I’d had enough of working for a living, at least for a while, so I moved back to Oxford to be with my girlfriend Hilary. I joined Bernard’s band, together with my old schoolmate Andrew, our fellow housemate Wiff, and a young classically-trained drummer from New College called Paul. We added a female singer, a posh-sounding blonde called Jo, who had a wonderful soprano voice. In theory it was a great band, but we hardly knew each other.
One For The Wall practised three of Bern’s songs and entered the Melody Maker Folk/Rock Contest in Oxford. Every other act was a parody of the Sex Pistols. We did not do ourselves justice. The sound system was so basic, with no monitors, that I wrote to complain and we got a re-run at London’s City Polytechnic. (Jo later told me that one of the judges was Howard Goodall.) And we won! I remember the scary drive home in Andy’s Mini up the M40 in the fog. It is always a great feeling to win something.
Those silly love song lines have filled my head and turned my mind, we sang
One For The Wall progressed to the Melody Maker final in July 1979 at the Marquee Club. It was a filthy, sweaty dive in Wardour Street… but a legendary and iconic dive. The contest was won by Splodgenessabounds, who presently had a Top Ten hit with the epoch-defining “Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps Please”. Bern’s finely crafted, dramatic songs never stood a chance. But then again, maybe we just weren’t very good. Nevertheless, for the first and only time in my life, I considered a career as a professional musician. Why not? It wasn’t that I had anything else to do, apart from chugging away at my thesis. And though I couldn’t read music or even play an instrument very well, the required standard didn’t seem to be very high. But I didn’t take that journey after all. I went back to my boring thesis.
It’s now 40 years since we first got together and the band is still going (though we did take a 33-year break). Three members are now grandparents. Andy lives in Exeter, Jo and I (by chance) live near each other in South London and Bern is still in Oxford. Our lives have changed, to put it mildly. Why drive hundreds of miles to spend two days cooped up in a studio?
The obvious reason is the music – Bernard has not lost his touch as a composer – and even if I am never going to find fame or fortune as a musician it is still a lot of fun. But for me, at any rate, it is as much about being part of a team. There is something special about that, and now I’ve “retired” it is something I would otherwise miss. Maybe other people are happy to be always working on their own. I can do that too, but the team ethos is… something different. Here’s a studio rehearsal of “Planet of Our Dreams”. Jo: vocal; Bernard: piano and vocal; Andrew: bass; Colin: guitar.