Saturday, 15 May 2010

Bands I Have Played In: Chapter One: The Tonic

[I played in Kiss My Brass before this, but that band/gang/coming-of-age story deserves a deeper, longer, sweatier explanation. It will come.]

The Tonic was a band I formed, at University, to play mainly my own songs. In fact, only my own songs. I was going through a Springsteen phase, and I wanted the E Street Band. I came [quite] close.

This was the line-up:

Zygmunt Day - Vocals, Guitar, Songwriting, Good Looks
Drew MacFarlane - Backing Vocals, Guitar, Violin
Conrad Steel - BV's, Cello
Freya Waley-Cohen - Violin
Andrew Tindall - BV's, Bass
Edward Herring - Keys
Joe Hyam - Drums

[Above] That's us at practise, in the music room at Selwyn College, minus Drew and Freya. I think Drew had choir practise, since he's in Trinity College choir. They are a talented bunch, they go on TV and everything. Here's a picture of Drew on Songs of Praise:

Absolute badboy.

[Above] Our First Gig at Churchill College. We Supported Lloyd Grossman that night, and his post-punk band The New Forbidden. Lloyd complimented my Gretsch. True story. "I own a couple myself!" he laughed. "Your pasta sauce is shit," I said.

Here's the flyer for the gig:

That gig was organised by the estimable Rhodri Karim, who, apart from producing squelchy and/or haunting electro, recorded some demos for us. If I have my way, those demos will never see the light of day, but the songs may yet emerge in some form or another. One of them already has. Kiss Me By The Car Park, a track off 'This City Has An Echo', evolved from a Tonic song, which had some pretty sappy lyrics about writing a poem in Paris or something equally limp. However, I'd indebted to Messers. Hyam, Herring and Steel for their help with the arrangement. Mr. Tindall made a particularly funky bass contribution to another track, which I've always liked. We'll have to see...

Things went a bit quiet during Easter term due to exams, but since I didn't have any as a first-year English student, I planned a whole "programme of events":

Three is a programme!

That June 13th gig was a weird one. As you can probably guess by the band name "Revolutionary Discipline" [They're now called Ragged Army] there was a definite political tone to the night's events, and that tone was definitely on the far-left of the spectrum. Being myself, I decided to dedicate one song to the quick recovery of Mrs. Thatcher's broken arm, which was received with a shocked silence, and a second song to the celebration of the Queen's official birthday, which actually got heckled. A guy in the audience shouted something like "the Queen's a bitch" to which I replied "The Queen is an upstanding member of the aristocracy and a role-model to the young women of this country. She upholds an ideal of British values and is an admirable figurehead for our proud nation." To which he eloquently replied, "I fucked the Queen!". I turned to the band, said "I'm surprised you can fuck anyone you fat cunt", and we played the song. I dunno if the band heard me, so I was denied my moment of triumph. Anyway I didn't want to publicly humiliate the guy, it's just not worth it. We played some more songs, and we were good. It was our best gig for sure.

The next one [15th June - check the programme] was an acoustic gig in Selwyn Chapel, which was a completely different atmosphere. I stood at the front with the band behind me, while people shuffled in and sat reverently in the pews, mostly in silence. I made a nice poster:

And we had a fair turnout. Here's a picture:

As well as playing all the songs we knew, Drew and I each played a solo song. I did a cover of Rancid's 'Ruby Soho', which I am definitely gonna try and record at some point, and Drew played one of his own songs, about his girlfriend at the time, which was really beautiful. Girls were swooning. I think I swooned a little bit. There were swoons all over. But that was cool, it was a really different gig experience to anything I've done before, as most of the gigs I play involve a room full of drunk middle aged men in the back of a pub. Hopefully I'll be repeating it next year, with different acts.

But that wasn't all - the indefatigable [See how big that word is? English degree paying for itself there] Rhodri Karim organised an outdoor "Garden Party" at Churchill College, so we returned, this time with more members and worse sound, for a lap of honour:

It was pretty cool, my mum was there. She said she liked us. Thanks mum. Also, there was a ball pit, a BBQ, and one of those inflatable walls where you put on a velcro suit, jump towards it and stick. Wicked. That said, it wasn't as good as the Union gig. But we didn't do too bad. It was also, unbeknownst [English degree again] to us at the time, to be our last gig.

There are a few reasons I decided to disband The Tonic:

1. Joe Hyam went to Paris to smoke Gauloises and hang out on the Left Bank of the Seine talking about Existentialism.
2. I recorded 'This City Has An Echo' and I wanted to focus on solo stuff, and smaller gigs with a smaller, acoustic band.
3. Rock music [seemingly] has no place in Cambridge, both in terms of the work schedule and the general attitude of the place. When The Tonic was practising, we once got kicked out of the music rooms for being too loud. We offered to turn ourselves down, but apparently the Fellow who had asked for us to stop had specified that we be disbanded. That [admittedly quite petty] experience illustrates the resistance that abounds here, as well as the general apathy of the student populace, to anything that might have soul. This is a great place to be an academic or a classical musician and a bad place to be a naughty boy from a comprehensive. But that's a whoooole other story.

That said, the musicians I met, and the experience I gained with The Tonic, fed directly into the musical development of 'This City Has An Echo'. We made something out of nothing, and managed to make it work for a good while. And we were pretty much the only ones doing it.

So there you have it: The Rise and Fall. Ashes to ashes, dust, etc.

[p.s. Just to clarify I think the Queen is great. God Save The Queen.]


  1. Very entertaining post, but I'm sad to hear that The Tonic's broken up - I really enjoyed the two gigs of yours I went to. On a minor point, can't one be an academic, a classical musician *and* a naughty boy from a comprehensive? I'm certainly trying, but maybe that's my problem.

  2. Yeah I guess that's kind of a reductive comment on my part.