There’ll be fireworks…

Another day, another dollar. Serves me right for getting a part time job in a sweatshop, I suppose…

There are days, of course, when we all feel like that. For The Layers, the evidence would be that the last few weeks have been a bit of a slog: you can see the weight of responsibility (Caleb, Paul and Roo) and relentlessly  burning one’s candle at both ends (Neil) taking its toll on the band members. Energy levels are dangerously low and there may well be a small, unconvincingly Scottish gentleman running around somewhere in Rupert’s innards worrying aloud about the state of the dilithium crystals.

They say that every cloud has a silver lining – possibly as a result of serious industrial pollution. In this particular case the reflective precipitate in question has been a relatively fecund period in terms of our song writing. It raises the question about hardship and art. Personally, I’ve often found it difficult to write happy songs – as Fish once remarked, you’ve got better things to be doing than writing songs when you’re happy. Maybe so. There always used to be a cathartic element to the song writing process for me. I’ve heard the theory ventured recently that the same is true of society, that we are more artistically motivated in times of hardship. Perhaps we need a little suffering to wake us up, make us think. Maybe we’re not using our full capacity until we’re threatened somehow.

If that’s the case, then maybe this new ‘age of austerity*’ will trigger an artistic revival. Good grief, perhaps people will even start to remember how to make their own fun? I hope so. I’d like to think that a bit of blitz spirit will be the upshot of some potentially bleak times and that we’ll deal with the bad days by having some great nights: gathered together in one house to save a bit of fuel, singing, laughing, sharing food and songs and good times.

Which reminds me, The Layers are available for acoustic house gigs…

Of course, hard times only last so long. Eventually, discontent leads to revolution. Remember, remember the 5th of November. It’s an expression – there’ll be fireworks –  for a reason.

*The value of austerity may vary depending on social class and prior Bullingdon club membership. If you fail to notice a drop in your standard of living, please consult a member of the underprivileged classes who will be happy to help you out with a richly deserved kicking.

A song for anus-day*

Sometimes it pays to take stock. I’ve been stealing Oxo cubes from my local supermarket for four years now and I just e-Bayed the lot for sixty quid.

By a strange coincidence, it’s also four years or thereabouts since The Layers started writing songs together which, tonight, is my other prompt for stocktaking.

Tonight was one of those rehearsals that reminds you why you do it. We were all pretty tired when we turned up tonight; all having that <sigh> feeling as we loaded the gear into our cars. I still have burned milk powder in my hair, Paul had to leave promptly to go back to work… it’s nights like this that can really test the resolve of a band members that are doing it purely for friendship and love of music. Sometimes, your resolve is rewarded. Tonight was one of those nights. A couple of warm up numbers and then we prepared ourselves to get down to some work on new songs – often the hardest part of an evening: stops and starts, repetition of tricky sections, misunderstandings.

‘Red Roses’ – a song we’ve toyed with on and off for over a year – finally has structure and sense and we made it all the way through it for the first time tonight.

Better still, an entirely new song: ‘Mercy Kill’ went from a half-idea cooked up at a jam last week in Roo’s illness-enforced absence to more or less a complete song.

Sometimes, through the grind of delayed rehearsals, head-colds, distractions, lack of energy and all of the other things that can dog you through a lean period, you can lose sight of where you’re going. It helps when an evening like tonight makes you think back to where you’ve come from. Thinking back four years to those evenings in the back room of the Ormond’s Head, it took so long for some of the ideas that we bounced around to even start to look like a song.

Tonight, we could see even after a few tentative stabs at ‘Mercy Kill’ how it was going to work out. We’ve come such a long way and grown closer as musicians and friends.

By an odd coincidence (yes, another) today happens to be my birthday. I’ve been showered with best wishes and some really thoughtful gifts. I’m very lucky to have the friends that I do.

By far the best present that I’ve had today, though, is to be able to create a couple of new songs with Caleb, Paul and Roo. There really are some things that money can’t buy.

Now, does anybody want to buy six hundred jars of Bovril?

Neil out.


*It’s like this: I received “feliz cumpleanos” by way of birthday greetings from Chile via Facebook. Unfortunately, without being able to add a vital squiggle above the ‘n’, it translates as “happy anus-day” – by far the funniest birthday greeting I’ve had in a long time…

What’s in a name?

