Thursday, August 24, 2017


I know I sounded like an asshole just saying it to Jen as the St Pancras to Corby train approached the outskirts of my home town, “Every time I come back here I’m filled with a mixed bag of feelings. On the one hand there is excitement about seeing people I love and care about, on the other there is a feeling of trepidation, like a knot in my stomach”. Jen batted that comment away as nonsense not even to be entertained, as she rightly does with a great deal of the things I say, but I knew she wouldn’t understand. My joyful memories of childhood and early adolescence are countered with strength by experiences of teenage angst and violence, of constantly running the risk of being jumped purely for making eye contact with someone looking to make their mark, of sitting on the agency bus and the hell of the food factories, of making sure to avoid the glue sniffers when walking through the woods and the chaotic jungle that was senior school. Of course, this environment led me to find an escape, a release, in the guise of music.

One of the things I do still love about my hometown is my dad’s local pub, the Rockingham Arms, or the Rock as it’s known to the town’s inhabitants. The people in this place, mostly men, mostly Scottish, mostly alcoholic, are a scriptwriter's dream. I’ll never forget my friend Anders reaction when he was in town visiting. I wasn’t there then, but my mate Snitch took him to the Rock on a Saturday lunchtime and when I texted and asked him how it was he replied, “Well the first thing I saw upon entering was some old guy in a wheelchair at the bar, pissed as a fart, drinking his pint through a straw. Amazing place!” I never miss the Rock when I’m back visiting. It’s always good to catch up with dad and his gang of mates, as well as some of the other profiles in there. It’s always the same faces. When I was back this time, Crawley, one of the pub’s more permanent customers, caught my eye through the hole in the wall between the bar and the lounge where my dad sits. I say he caught my eye, it’s hard to tell sometimes. He was looking straight at me with a huge smile on his face, but that’s how he looks constantly, and the fact is he could just have well been sleeping with his eyes open. The old boy exists in a perpetual state of being fucked. Whilst considering whether to break the staring game and give him a shout he gives me the big thumb, “Alright Gareth boy!” And with that he comes shuffling through to the bar, laughing as he goes. Randomly Crawley starts mumbling something about the old days, about the racket we used to make with the band in the garage. He lives around the corner from dad and we used to practice with our first band in the garage sometimes when mum and dad were at work. Crawley is gleefully recounting listening to us, “Sounded like a right load of shite but it turned out alright for you anyway didn’t it?” he laughs whilst clapping my back. I’d totally forgotten about practising in mum and dad’s garage. As Crawley turned his attention to my dad who was waiting for the pint I’d just bought him, I started to think about all the places we’ve practiced over the years whilst Crawley and dad stood taking the piss out of each other, slagging each other off. Corbyites have an uncanny habbit of using the word "cunt" as a term of endearment. As this was going on I began racking up in my mind all the places we’ve rehearsed…

Our first band Morphene was never really a band. Not in the sense that we ever actually threatened to do anything with it. Our drummer Beany only actually got around to buying a drum kit for the last couple of months of the band’s short existence. For the most part he sat drumming on his thighs. We rehearsed both in my parent’s garage, with our 30 watt amps and Beany’s legs, plonking out rudimentary metal riffs in the middle of the afternoon whilst most of the neighbours were at work, barring Crawley apparently, and on occasion my dad, who had a very independent, flexible work schedule at the post office. On occasion he’d pop in for a cup of tea in the middle of his shift and look in on us banging away in the garage. It must have been a right din, three kids learning to play as we went along, but my dad’s face always had a chuffed smile on it. When our other guitarist, Chalmers, this awkward computer geek from school, got himself a Marshall JCM 900 stack, that never once left his house, we began practicing in his parent’s living room instead. Chalmers parents were a wonderfully odd couple, Pat and Fred. They were quite a bit older than everyone else’s parents, at least they seemed it anyway. Fred was this grey haired Scot who always spoke with a strained voice, like he was desperately frustrated all the time, and Pat looked like a fifties housewife and had a marvelously comical monotonal drole of an accent, something Chalmers himself had inherited and which led to the rest of us brutally taking the piss out of him. Pat and Fred were a pair of gems though, always really kind, and helped us out a lot. Whenever we were round Chalmers place the first thing Pat would do was sort us out with tea and biscuits. If we knocked on the door and Chalmers wasn’t home she’d still invite us in for a brew and it got to the point where me and Beany would go around knowing full well that Chalmers was out. I’m not so sure Pat swallowed our mock disappointment at having missed Chalmers..

