Long Way to the Top

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Oceania » Australia
August 6th 2010
Published: February 15th 2011
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30 Years in the Making30 Years in the Making30 Years in the Making

The Pulpstones finally hit the stage...
Some journeys are longer than others...

This one’s taken over three decades already and is still only just at the beginning -

So perhaps it’s best if we start at the beginning of the end...

Sixty is the new forty, or so they tell me.

I guess that means that 43 is the new 23, which goes precisely no way at all to explaining why for the last six months I’ve taken to behaving like a sixteen year old, something of a stretch for a supposedly respectable middle-aged dentist.

Mid-life crisis anyone?

It all began with an unexpected phone-call a wee while back: mid-afternoon at work I was busily completing the umpteenth filling of the day when the word came through that the Oral Surgeon was on the line. As a dentist, this is the guy you call when you’ve got something major needing sorting, a handy bloke to know and no mistake, so I wasn’t about to keep him waiting. But what the hell was he doing ringing me? It’s normally the other way round.
I picked up the receiver with unease. Something about this just didn’t feel quite right.

“Hi, Andy. How you going?”

His tone was remarkably chirpy, in an ‘I’m after a big favour’ kind of way.

“I’m good thanks, Brian. What can I do for you?”

“Well, first of all, I just wanted you to know that this has absolutely nothing to do with work.”

Oh, Holy Crap!

My heart sank.

I knew exactly what was coming next.

Way back in the dark-ages we now refer to as the late-1970s there was an unfathomably popular TV show you may remember called The Muppets. I suppose it was that era’s Simpsons, a show at first appearing to be for kids, but containing enough subtle coded adult stuff to keep the parents amused too. Unfortunately I was way too old for the kid’s stuff but insufficiently savvy to grasp the alternative, and rapidly wrote it off as a cheap Sesame Street rip-off. What’s more I found the main characters singularly irritating in that uniquely American way. A skinny frog, a blonde pig, and a couple of grumpy old gits were no match for Charlie’s Angels in my book, Farrah Fawcett proving a much more alluring distraction until she broke my heart and ran off with the Bionic Man.

The only cool cats in the whole cast were the band, and they hardly ever said a word: My two personal favourites were the bald, blue-skinned hippy who played a mean sax and a furry wide-eyed wild-man with a maniacal grin known simply as Animal. It just so happened that he was the drummer.

Around this time I was dreamily crossing the school playground one day hand-in-hand with Farrah when I was collared by the Head of Music, Mr Walker.

“Hi Andy. How you going?”

His tone was remarkably chirpy, in an ‘I’m after a big favour’ kind of way.

“I’m good thanks, Mr Walker. What can I do for you?”

“Well, first of all, I just wanted you to know that this has absolutely nothing to do with class.”

Oh Holy Crap!

My heart sank.

I had absolutely no clue what was coming next.

Looking back, Mr Walker was one of the cooler teachers.

For a start he taught Music, a preposterously easy alternative to Double Maths or History. Basically we sat around and sang songs. If we got them wrong, the only punishment was to sing them again. This was somewhat laughingly called 'practice', even when we were just as bad the second time as the first. There was no studying texts, no scoring two out of ten and best of all, no homework. It seemed to me to be a special compromise class, where there was an unwritten pact between teachers and pupils that we would all get away with sitting around chilling while pretending to do something vaguely useful, roughly the schoolboy equivalent of going fishing, but without all the beers and blokey banter.

It also helped that Mr Walker was plainly a dude. Most of the other masters were stuffy old ex-military types, while the only place Mr Walker looked likely to have been posted was Woodstock. He had blonde wavy hair that stretched a dangerous couple of inches past his collar and svelte russet sidies. My eleven year-old self would likely have been shocked of an evening to find him taking a toke or two while grooving to Pink Floyd, though I’m sure he’d claim he didn’t inhale. I’m not going to imply any cigar-related shenanigans with interns in the staff-room, but you get the picture... the guy was smooooth.

Today, however, he seemed to have completely lost his marbles.

“I was thinking maybe you’d like to join the orchestra.”

Well, uh, yeah, that would be really great Mr Walker, but it seems to have escaped your attention that I don’t actually play anything.

“I was thinking maybe the drums... We’ve got a vacancy next year when our usual guy leaves... come and see me at the end of the day and we’ll give you a try-out.”


