Monday, 27 July 2015

Band Rehearsal Rooms I Have Known

My first experience of seeing a band rehearse was in Newark, Nottinghamshire when I was about 15. Before that, I had never considered that a group might need to play their songs over and over again with a bit of arguing, blaming and shouting in between.

At the end of the '70s, there were two significant rock bands in Newark: Paralex and Overlord. Although I was too much of a punk to admire the hard rock of these bands, the different youth cultures tended to mix together in such a small town.

Paralex were the first band I ever saw rehearsing. They went on to join New Wave of British Heavy Metal

One Sunday afternoon in the late 1970s, someone took me and a friend to see one of these bands rehearse - I tend to think it was Paralex. The rehearsal took place in a small detached bungalow. Each member of the band was in a different room, with cables running down the hallway. The noise was unbearably loud, even as we walked up the road, but worse still inside. Looking back, I guess we were taken along as 'girls'. But I didn't realise that at the time; I don't think we stayed long.

Soon after that, The Devices were formed. A bonus for any band is to have a member who has access to a space for rehearsal and John Bingham had the keys to the Palace Theatre Workshop in Newark, Nottinghamshire. This was a space where theatre flats and lighting equipment were stored. It was also tucked away at the back of a car park where no-one could hear anything. We spent some time clearing the space and then used it to rehearse our naive punk-pop. We played The House of the Rising Sun as well as songs by The Ramones, then quickly went on to write our own agit-pop songs. I think we also put on a couple of gigs in that workshop room. I revisited Newark recently and it seems that the workshop room is now a drama studio.

Palace Theatre, Newark - Where The Devices formed, rehearsed and performed in 1979

My next bands, The Chaos Biscuits/Pandas were purely bedroom bands, that never played any gigs. We played quietly at Totley Highfield Halls of Residence, and at our flat next to Dore Station, where the recordings were made.

Flats by Dore station, near Sheffield. Bottom right hand flat was where The Pandas recorded demo tapes

PO! was formed with links to Multiplex and Leicester City Council's Community Arts service. This meant that you could hire a room at Fosse Neighbourhood Centre for a fairly cheap price; the only problem was that it was very much in demand, so it was often unavailable. It was also two bus rides away, or a very long walk carrying a guitar case.

Fosse Neighbourhood Centre, Leicester

After a few months, the band started using 'Archway' studios in Leicester. This was under a railway arch alongside car repair firms and sandblasters. You paid a fee for 2 hours rehearsing, and could use the old drum kit and amplifiers on offer. I think there were parts that dripped; it was certainly dark and dingy.

Archway Studios - used for PO! early rehearsals 1987
PO! rehearsing at Archway

One of the best rehearsal/recording studios at the time was Happy House. This was in a building on the edge of Leicester's cattle market (now the Freeman's Common Morrisons site). Previously the building had been a mortuary and then a BBC Radio Leicester studio, but the band The Swinging Laurels had taken it over, changed their name and rented it out to other local bands. John Barrow writes about this era in his book How Not to Make it in the Pop WorldI have struggled to find a photo of the Happy House building, but maybe a better one will turn up once I publish this.

This is the roof of the Happy House building back when it was a mortuary!

After a while, it became hard to get rehearsal time at Archway or Happy House, because they were so well used by other bands. Another rehearsal space was then tried; this was Chatham Street - run by Ian Redhead and his brother. It was a basement under a textile factory, with an hourly paid room, a resident room and one that was not used, known as the 'wet room'. After a few uses of the hourly room, I persuaded Ian to let us clean up the 'wet room' and have it as our own residential room, maybe sharing with another band. This was agreed on, and we spent a week getting rid of rubbish, trying to dry out the floor and walls with little fan heaters and doing a bit of painting. I think that we may have put pallets on the floor and then covered them with carpets to keep our equipment out of the puddles, but it was still extremely damp.

PO! rehearsing in the newly painted 'wet room': Julian Glover, Jan Frazer, Ruth Miller

Ruth waiting outside Chatham Street rehearsal rooms; load out bay on Stamford Street

For a while there was a little scene going, with nightly rehearsals followed by drinking in the nearby pub 'The Black Boy', but when the rainy season came, the 'wet room' proved too wet to continue playing safely, so PO! moved into the resident room, sharing with The Originals and The Brand New Executives. Meanwhile, Ian Redhead was planning to open a massive rehearsal and recording complex on Conduit Street, near Leicester railway station. This was to be called 'Stayfree' - I assume after the Clash song.

The most significant feature of the Chatham Street rehearsal space was the toilet provision. Many males in bands don't seem bothered about how gross a toilet gets, and I did try to adopt that way of thinking. I got by for several months laughing at the  rock 'n' roll toilet that looked like some kind of monochrome Jackson Pollack creation and not worrying about bacteria, pubic lice and stuff like that. However, I recall hitting the point where I went out and bought toilet cleaning equipment, did the job and made a bold imperative sign for the boys. Things didn't improve greatly, but I tried. To get to this toilet, you had to climb a curved flight of stairs that had been amateurishly installed. As time went on, the stairs began to sink on their fixings; particular steps smashed through and we were told not to use them. But when you've gotta go, you've gotta go - so visiting the disgusting toilet became a feat of mountaineering, stepping lightly on the few step-edges that seemed more firmly fixed. Until someone smashed the toilet bowl, and Ian Redhead opened a new rehearsal space which we moved to straightaway.

To be continued...