February 10, 2009

My Exciting Life In ROCK: Voon, The Birth Of A Legend

Filed under: Uncategorized, mj hibbett — mjhibbett @ 6:07 pm

Myself and The Validators recently played a gig at De Montfort University Students’ Union, and were AGHAST at what we saw. Everyone seemed CLEAN, WELL FED and - shockingly - NOT DRUNK. The car park was full of CARS, belonging to STUDENTS, there was an ESTATE AGENT’S within the building itself for students who would rather buy a house than live in the luxuriously appointed (with EN SUITE BATHROOMS) halls of residence and the young people were discussing what JOBS they would accept when they left.

OH HOW DIFFERENT it all was when I was a student there, back in the dog days of Thatcher. The clientele of Leicester Polytechnic Students’ Union wore clothes drained to a uniform GREY through over-wearing and poor laundry, lived on a diet of cheap tinned  food and were DRUNK OUT OF THEIR MINDS on pound a pint “wine”. Nobody had a car, we all lived in run down terraced houses, four to a bathroom, and the idea of there being ANY jobs going when we left was laughable.

But - and I’m sure you’ll be surprised to hear this - we were happy, THOUGH WE WERE POOR. I had some of the MOST GRATE times of my young life living in a little terraced house on Paton Street in Leicester with Neil, Cathy and Gaynor, eating own-brand foodstuffs and staying up late drinking (and occasionally attempting to smoke) TEA. We didn’t even have a telly  - eee, tell that to The Kids today and they won’t believe you - so we sat around talking a LOT, and one of the things we talked about most was ROCK MUSIC. When we’d moved in Neil and I had both claimed to have been in PUNK ROCK BANDS. If you’ve read recent entries you’ll know precisely how close to the truth this was in my case, and Neil was being similarly creative with the facts. His gigging career to that point amounted to, in his words, “hitting a tree in the playground and shouting ‘PUNK ROCK’”. Once we’d confessed this to each other it wasn’t long before we decided to form a real band ourselves.

This new band, at that point unnamed, was a major step up the musical ladder for me, as Neil could actually play an instrument. All right, he wasn’t the MOST tutored player of all time but I challenge ANYONE, even now, to play a Bar Chord with as much PUNK COMMITMENT as he could. I’d recently given up entirely on playing electric guitar myself as it was too HARD and asked other friends what instrument I should try. They gave me a choice - if I played Drums I’d never be out of offers for gainful employment, but would need to learn to drive a car, whereas bass was… well, playing the bass was a piece of piss.

Thus we ventured out to the local “second-hand” store and part exchanged the guitar Mileage had played in The Masters Of Nothing for a bass guitar which seemed to be made of two different instruments bolted together. That very afternoon we learnt TWO songs - “Freak Scene” by Dinosaur Junior (a song I loved so much I played the recorded version to my NAN… complete with SWEARS) and “New Year’s Day” by U2.

It later turned out that these were the only two songs Neil knew how to play so we very quickly progressed to writing our own material. Our first songs were from our “previous bands” - Neil had a tune called “Morgue Dancing” and I worked out a proper tune for “Rather Spooky” by The Masters Of Nothing - but we soon started writing songs together. We couldn’t afford to go out that much, and it wasn’t like there was any point studying was there?

The first fruits of our collaboration was a song called “She’s A Spaceman”. We LOVED this song and, I must say, I still do now. It’s all about someone going to see their girlfriend, who is a spaceman, and discovering she’s busy, so spending an afternoon drinking tea and eating biscuits with her mum. The biscuity section of the song takes up a surprisingly large amount of the song, almost as much as the chorus which went:

She’s A Spaceman
She’s A Spaceman
She’s A Spaceman
She’s A Space PERSON

It was very much a song of its time. We played and played and played and, before too long, we were ready to go and do so in front of other people. But where were we to make our debut? There were all sorts of gig venues in Leicester but we had no IDEA how to go about getting gigs at any of them and were far too scared to ask.

If only we knew someone who ran a club - a comedy club, say, where the booking policy involved inviting their friends to come and play…

February 5, 2009

My Exciting Life In ROCK: My Exciting Life In Comedy (part two)

Filed under: Uncategorized, mj hibbett — mjhibbett @ 5:20 pm

Now that I had become a Stand-Up Comedian it was time to get some GIGS. There are two ways main ways to get decent comedy gigs. The first is to turn up at open mic nights, doing five minutes here and there until you’ve learnt your craft, hoping that a promoter will notice your improvements and start to book you as a first act, and from there move your way up the bill. Playing open mics can take years, years off struggle and determination, not being put off by audiences who don’t care or lack of payment, as you slowly and dedicatedly get better and better.

The second way is to book a room above a pub, invite all your friends to come and say you’re great, and call it a comedy club. Guess which one I went for? Clue: it was called “The Casbah Club”.