The drums!!!

Just the kind of thing I needed to stop Farrah playing so hard to get.

As Mr Walker turned to leave I clocked just how far below the collar his hair stretched and resolved that by this time next year, I’d have him beat.

As it turned out the whole episode was something of a false dawn. It soon became apparent Mr Walker had little more idea of how to play the drums than I did, and I was rapidly co-opted into the Pipe Band for proper lessons, for which I had little enthusiasm. I was somewhat keener on slapping the skins for the Sex Pistols than marching round frozen fields banging on a single snare. And, unsurprisingly, my parents were none too keen on the idea of forking out for a drum kit to cram into the confines of my bedroom, parting instead with a few measly pennies for a drum-pad, which was basically a circle of rubber nailed to a block of wood. Phil Collins eat your heart out! Meanwhile my father saw to it that my hair remained strictly regulation length until well after the fad had passed.

Following this disappointment I would not so much as pick up a stick again for another 15 years. By now both school and university had passed in a blur and I was well into a life of real work, just beginning to appreciate what a joyous and exciting time the next forty years or so were likely to be.

Then one day, out of the blue, my flatmate bought a bass-guitar.

It was the early 90s, and grunge and Britpop were about to hit big-time, the first music worth getting your ears round since, well, about 1978.

Stuff it, I decided. High time I jumped on the bandwagon.

Three lads squashed into a swanky docklands flat had already incurred the neighbours’ wrath noise-wise. They too were unlikely to enjoy a full-on drum-kit entering the fray, so I opted instead for a drum machine, back then the epitome of hi-tech.

And so were born the almost legendary ‘Dry Riser’.

Well, at least we were almost legendary in my bedroom, where most of the practices took place, and before long our fame had spread well into the kitchen and occasionally even as far as the lounge. We were the original drum’n’bass outfit, as these were the only two instruments we owned, though the music lent more to the White Stripes than anything Jungle. And back then, I reckon, we were pretty-much a match for the White Stripes, not forgetting, of course that at the time the White Stripes would only have been about ten.

Before long, it became apparent that my co-conspirator was perhaps more interested in the Sex & Drugs than the actual Rock’n’Roll, and that our future probably wouldn’t involve playing three encores at Wembley. Having said that, he must have had his doubts too, as it was him who eventually pulled the plug, high-tailing it to London to indulge in a life of Sex & Drugs & Orthodontics.

So that was that.

There followed a few half-hearted sessions on a proper kit at drum-school, in spite of which I was miraculously overlooked as the replacement drummer for Oasis, and I finally had to accept that my Rock’n’roll career had ended before it had even begun, achieving precisely nothing other than finally achieving something vaguely approaching a properly long hair. And with that I decided to jack it all in and head off on my own solo world-tour, safe in the knowledge I’d never again strut my stuff playing in a Rock’n’roll band with fellow dentists who really should know better.

Or at least, so I thought...

“Listen, I’ve finally managed to get hold of a drum-kit you can play on.”

Oh Christ! How the hell was I going to get out of this one...?

As a sort of thanks for referring all our difficult cases, the Oral Surgeon holds an annual Christmas bash, at which both drinks and tongues tend to flow freely. At one such gathering a few years back Brian had let slip he strummed a mean guitar, at which Debbie piped up that I could play drums.

“Really!? You have your own kit?”

“No, uh, well, I mean, I don’t really play drums. Not any more.”

“Well, she says you do! Which is it?”

Deb had neglected to mention that she’d never actually heard me play drums as I hadn’t been anywhere near a kit in well over a decade, or indeed , since shortly after the demise of Dry Riser.

“Oh, you know, I used to play a wee bit years ago but I’m pretty sure I’d be not much good now.”

“Well, perhaps we should get together sometime, have a bit of a jam?”

“Oh,yeah, well... maybe one day, eh?”

Leaving it at that I managed to move the conversation on, realising that the lack of an actual kit would probably ensure it never came to pass, something of a relief as frankly these days I could barely even remember which end of the stick to hold.
Anyway, this brief conversation was years ago now, and I’d almost managed to blank it from my mind, quietly confident that Brian would have forgotten all about it too.

Unfortunately one of the pre-requisites for becoming an Oral Surgeon is to have a brain the size of an elephant, and Brian hadn’t forgotten a thing.

