With only days to go now, the boys, and girl – Neil’s daughter – have been rehearsing without me. It’s how it all started, the three of them at the Ipswich Caribbean Club working on riffs and rhythms without a vocalist. When I came along, they had commitment, but nothing that shared any common ground with a song as you would recognise it. They wanted to set the world on fire but were still gathering sticks.
After some persuasion, not being naturally inclined to want to jump on stage, I went reluctantly to a rehearsal expecting a band. My friend and neighbour Paul took me along on the back of his bike, me nearly killing us on the way as I’d never ridden pillion before and didn’t realise you leaned with the rider when going round a corner. Despite a brush with the curb and a lot of swearing on Paul’s part I was deposited at the club to find my friend Steve, the tall and untidy Neil and his relatively shy younger brother Nick making a slightly dour racket.
They made some noise. I nodded appreciatively. They made some more noise. I wondered when it would stop and began to understand why they had brought some beers along. At the end they asked if I would come back. I said yes. I’m not sure why – I wasn’t then and I’m still not. It just happened and within a few weeks we were writing pieces that eventually evolved into songs and wondering what life had been about before we became Bleach. The band was a huge part of our lives as soon as it had begun. The only other time I have felt such a seismic shift in reality was when my son was born and I forgot what life had been like before he came along and consumed every moment of my waking (and sleeping) existence. The band was the same. We suddenly had a living, breathing, growing thing to nurture and protect where there had been…an absence. How had we survived so long without it?
We weren’t destined to have balance in our lives when it came to making music. It was always all or nothing. When the four of us assembled that first night at the Caribbean Club, where hardcore punks mixed with septuagenarian Rastas on Friday nights, what we actually managed to achieve musically was irrelevant. What mattered was that the elements reacted as potassium fizzes and burns when it’s dropped into water…we were still searching for kindling but knew we weren’t going to stop until we’d created an inferno.
Sometimes life is like that. The dominos line up and everything falls into place leaving us in no doubt. A thing seems irrefutably right, so right that we might have to question it for a while to make sure that we’re not misreading the signs. Pinch me, I’m dreaming. But there it is, ordinary people stepping from the ordinary, everyday world into an enchanted space where anything is possible. Hello. Let’s reach for the stars. Just like that.
And why not? Life is so full of restriction, caution and aversion to risk that to follow our hearts when they beat a little faster is one of the few real adventures any of us can begin. Re-write the rule book. Join a band. Consider the extraordinary to be achievable. Fall in love. These are the things that test us, try us and drive us to the brink but oh, the joy of sharing those trials and tribulations with a partner in crime. That’s what makes it worthwhile. Who’d want to sing acapella?
On Saturday we’ll be in a room again, making a racket in the way only we can. Then we’ll pour all we have into a little under an hour of performance that will help everyone we love and, just as importantly, ourselves, understand what all this has been about.