You never forget your first time, the anticipation, the hope that everything works, getting the mood right and of course making sure the drummer comes out of the toilet before we start. Yes i’m talking about our first gig back in the summer of 1995. We had a setlist of around 6 songs (it’s all we had) and we had a stage. It was a Thursday night, it was the Martell.
Just off Grahams road near the canal sat the Martell. It was hidden from the road by a furniture store. Once you walked past the lastest sofa sale signs you would arrive at the big sign lit up with the Martell font. You can hear the music as you approached the small unassuming front door and when you entered the music hit you. To the left was the till that took the ticket money. Then you would enter the front room, tables often bustling with punters and directly in front the long bar would stretch back to the pool tables.
A small CRT monitor would flicker as the tills rang though the drink sales. Gold Bier £1. This was the mid 90’s and many of the local kids were heading to this venue to see 4 bands on a Thursday for a fiver. Our friends Cage, rock gods Monitor Lizard, the wonderful Foam and various other local acts played through Jimmy’s PA system. It was loud and some of us had school in the morning…
The stage was on the far right of the room, it was separated from the audience by a small brick wall for which many stunts and guitar poses would be struck. Up in the booth was the DJ, big Sid and his clap monitor for measuring the Battle of the Bands victors. (yes that was how it was decided…)
Watching bands at the Martell was brilliant; it was a small but loyal community that attended every week. From watching the bands to shooting pool you would find you started to know people’s names and hang out talking about the bands of that era, Oasis, Nirvana, Blur and various other acts. Some nights were packed, others not so and occasionally the place would be dead apart from the hardcore frequenters.
Our First Gig.
At around 19 years of age I had a mop of long brown hair and a stooped gait. Stu was in full Metallica mode, Greg also donned with long hair often tied up so he could show of his rose tinted shades and Derek the cheeky youngster who infuriatingly got changed a minute before we took the stage. I swear he enjoyed seeing my exasperation as he ran past me towards the drum kit smiling.
The first time we played the Martell was amazing. The lights blinded you, we were probably ropey but we played some of the best songs we had written. The Rain and Vancouver to name two, followers from the start will know these songs well.
The high school crowd that has followed Derek loved it and we were finally part of the Falkirk music scene. What followed was amazing. The battle of the bands.
Our first attempt at the battle of the bands would see our largest crowds swell the Martell to bursting. To date it is the biggest audience we have played original songs to. It was the quarter finals. Thanks to the clap monitor being pounded by the crowd we sailed through to the semis and the dreams of winning started to become a reality. The semi final was another packed gig but it was not to be, we lost and did not make the final.
We played a number of gigs at the Martell during the late 90’s it was like our Cavern, it’s where we cut our live teeth. Gigs ranged from supporting our friends Cage and Turtlehead to opening for cover bands like Nearvana. Eventually another battle of the bands took place and sadly we were not as successful.
The venue opened up a bigger hall at the back where the snooker tables used to be. It felt different and for us it was too much to fill with our small but loyal fanbase. Highlights started to thin out and the Martell’s appeal was starting the wear thin. Eventually we knew all the bar staff, had lock ins with George the bar manager and played live recorded shows with Central FM (hard to believe a local station used to record live local bands). The alcohol flowed, the gigs came and went. One night when I crashed beer all over the counter I knew it was getting out of hand.
We left the Martell for a while, the Thursday nights were no longer a regular occurrence.
In the 2000’s (do we have a decent name for this decade yet?) we were approached to play and we obliged but the magic was gone or perhaps Falkirk had moved from our brand of rock. The Martell, the birth of our gigging experience and the hub of the Falkirk Music scene for so many years had unwound. As we finished our last set at the Martell there was no ceremony, just an air of disappointment. We thought perhaps the next time we play will be better but there would be no next time for us the Martell.
Life went by as it does, new venues opened and I would head down Grahams road sometimes going home in a taxi after a night out up in the heart of Falkirk. For years the neon sign of the Martell would glow statically in the night. You would hear about the Martells reputation for club music and the place became alien to me. Eventually it changed hands, now it’s named the Warehouse and encouragingly the venue puts on bands albeit tribute acts and mid size touring bands. There has been little mention of local artists playing there.
The Martell was one of the best venues we ever had in Falkirk. It worked for years, bringing together like minded people who wanted to listen to or play in bands around Falkirk. Together we created memories that will never leave us. Indeed some of the people who lit up the Martell stage are sadly no longer with us which makes the memories of this iconic local venue all the more important.
We had been invited to play a set of cover songs at Whitecriag rugby club as part of their yearly beer festival and family day out. We decided to go along and join in with the festivities.
We do not play a lot of gigs these days and we play cover gigs even less. So this set played at the Whitecraig’s summer beer festival was a welcome change.
For various reasons our confidence hit a wee bump at our last gig at the North Star so some easy (but enjoyable) covers would help us get back on track.
It was also a chance for our kids to finally see the band live.
I packed the gear into the car and this time Kirsty and Lewis joined me, a stark contrast to the normal band banter that the designated driver has to face on the road to the normal gigs! The Scottish sun was scorching the sky, our wee nation looks fine when the blue skies are up high.
We reached the rugby club in Whitecraigs without fuss. Standing proud in the southern outskirts of Glasgow this lovely club had already started the party. When we arrived Lewis helped his dad flit the gear onto the small stage that was sheltered by a canopy tent.