Having your own comedy club is GRATE, but if you do it regularly you do tend to need some material, and luckily i had a PAL to help me. I’d first met Mr Simon Wilkinson to speak to in WHSMiths, Leicester where, at the age of 19, he was buying a copy of “Perfect Homes”. Some 20 years later i have STILL yet to tire of reminding him about this.

Simon was ALSO a member of the Poly Poor Theatre Society, and so we ended up doing a SKETCH together in that year’s Rag Revue, one called “Let’s Do Blues” which was a very VERY “A Bit Of Fry & Laurie” sort of affair. It was meant to be a TV show explaining “The Blues” but it very quickly degenerated it me BELLOWING the Masters Of Nothing’s song “Decapitated Blues”, accompanied by an over-excited Simon on Electrical Guitar.

We had so much fun doing this that we decided to become a DOUBLE ACT, and ended up spending a VERY happy year hosting our comedy club. It really was BRILLIANT fun, especially when we settled on a permanent venue and it became a REGULAR event. This meant we could have CATCHPHRASES and, instead of doing brand new material, we could do the same sketches every month with very tiny re-writes. We were, basically, doing The Fast Show ten years ahead of it’s time and, it must be said, significantly less funnily. This didn’t matter of course, as it was just our friends in the audience who would laugh ANYWAY.

This was all well and good until we FORGOT that they were just laughing because they were our friends and came to believe we were OBJECTIVELY HILARIOUS, and so accepted a PROPER GIG at a proper Comedy Venue. Our friend Rak, now The UK’s Leading Voiceover Artiste, was just starting his glittering career and had booked himself some proper stand-up gigs. He’d got one at the Nottingham Playhouse and when the normal support act dropped out he managed to get us on the bill.

We arrived with BIG DREAMS of a BIG BREAK - a comedy impressario was BOUND to be there, was BOUND to SPOT us, and we’d soon be faced with the DILEMMA of what to do - finish our Polytechnic Degrees or throw it all way for a shot at THE BIG TIME?

We needn’t have worried, as we DIED on our ARSES. Stuff that had seemed funny at The Casbah suddenly WASN’T in front of a real live audience. One of our big BITS was “Shop Cop”, which basically went like this:

ME: I’m just off to the loo (RUNS OFF)
SIMON: Oh, that’s a shame, because now it’s Mark’s favourite part of the show - it’s time for SHOP COP!
(enter ME, with a carrier bag on my head)
SIMON: Hello Shop Cop!
ME: Hello Simon, and Hello Shoppers Everywhere!
SIMON: And what have you been looking into this week, Shop Cop?
ME: I’ve been looking into packets of cornflakes.
ME: They were full of cornflakes.
SIMON: Thanks Shop Cop!
ME: Thank you Simon, and thank you shoppers everywhere! (RUNS OFF)
SIMON: I wonder where Mark has gone?
ME: Hello Simon, I’m back. Now, it’s time for my favourite part of the show - it’s time for SHOP COP!
SIMON: Oh dear, I’m afraid we’ve done it already.
ME: What? (hits Simon)

I’ve just typed that all out in one go, almost as if we did it SO MANY TIMES that it’s still lodged in my memory. And I’m sure you’re thinking the same thing as I am - how on EARTH could that NOT have launched two fabulous comedy careers? I know, we were shocked too.

After about 10 minutes of this we slunk off, and spent the whole journey back to Leicester complaining to each other about the audience being “dead” (despite the fact that they laughed a LOT at every body else). We decided it was THEIR fault, not ours, and resolved to go back to playing only our OWN gigs until The World was ready for us.

This was a REALLY good idea, both for us AND for The World, because while we waited something ELSE started happening that would change my life forever and, perhaps more importantly, allow The World Of Comedy to carry on without me.

The clarion call of ROCK was about to sound, and I would be POWERLESS to stop myself from answering it. For LO! coming over the horizon was the MIGHTY LEGEND that was the band VOON!

February 3, 2009

My Exciting Life In ROCK: My Exciting Life In Comedy (part one)

Filed under: Uncategorized, mj hibbett — mjhibbett @ 5:35 pm

All the way through sixth form I was desperately looking forward to University. I thought it would be a place where Artistic Types would be free to be as fancy and/or poncey as they liked, a mass assemblage of poets and artistes, swapping high level chat over glasses of red wine and forging partnerships that, within weeks of graduation, would become the basis of a whole new generation of WRITERS.


Imagine my disappointment, then, when I found out it was exactly like school except with a bar actually INSIDE it. Mind you, maybe that’s what you get when you end up at Leicester Polytechnic.


