When I was a boy back in the 1950’s starting a band was very easy. It was so easy in fact that everyone I knew was either in a band, about to join a band or was starting a band of their own. All you needed in those days was 1) a cheap acoustic guitar, probably made of plywood and knocked together in a tractor factory in Czechoslovakia and 2) a friend who could keep time banging on a saucepan lid. The only musical knowledge you needed was how to play 3 chords (or 4 if you fancied venturing into jazz) and the words of “Rock Island Line” by Lonnie Donegan. There were so many bands playing this kind of stuff - skiffle as it was known to aficionados - that they were soon forced to mutate towards other forms of musical outlet. Up in Liverpool the ‘Quarry Men’ eventually became the Beatles. In Manchester ‘Les Skifflettes’ evolved into the Hollies and in Newcastle the Railroaders changed into first the Drifters than the Shadows.
It is worth mentioning that back in the 1950’s small musical assembles weren’t called ‘bands’. The popular terminology was ‘group’ or if you were particularly weird ‘combo’.
With the passage of time and the appearance of ace twangsters like Duane Eddy, The Ventures and Lord help us Bert Weedon, who wrote the UK guitar primer, “Play in a Day” the next step was to go electric. This was achieved by either buying an expensive electric guitar or popping into your local radio shop and picking up a war surplus throat mic or a screw-on pickup. Both were cheap and both were nasty. Of course, you would also need an amplifier but if your dad wouldn’t let you plug into the back of the radiogram you could always build one yourself using a circuit diagram from “Practical Wireless” magazine. Perhaps not surprisingly there were people out there who actually thought that electric guitars were called electric guitars because you plugged them directly into the mains. The result of such idiocy was either a dead guitarist or a smoking pile of fibreboard or both.
Now you should ask yourself why you would want to start a band. Maybe you have dreams of fame and fortune or maybe there is just someone in the neighbourhood who you want to impress. Whatever the reason you must first decide what kind of band you’re going to be… a covers band perhaps playing popular party hits by the like of Fleetwood Mac or Oasis. You could go esoteric and become a reggae, Cajun or blues band although I would caution against becoming a blues band as there are far too many of them already in this neck of the woods. Specialist outfits like Kretzmer bands or Scottish Dance bands always seem to get a lot of work if work is what you are after or you could form a folk group. At the minimum all you need to become a ‘folkie’ is a strong, clear voice and the ability to stick your finger in your ear while singing ‘Greensleeves’.
Once you have sorted out that little lot there are other considerations that you will have to apply yourself to… the name of your band for a starter and somewhere to rehearse and then the difficult task of finding ‘gigs’.
Next week we will be looking at the naming of names and reasons why you shouldn’t call yourself “Willy Why and the Why Nots” or “Far Canal” - a particularly bad choice that I found myself landed during the psychedelic 60’s. We told a local promoter that it sounded mysterious and mythological. He said that it sounded sordid and scatological - and he wouldn’t book us until we changed it. We did. He did… and the newly named “The Druids” found themselves with a £5 gig in ‘The Hollybush’ in Welwyn Garden City. Fat City!
– from Martyn Day