We developed proficiency individually by practising on our own. We developed proficiency as a unit by practising together. The creative aspect was enhanced by regular song writing sessions by me and the guitarist. As we were getting older, these were often fuelled by cans of beer and glasses of home-brewed cider.
We started to look at more technical aspects like harmony, though in truth never managed to pull it off particularly well, even though we also rehearsed walking home from illicit pints in the pub.
But the gigs were getting bigger and we needed to get our message out.
We had studied nothing about marketing or sales at school, so we copied what people we knew did, and came up with some ruses of our own.
These days it would be called guerrilla marketing. We used to go into the pubs near the venues we were playing and replace the beer mats on the tables with ones advertising our gigs.
We used to fly-post all around town. These were the days of real cut and paste. Somebody would do some artwork and somehow, somewhere, we would use somebody’s photocopier and make posters advertising the gig.
We walked around town, putting posters up illegally, once memorably managing to put one on the side of a passing bus.
A friend who was a DJ played sets between bands – we had other bands we’d play with regularly. He had a knack for marketing and came up with the name Lemonade Hand Grenade Productions.
He decided we should charge 99p for entry. So we made sure we had an old whiskey bottle full of 1p coins to give out change.
There were logistics involved. Not only did we have to transport our gear to rehearsals, but we had to get it to gigs. When the gigs start getting bigger, we needed to hire PAs.
PA hire was handled by local firms and was quite expensive.
We had to work out a budget for each gig. How much were we going to have to pay for equipment hire, how much could we charge on the door? We paid all expenses. The money on the door was ours, the money behind the bar went to the venue.
We never made any money at all, but it really didn’t matter.
Van hire was quite tricky when you were 17 or 18. Most places required that you were 20 or 21. We somehow managed to convince one hire company sometime in 1984 that one of us was 21, hired a van and headed off south through the Tyne Tunnel for our first real ‘away’ gig at a college in Durham. It was a round trip of 54 miles.
This was life on the road.
We had a filing system. We had a big file for all the song lyrics. We carried this to the song writing sessions and used it as a reference in rehearsal. We committed everything to memory to play on stage.
This file also became a repository of our hopes and dreams and I still have it.
I spoke earlier about targets. In the back of one of the exercise books, taken from school, there is a series of targets mapping out that future career of the band.
We only achieved one of them, really, but we got close to a couple of others.
Aside from the musical leadership in the band, the main singer-songwriter, nobody was really in charge. We were a flat-structured, self-organised working environment. We didn’t ask a big question, as you would in a SOLE, but we identified a target, broke the project down and worked on the individual tasks we needed to get there.
Just before the gig in Durham, we’d added a new guitarist and needed to bed him in. We needed to add a new song to the set. None were finished. We needed to work on several of them, select the best, then work on the chorus and the harmonies.
We need to hire a van, organise transport for the fans (our friends), organise beds to sleep in, make sure we had enough money for the pub and make sure we could still stand by the time we got on stage.
We needed to make sure we could deliver.
Sir Ken Robinson talks about finding your element. He notes this as doing something you enjoy with proficiency, and noticing that time goes very fast.
This was what being a band was like for me.
I never had any great proficiency, but I was OK and I loved what we did.
We were self-motivated, self-organised and we were in our element.
All of the motivation and rewards were intrinsic. This meant nothing in our academic or professional careers.
I didn’t realise at the time, but I learned so many transferable skills, all of our own doing, that I have used in business, and in my life since then.
Next time we’ll review them.
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