A Little Bid Told Me – extract from first draft:
By the tenth gig, we sounded as if we were all playing the same song, mostly at the same time, and only occasionally at different tempos. Fin still wasn’t happy; there sound mix was wrong, or the middle section of ‘Power’ was too pedestrian, or the new song we’d painstakingly worked out called ‘Insanity Snowflakes’ sounded under-rehearsed, or his shoes were too tight, or something. But we had fans. Proper, actual fans – people who came to see us more than once, and asked us if there was a cassette or something they could buy.
Admittedly, there were only two of them, and they were in the year below me at school, but they were actual fans. Other people liked what we did enough to want to hear it again, and that gave us the impetus to carry on. The whole summer stretched ahead of us; Fin’s day job in the stockroom at Boots didn’t interfere too much with the band, and Mark moved in to the spare room at my house – the one my sister June had vacated when she went off to get married back in March – so that rehearsals could carry on without interruption.
Mark and I worked on things during the day (during the afternoon, to be strictly honest), and then Fin would join us in the evenings in a frenzy because of some idea or other he had worked out on the bus over and needed to get down on paper before it went from his head. Most of the songs which we eventually recorded on the first album were written like this – Fin would sketch out an idea on paper, play it to us on the electric piano, and then Mark and I would come up with a way to make it sound a bit like a song no-one had ever heard before.
The words proved a lot trickier, however. I was going through that terrible poetry stage which most sensitive teenage boys go through, but almost none of it worked as lyrics to songs with a structure which called for six verses of differing length, or pieces which seemed to me to work as instrumentals, but wouldn’t take a lyric at all. Fin was insistent that the songs had to be ‘about something’; I agreed up to a point, but there was only so much I knew enough about to write it convincingly.
The early songs, even ‘Power’, which we now thought of as our inevitable first single, were not really going to stand up to scrutiny. I had a very imposing English teacher at the time, a Mr. Murrian, and I would imagine his scorn if I presented any of these words to him as finished works. The only thing to do was to learn how to write song lyrics properly. This involved studying the inner sleeves of every record I could find, and buying ‘Smash Hits’ every two weeks for the lyrics to the latest chart his. This mixture of influences produced some uneven results.
‘Insanity Snowflakes’ was a case in point. A cheery little number about being wrongfully imprisoned because of a psychosis, I wanted it to reflect the fractured mind of the narrator and use the middle eight to illustrate his decline into undiagnosed madness. I’ll save you the effort of looking it up; I eventually settled on:
I can see the snow falling all over the place
I can see the puzzled expression on your face
But can’t you see
I’m not meant to be
A member of the human race
That will give you an idea of the level I was working at, and the sheer oddness of our musical structures. For years, I wondered if I had been writing lyrics which no-one properly appreciated; only after a number of years had passed did I understand that people had appreciated them exactly as much as they had deserved to be appreciated.
Undaunted, we ploughed on through the summer of 1978. During August, Fin had some holiday to take, and he managed to get us a series of gigs in and around London, mainly supporting other bands with no fixed identity. It made for a thoroughly mixed experience, being chased off stage by skinheads one night, and invited back for an encore by a motley-looking bunch of mostly hippies the next. It wasn’t until Fin introduced us to Harry Hinter that we found our audience and began to think we might be able to make a go of this.