THIS YEARS MODEL - Paul Laird Details His Time In A Band

Published on 11 November 2022 at 11:14

By Paul Laird

Author of "The Birth And Impact Of Britpop: Mis-Shapes, Scenesters And Insatiable Ones"


It wasn’t all about observing. Everywhere you  turned in the nineties saw you confronted by  boys and girls who were in a band. I wasn’t any  different...except for the fact that I didn’t have  any actual talent.  

Here, now is so very different to there and then. The  past is in the past. 

And yet...and yet...I can’t help thinking about it and us.  

There were four of us. 

But it was only ever really the two of us. 

It was always you and me. 

You and me always. 

Until it wasn’t. 


The Citrus Club in Edinburgh is an institution, if by  “institution” you mean; “shithole indie club where past  their best 30-somethings bump and grind to “Groovy  Train” by The Farm. It’s an ugly building on the  outside and, just like me, it’s even   uglier on the inside...dark, grey and miserable. It’s the  sort of place where one could imagine a Soviet era  drama filming the murder of a covert agent by KGB  operatives. Honestly, it’s horrid. I once overheard a  girl say to a boy, in an attempt to woo him, “You can’t  beat a bit of Tight Fit.” while “The Lion Sleeps Tonight”  played.  


At some point in 1997 I organised a The Smiths tribute  night there. I don’t know how I managed that...I had  no experience of DJ-ing, I didn’t know how to run a  club night and I certainly had no idea if anyone would  come. People did come though.   Just the sort of people I had hoped would come along;  boys with quiffs and girls who liked boys with quiffs.  People danced as I played The Smiths and Morrissey  records as well as Morrissey approved artists like  Sandie Shaw and The New York Dolls.   At the end of the night I got two telephone numbers;  one from a very pretty girl from Malta who was  studying at Edinburgh University and the other from  one of the boys with a quiff. 


A few nights later I called both numbers. The girl from  Malta answered and we arranged to meet in town the  following weekend. The boy was from Dalkeith. We  had chatted at the club about music and  

Morrissey...there had been some suggestion  of doing something together. There had also been  chat with the girl from Malta about doing something  too. The boy from Dalkeith and I didn’t want to do that.  We wanted to be in a band. He had told me he could  play guitar and that he wrote songs...I told him I could  sing.  


I can’t sing. 


As we talked on the ‘phone I decided to prove that by  singing the classic Morrissey track “Suedehead”. I  wasn’t serenading him...not really. I was serenading  him. A bit. I wanted him to like me. I wanted him to say  “You can sing a bit you know”. I wanted this to be like  the moment Morrissey met Johnny Marr. I wanted to  do something and to be someone. This boy, this  stranger, this quiffed up Dalkeither was my chance to  achieve both of those things. Never have so many  hopes and dreams been so closely linked to the  approval of someone from Dalkeith. 


“You can sing a bit you know” he said. 

“I love you.” I thought. 


Like a lot of young people I felt sure that an “ordinary”  life wasn’t really for me. I was absolutely convinced  that there was something unique about me and that  one day everyone else would notice and then I would  be elevated to the position of “someone”. Of course  that didn’t ever happen because, in truth, there was  nothing   unique about me and I certainly didn’t (don’t) possess  anything that even remotely resembles a talent. An  ordinary life is exactly what an ordinary person should  have...lives less ordinary are for the truly exceptional  like Dylan and Patti Smith or the exceptionally lucky  like anyone in Coldplay22. At that point in my life  though I was sure that I could mask how ordinary I  was by doing a very good impersonation of  Morrissey...I had the hair, I had the absolute  commitment to high camp and low opinions of anyone  who wasn’t me and, crucially, I now had someone who  could drag me to where I felt sure I should be. The  only difference was that I wasn’t a lyrical genius  waiting to be discovered. My little brother had a friend  who could play bass. We had tried to start a band  together a few months earlier...Britpop-lite; “The  Persuaders”. I’m not joking. “The Persuaders”. That  was my idea. Somebody should have said something  but nobody did and so it stuck. The band crumbled  without ever playing a gig. I told Matt, the bass player,  that I had met someone who could play guitar and  who wrote songs...did he want to be part of this new  entity? I had no idea if the boy from Dalkeith could  actually play guitar or write this point all I knew was his name and  where he lived. Sometimes you just know. Matt said he was in and so the three of us arranged to meet up  and see how things went.  


