about prairies, railroads and sad guitars in full Texan drawl, backed up by boot cuts and double denim.
This wasn’t a song on our second album; it defined the band.
Eighteen months ago I thought I’d joined the next Oasis; it turned out to be the next Dr Hook.
A year and a half ago in 1996, I was living in San Fernando Valley, California, and after a series of extended visits, the plan this time was to stay indefinitely.
I worked through the summer months as a football coach, and as the kids went back to school, got on with securing the three essentials for LA life; somewhere to live, work and a car, eventually sub-letting a room in the Valley, from two Scottish lads I’d got mates with.
George and Martin rented a five bedroom house kitted out with regulation pool, and as they’d both been settled out there for a few years, went out of their way to help me get some roots down.
LA had a big contingent from the UK, mainly based around Santa Monica, many of them venturing west more out of necessity than sense of adventure and George fell into this category.
He never said why he couldn’t go back to Greenock, but set himself up a sideline supplying many of the party mad Brits with the finest Columbian for their nights out around the city of angels.
The problem of him not being able to drive was solved on discovering I’d just spent $550 on a twelve year old, sea green, VW Jetta.
He’d now got his own delivery driver.
Dropping off white envelopes to customers at various Taco Bell, Fat Burger and McDonald’s car parks around west L.A. meant I got cheap rent, but long term, I needed something that wouldn’t end up in an involuntary pilgrimage to San Quentin, or worse.
Many who’d made the long journey west, set themselves up in the building trade, and this was always a good starting point, looking for work.
Stewy was a painter and decorator, who specialised in house exteriors and was in much demand around the huge properties close to the Pacific affected by salt erosion.
He was also a regular patron of George’s.
He needed help covering windows and doors in plastic sheeting, so he could follow up close behind with his industrial spray gun, and as I owned a car, fit the bill perfectly as he didn’t need to pick me up everyday.
At the lavish, white mansions dotted across the Pacific Palisades hills, we’d get three course alfresco lunches with an ocean view, laid on by L.A. housewives returning from their morning tennis lessons, as we’d stretch out two hour jobs to last six.
It was work but didn’t feel like work.
As with most of the lads over there, we’d play hard.
This was Los Angeles, and nights out would carry on and on with keys, wallet and essentially, sunglasses on the checklist when leaving home as you wasn’t getting back until the next day, or the day after.
My birthday was mid September and I went out after work for a few drinks, only to be woken the next day by Martin passing the phone to me laid up on the settee, saying it’s Stewy, and he wants to know where you are.
This was the second time I’d blown work in two weeks, and he’d had enough.
I couldn’t help making the same mistake many others did when starting out abroad; thinking it was just a really long holiday.
The only time homesickness kicked in was when I was skint, so the return flight ticket in my bag now seemed like an enticing option.
I told George and Martin, I planned to have two weeks at home, raise some cash then get a flight back out again. With the car and the bulk of my gear left back in the Valley, I packed a small bag and flew home.
A homecoming Friday night out in Oldham town centre, only served as a slow cooked reminder of why I’d left in the first place, as the night felt darker, and the omnipresence of a kick off made Santa Monica seem like Grange over Sands.
Crossing George Street, I saw someone I recognised.
Paul was a guitar player who’d been in a band called the YaYa’s through the early 90s, and he actually wrote the songs.
They’d supported early Oasis gigs and Liam Gallagher’s first band Rain, when starting out and I’d heard he was getting a new band together.
In 1995, when Oasis’s then bass player Guigsy, went ‘sick’ prior to a US tour, it was ex-YaYa’s bassist, Scott McCloud who’d been called on to fill the gap, ending up in the Wonderwall video, sat nonchalantly reading a newspaper.
Paul had a loose connection to the biggest band on the planet.
I’d owned a Bass guitar for a few years, and as with many music fans, made the logical progression to have a go at playing myself.
Having only four strings, it looked an easy way in, especially after struggling to get a chord out of the old acoustic sat in the corner of my bedroom for years.
It was harder than it looks.
Easiest to play, hardest to play well, with a number of learning points along the way.
I taught myself the riffs from Back by Dope Demand, NWA’s Express Y’self and played along to Stu Allen’s Sunday night radio show on Piccadilly, progressing on to the blueprint for any aspiring twenty something bass player; Joy Division’s ‘Unknown Pleasures’.
I learned that a bassline can have a life of its own within a song, and started to hear familiar tunes in a different light.
Being a fan of The Smiths since school, I could now hear the joy of Andy Rourke’s unfathomable funk wove beneath the guitars, that I’d never done previously and attempts to mimic his style were a big influence in learning how to play.
I learned playing a bass guitar isn’t suited to playing alone.
