This is probably the maddest thing I’ve ever read. I found it in my drafts and here it is intact from back in the day. A perfect companion piece to David’s entry here. I’d forgotten about many of the details in this, and it is well worthy of a share. As always, the grammar is dreadful and I never could write very well, but check this out. Starting with Silvery’s support slot with one of our long time heroes David Devant & His Spirit Wife, Wednesday 13th October 2004 which at the time was the biggest thing we’d done. “Oh Dear, What Can The Matter Be?” seems to be the original title. Stick with it, it’s actually hilarious. A proper old time diary folly about everything and nothing.October 2004. Right… got an Organ player, we are now a kick ass 5 piece electric Victorian military band. After gigging for a couple of months, we suddenly get a break. As a long term fan of David Devant & His Spirit Wife, I have secured SILVERY a slot supporting them on our home turf of Islington. I find that this won’t be the last time. (Indeed it wasn’t, and now I’m happy to count them as my friends) 4pm: After a short hop on the number 38 bus with (as I found out later) the singer out of Hope Of The States, I turn up at the venue in the pissing rain. The Carling Academy (or The Old ‘New’ Marquee, if you like) is built out of Lego on the site of the shop I worked in when I first moved to London (Harveys 1997) and this feels really odd. (Turns out we’d play there again in 2008 to launch the ‘Devil In The Detail’ single). Whilst waiting around to meet the chaps for our gig tonight, this is the first time I’ve really had to look around my old manor. The shop frontages along Upper Street are the same as they’ve always been, coldly familiar, but a walk through the Parkfield Street N1 centre and you are into a puzzling hive of trainer shops. Gone is my old barbers, the florist where I bought my sweetheart her first bunch of flowers, the car park behind my shop in which I burst my boss’s car tyres… but the sense of getting closure is overwhelming. Various gentlemen of Silvery turn up and the massive task of moving our gear to the venue begins, with only a broken Mini Metro and some wonky directions to help. The absurdity of the situation we have got ourselves into strikes hard. We learn that a Metro (which we’d hoped to store some stuff in during the evening) has the least secure locking system in the motoring world when we avert a keys-locked-in-car situation with a lolly stick. Some Devants walk past us and into the venue, but a bizarre fear prevents us from introducing ourselves… although I was aware of the fact I was still trying to forget about my first awkward fanzine interview with them when I was about 12. Silvery talk excitedly of our last gig the previous Friday at the Bull & Gate in Kentish Town (a kind of home fixture) almost forgetting the task in hand. TV Deadringer Jon Culshaw loved us. In the split second I turned around when he tapped me on the shoulder I genuinely thought he was Tony Blair. And Dougie Anderson off Channel 4’s RISE seemed happy to spend his time at least chatting to us. Most bands at our level will tell you that gigs usually alternate between good and not so good. We were brilliant on Friday, and that kind of put us in the wrong frame of mind for this evening’s activity. By about 5.30pm, after a surreal build up, we are ready to start exploring inside the Academy (David Bass Silvery had managed to get in earlier to keep some guitars dry, but reportedly hastily retreated when he saw how big the stage was). Vessel recognises the totally lost and confused bunch of chaps that stumble in as he constructs the massive projection screen that he will jump through at the start of DD & HSW’s performance. ‘You must be Silvery’ he asks. A few thumbs up back to him answer. I for one had hoped to be drunk by now. We listen to Devant soundchecking fragments of songs as we kick a bottle top around the foyer in a rather energetic impromptu football session. ‘Cookie’ sounds fantastic. We discover we are brilliant at bottle top football. Italian Silvery Drummer Guiseppe seems to have invited some Columbian gun runners to watch us. We find out later that they are in fact his future kidnappers and will hold him to ransom (according to Silvery Guitarist Howard). A trip to the McDonalds around the corner and Silvery find time is going by VERY quickly. The daunting sound check approaches… usually not a problem, but this could be a little embarrassing. When we get back, we realise that the bar staff (and indeed the sound guy in the