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Friday, August 19, 2011

My Musical History - Part 3: Monnae

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My Musical History - Part 3 picks up where both Part 1 and Part 2 left off: with the start of the era I'm referring to as 'Monnae'.
One of the last things I mentioned at the end of the first two blogs is that I had reached a plateau in my development as a guitarist, especially where playing lead guitar was concerned, and had a couple of guitar lessons to get me past it. In addition to the lessons, my teacher (Rob 'The Monkeylord' Chapman) felt it would be a good idea for me to put what he was teaching me into practice by joining a band as the lead guitarist, instead of always sticking to rhythm as I had in the past. This was also something I was wanting as I'd left my previous band when I split up with the wife and hadn't found another one since. Rob arranged for me to meet one of his other pupils who was in the process for forming a band, and the next period of My Musical History was officially underway.
I was the fourth member of the band. At this point the lineup consisted of Brad on rhythm guitar (Rob's other pupil), John on drums and Julie on vocals. We met up and practiced most weeks at Julie's house, with Brad & me both playing acoustic guitar, Julie singing and John not doing much. We did meet up with a couple of bassists, but they never came to anything. One was a complete stoner who hardly talked and just sat there smoking a joint, whilst trying to find a particular song on his radio. Needless to say, we didn't call him back.
After a couple of months, John got a new job and moved away leaving us without a drummer. As we'd only been practicing acoustically, I don't think I ever actually heard him play. He always claimed he'd learned all the songs and was ready for when we had enough of a set to make it worth having a full on rehearsal with all of us, but I guess I'll never know….
Brad, Julie and myself kept meeting up and playing together, although we didn't have much of a plan at that point. Even though we'd never heard him play, John was probably the one who'd taken up the role of band leader and was the one with all the visions of the future. Then after another couple of months, Brad disappeared - I can't remember why anymore, but there was a reason for it at the time.
That left just myself and Julie, and is where this era of My Musical History really gets going. Although we didn't have a plan at this point, we still kept getting together and started writing some songs. It was around this time that I really started getting to grips with how to get the most out of my Fostex VF-80 multitrack recorder. Julie had some previous experience of professional recording, so she had very high standards for the quality she wanted from our recordings. With a bit of practice, I learned more about how to use the mixing & mastering functions of the Fostex and managed to create some recordings she was happy with.
The songs we wrote are all loaded to my profile so you can go have a listen. As with the songs from my other eras, I've also written a short blog about each one containing any memories I have of the writing process. The songs written and recorded in this era are:
  • Sliding Down
  • Peaceful
  • Something Better Than Fine
  • Standing Naked At An Elevator
  • You
  • Frame Of Mind
Those songs are all loaded to the band profile I created for this era at:

I can't remember how long we were doing that for (you've probably guessed that remembering the timing of these events isn't one of my strong points), but after some time we ended up being booked to play a gig. It was fairly out of the blue, and it was at the Christmas party for the company Julie worked for. I'm not sure where or how, but she found us a drummer (Brian) and bassist (can't remember the guys name, I never met him again after the gig) and it was all confirmed. We would play a 40 minute acoustic set with just the two of us, then there would be all the usual Christmas party speeches, followed by another 30 minute set with a full band.
We only had about 2 practices with the other guys before the gig, but somehow everything fell into place and it all worked straight away. I can't remember what songs it was we played, but I'm fairly sure they were chosen from our lengthy set of acoustic songs because of their simplicity more than any other reason. The gig went down really well, everyone there seemed to enjoy it and it was possibly the strangest place I've ever played a gig - in the middle of a Steam Train Museum in Swindon.
There's one other thing to mention about that gig. On the way there, Julie asked me a question: "What are we going to call ourselves?". I had no ideas, so while I was driving us there she was coming up with all sorts of strange suggestions for a band name. In the end we settled on 'Monnae', which she thought of because it was an anagram of 'no name'. And that's why I've used that word as the title of this blog and the album title for the songs we wrote together.
That kicked us off on the road to forming a full band again. We teamed up with the drummer that we'd used for the concert and Julie found a bassist (Pete) & guitarist (Darren) from somewhere, I've got no idea how she got hold of them. We called ourselves 'The Guild', started practicing & built up a good set of covers, we even got as far as recording a demo CD before it all broke up. I don't know exactly what happened, but I believe Brian had some sort of falling out with Darren & Pete. Anyway, even though it had been progressing nicely for a few months, it all fell apart quite suddenly.
Alongside that, Julie and I had kept the Monnae name going by playing a few gigs as an acoustic duo. We even got a regular monthly booking at one of our venues by selling ourselves as the host of an Open Mic night. When The Guild broke up, we put even more effort into this side of things - we realised we were getting paid the same as we would for a full band and only splitting the cash two ways instead of five, which is always a good thing. Also, as we were advertising it as an Open Mic night we were often only playing for about half an hour! In fact it did so well, at one point we had so many gigs that I couldn't make them all due to work commitments with my day job. I kept playing a couple of gigs each month, but Julie was doing several more with Darren from The Guild.
It was good fun while it lasted, but it gradually faded away. The regular bookings all ended one by one for completely unrelated reasons and we stopped finding one-off gigs so easily. Pete and Darren formed another band, Julie got married and moved to Canada and I took a short break from guitar before starting to write as a solo artist again.
For now, that ends the My Musical History series of blogs, I don't have another one planned at the moment - although I have considered doing one about all the various guitars & other equipment I've had over the years and another one containing memories of the gigs that I've played. Maybe I will, maybe I won't.
For the forseeable future, any new blogs will be about any new songs I write.  These blogs will include any stories about how & why the song was written as well as any stories relevant to my music.

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