My mate Colin was a drummer, and along with two other local guitarists, Dave and Jimmy, we got together renting a practice room above a pub every Sunday, only ever referring to it as ‘jamming’, never that we were in a band.
What tended to happen was Dave and Jimmy would be picking out some Crosby, Stills & Nash tune at one end of the room, whilst me and Colin would be banging out Rapper’s Delight at the other, never grasping the first rule of being in a band; all playing roughly the same thing at the same time.
What we never had was that creative spark that sets apart decent bands from the rest.
That genius of invention that could transform a mangle of noise into something original and Paul was a bonafide songwriter.
A window of opportunity swung invitingly open in the bleak Oldham night.
“Are you Paul? I heard you’re after a bass player”.
I’d just referred to myself as a ‘player’ for the first time, as my stagnant career path took a drunken handbrake turn.
The tenuous Oasis connection, carried currency. Enough to accost a stranger in the middle of a pelican crossing at half ten on a Friday night.
Oasis were the indisputable biggest band in the world at the time with single releases famously discussed on the six o’clock news and every utterance repeated as a tabloid headline, telling the world how ace they were, and the world agreed.
One positive word from Noel, could propel a band straight into the spotlight and be the opener on TFI Friday the following week.
If he said they’re good; then they must be.
Their Bowie/Slade/Pistols schtick never hit me the way it did much of the nation.
I’d be laughed out of court at bitter breakdowns of which Bowie melody they’d ripped off or for pointing out the banality of rhyming ‘winding’ with ‘blinding’.
They were beyond criticism in the media and troublingly, amongst friends, but I couldn’t help seeing them simply as the musical equivalent of Wimbledon winning the FA cup, but with less finesse.
These sporadic outbreaks of sour grapes would only provoke the same reaction as if slating Morecambe and Wise or Peter Kay, and I’d be left feeling like the boy who saw through the Emperor’s new clothes.
The truth was the Emperor wasn’t totally naked; he just had shit trainers on.
Oasis cited the same gigs I’d been to in my early teens and into a lot of the same stuff, but crucially, managed to channel their influences into something sounding half decent propelling them into the consciousness of the nation and beyond.
Their genius was making it all look very easy. If they could make a decent record, then why couldn’t anyone else, even someone in their mid 20s, prepared to snub a life in California to do so.
“What stuff are you into?” Paul asked.
Any future musical career depended on giving the right answer.
I couldn’t say the Beatles, even though I’d been into them long before the Gallaghers made it alright to be a fan again.
Best not mention the Supertramp phase I’d recently gone through, or the fact I owned a Vanessa Paradis album.
“Bowie” came from nowhere, gaining an upwards nod in approval.
He advised me of the band’s name; Hustler, at which I nodded back, leaving a second of thoughtful silence.
He left, advising me to get in touch with their drummer, Gilly, and arrange to come down to practice the next week.
Hustler already had a card-carrying pop star type in their line up.
Craig Gill was an ex-Inspiral Carpet, so even after not hearing a single note of my prospective new band, knew if he’d put his faith in them, they must be somewhere near decent.
He knocked on my front door, holding a demo tape of acoustic tracks for me to learn before coming to practice, and I loosely knew him from school football days.
He joined the Inspiarls at 15, and I’d caught them early in their ascent to stardom supporting the Stone Roses at International One where he was immense on stage, showing not only to be a brilliant drummer, but like truly great ones before him, brilliant to watch too.
At a house party not long after the Roses gig, me and a mate had too many Merrydowns and collared him on the stairs, offering some prophetic advice,
“Your bands really good, but you need to lose that fuckin organ player”.
Gilly was magnanimous towards this critique of his band’s songwriter and founder, and during his time as an Inspiral Carpet, probably wasn’t the last time he’d hear it.
By his mid 20’s, he’d already ticked the full set of boxes for rock star drummer; playing Glastonbury and Reading Festivals, Top of The Pops a few times and played on 3 top ten albums.
When his bandmates hit a creative wall, and the listening public had had enough of their organ driven pounders, an unofficial hiatus ensued, going their separate ways. As their founder Clint Boon, approached 40, Gilly was still only 26 , in the prime of his music career and itching for a new challenge.
This was to be his fresh start and was just as eager for me to understand what I was potentially getting into, gushing with his hopes and what influences I needed to have.
Exile on Main Street by The Stones was to be an essential starting point, ashamedly admitting that I didn’t own a copy, but confirmed there’d be one on the CD shelf the next day.
Dylan too, especially Blonde on Blonde and Blood On The Tracks and of course, The Band.
Anything by Dylan’s former backing group was a must listen, there to be lapped up, learned and etched into my psyche.
I’d pretended to like Oasis in order to avoid difficult pub conversations, so could do the same with The Band, no problem.
