Saturday, 6 June 2020

Goodnight Salvador Dali

I spent most of my teenage years at a boarding school. It wasn't that my parents hated me, but rather that Dad worked out in Kuwait, and once I hit secondary school age, there were no schools out there suitable. So I left home for a few years, returning only for the school holidays.

At some point in the middle of that, it was a summer term I think, about the same time I was really starting to discover the cathartic pleasure to be found in writing, an American girl joined the school. Some sort of exchange I think, she and her friend were only with us for the one term.

Shannon Zoe Johnson. She was, by the by, blonde and very, very pretty. She was also an exceptionally gifted poet. I fell in love. Perhaps a little bit with her, albeit only from afar, but mainly with her words.

Perhaps it was the fact that they spilled so free and so easily onto the page, but they triggered something of an epiphany, a sudden realisation that I could do the same.

So I did. I filled school text books up with verse, most of it adolescent junk. I may one day go back and read some of it to amuse myself at my own expense, but not today, and not for some while. For now, it can all stay in that bottom drawer where that of it which remains has lain now for years.

That summer, sitting in my parent's garage with my guitar, the realisation hit me that if I could string a few chords together and lay the words over the top, well, that would be a song. And whilst you never met a rich poet, there were plenty of rich rockstars.

So I spent a year writing songs with my guitar and recording them onto an old tape recorder. Like most of my teenage poetry, most of it was junk, but all of it terribly earnest.

Then the following summer, 1990, I finished school. And in the spring that followed, I met another guitarist called Lee, and started a band. We couldn't find a bassist, so persuaded my brother Jay that he could do it. We couldn't find a drummer, but the guitarist had a cousin called Jim who had a keyboard, and that keyboard could play drum tracks. Fortunately, it turns out the keyboard player also had a friend called Dave who could play drums.

And a sister. I eventually married Jim's sister, but that's a different story.

I wasn't supposed to be the singer. Only a stand-in until they could find somebody who could do the job properly. But they weren't too gifted at looking, and I wrote the songs, so it followed that I was the only one that knew the words and I wanted the job myself. All is fair in love and war, apparently.

And that is how the band started.

We regrettably fell out with the guitarist, drummers came and went, the keyboard player went and came back and went again and came back again. Somewhere along the way (actually, the beginning of the year 2004) I stopped writing my own songs, and the band switched to playing covers.

Almost thirty years later though and we're still going. Different guitarist now, different drummer, different set, but same bassist, and Jim has begged to be allowed to join us again, just for the one night, for our next gig, whenever and wherever that may be when the current crisis has finally passed.

This song is called "Goodnight Salvador Dali". Why, I don't really know. I wrote it when the band was possibly at the peak of it's creativity. It would've been at a rehearsal, the guitarist or bassist would've come up with a riff, and I'd have worked the lyrics and melody out on top.

For its time in the set it was one of those songs I'd put my guitar down for; so for years and years I never even knew what the chords were. Ben Jones, our guitarist of the time, made it all look very clever and complicated. Then a little while ago realised that if you stripped out all of his flourishes and capo'd up to the 4th, and reduced everything to the underlying chords themselves, they were actually very easy.

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