Those Were The Days

Been back on my Bandmates project recently. The latest shoot was with Neil Laird, a super talented bass guitarist who I used to be in Homegroan with.

We met up a) so that I could take Neil’s photo and b) so that I could give him a copy of a studio recording we made together almost 20 years ago. One of the great things about this project is that it allows me to re-establish old friendships and have a good catch up, find out what folks have been up to since we were last together. I also enjoy getting other people’s points of view on the bands we shared together, what made them work, why they didn’t succeed as well as we’d hoped, why I, they or another member left the band etc… I quite often learn something that I never realized at the time or find myself re-assessing my own point of view. Pretty much always I arrive at the conclusion that what seemed massively important at the time, in the grand scheme of things, really wasn’t.

Neil and I were both members of Homegroan at a time when things were getting serious for the band on a number of levels. Firstly, we were writing some great songs, finding our own voice and had become, musically, really tight. We had a ‘co-manager’ called Steve who had, allegedly, music industry connections. In the small pond that was/is Wakefield we were one of the bigger fish. Secondly, however, two of our number had become addicted to heroin during this time, something that both parties managed to successfully conceal, from myself at least, for the whole time we were in a band together, but which ultimately led to the demise of the band (both members are alive and well so far as we both know by the way).

Talking through all this with Neil, with the benefit of 20 years hindsight, was really interesting and enjoyable and it certainly put a lot of things into perspective. Although we were both in Homegroan together for a relatively short period of time (around 12 months I think) both our lives were altered for better and for worse by the choices we both made at the time under the intoxicating influence that being in a great band can place upon you. I don’t think either of us would change too much about the past but I think we’ve both taken what we learned by those experiences to make our present musical ventures all the more enjoyable.

I’m pleased to say that Neil is still playing in various bands for which he has purpose built his own rehearsal room/recording studio, where our shoot took place and where Neil played me some of the music he’s been involved in making over the last few years. There is Me And My Mates, a band that Neil performs in with his brother Alan, that, frankly, bamboozled me with the many musical twists and turns that get packed into each song and you can catch him performing with his other marvellously named metal band Clown at ‘An Evening to Celebrate the Music of Ian Smart’ on September 18th at Warehouse 23 in Wakefield.



I don’t usually have much time for nostalgia. I’ve spent far too much time in the past yearning for a return to what Springsteen would call my ‘Glory Days’ without ever realizing that those days were still ahead of me, which they still are of course. To paraphrase The People’s Front of Judea, what’s nostalgia ever done for us, apart from the aqueduct, the sanitation, the roads, irrigation, medicine, education, the wine, the public baths and public order? All its ever done really is impede our progress forwards through life by fooling us into thinking that the past is some kind of unreachable utopia in which everything was fantastic as we danced and sang, got drunk and got merry, and fell in love for the first time… What we tend to forget are the parts where we got so drunk and merry that we fell off the table we were dancing and singing on, twisted our ankle and chucked up on our shoes afterwards and that the object of our ever lasting love was a complete moron. Yep, nostalgia is an anchor that is, all things weighed up, a complete waste of time.

So why was it that when I stepped into Players Bar in Wakefield a few weeks ago, for the first time in over 20 years, that I felt… well, overwhelmed by nostalgia and (whisper it) a wee bit emotional? I had some great times there, I think, and played some great gigs there, I think, but it was hardly a place where life’s profundities would bloom into your consciousness on a nightly basis, creating pivotal moments of self-awareness to be embedded in your psyche forever and ever amen. It was just a place we went to make a racket and get pissed.

Back then ‘Players Snooker Club’ was what could charitably be described as a fucking dive. It was a hot, bright, summer’s night and I was almost 17 when I first ventured down its dirty stone steps into its even more dirty and dimly lit, hot, sweaty, subterranean belly. The smoke from my Marlboro cigarette (purposefully lit prior to entry in the vain hope of adding the 12 months or so I needed to be there legally) twisted and weaved its way upwards, contributing to the general haze that hung thick in what little air had followed us down there.

70s punk was blaring out of the speaker system as a couple of old school punks sat at the end of the bar drinking Newcastle Brown Ale from the bottle, troglodyte throwbacks from a more anarchic age. As my eyes adjusted and I peered into the abyss I began to make out the rest of Players Snooker Club’s clientele, a potentially volatile mix of assorted metal fans (heavy, hair, thrash and death), the aforementioned punks and, to my relief, indie kids in their familiar looking and less threatening checked shirt/corduroy trousers combo, some of whom I actually knew, thank god.

As I recall I spent most of the night sat on the floor behind the pool table hoping not to be spotted by the club’s owner, the not to be messed with Dave Carney, drinking the pint of lager that one of my older looking mates had bought for me. A kid who bore a striking resemblance to Eddie Van Halen came over and chatted to us. ‘How the fuck did he get in?’ he asked of my friend incredulously. I felt like my time there was going to be brief, especially when at one point a member of the bar staff came over collecting glasses and took a good look at the row of youthful cherubs in front of her. Then she said ‘the boss says that if you’re not drinking you can fuck off back to the youth club’. I remember feeling quite elated at this. I was 16, in a cool bar, at night, and I wasn’t going to get chucked out so long as I kept drinking.

If you lived in Wakefield, were 16 and played in a band then Players was the place you somehow had to get a gig at. You hadn’t earned your stripes unless you’d gigged at Players. I can’t remember the first time I played there but it was probably with Rich Tea Explosion or Lung Juice, supporting an older, more established, band, sometime around 1992. Later, with Homegroan, I played there quite a lot but, again, I can’t really remember any specifics. No one gig stands out as being more impactful than another – it was dark, the stage was about a foot tall, there were old beer crates to put your amps on but no in-house PA, Dave Carney used to bollock us for being too loud in sound check, you could charge on the door and play to no-one or play for free and perform to a full house, the toilets stank, the floor was sticky, the walls were wet from the heat generated by 100 or so kids drunkenly moshing to their mate’s band and at least one Nirvana song got covered at some point in the night pretty much describes every gig I played or saw there.

So, you see, the strength of emotion that I felt returning to Players after such a long time took me quite by surprise, as I couldn’t pinpoint any one moment that had left a lasting impression on me. I only knew that I had been there during a time in my life when I was trying to figure out who I was and what the fuck I was going to do with my life and that some vaguely important shit had happened along the way.

Tried to find some vintage Players footage on YouTube but, given that camcorders then weren’t as prevalent as smartphones are today, it’s not surprising that I couldn’t really find any. Above are a few videos that will give you an idea of what Players was like circa 1992-93. You can catch Two Man Cuppy at Players as part of Wakefield’s Long Division festival on Saturday 13th June, kick off at 2pm.