Everyone remembers his or her first time. And even though we started young, real young, my first time wasn’t with British India.
I lost my onstage V plates during an earlier musical endeavour under the regrettable name of ‘Zoomorphius’. Lifted from a psychology textbook, zoomorphism means to act like animals. For boys in their early teens, that’s not much of a stretch. This was the first in a long tragic list of terrible bands, leading up to the slightly less terrible band I am in now.
For the sake of context, Zoomorphius was an ephemeral experiment. In those days, if you lived near someone who had a cheap knock-off bass or drum kit, you were automatically in a band with them. Brothers in arms forever, or at least until you weren’t. Genre clashes and personality differences were a minor detail.
Our drummer was a John Bonham wannabe; we spent hours jamming in his shed while another friend packed bongs for him. He would hold down the beat one-handed as he indulged. We eventually disbanded when his weed dealer ran dry. (During a rehearsal his creative vibe sunk into an abysmal quagmire from which he never truly recovered. His temper quickly reduced the bass player and myself to the children we actually were, and we awkwardly called our parents to be picked up. Our dreams were dashed; back to the drawing board.)
This was the first in a long tragic list of terrible bands, leading up to the slightly less terrible band I am in now.
But before the curtains were drawn, Zoomorphius seized the opportunity to enlist our services in our Catholic all-boys school’s talent show.
It was a rainy school day, circa 1999. Me and two other misfits – whose parents also had the poor foresight of purchasing amplified instruments – hung nervously by the side of a makeshift stage at lunchtime. Our support act was an array of equally alienated students doing BMX tricks or break dancing. My personal favorite, however, was a young man who sat emotionlessly while his friend inserted Derwent pencils into his enormous hair, one pencil at a time.
On any other day, no one would have come to see the talent show: kids would have been outside hustling for tuck shop money, or playing downball in the quadrangle. Most people are aware the word ‘talent’ is often stretched to its limits when used in the context of a high-school show.
But the rain had other ideas, and instead we were faced with a hall full of disinterested youths seeking shelter from the storm. The distinctly stale smell of soggy school blazers and Lynx Africa hung heavy in the air.
Rock’n’roll was far from what the kids were listening to at the time, so the odds were stacked against us. My executive decision not to include a beat boxer in our outfit was starting to seem like a bad one.
Three conquistadors of rock, we nervously put one scuffed Clarks rubber shoe in front of the other and plugged in our instruments. The familiar sound of feedback brought a tense hush to the room.
My fingers started hammering an intro riff on the strings. We gave each other terrified looks that meant, “Here goes nothing”.
Our drummer counted us in, and three hormone-addled idiots blinded by the lights of stardom and unbridled ambition launched into the most machismo-laden, over-the-top version of Hendrix’s ‘Foxy Lady’ since Woodstock.
One thing worth mentioning is that none of us had the nerve to be the singer of the band, so this was an instrumental version – in which I took every opportunity to fill each tiny gap of space with another arrogant guitar lick.
Slowly I began to notice our gusto and passion were actually resonating throughout the room. It was the first time I ever had the feeling of connecting with, and entertaining, an audience. I pulled out every cliché I had ever seen: I duckwalked like Angus Young; I windmilled like Pete Townshend. I rocked around the clock like Bill Haley. But it wasn’t enough! I wanted all of their attention! I wanted the full force of a transcendent devotion!
So I did the only logical thing and began playing my guitar with my teeth. If you listen hard on a cold, windy night, shouts of “Hey, it’s the guitar teeth guy!” can still be heard haunting the hallways and locker rooms of St Bede’s College. This moment garnered pats on the back from older students for years to come. It is the tail of the dragon I have been trying to recapture ever since.
Looking back, the sound was probably horrible.
Our performance was a humble moment that pales in comparison to some of the unique opportunities I have had playing with British India. We were without a doubt hideously out of time and tune in equal proportions.
But god it felt good.
Nic Wilson is the guitarist for British India.
Photo by BJWOK