Thursday, March 18, 2010

Morphine - It started with Morphine...

I was thirteen years old when I got my first guitar.  My dad bought me a cheap copy of a Gibson Les Paul for Chrístmas.  It was a period in my life when things were rapidly changing...

Up until then my life had been consumed in it's entirety, by football.  I played for the school team, I was even captain of the team at junior level.  I played football at every school break during the day and then as soon as dinner was eaten in the evening, I was straight out on to the field behind my parents house to play footy with my friends.  And if my friends weren't around then I'd be just as happy on my own, kicking the ball against the wall in the street.

The first sign things were changing, just ever so slightly, was when I was ten years old.  Suddenly the music my dad constantly had on at home, in the car, in the bathroom when he was taking a bath, in the garden when he was cutting the hedges, started making me feel something.  In particular, his Roling Stones records.  There was something about that band...I hadn't paid particularly much attention to any music since I was four years old and Shakin' Stevens had ruled my world.  But now the Stones were finding a way inside my head.  I was soon making my own Best of Stones compilation tapes, that were actually volumed 1 to 10.

Before too long I'd discovered there were some other people at my school who were into this music thing as well.  Kids I knew from the playground but had never really hung out with.  There was this one kid, Heg (don't know why everyone always called him that, but twenty years on that's what we all still call him) who let me hear some tapes he had.  These weren't his own made Stones comiplations, they were Appetite For Destruction and Lies by Guns N' Roses.  They blew me away completely!  This was guitar music, real music, just like the Stones, except it was new.  It wasn't 2 Unlimited or Snap or any of that synth pop crap, but real music.  I hadn't realised until then that there were still bands around who were playing guitars.  I wanted to hear more.  It was then that Heg played me Master of Puppets and Peace Sells...But Who's Buying? I was completely sold.

Football would always remain a big part of my life but music was going to be the thing that ruled it.  My hair started to grow, my friends started to change and girls started to become interesting to me.  I remember turning up for football training one time.  A friend of mine from the team asked me, "Gaz, why are you hanging out with those long haired guys? You're not like them."  They were starting to lose me.  I was going to the other side...

Another major event in my life was about to happen, that would change everything.  My dad took me and Heg to see Metallica at the NEC in Birmingham.  Heg had told me about it and I'd begged my dad for tickets.  My dad is an amazing guy.  Although he didn't really get Metallica completely, he was delighted that I was so into music and of course he bought us tickets and took us to the show.   I remember the whole week before the concert, me and Heg counting down the days on the bus home from school.  It was to say the least, a fucking awesome show.  To this day, the loudest thing I have EVER heard.  Although my dad didn't quite understand why it had to be THAT loud, he was still pretty into it.  He was after all, a big fan of Zeppelin, Sabbath and Floyd and all those other great bands.  I loved that stuff too, I knew all the lyrics to Zeppelin IV off by heart, but this metal stuff was my music.  After that concert, I knew I had to start a band.

I'm not really sure why me and Heg didn't start that band together, we just never did.  It was with some other mates from the gang we had, that we'd form our first band.  Morphine.

We'd decided on the band name and even who would play which instrument before any of us even owned any gear.  I was the guitar player in Morphine before I'd even ever picked up a guitar.  I'm not sure how, but it just didn't seem to be a problem at the time.  We'd learn together and get a set of songs ready.  Our one and only aim seemed to be securing a gig supporting Megadeth.  That was the only thing we ever talked about.

The other guys in the band were James Chalmers, James Finlay and Lee Kennedy, or Beany as he was known to everyone.  Chalmers was this computer kid who was really clever at school and had these kind of eccentric parents.  They were really nice to us though, they let us practice in their living room on Sundays when they were out visiting family. 

At this point, we didn't have any drums, so Beany just used to slap his knees in rythym to the rest of us.  Finlay had this cheap mic that he taped to the wall since we didn't have a stand and he used to sing into that whilst playing away on his little bass.  He was a little guy so he needed a really small bass.  It was black and looked metal enough though.  Chalmers was the main driving force in the band.  He applied the same dilligency to learning the guitar as he applied to school work and his Amstrad computer.  He seemed to pick things up really fast and taught the rest of us.  He was a hell of a charachter.  I sometimes wonder if we destroyed his life by introducing him to metal and essentially to booze.  He went for it big time and school was soon put on the back burner.  Later on in life, long after Morphine, he ended up making it to university but drank so much and did pretty much zero work, that he got kicked out at the end of the first term.  I wonder if his nice parents connect that back to us really?..  