Anyway, every Sunday Pat and Fred fucked off to Towcester to visit Pat’s mum and when they were away they let us practice in their living room. Me and Slaven, the bass player, with our tiny Gorilla amps and Chalmers with his big fucking stack. Slaven used to tape a kids karaoke machine mic to the wall and sing through that. Beany would either be slamming away on his thighs or rummaging through the kitchen cupboards looking for food, claiming his diabetes was playing up. Chalmers, who had been by far the most serious of us all at school with his grades, would be panicking as we ate the kitchen bare, but it didn’t take long for us to turn Chalmers. Once we all found booze, some time around thirteen, fourteen years old, Chalmers embraced it more than any of us and there and then his life started taking a different path. Before long we were pushing the boundaries further than Chalmers mum’s biscuits. On one occasion we tried experimenting with getting high. Booze was one thing, it was easy enough to get our hands on at the weekends through Beany’s older sister, or our friend Adam, who although was our age had a fully grown beard. But we were a bunch of long haired high school nobodys and as far removed from the weed scene in Corby as you could possibly be. One Sunday whilst practicing at Chalmers house we figured we’d try smoking Pat’s thyme plant, since it was green and a herb. We convinced ourselves this was going to be amazing and I remember the excitement of doing something really bad, something my parents would kill me for if they found out about it. Within ten minutes of smoking the thyme we were all clutching our foreheads in agony. The pain of the thyme headache put me off trying smoking again in a hurry.

Beany finally got himself a drum kit around the time we became aware there was actually a couple of rehearsal spaces available in town. One was at a community centre called the Connaughty Centre, where on Tuesday nights you could hire one of the many rooms there cheap. There were loads of bands practicing there, a couple in smaller carpeted rooms that actually looked like rehearsal spaces, others either in the big hall on the high wooden stage or in the foyer around the pool table. I practiced there with every band I played in in Corby between fourteen and eighteen, Speedhorn actually wrote a lot of the first album there. As a young kid I’d trained with the football team in the big sportshall out the back and now I was here on Tuesday nights playing with bands. This place meant a lot to all of us. Had to pay for the fucking biscuits and pop from the kiosk though, which was one negative compared to Pat and Fred’s.

The Connuaghty Centre is where I first met Frank. I’ll never forget taking a break from practice and hanging out by the pool table when I heard someone playing guitar, like really fucking playing guitar. I looked up to the second level of the foyer and saw this big tall kid with shortly cropped hair and a broad smile across a big baby like face. We all went up to look at him playing Hendrix solos and shit. I was in awe of him and also embarrassed by how bad he made us all sound. I soon found out that he was just as good, maybe even better on drums. I never would have thought then that he’d end up being the drummer in two other bands I had, Sect and Soul Cellar. Ridiculous really that despite being by far and away the most talented musician of all of us in Speedhorn, all he did in that band was scream.