Gilly passionately convinced me the enormity of what I was about to get into, confiding that Paul had been offered a support slot at Oasis’s famous Maine Road gigs earlier that year, but the band simply wasn’t ready.
My heart pounded, and even after not hearing a note, wanted to join this band above anything else in life.
The songs weren’t fully formed and sounded half cooked as with any demo, but had strong melodies, and great vocals so spent hours trying to find root notes for the chords then playing around each one.
My first practice session went well with hardly a bum note played and the shaky acoustic numbers from the tape grew big balls as the electric Gibson and drums beefed out the melodies.
There was one song off the tape with a working title ‘My Cup of Tea’ that Paul asked if I knew before counting in to it.
The hairs stood up on the back of my neck at what felt like a monster tune before Chink, the rythm guitarist, extinguished what sounded like a sure fire top ten hit with an anodyne put down, killing the buzz stone dead,
“Nah – Too Oasis”,
It was a bit like Oasis’s Whatever, but still sounded bloody ace, realising he must be the audible conscience of Hustler, speaking what everyone was really thinking.
He’d introduced himself as ‘backing vocals and fellow writer’, so must’ve been high up in the five way pecking order, with me understandably bottom of the food chain, being new;
and not knowing who The Band were.
Greg, was a few years younger than the rest of us who were all around the same age.
Four years is a lot in your mid 20’s and was something he worked on to avoid being the one who did all the stupid stuff like singing into a mic that wasn’t plugged in or having a go on the drums, thinking no one was looking.
He didn’t know it at the time, but wouldn’t have to worry about that from here on in.
On leaving rehearsal, no one said a word so asked should I come back next week.
Paul, Greg and Chink nodded before Chink replied with a resounding ‘yes’, bemused I’d even asked.
I was never officially asked to join, but the nod confirmed it, and 5,281 miles directly west, Scottish George unbeknowingly just acquired himself a car.
We practiced twice a week at our rehearsal room in Stevenson Square in the centre of town, working on a set of six tunes as the basis of a live set.
I ditched the Wigan Casino compilation CD's as it wasn't the best prep for my new direction. Joy Division and the Jurassic 5 went out in favour of Exile, The Big Pink, and Blonde on Blonde.
This was all about a lead lick or a harmony, so strived to find that elusive space somewhere between the fire of the Telecaster and the ice of the vocals; that lukewarm water position, holding it all together.
You didn’t hear the bass guitar, you felt it.
Gilly managed to get us a slot at the Duchess of York in Leeds, supporting a local band called Paris Man, so officially had a date for our debut gig.
Oasis had played there in 94 and was famously the venue for Nirvana’s first UK show.
In a pub round the corner from the Duchess, we met Paris Man.
No one wanted to be the support act as a lot of our mates would still be on their way over and miss our slot, so gentle persuasion was required and Paris Man’s singer agreed to make way, with the Oasis/Inspirals connection proving a tough negotiating tactic.
Their set seemed to last forever, with each song hitting the 4-minute mark, as their Charlatans-inspired standards went on and on.
They mentioned they ended with a cover of I’m Free by The Rolling Stones, and a hit for the Soup Dragons pronounced as ‘Soap Dragons’ by the singer.
As the opening bars kicked in relief filled the room as the wait appeared almost over, only for the singer to recite the full Reggae break done by Junior Reid on the single, giving it an uncomfortable Yorkshire twist, as Paris Man covered the 12” version of 'I’m Free', not the radio edit.
They played the outro and the singer said his goodbyes leaving the stage, but unbelievably the rest of the band carried on playing without him.
The guitarist went off on a freestyle solo before the bassist took over going into a lone ‘Jazz Odyssey’ breakdown.
I despised each member of Paris Man more than the next.
The drummer finished off, toiling through a lone exhibition of non-descript stick work before making his way off, leaving the audience feeling like they’d just come off a trans-Atlantic flight.
I wanted to boo the fuckers.
We scribbled stage notes for our cosy six-song set backstage:
Take Your Time
Hats off To Living
She Got Soul
She came down from Heaven
Finishing off with a song called ‘Goodnight’, which had the word ‘Goodnight’ repeated over and over in the coda, felt like a Von Trapp Family Singers number but could be forgiven as the preceding tune, Autograph Hunter, was a stone cold classic in the making.
Lyrics about a fan/celebrity encounter, with a killer riff and a Resurrection-style rock out to end.
It also had a bass guitar solo.
I always thought it'd look cool to perform with your back to the audience like Stuart Sutcliffe did in the Beatles biopic, Backbeat, and even though it seemed a more stupid idea the closer it came to stage time, was adamant on going through with it.
A quick glance at the audience of around 100, had too many familiar faces, so the plan felt more of a necessity than musical statement.