Undeterred… well, deterred a bit, I decided to have a go at acting out the lifestyle I’d read so much about in Monty Python and Comic Strip biographies, and began submitting sketches to the Rag Society. I thought that’s what everybody would be doing, and would be constantly surprised of a Monday morning when I went to drop off my latest batch of (rather odd) comedy sketches in the Rag pigeon hole to find it completely empty. Little did I know that my drop-offs had become a bizarre source of excitement to the organising committee, and when they eventually met me they were rather taken aback to find out that I wasn’t a crazed maniac with wild burning eyes and a life-expectancy measurable in days, but actually a rather quiet youth from Peterborough. Wearing a cardigan.


Still, they did use a couple of my sketches and through that I got more and more involved in the drama society, which was called The Poly Poor Theatre Company. It was the 1980s, that’s the sort of name we used to give things back then.


I met loads of people through Poly Poor, directly and indirectly, many of whom I’m still best pals with now, including some who would be VITALLY IMPORTANT to me joining a band at all. At this point though I was still intent on becoming a comedian, like Ben Elton, so that, like Ben Elton, I could then move on to scriptwriting. At one point it seemed like this might actually HAPPEN, when I met a gentleman called Robert Rackstraw. Rak, as we all called him, is now, according to Wikipedia “one of the UK’s leading male voice actors” and has been in LOADS of things you’ve actually heard of, like Bob The Builder, but back then he was just starting out, writing scripts and doing voices for local radio. He pretty much took me under his wing and gave me LOADS of advice on places to send my stuff too, and as a result of this I pretty quickly got a script accepted by BBC Manchester.


It was for a show starring the comedy legend Arthur Brown, and I even got to go up to Manchester one day for a brain-storming session. My main memory is that there was one, very pretty, actress who had LOTS of ideas which we all had to be very polite about, especially when she started doing extraordinarily dodgy, borderline racist, accents. I also had a try-out to write for an up and coming young presenter called Jonathan Ross, but for some reason (by that point, probably BEER) never sent back the scripts in time.


The trouble was that despite myself I’d had my eyes opened to a much more exciting life than just sitting in my bedsit with a typewriter. I’d FINALLY started drinking properly and had embarked on my lifelong love affair with BEER and PUBS and, through this, had realised that going out and having friends was a LOT more fun than typing snide jokes about people. Even better, I’d found a way to COMBINE this with my ongoing appreciation of SHOWING OFF. I had become a STAND UP COMEDIAN!

January 29, 2009

My Exciting Life In ROCK: July 1988 - Deacon’s School Hall, Peterborough

Filed under: Uncategorized, mj hibbett — mjhibbett @ 5:11 pm

After the triumph of GETTING PAID to do a gig it was all downhill for The Masters Of Nothing.

We had no way of knowing at the time, because the future looked so BRIGHT. We were now an Experienced Gigging Band and had not one, not two, but THREE actual gigs booked up for the summer of 1988. Two of these were, it must be admitted, in our usual stomping ground of our school hall but the third was in a proper venue, a PUB called The Boy’s Head. At that time The Boy’s Head was not only Peterborough’s main (only) indie gig venue (you know the bands you’d read about in the NME? So did the bands who played The Boy’s head) but ALSO a frankly TERRIFYING Irish Pub with a county-wide reputation for VIOLENT CROWDS. What could possibly go wrong?

Before we could get to that, however, there was the small matter of a two night residency at our alma mater. We’d all had SUCH a good time doing our Comic Relief Benefit that we’d decided to go one better and do TWO nights, partly as a farewell to our old school (we’d all just done our ‘A’ Levels), partly in aid of Amnesty International but, mostly, as one last chance to SHOW OFF before we went our seperate ways.

It was a partial success. We did raise SOME money for Amnesty and we did get to say goodbye, but showing off was limited slightly by the fact that almost NOBODY came. As main organiser I’d failed to realise that doing a gig IN school DURING THE SCHOOL HOLIDAYS meant that our usual audience, of SCHOOLCHILDREN, would have no idea it was happening.

So small was the audience  on the first night, and so muted was their reaction, that The Masters Of Nothing threw a ROCK AND ROLL STROP, and REFUSED to play our BIG HIT. It seems ludicrous as I sit and type these words, but it is COMPLETELY TRUE: we really did think that the meagre, quiet crowd did not DESERVE to hear “A Minus Work”, and so we played “Decapitated Blues” instead, saving the “hit” for the final night. We’d been PAID to play a GIG now, we were proper rock stars and, surely, only days away from BEING DISCOVERED, so why SHOULD we pander to them? We did relent the next night, which was just as well as it would prove to be our final gig.

Weeks before when I’d rung The Boy’s Head I’d told them we were “Alternative Comedy” and could happily play two sets of 45 minutes each. When I told the others about this I was confident we could fill the time, despite the fact that over the past FIVE YEARS we had only managed to come up with 25 minutes of material, at least 15 of which would be completely unusuable in the live environment, and the other 10 GUARANTEED to get us our heads kicked in.

