Ian McMillan: Gravitas behind the net curtains

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Picture me and my mates sitting around in a front room in 1970; it’s a sunny day and light is streaming in, filtered by net curtains. We’re having a very important meeting. We’re arguing and at one point one of us will stand up to emphasise something and at another point one of us will pretend that they’re about to walk out of the room but will then turn at the door and come back in, a look of what he considers to be grown-up gravitas on his smooth and innocent face.

One of us says “How about Salt In Bulk?”, remembering the sign on a lorry that had rumbled by as he walked down to the meeting. “I still like The Umbrella and the Mole’s Hat” says the young man who had earlier dramatically walked to the door. One of us pipes up from a deep settee: “The Bloom? Radiator Politics? The Ninth Moon of Jupiter?” You can somehow tell that he’s just glanced at a pot plant and part of a central heating system and a coffee table astronomy book.

Me and Martyn and Steve and the Creasey brothers from Cudworth are forming a band because, well, it’s 1970 and we’re teenagers and young people should always form a band because that’s what young people should always do. We’ve got some instruments, so that’s a start. Martyn’s got an electric bass and an amplifier that for some reason keeps picking up a local taxi firm’s callouts. (“Can you go to the Catholic Club in Wombwell for Geoff? Soon as...”) Steve’s got a nylon-stringed guitar and he’s been writing songs in the style of Jake Thackeray. One of the Creasey Brothers from Cudworth has got an electric organ, and the other has a guitar. And I’m the drummer. Except I haven’t got any drums, so I’m using some of my mam’s Tupperware containers. Big ones for salad, obviously. And I’ve got no drumsticks so I’m using a pair of her knitting needles. Big ones for cable stitch, obviously. What I have got is a cowbell, of the sort that Charlie Watts plays at the start of Honky Tonk Women. It cost me a quid and I hit it at every opportunity, much to the rest of the band’s deep irritation. Ahead of us is a short but glittering career. Those long Saturday afternoon rehearsals in the Supper Room at Darfield Church Hall where we’d practise for a while and then one of us would shout “Let’s progress” and we’d launch into an endless tune until the caretaker came in and said “That’s it, off you go! It was nice before but now it’s just a row!” That moment when Martyn electrocuted himself on a faulty plug and the supper room filled with the smell of burning flesh and he had to go off to casualty and have his hand seen to. That first gig at the jumble sale where we played for 20 minutes and got no reaction whatsoever. That gig at the youth club where a skinhead pinched Steve’s dad’s trilby. That gig in a school hall when I’d finally got some drums and realised that I couldn’t play them at all. That’s all in the future, of course. In this room as the sun filters in we’re trying to think of a name for the band and we’re approaching deadlock. Eventually one of us says Oscar The Frog! and because we’re fed up we agree and we all go home. I always preferred Salt in Bulk though, somehow. Well, it was my idea.

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