Sticking with the punk theme from last week, I thought I’d share this classic track from The Clash. Not just because the bassline is excellent, but because the photo that goes with it has become iconic in its own right.
Paul Simenon is in the process of smashing his bass – presumably at the end of the gig – and I think the image has such powerful energy and makes a statement all on its own.
I played this track with a covers band a few years back, and had it as my ringtone for ages (I now have an AC/DC tune, but that’s for another week!). For all that the bassline is a classic, and is so much fun to play, I can also state from experience that if the guitarists don’t play with some attitude the song becomes a bit bland. The song is crying out to be played with passion, with a swagger, and if you don’t play it that way it loses a lot of its power.
I should probably state for posterity that, for all I like(d) punk, I was never a massive fan of The Clash. They just didn’t seem to “do it” for me in the same way that other bands – notably SLF, the Sex Pistols, The Damned or Siouxsie and the Banshees – did. It’s almost heresy to admit that, according to some fans, but we all like what we like, right?
Anyhow, here it is: enjoy!
London Calling – The Clash
One of the tunes I use when warming up prior to rehearsal or practice is this one. Only the intro, but it gets the fingers and hands moving well I think. The sound is unmistakably The Stranglers, and is a really dirty, grungy tone which I love. I’ve written before about how much I like JJ Burnel’s playing, and this is one of the classic examples that illustrate why. The first few notes are enough to give me goosebumps. I hope you enjoy it too!
Nice ‘n Sleazy – The Stranglers
Simple Minds are another one of those bands that I didn’t like, then I liked for a while, then I didn’t like them again. Now I can listen to a couple of their songs at a time, but I wouldn’t necessarily want to hear a whole album, and I doubt I’d try to see them in conert again. I went once, but was at the very back of the SECC in Glasgow and couldn’t really see them. And it took longer to get out of the car park than the gig had gone on for!
Anyhow, I chose this track because it shows that bass lines don’t have to be complicated to be effective, and I don’t think you can get much simpler than playing one note over and over!
I hope you enjoy this blast from the past: it doesn’t seem to get played on the radio as often as some of their other tracks but is very worthy. This is the only one of their singles I bought (on 12″) and I don’t think I’ve any of their albums on vinyl.
Simple Minds – Waterfront
Did you know that the first punk single released in the UK was New Rose by The Damned? Or that their brilliant double LP, The Black Album, had one side which was recorded live and which isn’t included in the CD version? I listen to that album a lot, and really missed the live side – until I found Spotify. Smash It Up (Parts I and II) is on there, and for as long as I can remember I’ve loved the bass line in Part I.
This version on the video is a studio version, but it’s almost as good as the live one.
I was lucky enough to see The Damned when I was in my teens. They released their Friday the 13th EP on the same day as I saw them, and the gig was memorable for a couple of reasons. There was a power cut during it, so Rat Scabies (the drummer) played a 10 or 15 minute solo while they got everything working again. Captain Sensible (guitarist) swapped his jacket with someone in the crowd because his original mohair one looked to be covered in spittle (not mine!) as was kind of customary (and gross) at punk gigs in those days. The support act was the Anti-Nowhere League, who found notoriety by having the B-side of their Streets of London single banned as an obscene publication, and they were very growls and menacing.
I still follow The Damned and Captain Sensible on Facebook, though I’ve not seen them since the very early 80s. Listen to the track, and see if you can hear why I think the bassline is brilliant.
Smash It Up (Parts I and II) – The Damned
Another cover version this week, and again it’s one I heard long before the original (by David Bowie). Bauhaus were probably the biggest Goth band of their time, and I was a pretty big fan. I got into them about the time that they split up, and beat myself up for years that I’d missed seeing them live. Then, joy of joys, they announced a runion tour and I had my chance – which I took.
Brixton Academy was the venue – a legendary place in its own right – and on the appointed evening the place was full of people sressed in black, leather, fishnets, heavy make up – and the women wore much the same! I hate to think how much gel and hairspray was used just that night!
I can’t remember who the support act were, but I do know that the gig was all I’d hoped for. The music was awesome, and the place was buzzing. So, with that little trip down memory lane, I commend this tune to you. Enjoy!
Bauhaus – Ziggy Stardust
Since I started this blog I’ve written about playing in a band a number of times, but it occurred to me today that I’ve never really talked about what goes on at rehearsals. And not many other people have either. So I thought I’d provide a bit of an insight into the world of preparing to gig and getting songs to come together.
I’ve been fortunate over the last 10-12 years since I’ve been learning to play to have been a member of several different bands, all with their own personalities, both as the band itself and with the people in them.