I’ve been asked a couple of times in the last two weeks: “Why are you called The Layers?”  I’ve taken this as an enquiry about the name of the band, rather than confusion about my own identity and entered into a brief account of how you go about picking a name when you start out as a band.

For some reason, though, it’s got me thinking about names in general, partly as I’ve been noticing the names of some of the friends that Facebook suggests for me and something that used to confuse me a little has become clear.

When I was younger, I used to find it odd that there were ‘old people’ names, like Mabel and Humphrey, that nobody was called any more. I imagined that there was some government agency that pulled up outside your door when you retired, stuck a moustache on your wife, gave you a pair of trousers that came up to your armpits and said: “Congratulations, you’re officially old folk. Your new names are Sidney and Edna and you may now start driving brown cars.”

Of course, all that happens is that names fall out of fashion and often don’t come back unless they’re immortalised by canonisation or biblical significance. My own name, for instance, was briefly in vogue after the moon landing in 1969 but will soon be associated with high waistbands and nonsensical anecdotes (although, in my own case, the latter is already somewhat true).

Where modern inspiration for names comes from is becoming a new mystery -celebrity choices are common, of course, but I wonder where the inspiration to call your kid Chardonnay, Champagne or Zinfandel come from? If it’s following Jack (son of Ernest) Hemmingway’s example of naming children after the wines that were drunk on the nights of their conception then surely there would be a lot more kids around called Kronenbourg and Rohypnol?

Don’t get me wrong, I’m all for creativity and there are names taken from mythology and other languages that are quite beautiful, but the ones named after foods; Cherry, Cinnamon and so on just strike me as weird. “Hi, I’m Pork Featherstone and these are my kids, Kumquat and Oregano. My wife, Chlamydia, is just parking the car.”

I guess when you’re picking a child’s name, that you want them to be unique and special. Hopefully you give a little thought to them not spending every other day at school having the living crap kicked out of them too.

When you pick a band name, you’ve got a similar issue. You want to be unique (we failed on that front) and you try to tread a fine line between pretentious (Clouds of the Everything) and having a ‘joke’ name (Doc Sausage and the Cheesy Helmets) without picking a name that you can only get away with if you’re a student band (Nematode, Cynthia, Garth Vader). Avoiding those pitfalls, you then have to find a name that doesn’t misrepresent your music – a folk duo called Killspike or a thrash-punk outfit called The Buttercups are just going to confuse the hell out of audiences.

So the general procedure is to throw names in a hat, give each member of the band one or two vetoes and then pull them out until you end up as, in our case, The Layers.

A few years on, though, I’d at least like to think that there was some sense to the selection. It wasn’t what we were thinking about at the time but I think that some of our songs do merit some peeling back of layers. I’d like to think that there’s depth there and something worth digging deeper to find.

Beneath the way that we portray ourselves through media like this, too, there’s a little more going on. The Layers isn’t just a band; we’ve shared ideas and experiences that have changed us and there are depths and layers to our friendships that run far beneath the surface.

So, there may not have been much reason other than chance that we were called The Layers originally but there are plenty of reasons now why it was a pretty good choice.


Boldly going…

It’s been a while since the blog was updated, for various reasons, but regular readers should (aside from getting their heads examined) not worry: all is relatively well at Layers HQ. There was a short period there when it seems that we would be without a drummer but we’re delighted to report that Roo is back in the back-seat driving position of percussionist extraordinaire, new material is taking shape (or at least being beaten into a shape other than ‘pear’)  and we’re looking forward to a festive gig this Saturday.

This brief missive, though, is triggered by a friend who looked up a word from ‘I have no mouth yet I must scream’, thinking that I’d made it up. I have indeed, made up the word ‘pornnui’, it’s a portmanteau of porn and ennui, I’ll let you leap to your own conclusion about the meaning. This little addition to the language, though, has had the effect of pushing The Layers way up the Google search results. Look up ‘pornnui’ and, as it turns out, there we are, result number six or seven.

So, we might not have any current plans for world travel at the moment, but it’s good to know that we’re still pushing back the frontiers, even if it’s just by making up words.

Have a splenetic evening.