I had the keys to a local church hall and so we met  there one cold Saturday morning around two weeks  after the first ‘phone call. By that point I had also  found us a drummer called Andy. There we were, four  young bucks, a guitar, a bass, a drum kit, a  microphone, some great hair and a lot of, possibly,  misplaced belief in one another’s abilities.   The boy from Dalkeith picked up his guitar, tuned it  and then started to play something for us. He could play. 


He could write songs.  

This was going to be...special. 

His name was Keith. 

From Dalkeith. 


After a morning of playing together we had two or  three of this Midlothian Marrs songs down. They were  a brilliant mix of The Smiths miserablism, T-Rex glam and  Suede style. That’s how they sounded to other  people they probably sounded a bit, well, “meh”. It’s a  rare thing for a new band to be anything other than  “meh” at least to the ears and eyes of anyone outside  of their own circle of friends. I whooped, warbled and  wibbled my way   through each of the songs while Matt and Andy took  their guidance from Keith. He was the ringleader. The  musical maestro. He had a vision for this was  my vision too but, unlike him, I didn’t have the talent to  make the dream real. I felt good about having met him  and about having called him.  


It soon became clear that Andy wasn’t up to scratch. The first musical difference was upon us. Unlike Andy  Rourke23 and his heroin use there was no need for me  to leave a postcard on the windshield of our Andy  informing him he was no longer in... we just told him it  wasn’t working out and that was that.   Very undramatic. 


I was very disappointed. I had already begun to cast  myself in the role of Morrissey-lite and had been  looking forward to some drama but instead everything  had been very amicable. At this point we were still a  band with no name. Keith wanted us to be called  “Diesel”. He may well deny this now but it’s true. His argument was that it had a slightly industrial,  urban and gritty feel to it. My argument was that it 

was a terrible name for a band24. Admittedly it was a  better name than “Arctic Monkeys” but it was still  awful. I suggested “This Years Model”. It was a  headline on the front page of the Face magazine in  1993 ( a front cover that also featured an article on  Suede) and it was also a reference to the work of  Elvis Costello. It was perfect...the glamour of Kate  Moss, fashion, classic British songwriting and we  would never be dated. Slowly, surely the rest of the  gang were won over and so here we were...This Years  Model.  


We had a name. We had songs. We had the sort of  delusional belief in our own brilliance that only those  destined for greatness possess. We had no drummer.  We needed a drummer. Somehow Keith presented us  with Alex. 

Alex was a boy. 


A child.

Mind, body and soul. 

A boy drummer. 

Little drummer boy. 


Goodness only knows where Keith found him but  despite his lack of years and the fact that his voice  hadn’t broken he could drum and so he was in.  We managed to overlook the fact that he arrived at  rehearsal in his school uniform by focusing on the fact  that Suede had replaced Bernard Butler with the still  adolescent Richard Oakes. There is something very  un-rock ‘n’ roll about having a drummer who is playing  in his blazer. At times it looked like we were on the  slightly creepy old Channel 4 show “Minipops” where  children would mimic adult performers. Post-Saville  that show is even more disturbing than it was at the  time. 


Still, we were now a band again and the fact that we  occasionally had to help little Alex with his geometry  homework and get him home before 8 didn’t seem  that important in the grand scheme of things. We had  a voice, we had a songsmith and we had a rhythm  section. This was a band. This was our time. This was  it. Or at least that’s what we all thought. Like every  group of magpie eyed young boys in bands all across  the world we were hungry for the prize. We didn’t  really pause to think about the possibility of our not  being very, or any, good. We were all convinced that  our position as the sons and heirs to The Smiths was  only a gig or two away. Oh, nervous juveniles...what  became of you?  


For our first live appearance we herded together every  friend, former friend, girlfriend, friend of a friend and  wandering minstrel we could and encouraged, begged  and demanded that they come along to offer their love  and support. What that really meant was that we were  all terrified that our first live experience would be  played out in front of the proverbial one man and his  dog. We did maintain some dignity by not inviting  parents.  


Is there anything more horrific than the sight of young  bands playing to their screeching post- menopausal  mothers? The answer is; no. Nothing.  