Over the next few weeks the other two got increasingly nervous, despite my reassurances. I only started to worry myself when I realised that BOTH our practices had degenerated - as so many of the MOST rock and roll gatherings do - into lengthy games of SCRABBLE without a single new song being worked out. When Mileage and Robin started to BEG me to ring up and cancel the gig I was having none of it, and it was only when they both declared their intention not to turn up and leave me to IMPROVISE 90 MINUTES worth of material that I relented and, bravely, rang the landlord up to tell him we’d all broken our legs. Not the same leg, obviously. That would be ridiculous.

And so the legend that was The Masters Of Nothing came to an end. The three of us dedicated our time together to going to Beer Festivals and, most Christmas Eves for the next twenty years, THE PUB. It’s something we share MUCH more of a natural talent for.


January 27, 2009

My Exciting Life In ROCK: 19 June 1988 - The Gaslight Club, Peterborough

Filed under: Uncategorized, mj hibbett — mjhibbett @ 6:16 pm

This was a fateful day in My Exciting Life In ROCK, for on June 19th 1988 I became a MAN, not only in LAW but also, and possibly more importantly, in ROCK. For LO! This was the day I did my first ever PROPER GIG.

Back in 1988 I didn’t really have any interest in the bands current at the time, as I was completely in the THRALL of the Alternative Comedy movement. That’s probably why mine and The Masters Of Nothing’s first proper gig wasn’t in a rock venue but a Comedy Club. Looking back I’m amazed that a place like Peterborough, which although containing many lovely people is a pretty dreary, small-minded crappy place, could support a weekly comedy club like The Gaslight, but maybe it was the fact that there really wasn’t anywhere ELSE to go for GOOD TIMES that made it successful. We’d been for a RECCE a few weeks beforehand and seen a comedian called Jack Dee who we all thought might be jolly good, and introduced ourselves to the club’s promoter. I’d arranged our gig by telephone a few weeks before, assuring him that we were an Alternative Comedy Band but from the look on his face when we said hello I don’t think he realised we were so young. He seemed very concerned about how many friends we’d bring - at the time I thought he wanted to make sure we’d be supported, but in later years I realised that he was reassuring himself with one of the central tenets of Promoter’s Wisdom: most bands doing their first gig are rubbish, but they usually bring a HUGE crowd with them.

True to our word we did bring at least ten friends with us, who sat right at the front of the stage. Naively at the time we all thought this was the best place, as you got the best view, but we soon discovered what every comedy club regular knows, that the first row is only the best place if you REALLY like having the piss taken out of you by every single comedian on the bill. Amongst this mob of pals were a couple of people who were Actual Musicians and played in a Real Band. I hope you won’t think any less of me if I confess that I took NO SMALL AMOUNT of DELIGHT from the fact that, even though they could do show-offy things like PLAY INSTRUMENTS and had songs with several DIFFERENT parts in them, we were still doing our first gig several WEEKS before they did there’s. HA!

Also in attendance was my Dad, who was being very supportive of his first born but chose WISELY to sit right at the back of the room and deny any knowledge of the young idiot who looked suspiciously like him who was soon taking to the stage.

My main memory of the actual gig part of the evening was the looks of SURPRISE on the faces of the regulars, and the way their applause dramatically dropped off after the second song, when they realised that we sounded that way on purpose, and weren’t going to get any better. It was certainly a BRAVE performance. Two of our songs were done almost acapella - the first was accompanied by us stamping our feet singing a song about blokes called “Blokes”, the second was a medley of theme tunes from Gerry Anderson shows, accompanied by us slapping our bared stomachs.

You’d think the more traditional musical numbers might have got people on our sides, except that we’d still not got any further with learning to play any instruments. It annoys me when bands claim not to be able to play, and then go on stage with everything plugged in, tuned up and on the right way round to use ACTUAL CHORDS and notes in the right order. We had so little idea of what we were doing we didn’t know there WAS a right way, and made a fresh and exciting sound every time we played because we had no way of making the same noise twice.

We came off to spatterings of applause from our friends and loud sighs of relief from the rest of the room, especially at my Dad’s table. I was relieved to have finished, but was slightly disappointed at the lack of aftermath. There were no A&R men, no talent spotters nor any GURLS who seemed to want to talk to us, let alone discover us and give us a record deal. Had I been LIED to by every Band Biopic I’d ever seen?

Still, we did at least get paid, a whole FIFTEEN POUNDS, and as I would later find out that’s not something that happens every gig. Or, indeed, at most of them.

January 22, 2009

My Exciting Life In ROCK: May 1988 - Deacon’s School Hall, Peterborough

Filed under: Uncategorized, mj hibbett — mjhibbett @ 1:56 pm

Undeterred by the fact that several hundred people had made their answer VERY clear and precise - “NO” - when asked if they’d like to see more of The Masters Of Nothing, we decided to PLOUGH BRAVELY ON.