tracksuit) don’t look the sort to appreciate the finer points of our tunes like ‘The Ships Cat’ or ‘The Squadron Leader’ that consist almost entirely of fairground organ scales, angular new wave riffage, and falsetto singing. All wrapped up in Victorian military bandsman’s finery. We know we are on shortly after the doors open (at 7.30pm) and by the time 7pm comes and goes, we are wondering if anyone actually knows we are here. Still, after a very shambolic (and, yes, painful) couple of minutes setting up, we do half a song. It sound great, feels incredibly hot under the lights onstage. And I can’t help but think the entire Carling staff thinks we are twats. Yes. We leave the stage and find our dressing room (or at least, put all our stuff in an empty room at the furthest point possible from the stage) and go off in search of booze. As we gather our two (between five of us) backstage passes and arrange our guest list, we learn we are due on stage in 3 minutes. A very quick costume change (minus the trousers due to time constraints) and a bit of make up and we are back onstage, sober, and about to perform to an empty room. Some Silvery fans who are there early come to the front as we kick into our brilliant intro (of the genre ‘clown rock’, which has been said to be called ‘Clock’. As in ‘Clock N Roll’). I realise with horror that we are about to play without our bubble machine or backdrop films, or indeed without the alcohol in our blood that has inspired some jolly live moments in the past. It seems that our wanting to impress the Devant following isn’t going to go that smoothly. The room fill up nicely though (now there must be at least, ohh… 40 people in the hall) I’m thinking this isn’t quite how I imagined it. We play competently enough, none of our normal interaction onstage (we are the only band I know who can run out of room playing in an empty 3 story house). It feels like it is falling flat on its face, although it is nice to play feeling confident that I won’t end the evening with a) the usual snapped guitar, or b) the usual bruised face. Our finely tuned shortened set list finishes and we are left with a quandary: is it better to keep it short and sweet, or to play EVERYTHING? Either way, we accidentally play again one of the songs we played earlier. And don’t actually realise until the second chorus. Next thing I can recall is carrying two or more guitars (and possible one of their players) back to our dressing room, covered in sweat and being exhausted. ‘You sound like Cardiacs! Fantastic!’ shouts the next band on, passing us on their way to the stage. We did it! I immediately want to do it all over again. But first, some drinks. I make my way back to the hall to chat with our friends who are there… they share my thoughts of it not being quite the normal show we put on, but at least they know the deal. The hall is really busy now, and it strikes me that if we were on even 20 minutes later, we would have been fantastic. Doesn’t bother me, as Veldt are on now and I think they are great. A couple of hours go by, drinking and watching the other bands, exploring the venue, making the most of my ‘All Areas’ pass, chatting to lots of new and fascinating people – and I realise I’m still wearing my stage get up and eye shadow. Oh dear. One of the more interesting nights of my little life so far and I’m dressed like a twat. Hence Silvery’s appeal.
PART 2: Skiffle piffle. The next day I am really struggling with what is called a ‘gig hangover’, incorporating the usual quite lovely ‘happy’ hangover feeling, plus limited hearing capability and unusual vocal wobbles. I am excited about everything, but very, very tired … and having a read of a lovely book about the history of early diesel locomotives in and around London (God bless the men at Capital Transport Publishers) in a bookshop in Islington. I am pleased to report that a very pretty young girl comes up to me and says she thought we were fantastic last night. It turned out she was one of the barmaids. I now consider without doubt the evening was a success. However, with all the majesty I can summon, I forget to tell her not only that we are playing later in the month just up the road, but even that we have a website and mailing list that she can join. My response was, very roughly, equal to the noise Scooby Doo makes when flattered or pleased. And I dare say that my facial expression wasn’t that far off, too. However, I did manage to learn more about the operational sphere of the original prototype L.M.S. diesel CO-CO sister locomotives 10000 and 10001.
