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Fame: Getting It

Article from Making Music, April 1987

A quick guide to self-awareness, and some tips on extending your fame beyond 15 minutes

Struggling, aspiring? Why bother, you may already be famous. Jon Lewin thinks we should all treat our own musical history with a bit more respect.

"Before Glasshopper even find Radder Of Success, ret arone make first lung, Glasshopper needs must stagger brindry about in darkness and obsculity for many years."

WHEN YOU'RE an unknown musician putting a band together, perhaps for the first time, actually 'making it' seems just a few weeks away. Two or three gigs, bung down a demo, contract by the end of the month, Top Of The Pops by Christmas. Ha. Ha ha.

Empirical evidence (Making Music's own) suggests it takes an inexperienced band or performer an absolute minimum of 18 months to sort out line-up, songs, and attitude, to a point where they are capable of convincing both record companies and the general public. Take the Sex Pistols: it took them two years, three guitarists, and Midge Ure refusing to be their singer before they got their act together. And Deep Purple? Their first line-up (in 1968, would you believe?) was made up of musicians who had all been playing in pro or semi-pro bands for years — Blackmore was already something of a legend by then.

Making Music receives between 10 and 20 demos every week, which leaves us with a constant backlog of 300-400 unheard tapes. Then think of all those players who haven't got round to recording anything yet; there is an awful lot of music being made by (mainly) unrecognised semi-pro musicians, performers waiting for recognition.

For many, the prospect of fame (aka virtually unlimited income, public adulation, and as much sensory satisfaction as money can buy), is the only guiding light in the wilderness of poorly paid gigs and expensive demo studios. Artistic satisfaction is all very well, but it's generally far less satisfying if nobody ever hears your art.

But what you probably don't realise is that your fame has started already. As Copey says elsewhere in this issue, it's good to have a sense of your own history, and now is the time for you to start capitalising on that. Obviously, since you're in the middle of having it at the moment, it's difficult to get any real perspective on what's happening to you. So let's think about someone else.

"But what you probably don't realise is that your fame has started already."

This singer up in Oxford, Paul, starts a band with a guitarist from Cheltenham, called Brian. They advertise, and find a bassist, whose name is Tom. They get a pianist called Ben, and a drummer called Robin. Then Brian leaves for another band, and Paul goes off to sing cover versions in a cinema on Saturday nights. Undeterred, Tom brings in a mate called Terry to take over vocals, and asks this bloke his girlfriend had seen playing acoustic in the College canteen if he'd like to play guitar, even though he'd never played in a band before, and his Kay semi-acoustic had a neck so warped that he had to put a capo halfway up the neck to make it playable. This line-up, going by the name The Roosters, played fourteen gigs, got discouraged by their lack of success, and packed it in.

Tom and the bloke from the canteen next get a job backing the singer from Cass & The Casanovas in another band. They lasted seven or eight gigs, and then packed it in in disgust. Tom went off to play bass with a pro band, while Canteen Man gets asked to play with this newish group who were playing the hip music of the moment. They rode the crest of that particular wave for a couple of years, making a live album and a handful of unsuccessful singles on their way up, until our bloke got fed up with their new material and left the group the week they had their first hit. He went to stay with Ben from The Roosters in Oxford.

But he didn't give up. He got a phone call from this eccentric singer called John, asking him to go back to London to play guitar for him. So he did, and the band went on tour for about four months, and everything was going well, with our hero actually being quite... heroic. And then suddenly, he ups and leaves this promising sinecure, and pisses off to Greece for two months with a bunch of mates, calling themselves The Glands. It took them so long to get there, the bassist had to leave to go back straight away; they played one venue, got paid nothing, and ended up losing half their gear when they had to flee the country. And when he got back to London, he had the nerve to ring up and ask for his old job back. And he got it. And he got second billing to the singer on the LP they subsequently recorded, 'John Mayall's Blues-breakers, with Eric Clapton', it said. And that was over 20 years ago.

The point I'm trying to make is that you're already doing what Clapton did in the early sixties — even if you yourself are never going to be a Paul Jones, or Brian Jones, or Tom McGuinness, or John Mayall, you're still going to be part of somebody's rock heritage. Where would Clapton be now without the support of friends and sidemen like Ben Palmer, Terry Brennan, and Robin Mason from The Roosters? Would he still have a Kay with a warped neck, now gathering dust under his bed?

Cultivate your sense of history: keep a diary, take lots of photographs, get your friends to take pictures of you on stage. Record rehearsals, gigs, anything. Keep a record. If you don't make it, think of the nostalgic value of your archive. And if you do get there, and it turns out you're documenting your own history, just think how grateful your biographer will be.

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Publisher: Making Music - Track Record Publishing Ltd, Nexus Media Ltd.

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Making Music - Apr 1987

Feature by Jon Lewin

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