Memories From An Unsigned Band And Our Crap Groupies

It's not all sex, drugs and rock 'n' roll in a struggling band. Sometimes groupies are all about Cadbury's chocolate and romantic CDs.
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As Paul McCartney has repeated with an almost geriatric frequency, the original artistic reason for forming The Beatles was to “get lots of girls”. Bruce Dickinson, fencing star and Iron Maiden enthusiast (possibly the other way round, but never mind) once revealed that his quest for seeing how many women he could bonk on tour had earned him the nickname “Percy Prong”. When Police guitarist Andy Summers was grilled on the extent of the band’s groupie activity, he commented, “Gentlemen stop counting at 300.” Even The Bluetones, that bastion of post-Britpop mediocrity, once appeared on the cover of Select, smiling naughtily under the quote, “That groupie myth is totally true.”

Well, is it? You’d have thought after spending some 15 years perpetually orbiting the successful rock world, as though trapped in a brakeless Ford Fiesta on some madcap music industry version of the M25, that I’d have the faintest idea. Okay, one could argue that Fink, the indie/folk/blues ensemble to which I have been lending my percussive “skills” since 2006, just aren’t that kinda band. (I remember a friend coming along to the first big support show we played, clearly anticipating a Guns N’ Roses-style queue of rock chicks outside the headline band’s dressing room from which he could potentially select some leftovers; he went home that night with nothing but a permanently altered view of rock’n’roll excess and a family bag of Maltesers from our rider.) By contrast, The Darkness apparently had an ever-present cohort of scantily-clad female admirers since before the band had even purchased a plectrum, clearly believing this to be as vital an ingredient of their setup as, say, that bloke with the drumsticks. So the answer, really, is yes I’m sure it is true, but apart from a rather rubbish snog by the bin area at the back of the Highbury Garage in 1997, none of it has ever entered my rather underwhelming manor.

At least, that’s what I would have said, before Fink’s bass player reminded me, “what about L?” Of course. A plague on him and his decent memory. What about L, indeed. L (full name withheld in case his current life be plunged into a veritable pond of embarrassment) was a SuperFan of onetime indie-pop band Prankster, which I laughingly provided lead vocals for. Poor clueless fool that he was, L had decided I was a bit dishy and began to turn up at gigs with presents, usually edible (1st rule of showbiz: all gifts for English rock musicians should have “Cadbury’s” written on them somewhere) but occasionally of the slightly more cringeful variety (I remember a hideously romantic CD single being handed to me at one show). This latter type of offering reached a horrible zenith on the eve of a fortnight’s Scandinavian tour, when L cornered me at the Powerhaus in Finsbury Park (time knocks the edges off the glamour of this setting) and presented me with a bulky manila envelope and a box of Milk Tray.

“Inside this packet,” he explained, “are fourteen smaller envelopes, one for you to open each day you are away. There’s also a disposable camera. All I want in return is at least three pictures of you opening the envelopes.” I grunted some vague expression of gratitude, stuffed the whole lot into my bag and hurried off.

I can’t now remember what caused such towering stupidity, but while we were packing the van at our rehearsal room the next morning I produced the box of chocolates and the manila envelope and casually described its unusual contents, and accompanying task, to my bandmates. Of course this was greeted with almost as much comic enthusiasm as if I’d revealed that our tour was to be brightened by daily visits from Steve Coogan, Eddie Izzard and entire cast of Monty Python. They refused to board the van until I’d opened the first one. Inside was a slip of paper with a red and white blob (supposed to resemble the Danish flag, we presumed) and the legend “Tim is sexy”. Secretly relieved it wasn’t anything more sinister, I shoved it back in the envelope, jumped in the van and brusquely started the engine.

"I’m sure it is true, but apart from a rather rubbish snog by the bin area at the back of the Highbury Garage in 1997, none of it has ever entered my rather underwhelming manor."

The box of chocolates barely made it out of London, but the wretched manila envelope remained tauntingly on the van’s dashboard for the next week and a bit. Each morning, sometimes before we’d even had breakfast, I’d be greeted by a gurning fellow musician excitedly demanding that day’s pouch be pierced, whereupon I’d gruffly grab the item in question and tear it open while the other three hovered over my shoulder. To be fair, a lot of the messages were harmless and not even particularly funny: “Tim is cool and lovely” – “Tim is a major talent” – “Tim has a kind and sweet face” (aaahhh…) – but it was the barking mad ones and my subsequent ire which stoked my bandmates’ raging mirth (“Tim’s Dad is a Spice Girl”, “Tim’s Mum is Kylie Minogue”, “Think of my face when you sing tonight”, “Tim has an edible behind” – I mean, Christ).

Halfway through the tour I actually stopped bothering to open the bloody things myself, preferring (I suppose) to stand on the other side of the hostel room/car park/motorway restaurant, shouting, “What? What the fuck does it say this time?” while the others dissolved into hysterics. Such was their impatience that we were soon four envelopes ahead of ourselves, like a bunch of overexcited kids with advent calendars. (Thankfully, I had arranged that the disposable camera be “accidentally” left behind on the deck of a Swedish car ferry.)

The opening of the final envelope was memorable. We were ensconced at our Danish drummer’s summer chalet, a wooden shack in a forest with permanently blocked drains but a seemingly inexhaustible supply of Tuborg beer. The daily envelope-opening ritual had long since ceased to hold the least bit of humour for me, so I sat grumpily in an easy chair on the veranda (yeah, not very rock’n’roll, but this was a day off) while the other grinning goons enjoyed their last hurrah. This time the contents were so immediately uproarious that all three of them simply keeled over and rolled around on the lawn. I went into my usual “what is it this time, you bunch of knobs?” routine, only to be presented, several minutes later, with the offending item. L had truly excelled himself. He’d tracked down a magazine picture of the cutest, dinkiest, fluffiest baby lamb in existence, cut it out, drawn a collar around its neck and a tag, on which he’d written “Tim”.

I can’t remember what happened when I finally saw him again. One could charitably view the whole project as an elaborate piece of conceptual art (which, my bass player gleefully spouted, could only be considered truly complete if the relationship was consummated – a comment which I think led me to crush a large packet of crisps and empty it into his rucksack). All I can say is, time has been surprisingly kind to the memory this episode, and partly, I’m sure, due to relief that it didn’t happen during the age of Facebook. God knows where the poor bastard is these days, but at the risk of sounding a tad cheesy, here’s hoping that he’s found his own fluffy lamb.

Tim Thornton is the author of Death of an Unsigned Band (Jonathan Cape). Buy it here:

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