About 10 days later we find ourselves on stage again, this time up the road at the tiny Hope & Anchor near Highbury Corner (and to all intents and purposes, our base camp… so much so that recently we have begun to call it the Silvery War Rooms) and playing sans drummer (going to university in Italy having more pull than starving in a rock band in rainy London). Thus, we have decided it necessary to go skiffle for this gig. And Clown Skiffle at that. It is also worth pointing out, as if to celebrate our own performance at a pub named as rhyming slang to one of my favourite pastimes, that my third Profanisaurus entry is published the morning of the gig. The Claw (joining Piss Bliss and Gentleman’s Toe Pump) is my greatest creative endeavour thus far (including my beloved band). In an effort to make light of our magical situation, this poster is put up around the venue, accompanied by a faded daguerreotype of the remaining Silvery in full stage wear, captioned with our full name and written in best Cardiacs sleevenote broken English. The misguided sense of self belief that anyone cared was massive:
“The Black & Silver Livery (left to right: Simon, David, Howard, James, and on the end there sits little ‘Forward Gun’ the dog) ~ AN APOLOGY ~ Tonight’s performance by SILVERY will be subjected to a few changes insisted on by their totally respectable (and sober) keeper, Quick Luke. After becoming a little too confident onstage, and gaining a little too much respect from all corners, it has been decided to bring the band down a rung or two by making them do THIS. It is hoped you will enjoy this performance, and will not be put off seeing SILVERY again, when it is hoped normal service will be resumed. Yes. Good Day, The Keepers of the Silvery Gentleman’s Club, Chelsea (1853)”
Could this be the end for our heroes? Or a brand new start? Not for the first time, it didn’t make any sense. But it at least seemed an attempt to prepare our audience of the impending SCENE. And I wasn’t entirely sure what a daguerreotype was. As always at the Hope & Anchor, we play some really fantastic table football upstairs, and look knowingly at the quiz machines, picturing the thrashing Cluedo and Bullseye will take later. It really had been a luxury this gig not bringing ANY equipment, bar 2 battered old guitars (an electric and an acoustic) and wonky organ. Even the bass was founding a skip earlier in the year. The absence of a drummer actually seemed to make the whole experience more fun. I hadn’t realised how much running around we had to do for him … especially since he didn’t actually speak English. The most expensive instrument used was a tambourine… compared to the kids in headline band who had just spent daddy’s gift on, almost literally, a kitchen sink. Purely to get in everyone else’s way. The nicest bloke in TV, Ashley Hames, (of Sin Cities fame) turns up in the bar and after chatting to him at the Devant gig seems excited about seeing us at last. I try to explain that this was probably not the best time to see us live for the first time (having not actually planned exactly what this skiffle idea would consist of… especially now as it would probably be more a ‘sniffle’ performance, given the amount of flu symptoms going around in the band) but not wanting to appear ungrateful for his presence. We panic and decide to play the three best songs first in the set to impress him. This plan backfires somewhat when after the 4th song of the evening, we see him enter the venue for the first time. The rest of the set goes by in a wobble of bizarre Country and New Wave. Not quite all hell brak’th loose like usual… more like ‘yoiks’. Afterwards a couple of people asked for demos, assuming we always play like that and are spearheading some secret inept Clown – Sniffle (with whistling solos) movement. I can’t help but laugh. Not only so we not have a demo yet, but this is the first time we’d actually played most of these songs. And it seems that no one in the entire postcode saw the apology posters. As a bonus, we have our usual percentage of ‘you must have balls of steel to do that’ comments. Anyway, fast forward 4 hours and Silvery are playing again courtesy of our acoustic instruments … this time upstairs on an unnamed night bus complete with some freestyle rapping from the hastily assembled (i.e. found) Gangsta Posse we christened ‘The Woolwich Arsenal’. I for one haven’t heard our tune ‘The Charge of The Light Brigade’ sound quite this contemporary. It would be easy to say the gig was a disaster, or more accurately, a right pickle… but it was a bloody funny right pickle. Each song punctuated by fits of laughter from the players and audience alike (bursts of Abba songs and gaps containing missing drum breaks seeming to edge the absurdity level into the red, as did the amazing moment when the audience suddenly got it, and were suddenly right on our side). Let’s just say it was obvious what didn’t work, but a joy when something did. And I’d like to think that is what will be written eventually on the tiny wooden cross that will one day stand on the little part of Islington that shall forever be Silvery.