Anyway, before long we had a bunch of songs...

Cruel Existence -

This was our athem song. An epic, or so we thought. Chalmers wrote the lyrics and the music. Very, very bedroom metal. We thought this song was going to be the song that made us big, get us that slot with Megadeth. I remember the first line...”Perpetual unreality twists your shattered mind.” I can't really imagine what was so fucked up with Chalmers life that inspired those lyrics, but still.

We'd by now cunningly changed the spelling of our name to Morphene, since we'd heard there was a jazz/punk fusion band called Morphine and we thought it best to change the spelling of our name as to avoid any unnecessary confusion further down the line.

Psycho House -

This song I remember thinking had a really complicated riff. In reality it wasn't. It probably felt complicated since it had more than a couple of notes, that weren't just power chords, but actually a sinlge note riff.  Can't really remember the lyrics but I'm sure they were embarrasing..

Under The Mask -

Wow. What can I say about this song?  This was the first song I ever wrote... I was talking to my wife about it the other day and I laughed thinking about it. The riff, to say the least, was pathetic. Even for a fourteen year old, new beginner... I thought at the time that it ruled though. They were also the first lyrics I ever wrote. They were supposed to be these really political, anti-racist lyrics. It was about the KKK, and my confusion as to why they wore masks and covered their identity if they were so proud to be white and racist. I really thought I was asking some important questions there... Fuck knows who I assumed would be actually listening.

What's classic wth this particular song though, is the whole stage idea we had for it...

Sticking with the whole racism theme, we had this whole plan that we would start the set with the song. We'd come on stage to some dramatic theme music, donned in, oh yes, KKK uniforms. Not only that, Finlay would be carrying a burning cross!  When the intro music stopped suddenly, we would all simultaneously rip off our masks, and Finlay would shout ”Fuck you, you racist bastards!”  I'm not kidding, we were convinced this would be amazing!

Can you imagine what Mustaine would have done with us, had we ever gotten that holy grail, the Megadeth support?  He would have ruined all of our lives.  We all now know of course, that Mustaine is a cunt of the highest order, but we were innocent then. Chirst, thank fuck we never did get that slot!  My life would have been ruined and I would probably have given up on playing music there and then...

I Asked For Peace (You Gave Me War) -

Now we'd stepped into political territory there was no stopping us! This song came about through a collboration with a friend of ours, Leon. Still one of my best friends today. Leon and Chalmers had started a mock/ironic Nazi skinhead punk band. They didn't actually perform, but the released a bunch of songs on a cassette tape. When I say released, everyone in our gang got one. That band was called Amputate the Fulcrom Argonauts. The album was called Buggergook. Absolutely ridiculous.

It was a complete piss take out of the idiotic Brit skinhead neo-nazi punk scene. The title song had the classic lyrics, penned by Chalmers, ” Buggergook, buggergook, 1, 2, 3. Don't like you coz you're not like me. Buggergook, buggergook, 2, 3, 4, piss of you, bloody foreignor...”   The whole thing sang in over the top, English country bumpkin dialect. It's still the most amazing thing to come out of that musical period.

Anyway, I digress. There were two somewhat serious songs that came out of that band. We all decided they were too serious, and whats more, too good, to remain Amputate songs. So it was decided, after long debate, that we'd take I Asked For Peace and Leon's band, Sect, would take the other song, which was called Habitual.

I Asked For Peace, in retrospect, was a complete and utter rip off of Metallica's ”One”. The whole structure. It started off as a ballad and then had this big heavy bit at the was in essence the exact same concept. We thought it ruled though...

Addicted to Death -

This was the first song Beany penned lyrics for. By this time we'd actually statred practising in a real practice room.  Beany had even bought a drum kit. Both myself and Finlay had these small combo amps, whilst Chalmers had a full Marshall stack. A JCM 900 top and four speaker cab. Divisions in the band started to appear. I was jealous as fuck of that stack. I thought Chalmers was a spoiled brat since his parents had dished out the bunce for that amp. Whats worse, he would never let me play on it and he sure as fuck wouldn't turn it down low enough for me to hear my own piddly little amp at practice. The only weapon I had to combat that JCM 900 was my Dodd Thrash Master pedal, but it never really cut the mustard. The pedal just used to blow up every amp it went through, since I had no idea how to use it. Still don't.