It looked brilliant. The only gig we had played outdoors was years ago at Crossgates (a story for another day). It was a small area in which to play but as soon as i saw the surroundings and felt the atmosphere i had a good vibe about the afternoon ahead.
A DJ was blasting tunes as I met the rest of the guys who were busy setting up. It wasn’t long before we were ready to go. Then there was the power cut.
As guys organising the music were scratching their heads, i was told the sound guy hadn’t turned up. Thankfully our experience has taught us there are always ways around these things. We found the problem with the power, a plug had come loose. Always carry duct tape… we used that to hold the connection together, and viola, the rest of the DJ set went well,
We had a song to soundcheck, no time at all but the sound was floating into the fields below. The vocal PA, as it was setup, was fine so we went with it. The guy who was running the show had a cowbell.. We would hear more of that later. He was in good spirits and introduced us to the crowd that was not interested in us. They were drinking fine ale and basking in the rare sun. We could’ve been naked and they wouldn’t have noticed. Thankfully we weren’t. Now that I understood we were music for the background I was more than content and it was brilliant to see Lewis and Niamh in the front row! (Luke was there as well but I think he went for his nap!)
Fight for your right (to party)
Should i stay or should i go
All or nothing
Ever fallen in love
Don’t you forget about me
Come as you are
Curtain hits the cast
Jumpin jack flash
Sex on fire
Whole lotta rosie
The set went well without any problems and it was a tight gig which we thoroughly enjoyed. A real boost for the band as soon as the set was finished we agreed we had to get back on the live scene. After the first song Lewis covered his ears and walked away. It’s great to i see my kid is my most honest critic. However he came back when we played Wonder (he knows our songs more than the covers). Niamh and Lewis danced away as we played, A sweet moment.
As we packed up Stu and Derek nicked all the beer tokens delighted that Greg and I were driving. With grins and empty glasses they headed to the bar.
Kirsty and I soaked in the family atmosphere and let Lewis jump around on the trampolines before heading off into the sunset.
The Crowd: Thank you for attending a local gig and supporting the artists. Thank you for staying right to the end.
The Sonic Blues, Rabid Dog: Thank you for playing along side us
Rory (Eindp Photography): For taking photographs for this and many, many local gigs
Juls Sampson (photography and pictures used for this blog): Our friend has shot many pics over the years
Kevin Byrne: for keeping an eye on the desk as we played
North Star staff: for keeping us fed and watered with a smile and allowing us to use the venue.
It’s who you know
I hear the city
Curtain hits the cast
Once more with feeling
Whole lotta rosie (request)
A couple of days before we were due to play, Clubby vocalist with Rabid Dog, texted to say that the North Star soundman couldn’t make the gig due to work commitments.
These things can’t be avoided but I was frustrated as I wanted to record the show. This would put a different spin on things. There were options, to use the house PA but I didn’t know its layout. To be honest it’s a vocal pa and it wouldn’t have been hard to use. Our pa had more versatility to send feeds to the multitrack so I opted for that.
It had (shamefully) been a couple of years since I operated it so that added to the stress. I had to relearn the desk within a couple of days. A few turbulent hours pushing buttons and moving faders I had managed to get to grips with the machine.
Looking back I understand now that doing the sound, recording the gig and playing at the same show is perhaps a step too far. This aside it was a great night.
Once I unloaded the vast amount of gear (probably too much) into the buzzing North Star I got to work setting up the sound, the time was half 6. Unbelievably it was now 8 o’clock and The Sonic Blues were due on in 30 minutes.
I ditched all ideas of checking mic placements for the recording. It was more important to get a decent live sound. That went fairly well, and for the recording I literally flung mics in front of the amps and the drum kit.
The Sonic Blues were up first and played another great set of bluesy rock songs and covers. Greg (guitars vocals) Allan (Bass) and Douglas (drums) are a sound bunch of lads and they are very keen. Their performance went well with the crowd and they set up the night in fine fashion
Clubby and the gang stepped up next; their ultra loyal fanbase was pleased to see them back on stage for the first time in a while. Andy had a cracking guitar sound, he has two amps hooked up and a wave of chords hit the eager audience. Andy on bass and Alan on the drums provide a solid backbone for Clubby to sing their set of punk covers. They played very well.
The gremlins came to visit us, it’s been a while, you can go many gigs without incident before the little creatures visit. Usually in the form of technical glitches and set up problems.
Just as we were getting ready to go on stage the power cut to both the PA and the desk. Scratching my head I looked back to the plug at the rear of the venue. Two chaps had seated themselves the unit in front of the socket and had unwittingly cut the power to the show. (not your fault gents)
Once I got the PA back on and the desk reloaded we were ready to play, only Stu couldn’t get the guitar amp on. (using someone else amp is fine but every guitarist will tell you having your own backline has its advantages). Once that problem was fixed we were ready.
We launched into the first song and the first time I went to hit a chord the lights were right in my eye. Whoops! A bum note right at the first song ain’t good.
To nail the opening track is essential; if you miss it it can unsettle you for the rest of the set. To a certain extent it did; although I have to concede I had been concentrating all night on the sound and with this loss of focus came a pretty standard performance from myself. So i’m a bit gutted about that. Stu, Greg and Derek all played well and helped keep the gig on track
Things did improve. As the night wore on we regained our composure (and confidence) and belted out tunes from both the decibels albums. I was too eager to play Quoted and nearly skipped Curtain hits the Cast! Quoted was manic as usual, Wait was requested and that gelled well with Deliverance and by the time we hit Industry I was scraping the guitar off a nearby pillar without much regard for my instrument.
