The View From the Beach

In which The Author should have stayed at home again

On Wednesday I found out that my friends Clay Statues (aka The Two Dozzes) were playing a gig. That wouldn’t be worthy of comment normally; however, I was present at their first gig (downstairs in the Glandover, about six or seven years ago) and their last gig, in the sadly defunct Elliots.
Having apparently crossed my own timeline, I decided to mark the occasion on Thursday by writing another Doctor Who fanfic story, The Statues are Moving. Halfway through, Doz H. texted me to ask if I’d care to introduce the band on Friday night. He didn’t even know I was working on a related idea at that very moment. Mere coincidence, of course!
I agreed, and started jotting down some ideas when I got home. I’d given a bit of spiel before their final gig, which went down quite well (although I have only hazy recollections of it – it’s on YouTube somewhere, but I couldn’t find it). I was pleased to be asked back.
Anyway, I went into Aberdare in on Friday afternoon. I bumped into Gema, had a pint and a catch-up with her, did a bit of shopping, and went home to change. I had a bath and something to eat, and then started having second thoughts about the whole evening. It was pissing down with rain (in fact, it still is), and I could have done without going out at all. But a promise is a promise, so I walked into Aberdare and headed straight for the Bush.
The Bush was a pub we used to frequent on Thursday nights in the mid-80s. We’d watch Metal Hammer on the big TV before going to the Carpenters for the band. Quite a few years ago it changed its name to the Pickled Pepper, and marketed itself for a while as ‘Aberdare’s upmarket bar.’
The trouble is that Aberdare doesn’t do upmarket very well. It slid slowly downhill, in spite of a brief parallel existence as ‘the Crippled Frog’ in Dodge This (see ‘Saddle Up …‘). It changed hands about a year or so ago. The new guv’nor decided to reinvent the place as a sports bar, and offered meals and coffee as well. It reverted to its original name; while I’ve been past it hundreds of times, I’ve never felt any great urge to call in for a pint.
Last night, I walked in to find the place brightly decorated, and with a crowd of young trendy bar staff. One very tall barbint with long dark hair attempted to pour me a pint of Coors Light, only for the gas to run out halfway through. I waited for about ten minutes before she finally finished me off (don’t you hate it when a girl does that?), by which time the place had started to fill up.
Doz H. and Doz A. were there, of course. Wayne B., Geraint B., Geraint’s girlfriend, Alwyn the artist, and a few other friends all said ‘hello’ while I was waiting for my pint to resume. Sonia, Kayleigh and Teresa from the placement office in town came in, but didn’t even stay for a drink. I think they could see which way the wind was blowing.
Alwyn was very keen that I should write something about the first band: Pilgrim. I said I wouldn’t promise, because I’m not a huge fan of much contemporary music. Alwyn insisted, though, so I eventually took my pint and found a place to sit at the back. A makeshift barrier of coats and jackets on the railings meant that I could peer out and see what was happening, but nobody could see me. I was already having misgivings about the whole evening. Olly came in, made his way straight to the far corner without seeing me, and Pilgrim started their set.
They’re all youngsters (in their twenties, by my reckoning), all male, and all Rawk fans. I’ve no complaints about their musical ability; they seem like perfectly competent players. I wasn’t familiar with their music, and it seemed as though I might have come across a band with the verve to write their own songs.
The trouble was that I could have walked into any pub in Cardiff twenty years ago and heard similar music.
In fact, I could have walked into three or four pubs in London thirty years ago and heard pretty much the same thing.
Angela and George came in, and he showed me a bottle of Coors Light, which had cost him a massive £2.80. I’d paid three quid for my pint when it had finally emerged from the barrel. It turned out to be one of the last pints of Coors sold that evening; they’d run out of draught soon afterwards. George was disgusted by the high prices. I didn’t blame him.
I really wasn’t in the mood for the Bush. It didn’t help that this week I’ve been copy-editing the entire Dodge This saga. I was recalling all the fun times we used to have in there. Last night, it was officially a fun-free zone.
About halfway through Pilgrim’s set I made my excuses and left. Alan (Curly) said ‘hello’ as I was leaving, but I just said ‘hi’ back and carried on walking.
I went to the Lighthouse, where Gareth was in the middle of his Friday night DJ set. We sat together and chatted for ages, while the place started to fill up. George and Angela came in shortly after me. They’d baled out as well. When Chloe closed the bar, at about 11.30, I went over to Thereisnospoon for a last one.
They’ve got a very cute, short, pretty, dark-haired barbint who (I think, anyway) looks like Clara from Doctor Who. It was obviously her night off, and she was half-cut and staggering about in a pair of spectacular heels. I was chatting to Jack the barman and she tottered over to get another drink.
‘What do I need?’ she said, perusing the shorts behind the bar.
‘My phone number,’ I said immediately.
She gave me an odd look and Jack laughed. Well, if you don’t ask, you don’t get. (It turns out that if you do ask, you don’t get!)
Olly was at the far end of the pub, sitting with Benji, Andrew the barman (on a rare night off), and a couple of people I knew by sight. Craig C. came in and we had a brief chat by the bar. Moggs was there. Amanda N. and Short Julie came in. I wasn’t in the mood to talk to any of them. I took a table to myself and sat nursing my pint. I hadn’t taken my glasses out with me, so I couldn’t even pretend to be writing in my notebook. I managed to send Doz a text to apologise for baling out, but he didn’t reply.
Andrew came over to see what I’d thought of Pilgrim. I told him that I thought they were competent enough, but totally devoid of originality. He, in turn, identified some of the songs they’d played. I was wrong: they are a covers band after all. I’ve never knowingly listened to a song by Queens of the Stone Age, but that’s the sort of material they were playing.
It’s a genre of music which hasn’t really progressed since Iron Maiden burst on the scene in the early 1980s. It’s the same plodding 4/4 beat, the same unimaginative bass lines, the same predictable chord progressions, and ‘faster than the speed of thought’ guitar runs. Only the names have been changed to protect the plagiarists.
There’s no doubt that Pilgrim are competent musicians. I was able to appreciate their ability. They’ll probably be able to earn a decent living as session players, should the opportunity arise.
BUT (and it’s a big but) they showed no imagination, no flair, and no willingness to veer away from the definitive versions of the songs, as laid down in the studio ten years (or even longer) ago.
By way of contrast I told Andrew about Bauhaus, and their two radically different versions of ‘Spirit’ (one single, one LP track). Truly good musicians can take an existing song and transform it into something new and exciting.
The sort of journeymen players we churn out around here don’t have the vision to play with the conventions of the genre and come up with something fresh. I think I’d accidentally stumbled on the next generation of The Great Valleys Songbook, to be honest.
Julie offered me a pint, but I declined and made my way home.
I don’t think I’ll be going to see a band in Aberdare again – unless someone notable comes to the Coliseum, and the probability of that happening is vanishingly small.
As I said to Olly when he stopped for a chat on his way from the gents’, people around here are just treading water. They’re not making any forward progress. Unfortunately, the tide’s steadily going out. From my vantage point on the beach, it’s sad to watch these guys paddling further and further away.
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