Beany wrote these lyrics. They were very ”personal” to him, so we couldn't have any say over them, even though they were crap. A cousin of Bean's had been a drug addict and had recently killed himself. Of course, it was a bit tough for him. Nobody had the heart to say anything about his lyrics, so we just let them go. The first line was ”Sitting on the window sill, both wrists slit. Can't take it anymore, this is fucking it!”. They didn't get any better as the song progressed...the music we wrote to it wasn't much to brag about either...

Trauma -

Even at the time, I thought this song was pretty naff. Weak compared to the rest of the songs. Finlay and Leon had gotten into Nirvana in a big way, like most of the other kids in school, and this song that he had written felt like it was going a bit too grunge. It was chords and strummy, and then with a heavier, louder chorus, ala every song on Nevermind... I had liked Nirvana when they first exploded but then I noticed that all the other, non music kids at school were also into them. It made me sick! These guys I played football with in the school team, who had been previously on my case about the weird music I listened to with the weird new friends I was hanging out with, all of sudden these cunts were jumping up and down headbanging to Lithium at the school disco. It felt like Nirvana had sold us out to these wankers, pissed away what had until then, soley been our music. To these jocks!  Of course, it soon become aparent that these dickheads actually only listened to Nirvana. They still thought every other guitar band around was for the freaks at school like us. I mean, how can you think Nirvana is the best band in the world but think Mudhoney is weird music for the ”grungers” as they called us. How I fucking hated being called a grunger when I was fourteen! Thank you Cobain, thank you very fucking much!

In all fairness, I got over it after a while and got back into Nirvana a couple of years later when they released In Utero. Both James Finlay and Leon had found so much other music through Nirvana that they later got me into. I first heard the Born Annoying 7” by Helmet through Finlay, and Leon was the first person to ever play me Damaged by Black Flag. Those two records alone would shape my life in a big way. And of course, the football pricks at school were soon done with Nirvana and were listening to rave music. Until of course Oasis came there's a band I still fucking despise to this day...

Red -

Looking back on it, this is the only song we wrote with Morphene that might have been somewhat on the right track. That was half mature and not just pure nonsense. I remember thinking at the time that it was a bit arty, a bit out there. It was mainy instrumental and had a riff that was by far, the best thing we ever wrote. It was more akin to the Quicksand song, Baphomet, than a shit version of One.. I remember thinking when we wrote it, that it was this direction the band should explore.  Unfortunately, before we progressed any further, the band would split up.

We still hadn't come any closer to a gig in Corby, nevermind supporting Mustaine at the Astoria! Things with Chalmers were getting weird and we were all starting to find new music. And then Leon knocked on my door one day and asked if I wanted to start playing with Sect. I said yeah and he told me they had a gig booked in two weeks time. I almost shit myself with fear!  Chalmers thought Leon was mad!  Sect barely had any songs and here they were booking gigs.  In retrospect, Leon was a pretty fucking cool kid!

That gig, at Channel 2 in Corby, changed my life for good. If I hadn't played that show I probably never would have had the balls to get up on stage...

So Morphene fizzled out soon after my first show with Sect.  But it was Morphene that was my first love, my first relationship if you will. Beany has remained a close friend to this day. We had found Napalm Death together and he was also a massive Liverpool fan, we would of course always be close. Finlay and Chalmers, I gradually lost touch with.  Bumping into them fleetingly back in Corby now and again, whenever we happened to be there at the same time.  A town like Corby is always going to split friends up since most people move away at the end of school, and leave for pastures new and the lure of university.

I recenlty rekindled things with Finlay somewhat though. He'd came to a couple of Speedhorn shows in Notthingham over the years. He now plays in a band with his girlfriend, Angie, called Fists. They are doing pretty well it seems. Recently, he came to a Victims show in Nottingham. We caught up loads that night.  It was really fun hanging out with him again.

I'm not really sure what Chalmers is up to now. It's been years now since we saw each other. Seems like the only stories I ever hear of him these days, involve him being steaming drunk.  Although I think a lot of it gets exagerrated.  I hope at least, there's more going on in his life than that.  He was a pretty talented guy.  If Page Hamilton and Meantime taught me how to play guitar in a new way, Chalmers was certainly the one who got me started.

I wonder if he still has that Marshall stack set up in his bedroom?...

1 comment:

  1. Chalmers does in fact still have the Marshall in his bedroom in the exact same place that it was left in 1994! It was nice reading this Gaz. Made me piss. J