This would become a pattern that has remained with me to this day.

Our next chance for glory came in a particular WHITE HOT Furnace Of Perfomance where many of the biggest bands of today, such as Take That, were first FORGED - the School Assembly. At our school week one class would be given an Important Topic every week and CHARGED with explaining this to their peers. Traditionally this would consist of Improving Readings, Musical Recitals and/or a bit of an old PRAYER, but when it was the turn of the sixth formers a small amount of leeway was allowed.

This generally resulted in Monty Python Sketches and people pretending to be Rik Mayall SQUEEZED vaguely into an explanation of Caring For Friends or Personal Hygiene, usually featuring, for some reason, the cast of SCOOBY DOO. This did not go down very well with the sterner members of staff, and so by the time it was the turn of MY class the whole CONCEPT was on probabation.

We thus decided to explore the theme of “Growing Up” with a rude poem, a Monty Python sketch featuring The Scooby Doo Gang and, as the grand climax, a performance by The Masters Of Nothing. Since our “triumph” at the Comic Relief gig we’d actually worked out a couple more songs and, although none of them were specically ABOUT growing up surely, one might argue, NOTHING was more expressive of adolescence than three idiots titting about with instruments they couldn’t play, SHOUTING?

Thus it was that our compere, THE HEAD GIRL, came onstage after a particularly haphazard take on The Spanish Insquisition and said “There are many problems encountered in growing up, like spots, boyfriends and girlfriends, and having your head cut off. So here are The  Masters Of Nothing to sing a song about decapitation.”

We LEAPT out and launched into a song called “Decapitated Blues”. The first verse went like this:

When I woke up this morning and I thought I should be dead
Because when I woke up this morning I found I had no head
My head had gone off to live with some other body instead

… and carried on in pretty much the same vein with Robin changing the casio keyboard drum pattern every so often and Mileage making a NOISE on the - still untuned - guitar. It was GRATE! The Kids, who could sense this was taking daftness to a WHOLE new level gave us BIG cheers and we were AMAZED to see that even Mr Galvin, the TERRIFYING English Teacher who SCREAMED at us if we were late, was DOUBLED over with laughter.

The very next day a MEMO was issued that was read out to every class. From now on TEACHERS ONLY would be in charge of the content of School Assembly. We had BROKEN the SYSTEM - ROCK AND ROLL!

January 20, 2009

My Exciting Life In ROCK: 3/4/88 - Deacon’s School Hall, Peterborough

Filed under: Uncategorized, mj hibbett — mjhibbett @ 6:02 pm

The 1980s were a funny old time. When I say “funny” I of course mean “shit” - any younger readers who doubt this and have been CONNED by IDIOTS and/or TORIES into thinking it was somehow “glamorous”, “full of opportunity” or “fun” should try googling key phrases such as “Cold War”, “Recession” or “Big Fun”. Or just wait a couple of months when I’m sure they’ll be discovering all but, hopefully, the latter for themselves.

In fact the only thing that was GOOD at the time was the comedy, or rather, Alternative Comedy. ANARCHIC REBELS like Ben Elton were frightening The Establishment something CHRONIC with their lack of respect for Authority and Dangerously Dangerous Humour. Yes, that’s right, Ben Elton - writer of “The Thin Blue Line” and several appalling novels, COLLABORATOR with Queen and apologist for the Royal Family, HIM. If you ever wonder, as he himself seems to do, why so many people LOATHE him these days it’s precisely BECAUSE he is a former HERO OF A GENERATION who SOLD OUT more spectacularly than anybody else, EVER.

The start of the SELLING OUT of the entire Alternative Comedy generation was Comic Relief. At the time it seemed like we, THE KIDS, were taking over from old fashioned bastions of respectability like Children In Need and launching our OWN Rock And Roll version of charity but, of course and as ever, it was actually The Establishment absorbing the next generation into itself. We didn’t know it at the time of course, and everybody was VERY excited and EAGER to do something to join in.

As previously discussed I’d already had some experience as an Impresario and thus LEAPT into action setting up a Comedy Revue. I’d recently read a book about Monty Python and was CONVINCED that, once I got to University, I would spend all my time wearing a scarf and creating HILARIOUS revue comedy whilst drinking copious amounts of tea before going on to a glittering career in radio comedy, then television, and then NOVELS. I was right about the tea, although little else. I wasn’t to know that then, and thought that Comic Relief would be the ideal chance to get some practice in.

