It’s easy to go for exs with this particular one. Let’s go away from that. Johnny B Goode reminds me of Peter Nicholls, who I spent the most formative part of my early 20s with, and whom I ended up being his best man and – come March – him mine.
(And it obviously reminds me of Back To the Future too. When I turned to rock’n’roll, it was rarely Berry. Much more likely – and more likely inspired by that bit in Predator than anything else – I turned to Little Richard, because it was further into the red and delightfully salacious. But that’s beside the point.)
Relevantly, we were in a couple of bands together. I’ve been in three real bands. The first, my teenage punk-metal band Phallusy was exactly as bad as the name may suggest. The third – Agents AD – which Peter only joined in its closing days, was terrible, but with terrible with a handful of decent ideas, which is half the battle. The middle band, the one we formed was eventually called “Fixation” and about as dull as the name would suggest. We were nothing if not in hock to our current influences. Basically, Peter really liked whatever Britpop band we were pretending were half decent in any given week, and I really liked the Manics. And the Pixies, but mainly the Manics.
So, as most bands, we had a Spinal-tap drummer problem, which lead to us having to audition quite a few. The Singer and co-band-former Ruth seemed to never be able to make these, which lead to Peter and I working out how to sort out the wheat from the chaff. Or rather, the better class of chaff from the shitty chaff. We weren’t the sort of band that wheat had much to do with.
This is what we did.
We played Johnny Be Goode, at twice the speed, punked to the gills with the pair of us taking turns shouting the first verse into the mike. In an infinite loop, until one or the other us got bored.
If the drummer was willing to put up with that, we figured they were probably worth keeping around.
There’s actually footage of Fixation gigs in existence, on a VHS which Peter keeps in a vault beneath Bath, surrounded by claymores and dosed in contact poison. Agents AD’s footage was lost forever when, in a moment of confusion, I taped Carrie over it. Now that’s an appropriate fate for the Agents. I’ve seen the Fixation footage twice. The first time my girlfriend at the time laughed so hard I was worried about her shitting her liver while I spent the whole thing trying to digest my whole fist. The second time, I thought it was quaint and just wanted to ruffle everyone’s hair on stage they were so adorably clueless. The difference? Well, the difference was about a decade. Seeing footage of yourself at 20 when you’re 25 is absolute horror. Seeing footage of yourself when you’re into your thirties gives you enough distance to laugh rather than weep.
There was one song in Fixation’s gigging set list which didn’t either sound like fucking Gene or the Manics. It was a 50s pastiche number called Janice, which did a good job at pre-empting the Pipettes by a decade (Though I somewhat foolishly talked everyone into sticking a punk-rock buzzcore ending on the back). Listening to it, it struck me as about the only vaguely workable song we had. And it’s the one which clearly owed the most not to our surroundings, but to our own lives (the song’s tale of parental/child-warring slutdom was tragiccomic as our lives were) and an influence from outside whatever the Melody Maker was selling. It caught a little of the joy of bawling Johnny Be Goode, as in the roots of the boring old bass/drums/guitar thing.
So I think of that, and how when we were doing our Hamburg Beatles thing, Peter and I were probably being the best musicians we ever were.
Except during the recording of Twocking In the North Of England, but that’s a different story.