As we reached the end of the night we reached our zenith and I was pleased it had ended on a high. If we can’t nail the songs we give it all to the performance and personally it was the most exhausting I have delivered for a long time. Our friends requested While Lotta Rosie, who could we be to resist! A little rusty would be an understatement but we had a whole lotta fun playing it!
So as our song Quoted and the politicians it depicts often say lessons have been learned. If i’m playing, I just want to play. I’ve I’m doing the sound, i just want to do the sound. This was the first time I had manned a desk at a gig and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience perhaps this could be an avenue for the future.
All round it was a great hot loud sweaty night, with a little rawness and a whole lot of heart which is what music at its purest form should be.
What a year its been for both Weird Decibels and Pabs solo music. Many highs and to be honest a few lows but a great year.
As the bells sound for the new year and 2014 turned to 2015 I remind myself that in February it will be 20 years since we first stepped into our Grangemouth practise room. Simply unbelievable.
The band head out to Linlithgow to choose a lodge in which to record the new album. We chose Kelso simply for the massive room that would allow for a great drum sound. What an inspired choice it was to be.
Tommy gives us a wee play on the Third Class Ticket ahead of our show at the Buff Club; he has supported us all year and his show goes from strength to strength.
We play the Buff Club in Glasgow. This was one of the strangest gigs we played! Look at the stage! We enjoyed it although it wasn’t our best performance.
8th February we turn 20 years old. We forget that this is an achievement; I guess as we’re all good friends it seems normal that we play music together.
we get a nice article in the Falkirk Herald to celebrate our time together. James Trimble has done us proud over the years.
We release the single version of Easy Way; never heard before until now. This was the version we sent to Bracken records which would never be released. Look out for more rare tracks in 2016 and beyond. There are loads!
28th February to 6th of March
The reason we picked this place was for this set up
A stunning and breathtaking property
This was used to record both the bass and the drums at the same time.
We record some of Weird Decibels 2 over a week in Kelso. Here is the story part onetwo and three. This was one of the best weeks in the bands history.
We continue to record parts for Weird decibels 2. Mixing starts; this turned out to be a long drawn put process despite our attempts to avoid this. Pabs went back onto shifts which helped but eventually he went back to day shift and juggling mixing, family life and work became difficult.
1st November shooting starts for the new video for Kill it Kill It released next year. Thanks to Kevin Byrne, Ruari Pearson and Chris Wilson.
2nd November our new range of tees are launched!
7th November we reveal our favourite song that we have recorded. A surprise result!
7th of November we play a fantastic gig at North Star with Buzzards of Babylon to celebrate 20 years together.
13th November Weird Decibels, like all fellow bands and musicians, are shocked and saddened by the awful events in Paris, including the massacre at the Bataclan where the Eagles of Death Metal were playing.
18th November Weird Decibels and Pabs solo work are nominated for best song, acoustic (pabs) and best rock act alongside many other talented Falkirk hopefuls for the first AMiF awards. Still time to vote!!!!!
18th November Pabs and Stu lay some new alternative takes for Weird Decibels 2.
‘we tried to get it out for the 20th anniversary gig and it became a rush. I wasn’t paying attention to the sound and was determined to get it released.
Derek had listened to the masters on his earphones and voiced his concerns, I lost it! I was fed up, I wasn’t spending time with the family, work was hectic and I was coming home to mix. I nearly canned the whole lot. I walked away from the album and the band.
Stu came up to visit and we had a coffee and a blether. I returned after three weeks and felt great. I could hear all the problems with the sound and EQ’d them out. Now the album has the clarity it was missing. ‘ Pabs.
Pabs takes a three week break from mixing; comes back fresh and sorts out the frequency problems that had been causing issues. Album now sounds epic.
5th December Our first album Whapper Stormer appears on all digital platforms including Spotify.
thanks to Kevin Byrne, Juls Sampson, Gary Ivady and Kirsty Smith for taking photos/videos some of which are posted in the blog.
I burst through the front door of the house exhausted after another day in the office. It was the end of a long week; now I had to jump from one life to another. You can’t beat being the frontman of Weird Decibels but before that I needed a wee 20 minutes nap on the couch. It wasn’t to be.
Mince and tatties in the microwave, I rushed upstairs to grab my gig bag, rushed back downstairs to grab a black tee shirt out of the dryer then back upstairs to check if the printer was working as I frantically tapped my last gen ‘smartphone’ to try and type up the set list.
Then I stood alone in the living room and tried to calm myself down; it worked for a minute as I ran back upstairs to grab mic leads then back downstairs when I heard the microwave ping!
Fed, watered and prepared I heard the doorbell ring and the ever laid back Mr Greg McSorley, 20 years served Bass player, and band gear fixer presented me with his usual enthusiasm for our latest gig. This time it was to be special.
I flung my gear into the back of his car and we set off on the thankfully short journey to North Star in the centre of Falkirk. It had been the best part of four years since we had played locally.
Stu and Derek were calmly setting up as hurricane Smith bashed through the doors with two guitars and a bag of leads. Two sighs later I flung the gear down and with my hands on my hips, I surveyed the scene. North Star looked the part, it was cosy and the tables had been neatly stacked away. I looked down at the empty floor and hoped that the free entry would tempt our loyal fanbase to fill this place.