The venue we were playing in was The Attic in  Edinburgh’s Cowgate and it had played host to some  truly memorable live events...not the least of which  was that now legendary evening when Coldplay and  Bellatrix shared the bill. Can you imagine what it  would have been like to have witnessed that? People  who were there still talk about it in Edinburgh  bars...sat in the darkest corners of the room,  surrounded by young people who want to know what it  was like to be so close to the man who would later  become famous for being a slightly less Bono-y Bono.  The answer to that question is, of course,  “underwhelming”.  The headline act were Johnny Panic. In Ben  Gunstone they had a lead singer who was so   incredibly attractive that even if he hadn’t been able to  sing, play guitar and write songs he would still have  amassed legions of followers desperate to be close to  him. Honestly, he was so good looking he may  actually have been too good looking. I’m no Brad Pitt,  more arm pit, but I’m not u.g.l.y either but my own  modest, moderate level of attractiveness (then...not  now, age has not been kind) was several leagues  below that where Gunstone reigned as champion. The music? 


Who cares about the music? We all know that nothing  is more important in life than looking good and being  good looking. 


They were the very best elements of Britpop without  any of the worst elements of Britpop. Melodies, wit,  charm, nods to the past but gloriously rooted in the  present. 


As we took to the stage that night I was suddenly very  aware of the fact that I was, in truth, not any sort of  singer and that in a few seconds everyone in the room  was going to be very aware of that fact too. What was  I doing? What if people laughed? What if people jeered? Why hadn’t someone stopped  this before now? Where was the toilet? Then Keith played the opening chords of our first song “Life on a  Ferris Wheel” and we were off.  


The next thing I remember is the sound of applause.  Not polite clapping but real, honest, heartfelt  applause. A bit of cheering and no jeering. A quick  scan of the crowd revealed that people we didn’t know  were clapping too. We were a band who were playing  our songs to people we didn’t know and those people  were enjoying them. A triumph.  


A Brit award for best new band could only be a  formality now surely? We played some more songs  there was a bit more clapping and cheering and then  we were off. I felt...a bit funny. I wanted to cry. I had  spent a lot of time in my bedroom singing along to  favourite records in front of the mirror. I had dreamt of  a life less ordinary. I felt sure that I was meant to  be...someone. On that stage that night I felt anything  but ordinary and I was sure, at last, that I was  someone. That sounds ridiculous to you I am  may even sound a touch delusional. I understand that.  


Looking back it is ridiculous and I was delusional.  

I was younger. I was more hopeful. I was also a bit  hopeless. 

Give me that one night. 


The boys from Johnny Panic liked us. We liked them.  A bond of trust was forged. When next they dragged  themselves North of the border we organised another  gig for both bands. It was a big 

one. Goodbye to The Attic, farewell to the small time  and say hello to...the Rothes Halls. 

Yes, the Rothes Halls. Second only to the Alhambra  Theatre in the list of top venues in Fife for rock and  pop. Don’t ask me how I did it, just know that you are  reading the thoughts and remembrances of a man  who once secured a co- headline gig for This Years  Model and Johnny Panic in the Rothes Halls in  Glenrothes.  


Despite my now near militant vegetarianism at that  point in time I was working, and eating, in McMurder.  Underneath the golden arches I was “lobby host”. I  was responsible for giving balloons to small children,  emptying bins, cleaning toilets and sweeping the  floors. What I actually did was to wander around the  dining room looking for attractive girls that I could try  and impress with my neatly pressed uniform and full  quota of stars on my badge. Shortly before the Rothes  Halls gigs I overheard two teenage girls in the  restaurant discussing the music that was being played  over the speaker system...they liked it. I liked it too. It  was my music.  


In a small rehearsal room in Leith, in the shadows of  Easter Road we would gather on Saturday mornings  and spend hours ploughing our way through Keiths  latest compositions. Over and over again. We really  wanted to be good. We really thought we could be.  We even harboured the dangerous idea that we might  be better than good. 