The early songs went off with no hitch and Greg sounded great.
He always did, with a hint of early Rod Stewart-style gravel without trying to be anyone else.
He had a charisma that infected the audience all good frontmen have.
We were halfway through and I started to be aware of the crowd’s cheers and whistles with collective head movements during our tunes.
It was time to make the change and face them.
On turning, saw the speaker to my left had been mounted by an audience member in the midst of full-blown bargain basement Bez attempt.
Realising we weren't the Happy Mondays, he'd resorted to a slow-motion stomp, beckoning me over for a stage duet in a desperate cry for help.
My eyes begged him to stop, but that ship had sailed, so turned straight back into the safety of Stuart Sutcliffe stance.
The Paris Man extended 'Soap Dragons' tribute came back to haunt us as the sound man gestured a finger across his throat, meaning we had to finish with one song left to play as it came up to closing time.
The spirit of Hendrix would have struck us down on the spot if we’d obliged and unplugged, so carried on with the final tune.
Having none of it, the soundman switched off the P.A. and turned the lights on, igniting the crowd to voice their disappointment in full pantomime mode.
The band carried on.
No amps, just drums, acapella vocals, and unplugged guitars, as the rock n roll rebellion tradition kicked in, throwing it back to ‘the man’, but in a thoughtful way, as a drumstick whizzed past my ear hitting the wall above the sound engineer’s desk as he ducked with expert timing.
All the hours spent rehearsing over the last few months had paid off and the gig went down well.
A small buzz of expectation sprouted within and around the five of us, sharing a feeling of hope and a growing belief we’d inevitably find success.
The songs weren’t fully formed but had huge potential, often likened to The Faces and it was only a matter of time before Paul penned something really special.
In the pub after practice, we’d excitedly discuss what sort of album deal we’d accept and which producer we’d be happy working with.
We moved from a shared rehearsal room in Stephenson’s square to an old barn in Delph, giving us our own space, secluded from the outside world nestled in the Saddleworth hills, and started a run of gigs at The Roadhouse, on Newton Street, from late 96,
The usual crowd of friends was swelled each show by growing numbers of unfamiliar faces as the early gig nerves evolved into the sheer adrenalin of playing live, pulling the five of us closer and basking in that unknown high of the post gig backstage buzz.
I even started to face the crowd.
After one uncomfortable sound check, Chink dropped the ‘backing vocals’ tag form his CV.
He realised in order to set the sound levels, you had to sing on your own, through a mic and with no musical accompaniment.
The consensus of those who witnessed this was to make it stop as soon as possible, as Chink managed to unite the band like never before. Even the soundman was in agreement.
And the two door staff.
Another Roadhouse gig saw the first outing of a new tune called Same Old Blues.
I never had the blues.
Even summertime ones and never felt like singing them either.
It was a classic cliche that many bands I was into steered well clear of and it would just remind me of the BlueRibband TV advert from the 70s.
We played it live, and the plan was to just have Chink pick away on acoustic, as Greg sang along to the lone guitar.
Paul broke rank mid song, filling in with delicate harmonics on his Telecaster as Gilly followed suit, tapping his closed hi-hat in slow time.
The bass guitar can’t be played as an incidental back up, especially when using a six foot valve amp that shakes the floor with every note, so the pair left me standing alone with only my pick in my hand.
Being on stage when you’re not playing anything is a whole new ball game, trying hard to look interesting whilst doing absolutely nothing.
Chink and Greg did high fives at the end of a ballsy performance as the hundred strong crowd roared in appreciation, but I still didn’t feel the blues, even Roadhouse ones.
We got the chance to play The Boardwalk in March as a headline act supported by two bands, The Yard and King Kong.
We’d been playing a new tune called Stay Forever which had an instant impact on first listen.
In practice at the barn, we played it as Greg’s girlfriend accompanied him.
It was frowned upon to bring anyone to our practice sessions so don’t think she knew how honoured she was to be there.
To an audience of one, we went straight into Stay Forever and she was blown away at the end breaking out into lone applause, excitedly claiming,
“That’s so good! It reminds me of ‘Take Me Home Country Roads’”.
The room fell silent as eyes briefly locked across the chasm of the rehearsal space confirming unanimous disapproval at the uninvited guest’s comments.
Greg must’ve forgotten to mention to his soon-to-be-ex, the unspoken rule about never saying a tune sounded like something else, even if it did.
Paul retreated to his amp knobs for the next hour, with Chink following his lead putting a stop to any further performance that night, as Greg attempted to climb out of his own skin.
The band’s future rested on the gift of Paul’s creativity, so this had to be nurtured and encouraged.
That creativity brings with it responsibility and by default you become the leader, if you want to or not.
