Thursday, 14 April 2011

Sons Of The Stage Part 2: Carp Fever

When Nine Inch Snails split up at the end of the Sixth Form, it felt like we were beginning to get somewhere. Not in terms of any real success, of course; we'd only ever played within the school grounds, and it was unlikely that we'd attracted the attentions of anyone beyond our circle of friends. However, the small repertoire of original material we'd built up had given me a taste of being in a band, something at which I was keen to have another bash.

Consequently, when I got to university I was quick to drop into conversation that I played guitar and would really quite like to start a band. This rather backfired when a socially awkward character asked me to play in his industrial combo. I can't remember the guy's name now, but he was possessed of a blank-faced charmlessness which, as it turned out, was allied to an almost-total lack of understanding of how to go about putting a band together. My justification for saying this is that he also approached a guy called Andy to play drums. Now, by his own admission, Andy couldn't play drums, but to our now-nameless friend this was less significant than the fact that Andy was a burly fellow with a Travis Bickle-style mohawk. "All you'll have to do is hit a metal bin with some spanners," was the would-be svengali's advice, which almost says as much about the public perception of industrial music in 1993 as it does about the cretin that uttered those words. I'm surprised he didn't also ask around to see if anyone had any power tools.

It might not surprise you to learn that this band never actually happened.

Instead, I fell in with a group of eager young musicians from Chamberlain Hall. The line-up was Alex on acoustic guitar and vocals, myself, Lee and Andy (not the mohawked one) on guitars, Lucy on bass and Ella on drums. Those of you with a keen interest in counting will have noticed that this collective included a staggering four guitar players, and from this, anybody who knows the more extreme ends of my musical taste may be forgiven for assuming that this band would deal in apocalyptic soundscapes characterised by in-the-red volume and total sonic overload. It didn't, though. It really didn't.

The tastes which fed into our band were pretty varied, while rarely straying from the middle of the road. Alex was the biggest Crowded House fan in his home county of Cheshire. Lee and Andy liked Bon Jovi and could always be relied upon to whip out their acoustics for a run-through of Extreme's More Than Words. Lucy liked indie and funk and, having been drowned out by a guitarist in an old band back in Market Harborough, was keen to ban distortion pedals from our set-up (an edict which I'm afraid I ignored). I'm afraid I don't remember what Ella was into, but as she shared strong Christian beliefs with Andy, it's probably fair to assume that death metal wasn't really her sort of thing.

I don't remember the discussions about what she should call ourselves, but I do know how we came to choose our name. Our friend Matt Ross was keen on fishing and was accumulating knowledge from various published works, including the unmissable tome 'Carp Fever'. Matt thought this would be a splendid name for our band, and it appears that we agreed. After the various names used by my school band, I was used to a certain silliness in this area, and in truth I still kinda like it. It's got the right sort of randomness for an indie band, and if somebody were to emerge with this name in 2011 I could well imagine Radio One DJ Huw Stephens saying the name in his lovely Welsh accent. That said, I was always sensitive to the idea that sooner or later some wag would swap two of the letters around to pass judgement on our skills...

Incidentally, Matt also possessed another fishy book by Bob Nudd, by the name of 'My Way With The Pole', which I earmarked as a potential album title. As we shall see, however, its services were never required...

The public debut of Carp Fever took place in Chamberlain Hall, in a space which I don't recall having a name. It was the room between the dining hall and the bar, and as such was principally used by people waiting to get fed or shit-faced. One evening, possibly in the summer term, the six of us occupied one end of it to perform a repertoire of songs we could all just about agree on. I'm pretty sure we played a Crowded House tune. We definitely did U2's Mysterious Ways, because I overheard one of Andy's friends saying afterwards that we'd "murdered it". At the time, I thought this was a little unfair; the way I got round not owning a wah-wah pedal by using my distortion and some palm-muting was surely a new dawn for guitar experimentation. Looking back, however, I suspect Andy's friend was right. We also did some Levellers stuff, including a version of Sell Out in which I "took the mic" for the shouty bit in the middle eight, prompting observers to note that I handled it as if I was in Slayer. I'm fairly sure they meant it as a compliment. I know we did a version of Parklife with name-giver Matt Ross doing the Phil Daniels bits. Beyond that, I'm really not sure.

We did write some originals, too, which may have appeared on the setlistOystercatcher, as the word Cornwall never figured in the actual lyrics - I think I thought that was quite a Wedding Presenty thing to do (as in their tunes Rotterdam and Granadaland). It was about the holiday I'd had in Cornwall the previous summer, and how friendship lasts forever. (This has proven true in part - of the people I went to Cornwall with, Simon was my best man last year, Ben has been a vocal supporter of this blog...Lucy's my friend on Facebook...and, OK, I have no idea what Natalie's up to these days.) Figure In The Landscape, meanwhile, was based on the novel 'Tess Of The D'Urbervilles' - clearly at this point in my life I thought that what rock music needed was more of a Thomas Hardy influence.

At some point towards the end of the first year, Lee and Andy both left Carp Fever. There was no animosity - they were both sweet guys, and Ella would live with them in the second year - I suspect their reasons went along the lines of wanting to concentrate more on studies and playing More Than Words, and maybe they were fed up of being drowned out by my cack-handed usage of a distortion pedal. The newly streamlined Carp Fever ventured out of our comfort zone to play a pub called The Dorchester Arms, which would assume greater significance for me many years later when venerable Southampton indie DJ Hammy started his Saturday night residency there. We got the gig because Lucy knew some guy in a local indie band who needed a support, and the whole affair was fairly dispiriting. Any of our friends in attendance were outnumbered by stony-faced locals who were watching some sort of sporting entertainment on the TV screen above the stage. Lucy's friend's band were entirely forgettable, and nicked my distortion pedal. (I don't think Lucy put them up to it).

That ended up being it for Carp Fever. Although Lucy, Alex and I shared a house in the second year (along with our friend Gail), we never quite got motivated to give it another go. I guess the convenience of having a free room in which to rehearse in halls meant it seemed a right old hassle to arrange practice space out in the real world. Students, eh?

A few years later, Lucy and Alex got another band together who continued in the indie/folk/pop vein Carp Fever had hinted at. They were called Barrington and did much better than us, getting a CD out and actually building some sort of fanbase. Here's their Last FM page: Don't be put off by the fact that "similar artists" include Kinky Brothers and Jock's Trap.

I've lost touch with Andy, but having made Facebook friends with Lee I'm delighted to find that he's as lovely a fellow as he was back then - and that despite living with Christians for most of his time at uni he's a self-proclaimed atheist/humanist. Hopefully he'll forgive me for the More Than Words-orientated mockery above.

Ella ended up being the most successful musician to have a stint in Carp Fever on her CV. After uni, she returned to her native Devon, where (curiously, at around the same time Lucy and Alex formed Barrington and I joined a band called The Gilamonsters) she ended up playing in Buffseeds, an indie pop band who came tantalisingly close to success in the early 2000s. Here's a strangely curtailed video of their best known tune...

And as for me... well, it was five years before I joined another band, which means I won't be writing about it here for some time. However, with tales of fetish nights, an altercation with the original lead singer of Iron Maiden, the offending of a Tom G. Warrior lookalike, the clearing of an indie disco, Valentine's Day in Camden, The Frequently Late Guitarist and communicating with Japanese musicians through the power of the air guitar, The Ballad Of The Gilamonsters will surely be worth the wait...