Some diners were carefully tucking into their pizzas as I started to set up with the guys. It took a wee while to get the balance of the guitars right. Stu grew increasingly worried as he had to turn his guitar amp down 1. That’s -10 from the usual recommended rock level…
We balanced the guitars and then adjusted the bass slightly, Craig was dealing with the vocals and acoustic guitar which he mixed in well. Although there were no monitors on stage but we’ve played many gigs like that so it wasn’t a problem.
Setlist north star
Home sweet home (Riot Act)
Kill it Kill it (Weird Decibels 2)
Educational suicide (Whapper Stormer)
Show your face (Whapper Stormer)
Joker (Weird Decibels 1)
Just for today (Whapper Stormer)
The rain (Whapper Stormer)
Speak (Weird Decibels 1)
Miss Asphyxia (Weird Decibels 2)
The Ending (One More Solo
Culture Creature (Firkin Outburst)
Glass People (Whapper Stormer)
Medley (Mix of One More Solo, Firkin Outburst and Riot Act)
After all the soundchecks were done Kevin Byrne kindly stepped up to entertain the crowd; he played a few acoustic songs which went down well with the audience.
It was fast approaching quarter to nine and the incredible Buzzards of Babylon, great friends of ours, took to the stage. By now numbers were starting to grow and the placed was getting warmer. The guys rocked through a tight and dynamic set with some hilarious banter from their captivating front man Rab Dempsey. A superb set from these guys. Suddenly it was game on!!
More people piled through the door (some literally) as the charged atmosphere added to our excitement. Nerves were kicking in now, we hadn’t played a lot of these songs live for years. I forgot the riff to Home Sweet Home just minutes before we were due on. I was snapping at the guys as the adrenalin was flowing. Guitars weren’t tuning and the mics were squealing feedback.
However when I hit the B chord of Home Sweet Home it all clicked in. The sound settled for a while and we burst into the opener from Riot Act. It was an apt song for playing back to our hometown of Falkirk after a few years trying to spread our name in Glasgow.
Going Back to the 90’s
The first third of the set flew past; after new single Kill it Kill it was nailed I placed the guitar down; in that moment I was transported back to the Martell in 1995 when I was simply a vocalist. We played Educational Suicide and Show Your Face Soon. It was brilliant to be able to run about the stage without the guitar.
I loved singing Just for Today and Vancouver as well; the heat was building and I was gulping more water in between the free beer supplied by the venue (nice touch North Star).
The Ending was a bit wobbly, Greg couldn’t quite nail it and it took us until the end to find our feet. I made a hash of the end as well. So yeah there were a few mistakes on the night but what the hell, it was fun.
I lifted the trusty old Tanglewood which was nestled in its rack; this was the first guitar I had bought and became fused with our late 90’s sound. Culture Creature was the best song to come from that era. It sounded good although I didn’t nail the solo. Stu managed to carry us through that part. Derek and Greg kept things solid.
Glass people was next; the first time in perhaps 15 or so years the public it was pretty much spot on and once again the indefectible Stu nailed the solo; the chatter in the venue had lowered to a murmur as the crowd took in his playing.
The mood was changing though, restless perhaps, it was time to turn it up a notch so we played our first ever medley.
We had many requests from our kind kind listeners; these included Hell Never Felt So Good, Underachiever and Fighting With Forever. We wanted to fling in Brought A Gun and the Nirvana version of the Vaselines Molly’s Lips before leaving the guitars to ring into Wonder.
As we switched from Hell to Bought A Gun I screwed up the change; with a shake of the head from Derek we soldiered on and got the rest right much to the delight of our listeners who were pleased with the new take on old songs.
The Final Straight
Sofa Girrrl was a riot; by this time I had a few beers and was trying to get the crowd to sing along to songs they might not know. So I dived away from the stage in search of some backing singers and a special dancer. Rooz stepped up and we Sofadanced through the 3 mins of punk. A superb moment.
New song it Who You Know burnt out the last strings of my vocal chords but the guys were now in full rock mode. We reached Rosie, our 2nd last song, or so we thought. The chants of (the much missed) Dave Broon echoed through the Star from our friends as Derek and Stu started our famous cover song.
After the guitars rung out my father stepped up to the stage, ‘you need to play Deliverance! There is a guy from Stockport here just to see you!!’ That guy turned out to be Falkirk bairn Harry Watson who had traveled 234 miles to take in the sights and sounds of his home town.
After Craig kindly allowed some more time (past 11pm now..) we launched into Deliverance. I disappeared into the crowd, guitar in hand. Stu was in stitches wondering who was going to sing the choruses!
We ended with one of the most requested songs in our history, it’s always the same voice that shouts for it! High Heels, Wilson’s favourite ended a superb night for us. As Stu And I played back to back during the solo it felt great to be on a Falkirk stage again. I went out into the audience and I was surrounded by people that had came to see us. It was a great moment.
The Merch stand is open!
Merch did well, Derek set it up rather nicely, a great effort. We sold a number of Tee’s that Greg had spent hours making. We shifted a few of the back catalog CD’s as well. Thank you everybody.
The Buzzards were Buzzing!
Rab asked for a guide to Falkirk pubs that would be open until 3am I gulped… the adrenaline was seeping away, and my bones were aching. These guys meant business. Greg was the only Decibel to rise to the Buzzards challenge. They stayed up to 3am downing shots and proving that Stu, Derek and myself may have to brush up on our rock and roll skills.
