Don’t let your ego get in the way of success

Ayd Instone John Bloor Jason BlundellWhen I formed my first proper band aged 17 we were almost ready to take on the world. By that point I’d written close to 100 songs (and bandmates John and Jase were writing good stuff too). But we had a problem.

With the exception of Mark on drums, we all played guitar. John was far and away the best lead guitar, but both Jase and played rhythm. We had no bass player. With hindsight it’s easy to see that either Jase or me should have switch to bass, even if just for gigs. A year later both of us independently bought bass guitars to use on our recordings and we both quickly learned to be quite good at it. I even enjoyed it (and still do).

The reason neither of us did what was so obviously needed is the same reason that other enterprises fail, be they bands or businesses: we were both totally stubborn and had fixed ideas about what we wanted to do.

Let’s compare this attitude with the early Beatles who faced exactly the same dilemma 26 years earlier. They had three guitar players. John’s artist friend Stuart Sutcliffe had played bass in the early Hamburg gigs, sometimes so badly that he’d turn his back to the audience so no-one would notice he’d be playing the wrong notes. But he had left to continue his painting and be with his German girlfriend, photographer Astrid Kirchherr.

So that meant they had no bass. Who was going to switch, John, Paul or George? It wasn’t going to be George because he was lead guitar which is something you usually can’t do when singing. As George wasn’t going to be a full-time front man it made sense for him to stay on lead. John was stubborn and refused as he identified the guitar as the front-man’s instrument. I bet he’d realised that it would be too hard to pay bass and sing too. I think that Jase felt that way too. In retrospect I should have been the bigger man, like Paul, who switched to bass without fuss. Paul’s genius with melody enabled him to play some of the greatest bass lines in popular music whist singing the main vocal line live. The Beatles then had the perfect line up to create their sound.

My band, The Jinx on the other hand, were stuck with two rhythm guitars and no bass, creating a thinner, trebly sound live with no low end to drive it. As I found out much later, I was perfectly capable of playing bass and singing live. If only I hadn’t put my fixed ideas and stubbornness in front of the big picture.

The lesson learnt: sacrifices may need to be made for success.

Having fixed, immovable ideas can hold you back. I didn’t want to play bass because I wanted to be the John in the band, not the Paul. There were even four members of the band because that was the magic number: anything to be like the Beatles, that was the model. But trying to shoehorn our quite different attributes and personalities into a preconceived model was foolish. It disregarded each individual’s uniqueness for the sake of an fixed idea. A decade later, I found that we were a better band as a threesome, ‘a power trio’. It took that long to break away from trying to follow the wrong prescription.

The lesson learnt: have a model to follow, but don’t make it above question and change it if needed.

The band contained yet another example of this. I’d taken the model of each member of the band being of equal status with Jase and I being the two front men (i.e. the John and Paul), John taking George’s role and Mark as Ringo. In many ways it would have better suited us if I’d been less fair on the spotlight and pushed myself forward as the singer/songwriter and had the rest, as ‘my band’. At the time, that model would have shown our uniqueness clearer to agents and bookers. But Cliff and the Shadows or even Bob Dylan and The Band were not my models. Putting as the main face could have been better, but so too could the idea of making Jase the figurehead. I recently saw a picture of a young Elvis Presley. Out of the corner of my eye I thought I’d seen a photo of Jase, circa 1989. Again, the arrogance and insecurity of my youth did not allow me to realise that we could have sold the band off the back of Jase being pushed to the front instead of me. His tall, dark and handsome Elvis look complete with quiff was exaggerated by his adoption, unlike me, of contemporary late eighties fashions which owed more to the late fifties than the then alienness appearance of sixties fashion which I was looking for. What’s more people came to see Jase, or more importantly, girls came to see Jase. They didn’t come to see me. I thought they should have done, after all, I was the songwriter and band leader. It took me years to discover that girls don’t care about such things. Not when there’s a better looking guy stood there.

The lesson learnt: get the right people in the right roles irrespective of your own ego.

Pride is a hard thing to swallow. Geeky-looking Manfred Mann pushed cool-looking Paul Jones and then Mike d’Abo to front his band. Noel Gallagher knew that his brother Liam was the face that would sell Oasis.