The other place to rehearse in Corby was a couple of rooms at a professional recording studio called Premier Studios, which was at the back of this big nightclub called Bip’s, which was owned by my dad’s mate and local entrepreneur Bip. Bip’s brother Iain, was a guitarist and had been in this cheesy seventies rock band called Energy. By all accounts they’d done pretty well, releasing the odd single and album back in the day. Iain was a really nice guy and decent recording engineer. We would end up recording the two Speedhorn demos there before the first album, as well as demos with Sect and Soul Cellar. The practice rooms there were great for a while, although we complained like fuck about the price, being that it was twenty quid for four hours. It did come with a PA, amps and drums though. But still, we were narked about the price and used to bemoan the fact there was no other places in town providing competition to Iain. For some reason, Leon, the bass player in Sect and the leader of that band, christened him Nob Iain, and although we would all grow up recording with Iain and become good friends, the name stuck, at least behind his back. I think Leon took umbrage with him on one occasion where we cancelled a session late and Iain still charged us. Was kind of the vibe there. The thing I loved about Iain though was his friendly laugh, easy going manner and the fact that whilst everyone else called us “Speedhorn”, Iain was the only person who referred to us as “Raging”, in that slightly cheesy style befitting of someone who played in a band called Energy.

As is the standard in that town we came from, we did take the fucking piss though. There was always some conniving fucker in the band that booked the room and put it in someone else’s name. Gordon did this all the time, usually booking it in Little Dave or Daz’s name, knowing that if anything happened to the room or we had to cancel it would be them getting the call from Nob Iain. I remember this one Saturday night I was sat at my parent’s house, it was late, around 10 o’clock. It was pretty unusual for me to be home on my todd on a Saturday night at that age but nonetheless I was just sat on the sofa watching tv and pretty content with how my night was panning out. Then I get a call from Snitch telling me to come down to the practice room, they’re practicing with their joke band Richard T. King and the Minstrels, which was Snitch as a 70’s porn Elvis impersonator and Gordon, Little Dave, Jay and other Speedhorn/Scurge members as his backing band. I had to be convinced to get off my arse but Snitch said they were having a party and there was plenty of booze. What the hell, I thought, it’s only a fifteen minute walk. When I got there they were stood around jamming but I could tell they were all pretty minced. Within two hours I’d gotten completely fucked along with the rest of them, and the last thing I remember is stumbling around with a guitar and then myself and maybe one other smashing guitars through the polystyrene ceiling panels. The place was completely trashed. Nob Iain was on the fucking rampage the day after. Of course, Gordon had booked it in Little Dave’s name and was hiding low. We ended up back down there the next day tidying the room up and paying a symbolic amount of money for damages. Iain’s wife happened to be there and she was disgusted with us.

It was a pain in the ass, having to lug your gear back forth to the practice room for a four hour session, especially later on when I was flying in from Sweden, often direct after my shift in the bar on the dawn flight, and then I’d be the first twat there, beating others in the band who lived five minutes away, sometimes the fuckers would just fuck practice off altogether, which would really fry my piss. I guess they had their lives going on as well but at the time I took it as them marking the fact they felt betrayed I’d left Corby. We were like that. Speedhorn were always fucking fighting, it was truly tiresome, if not on occasion entertaining. I remember one time we were practicing at the Connuaghty Centre and John and Frank had an argument right off the bat. John stormed out, telling us he’d had it. We just carried on and practiced for another hour or so and when we finished up and went out for a breather John was sat outside on the wall shaking his head, “I can’t believe you just carried on without me!” Lesson right there. We’d made it clear to everyone in the six piece band that there was no leader and everyone was dispensable. That attitude worked for and against us.

Speedhorn were never happier though, in fact, I was never happier rehearsing, than the couple of years or so we had a rehearsal space we could call home. Kind of. Frank was a car mechanic and his dad had a breakdown/recovery business and for a while we rehearsed at the their car yard. There were broken cars everywhere, a pretty large garage where the Reagan’s worked on cars during the day and a beautiful German Shepherd called Thumper, who was the night watch dog. We named the song from the first album after him, everyone loved him. We wrote songs from the first three albums at the yard and had some great times. It wasn’t only our rehearsal space, it was our base, where we’d all hang out most nights of the week. Frank’s dad Stan was a mean looking old Scot though and we were all fucking terrified of him. I’ll never forget his face when he turned up one Sunday afternoon and not only were we practicing in the garage without telling him, Frank was stood there with a bass high up on his chest, fucking around slapping the strings with a big joint in his mouth. I wish I had a picture of Frank’s face when he turned around to see Stan stood there with a face of thunder. I’ll never forget Stan’s pained voice, “What kinda kids huv ah raised?!” Frank’s younger sister had just gotten pregnant.. Guess it was a tough time for old Stan.