No one ever said so, but guests weren’t welcome.
The Boardwalk was to be a great gig as we were headlining and came close to filling it out.
We did Stay Forever at soundcheck and I could see the sound engineer singing along as she set the room levels and bar staff abandoned their posts to come out onto the empty floor to watch.
My brother was a pub landlord of the Woodstock in Didsbury at the time and had won a regional award for landlord of the year with the prize being a night at the Midland Hotel, Manchester.
As he couldn’t come to the gig, he’d given the honour to me and my new girlfriend, Mair.
Playing a gig at The Boardwalk, then staying at the best hotel in town, was a very decent way to impress my new piece, feeling I was Emerson, Lake and Palmer all rolled into one, with the only thing missing being a Limo to take us back to our five star pad.
We stayed in the hotel bar after the gig, hitting the spirits still buzzing from what felt like another top show, crashing back at the room at some point in the early hours.
I was woken by a loud banging on the room door, seeing daylight had cracked the massive curtains, realising I was still full on pissed.
On opening the room door, the manager didn’t introduce himself, leaving his name tag to do that as he leant against the open frame.
I could hear an alarm that felt like a drill through the middle of my drunken forehead.
“Can you tell me what’s gone on in here last night?”.
He pointed to the bathroom, then barged past throwing the door open, placing his head in his hands as he screeched,
“You’ve left the bath running!”
I saw he was right as a never ending puddle lapped against my bare feet then continued past, flowing towards the open room door and into the hallway.
How the fuck did that happen?
I could hear the crackle of short wave radios approaching as two earpiece-wearing security staff entered giving the manager, confidence to let rip,
“You’ll have to pay for this!” he bawled.
“You’ve flooded the two floors below and we’ve had to evacuate the building!”.
I was still too drunk to process what to do, or even put up any sort of defence.
The security guards made sure we got out of the room as quickly as possible and ushered the pair of us towards reception, updating us en route that the water had now reached three floors below, not the original two.
Dressing-gown-clad guests filled the foyer, directed by hotel staff towards the assembly point on Peter Street, passing groups of firemen coming in the opposite way.
That really was two fire engines parked outside; it wasn’t a drill.
We were marched to the reception desk, flanked by our two security escorts in case we made a run for it.
I turned to Mair asking, “Did you run the bath last night?”
“No, I don’t think so. Did you?” she asked.
“I don’t think so. I wonder how it happened?”
Mair shrugged in reply as the manager appeared looking ashen faced, his sleeve still dripping from where he’d heroically removed the bath plug.
His forehead was dripping too but not from bath water.
“You’ll have to pay for this. It’s £2,000 for the Fire Brigade call out plus any damage to the hotel”.
Fuck the two grand; our kid would kill me.
I could still taste the brandy from a few hours before, as he took down our details, and I would have done anything in order to get the fuck out of there.
“Have you got any means of payment on you?”
We barely had enough bus fare to get home.
“We haven’t done anything. The tap must’ve leaked”,
I offered in slurred mitigation.
The manager made it clear I’d be hearing from their solicitors as they’d be pursuing damages.
I wished him luck and we made our way to the bus stop, before phoning our kid, opening the call with the only phrase applicable at such a time,
“You’re not gonna believe this…”
We could have trashed the room or been busted for cocaine but leaving the bath running didn’t meet the level of rock n roll hedonism I was aspiring to.
Playing regularly at The Roadhouse and around Manchester didn’t seem to be getting us the attention we felt was warranted.
The Verve were in their pomp and Bittersweet Symphony reminded us all too well of what could be done if the right band had the right tune.
The problem with being in a band is you lose the ability to enjoy stuff like everyone else, evoking feelings of ‘I wish we’d done that’.
The Verve were utter cunts.
Oasis released D’you Know What I Mean as a fore-runner to their much anticipated third album Be Here Now.
In the car on the way to practice it’s debut airing came on the radio, as we fell silent to hear our perceived rivals latest offering.
There was a collective disgust at Liam singing ‘get on the Helter Skelter’, not even trying to hide the Beatles references anymore, as a complacency virus hit Oasis from which they’d never recover.
Seeing the bar had dropped, a feeling of urgency crept in as it felt time was against us.
There was still no deal on the table and no suited execs waiting for us after gigs offering cheques.
Gilly got in touch with a guy who used to work with the Inspirals called Andy M, with the intention of managing us and hopefully trigger some momentum.
He heard our demo’s and was up for getting us more exposure, so arranged some gigs on consecutive dates around London on a mini tour.
We booked a studio in Prestwich in order to record some new songs and have a recent demo tape to give out around the London gigs.
These were more pedestrian and reflective than previous ones including tracks called My Love, Hold On and Beautiful Day.