Eventually we had recorded four songs as a demo.  They were soon transferred onto cassettes (ask your  parents) and we crafted a suitably Smithsy front cover  for them. None of those tapes have survived...I have  the original CD recordings and they are all that  remains as evidence of a band ever having existed  outside of my own half- remembered memories. When I overheard those two girls talking about the  fact that they liked it and how they didn’t know who it  was I became positively giddy with pride and  excitement. I told them who that I was the singer in  the band they were listening to (something which may  well have been slightly cooler coming from somebody  who wasn’t dressed in a McDonald’s uniform...even if  I did have all five gold stars) and invited them to come  along to the gig...I told them I would put them on the  guest list. The guest list! Seriously. I was now slipping  over the line from overly confident to genuinely  delusional. 


When we arrived at the venue Ben (the too good  looking lead singer of Johnny Panic, remember?) took  me to one side. He had something to tell me. “So, our  band has an additional member tonight.” he said. I  couldn’t imagine why he thought I would care but I  nodded in a manner that I hoped conveyed whatever  response he was looking for.   “It’s Alain Whyte.” he carried on. “Sorry? It’s who?” I  said. I thought he had said Alain Whyte but I knew that  couldn’t be right because Alain Whyte was the man  who played lead guitar for Morrissey and who had  written more songs for him than anyone, including  Johnny Marr. It couldn’t be that Alain Whyte. Not here.  In Glenrothes.  


Playing second fiddle to my merry band of The Smiths  wannabesbutnevercouldbes. 

It was that Alain Whyte. 

It might not mean much to you but to those of us  touched by the hand of Moz this was...everything.  


In his book “Alma Coogan” Gordon Burn describes  how Alma would be amazed by the way in which men  would drape an arm around her for a photograph,  acting as if it was the most natural thing in the world,  trying desperately to appear nonchalant but as they  touched her Alma could feel the truth...feel the shiver  running through their bodies. That was me with  Alain...all stillness and forced cool while my heart  skipped several beats. He was lovely...warm and  genuine. He liked what we were doing and despite the  fact that he had played at Wembley and Madison  Square Gardens he seemed totally at home in a  venue that come curtain up was filled with...two  paying customers; the girls from McMurder. Both  bands played as if the hall was full, giving it everything  they had. This was what you had to do to get to the  top...empty, soul crushingly empty, venues in terrible  nowhere towns. 


After the gig my parents agreed to play host to two of  the band; Alain and Ben. As they lay in my little  brothers bedroom I could hear Alain talking to Ben...” Ben...Ben...I can feel God in this house man. These  people are lovely. Ben? Ben?” Ben was already close  to being asleep and the prospect of entertaining Al  and his spiritual insight into my family home didn’t  appeal. I lay grinning in the darkness of my own room,  delighted that a man who was responsible for writing  the music to the songs that made up the soundtrack to  my life liked me and liked my family. It was a good  night. That was the last time we played with Johnny  Panic. They released a single27, they were played on  real radio but not on Real Radio, they played some  more gigs, there was a bit of buzz and was  over before it really began. What followed was the  stuff of legend...prison, betrayal, hurt and broken  hearts. Alain carried on, at least for a bit, with  Morrissey and Ben released two fabulous solo albums  filled to the brim with melody, lyrical brilliance and raw  emotion. He should have had it all. That though is the  essence of the music business...even with good looks,  charm, wit and more talent than an arena full of Ed  bloody Sheerins it wasn’t enough. So what chance did  I have?  


When I was a young boy my parents took me to  Blackpool. The Pleasure Beach. As I sat next to my  dad on the Big Wheel I yelped with delight and when it  was time to clamber out I refused. The bloke running 

the Wheel told my dad I could stay on because my  screams of joy were good for business. Round and  round we went until, eventually, my dad managed to  persuade me to clamber off and return to our bed and  breakfast. Keith had a song called “Life on a Ferris  Wheel” and that little anecdote about my Blackpool  experience was how I chose to introduce it at our next  gig at a club called, incredibly, Jaffa Cake. I thought I  was being very Jarvis Cocker when, in reality, I was  probably being a bit of a cock.  


Honestly. Never mind, as I looked out at the crowd I  could see familiar faces but, amazingly, they were not  the faces of friends...these were people who had seen  us before and wanted to see us again. They were, oh  God thank you, fans.  


