“Stone picnic table, we’ve got a stone picnic table! Stone picnic table!” roared Bertie the Birdfeeder, otherwise known as Colin, into the mic to the tune of Guantanamera.
When Colin was in full flow like this, everything apart from the microphone was coloured a hazy grey. The world in front of his eyes didn’t register at all. He had no power to process it while he channelled every last drop of energy he could muster into his vocals. It was a state unlike anything else in life. Was it Jagger who said ‘I take to the stage as a mortal, and somehow, after the show’s over, I go back to being a mortal again’?
If his eyes focused on anything at all, it was just to loosely scan the area of space in front of him for any incoming projectiles. Nobody had mentioned the Pint of Piss since Take Me to Homebase reformed, which just went to show what a big deal it was – the proverbial urine-filled plastic pint glass in the room. The incident itself, during Undergradstock ’07, was still hard to visualise – consisting as it had merely of a sploshy container sailing past the corner of Colin’s eye and a skipped beat from Gaz the drummer. The smell had lingered a little longer – right until Colin had applied a wet cloth to wipe his sticky amp cables the following week. The distaste had lingered much further still – up to the point Gaz said he had to pack it in to study for his exams, and well beyond.
If Colin had looked up back now in 2018 while he whittled his way through the first lines of Algae on the Patio, there would have been a few ways to interpret the scene. The lone drunk flailing around the dancefloor showed someone was appreciating the music. Colin may not have been too keen on seeing the glamourous young lady sat at the bar had her back to the stage. He would have been less pleased to see her mouth “who the hell are this bunch?” to the friend she was waiting with to see the Ed Sheeran tribute act. He may have appreciated the smile on the manager in the grey blazer, who today seemed to be fairly accepting of his lot of operating a struggling music bar, when Colin stretched out the chorus “So lusciously green, but I’m gonna scrub you all clean.” The manager’s smile was kind and only moderately patronising.
Colin’s focus on singing disguised the fact that this wasn’t a time he wanted to see how the world was reacting. The band felt too raw since reforming to look into the mirror of popular opinion. The question of whether the world was ready for a post-punk band singing about garden furniture remained unresolved, after all. He hoped it was a question they were now too wise to linger on, in their 30s, 11 years clear of the insecurities of youth and the bitter smell of lobbed urine. In reality, it was a definite stumbling block. The unique selling point that had energised them when they started – a gutsy revelling in weirdness that allowed every raised eyebrow to drive them on – had soured back at university as any form of success floated well out of reach. Now the band’s unique flavour was just – well, plain weird. Colin’s Take Me to Homebase T-Shirt was still locked away in the attic – it wouldn’t fit him anymore anyway – and Gav had clearly deleted the video of one of their earlier performances on YouTube, despite denying this. Presumably nobody in the band had told any friends or workmates about the comeback gig, or else more people would be here. Colin had only told his wife, begging her not to come. He had thought about telling his 18-month-old daughter but decided against it – maybe he’d share his experience with her after the gig, if it went well.
Why were they back together then? Whatever the answer was, it wasn’t explainable with simple logic. Tommy, the bass player, had written to the rest of the band out of the blue, sending a copy of some photos from the old uni gigs he had found in the attic. Jim on lead guitar had joked how “young and not that unpretty” they had all looked and asked if anyone still played or performed. Two weekends later, they were assembled in the spare bedroom of Gaz’s house, instruments and mic at the ready, sipping coffee, smiling and commenting on Gaz’s glazing, when once upon a time it had been cider, growls and comments on female students.
“Thank you, thank you, Masters Music Bar!” Colin shouted into the mic as the song ended. He didn’t bother pausing for applause. The manager had just taken his hands out of his blazer to start clapping by the time Colin turned and gestured to the other three to start the next song. Jim angled his guitar and stroked the strings to begin the solo that commenced Unblocking the Lawnmower at Sunset.
The morning jam at Gaz’s semi-detached house had quite simply been the most uplifting few hours Colin had spent in years. He had been nervous beforehand, unsure why they were putting themselves through this. Tommy had dusted down a book with the lyrics of all their songs in. They had laughed and laughed reading through them about the ridiculousness and downright mystifying nature of some of the lines.
