Sunday, 16 February 2014

Prolific Teenage Years.....(Music Career part 2)

So, after two years and 24 "releases" between me and my brother Peter recorded on an old tape recorder, he finally bought himself a 4-track Portastudio.  Not only did our sound improve, but the amount of songs we wrote and recorded over the next two years was massive, over 50 "releases" (I keep putting it in quotes as we never actually released any of them, with the odd exception of a few which were copied for anyone that wanted one).

The date was August 1995 and I was just starting my second year at college, therefore with free periods, evenings and weekends I had plenty of time for writing songs and recording them.  At that time my main concerns were Pyf Belly Machine (mainly indie and pop punk) with my brother and Marvin (pop punk), which was me solo, although I was about to start branching out.  In 1991 when I started getting into music properly I was an indie kid who liked a bit of rock and the odd metal song (incidentally Europe's 'The Final Countdown' was my third ever 7").  By 1995 it had turned on its head - I was now a metal fan who liked a bit of rock and indie and for me the mid 90s were dominated by Pantera, Sepultura and Machine Head plus the more extreme Earache bands Bolt Thrower, Carcass, Napalm Death etc.  I needed an outlet for my more extreme leanings....

But first came the inaugural four-track recordings, a double whammy of new Pyf Belly Machine albums, 'Lummon' and 'Buy This Or The Seal Gets It'.  The latter album containing quite possibly my finest cover art.  The 4 tracks usually worked like this: I had no bass amp, so I would plug into an old stereo and hit record and play my bassline in full, this would be played into the 4 track - track 1.  Track 2 was me playing (keyboard) drums over the top of this, track 3 was my brother playing guitar and track 4 was for the vocals (and occasional solo if required).  Of course we could now mix the volumes of the various instruments and everything was a million times better.


Highlights were the jangly 'Surfing Boy', the rockier, groovier 'Fob Off' which featured lyrics from the dictionary of all places, and a cover of 'Blame it on the Boogie'.....more on that later.  The next release to surface, however, was my first foray into heavier territory and a new project called Uranium.  It was meant to be my version of Nine Inch Nails, but without any kind of technology to speak of I was scuppered from the start.  The result was a set of OK rock songs, not bad for a first effort, with the odd attempt at keyboards to make it sound a little bit industrial.  There were also covers of '...For Victory by Bolt Thrower, 'Sanctified' by NIN and 'The Last Time' by Paradise Lost thrown in to make up the numbers.  This also marked me getting back into being a proper guitarist again after being predominantly a bassist before.

Marvin also got a new lease of life and after previously writing some fairly average songs, the new sound bucked my ideas up and allowed me to go all out on my bass-driven pop punk, writing undoubtedly my best songs to date on 'Getting Serious' and 'Easier Said than Done' over a period of 6 months.  Shame about the whining teenage lyrics though.  I'm still quite proud of the guitar sound, breakneck basslines and overall feel of the best Marvin songs of that time, great memories (I later renamed Marvin for public consumption, choosing Spraypaint inspired by the Manics' 'Stay Beautiful'.


Another new band who appeared in April 1996 were The Personnel.  Their songwriting consisted of coming up with random song titles, which would be exchanged between lyricists, who would then write down the first things that came into their heads with no thought towards song structure or melody.  The music was then recorded and a host of vocalists would bring the songs to life.  The debut EP 'Geese' featured the likes of 'Bakers', 'Dogs', 'Cassocks' and 'Excremential Air Freshener'.  Did I mention the songs usually last between 15 and 60 seconds?  Quite possibly the best band there has ever been.  You can hear some of their songs (the ones marked as THE PERSONNEL obviously) by clicking here.

At the same time as The Personnel were finding their feet, another new band came into being.  I finally decided to have my own metal band and, against all my better judgement, decided on the name Oakenshield.  The name would later change into Beneath Utopia when I decided to unleash my songs onto the world, but Oakenshield/BU will be the subject of part 3 of this blog in more detail.

So, from August 1995 through to the end of 1997 there were 9 Pyf Belly Machine albums, 3 Marvin albums, 3 Uranium albums and 2 Oakenshield albums, mixed in with releases by The Personnel and various other side projects.  They covered various genres including an instrumental guitar EP by Lengthwise, a catchy but bonkers set of songs by Brouhaha and a grunge album under the name of Vein which contained some of my favourite songs from the ones I've written.

But the highlight of all this activity was undoubtedly some outside recognition in the form of an appearance on a compilation tape.  My brother occasionally used to order what we would call "benefit tapes", raising funds for some cause or other, and we put forward our version of 'Blame it on the Boogie' not thinking that it might actually be accepted.  But it was and so, among respected underground punk bands such as Oi Polloi, Bob Tilton, Baby Harp Seal, Wat Tyler and J Church, came a couple of teenagers singing in falsettos along to a guitar-based Jackson 5 cover.  We had probably never heard the original at the time, we actually covered the Big Fun version and never even bothered finding out the real words, singing "We spent the night in Bristol" for one line. It never got us anywhere but we felt kind of famous in our own little world.

Incidentally we also recorded a cover of Gina G's Eurovision classic 'Ooh Aah Just a Little Bit', which I managed to inadvertently add a Steve Harris bassline to.  We also sounded like the most Northern people ever while singing it.  Other notable covers over the years were Pyf Belly Machine's 'Not Superstitious' (Leatherface) and 'From Out of Nowhere' (Faith No More) plus Marvin versions of 'Mean Machine' (Sugar Ray), various Senseless Things songs and 'Biscuits for Smut' (Helmet).

After 1997, things slowed down recording-wise.  Beneath Utopia was my main concern, getting some mainstream magazine attention, and The Personnel still appeared every now and again, but the prolific college years were over, replaced with the slightly less prolific university years and the arid desert of the working years.  At some point the old bands probably will record some new material, but as to when who knows.....

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