Tuesday, 28 April 2015

What is a lost song, exactly?

Good question.  The defining two words I guess would be "commercial failure".  And when you think about it, that accounts for a pretty broad range of artists.

First you have what must be the largest group - those who played, gigged perhaps, made demos (uploaded to Soundcloud if its in the last decade), but never really released anything officially.  They have to number in the millions across the world. But then there's the high-achievers too - those who got further up the ladder by getting a record deal.  Shook Up! in the previous post were high achievers, as were the Thrashing Doves:

Two record deals and a support tour with Duran Duran, major success nevertheless always eluded them.  To me they share crucial DNA with our first group, in that they wrote songs that never fully found their audience.

I guess Thrashing Doves represent the upper echelons of success.  Plenty of bands sign up for record deals and never even got as far as a single record.  In my own past, our entire debut album stock went up in flames one night in a warehouse fire - in the resultant uninsured chaos we and the other new artists were all dropped from the small label and that, as they say, was that.

As the years have past, failure continues to fascinate and enchant me.  For every lost song lies a human story of struggle and often despair that no amount of "just believe in yourself" platitudes could ever really assuage.  Whenever Famous Singer is asked for advice to struggling artists, she will probably say to keep believing in yourself and not to give up, because in the end blah blah blah yeah yeah yeah.  I've never really bought it.

But then there's the T word.  Come on - isn't it all just down to talent?  Well of course a lousy song is a lousy song.  But I have my own cherished lost songs - not my own - from bands that just got passed over.  Talking Drums were a Glasgow synth band who released Reassembly in 1985, and I've played it ever since.  Even Radio 1 playlisted the album's first track Pretend A Stranger, but it inexplicably sunk without trace.  World, you were wrong - shoulda been a no1.

Talking Drums were high achievers.  Not so - as far as I know - with another band we played support to once in London (when I was in a different band to the warehouse fire one), Martin Amsell (Ansell?) and Absolutely Everything I believe they were called.  They had a song called "Looking for the Girl in the Red T Shirt" that I only ever heard that one night, and to me is a joyous classic - I can still just about remember it, still fun and infectious.  I can't even find him on Google now.  How many others are out there?

The loss of a good song is obviously a greater tragedy to the wider world than the loss of a bad one.  But frankly I even mourn the loss of the bad ones a little bit.  A crushed dream is a crushed dream....

Sunday, 26 April 2015

Loving Neil

Well, at the end of day one in this strange old venture, some tentative excitements out there. I've had a few solid offers... with a prevailing wind we might be a quarter of the way there already.

Was rather chuffed to get a retweet from Neil McCormick. The Telegraph music journo is something of a hero of mine - he wrote the book Killing Bono about his disastrous band experiences growing up as classmates of Bono, The Edge, Adam Clayton and Larry Mullen Jr. Shook Up! never quite reached the same level of commercial success as U2, with Lady Luck consistently giving them a good (and consistently inventive) kicking at every turn. As such, it's required and hugely entertaining reading for all those like me whose bands never quite made it - at least, unlike Neil, our own rivals didn't go on to be The Biggest Band In The World (whose members all come over as thoroughly decent chaps one and all incidentally).

Reading Killing Bono last year probably sowed the seeds of Lost Songs in my subconscious. It's like getting a warm hug to realise that there's others who've gone before you and failed probably even more spectacularly than you did.  Mind you, it helps anyway knowing that just as Neil found his own niche in a slightly different if related career, I did too. But I identified with the sheer passion of it all - Neil was always driven by a belief that their stuff was good. It's fun to laugh at terrible songs I guess, but it's much more poignant if the songs were actually decent.

(Incidentally, the film adaptation of Killing Bono sadly lacked the authenticity of the book, inventing silly gangster subplots and contrived rivalries to get it into a more conventional structure. Shame they couldn't find a way to have told the true story - stick to the book).

So anyway, cheers for the retweet Neil, and who knows - if I beg and plead enough maybe Shook Up! might feature in the Lost Songs video too. They're the most famous non-famous band out there.

Here we go...

The video is up, the trawl for fellow failurees (yes of course its a real word) begins.  Will anyone think of chartered accountant Trevor who used to be in bluegrass/punk iconoclasts Crusting Skinfight and link it to him?  Will Bob like the idea and upload for us?

All my usual self-loathing and pessimism is in place that accompanies anything new I do, so that's comforting.

Wednesday, 22 April 2015

The Mighty Cliff-Face of Indifference

Let''s get the formalities out of the way first. Ahem.  Welcome to www.afterschoolvideoclub.com.  This is a blog to track the rise (if there is one) and fall (almost certain, unless of course there's no rise to fall from in the first place) of The Club.

Plan is for the debut, Lost Songs, to go up on YouTube next week along with a video.  Well, I say "video"... it's a bit confusing knowing what to call it actually.   It's a video-about-a-video, a call to crowd-source the real video, actually.  The aim here is to weave together old videos and pictures from about 20 different unknown ex-artists, from as far and wide as possible, who all disprove Warhol since they never really got to have their 15 minutes of fame.  They probably got about 4.  At best.

I reckon for every band anyone has ever heard of, there are another 37 that didn't get that far.  But each one of these had all the same hopes and dreams, and amid the deluded chancers a fair number of them had the talent to go with it.  Will talent always out?  Nope, I really don't think so.  Life has this astonishing way of finding endlessly inventive new ways to throw spanners into works, with callous disregard for collateral damage.  Yup, there will be as many different break up stories as there are lost bands.  I've little doubt that there are some undiscovered rough diamond songs in lofts and cupboards all over the world, with owners who to this day look back with fondness at their demos and sadness / bitterness / simmering rage that their efforts went undiscovered.

I'm still at it.  Old enough to know better, in the past 6 months I've written over a dozen songs, pretty good ones too.  Great fun to do, terrific therapy after a seemingly-endless other side-project, and I'm secure in the knowledge that soon they too will be lost among countless others around the world.   Well c'mon - I'm not 18 any more, so who's interested, really?

I've been moping around like this for months, on the one hand enjoying the sheer HURRAH of creation for its own sake while simultaneously harrumphing at the utter pointlessness of it all, gazing up at the mighty cliff-face of indifference carved from a media-saturated world.  Then with these bipolar voices in my head, before I knew it I'd written a 13th song.  Lost Songs - a self-referential headrush of a track.  And then as soon as it was written and recorded, I quickly realised what it really needed were more people just like me, the despondent army of millions, at least some of whom will have old pictures and videos of their glory days.  Just a couple of dozen of them will be more than enough to fill a bittersweet sub-4 minute music video I reasoned... names, places, dates of band death.  Glimpses into lost lives, in a giddy celebration of failure.  A cheap psychological trick?  Perhaps, but that never got in the way of comfort food now, did it?

Well, the song is sounding good, anyway.  Added some vocals today from the awfully talented Lucy Athey, which buffed it all up in no time.  Made it all sound more like a thing.  That's good, I hope.

So.  Feels eerie, typing this into an unlinked blog a week before everything gets fired off into the twittersphere.  The calm before... what, the storm?  Really?  Ha, I know better than that.  I'll no doubt get two retweets, half a dozen likes and a few heavy sighs from long suffering friends, culminating int the offer of a Polo mint and a firm clasp on the shoulder.  Or will it... could it... get Out There, reaching that disaffected slumbering army of loser soulmates?

I keep telling myself - I only need 20.  20.... can't be impossible... right?