Sleepyhouse was my first proper band. We were, as one of our friends put it, “a shambolic teenage riot”. We were barely proficient with our instruments, with three of us playing ‘seriously’ (I use that term loosely) for a matter of months, while our drummer, Adam, was a very talented guitarist. As shambolic as we were, though, we had some good tunes and an energy, camaraderie, and swagger that you’d attribute to the best bands. For us, though, those qualities came with being in our late teens. We were great, though; a mess of a band, but for about 2 years – 1998 to 2000 – we were on a wave of enthusiasm that made us the best band out there.
How did it start? Well, Kev, Alan, and myself were school pals who listened to the same music. The odd kids in our year. Kev and I had been making a bit of a racket for a few months much to the chagrin of our parents. Tuneless strumming and abstract words strung together. We even performed two songs as an interval side attraction at a school show thing as Sulk (named after the Radiohead tune and we thought it was clever cause we were teenagers, innit). My girlfriend at the time was our drummer cause she could actually play a little bit (she could also read music… though that wasn’t something that she could teach me, cause, well, who needs to read music?) and, well, we really couldn’t play (undisputed fact) and we didn’t perform in public again.
Alan picked up guitar pretty easily and joined us a bit later. Bringing his Slash inspired licks. We left school and attended different colleges. But we wrote some songs. The Robster, who I met at college, completed the line-up and we set about polishing our songs. The problem was that, despite saying he was, The Robster wasn’t a drummer. We established this quickly. His departure was memorable thanks to a crash symbol near enough scalping him. Our next attempt at securing a drummer was simultaneously more and less successful. A drummer more talented than each of us at our chosen instruments who helped us through a gig as the entertainment during a fashion show. Kinda like playing the Superbowl, I guess. But on a much smaller scale… and with fewer people… and with people playing dress up rather than American Football. Fun times.
Anyhoo, it was a chance meeting one night with a busker and his pal Adam that changed things. Y’see, Adam was a guitarist, but he said he played drums a bit and he was interested. I don’t remember the exact details, but I assume we sold him on our band being pretty brilliant and complete with a songwriting team to rival that of Jagger and Richards, Bacharach and David, Leiber and Stoller, King and Goffin, or, dare I say, Holland, Dozier and Holland! Truth be told we had none of that. We three had hijinx and ideas a plenty, though. So we jammed. We got along. We wrote songs. Well, we jammed ideas that would eventually become songs and we all contributed. We had a laugh and Adam fitted in. Within a short space of time we were a gang. I can’t quite remember when we named ourselves Sleepyhouse, but we did. Sleepyhouse, y’see, was one of our (Alan and I) favourite Blind Melon songs. I don’t remember there being any big discussions or objections around it. It just seemed to fit us.
Our songs were an interesting mix of ramshackle rock riffery and shuffle. We had the usual influences for guys our age – Nirvana, GNR, Reef and a sprinkling of Blind Melon. Lyrically, it was improvised and dealing with the kinda things teenagers dealt with – y’know, the emotional cycle of change, relationships, angst, indifference, drinking, and other more abstract stuffs. Rehearsals were great, too; productive and with just the right amount of hijinx. We left the studio as a group with some walk and talk and stop and chat about the night’s work.
My way of ‘writing’ was established in those early days… improvising and repeating until a line, phrase, or melody stuck. Ranting… jamming… whatever you want to call it. I just sang and caught words that stuck with me. Alan had a style that was heavy influenced by Slash and Joe Perry. He had that swagger, too… Les Paul slung low and dressed like he was straight out of a forgotten 70’s outfit. His playing had a distinctive jagged edge… like a carpenter working on wood. Kev’s playing was also distinctive (still is) with him pulling notes and, whether following the guitar or not, punched his way through the song’s landscape. Adam was a guitarist first, but his drumming style was integral to the Sleepyhouse sound… the cymbol crashing and its incessant whispering adding a layer to the songs that complimented the jagged edge of the guitar and much needed treble to the punch and distortion of the bass. It was like the sound of water running while the toms rumbled and all that jazz. Man, it was busy. In a Bonham way, I guess. It was a marriage of styles that worked.
We played pretty much every other weekend. Often at Glasgow’s The Arena (seriously, bands that play a venue as often and as regularly as we played there, would be considered a resident band), Strawberry Fields, the odd appearance at Fury Murry’s or Strathclyde Union, not to mention our very own SleepyFest at The 13th Note and a memorable night at the Cathouse.
