How Not to be in a Band - Fancy Flights

Tonight I’m being whisked back to my Northumberland mansion after our annual sell-out gig on Hadrian’s Wall.

Acquiring the wherewithal to convert a neighbouring country to your religion has taught me many things: have her date-of-birth independently checked by your entourage; that any action preceded by ‘let’s do it anyway’ will not turn out well, but the most important is ignore the advice of Grange Hill pupils and Nancy Reagan. If I’d ‘just said no’ I’d still be prostrate on my threadbare sofa waiting for my carer to sponge me down.

The movie Flashdance makes an important point: ‘when you give up your dream, you die’. My dream was to ride in a helicopter. Desperate to achieve this ambition I considered getting a job as a tissue salesman on an oil rig or becoming Prince William’s consort, and envied my friend Dave Everest’s good fortune because he got to go in an RAF Sea King after shattering his pelvis while ice climbing. Now I use them all the time.

Tonight I’m being whisked back to my Northumberland mansion after our annual sell-out gig on Hadrian’s Wall. Of course our final encore was a fusion of LA Woman and Brown Sugar the songs that had started our career and propelled us to stardom, although, due to pressure from our earnest comrades in Rock Against Racism, we no longer refer to it as Brown Woman.

The Travis Bickle Combo are renowned as much for our excess as our success – Smash Hits even considered our tunes worthy of critical acclaim – and in the past I’d dedicate the seven or eight days after a show to extreme hedonism, but there are only so many times you can dally with a PVC-clad dwarf, a vacuum cleaner and a Kosovan donkey. These days I’m more concerned about how busy my schedule is tomorrow, what with the launch of my new poetry anthology and having to depart for our latest Final World Tour. There are also numerous television interviews scheduled for Nipponese TV as we’re currently number five in Japan with our latest hit Rare Herbs and Prescribed Chemicals.

Gazing down at the lights of Newcastle I remember how it all began. It was less than five minutes before the frantic Entertainments Officer phoned back and informed me that everyone he’d spoken to said we were magnificent. He insisted we play the Summer Ball, offering honorary degrees, doctorates and free stottie cakes for life if we agreed. He also mentioned playing the Nelson Mandela bar each week, but as every student union in the country had at least one of these I wasn’t sure if he was suggesting a tour or a residency.

Given our utter lack of talent it was a risk, but you only the regret the things you don’t do… well on the whole, I’m sure many priests, TV celebrities and other criminals would contest this statement in the strongest possible terms. However, the TBC’s esprit de corps was forged in battle. We had not only survived our first performance we had emerged triumphant. (Actually we were first of the losers, but no one likes a pedant.) Once more we would rise to the challenge. So, after two solid weeks of song writing, intensive vocal exercises, music lessons, optimistic detox programmes, crash dieting, futile attempts at male grooming and less than eight hours TV daily, we stepped out on the stage and astounded the audience (this time for all the right reasons). What occurred that night would be talked about by the cognoscenti and the cleaners for years to come. We were signed up then and there and the rest is history.

As seventh tambourine player my position was not secure. Especially as our record label insisted we adopted a more traditional line up, or as our manager so eloquently put it ‘throw the babies and their rattles out of the pram.’ Thankfully I’ve always been lucky. The accidental death of six percussionists and one of our founders was certainly fortuitous: for me that is, less so for those involved. But as I told the judge hundred’s of performers have perished due to improperly grounded amplifiers. Admittedly they usually play electric instruments, but this discrepancy was easily explained as Damien, practicing for our spectacular finale, was playing his guitar atop a human pyramid constructed out of our extensive rhythm section.

After such an unfortunate incident it was easy for me to take my rightful place as lead singer and replace the departed with the cheapest session musicians available. Initially Rob was against this, but after I explained we’d only have to split the lucre twice he acquiesced. (If I remember correctly he did an elaborate and protracted quadrille sans lobsters.)

We invested our money wisely, well what was left after we had denied ourselves absolutely nothing. Inspired by the busking competition, and assuming that fame would be fleeting we created the Trouble Brewing Corporation. At first focusing on providing security for concerts, we quickly diversified into providing those of no fixed abode and the jobless to Bashar, Kim, Muammar and their ilk to use as human shields. Much, I might add, to the gratitude of consecutive conservative governments as the unemployed and homeless figures were literally decimated.

So why, given our near mythic status have you never heard of us? Well, probably because it’s an utter fabrication. An elaborate fantasy nurtured to assuage the bitterness that has consumed an overweight, middle-aged man for over twenty years. Next instalment I’ll tell you what really happened, but be prepared for a bleak 1950s kitchen-sink drama, without the kitchen, sink or drama. It does nonetheless feature Good King Wenceslas.

Next month: Reality Bites Back

As soon as I’ve tracked down the other members the Travis Bickle Combo will be available for weddings, bat mitzvahs, christenings, Greco Roman wrestling, riots and witch burnings, and can be contacted courtesy of Stephen Watt at