Editor's note: Adam Barnes was an old school pal who was part of my bandular experiments through University and eventual Pete N Carl adventures in Islington as Britpop died around us. I say died, by this point it was positively putrid. Previous incarnations included some fantastic names - namely THEME and SCISSORS (more of them here soon) and few gigs. Infact no gigs. Little changes, innit? In fact, most of our lack-of-bassist-gig-cancelations would've been solved if we realised then that guitarist Barnes should switch to bass and be done with. So a couple of years of floundering and pissing about with very hard Scottish landlords leads us to...
'SILVERY AND MY PART IN THEIR DOWNFALL' by Barnesy (Electric bass and quizical eyebrow 2001 - 2003)
Glam plus ska racket
Many stops remain awkward
Flyers did their job
And so the story begins…
In truth, I can’t remember the precise reason for joining Silvery. The band was pitched to me, and this was confirmed by the initial demo, as a primarily glam band with ska bits, a smattering of Sparks and heavy on the Victoriana imagery. Couple this with curious name, which wasn’t a plural noun as was the vogue at the time, and the foundations were shaky.
Add a 4 hour round trip to each rehearsal or gig into the bargain and the fact I didn’t own a bass or requisite amplifier and it makes no sense to this day. Still, these were lean times. The great bass player famine of 2001 had hit the capital hard and we all had a duty to do our bit.
I’d like to attribute it as a favour to a mate or something of that ilk. But even that somehow doesn’t go far enough.
So, I understood the concept of root notes, octaves and playing something irrelevant to the song and this proved to be more than sufficient for Silvery purposes. Turned out that my initial inauguration was to end with a gig to be broadcast on local radio. 8 songs, 2 weeks to learn ‘em and one rehearsal with 2 unknown quantities of band members I had never met. Things were looking up.
To be fair, the less said about my debut Silvery gig, the better. First on the bill and below a Coldplay (circa 2002) covers band. Debut gigs don’t come much worse. Christ alive. The gig was a right howler from my perspective. I think I bumbled through Revolving with dignity intact but that was all. Suffice to say, I never forgot to pack colour co ordinated shoes for a gig ever again. In my defence, the gig was a charitable one. Alas, we were not considered to qualify for any funding.
By rights, there should have endeth my tenure. But it did not. The reason for this remains a mystery to this day. Gigs followed thick and fast. An intense rehearsal regime of once a fortnight and at weekends ensued. This would surely have been too much for all but the hardiest of rock n roll marines.
Irregular rehearsals took place at Backstreet Studios in Holloway (don’t look for it, it’s not there now) on the basis that Orman had once heard a rumour that Suede used it and David Devant & his Spirit Wife had been confirmed as using it. Relatively inexpensive to use, an amusing guy on the front desk and an manly odour of mould, honest sweat and 1000 cigarettes per hour burning in each room sealed this as the Silvery HQ.
No gig was considered to be too small or unalluring. The darling of early manhood – the Camden toilet circuit was stormed and fell. The Bull & Gate. Check. Too much scholarly ink has been spilt on the whole flowers incident and I do not propose to repeat it here. Suffice to say we rocked like “a dog on a stick” England 5 Germany 1. Stick it to the Bosh only to return to the scene of the victory to face posters featuring Howard on stage.
The Hope & Anchor Islington. A gig worthy of recall. A coach load of Scousers had descended upon the big smoke for a day to celebrate a birthday and a gig at the H&A. These kindly merchants kindly donated their second billing to a much worthier cause only to turn out to be a second rate Robbie Williams tribute act (the cunts) whose musicianship and showmanship is charitably described as ill foundedly confident. The ghost of the early Jam had surely taken it’s queue to bugger off up the Postman for a quiet pint.
They left, we took the stage and they took the audience. We proceeded to win over the remaining bar staff with a storming drunken set included a never to be repeated back to back rendition of the mighty “Toads” One without keys and one with. Great gig, great photos. We were on our way. (I think you've confused two H&A gigs here Barnes - my birthday one with the Scousers was rammed - the first one supporting McFly was the empty one. Ed.)
The Dublin Castle Gig begins in my recall as any gig should. Crap sound check, token argument with sound guy, knowing sneers directed at other bands followed by a swift exit and pints at another pub down the road. This time out enabled frenzied set list writing, repetition of forgotten chord sequences and flyer distribution. Your basic format which can only be learned and perfected through hard graft. This is an art form , a ritual, akin to the Japanese tea ceremony. A thing of great beauty. The greatest oversized Victoriana flyer in the history of rock were proferred up to the great unwashed by Muzz on account of his being the handsomest silvery. Ice to the Eskimos? I do believe that we actually left the high street with more flyers than we started with. The obvious solution left flyers for the night gig evenly distributed between post boxes, pub tables from the high street to the Castle, forming an alluring Hanzel and Greteleseque trail right to the stage. Hearty promotional groundwork that remains unrewarded to this day. That went well then. Today, if you look closely, and have luck, maybe you will find one of the several. The discounted door price is unlikely to still be good, but Silvery are likely to be playing.