Several of us spent the next few weeks writing and rehearsing sketches, many of which were more than loosely based on Monty Python, Saturday Night Live (the British version, especially the bits with The Dangerous Brothers. Kids: YOUTUBE it) and The Young Ones. As has been the way of such things since time began there was also a School Band, doing THE USUAL cover versions. I’m sure when Man first discovered music the very first band, They Who Bang Stones, bashed out a rudimentary version of “Layla” before going into a Medley featuring an homage to Level 42, and our School Band was no different. But the fact that THEY were playing at the end of the show led me to think that maybe, just maybe, there would be room for another band to play?

Thus it was that, after five years in The Studio (or living room, depending on how you looked at it), The Masters Of Nothing finally took to the stage. Mileage was on guitar (i.e. he had one strapped round his neck, plugged into a tiny amplifier - he had no idea how to play it, and we’d all be surprised some time afterwards to discover that guitars needed tuning), Robin was on keyboards (i.e. he had a Casio keyboard which he’d prod, nervously) and I was on vocals (SHOUTING). We stood behind the curtains nervously, and came on to HUGE APPLAUSE.

We couldn’t believe it! Everyone seemed to love us, and when we did the ONLY part of the set that we’d rehearsed - introducing ourselves - the room ERUPTED! This was fantastic! We launched into our one and only song - “A Minus Work”, of course - and people even SANG ALONG when we got to the chorus. Teachers in the audience, who all clearly remembered the story, were seen to be snorting with laughter as they tried to look disapproving, and when we finally finished there was the loudest applause I have EVER heard.

Stunned, I strode to the front of the stage. “DO YOU WANT ANY MORE?!” I asked.

The reply came out clear and loud. “NO!”

January 15, 2009

My Exciting Life In ROCK: An Impresario Is Born

Filed under: Uncategorized, mj hibbett — mjhibbett @ 3:21 pm

Having fought The Man to a One All Draw in the world of Print Media my next great act of teenage rebellion was to take on the world of THEATRE. The arena in which this MIGHTY BATTLE would take place was, of course, The Deacon’s School Junior House Plays. 

As I said before, my school was a Comprehensive but had been a Grammar School about ten years before and still clung to certain POSH ideas above its station, such as “Houses”. These were, basically, TEAMS which we were all put into to compete at SPORTS and, at Christmas, the House Competitions, which included various music and poetry recitals for Senior and Junior years (11-14s, 14-18s basically) and, crucially, THE HOUSE PLAYS.

I volunteered to direct BOTH of our House Plays, along with Mr Robin Hare from The Masters Of Nothing. We wrote a HILARIOUS, CHALLENGING and… well, childishly RUDE play for the younger tykes. We thought it was EXTREMELY funny to watch them unknowingly recite our parade of double entendres and FILTH, right up until the point when we had to put it on in front of teachers who would VERY MUCH understand exactly what was going on when we had a character called William die and go into rigor mortis. It had all seemed so jolly in rehearsal, but when we got an innocent 10 year old to say loudly and clearly “Oh no! We don’t want a stiff willy on our hands!” (and yes, that was the best joke we had) in front of the entire teaching staff we suddenly realised we might NOT have been quite as clever as we thought.

We did just about manage to get away with it, apart from a few Theatrically Raised Eyebrows from the English Department, which is more than could be said for our Senior Presentation: “The Hitch-hikers Guide to The Galaxy.” You know how Hollywood spent twenty years and millions upon millions of dollars trying to work out how to convert Douglas Adams’ sprawling masterpiece into some kind of dramatic shape? We did it YEARS before with a couple of quid and some poster paints.

All right, we did have to compromise a little bit, restricting ourselves to the bit on Magrathea, but that did include a whole HEAP of EXTREMELY ambitious special effects, including a two headed man, a ROBOT and a massive talking computer, which we’d hoped could be voiced by our headmaster. He said YES with surprising enthusiasm (”though I’d rather be Slartibartfast” - how did a man at LEAST 800 years old KNOW such things?) but eventually had to pull out,  to avoid favouritism.

We did, however, achieve our GREATEST feat of CHEEK when it came to the Zaphod Beeblebrox costume. I’d managed to get hold of an extra head from a shop dummy but was having difficulty getting a two headed three armed suit, so we wrote to the BBC to ask if we could borrow the original one. Astoundingly, they agreed! We got a nice letter saying of  course we could borrow it, so long as an adult agreed to insure it for us. “Our headmaster would be happy to!” we replied, and I’m sure he would have been, if we’d dared to tell him about it.

Thus on 18 November 1987 myself and my friend Scotty (his real name was Mark, but he was from Scotland, and we were nothing if not BLINDINGLY OBVIOUS in our allocation of nicknames) headed down to London and then to Television Centre in our cleanest shirts and ironed ties to pick up the jacket. My clearest memory of the trip is having a wee in the toilets off reception while we waited to go upstairs, thinking “Terry Wogan probably uses this VERY URINAL!”