That is obviously stretching things a little...or possibly  a lot...but up there on the stage that’s how it felt. As I  blabbered on with my Ferris Wheel introduction Keith   grew weary and struck up the band. I laughed and  grinned at him. This was ace, me the fey, winsome,  fop at the front being kept in check by the gritty,  driven, devil on guitar.  


We had roles and we were playing them to perfection. What I didn’t know, what I couldn’t have known, was  that Keith wasn’t playing a role...he was erasing me.  


A few weeks after that gig I had accepted a job with a  soft drinks company. It paid a decent wage and came  with a company van. The only reason I took the job was because of the van. I saw the van as a means for  This Years Model to move forward. We could get  places and go places. It was, in my mind, a logical  thing to do and, frankly, a stroke of genius...I would be  able to fund us and ferry us. Perfect. 

Unfortunately Keith didn’t see it like that. Through Matt  I was told that the decision to take a job was, in effect,  a clipping of the wings of the band.


A  band meeting was called. I drove Matt to see Keith in  Dalkeith. The fact that this journey was taken in the  very van my new job had given me didn’t seem to  register with Matt. Once we were tucked up in Keiths  bedroom the future of the band was discussed. I  presented my argument, which was simply that a van  must be a good thing, with force. After a bit of  discussion we agreed to carry on, at least for a bit,  and see how things worked out.  


That “for a bit” turned out to be 72 hours. The  following Saturday morning Matt called me and  informed me that I was out. Keith would be taking over  as lead singer. My time as Morrissey to his Marr was  over before it ever really begun. I was angry. I left Matt  in no doubt about how angry I was. I stopped shy of  issuing a fatwa but the promise of ugly violence being  visited on him was certainly mentioned. I don’t think  I’d ever known betrayal. Here were people that I had  brought together, people who had been united by my  drive and desperation, people who would never have  known one another but for my efforts and here they  were telling me that I wasn’t needed. It was made  worse, of course, because I loved them. That’s not  true. I loved Keith. I thought he was beyond talented  and I knew that with him by my side I could reach my  goal of a life less ordinary.  


He didn’t love me. He didn’t need me. He now set  about forgetting all about me. 


Days turned into weeks and weeks turned into months  and then on into years. My anger and hurt solidified  into a real hatred. I didn’t speak to anyone from the  band again. Until one day I happened to be in a bar in  London and spotted Keith, he was working as the bar  manager. We exchanged pleasantries but inside I was  seething. I had been dismissed from the band  because my decision to take a job suggested a lack of he was working in a bar. I wanted  to drive my fist into his face. This was the insult that  the initial injury had been missing. There were a  couple of other chance encounters but never any  attempt to heal the wounds. What had promised to be  the best experience of my life was now a trail of bad  memories soaked in loathing.  


Of course it wasn’t as black and white as I’m painting  it. I wasn’t a great singer. I was barely a singer at all. I  didn’t write lyrics. I couldn’t play an instrument. Sure I  looked good and I did a neat turn in Morrisseyisms but  I didn’t bring much else to the party. Had I been  possessed of a great voice or a Dylanesque lyrical  brilliance then things would have been different. 

Keiths decision was motivated by these things not by  the fact I had a job. It also wasn’t a big deal for  him...these things   never are for people with talent. He didn’t, couldn’t,  understand how desperate it feels to want to be  someone when deep in your heart you know that you  are no-one. He has gone on to forge a career in  music, he plays and records with a band and even  manages to sell his songs to people outside his  immediate circle of friends. 

Well done. 


You’ve done well. 


It’s not an unusual story. Lots of boys with guitars play  in bands that never go anywhere. If they are being  honest with themselves they all believed they were  going somewhere. They might tell you that it was “just  a laugh” or “something to do” but the truth isn’t that  pure or that simple. The sort of boys who start bands  are driven by a desire to get out and get on. They  might talk about the band being a vehicle for sex or  drugs but that’s not true either. It’s about being  something bigger and better. Up on that stage, a room  filled with people looking at you, listening to  become someone and you can leave the small town,  the bruises of the bullies or the barking of the black  dog behind you. Nothing comes close. 


Nothing comes close. 

Some things go further.

Finding someone who loves you without the benefit of  an amplifier.  

Creating life. 

A career, a job, a way to earn money that brings real  hope into your own life and the lives of others. Friends  who care. 

This Years Model. 

Yesterdays news.