Sunday, 26 July 2009

Confession time

Kal asked on his blog the other day if any of his readers had told little porky pies. Just for fun, you know. I confessed that I had once invented a 1970s prog-rock band, but that it was too long a story for a comment and would need a post of its own. This is that post.

Many, many years ago Husband and I were still fresh-faced law students in our third year at university. We had moved into a shared student flat with 4 other people. Two we knew already (one was a friend of mine and one a friend of that friend). The other two were effectively strangers who had been recommended by other people or had answered our ad for a flatmate. One of those was the only other girl, who I shall call Ann. She became a good friend very quickly and a few years later was my bridesmaid when Husband and I finally got round to tying the knot.

The other "stranger" was recommended by a friend and his name was Alan (it wasn't really but I am changing names to protect the innocent). Alan was a straightforward sort of guy: an engineering student from the south of England, his father was a vicar and his mother (obviously) was a vicar's wife. He was pleasant and easygoing and perfectly ordinary. Then he moved in with us.

It quickly became clear that Alan was what might best be described as a "personality sponge" - he had a marked tendency to adopt aspects of the personalities of people around him, particularly people he admired for any reason (though he never copied me in any way, strangely enough!). Husband was a musician then (still is) and had a pretty full recording studio and collection of guitars already. Alan was almost completely unmusical but nonetheless purchased for himself an electric guitar (like Husband's) and a pretty large Marshall amp (almost identical to Husband's). In doing so, he left himself so short of cash he lived for most of the term on a diet of tea and instant mashed potato, but it was worth it to him if it meant he could lounge about the living room holding his guitar. He never actually got to the stage of being able to play anything on it.

Alan's tendency to copy aspects of other people quickly became a bit irritating. (Anything can become irritating if you are living in a flat with 5 other people you don't actually know that well, believe me). We started idly thinking of ways to see how far this aspect of Alan's personality could be pushed......

By way of additional background, Ann had a friend who came round to our flat quite frequently. Her name was Emily and she was a little older, quite cool and a Goth - dyed black hair and a lot of leather. Alan was besotted with this exotic creature - presumably there weren't many women like Emily in Alan's home village. And even if there were, they probably didn't hang around the vicarage much.

Alan, predictably, adopted much of Emily's style as his own. He dyed his hair black (yes, really), bought some very ill-advised clothes and got his nose pierced (honestly!). It goes without saying that Emily was also the ultimate arbiter of what was cool and what was not. He spent much time in the trendier sort of independent record shop in Edinburgh looking for the kind of records Emily approved of. Ann, Husband and I began to plot......

Not to put too fine a point on it, we decided to invent a band and see if we could make Alan into a devoted fan of music that never really existed. We roped Emily in too. The next time Emily came round we waited until Alan was on his way into the living room (he ALWAYS came in when Emily was round, so he could lounge on the kitchen counter holding his guitar and fiddling with his nasal stud) and we started a conversation specifically intended for him to walk into.

As he entered the room, Husband (the ultimate musician guru) and Emily (the goddess) were discussing the little known early 70s prog-rock band The Freedom Jets. They were waxing lyrical on the one and only album ever made by the band and lamenting the fact that the band broke up shortly afterwards, never to be heard again. They were agreeing with each other that the guitarist in the band was a forgotten genius who could have knocked Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix into a cocked hat. Husband was bemoaning the fact that his copy of the exceedingly rare album had been stolen from him at school and Emily was commiserating and saying she had never managed to get hold of a copy either.

Alan was hooked and asked lots of questions about this fabulous band. But we decided this was not enough for us. Oh no! We decided we needed to have an example of this (imaginary) musical genius. So one afternoon, Husband, Ann and I recorded a Freedom Jets track. Clearly we had far too much time on our hands and no intention of using it for ooh, say.......studying.