The jacket itself was fantastic and had clearly not been taken out of its bagging since the show was made - I found a note in the pocket saying “Is this guy boring you?  Come and talk to me instead, I’m from another planet” which MUST have been used as a prompt. I KEPT it!

Coming back we nearly missing our train  and so very VERY nearly got ourselves involved in one of the biggest tragedies that ever occurred on the British Rail Network. The reason I know that this all happened on 18 November is that less than an hour after we got off the tube at Kings’ Cross, the entire underground station was ravaged by fire, killing 31 people. Everyone in Peterborough knew somebody who commuted regularly through that station and who could very easily have been killed - nobody was in much of a mood to hear about Terry Wogan’s toilet the next  day.

Still,  life went on and come the big day we were CONVINCED our THEATRICAL EXTRAVAGANZA would STORM the awards. How we guffawed at the other entries, DULL efforts where people simply SPOKE WORDS! RUBBISH! Did any of THEM have a giant sperm whale descending from space? NO, they did NOT!

The giant sperm whale may well have been an effect too far. It was achieved with a LOT of poster paint and cardboard and raised to the ceiling on several rolls of garden twine, where it hung MAGNIFICENTLY above the audience until it was time for it to fall dramatically to the earth. To be exact it hovered above the heads of the two judges who watched it nervously throughout - I don’t know what they were worried about, it was only cardboard and only thirty feet in the air. The child who it DID eventually fall on wasn’t SERIOUSLY hurt.

You can imagine our surprise, then, when the results came out and we were LAST. LAST!?! Nobody else had painted ANY of their cast with silver car spray paint (which would take a week to wash off completely), what were they THINKING of? No, it DIDN’T make any sense whatsoever, and no, none of us HAD actually learnt all of our lines or even where to stand, but this was EXPERIMENTAL THEATRE! Didn’t they UNDERSTAND?

Clearly, they didn’t, and I knew that only one course of action was left open to me. ROCK AND ROLL!

January 13, 2009

My Exciting Life In ROCK: The Freedom Of The Press

Filed under: Uncategorized, mj hibbett — mjhibbett @ 1:50 pm

During my time at school I was, it is fair to say, a bit of a show-off. I’d had a TASTE of being famous in the playground with The Masters Of Nothing and wanted MORE. I was a regular fixture of School Plays for my first four years at school until PUBERTY finally hit me like a 4×4 smacking into an orphan but it wasn’t long before I was back in action and demanding ATTENTION.

I’d always DREAMT of running a school magazine, having read how about various Famous Authors getting their start writing for their own such periodicals. The fact that those sort of people had gone to UBER POSH Public School where everyone’s PATER was either a member of parliament or In Publishing (as opposed to attending Thomas Deacon*’s Comprehensive in Peterborough where nearly everybody worked for Perkins, Thomas Cooks’ or Pearl Assurance) did not put me off, nor indeed did the fact that our OWN school magazine only came out annually. Even that had packed in after a couple of years of my being there, so when I got to Sixth Form I decided that the only reasonable response would be to set up a monthly magazine of my… sorry, OUR own, with me, of course, as EDITOR.

Full of righteousness I rounded up some friends and persuaded our English Teacher to let us use the school roto-copier, an ANTIQUE THING which rolled off sheets of paper at an frighteningly fast 10 pages A MINUTE from specially STINKY sheets of chemical paper. I spent many an evening getting all DIZZY on the smell of the Special Tippex you had to use to correct mistakes on my Electrical Typewriter (a Christmas Present cherished by THE ASPIRING AUTHOR) as I typed up the magazine.

I had a FANTASTIC time being in CHARGE, DEMANDING articles from people (and failing to get them, but still) and generally acting like J Jonah Jameson out of Spiderman. The only time my will was THWARTED was in the name of the magazine. It spent most of its time under the slightly dull name of “Write Lines”, with only the first issue going out under my preferred name “Deacon’s Thing”. PHILISTINES! Other than that everything went smoothly with articles flooding in from … well, from me, as I ended up writing 60% of all the articles, and ended up employing various pseudonyms to disguise the fact.

It all came to a sticky end when we launched a special weekly version for the 1987 election. The first couple of issues were packed with STATS gleaned from opinion polls conducted by me and my friend Melvyn, also reports from the HUSTINGS of our own Mock Election. Problems came with our final issue, however, when we presented a light-hearted look at some of the “remarks” made by various school candidates and members of staff. Our “bloopers” included quite a lot of SWEARING and SEXUALLY DUBIOUS REMARKS from teachers which, in a fit of tippex induced daring, I thought would be FINE.