PART 3: Swords On The Boards. By the January, Silvery were back to being a 5 piece of sorts. A new drummer (Alex) had come along who learned the songs, but long time guitarist Howard had finally decided to concentrate on looking after the Silvery website. Unsurprisingly, within about a fortnight of announcing this, he visibly seems healthier and more energetic. A gig with the new line up is organised back at the Bull & Gate for the end of the month. I for one am apprehensive… my work load has doubled and I’m not sure if I can concentrate enough to SING and GUITAR well. Still, an influx of older repressed songs and new tunes popped up, filling my heart with joy…. and making the band seem a little nearer to how it should do. It was also around this time we started recording some songs on a 4-track tape machine (something we never did for the whole of 2004). These eventually end up on the website and lead to some quite splendid reviews and new opportunities for the band. Anyway, by the 29th we’re at the Bull & Gate soundchecking Queen’s ‘Seven Seas Of Rhye’ and spirits are high. That’s 3 gigs with 3 different line ups. That hasn’t happened for about .. oooo … 2 months?
Around this time, and without warning, this appeared in The Times: “Currently stalking the capital’s night life is a seemingly new terror. A handful of London’s bands are favouring the benefits of loud angular punk sounds and brilliant military chic. Not G.I. greens or Action Man camouflage, but a more sophisticated finery… that of the Victorian foot soldier. While these bands do vary somewhat in the presentation of the look, there is no doubting this upsurge is the latest exciting development in the current revival of British Guitar music. After having the ‘army green’ hijacked by the high street teenage fashion parasites, it seems that the people who have been maintaining the look even whilst it was out in the backstreet cold have now reclaimed it. And for the better.
Having led the way for a couple of years now is the original full time amateur Billy Childish in his latest incarnation, the power trio “The Friends Of The Buff Medway Fanciers Association” (Buff Medways for short). Complete with Olde English Gentleman’s ‘tache, the awkward looking Childish wrestles a fine brand of Garage Punk from his antiquated instrument, taking in 60s Britpop covers, Soul standards and sweat soaked originals. The Medways unique look (Boa War, anyone?) strikes an impressive stance summing up the beauty and benefits of such a look. Although high profiled East Londoners The Libertines have flirted with red Guardsmans jackets in photo shoots, videos and a couple of times on stage, borrowing the look… the way forward seems to be paved by uniquely independent unsigned London bands such as Silvery, whose fledgling website reveals a whole pre-Victorian worldview, steeped in Fortean phenomena and bizarre imagery. It seems only natural that their early besuited stage gear should develop into the confrontational 1800s battlefield look… subconsciously always wanting to be at the exact opposite of what is credible, yet by some perverse twist ending up at the cutting edge. Though it isn’t the smart turnout the Buff Medways favour, but a more ramshackle presentation…. perhaps a good hour into the battle…. and sometimes, due to the intensity and theatre of their performance, that look is accessorized by real blood and explosions of flowers and glitter.
While many bands have dabbled in the kind of Nazi U-Boat Commander look pioneered by Joy Division, their music has also followed the similar grey shadings of New Wave. New Yorkers Interpol are current champions of that scene, the drabness of the look seems to compliment the sedated music, the opposite of the likes of the Buffs etc, where ‘quirk’ is never a few musical (and not so musical) bars away. Also of merit are Brighton’s British Sea Power whose early London shows benefited from a variety of military disguises but also stage props indicating performance in a woodland setting (or at the very least, a stinky pub). However, their early gigs seemed to lack the electricity displayed on their debut album (The Decline Of British Sea Power on Rough Trade), seeming to distance themselves from the general scene. Even Silvery’s awkward mix of Glam, Punk, Oompah fits in better with the aesthetic.
