A bloke writes: Velvel underground
Journalist and novelist Andrew Martin is the author of the 'Jim Stringer' series of novels based around railways. He has written for the Independent on Sunday, the Evening Standard, the Sunday Times and the New Statesman among others.
Sunday 17 May 1998
Now this is disturbing. I have a big record collection, I've always loved pop music and, like most blokes, I've spent a lot of my time wishing I was Keith Richards. For a couple of years during the mid-Eighties, moreover, I was actually in a pop group. We were called Velvel, so that, when I became famous, I could say: "Velvel is a character in a Saul Bellow novel." Which is true.
We played a couple of gigs on the York wine bar circuit, after one of which I overheard a seasoned muso say that we were "about as tight as a circus net." Then we made and sent out a demo tape, which led to my being summoned to see Dave Dee, who was formerly part of Dave Dee Dozy Beaky Mick and Titch, and had gone on to become head of A&R at RAK Records.
Still reeling from my discovery that Dave Dee was one entity and not two (Dave and Dee), and after a nerve calming pint of Guinness, I entered the black marbled lobby of RAK in St John's Wood. There, standing by the reception desk, was a rock star-ish face. "Dave Dee?" I said, extending my hand, "Andrew Martin. You liked my demo tape." But no sooner were the words out of my mouth than I realised that this was, in fact, Micky Most, brilliant record producer, multi-millionaire owner of RAK, and terminator (as cold-eyed panelist on New Faces) of many a showbiz career.
A bad start. Dave Dee himself, however, was charming, although he did keep making and receiving phone calls as he re-acquainted himself with our tape. But then he played the tape again, and this time he really concentrated on it, by which I mean that he made and received significantly fewer phone calls this time around. "It's very commercial," he eventually pronounced. "Come back to me with a couple more songs."
Shortly after that, of course, the band broke up. Basically, the success of having someone suggest that we might eventually be a success had gone to our heads. I embarked on a series of solo projects, continuing to make demo tapes and thinking of myself as a potential pop star despite passing thirty, getting married, and having children. But what really brought home to me the fact that I would never be Keith Richards was the moment, last year, when I found myself applying to join the National Trust.
I still enjoy records, although, as I've gradually stopped listening to Radio One, my first exposure to new songs tends to be accidental - over pub juke boxes mainly, which can be embarrassing. "This is a good record," I'll say, down the boozer with my still-hip mate, Dave. "It's Michael Bolton," he'll sneer. "From his tribute album to the great operas of the world."
Part of my problem is that, being better off than my twentysomething self, I don't need to do all that research (reading reviews, watching Top Of The Pops) which ensures that my record money is not wasted. So there's no thrill in buying a record anymore; it's not the result of hard labour.
Above all, though, what's gone for me from pop music is the sex connection. I accept that I will never be a pop star-sex symbol; I no longer look at pop stars and think, yeah, with a bit of tweaking I could look sexy in that way; I have no immediate plans to pick up sexy women by dancing sexily in nightclubs. And without the sex, what are you left with here? Just tunes and words.
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