The Saga of My Failed Teen Rock Band
Since I was about ten, I dreamed of being a pop-star. I used to cycle home from school singing loudly to myself, hoping a record exec would drive past, then wind down the window and say,
“You should be in a boy band.”
Sadly, this tubby kid mumble-singing on a bicycle didn't manage to secure any record deals. So, when I got to Sixth Form, I decided to start my own band called Kissing Cannibals. The band consisted of Pete, my best friend from bible study class, Mike, who had lots of guitar pedals, my friend’s little brother Tom on drums, and Alice on bass.
I’d written a song about the girl I sat next to in English class, who was rude to me in order to impress the hot school bully. The song was called Prosthetic Becky and it was pretty scathing:
“Who's the girl with the synthetic hair, glued on eyebrows and a botox forehead ...”
Pete was so taken by my lyrical ability that he wrote backing music to it, and the band was born.
We practiced in a room at Tom’s family church. At first, I didn’t even have a microphone. I would just shout over the instruments, and not be able to talk for the next week. Apart from our hit: Prosthetic Becky, we had four other songs:
- You make me Smile a Mile, about Pete’s best friend Jon that I had a secret crush on.
- Cheeseburger, a punk horror anthem about McDonalds, with the lyrics: “The sign is up, the sun is down, the mortuary endorsed by a clown.”
- The Master of Revision, about someone going insane while trying to revise GCSE trigonometry.
- Repressing the Fear of Ultra-violet Lentils, ten verses of surreal word association penned by me and my friend (also called Becky) over the course of a lunch break.
Somehow, we managed to wrangle a gig at the most prestigious venue in our home-town, a youth club called The Net. I don’t know if I’d ever really been on a stage before, aside from as a shepherd in primary school nativities. I wore a t-shirt with Marilyn Monroe on, rabbit ears and a tailcoat. At the front friends and siblings moshed to our hap-hazard surreal music. It turns out most of them had come to see us, because when the main act Black Mesa were on, there were very few people watching. Me and Tom went and sat on a balcony listening to Christian worship music on my MP3 player while Black Mesa made feedback with their guitars.
I had my sights set on superstardom. I thought one day I could be as famous as Michael Jackson. The next step in Kissing Cannibals’ road to the top was to play The Zodiac in Oxford. The problem was Pete had another band called, a more serious band called Accidentally Innocent with a taller more serious singer who was actually studying music. Pete was the main musical talent in the band, but he missed two rehearsals and in a fit of rage I threw him out. I did it on MSN messenger, and after I pressed send, I smashed my hands into my laptop keyboard so hard that half the keys flew out and cried.
I replaced Pete with my friend Matt. But Matt spent most of our first rehearsal playing with the farmyard noises setting on his keyboard. Alice had drifted from the band too. I remember a bible study group with Pete and Alice where we discussed what the most important thing in our lives was.
“My band,” I said, and they both made guilty expressions.
Mike secured us our next gig, at his school's leaving do. For some reason I decided to dress as a bumble bee. The boyfriend of Prosthetic Becky was in the audience which made it particularly awkward. Also, there was the issue of me and Mike’s difference in music tastes. Mike liked Metallica and Rage Against the Machine, while I liked Britney Spears and Busted. We made a compromise by playing a disturbing medley of Chop Suey by System of a Down, and Room on the Third Floor by Mcfly.
Next was a headlining slot at my friend Becky’s birthday party. I sewed some trousers out of pink fur fabric, and Mike brought about 100 guitar pedals - we had different priorities. We also had different ideas of what order we were going to play our songs in. Mike had set up his pedals to play a cover of Bullet in the Head by Rage Against the Machine, while I was planning on starting the set with a cover of Mama Mia by Abba. We argued about it for so long that the sound guy turned the volume down on my microphone completely and I had to scream for the whole set. I ran off in a drunken rage, ripped the crucifix off my neck and threw it into some nearby railway tracks. This was an act of sacrilege that In went through on quite a regular basis. I was having a lot of internal conflict between being gay and being Christian.
Mike left for university, and I found a new guitarist on my art course, a Mormon called Angus. We wrote new songs, including Early Morning Laptop - I want to Turn You On, and Impetigo which was about the time I thought my boyfriend had given me an STD. Tom really wanted to write a song in ¾ time, he played a beat on the drums, and I came up with the lyrics to Fat People and Feeders:
“Because you’re a fat person and I am your feeder, if you don’t want food, well then I’m gonna beat you.”
We had turned a distinct corner from surreal into offensive.
We competed in a battle of the bands where I ran around in a cape, dressed as the master of revision. We were outraged that we didn't win especially seeing all the other bands were playing covers. Kissing Cannibals' last gig was on a boat. It was my art course’s leaving do, the boat was sailing from our home town Abingdon to Oxford, our band, some DJs, and about 100 drunk students on board. We'd been expecting to use the PA system, but the indie DJs said we weren't allowed. So we ended up having to use one very low quality amp for both the guitar and the vocals, alternating between the two in a distorted unpleasant manner. I did one verse and one chorus of each song, then took my shoes off and jumped in the river. Everyone was screaming at me to swim away from the propeller, and after that Abingdon College weren’t allowed to have boat parties anymore.
Tom went off to university, and Angus went on a two-year Mormon mission to Fiji. I tried to form a new band at university, but the guitarist could only play three chords and after a couple of practices it fizzled out. When Angus came back from his mission, I was a flamboyant gay living in a cupboard under the stairs in London. We did a few band practices in a back room at the London Mormon temple. I don’t think he was completely comfortable with my new song about BDSM, or the one where I shout, “Fuck you London, I’m leaving you!" So instead, I became a performance artist who dressed up as Princess Diana, and Pete became the keyboardist in the award-winning band Everything Everything.
Looking back on Kissing Cannibal’s 5-gig career, it seems like a spinal-tap-esque sit-com. But at the time, I was deadly serious, I wanted my band to play the Zodiac, and then Wembley Stadium. I can see now that I was a bit of a brat. I’d decided I was very talented, and that everyone else should help me to get famous. If I could give my teenage self some advice. I’d say, don’t write songs with 10 verses and no real melody. Wear pink PVC trousers instead of pink fur trousers. I’d say, if you really want to be a singer, learn aboutmusic production. Be grateful when people help, but don’t expect them to. It should be a colaboration not an ego driven vanity project. This is probably advice I could still take today, especially about the pink PVC trousers – maybe even pink PVC chaps would be good.