April 24 2012: And the band played on…

The Sunday Herald, April 24 2012

Rachel Loxton, Catriona Stewart, Ken McNab, Stewart Paterson, Stewart Atwood and editor Richard Walker

It seemed like a good idea at the time: find five journalists who were musical novices, put them together in a band and book them on to a stage at Scotland’s biggest rock festival, T in the Park. Some weeks after we announced the plan the enormity of the challenge is beginning to hit home.

screenshot-front-pageOur budding rock stars are Catriona Stewart (keyboards), Rachel Loxton (bass guitar), Ken McNab (vocals), Stewart Attwood (drums) and Stewart Paterson (guitar). Each one has been teamed with a professional musician as a mentor and Andrew Panton, Associate Head of Performance, Musical Theatre, at the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, courageously agreed to be the band’s mentor.

So far the band have met their individual mentors and carried out several rehearsal sessions under Andrew’s watchful eye at the Conservatoire and at the Glasgow Music Studios.

Three songs have been chosen for their T in the Park performance … the rock classic Johnny B Goode, the White Stripes, Seven Nation Army and Daydream Believer, a hit for the original “manufactured” band The Monkees away back in the 1960s.

And we have to admit … it’s not been a total disaster (so far). They have even knocked out their first songs from beginning to end. And it sounded like music.

But it’s beginning to dawn on us how much there is to do … and how little time there is to do it. This week we catch up with the band’s individual members (expertly styled by our fashion team), who explain what the experience has been like so far. And Andrew Panton gives his verdict on their progress.

We’ll be bringing readers another update as time goes on … and we’ll be setting up a Twitter feed so that you can follow their progress online. Look out too for video diaries online, details of which will follow later.

We also aim to use the project to raise money for deserving charities. We’re putting together a fundraising plan and we’ll include full details with our next report next month.

Meanwhile our intrepid band will be continuing rehearsals … and dealing with mounting nerves as the big day approaches.

CATRIONA STEWART KEYBOARDS MY problem, one of my problems, is that I always fall for boys in bands; messy, unreliable and unrepentant, but so creative and intriguing. I can’t count the number of gigs I’ve endured, how many rehearsals I’ve hung at the fringes of, waiting for this drummer or that guitarist to finish performing and not the slightest scrap of good it’s done me.

So, when the plea went up for the musically underskilled among us to form a band I thought, “this is my chance to be creative and intriguing and discover life at the other side of the microphone”. Turns out it’s actually quite hard work.

I’m not really a musical novice: I play clarinet and saxophone and once formed part of the percussion section of the North Lanarkshire Schools Wind Ensemble. So, I can read music and I can play competently enough in an orchestra, but both these skills have proved useless in the face of the Sunday Herald Band.

We are approaching the exercise journalistically: that is, doing things you know nothing about very quickly, using whatever is to hand and the expertise of anyone willing to help you.

My mentor, the keyboardist PJ Meikle of The Blue Nile, has given me reams of good advice, not least to take no lip from our lead singer. Ken is an affable sort but I’m keeping a beady eye on him for the first signs of insubordination.

From the sounds of things in rehearsals my colleagues have been practising. I’m worried about peaking too early so am taking things slowly: week one, think about the keyboard; week two, procure keyboard; week three, buy plug and useful explanatory guide to keyboard complete with coloured illustrations; week four, switch on keyboard. It’s probably about time I started playing the thing.

I am applying Infinite Monkey Theorem to my playing; the hypothesis that a monkey hitting keys on a typewriter for an infinite period of time will eventually write a complete text, such as Othello or Hamlet. I calculate that if I bat at the keys for long enough I am bound to make notes in some kind of appealing order. Whether these notes will chime with the rest of the band is another matter and a discovery I look forward to making.

The whole thing is a little like a Big Bang, making something out of nothing but not knowing what that something might be. We are all standing back now, waiting for the explosion that will illuminate us. Well, we hope. We only hope.

RACHEL LOXTON BASS ON my 16th birthday my mum and dad gave me a shiny new bass guitar. I picked a midnight-blue Ibanez. I took it home and learned one song. Rage Against the Machine’s Killing in the Name, if you’re interested.

