It was 20 years ago today...
Summer 1996 - Freshly graduated and not yet knowing what our place in the world was, Jim and I sat in the White Hart in Melton Mowbray one Friday evening having a quiet beer and quietly realising how we wanted more than Melton had to offer.
Britpop had exploded into life and we dreamt of forming a band to satisfy our obsession with music. Jim was (and still is) writing a lot of songs and we’d done a few recordings as a two-piece, him playing guitar and us both singing into an old analogue cassette player.
The songs were great but a two-piece, close harmony folk outfit in the midst of the Britpop explosion wasn’t really going to go anywhere. We needed something with a bit more wallop and volume to make more of an impact.
Step forward a certain David 'Jacko' Jackson (pictured with me below).
We were introduced to Jacko by some great like-minded people who shared our love of music and drinking in The Crown in Melton. Shortly afterwards, Jim bumped into Jacko as the pair sheltered from a Leicestershire downpour in a doorway in the town centre.
They got chatting about music and quickly organised a “you show me your songs and I’ll show you mine” session.
Jacko had been dabbling with doing some material with a few friends from Sixth Form, already under the moniker of Marvel, and had recorded a couple of songs in the studio at the Upper School during music lessons. An early version of 'Keep It Together' among them.
Jacko suggested getting together to jam a few ideas and Jim must have mentioned that he knew another singer (me) so I was duly invited along to the session.
This took place in an upstairs room at Colles Hall, now known as Pizza Express, one evening. Many songs were bandied around that night but the one that really sticks in my mind was “Help Me, Help You”, a Jacko composition that was a real ear worm. We’d developed a lovely three-part harmony for it during the evening and as my head hit the pillow that night it was still ringing around my head and I couldn’t sleep.
Additional members were needed to realise our vision of a melodic, electric five-piece that would fit right into the Britpop mould. Step forward two of Jacko’s school friends – Lloyd Young on Bass and Ben Rainforth on Drums.
The jigsaw was complete and we began rehearsing at Lloyd’s parents’ house in Burton Lazars, often very late into the night and very loud. 2am finishes were not unusual which was quite a challenge when Jim and I were both holding down 9-5 jobs as well. We didn’t care, things were coming together nicely and we soon had enough material together to take the next step and get out in front of an audience and showcase what we’d been doing.
March 8th, 1997 - my memory is a little sketchy on who arranged our first gig but I’d lean towards Jim being responsible seeing as it was in his home village of Asfordby. We were down to support a much older band called Thadius Ratch.
We'd really put the hours into rehearsing ahead of that first gig. It was important to all of us that we didn’t stink or it would be over before we’d even begun. This was something we’d all dreamt of doing and suddenly it was becoming a reality.
As the date drew closer and closer, the more nervous I became. Performing isn’t something I’d ever really done as a kid. The thought of getting up and singing in front of people absolutely terrified me but I didn’t want to let the rest of the band down.
March 8th arrived. I remember it being a beautiful sunny day. A good omen for our first performance. We gathered our kit together, hastily scribbled down our set list on bits of paper and made our way excitedly over to The Crown in Asfordby to set up for our support slot.
The gig would be happening in the backroom of the pub, a short walk outside from the main building. It probably wouldn’t have held more than 50 people. We were squeezed in the back corner, out of the way of Thadius Ratch’s more elaborate set up.
Petrified of forgetting my lyrics I’d written them all down on pieces of A4 paper and proceeded to start gaffer taping them to the floor. The rest of the band must have wondered what the hell was going on and I wouldn’t have blamed them for having second thoughts on whether it was a good idea to be putting me on lead vocal duties for Jim’s songs.
The nerves really cranked up when the crowd started to appear, even though it was full of the familiar, friendly faces of our tremendous friends and family.
I can still remember the feeling of panic as we prepared to launch into our first song. I spent that song and the remainder of the set staring intently at the floor reading my lyrics. It can’t have been a great viewing experience for the audience – but I didn’t miss a word. Phew.
As quickly as the gig started our 30-odd minute set was over and we made our way out into the audience to get some feedback on what they’d heard. I think they were genuinely surprised at what they’d seen and heard.
The credit for that has to go to Jacko and Jim’s songs. They’ve written absolute belters over the years and some of those songs that were debuted 20 years ago will be in the set list this time around – they’ve stood the test of time and still sound great. Actually they’re sounding better than they ever have done if recent rehearsals are anything to go by. It’s criminal that they haven’t been recorded properly. We need to set that straight this time around.
So, thank you Thadius Ratch wherever you are for giving us our start as a band and sorry that after our set the crowd we’d bought disappeared leaving you to play to a handful of people. It might not have been the most spectacular debut but it paved the way for us as a band, gave us the opportunity to showcase what we were all about and set us on our way. Over the next 3 and a bit years we built the set list up, dropped the few covers we did and played some brilliant gigs that I’ll never forget...
Supporting Doves at The Princess Charlotte in front of record company interest from Sony and EMI, DeMontfort Hall in Leicester, gigs in London and Leeds and playing in front of a home audience headlining Melton Day in 2000.
Marvel has always been special for all of us involved and always will be. We’ve all gone on to do different things in our lives but there’s something magical that happens when we get together to play. It just clicks. Something really special is happening again if our rehearsals are anything to go by and October can’t come soon enough.
Hopefully we’ll see you all at The Tavern so we can showcase those amazing Jackson/Warner songs once again. This time with no gaffer taped lyrics.