The Greatest of Nights.
It was a great night at North Star. It’s a neat wee venue for bands to play and we would like to thank Craig for having us on. Both Kevin and the Buzzards were brilliant, the latter clearly looked like they were out for a party all night and morning. The crowd was brilliant as well. Many of you turned up to support us and it was nice to see the place full of much loved friends and family.
So thanks once again for your support. As we say so long to our first 20 years and look to the years ahead.
With a new album due soon we must acknowledge that it would never have happened without you. Our wonderful Weirdos..
Moody teenagers write heavy song; result? Downer. This guitar laden beast stalks near the end of Whapper Stromer waiting for the ear shattering guitar ring; it makes you flinch.
Lyrically it’s not as charismatic as the rest of Whapper, if I remember correctly Stu wrote the riff to this before any vocal melody was in place. As a band we are firm friends but musically we’ve always been a strange combination. Downer is a good point at which to explain.
In 1995 Greg and I were into similar music; although Greg would wander off into the darker reaches of grunge and rock. Later he’d fling in some trance and industrial. We both liked the seattle scene (Nirvana etc.) but I would find myself going to lighter more acoustic music before eventually getting into alternative.
Derek had a lot in common with Greg and I but he liked to lean towards classic acts such as the Beatles and more so Bowie. Of us all it’s fair to say Derek never liked ‘shouty’ metal acts.
Back in the 90’s the three Larbert High students had similar tastes to enthuse upon our new guitarist, the mysterious, unknown Stewart McCairney. As we rolled up outside of our new recruit’s house, the door opened.
As the dry ice cleared, the pyros flared, out stepped the dude, I could tell straight away this guy wasn’t into grunge and certainly wasn’t into Britpop! His hand shot into the air and devil horns were held aloft. This guy wanted to rock.
In the early days I believed we wouldn’t work; but we did. Stu, despite his desire to write heavy music, happily played beautiful melodies over the quieter songs. Eventually he grabbed his chance with Downer and we wrote one of our heaviest songs to date.
As I snarl ‘naughty Mary’ through a distorted mic; I knew we were heading for a big build. I nearly made it! I guess my voice isn’t suited to the heavier echelons of music but I gave it a good shot!
John Baines joined the rest of the band as we crowded around a mic and roared the final lines of the song which we recorded in Dreks flat. A magical time.
Like I say we can flit from heavy to light in a heartbeat; this could be the reason why we have never found a massive audience. I guess listeners like consistency. Who knows. Anyway, i’ve always admired our ability to write a wide variety of tunes; it doesn’t always work but we give it a try.
Dirty Stream is another survivor from the drunken Firkin Outburst sessions. It’s a romantic song about who will be first in a relationship to take the plunge and fall in love. Lines like ‘stones thrown, at a glass ceiling, which one of us gets cut the most’ and ‘ A walk across a frozen lake, just don’t run if you panic’ perhaps point to my thoughts on taking risks and thinking about the worst case scenario.
I really like this song; the chorus ‘we’re gonna have to quench our thirst, by drinking water from a dirty stream’ makes this composition a lyrical highlight of my 20 or so years of writing (in my opinion of course!).
The thing I love about Weird Decibels 1 was our desire to move away from ‘power chords’ that had served us so well then arguably,eventually hindered us. Joker is centred around the guitar riff at the start. Greg stamps on his distorted bass before Stu and Derek break the door down with the rhythm.
The verses avoid chords as well; based around the D chord the riff is a little picked melody that has all the hallmarks of Nirvana.
The lyrics were written at the time of the summer riots in 2011. It felt like the whole country was going to explode. I guess this was our way of writing a protest at our corrupt politicians. ‘what are you hiding from me, I’m the electorate when can i see?’ and ‘money burns floating down, to lie against a riot shield, once held by a broken policeman, fed up defending politician’.
I found the riots disturbing; the wanton violence against innocent peoples property and small businesses give these disturbances a more sinister feel. Was this a reflection of the anger young people felt against their government?
I’ve never embraced politics in our music. I’ve never really embraced political bands. I prefer to hear peoples stories from their lives, but as you get older you begin to understand that politics do affect our day to day lives and therefore become part of your music.
Joker is a band and listener favourite; it was my attempt at making sense of it all.
From British politics to something closer to home, we were are back in the Falkirk night life for the Sound of the Night. I expected Derek to score this highly but it turns out Greg expressed his love for this slow burner.
It starts with a dreamy guitar sequence that we got all wrong when we recorded it. I had to spend days at the mixing desk trying to sort it out,
Sound of the Night is one of those tracks that sounds great live but didn’t translate as strongly on record. I talk of my desire to escape the noise of urban life and my frustrations with modern living.
Not the most in depth story but a nice tune nonetheless.
Probably one of the most fun songs to play. Simple chords, simple arrangement and I get a rest from most of the vocals. Stu and Derek stepped up to sing the verses; this allows me to jump around at gigs whilst battering hell out of my old guitar.
Deliverance makes an appearance near the end of Weird Decibels 1 it questions religion ‘send it to the mountain, send it to the sky, you’re refused deliverance, don’t ask god why’. It’s pretty much a straight forward howl to the skies and an absolute riot to play at gigs 15. Underachiever. Riot Act. 2007
Around the mid 00’s I was taking stock of a lot of things both at a musical level and with my job. (I still do). Underachiever is my envy getting the better of me. You reach an age where people start to overtake you in life and you eventually tie yourself up in knots and
forget the most important things you have. Family and friends.
