Soap The Stamps, Jump The Tube

By Gail Thibert

Nineteen years old with freshly dyed blue hair, punk rocker Gail places an advert in a music paper for ‘likeminded friends and weirdos’. Soap the Stamps, Jump the Tube follows her autobiographical journey through the 80s underground music and squatting scene in London

Thursday, 14 September 2017

A little snippet for you- joining bands

68% Funded- that deserves a snippet. Here's one from my chapter about joining my first ever band. I was just 19.



Since placing the advert in Sounds (I told you, this advert seriously changed the course of my life) I had been writing to a bloke called Dave Hughes who lived in a place called Silvertown in East London. Silvertown was famous for the Tate and Lyle sugar factory. The whole area had a bizarre aroma of sweet vinegar as the Sarson’s factory was not far away either.

Dave was over 6ft and slender with short black hair and Irish ears. In his letters, he had told me all about a band he was in called Adventures in Colour. He played the synthesiser and co-wrote the songs with their bass player. He said they needed a new lead singer. He asked if I could sing and I said yes right away, without really considering whether I actually could. I’d sung in the choir at school, surely that counted for something.

The audition was held in a Ladbroke Grove bedsit rented by George, the other keyboard player. George was an olive skinned Greek Cypriot with curly black hair, a wide cheeky smile and fancied himself as a ladies man. During one rehearsal, he boasted about the armchair being broken because he’d entertained two ladies on it simultaneously the previous night. I think the only person that believed this was George.

I also met Lisa, the bass player and other founder member of the band – a petite and boyish girl with a quirky dress sense and hairstyle – which was not at all unusual in the 1980s. Her hair was cropped and a two-tone mix of amber and shocking pillar box-red. She wore blue plastic clip-on earrings that she’d bought in a flea market and she had revamped with big red feathers. I was taller than average at 5ft 9in and took a size fourteen dress (voluptuous I like to think), whilst Lisa was a diminutive 5ft 4in and took a size eight. But despite her weeness making me feel like I was on the wrong side of hefty, I liked her immediately.

In fact, we all got on well together and before I knew it I was the leader singer in a band. I WAS LEAD SINGER IN A BAND!I am not sure why I passed the audition. Whether it was for my voice, or because my short spiky peroxide-blonde hair with pink sides and dramatic eighties make-up fitted with the image of the band. But what the fuck… I was the lead singer in a band.

I was quickly instructed that I was not allowed to dance or move around much on stage or wave my arms around like other bands, and that chatting to the audience between songs, was definitely out, as we weren’t THAT kind of a band. I wasn’t much of a dancer, arm waggler or chatter between songs anyway, so none of that bothered me much. I was the lead singer in a band.

Six-foot Dave with the sticky-out ears grew closer and closer as the weeks passed. We used to down tins of Special Brew [an exceptionally strong lager, and the preferred tipple of many an alcoholic, due to it’s strength-to-price ratio] during rehearsals as we were convinced we sounded better after a few cans. Looking back, I’m not entirely sure this was the case, but it certainly helped us to relax and provided necessary lubrication for my throat, as I had never had singing lessons and was prone to explosive bouts of violent coughing fits in between songs. Well, that was my excuse.

The music was very electronic sounding, which had become extremely popular since the 70s as music technology had advanced. The band consisted of two cheap buzzing synthesizers that were played in a simple style by two, self-taught keyboard players. George played a JEN – the cheapest keyboard available in his mum’s catalogue. And it really doesn’t get any more anarchic than that! The JEN made some interesting sounds but the other keyboard, the Wasp made really unique noises. Its most distinguishing feature was a two-octave keyboard with touch-sensitive non-moving keys (which we considered to be incredibly modern at the time). Although I knew nothing about such technical things, I just liked the quirky sounds it made. Apparently it was so-called due to its yellow and black keys although at times it literally did sound like a sizeable and unremitting wasp.

My vocal style wasn’t exactly singing (It was the 80s!) but I was tuneful enough. Although I was still incredibly shy and it took me quite a while (and a copious quantity of Special Brew) for me to gain confidence as a front person. I guess it was just as well I wasn’t supposed to move about.

Lisa’s boyfriend, Steev, who was the bass player in a punk band called the Lost Cherrees managed to secure us some gigs. And my terrifying debut gig with Adventures in Colour took place in a ‘venue’ called Streets on 5th March 1983. Streets was located at the back of the Angel tube (before the entire area was shaken up and regenerated to become the home to celebrities and middle-class media types it is today. Back then, it was something very different.) and has since been demolished. Which is sad in a way but a blessing as the toilets were an underground experience in themselves. So many of the old London grass-roots venues have disappeared across the years. The only saving grace being that their toilets went with them.

As you can imagine of a shy kid with little self-esteem who has never performed publicly before, I was incredibly nervous. Butterflies in my stomach just doesn’t cut it. My intestines were playing host to a pair of lively squid. I had to keep nipping to the really rather appalling toilets to well, y’know but at least I hadn’t thrown up. Not yet, at least. The last thing I wanted to do was have to kneel down in those dodgy bogs. The venue really was an utter dive but it was a venue and that was really all that mattered to us.

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