Recently I’ve started playing guitar with a band again and it made me think about the band rehearsal spaces that I’ve frequented over the years. Three of them stand out above the others, and at the risk of becoming yet another “10 Best Things Ever!” type post, here they are.
Gaz Barnes’s garage
Well, actually it was his parent’s garage, but he lived there. I met Gaz just after finishing school, I can’t remember how but it was probably through a friends and the mutual language of ROCK! I quickly learned that Gaz had somewhat of a reputation for being, well, a bit crazy. There were stories abound of him blowing up stuff at school, of getting into fights, of being caught with knives, and so on. However the reality was that he was a really nice guy and we got on well. Once I arrived at his house and he was building a home-made flame-thrower and firing it at the garage wall, but apart from that I never saw his crazy side. He owned a white flying V, I was still playing my black and red splatter Hondo. Paul “Wacko Jacko” Jackson was on base, Rob Griffiths on drums and a guy called Paul was singing. I can’t actually remember where Paul was from, I think Rob met him down a pub, and I have no idea what his last name was.
The room itself was through the main garage which had a single swing up door and contained no car, but was full of the detritus that seems to collect in garages: tools, boxes, bikes, etc. I guess the room was a utility room or a storage room, it was small but we could fit in the drums and amps.
It was also extremely loud. At one point I took to wearing ear plugs, an extreme move for a teenager (but sensible kids, protect your hearing). Who knows what Gaz’s parents did on those Friday nights that we were there, the noise must have reverberated throughout the house. Yet we had no complaints from them or the neighbours.
We wrote our own songs, chugging, complicated rock music with at least one song that had lyrics inspired by 2000AD. We had a name briefly, Orcas. I hated it. I was outvoted. We never played a gig. I can’t remember exactly how we stopped playing together, I know Paul started going to the pub instead of singing with us. And I know that Rob and Paul were in a band with my brother for a few years after.
A traditional beginning I suppose.
Whilst at University I was in a number of bands, The University had a band rehearsal space in the Student Union building however it was slightly unusual. Here’s how you got to the room:
Head downstairs into the depths of the old union building.
In the tunnel/corridor joining the old and new union buildings turn right and head into what looked like an infinite corridor.
The infinite corridor reveals itself to be a 45 degree bend in the corridor with a painting on the wall to give the impression that the corridor stretched into infinity.
Open the door into the piano room. It was a very small room, a few metres square, at the end of the corridor, with a full size piano inside. The walls and little holes in which I guess were some sort of perfunctory sound proofing. I never saw anyone else inside there playing the piano, and never even heard anyone playing the piano.
Open the door on the far side of the room and exit the piano room.
At this point you were now in a room which had a warehouse feel, however in front of you was a concrete beam, maybe two metres thick and with a metre gap underneath it.
Crawl under the concrete beam. This was not much fun when you had guitars and amps and drums.
Then you were in the warehouse proper, full of tall cages that seemed to be filled with the sort of stuff you would find in theatres. I have no idea what it was doing there and no one seemed to ever talk about it.
Finally ahead of you was a space, with sockets that bands could play in. There were small glass windows, almost like castle slit windows which let in some daylight. Looking out of them was slightly disorientating because the entire building was on a steep hill which meant that despite descending into the depths of the building people walked past the window beneath you. Often, walking through the campus to get to the Union buildings you could hear bands practicing and the sound carried in a muddy swirl. Often snap judgements were made about the music that could be heard.
The best memories of playing there were with the band I was in during my third year of university. We were somewhat of a super group: me on guitar, Pete on keyboards, Barney on bass, Clare on vocals and some guy I can’t remember the name of on drums (finding drummers is always so hard). It took us three years to find each other and finally play together and it resulted in one triumphant gig at The Dorchester pub. On that night we were even more of a super group as our regular drummer couldn’t make it so we asked another guy who was known as the best drummer in the University to play with us. After one rehearsal we played and he was awesome. We rocked.
During the second year of my PhD I was working at CERN full time. A few of us decided to get together and play some music. (There was a tradition of bands at CERN, even a music festival some years.) Me on guitar, Lee on drums, Graham on bass and I’m struggling to remember who was singing (my memory is shocking). To get to the CERN rehearsal space you first needed a car. Much to some people’s disappointment CERN is not at all like Dan Brown portrays it in Angels And Demons but instead more like an industrial estate with large buildings that only have numbers. To get to the rehearsal room you had to drive into the wild interiors of CERN, around a circular road, which was presumably inside one of the old accelerators and into a warehouse. A real warehouse which was full of things left over from various engineering projects. There were two metre diameter spools of cable on large wooden spindles, there were crane arms and boxes and all sorts of random debris.
In the far corner of the warehouse was a walled off section, literally the corner. It looked like it was made of MDF and reached up a couple of metres, very flimsy compared to the large industrial objects lying around. However, bizarrely the partition wall had barbed wire on top, which made it look like some top secret interrogation centre. Presumably this was in case anyone wanted to leave amps there, but who knows who was going to sneak in and steal anything, it was hard enough finding the place.
The sound was interesting in their too, kind of contained in the corner, but with reverb overtones as the sound bounced up and out into the cavernous room beyond.
We played together for quite a while and had fun, but never played any gigs. Then, as was the case at CERN, at the end of the year we all returned to our individual UK universities.
Here’s to the future rehearsal spaces…