I’ve played in bands where:
- the other members spoke a different language to me, who loved a music genre I didn’t, who didn’t drink – but who were the most friendly and genuine people you could hope to meet
- the singer and drummer would or would not turn up for rehearsals, without telling the rest of us, and if they did the singer would spend the whole time facing away from us and not making eye contact. In the same band we’d agree two or three new songs to learn for next week, only to arrive and find either the homework hadn’t been done or the guitarist had decided he’d rather learn something else
- we didn’t rehearse often because we were gigging so much we didn’t really need to
- we rehearsed every week for over a year, never tried to get a gig, but we had a blast
- it would take over an hour for the drummer to set up, but we’d then rehearse for 5 or 6 hours at a time with occasional coffee breaks
- set up took 10 minutes but during the 2 hour time slot we had there would have to be a cigarette break half way through
- we rehearsed every week for 3 hours, then all repaired to the pub for a beer and a chat afterwards
- any and all suggestions I made for songs to cover were ignored / turned down
- they wanted to pull the plug on a potential gig 2 months in advance because “we weren’t ready” and it “would be career suicide” (we were a pub band playing for fun ffs)
- we’ve had 2 weeks to learn something new and potentially tricky (Sweet Child of Mine for example – check out the bass line in the intro) and have just got on with it and carried it off
- I stepped in with 5 hours notice due to illness, and had to play a gig where I’d never played any of the songs before that day
One band I was in tried to bend me to be like them, uptight and stuck in their ways. They had six months to work out new vocal arrangements but didn’t then tried to blame the new boy – me – for them not being “ready” to gig. I tend to be much more easy going, and don’t sweat the small stuff.
You can see that there’s a wide variety of bands, and none are the same in terms of their approach to rehearsal, to agreeing set lists, to how we socialised with each other when not playing.
I’ve learned a great deal from these experiences. Here are some (but by no means all) of the key points.
- Turn up on time, and make sure you’ve prepared any new tracks you’d agreed with the rest of the band
- Set up, tune up, then wait for the others to be ready: don’t endlessly play stuff while others are setting up
- Guitarists and drummers noodle and make a lot of noise, particularly when other band members are trying to talk
- Some people take themselves way too seriously. Unless you’re very lucky you’re not going to “make it” as a professional musician, so you should remember that playing should be fun. By all means, be serious about your music, what you play and how you sound, but it’s not life or death so chill out and enjoy yourself
- Don’t treat the band like a business – see 3 above – because you’re there to entertain others and enjoy yourself
- Being able to get along with the other band members is crucial – possibly more so than being able to play well
- All the practice in the world doesn’t help when you play live, for real. It helps you cover up and / or recover from mistakes, but for some reason it feels different
- Practice any dance moves or poses during rehearsals: trying to do them for the first time at a gig will almost always end badly
- A little give and take goes a long way. Just because you don’t like a particular song doesn’t mean the band should drop it – unless you all hate it. You may find that some you really enjoy playing are not favourites of your band mates
- Be flexible i.e. go with the flow.
I find that being professional in terms of getting set up quickly, then sitting down and waiting quietly before a gig or rehearsal works best: you don’t annoy anyone if you do that. When you’ve finished, pack everything away quickly and then you can relax. Go with the flow, and don’t get uptight about anything – it’s all meant to be fun, right? New songs? All part of the learning experience. Embrace change, embrace the challenge, and step out of your comfort zone. Most of all, enjoy making music: it’s why you’ve practiced alone for so long. If it’s not fun, if you’;re not enjoying it – you need to find a new band.
A long time ago, in a country far far away – well, Scotland – my girlfriend at the time persuaded me to go with her to see Big Country. In those days it was pretty much the law that if you were Scottish you had to love Big Country: I didn’t (but do now). I couldn’t see the big deal with them, but went along to keep her happy, and of course I was glad to be going to see live music. Two bus loads of fans went up from our area, and the pre-gig anticipation was huge.
The gig came and went, and a good time was had by all. I even enjoyed Big Country. However, I upset a fair few people on the bus on the way home by insisting that the support act had been much better than Big Country. They’d had me up dancing for most of their set, which didn’t really happen in those days. It was almost seen as uncool to like the support band at all.
A few weeks later, the support act were on music shows and the radio across the UK with their debut single, and this week’s TBT is it. She Sells Sanctuary was released not long after the band changed lineups and name from The Death Cult – and prior to that they’d been The Southern Death Cult. They’d been kind of goth / indie but became much more mainstream, eventually morphing into a great rock band. They’re one of my go to bands if I just want some good honest rock and roll.
Two minor interesting facts about this song:
- It’s the first one I learned to play on bass by ear – the notes came to me while listening to it in my car
- The drummer in the video is none other than Mark Brzezicki of a Big Country!
I would have played the Long Version, but there’s no video for it. Chill and enjoy!
She Sells Sanctuary – The Cult