This tune split the band down the middle; Greg and Stu scored it quite high; Derek and I excluded it from our list.
I think it’s dated, it shows my self pitying mood at the time. That’s the problem when you write songs, sometimes they remind you that your head was in the wrong place.
I remember playing this at the Cavern in Liverpool. It was the only song that made the manager leave his office to come and see us. He doubled the size of the crowd!
At 14 we have the first song voted as a favourite. Just For Today. I love it.
It bursts in with Stu, Greg and Derek playing the rolling riff straight into the first verse. I used to start by whistling the melody but it was dropped as every time I attempted to whistle the intro we’d start laughing. I could never do it!
It’s one of those ‘calm in the storm’ moments. Surrounded by the desperate drug woes of Chameleon (the only Whapper track not to make this list) and the edgy trippy paranoia of Now I Can See His Eye. Just For Today is a dreamy description of a day where everything seems right. It is an unusually upbeat song from me; I was probably under the influence of something ‘I saw the clouds in the dark and I began to stare’.
I remember the night wrote I this; I was heading home from a party looking up at the night sky. The moon lit up the clouds as I tried to keep myself warm for the walk home. Back then we walked home from parties, nights out, gigs and the pub. It was often at these times we would have our best laughs.
The vocals change at the end; Stu doesn’t use distortion on this track, instead we have a jam at the end of the song. That’s what I love about this; it feels live and spontaneous. You can hear the drums and bass changing their dynamics to suit the upbeat mood.
It’s not something we do a lot these days. When you are solely a vocalist you tend to be a bit more imaginative with your voice. Since I have played guitars and sang I haven’t used this freestyle as much.
The line ‘I didn’t care what my appearance was like, maybe I looked a mess’ summed up my feelings back then. With badly fitting clothes and long unruly hair I missed the point at which grunge had left and ‘Britpop’ had arrived.
I’m also offering help to someone; I can’t remember who but the one thing I do recall is that during those Firkin and Pennies days we all looked out for each other.
At just under 4 minutes Just For Today is an example some of our best work; it is the soundtrack to the end of the night, when our young drunk souls would go home and hope that when we stumble into our houses we wouldn’t wake up the parents! 13. Psalm. Weird Decibels 1 2012.
Only Stu and I voted for this and we scored it fairly high for a reason. The arching solos that almost burst out of the speakers.
The track listing of Weird Decibels 1 has divided us. In these modern times of short attention spans, instant music and streaming, people don’t tend to listen to albums. The general rule is put your best track first.
I wanted WdB1 to be an album and I could think of no other epic opening than Psalm. It is Weird Decibels in one package. Heavy guitars, melody, a thread of acoustic rhythm , imaginative drums, growling bass and soaring solos. Sure there are better songs on WdB1 but none are as ambitious as this.
Greg drops tuning for this and we play it in E, unfortunately the down tuned bass is one reason we never play it live. It’s a heavy laden guitar wall of noise, and there is an angry vocal spitting distaste for the class system. ‘Some will be lucky, for others will pave, the path for their children.’
My son had just been born when I wrote this; all your thoughts change. From the delight of life to the unfairness of it. Psalm reflects this in some ways.
Psalm works its way to one of our best endings. frequent collaborator Jemma Burt comes in with some beautiful keys that help change the tone of the song. I sing ‘I lost my way.I lost my way when you asked me to pray’. as Stu starts to build his epic three part solo. I rank up the vox and together as vocalist and lead guitars we meet up at the height of the crescendo before the songs settled into its subtle conclusion.
The old guitar you hear at the intro and end was lying around in Kirsty’s mums place; we were staying there as we waited for our new house to be built. The intro of Metallica’s Battery was a heavy influence here.
Psalm was the opening track to our first album in 4 years; the 6 minute statement of intent. Weird Decibels were back after the barren years of the acts.
Barren years of the acts? I can picture Derek shaking his head as he reads this. After One More Solo we were into an uneasy spell of cover songs; I would often voice my distaste for learning them. We played fewer gigs (although to be fair they were enjoyable) and when we did play live we didn’t play much of our own stuff. We didn’t really embrace the internet like we do today and we rarely stepped out of Falkirk. However there were highlights.
Track 3 on Riot Act Sky Is Falling is another tale of a night out in Falkirk. It opens with ‘Let’s face it she’s not very pretty and she doesn’t look good on the dance floor, I come home from this paranoid city, turn on the news watch religion at war’. The moody apocalyptic theme of the Sky Is Falling is one of the high points. We haven’t played this live for years.
It reflects the unrest around the planet during those times; there is a bit of comedy in the chorus ‘jesus is coming, look busy, your god is calling’. Im sure I got that lyric from one of those mugs that says ‘look busy the boss is coming’.
There is a helpless resignation in the lyrics that contradict the uplifting music; It’s has a really nice ending.
Just missing out on out on our top ten is the first ever song we wrote; it’s not surprising it still has a place in our hearts.
Greg and I wrote this before the band was even formed. Stu and Derek finished the embryonic creation. Strongly influenced by Nirvana, the classic verse chorus verse arrangement is very prevalent here.