“ ‘Glistening like snail marks on the fence, thirsty like a rosebush, I will thrive, I will fly?’ who the hell wrote that one?” asked Tommy during the jam session. Red in the face, Colin had raised his hand to laughter from the others.
Colin tapped into this energy from their reunion now that he was on stage belting out the soft tones of their penultimate song. Nobody had suggested doing anything more than this one comeback performance. Somehow it all felt a little more comfortable now than it had back in the day though. There were no longer any sky-high ambitions to be the most popular band at the university, to send demo tapes into Radio 1 or to work on new material instead of looking for jobs straight after graduating. In their second carnation, Take Me to Homebase seemed at ease with their status as no more than a molehill in the vast musical landscape. The unspoken, unconsidered reason (until now) for their reunion, Colin reflected, was to channel the creative energy that had gotten so tangled by the lust and idealism of male youth, so damaged by the inherent insecurity of their earlier selves, and allow this to flourish one final time in this smoother environment – so the band could end on a high.
Colin grinned with eager anticipation as Unblocking the Lawnmower at Sunset ended. Bertie the Birdfeeder was next – a slow, sombre tune to end the set. It was about a senile old man wandering into open gardens to feed birds until the police apprehend him for trespassing. Colin smiled with approval as the stern teenager operating the lighting for the venue implemented their instructions to dim it ahead of the chorus of “Ok, officer, d’ya have sparrows at the station too?” Colin closed his eyes, listened to his voice booming out of the speakers for a split second and heard Jim start his final, colourful solo, with more ease and style than he ever remembered from the old days. The dimmed lighting would have made it tricky to see much across the empty dancefloor, even if Colin’s eyes were open. Colin therefore missed the young man with a notebook in detailed conversation with the bar manager.
Colin’s phone pinged the following Thursday at the office. A notification alerting him of another message from the band’s WhatsApp group popped up. He sighed, as he was currently engrossed in the accounts of a haphazard client, and he didn’t want to lose his mental note of various movements needing to be made in the Excel sheet.
“Interesting band reviewed in today’s Journal, wouldn’t mind watching them some day,” Gaz had written.
Colin tapped on the photo of the ‘Culture and nightlife’ page of the local paper, puzzled. Then he saw an obscured image of himself wailing into the microphone, and he smiled.
‘Something definitely different’ was the headline.
I won’t lead you down the garden path, Take Me to Homebase are not everyone’s cup of tea on a sunny afternoon in a deckchair. As quite possibly Chippenham’s sole horticulturally-themed post-punk band, they add an undeniably explosive element to the town’s placid music scene. The energetic days of youth may be behind the four members of Take Me to Homebase, but at approximately half the age of the Rolling Stones, they were still capable of getting Masters Music Bar bouncing. Synching raw experimental zaniness with skilled instrumental play and passionate vocals, their bold and extremely original music made this reviewer tap his feet even more often than he scratched his head. Colin Tuttelwell’s powerful vocals were accompanied with aplomb by Gareth Thomas on drums, James Duckworth on lead guitar and Tom De Souza on bass. Having reformed after a decade’s hiatus, the question of whether Take Me to Homebase will grace the town’s stages again remains shrouded in mystery – or whether it will be like Hendrix at the Isle of Wight Festival, and if you weren’t there to see them, you never will. The only disappointment is that their lyrics don’t extended beyond the topic of garden furniture. 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Colin stopped at the newsagents on the way home, searching through the pile of Journals to find the best-looking copy. He read the review again and smiled as he handed over his one pound fifty. He briefly considered mentioning his fame to the cashier, but he didn’t want to appear boastful. She was also around 15 years younger than him and had the look of someone who would find a boast from an older man downright annoying and strange. He consoled himself with the knowledge his wife would offer her gleeful congratulations, and the paper could be stored away safely to show his daughter his moment of fame when she was able to read.
His phone buzzed again.
“Fantastic!” wrote Jim. “I don’t know if I’ll be able to jam again on a Saturday though as my little ones are starting their swimming again when term starts.”
“Yeah my boy’s taking up rugby as well this year! That’s pretty much the whole weekend booked up,” added Tom.
Colin tucked the newspaper under his arm to write a message. “Never mind lads, we had some fun while it lasted, didn’t we?” He then skipped out of the newsagents’ door.