Chink was a talented musician and had been filling up his days on the dole by learning Pedal Steel guitar, and doused the new numbers with it, as we sauntered towards a more prosaic direction.
An obsession with the collective look of the band started to be a topic of interest.
Levi’s brought out a denim shirt, that had star type studs with longer than usual collars and at practice Paul turned up in one, prompting Chink to enthuse how appealing the yoke looked, commenting it was “total C and W”.
Greg and Chink soon after appeared at different times sporting the very same one, with Gilly to his credit, at least getting one in white.
After much deliberation, I eventually took it as an unspoken president that this was my band homework for the week so I went out and spent £25 on the very same one.
The next practice, I removed my jacket to silent gasps from across the chasm.
“Them shirts are like a clitoris”,
“Every cunt’s got one”,
leaving us both to internalise who was the bigger idiot out of the pair of us.
We hired a van and set off for London from Delph, taking two mates along, the Cottee brothers – Adam and Matthew, who could help out with setting up the gear.
The first gig was in Camden, supporting an all girl band called Virago.
They had a washing line of womens underwear hung across the stage as part of their set backdrop and one of them approached me before the gig to ask if it was ok to leave it up during our set.
I’d have worn the contents if she’d asked me, so agreed on behalf of the band, but somehow forgot to mention it to the others before going on.
It was only when mounting the stage they realised our set would be played out to a backdrop of various knickers and bras all pegged out across a washing line.
A conflab of shaking heads broke out, as Greg apologetically explained to the handful of audience members,
“This shit’s nothing to do with us!”.
Virago’s guitarist stood pointing in my direction from the audience, clearly shouting something, only to be drowned out by the opening bars of Take Your Time.
Next gig was in Reading and the night Man Utd beat Juventus 3-2 in the Champions League group match at OT, so we watched it in a pub beforehand, ending up getting as pissed as I’d ever done for a gig before.
It was always a fine line, as a beer would take the edge off the nerves, but too many and I’d forget what to play.
Andy M had issued promo posters which said ‘Ex-Inspiral Carpets’ above the word ‘Hustler’ which was looked on as a faux pas.
Someone had a word, and Andy got the posters changed at the last minute to say ‘Ex YaYa’s/Inspiral Carpets’.
We took the stage as three people turned up to watch, uncertain who was there to see which ex band members.
A gig is a gig, whether playing to one or one thousand people and we pulled off the best show of the mini tour, feeling that buzz we’d all hit the same level at the same time.
The crowd of three never knew how lucky they were.
Our last gig was at a pub in Islington and I could see from the high stage that the place was full.
This was to be the climax of our tour, with invites going out to various music types in Andy’s network, with the chance for them to witness the next big thing and hopes were high it’d be the night we finally got spotted.
This began to weigh heavy and the new tunes felt rushed with the crowd appearing ambivalent, almost as if expecting a bit more.
Ex-Brookside star, Anna Friel was in the audience, and as we heralded from roughly the same area, came to meet us after the show, causing an Airplane style queue to breakout backstage, all with the intention to throw their hat in the ring, as Adam Cottee pointed out,
“If she’d shag Robbie Williams, anyone had a chance”.
It turned out they didn’t.
Gilly introduced me to a guy from the band Apollo 440, with the best he could offer by way of encouragement being, “You just need loads of gigs”, gently implying we were still a work in progress.
Before leaving for home we visited Noel Gallagher’s house in Primrose Hill armed with our new demo, almost as a necessary end to a pilgrimage.
On the street outside a handful of fans lined the garden wall, decorated in coloured chalked messages and lyrics to their songs.
Paul stopped frozen in the street, gripping a C60 cassette with a felt tip song list on the front so I took it off him and leapt the garden gate of Supernova Heights and knocked on.
No one was home, so I posted it by hand along with a handwritten letter from Paul, in the hope Noel would hear it and decide to give us his all powerful blessing.
The phone never rang and a post tour hangover kicked in.
A band discussion followed that concluded with us deciding to give up work so we could all practice full time during the day.
Gilly had DJ work at the Hacienda indie night so was free in the daytime and Greg had a job making ice cream cornets so it was the excuse he needed to leave.
Paul and Chink were both already on the dole so that just left the bass player to make the leap of faith and show his committment.
A printers in Rochdale, didn’t have enough pulling power over the chance to do something with the band and I’d only be walking away from that record deal potentially around the corner.
The prospect of playing on an actual record was still something I’d have loved to do even though that elusive corner seemed to be getting bigger by the week.
I’d always wanted to play at Glastonbury too.
My only doubt being the tunes I thought had so much potential were becoming less and less what I’d joined up to play, so I left my job unsure if I was still into the band as much as my band mates.
Some people can survive on the dole and do it well, but I struggled.