I wrote the lyrics in the middle of an IT class at school which goes some way to explain my lack of academic success. Educational Suicide is a wordy shout at the ‘system’ and class.
Smells Like Teen Spirit has a brilliant call to the dance floor; when you hear Cobain hitting those chords you know you need to get up there. I wanted something similar for our song. So when you press play on the Whapper Stormer disc you are immediately met with Stu’s ringing guitar.
Its simple structure allowed us to write the song in our first practice. It settled the nerves and meant that or the majority of the next 20 years we would be playing music together. Educational Suicide is the most important song we have ever written, but not the best. That’s coming…
Friends corner. The photographers.
Many people have taken photographs of the band over the years. Kevin Byrne has been napping portraits for many years. A good friend of the band he has taken many of sleeve artwork photosgraphs, including his work in Riot Act and One More Solo. He also took the recent press portrait that was used in the Falkirk Herald. A very talented and knowledgeable photographer. See his work here
Neil Henderson took photographs during the early years, we met Neil, like many of our friends, at Firkins. He took the Martell shot that is used in Coldhome Street and the live portraits that are used in Weird Decibels 1. Neil went on to photograph many acts throughout the country including Attica Rage.
Lets not forget regular gig snappers Juls and Phil who have taken numerous pictures that have given us many great memories and more recently Eindp Scotland, his pictures of us ended up printed in the Stirling Observer.
Paul Henry Smith at the Tolbooth Stirling 6th March 2015
Thanks to Eve Smith, Dale Ashworth and Greg McSorley for the pictures
I had just returned form Kelso; I had recorded for a whole week with Weird Decibels and my voice was shot. Sitting in the quiet of my house I was desperate to give my wife and boy a cuddle. I hadn’t seen them for a week. The phone rang.
Kirsty was on the line calling from work to tell me that the car was making a bad knocking noise and that driving through to the Tolbooth would not be a good idea.
Slightly frustrated that I wouldn’t see my family I made plans to get the train. So I grabbed a quick sandwich and a strum of the guitar, packed it up and headed out of the door, case and bag in hand.
Whenever I play a gig I’m with the band; I was struck by how alone I felt. I boarded the train and took my place in the carriage beside the bikes hoping that a cyclist would not take my spot. As the train rattled towards Stirling I had the feeling that everything in my musical life was changing. I don’t know why I thought that.
As a worrier I like to be prepared for anything so I went into a shop to buy some batteries for the acoustic pick-up. A fight started outside; I had to swerve by the angry youths with my dads Takamine in hand. Safely avoiding the rabble I headed up the hill to the Tolbooth.
Esperi was already sound checking when I arrived; he looked alone as well, sound checking by himself and playing all the instruments that were set up on stage. He was very meticulous about his sound. Everything had to be right and I admired that.
I met Kenny Bates, a nice guy who was running the show. He led me backstage to the dressing room and explained what was happening; I settled ticket sales and he left. Again the loneliness kicked in; if the band were there we’d probably dipped into the beers in the fridge.
Something, Someone arrived a little late; a very friendly trio of young musicians were talking rather calmly about playing at the King Tuts. I guess it was just me but I’d be amazed at playing all these great venues. It reminded me that I really need to get out and play these venues.
I sound checked last (I was first on) and I was very nervous. I was glad I had rehearsed so much, the songs were second nature so it made it easier. It was so strange playing alone.
A quick sound check was done; the sound guys (Dave and co) were keen to wrap up and I wasn’t the headline act so I headed off stage and went to meet the other artists in the changing rooms. Esperi (Chris, nice guy) and Something Someone were all exchanging gig experiences. I felt out of place at this point although it didn’t take me long to settle in.
A trainee journalist Sam dived downstairs to ask us for interviews; I was rather taken aback by this. So I headed up with the young guy and he pointed a camera at me and explained what he wanted. He was a nice chap; when he asked my age for some reason I said 38 (not quite there yet…) and he quipped that’s not too old for a rocker. I wasn’t sure what to make of that. I found it funny; the age thing is starting to creep in I guess.
The interview actually ended up being more about Weird Decibels as he was quite intrigued about our 20 years together. I was happy our band was getting a bit of extra publicity through my solo work. I hope he completes and shares his article.
Kenny approached me before the gig with stage times. I noticed I had 30 mins although in the contract it was only 25 mins so I had to find an extra song…
Looking From The Outside
What Are You Running From
I Had To Turn It Around
Let Autumn and Winter pass
Power (extra song)
Hard Working Man
I had not been this nervous since Weird Decibels first gig. Every footstep, when I picked up the guitar, strumming the first chords and singing the first lines felt like so heavy. The nerves eased though. I looked up and could only see bright lights and the stage was hot. I finished the song and the applause was magnificent. Then there was the silence. Its hard to describe what it is like when people are actually listening to every chord and word of your songs. Truly amazing.
I grew in confidence as I played through the songs; I kept an eye on the time and worryingly I was hurtling through the set. I loved playing my old song Let Autumn and Winter Pass and it was nice to fling in Power ( I needed it!). Hard Working Man felt very emotional and then I announced Blue Lights. As I started picking the first notes all the lights turned blue. A truly great moment; I’m gutted I forgot to thank the technicians for that moment.
Then it was over (25 mins!); and my kind family and friends told me how much they enjoyed it. That was really nice. I headed backstage an again I was alone to gather my thoughts before I opened the fridge door and helped myself to a free beer!