Y’see, Sleepyhouse was at its best when we were a gang and the gigs could be the best thing ever, but also the worst. But, y’know, no matter how bad we were on stage, we enjoyed being there and playing the songs. We had set staples and threw in the odd cover. We had a bunch of folks who would come out to see us play. It was like one massive party (and there often was one later at Alan’s gaff after gigs). We recorded a couple of our tunes (Bob Dylan’s Grandmother, Spend The Night and The Bridge) and we were riding a wave. Then things changed. The dynamic between us changed. Alan had become a focal point and his view of what Sleepyhouse was and should be was absolute…
Like any band, there were line-up changes. Not the likes of Deep Purple or anything, but a few. Kev’s mate Pete joined in early 2000 or so and though he was a smashin’ guy and a proper good guitar player to boot (a considerable upgrade on my rhythm guitar chops), it didn’t really bring balance to the Force. Adam left, cause, well, cause he had another band and other commitments. Truth be told, that was really the shift from Sleepyhouse to something new. We just didn’t know it at the time.
Alan’s pal Danny joined and things were actually moving along okay. Pete left, but by this time our sound was established and we were proficient players. We recorded a couple of songs (Jack D., Heavy-Eyed and Tee Ah Millahtoona) and considered it to be an EP. We did nothing with it, right enough*. Stuart joined soon after, cause despite hearing loads of guitar things, I just wasn’t a guitar player and Pete’s stint really highlighted that the extra guitar could lift the band and fill out the sound. Stuart’s arrival was a difficult one for Alan, I think. Two of them being lead players, but our relationship, certainly musically, with Stuart was better as his influences were more in line with those of Kev and I. I’m not sure they really hit it off and, quite honestly, I don’t know that they ever really spoke, or got a chance to, cause their time in a band together was actually incredible short.
As much as we all liked Danny, I don’t think he ever felt part of things when Alan moved on. By that time Sleepyhouse was done and we were guys who played music together without engaging with each other much away from it. We transitioned from Sleepyhouse to something different sometime around 2001 and I dare say there was a bit of a power struggle in there. In the end I walked away. The others jammed with Danny’s brother, but for one reason or another that didn’t work out.
I haven’t really given much thought to Sleepyhouse for a long time. I can’t even really remember the last time I mentioned or discussed it. So why am I thinking about my first real band and those early days of a rich musical journey? Well, Adam dropped me and Kev a line in December asking about an old video and being keen to see it. I hadn’t thought about the Sleepy Tape for a long, long time. This is a tape made up of hours of footage captured by my Sharp camcorder with the help of my brother (mostly) and a tripod. Among the rehearsal and gig footage are snippets of chat and hijinx. I haven’t seen that video cassette since the last days of the band. It transpires that Kev had it. Now it’s in Adam’s possession and he’s digitising that thing.
I’ve been engaged in a series of messages with Adam and Kev over the last few weeks and it’s been good to reminisce about it all. Adam relayed a quote from a clip of his pal:
“Sleepyhouse is an absolutely fucking silly band that shouldn’t work… at all. And yet I find myself having more fun at their gigs than Dinosaur Jr or any of the other truly great bands I’ve seen”.
I think that summed us up. We were the best worst band on the scene. Which made us the best band ever. Revisiting the songs, I don’t know that they’d win folks over now, but then… then was different. It probably wasn’t ever really about the songs. As much as we were teenagers with a bit of arrogance and whatever, we were a welcoming bunch. If you came to see us you were one of us. Heck, we even invited other bands on stage to sing or whatever… we gigged with pals or bands we formed friendships with through gigs. Jings, our drummer, Adam, was a stranger who became family overnight. I think that sums up Sleepyhouse. It wasn’t just a house, but a home.
Anyhoo, I’m glad we thought to document the journey of Sleepyhouse. Or at least the early years before it started to fall apart. I can honestly say that as messy as it was at times, it was pretty great. Most importantly, I’m glad that we’re planning on meeting up to give the Sleepy Tape a watch. I haven’t seen either of those guys in a while and, well, I’m looking forward to reconnecting with them.
*the Voodoo Dolls & Diamond Rings EP did eventually see the light of day. The timeline is all a bit skewed, but this was recorded in 2001, as the band transitioned from Sleepyhouse to Glitterball Vegas (we think).