I couldn’t afford petrol or cigs so opted to bus it to places in order to still afford my ten Embassy, and would be counting the hours down to that life saving Giro arrival.
At next practice, it was discussed we’d got a gig the following week and I was hoping for a decent support slot at The Academy or even The Apollo would’ve been great.
It was a wedding.
The wedding of a school mate of Paul’s who had arranged for us to play after the meals and before the evening DJ slot.
Gig goers want to come and see you, either because they like you or interested in what you have to offer, whereas Wedding guests expect to be entertained and more importantly, dance so having not heard ‘Goodnight’ before, they would only be left disappointed.
As kids fought with balloons across the empty dance floor, a lone eight year old broke rank and sat on a parked stool in front of the stage.
At least one person in the room had an artistic appreciation, so I gave the little fella a customary wink of acknowledgment.
His doe-eyes fixed on the band, before slowly extending his arm with a downtuned right thumb, leaving it there for the duration of ‘She Came Down from Heaven’, in a Nero style display of disapproval.
Greg introduced ‘Beautiful Day‘, by dedicating it to his mate who’d died earlier that week, stunning the crowd into even more silence, only broken by a thick Oldham accent from the back of the room asking,
“D’yer do any Oasis?”
Inspired by the wedding gig, Paul hit a run of form in an attempt to get some momentum back, announcing some new numbers; Time on our Hands, Lady of The Country, and Just for you.
I loved Time on Our Hands, thinking it was a sure fire hit in the making.
It had great lyrics with a poignant feel; “When your dreams are getting older, and your friends are getting few”, I thought was amazing.
That was followed by Just for You which was as blatant a country slog as we’d ever done.
Alarm bells rang at the line,
“May God you grant, a long and prosperous life”,
then again at the next one,
“and someone may go take you for a wife”,
All whilst drowning in Chink’s pedal steel guitar, reaching with both arms for the sacharin side of the C&W barometer.
I struggled to come up with a bassline and what I did present wasn’t used on the final demo mix, leaving Paul to play the bass part, rightly ditching my half-arsed attempt.
I’d pretended to like The Band, but couldn’t pull it off for ‘Just For You’.
We sat for a day in Paul’s flat packing the new demo tapes into jiffy bags along with nicely worded accompanying letters, to send to various record companies.
This was the band’s latest attempt at getting noticed out of the hordes of other bands out there, that even Time On Our Hands couldn’t salvage.
As many of the other bands doing well were Babybird, Reef and Texas, it felt even more frustrating.
Nothing came back, knowing deep down that nothing would.
I was skint and bored.
Practice became more and more infrequent, and the dole days got longer.
I was at the point where I was gonna have to sell my car, so the only option was to go back to work.
With the Band on The Wall gig being a Monday night, it didn’t have as many mates coming as I hoped.
The set list contained the new tunes, leaving me less enthusiastic than I’d been about any gig before, feeling we were trying too hard to hit a niche in order to stand out.
As we ambled through ‘Lady of The Country’, I thumbed the prescribed bass notes as Greg sang, ‘I would walk a million miles to hear, those sweet notes I’d heard yesteryear’, leaving me feeling more like an audience member than one of the band.
Backstage, Gilly introduced me to a small guy in sunglasses, who’d watched the show.
I was ashamed not to recognise ex-Smith, Andy Rourke.
“You still got a Bass, Andy?” was the first thing to come into my head.
He did that thing of answering me, but speaking to the rest of the room at the same time, in order to get maximum effect from his incoming gag.
“Have you heard what he’s just asked me? Have I still got a bass?!?”
That put the top on a shit night.
One of my musical heroes was, in fact, a bit of a tool.
He backtracked on realising his piss-take attempt had bombed, trying to show interest in what I was playing.
This was the guy I’d spent hours trying to emulate, and he never knew it, but I couldn’t help feeling like I’d let him down.
I never warmed to the Fender Precision, as it looked basic and too similar to what everyone else had, so packed it away, still pining for the red Epihpone and drove home.
The phone rang and it was Gilly asking to meet for a drink.
It’d been four months since the Band on the Wall gig and I hadn’t missed it one bit.
At least it wasn’t to say we was starting practice again.
“We played a gig last week”.
I must’ve missed that somehow, but he did say ‘played’, as in the past tense.
“With a new bass player”.
Like any relationship breakdown, it was right in front of my face, yet I was still the last one to know.
The band had been my wife for the last year and a half.
One who’d let herself go and started wearing weird clothes, but it turned out she’d been down the gym, had her hair done and crucially, she was the one to do the fucking-off first.
All without saying a word.
Gilly was losing faith too, bewildered at the Gallagher inspired plundering on show with the latest addition to their live set.