Stan, to his credit, didn’t evict us from the yard though. He would never let on, and he told us constantly that we were shite, but that was just tough love I reckon. Nevertheless, we came to a new arrangement with him. He’d gotten hold of a couple of static caravans and they were sat down the yard, we could have one of them for a practice space. It was perfect. We hollowed out most of one of the caravans and set up all our gear in there and the other caravan we had as a chill out space. In retrospect it was a pretty tiny space to practice in, and with full stacks and Gordon’s 24 in ride cymbal it’s amazing we’re not all deaf today. It sounded like a fucking tornado in there. The chill out caravan was as you can imagine, a couple of rooms with a bed in one and a sofa in the other, completely engulfed in hippie smoke. Our friend Raymond and his cousin Barry were regulars down there and they used to roll up whilst we rehearsed. Those two were our first real crew members. Those nights were the happiest I remember in Speedhorn. No pressure from any record labels, just hanging out and writing songs and getting wasted. I don’t even know where Raymond and Barry are these days.

Before we had that home we had tried to find others, desperate to defy Iain and what we thought were his extortionate prices. We even practiced a couple of times in Gordon’s bedroom at his mum and dad’s house, which is unbelievable looking back at it. They had this three bedroom house at the end of a terraced row. Their garden was also full of dogs and old cars and general scrap, Gordon’s dad Moggy was friends with Stan. The living room was a trip too, three or four parrots, one of them used to say “cunt” all the time, the other one used to impersonate the telephone ring, they had an old pinball machine in the corner too. Place was a mad house. The parrot swore because I guess cunt was the most commonly used word in their house. It was shocking to me to hear Gordon and his mum calling each other daft cunts and the like. They were a right bunch of hillbillies, I loved them to death though. Even then it struck me as bonkers that we were up in Gordon’s bedroom with three full stack amps and his big drum kit, playing full blast in the middle of the day whilst Gordon’s mum Isobel was downstairs watching tv. I remember asking her if their neighbours weren’t gonna go mad and she replied, “Ah fuck em”, totally not interested. Amazing.

The yard is the place I remember with most fondness though. It was pretty unusual in the UK to have your own space, places like Iain’s were the standard. And we used a few different spaces over the years, both in Kettering and Northampton as the band members changed. I remember even writing songs from the last album in a room at the old Tech College building in Corby, which was weird because only a few years before I’d been a very depressed student there. Moving to Sweden I was shocked to find that pretty much every band I knew in Stockholm had their own space. Just the luxury of being able to leave your gear set up so that when you arrived you just turned on and played. It was like another world.

Battle of Santiago had a space out in Bromma, a really small room in a building that the drummer Tompa’s family owned or something. Their friend Kasper had a recording studio there and his cheesy pop/rock band rehearsed there. We had a small room to there too. That was a pretty cool set up, although we had to work around the studio. And Tompa. The fucker was always late and totally nonchalant with it. I remember him calling Erik one time, “I might be somewhat late to practice”. He was already late and the rest of us were waiting for him. Erik asked him if something had happened. “Nah, I just ordered a pint at Retro. But I’ll be on my way soon”. Erik was fuming when he hung up, “The wanker doesn’t even respect us enough to make up an excuse!”

