Some pictures taken with a Panasonic GF1 and 20mm Pancake, taken by Gillian while I was on stage, plus my rambling thoughts on the Airtight Garage reunion after 30 years. Converted to B&W in Lightroom.
So what has been keeping me up at night finally came to pass at the weekend when the Airtight Garage hit the stage for the first time in 30 years as part of the Punk Brighton 10th Anniversary All Dayer at the Prince Albert. Punk Brighton being a website maintained by the dedicated Phil to remember those far off days when bands rose from the streets barely able to play, rather than X Factored into existence by a twat with a high waist band and an ability to polish turds for money. The website lists well over 50 bands in Brighton who were no doubt inspired by another arch manipulator and his Sex Pistols. It was in a way a kind of folk music compared to the hideous cynicism of today’s wannabees.
The Airtight Garage played in Brighton but its roots go back to Lampeter. There, where its members had just arrived to be educated, the most important cultural tidal wave since the 60’s crashed on the beach. I was but a naïve country boy but I fell in with a motley crew obsessed with music, the counter culture, art and anything that your 21st century university would consider inappropriate. So, when the Pistols swore at Mr Grundy and the moral panic of the nation began, we followed from afar with utter glee. We were more than ready to help bury the bloated corpse of the sixties and pogo on its grave.
I imagine punk was different depending on where ever you were standing but the main thing was to form a band. The first incarnation caused a shock at the Eisteddfod but later evolved into the Repeaters, a pop oriented punk band along the lines of the Rezillos. I was only writing words at this stage and could barely play but felt armed with my “gentleman’s degree” enough part of the gang to follow the band to Brighton, the singer Ian Marchant’s home town.
So it was in the summer of 79 we turned up in Brighton and with the aid of the dole set about obtaining world domination on a shoestring. The Repeaters broke up almost immediately but from its ashes the Airtight Garage was born. I was no Dylan but Costello seemed something to aim for (truly). I did seem to have a knack for lyrics having realised that some poetry and emotion was highly attractive to musicians not that bothered about the words. Plus fifteen minutes of inspiration and the job was done which really is my kind of work.
The band started then with Ian Marchant (vocals), Paul Williams (bass) and in a very punk move my good self on guitar. Ian obtained for us a gig supporting Peter and the Test Tube Babies (I represented them once but that’s a whole other blog) and with a borrowed drummer we did a show at the Richmond. We dressed I remember in lime green shirts with purple potato prints on them and must have made a right racket. I have to take most of the credit for that and both cringe and admire my bravery at inflicting my musicality on the good people of Brighton.
Later Bob Machin returned, as it seemed sensible to have one guitarist who could play, and Paul Hazel, the original drummer from 1976, climbed aboard. We recorded a demo of Sinking in the Sands and Hardly a Heartache but the world proved indifferent. We made a pretty frightening racket which could occasionally be sublime but nonetheless, in a breath taking act of ruthlessness, the bastards threw me out. In part it came as a relief as being the slowest ship in the convoy was at time not much fun. I had of course written almost all the words and some of the music and, in an act of generosity that I don’t think I would now repeat, I continued to allow them to rifle through my lyric draw. They continued to perform and were much tighter but from my point of view, and I am of course biassed, they had lost their soul. It staggered on for a further 6 months with one further demo featuring Time and Time Again and The Deadly Rythmn of Private Thoughts. These were also met with a resounding silence and, in the end, the Airtight Garage imploded and I was relieved to discover I was not going to be the Pete Best in this story.
I’ve always loved the songs we did back then and naturally, like your first love, you never forget your first band. So I’ve always played these songs and been incorporating them into my fantasy solo set for many years. I had honestly thought the others had moved on with nary a backward glance, so it was quite a surprise when Bob suggested the possibility that we could play at the Punk Brighton Anniversary. I wasn’t sure I wanted to play at first as I’d become somewhat less sanguine about my ejection as the years have past. Still I’m not one to turn down maybe a last chance to get up on stage, so all systems were go.
We rehearsed a few times with me singing which was great fun, and then Ian rejoined and that wonderful group dynamic had returned. A band is a very strange beast; in this case a four way marriage and the passing years don’t make it any easier when you have become ever more set in your ways and opinions. But we have also mellowed and improved musically and the noise we make now isn’t half bad when we get in a groove. Let me also say: man those guys have big egos, where as I’m of course utterly reasonable.
The day of the gig was a marvellous with people coming from a long way off to renew old friendships – well done to Facebook for making that possible. What ever doubts I’d had, melted away in both a glow of nostalgia and the sheer enjoyment of thrashing a guitar on stage again. The day felt very surreal at times, but in a good way, and this is maybe how you get high on life. My guitar sounded loud and jangly and I could barely hear the drums. We moved it and grooved it, and it went by in a flash. Don’t Look Back by The Remains was our cover, then Sinking in the Sands, Hardly a Heartache, City’s Heart and Sparking in the Dark. I counted the songs off as Ian discarded the sheets of lyrics at my feet and it was over all too quickly. A lot of trouble for seventeen minutes thirty you might think but, no, it was well worth all the effort and that band, you know, are not such a bad lot after all or at least until the next time we have to rehearse.
If a process could ever be considered cathartic then this, maybe, was it.
More pictures at http://www.flickr.com/photos/40297516@N06/sets/72157625066542891/comments/#comment72157625193593386 taken by Mr Machin’s sister and very good they are too.