Husband put together a collection of completely over the top and frankly horrid guitar lines which he recorded and then mixed together to produce a riff that no human guitarist could actually play. Ann was placed in a corner of our bedroom and encouraged to wail. Loudly. Husband recorded this and drenched it in effects. I was recruited to read some german text (an excerpt from Borchert's Draussen vor der Tur if you're interested) which Husband then slowed down and layered with the wailing and with myself and Ann chanting some random words. The combined effect was horrific. We called this masterpiece "Wayside Oblivion". It was indescribably awful. To this day we cannot think about it or listen to it without collapsing in hysterics.

Husband even sampled some crackles from an old vinyl record and put those over the top to make the song sound old. As a final touch, he recorded the track onto the very end of an old cassette (remember when you used to tape your albums and if you had 5 minutes left over, you stuck any old random song you liked on to fill in the space?).

Next time Emily came round, Husband skulked in his room, waiting for Alan to make his inevitable appearance. When he did, Husband burst into the living room and excitedly told Emily about the sole remaining Freedom Jets track he had found on the end of an old cassette.

"Oh, please let it be "Wayside Oblivion"!" breathed Emily. Husband beamed. He allowed Alan to persuade him to play the song. We all struggled to maintain our composure as Alan listened to the hideous cacophony, praising the innovative guitar work. He announced that he would have to find a copy of that album and off he went. We laughed ourselves silly at the idea of Alan trogging round the trendy record shops of Edinburgh demanding the Freedom Jets and scoffing at the staff when they had never heard of them.

We were, frankly, rather unkind. But in our defence, we were young and anyone who can stay in a student flat with 5 other people for a year and completely retain their sanity and sense of proportion is a saint. Or, like the Freedom Jets, doesn't really exist.

The footnote to this story is that we recently told it to someone and First Born heard it. He thought it was hilarious and told it to all the staff at the holiday club (Hi, staff who have never met us before! We aren't really horrible sadists, honestly!). First Born, Second Born and their new friend at holiday club have also decided to form a band. Guess what they are going to call themselves? Yup, the Freedom Jets. And if they do, and if by some miracle they are successful and become well known, somewhere in the Home Counties, a middle-aged engineer's head will explode.


  1. I've laughed so hard that my eyes and nose are both watering.

  2. That actually sounds like the kind of music my university boyfriend would have loved.

  3. This is so funny, so horribly wonderful, that I am laughing with coffee coming out of my nose!
    Will 1st and 2nd borns first song be "Wayside Oblivion"? lol!

  4. OMG I love that!

    I wish I'd known you then!

  5. That is awesome. This is the sort of thing that I might think of, but be way too lazy to ever pull off! You and your husband are my heroes!

  6. This is The. Best. Story. Ever. Full stop. I bow to your awesomeness.

  7. Strangely enough, one of my friends from university also invented some 70s prog-rock bands. But her invention wasn't nearly as fully-fledged; she merely wrote an article for the student paper about some made-up bands because she had a big essay on and hence couldn't be bothered writing a proper article that week. These days she would probably consider research less tiring than invention, but hey.

    I have to say that the Freedom Jets is a terrific band name and I'm surprised nobody's used it.

  8. Oh this is GOOD! This is BEAUTIFUL! And "personality sponge" ... What a fantastic term!

  9. You're so crazy! I hope you move to Canada soon.

  10. Seriously, only the vastness of Canada can contain your crazy craziness!

  11. You are Very Very Bad. I don't know whether I should encourage you by having lunch with you next week. However, since you're obviously very sorry (?) I might relent.

  12. Just found this and am wiping tears of laughter. You rock!
    When is the Canada trip? Or was?

  13. This is Ann of the above (has a certain ring to it 'Ann of the Above' I think). What we though about doing but didn't was to write - using the official notepaper of a certain voluntary organisation that provides support services - to all of the independent record shops in town. The letter that we composed but never sent (honest) was to tell them that if a man answering Alan's description came into enquire about the Freedom Jets then they were to contact the authorities immediately as he was deluded and dangerous and required treatment. So, you see were even more horrible than you thought. We are all sensible and middle aged now with responsible jobs but I would still advise not to irritate us!