So, Where did this look come from? The formal look of the early Jazzmen is a clue (of course, even earlier military bands is probably too literal) and the uniform attire of the Skiffle and Beat bands in the 1950’s and 60’s (as parodied by The Hives) may be of interest, it isn’t until the dawn of the Psychedelic and the revival of all things Victorian that we get the first clues in a modern Rock setting. The Cover of the Beatles Sgt Pepper album is probably the most famous example of the look – a cartoon of military chic, but inspirational in that it led to Hendrix et al digging out the genuine article. Although this would have influenced certain bands (Buff Medways do the odd Hendrix cover), merely ‘copying the Beatles’ (a musical genre itself these days) has oddly enough led to some of the most boring bands visually and musically (see Creation Records). It seems that it wasn’t until the look had morphed by the turn of the 70s that things really started to get interesting.
When David Bowie took to the stage in 1972 with the Spiders From Mars resplendent in boxing boots and quilted jumpsuits it seemed that the aggression of the battle clobber could be ‘Deviolenced’ (Bowie’s word). It was as if the universal ‘Military’ wear had been given the unique ‘English’ treatment and ended up distinctly Vaudeville. Indeed, Bowie himself said that the idea was to take the look of the Droogs in Kubrick’s retelling of Clockwork Orange and dress them up in their mum’s make-up. Queering up the Ultraviolence further. Bowie’s Glam reading of the idea opened up many to the concept of mixing these looks, the military and the swishy. While it took until the 80s for the garish dayglow (and all too literal) take on Bowie’s version (see Adam Ant, most other New Romantics, and Freddie Mercury’s fantastic yellow 1986 tour jacket), probably the most influential person to have fallen for the idea was Londoner Tim Smith, whose presentation of his band Cardiacs has constantly vilified and pushed them away from mainstream acceptance, whilst at the same time making the select few love them even more. From the early days of gigs in matching boilersuits, through the mid 80s when they always seemed to be in some bizarre Victorian army band to the present day dressed as ‘Nazi schoolboys’ they have offered up musical ideas for the likes of Radiohead, Supergrass, most Thrash Metal bands, and most importantly, Blur. The sight of Damon and co. morphing from Madchester also-rans into Doc Martin wearing Bovver Boys and touting their ‘British Image Number 1’, while flirting with the National Front imagery that had killed Morrissey’s career a year earlier, seemed dynamic and intriguing and served as notice of their new musical adventurousness.
Hence, the concept of ‘concept’ was not lost on the Britpop pack who came in the wake of Blur. South London’s David Devant and his Spirit Wife took the who thing further with an entire Victorian worldview and magic tricks on stage. If uniforms had replaced the slacker chic of the American grunge bands Britpop saw off, then the sight of Menswear in their (albeit secondhand) Saville Row gear and, later, singer Johnny Dean in a red footman’s jacket was enough to convince a new generation of the merits of angular guitar based music and sharp (or was that Sharpe?) presentation. This also raised smiles when The Strokes, fitted out in EXACTLY the same gear and flogging the same musical tricks were hailed as the saviours of music, only about 2 years after Menswear’s final breath. It seems that time flies by quickly in music nowadays, and it is happening again, only this time, it is British bands again leading the charge, seeing off the invaders from the New Territories. Although we are all fighting the same war, pick sides and stick to them this time.”
Giles Syrup wrote that. He’s me. And it didn’t appear in The Times. I just wrote it to look good, and to set us apart from Post-Libertines London. Which was probably unnecessary as no one has heard of us.
2017: And that’s where the mammoth entry ends. Not a clue why I wrote it back then – but I’m glad I did and really wish I’d written more like this at the time especially as most of the articles on this blog written with hindsight are so short of contemporary detail. Not because of all the drugs and booze, but because I have a bloody terrible memory. Thank you for making it to the end. And a HUGE thank you to Tom for taking the pictures. It’s funny now looking through them all. Each one looks like some CGBG‘s punk reportage from other era that no one can quite remember. There’s video too, but you’re not seeing them.