It only took an hour for us to be called into the offices of the Very Disappointed Head Of English, who’d clearly been BOLLOCKED by The Headmaster for not checking what we’d written before letting us loose on the roto-copier. It was agreed that we could still distribute the remaining copies (not wanting to waste school resources) so long as we BLANKED OUT the offending words in permanent marker. That afternoon passers by were treated to the site of me staggering around, OUT OF MY MIND on the combination of chemical paper and permanent marker FUMES, shouting “I AM CHE GUEVARA!” while all around me vulnerable youngsters held their newsletters up to the lights to try and work out what the obliterated words were.

I’d had a taste of ANARCHY and a sniff of MINOR FAME - I was HOOKED!
* NB no relation to the FAMOUS Mr Deacon of the 1980s… although that didn’t stop all the other schools in the area saying so.

January 8, 2009

My Exciting Life In ROCK: The Masters Of Nothing, The Studio Years

Filed under: Uncategorized, mj hibbett — mjhibbett @ 3:36 pm

My first band The Masters Of Nothing formed in the white hot crucible of agit-pop, coming together overnight to perform a SEARING satire of the educational mores of the time. You may remember from last time our song “A Minus Work”, which went like this:

A Minus Work (chip pan, chip pan)
A Minus Work (chip pan, chip pan)
A Minus Work (chip pan, chip pan)
A Minus Work (chip pan, chip pan)

RADICAL STUFF, I’m sure you’ll agree. Some bands might have taken this further and LEAPT onto the road, hastily putting together a ramshackle set of covers and half-arsed new material to parade around a desperate nation, but we took things a little more slowly. After all, we were only 13 at the time, we had to go to school.

Thus began The Studio Years, when we immersed ourselves in songwriting and only got together in studios or, more precisely, each other’s living rooms. Our first session took place in 1983 when, very much like The Beatles, we recorded our first album in a single afternoon. “Please Please Me” has fourteen songs and was recorded at Abbey Road while ours had five songs and was recorded in Robin’s front room, but apart from that it was almost exactly the same. We recorded “A Minus Work”, of course, and then one song from each of us, including the CLASSIC “Little Reggae Song”, by Mr P Myland, the chorus of which went:

This song is a little reggae song
This song is a little reggae song
This song is a little reggae song

And the immortal “Robin Hare Yeah” by Mr R Hare, so catchy that i can give you a few lines NOW, 25 years later, off the top of my head:

He can sit on a chair. Yeah Robin, Hare.
Cool shades are what he does wear. Yeah, Robin Hare.
He likes a nice pair. Yeah, Robin Hare.

GENIUS. We’d also got Robin’s friend Paul Davison to come round, as he had a song called “It’s A Rap” which we liked. The chorus went:

It’s a Rap!
It’s a Rap!
It’s A Rap!
It’s A Rap!

It was a rap. My song, “The Ballad Of The Faithful Dog” was left until the end, and this led to my first GRATE LESSON OF THE STUDIO: NEVER leave your song until last. In a marked departure my song not only had verses and choruses, it had DIFFERENT WORDS in each - quite a lot of them, in fact, so that it went on (and ON) for about FIVE MINUTES. Or, at least, it would have done if we’d ever got to the end of it. Unfortunately for ROCK HISTORY every attempt (both of them) to record it ended early with everybody else getting fed up and singing a new chorus, as follows:

So he shot the faithful Dog
He shot the faithful dog
He shot, he shot the dog, the faithful do-o-o-og.

Naturally, we split up. Happily for ROCK we got back together, but almost instantly split up again - this was all before we’d left Robin’s house, and it set a pattern which would be repeated on a weekly basis for the next couple of years.

In 1985 we stayed together long enough (a whole afternoon) to try again. This time we decided to try a different recording venue, partly to change the vibe but mostly because Mileage’s dad had just bought a DOUBLE cassette deck. This fantastic new technology allowed us to record what I consider to be our finest track, Mr Myland’s “We’re All Signing On”, a DAMNING ENDITEMENT of the economic crisis facing school leavers, expressed mostly through discussion of rubbish daytime television programmes - Half Man Half Biscuit had hit our school in a BIG way. The best thing about it was that the two tape decks allowed us to MULTI-TRACK ourselves, singing along with each recording until we sounded like a HUGE CROWD. All right, it sounded like a huge crowded buried under several layers of cotton wool, but still: STUDIO WIZARDRY.

Also significant on this “album”, apart from the re-recording of most of our debut, was a number called “Free Nelson Mandela (while stocks last)” (it was funny at the time), which was mostly an instrumental of the free-est, most OUT THERE JAZZ you could possibly imagine. It sounded like nothing on Earth, even, to the un-tutored ear, like a bunch of idiots who had never bothered to even learn to play ANY KIND of musical instrument, preferring to hit things and shout.

Once again it was all finished in an afternoon and, once again, it lead to the break-up of the band. It would be another two years before The Masters Of Nothing rose for a third and, so far, final time, but it would be worth the wait. For LO! when The Masters Of Nothing rose again it would be in the LIVE ARENA at LAST!

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