Santiago would later move into Victims old place, which for a while was one of the best places I’d ever rehearsed. It was in an old bomb shelter, underneath a park in the middle of the city centre, right next to a great pub. It was a long tunnel shaped space underground sectioned off into four parts. I practiced with Victims in the first section and Santiago, sometimes DB, in the third. Victims had been there for a long time and it was there I first tried out with them, but the place suffered a lot with humidity, even in the summer it was wet and cold down there, and when someone’s guitar got fucked due to the damp we ended up moving out. Erik Santiago still rehearses there with his band Mary’s Kids though and they put shows on there now and again. I remember when we did the Santiago record with Stig Larsson we rehearsed with him there. Stig likes to fucking talk, doesn’t require anyone to listen, and Erik, being a bit stressed about meeting his girlfriend’s family for the first time after rehearsal wanted to get things moving along. He’d said to me on the way that whatever happens we can’t let Stig start babbling. But when we got there Stig was already reciting a poem, not one he was doing as part of the set we were playing with him mind, and Patrik and Olle were stoned off their tits, eyes closed, absorbing every word. “Ah fuck sakes!” mumbled Erik as we arrived. Erik snapped everyone out of it and got us into gear so we could whizz through the set. Stig, a bit disgruntled, shuffled into the main practice space and we got on with things. Erik pissed off as soon as the set was done but I stuck around for a bit, sensing some fun was to be had. Before you know it Stig is stood there again, eyes closed, reciting another poem. Patrik, totally engulfed in the genius of Stig and the copious amounts of weed he’d smoked, stood with his guitar, rocking back and forth with his eyes also closed. Next thing Patrik sways a little too far and falls flat into Tompa’s drum kit. Tompa’s is well pissed off, as is Stig, feeling that the moment has been ruined. It’s an almighty task stifling the laugh inside.

We moved three times in as many years with the Victims/DB collective. First we moved to a place in Hammarby Sjöstad, in the old industrial part of the city that is now full of Sim City looking flats and expensive as shit. Johan had a hook up through his job there and the place worked out pretty well for a while, it was where we had our first ever rehearsals with DB. Unfortunately the place flooded during a particularly wet autumn day and we found the place drenched in a few inches of water. Thankfully the only damage incurred was to one vinyl record floating around the room. So we moved out of there.

The next place was an old storage room underneath the ground of the inner courtyard of a housing complex in Vasastan. The room was huge and right in the middle of the city, it felt too good to be true. An old woman had actually contacted us through Blocket and said they had a space, someone had used it as a studio before apparently. It took a lot of a work, and along with members of Johan’s other band Swarm, and another band that was going to rehearse in a small room beside ours, we collectively built the room into a practice studio. I remember smirking when Andy turned up in his builder slacks complete with tool belt and Mackan from Swarm laughing, calling him Industri Andy. When we moved in and started rehearsing it was the middle of winter and there was a thick layer of snow on the ground. When the snow melted so did a lot of the sound insulation and before long we were told to fuck off. Shame, it was the biggest room I’d ever practiced in. Almost too big really.

And now we are where we are today. Uffe from Swarm/Entombed had a hook up with a place in Hökarängen, some kind of cultural/art collective that was taking over a big house there. Our room in the basement is pretty small but it’s cosy and I like it. Above us there are various rooms where different artists and musicians have small studios, there is a stage room on the top floor where they have kids theatre and dance etc. It’s the longest we’ve been anywhere for a while. We’re around twelve or thirteen people and amongst us there are four or five bands. I really like that. It’s great having your own space to practice. I still remember being blown away by Misdemeanor’s huge practice room the first time Jen took me there. No wonder there are so many active bands and musicians in Sweden when this is the set up. Not only do bands have their own spaces but you can even get grant money where you can claim back on some of the rent you pay. When we rehearse in the UK with DB I realise how lucky we are here. To be fair, the place in Deptford owned by John Conflict is great. The rooms are a good size, it’s just round the corner from the Waiting Room and you get to hang out with John and Sarah Conflict, which is worth it on it’s own. It’s about as good a set us as you can get without having your own place. One thing though, moving practice rooms is a huge pain in the tits. It seems Andy and Johan are constantly on the lookout for somewhere better. I’m hoping that nowhere better comes up. But that’s just because I’m a lazy bastard.

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