Bill Stainton picks up the best example of this in his book ‘The 5 Best Decisions the Beatles Ever Made’ when he points out that the biggest thing John Lennon ever did, as an arrogant and confident teenager, on the lookout for success and girls, who already had a working band, was to let young upstart Paul McCartney into his band. Paul was better looking, more popular with the girls, a better singer, better guitarist and was also a songwriter like Lennon. Paul was the most deadly rival a cocksure and yet insecure pubescent Lennon could ever have faced. And yet Lennon was big enough, strong enough and far sighted enough to realise that sharing the front of the stage and sharing the glory with this rival would make a better band with a better chance of success. Lennon was proved to be right and was a far bigger man than I was at the same age.

The lesson learnt: bring in people better than you.

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For the Record: Paul the Psychic Octopus

Click here to watch the video: Paul the Psychic Octopus song

Every now and then I manage to think of an idea good enough to turn into a slightly funny song and see if people on the internet want to run with it. The last one was about the MPs expenses scandal. My new song about the World Cup oracle, Paul the Psychic Octopus has eclipsed that. At time of writing the hits on YouTube have passed the 1200 mark.

For the record, here’s what I did.

I was bashing around some chords on the guitar on Sunday night and had the idea, but no real lyrics. The next gap in my schedule when I could work on it was Wednesday 14th. That morning I got all my recording equipment set up: guitars, amps, mic and stand, cables etc. This was the intent: I was going to write, record and film a song today. Nothing else. So I sat down with the guitar and wrote the first two verses and chorus. When you tune in your creativity, set the intent, it can flow. I called my good friend and football expert Jeremy Nicholas to make sure I didn’t cause a faux pas by using the incorrect pronunciation of vuvuzella (which nicely rhymes with paella). After a coffee I finished off the last verse, typed it up and printed off the lyrics. I then had a think through about what video footage I might be able to shoot that day to illustrate the lyric. I jotted down a few ideas; the egg, the boxes with lids and the saucepan.

Then the recording began. I fired up Logic Pro on my MacPro and recorded the acoustic guitar (my Rainsong WS1000) in one take, leaving a gap for the did-did-did-did break I planned to play later on bass and electric, inspired by the Vanilla Fudge rendition of ‘You keep Me Hanging On’ which I felt suited the song.

Then I recorded the main vocal, again in one take with an SM58 mic and pop screen. I decided that I should only apply harmonies to certain lines in the verse and the chorus so rehearsed a few variations and recorded in two takes for the first backing and four takes for the second harmony.

Then it was time for the bass. Spent 30 minutes devising a suitable bass line and then recorded it in two takes. Then it was the turn of my Epiphone Casino. I miced up the amp set to a mild overdrive and worked out and recorded a lead line in four takes based in the twidle I’d played one on the acoustic at the start of the song. Again, I didn’t want to make the recording sickly by covering it in a wall of sound so I played the riff every other bar.

The hardest part was the drums. The first time I’d every played drums was at Christmas so I knew I’d have to do something really simple. I worked out a rhythm first for the verse and chorus and then started playing along, trying to keep in time and get the changes right. But I couldn’t get the MIDI to work properly. It wasn’t registering the closed hi-hat, no matter which sound bank I used, there was also some ‘latency’ – an annoying delay due to the digital to analogue conversion. So I gave up on that and took a stereo line out from my Roland TD4 and that worked fine.

So the song was finished. I left it for an hour before mixing it, then started on the video. The first shoot was me miming to the song in front of the camera. But since the song was so new I hardly knew the words so actually only gained a small bit of footage. I made up for it by shooting the previous ideas I’d had with the toy octopus and Ferrero Roche boxes after printing out flags for the containers, plus a few extra ones with a football. I didn’t have any mussles so used gurkins for the octopus food. The only part of the whole process where I needed help was with throwing the ball at my head which my wife gladly did.

Then I converted the footage to Quicktime and used Final Cut Pro to put it all together. By the end of the day it was ready and was uploaded to YouTube first thing Thursday morning.

You can hear the finished song, read the lyrics and download the mp3 here.

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