I headed back out to watch the other acts and I stood with my friends and family. I was delighted they all came through to see me play; humbled to be honest.
Not the Microsoft kind although that is due as well. Windows is the term for the difference in time between physical media releases and them appearing on streaming services. (just in case you didn’t know)
It presents a wee dilemma to our band; we have a small but perfectly formed (and extremely loyal) following and we must make sure they are looked after. Which presents a challenge as we need to pay for the album (albeit we keep the costs low)
Weird Decibels 1 was paid for mostly by ticket sales (for gigs we organised), private function gigs (covers..) and then finally CD sales. Streaming did not contribute much at all (in fact by the time we paid set up fees we lost money this way)
So this has got me (over) thinking. How do we develop a ‘release strategy’; sorry I sound like a bit of dick but hey got to get with the times.
Weird Decibels 1 was the first album we released on both the internet and CD. Previously we simply handed out CD’s like everyone else from that era (90′, 00’s).
WdB1 landed on Bandcamp first; a lot of people listened on that platform but we got no download sales. Due to a delay the CD was released a month later; it sold better than our previous albums probably because our listener base is orientated to a physical release (a kind way of saying we’re getting older!). Spotify and the rest followed and the payback was minimal.
The next HMR release (my solo album) Paul Henry Smith – Morningday aired on Spotify, iTunes and other digital services first. Listening rates were good and there was even a few downloads but again not enough to cover set-up costs. The CD sold a few copies but well down on WdB1 (I won’t take that personally!!). Did people settle to listening to the album on the stream?
Then along came Taylor Swift; not to our gigs or anything like that, no she pulled all her music from Spotify because it paid her (and her record company) a pittance per stream. This got the whole industry talking about release ‘windows’; basically your favourite artist (Swift is a long way from that) releases a CD or vinyl and then weeks later it will appear on streaming services. Great…
I love Spotify; I get my Uncut magazine and I listen to the radio; I will hunt for the album on Spotify. If I love it I will order the CD. Now if ‘windows’ are to take effect I’m screwed.
The conflict? Spotify unfairly cuts the band and I from the financial stream. I wish they would pay more.
I love being on the service; many of our friends have ventured to other lands and yet they can still enjoy our albums and even share them with new audiences. I believe, and I speak for myself, that it’s a price worth paying.
However we need to think of our next album and as you can tell by this blog entry my thoughts are going round in circles. I hate the idea of ‘windows’ I love music embracing new technology (hi def streaming etc); I love that fact I can listen to any album when ever I want and I pay for this service every month, not only that, I love CD’s dropping through the letter box!! (sorry record stores, although saying that I bought a few CD’s out of FOPP the other week)
I pay through my teeth for music, CD’s, Spotify premium and gigs and yet my record collection is all over the place because the industry has no clear vision. My CD collection slowed over the last couple of years. My iTunes collection; the hours spent ripping CD’s etc’ has stopped (waste of time and money downloading to be honest) and now Spotify could end up become a music library like Netflix is to movies (ie no new releases)
Well my head is bursting now; basically the music industry is going to have to find its feet. Those who love music will always pay; it just seems we have to change our plans for everyone else.
Anyway back to the band’s next release. We’re thinking about a ‘window’!!! ( 4 weeks tops! Buy our CD please!!)
Or maybe we won’t… Maybe we should just be happy that in this day of music overload you still have the time to listen to our music.
Love to you all
Happy listening whatever and wherever that may be
Here is a fantastic music industry blog that tries to find the answers that I have clearly failed to find.
On the 6th of November 2014 we play Ivory Blacks in Glasgow. it will be the last gig we play in support of our last album Weird Decibels 1 before we retire that fine record to the retro corner. Our focus will then turn to Weird Decibels 2.0 (could we call it anything else?)
We played a few gigs in support of Weird Decibels 1 so I thought I count up how many times we played each song. Its not an exact science but here goes. Gigs + songs – Beer – set list changes + requests = the song count below.
1. Speak played 8 times
1. Joker played 8 times
3. Wonder played 6 times (listed 7 but swapped for a request)
3. Wait played 6 times
5. Deliverance played 5 times
5. Steel played 5 times
7. Crown played 3 times
7. Power played 3 times
9. Forward played twice
9, Pay played twice
9. Industry played twice
12. Psalm played once
Notable others (from Forthcoming WdB 2,0) Miss Asphyxia 3, Kill It Kill it 2, I Hear The City 2, Little Thoughts Lost 1 and (from One More Solo)High Heels 1
The three songs with videos on YouTube or otherwise known as the ‘singles’ (Speak, Joker and Wonder) have been played (or listed) the most.
In at joint 3rd is Wait! a throwaway piece of rock that we loved playing but every time we looked up there was muted applause! So we decided to drop it from future sets. While at the bottom Psalm the down tuned 3 solo epic opener is the least played. This is partly due to the down tuning hassles and the limited time we had on stage. We played Psalm at the launch night (back at 20 rocks) when we had far more time to play. Pity, I would’ve loved to play that more. Forward and Pay never got played much; that happens with certain tracks I guess.
Here is the track listing for Ivory Blacks
probably high Heels!
So that gives us Speak 9 (plays), Joker 9, Wonder 7, Wait 6 Deliverance 6, Steel 5, Power 4, Crown 4, Industry 3, Pay 2, Forward 2 and Psalm. Oh not forgetting High Heels!