All This Light : Sample 2
#60 AN OBVIOUS NAME FOR A PUNK BAND
Although I have dabbled in poetry and rhyme since primary school, my first foray into any kind of art which was public, and wasn’t a solitary pursuit, was in a punk band. We were punk by default, in that we couldn’t really play our instruments. That’s not to crap on the punks: there are a lot of great punk bands out there, but there’s a lot of abysmal ones too, who substituted technique and capability for volume, aggression and passion. We were two teenagers very much in the latter category: him on an acoustic guitar (yes, acoustic punk, because that’s all we had), and me on drums, i.e. whatever we could find around the house that made a semi-pleasing percussive sound. In instrument terms, we were closer to early T-Rex than punk. Hell, my first drumsticks were wooden spoons.
I’ve no idea how or why we decided to try and make music together. Possibly, we just have the basic means at our disposal, and went for it. We had bonded over similar interests in bands, would get the bus up to the city and head to all the record stores and second-hand shops that promised far more than anything in West Tyrone. The first place we played was in my parents’ garage, where previously we would smash up any records we didn’t like. We bought loads of vinyl for cheap, took a chance on acts we had vaguely heard the name of, or whose bassist once played in a band we loved, or just because it had a great cover. We played them, and if they sucked, bang, smashed to bits with a hammer or struck over a hard surface, bits of vinyl shrapnel flying everywhere. Any self-respectable vinyl enthusiast would be appalled by what we done: at least we could have given them to a charity shop for someone else to discover. But hey, destruction was punk and so were we.
I had an old tape deck that had a tiny built in microphone on it, that could pick up sound surprisingly well. We recorded straight onto cassette tape, the C60s, and fill up both sides with ideas, but mostly nonsense and laughter. He would pick up the guitar and say, what about this, and I would try to put some kind of percussion track alongside it. Largely, I was following his lead: I knew a few chords, but had no idea how to convert this knowledge into song-writing. And ‘song-writing’ is a generous term for what we did. It was lo-fi, it was DIY, it was outsider art. We didn’t know these terms at that time: we were fourteen and making things up as we went along.
Somehow, we stumbled upon the idea of a concept album: ‘Enter The Lunatic Asylum’, the narrative of which I have long forgotten. But we were at least making something. At this stage, the recording area had moved to his living room, as well as a garage in the farmhouse his family rented. In some of the songs, if you listened closely, you could hear the cows mooing in the background. We got together enough songs to justify an album. We copied the tape onto other cassettes, something easy to do with a double tape-deck, but it took ages: you were copying in real time. But we made the copies, cut out paper templates for covers, which was then hand-drawn and the tracklist written on.
These copies were then sold to our classmates. And by sold, I mean pushed on and talked into. We were amateurs, bad amateurs, we didn’t have a clue, but we were creating and showcasing. We didn’t realise that this is what the authentic punk and hardcore bands had done: that their music spread partly by hometaping and tape trades. We weren’t going to gig anywhere at fourteen; I can’t remember us every having the ambition to play a gig, just that we enjoyed the creative process of two friends making something together.
This punk ethic would serve me well in later life: the do-it-yourself approach, create a scene, get your work out there and don’t wait for opportunities, but make them instead. Unhappily, I have no tapes left in my possession of anything we recorded together. It would be a laugh to hear them again now. Yes, we were basic, unlistenable, a teenage racket; but we were called SPiT, and we rocked.
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