How Not to be in a Band - Opportunity Rings

It is a testament to the power of stardom’s siren’s song, that a man who has suffered acute stage fright in a drum circle agreed to appear before a mass of baying students.

I aspire to be cultured. A man of refined tastes. I am buying a cravat, that should tell you all you need to know. But, I have not always been above the allure of baser pleasures.

When I was younger and grown weary of Baudelaire and Blake, I dreamt the vulgar dreams of youth. Envisioning myself breathtaking, bare-chested before legions of adoring fans, intoning my salacious lyrics and gyrating my pelvis in a thoroughly indecent manner. My magnificence would shame Elvis.

Unfortunately, before these flights of fancy could soar, the irresistible gravity of reality brought them crashing down. My imagination is powerful, nevertheless, even in a world I created, no one who heard me sing could lionize me. Pity would be more credible, perhaps horror, coupled with an overwhelming desire to flee. I would be loathe to perform anywhere I hadn’t checked there were sufficient emergency exits.

My voice was not the only handicap, the most simple of instruments was beyond me. I’m not averse to hard work, and believe in the myth of the struggling artist, but, no matter how much time and effort was invested, I would have more chance of getting a tune out of a cauliflower than a euphonium.

I am not so green that I believe that talent is the only way to succeed, but my boyish charm and rakish good looks were more village hall than stadium. Likewise, the absence of powerful relatives in the business, and, incriminating photographs, meant the zenith of my pop career would remain audience member. I couldn’t be discovered; I had nothing to discover.

Conceivably, there is an instrument I would excel at. The sousaphone might come naturally, but I have never had the chance to play one. I’d be surprised though if I could. Getting a triangle to work proved problematic, and Sanskrit makes more sense than musical notation. Unless I could attach myself, remora-like to the soft under belly of a passing super-group, I would never adorn an album cover, and be constantly assailed by doubts when strutting-my-stuff in skin-tight, leather pants.

To succeed, you must be in the right place at the right time. Who would have thought the right time was just after my afternoon nap, and the right place was my sofa? For that is when opportunity knocked for me. Or, to be pedantic, it rang. Not once, but twice. Firstly, it was the doorbell, heralding the arrival of Rob. His band, The Travis Bickle Combo, had entered the Newcastle University Busking Competition, did I want to join?

I was dumbstruck. I had no idea he owned an instrument, much less that he was in a band, which is odd, as most amateur guitarists inflict their agonising acoustic meanderings on anyone they can corner. To avoid such an eventuality, Dangerous Dave’s creed involves smashing any guitar he encounters, and swiftly reimbursing the owner. Extreme, but effective, and completely irrelevant. I was in a band! Fame and fortune were assured! The years of indolence had paid off. Regrettably, I felt honour bound to inform Rob of my acute limitations. It seemed prudent to discuss this before embarking on my first thirty-minute solo, and, with heavy heart I explained that, although I was flattered, I must decline.

He politely listened, sipping his tea, and, when I finished, stated that it didn’t matter, I wouldn’t be on stage. It was a ruse. Rob, and his friend Damien, the band, had been looking for more members, as they were more duo than combo, when they realised that competitors didn’t pay an entrance fee. The upshot of this revelation was that they were letting people ‘join’ the band, and charging them half price. I was special. A contact number was needed to enter, and, as I had one, my membership fee was null and void.

My dream shattered. They just wanted to use me, well, my telephone. On the other hand, a free night out is a free night out. I accepted.

The night of the competition arrived, and, with growing unease, Rob and Damien watched the other acts. Some of them could play, had met before, and obviously practised when they did. They were about to be exposed to levels of humiliation normally encountered by the victim in a seventies rape trial. If they failed to uphold their contractual obligation, they would lose their deposit. The plan changed rapidly.

If a very large group of less able people were on stage, the audience would be lucky to hear the vocals and snippets of guitar. In seconds their entourage was transformed from spectators to participants. A simple solution, which given that Damien had a bag full of simple percussion instruments and matching outfits, may have been premeditated. Of course, as there would be enough participants to form a big band, or even an orchestra, we were far less of a combo, yet this was no longer relevant. Reputation, and filthy lucre were at stake.

It is a testament to the power of stardom’s siren’s song, that a man who has suffered acute stage fright in a drum circle agreed to appear before a mass of baying students. Unable to hold a note or play the simplest tune, I had no right to be there, but my sporadic beats would be lost in the cacophony. Like Rob and Damien I could hide my shame.

Maracas, tambourines, triangles and other idiot-phones in hand, we took to the stage. This may not have been that most august of talent shows the Eurovision Song Contest, but it was a start. Fame was calling me, and finally I could answer.

Next month: Destiny calling, collect

With thanks to Dangerous Dave Nicholson.

Communicate with Stephen at theheadcleaner@live.co.uk <>