On it I slapped a sticker of the Libertines given away free in an NME magazine.

Ten years went by and that’s as much action as the bass got. Until now. To be given the chance to perform, not just at any old venue, but a slot at T in the Park, is unbelievable. For all the Sunday Herald band members, it’s a once-in-alifetime experience.

But before the stars flood our eyes, we have to earn our place on the stage. And so the journey begins.

Before I’d even plucked a note, I arranged to meet my mentor, the talented Teenage Fanclub bassist Gerry Love. He is the man behind some of the best bass lines, including the awesomely catchy Ain’t That Enough.

In between rehearsals for his new solo act, Lightships, Love told me the one rule of bass: listen to it. Listen to its throbbing beat behind every piece of music. And the heavier the better. This, he said, was the best way to learn the fourstring instrument that, along with the beat of the drums, holds the music together.

My homework began with Carol Kaye. Arguably the greatest bassist to walk the planet, she plucked the bass-lines to a catalogue of wellknown pop tunes from the 1960s and 1970s as part of a studio backing band. The Beach Boys’ Good Vibrations? Kaye was part of it. The Doors’ Light My Fire? That was her too. Phil Spector, Frank Zappa, Simon & Garfunkel … The girl gave good bass.

Under the guidance of musical performance coach extraordinaire, Andrew Panton from the Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, the band decided to learn the rock’n’roll hit, Johnny B Goode, originally performed by Chuck Berry.

We had practised individually but our first meeting was more tense than the Steps’ reunion. Probably. Luckily, and even with our combined tiny percentage of musical ability, we managed to get through a chorus and verse. It was groundbreaking.

Since then Andrew has been whipping us into shape with the patience of a saint mixed with the determination of an army drill sergeant. It’s paying off. Now that we’ve (almost) nailed our first song, we’re on to our second: The White Stripes’ Seven Nation Army.

Despite our progress we still have a helluva long way to go. After all, how many people go to T in the Park to be entertained? Only about 80,000 .

screenshot-and-the-band-played-on

KEN MCNAB VOCALS SEEN even from a distance of some 2300 years, Plato was clearly on to something when he said: “Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination, and life to everything.”

I don’t know if the crusty old Greek philosopher could hold a note in a bucket, but it’s surely impossible to disagree with the tone he strikes in that portentous statement.

I sing every day. Correction. I make a noise every day that sounds to me like the distilled essence of Robert Plant, but to anyone within an audible distance sounds more like a nail being drawn down a blackboard.

Glasgow Music Studios in Osborne Street were kind enough to offer me generous rehearsal time and that’s where I rocked up for my first singing lesson with Rachel Lightbody. I made my intentions clear from the start – I want to move like Jagger, but sing like Lennon. Simple, really.

Luckily, Rachel was a brilliant bundle of fun and I decided right from the off to throw away my inhibitions and just go for it. So I took a deep breath, opened up the pipes … and heard this god-awful noise.

Rachel, showing Kissinger-like diplomacy, was nothing less than encouraging.

We ran through a few folkie songs and a rock ‘n’ roll classic.

Baby steps were the order of the day. Open your mouth, look up and hit down hard on the vowels. We tried again and over an hour or so I think it got better. Not by any stretch of the imagination good, but better. I had another lesson on Thursday and I think we’re moving and grooving. Or something like that.

By now my bandmates were hard at work with their own mentors. Our first proper time as a band took place at the same Glasgow Music Studios and again we decided a little self-belief might take us further down the road than we had any right to expect. To be honest, it wasn’t bad. And slowly, a little seed takes root in your egotistical mind and you think: “Maybe. Just maybe.”

Soon, though, it was time to perform in front of a much harsher critic. Andrew Panton, associate head of performance at The Royal Conservatoire of Scotland, has the unenviable task of trying to turn us from rough-hewn amateurs into something that vaguely sounds like a band.

From a vocal point of view, I can only say he helped me sound better even in a few short hours. For Andrew, a singer is like an actor … and every song is a performance. His advice gave all of us the confidence to believe we can actually pull this off. The road might be brief and we’ll hit a few speed bumps, I’m sure, but personally I’m more up for it now than I was at the start. Pass me the mic baby, Plato’s got a lot to answer for.

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