December 31, 2019

Pickstories – Chapter 2 – Venom

Though it’s an unpopular idea for many reasons, I’ve always held a belief in fate – perhaps serendipity would be closer. Like anyone who’s spent their life in and out of bands, I’ve fallen in and out of love with it, and today a couple of things happened that reminded me why I fell in the first place.

A gent came into the shop who was looking for a headphone amp and subsequently, a new head. He told me that he’d been in a band and his guitarist had been unwell, so the band put their activities on hold to give him time to cope with a difficult ailment. While this hiatus was taking place, the guitarist started a new band underneath the current one, which hurt my protagonist deeply. “I stuck all my gear in the shed, put my bass on a stand, and picked it up maybe 6 times in 8 years”, he said. “It’s not about being a big star or anything – when we played, I felt something, something genuine. It was incredibly painful, and I didn’t realise just how much I missed it”.

I struggled with the urge to get on my soapbox and proclaim how important it was that he got back in the saddle. It’s the playing that’s the most important part, I thought, the being in the room and making that racket together. The obvious sadness that he had felt and the subsequent joy of the phone call that had led him back down this perpetually financially-ruinous, drama-choked path moved me. I thought about all the times I had spent in bands in my youth, when work was a means to do more band stuff, and the next gig and song was the very meaning of existence.

The universe, it seems, was listening, as towards the end of the day I went into the workshop and saw this pick. The crappy snake face and the plain, bold font hurled me through a temporal vortex and into both my late teens and The Practice Pad in Maryhill, Glasgow. This was where I rehearsed with innumerable bands all through my teens and into my mid-20’s, before I moved to the South West. It was carpeted seemingly everywhere (including the walls), with a kitchen where I could buy Wolf Dogs (a hot dog wrapped in bacon), and a huge scabby couch for everyone to hang about on. The amps were a heady mix of those brutal furry Trace Elliots, JC-120’s and the most pulverised JCM800/900’s I had ever seen, ensconced in two small rooms and two larger rooms. Mogwai used to rehearse there, and the lad who managed Biffy Clyro – who were still at college at the time – had his office set up in the entrance way.

I spent years rehearsing in that place. It was where Cat Kills 6 really got going, where I did my first sideman gig with Astronauts Fail, and where the short-lived Poseidon was formed. It’s also where I first played with Michael, and where we struck up a friendship rooted in wild improvisation that persists to this day. Tam and Gran who ran the place also made the Sonus amps that I use, and they were always kind to me no matter who I was in there with.

What does this have to do with the pick? Well, Venom was a cable brand that was part of Tanglewood, and the Practice Pad sold them. They came in fluorescent pink and green, and I used to tear through them once a month. While this should have been a valuable lesson in buying better cables, I didn’t know any better when I was 17, and they were a tenner. I don’t know how many I must have got through, some comically-apalling number I’m sure. I remember eagerly plugging them into my Danelectro Daddy-O and thrashing my Mexican Tele like it would take me to another place, and that’s exactly what it did. Life was dramatic, it mattered, and I was the central actor in my own story. My band was my universe, and I was the centre of it while we played. We were one incredible whole, and the sound we made together was everything.

This one goes in the cabinet.