They’d changed the lyrics to the Rolling Stones song, ‘Salt of the Earth’, and called it ‘My Very Best Friend’.
Then, finished off with a cover version of, … ‘Salt Of The Earth’ by The Rolling Stones, effectively playing the same song twice in the same set.
He parted not long after, leaving the core three along with Matthew Cottee in as bass player.
It’s always the one you least suspect.
The elusive gateway to the big time finally came to the remaining members by way of an old friend.
Their album ‘Same Old Blues‘ was released in 2001, on a record label, owned and produced by Noel Gallagher, eventually deciding to rekindle his relationship with Paul after randomly coming across a demo tape of the band.
It was critically received much in the same vein as Spinal Tap’s ‘Shark Sandwich’ copping the thick end of a 90s guitar band backlash.
As the music press sensed their benefactor’s cloak of invincibility finally slipping, they unloaded mercilessly, seeing Proud Mary only as the ‘Knotts Landing’ to Oasis’s‘ ‘Dallas’.
In Melody Maker’s review, Same Old Blues was deemed,
“The final nail in the Dad-Rock coffin“.
Sounds magazine was even less delicate, describing it as, “The Sweet Fart of the Rodeo”, which didn’t even scan.
The Times’ Lee Marley, gave it a three word review, simply stating,
“Same Old Shite“,
together with an infamous ‘minus one’ in its five star rating system for the first time in living memory and the NME gave it an extra point for being only half an hour long.
It still contained the track ‘Time on our Hands’ which sounded as good as it always had the potential to do on that first demo.
Chink eventually went his own way too, going on to play in Johnny Marr’s band, The Healers for a brief spell, wisely dropping his offensive nickname in the process and reverting back to Adam.
This left just Paul and Greg to carry on flying the Proud Mary confederate flag, and after that difficult first album, the remaining pair set off on a musical journey with illustrious slots supporting Neil Young, David Bowie, The Who and Ryan Adams, as their Wikipedia page reads as a who’s who of rock and roll legends as collaborators, gaining a hard core, loyal fan base in the process.
As the internet revolutionised the way we consume music, it enabled fans to interact with artists as never before, removing the opportunity to let them fade away and die as in years gone by.
If you’re a fan, you’ll find them, if not they’ll reside in the ‘where are they now file’.
Twenty one years on from my final gig at Band On The Wall, it was time to find them.
Approaching Academy 3, I could see a queue up the old University steps, as a doorman chalked ‘Sold Out’, across the words Proud and Mary on the board at the front door.
The gig was part of a tour to promote their fourth album, ‘Songs From Catalina’, named after the island retreat off the coast of the city where they both now lived, Los Angeles.
On stage, Paul had swapped lead for rhythm guitar enabling a more active vocal role, as Greg crouched and spiked in perfect time to every snare beat.
The tunes were harder than I remembered, more driven and loud with unashamedly infectious choruses, all without a denim shirt in sight.
‘Just For You’ still wasn’t my thing, but was warming to it.
After the gig, there was something I had to do.
Security on the dressing room door, were delighted at having someone to turn away, springing into action like a Fire Marshall on discovery of that elusive real fire situation.
The door opened and saw my chance,
“Paul! How’s it going?”.
Two autograph hunters swarmed over, each with their own stories of how much the band meant to them, thrusting blue vinyl copies of Same Old Blues in his direction to sign.
He was pleased to see me and beamed back,
“How long has it been?”.
I knew to the day, but estimated at twenty odd years.
“Go in there and shit Greg up. Tell him you’ve been looking for him,” he grinned.
As Greg changed his sweat soaked shirt, exhausted from a stirring stage performance, he clocked the familiar stranger at the dressing room door, instantly cutting through the chaos for a momentary clinch, before being swallowed up by friends and family amidst that long forgotten post gig buzz.
I wanted to tell him he still sounded as good as he did at The Duchess of York in Leeds; that I was so proud of him, but there was so much to say, nothing came out.
They’d earned their adulation so I made my exit.
On passing Paul outside the dressing room still posing for photos, he called me back leaving a fan who’d travelled up from Birmingham to wait for a pic with his idol.
“You need to get this guy in,” he said, pulling me into shot, before softly explaining to the bemused Brummie,
“This – is our original bass player”.
Never being obsessed with becoming superstars, the Proud Mary two went on to achieve what they set out to do – have a career playing music, taking them to places, seemingly so far away when sat in the cold night air of a barn in Delph, splitting cigarettes three ways.
If you love it, you’ll do it; whether that brings rewards or not.
In the car on the way home, I called my twenty one year old daughter, excitedly telling her where I’d been.
Her response was not entirely unpredictable, posing a question I’d not had to answer for a while;
“Proud fuckin’ Mary?"