And so it turned out my past had come back to haunt me. Not only had a drum-kit been conjured out of the ether, but we actually had our first gig booked for early August.

“What, you mean this August?” I asked incredulously.

“Yeah, six weeks time. Orthodontics Golf Day.”

What this meant was that the audience at the very first gig I was ever to drum at, just six weeks away, would be comprised entirely of all my professional colleagues. Perfect!

By now panic was starting to set in.

I could feel the words SIX WEEKS branding themselves onto the surface of my brain.

And then the penny dropped.

Get Out of Jail Free Card.

“Oh, hang on, Brian, I’d love to, but early August, we’re away. Flying to Darwin for a week... all booked already. We’re not back till the sixth or seventh, so it’s no-can-do, I’m afraid.”

“Hmmm, well that makes things a little tight, I suppose, but luckily
Pre-Gig Warm-Up.Pre-Gig Warm-Up.Pre-Gig Warm-Up.

Luckily Bobby plays guitar way better than golf!
the gig’s not till the eighth. First practice is Sunday morning, my house.”

And with that he reeled off a list of about twenty tracks, some of which I’d never even heard of, that I should ‘probably try to learn’ by then.


So make that five weeks practice till professional humiliation then.

Sunday took an age to come round, with practice limited to forlornly drumming my fingers on the steering wheel as I drove. Eventually, though, the hour came round for my audition for the next ‘Take That’. And weirdly, when it did, I miraculously appeared to drum way better than I ever had, which, it has to be said, was still not very well at all, making me very much the Ringo of the band.

Still, it was enough for me to get the nod and become an official member of ‘The Pulpstones’, the second Rock’n’Roll outfit I’d been part of comprised entirely of dentists. And there’s probably not a lot of people can say that!

It seems the secret of me finally cracking something is to take a quick seventeen-year break. Makes me wonder what I’d be like at all the
Perks of the JobPerks of the JobPerks of the Job

and to think most bands only get their own plane after they've made it!
other childhood pursuits at which I’d once sucked... skating, horse-riding, chatting-up girls... I’d probably be right up there near Olympic standard in the egg-and-spoon race these days.

I felt probably this was a long enough break for now, though, and the next five weeks were spent frantically hammering away trying to recapture my mojo. Fortunately for our respective neighbours, Brian just happened to have an aircraft hangar up his sleeve set aside for the purpose, which I have to say felt properly Rock’n’Roll, like suddenly being signed up for U2. Then, of course, I spent a very long week fretting in Darwin (for which see my last blog), before the big night itself.

And I have to say, when it finally came around, it all went off pretty well.

It was Alright on the Night, the gig going with enough of a swing for us to get a second bite at the cherry a few months later, at the very same Christmas Party where the genie had escaped the bottle in the first place. By this time we were scrubbing up pretty well, proudly blaring out something approaching what my father would undoubtedly refer to as a
First Attempts at Rock-Star CoolFirst Attempts at Rock-Star CoolFirst Attempts at Rock-Star Cool

Unfortuately back in the very early days the closest thing to a rock-chick was my sister!
filthy racket, aided considerably by the addition of our very own saxophonist to add some super-cool, fortunately one far less bald and blue-skinned than his muppet counterpart.

Sadly (but probably to my father’s considerable relief) my hair has stayed strictly regulation length this time round, and I’m unlikely to be mistaken for Animal anytime soon. Then again, I suppose I’ve got ten months up my sleeve till the next Christmas party, so maybe that’s something we’ll have to work on!

Following our stunning second shot at superstardom we’ve had something of a hiatus, as cyclone season’s not such a good time to be hanging out in windswept aircraft hangars. I’m hoping we’ll be down there drowning out the jumbos again soon, though, and shortly thereafter are sure to attain bona-fide Rock God status.

Well, at least within the confines of our own heads.

Look out for us playing a stadium near you anytime soon!

As AC/DC will tell you, It’s a Long Way to the Top if you Wanna Rock’n’Roll.

And, let’s face it, in The Pulpstones’ case, it’s been one hell of a long way just get to the bottom.


15th February 2011

Apologies for this travelblog's unusual contents, but it's the closest I've been to a real journey in a while! Fear not...normal service will be resumed shortly...

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