We returned to venue and argued with sound man again. A thin skinned gent who took exception to being told how to do his job. Surely this was his job? If not, he would be on stage or just fuck off right? Instructions on leaving the vox low in the mix were simple, lucidly explained and promptly ignored. An amateur error on his part, this was easily over come by Orman cranking the guitar amp slightly between after and during each song combined with standing farther away from the mic and whispering. Surprised we did over 10 minutes there.
Devils, soon to be lyricised and christened Devil in the Detail was debuted this night. No issue with such a cretinuos mix given the camp vocals. The chord progression, unlearnt by myself had been addressed with a chanting all the way down the high street and had cemented. Still got the recording of that. Tight as fucking arseholes mate. Deemed only fitting to close the set the RFTC influence was not entirely becoming or representative of the bands sound at this time. Still, the released version of it contains the bass line (i.e. bass notes) virtually undisturbed from this rendition but without the greatness of the bass on the ska bit. And what on earth is that key change about? That was never meant to be there. Actually, most of the songs from the official release debut record were in place in my day, in varying stages of completeness. And most of the second album. What we lacked in polish and keyboards was made up for with rawness and a lack of keyboards.
Songs appeared with an alarming regularity. Always fresh, never to be repeated (but often reworked) and not always working. The songs were fresh at this point which always helps. Ok so I could only make rehearsal once a fortnight but this was no issue. Rehearse the hell out of it on Sunday and it would be in the set the next Saturday night. No one listens to the bass anyhow. Salad days. A demo cd completed by Orman in the summer was presented - dubbed “Theme: The Musical” contained a batch of songs which would also make the cut for these records. The demo was produced over a 2 week period during the annual Orman summer holiday where he locked himself in a room with a 4 track tape machine. “The Nod” as I recall was worth the last 2 summers work alone at the time. “1994” and “Two Halves Of The Same Boy” also came from these sessions.
Most of the surviving recording from this time were simply done at Backstreet. There was one session at a recording studio, which is probably the reason we continued to do things ourselves.
The plan was simple. Record as many songs as possible as quickly and as cheaply as possible. I suspect that this theory gained credence as a knee jerk reaction to the infamous Hoxton incident of 1997 but that is another story. As an ethos, lo fidelity became us.
A studio in a non distinct seedy area of London (of which there are no shortage) was booked for an ambitious 4 hour slot on a week day evening. Much cheapness. £100 is the figure that springs to mind which in today’s money equates to about £100 give or take. As ever, my contribution/responsibility was to leave work early, jump on a train trust plank in tow and be prepared for the worst. Oh and chip in despite being mugged for the ever increasing train fare.
The mostly German sound engineering contingent seemed less interested in gaining valuable work experience than setting the studio record for the most bodies in the control room. This was not our concern, although their lack of English soon became just that.
The drums were set up in record time and the record button was pressed. We continued to play uninterrupted for the best part of the 4 hours.
The genius of this plan was in its simplicity. The money was spent, nay invested, in a none too lavish live ish recording, primarily to get a decent drum sound. Words and additional squelchy noises were to be added onto this via James' 4 track at his leisure. Simple in theory.
And we played a blinder. With no singing to put the band off, several versions of a few songs were committed to tape.
What had been forgotten in the excitement and became clear and the kit was being packed away and the fruits of the session played back through the monitors was that the intense compression remained in place rendering the sound not unlike a toy drum kit.
Never a band to be put off by such trivial adversity, the demo process went full steam ahead. Not a sterling success in terms of the outcome but more a process. That’s lo-fi innit?
I still have copies of a few of these kicking around today. The songs are solid, the production not so much. They do retain a certain charm and yet another reminder that in this life, you get what you pay for.
Personal faves from my tenure which have as yet to rear their heads was an instrumental surf/ska instrumental ditty called 'The Hollow Earth'. This had been rehearsed up but never played live with our line up. I suspect it was considered a through away ditty not worthy of further consideration but contained a kick ass ska bit and riff and the juxtaposed parts worked well together. (Yep - a cool song. Nostalgia Ed.) 'Uncatchables' is worthy of mention too. A stalwart of those early gigs, present and correction the first demo tape the song is a strong contender for best ending of all time. Album number 3 is being recorded whilst I write. You never know if any of these may make the cut yet.
If I learned anything from my time in Silvery, surely it was this: record everything. No matter how poorly played or recorded. And maybe make some contacts - that would have helped. Still, we knew better than that at the time. If we could have done anything different, it would have been parting with a few quid and getting a decent demo out. Scratch that, that was what it was all about. The lo-fi ethic. Not for want of any artistic statement so much as being tight for the sake of it. More photos would have been a good thing though...
That's quite enough of that. Back to the studio for sport.