This article originally appeared in Issue 4.1 of Rhubarb Bomb (2013)
There is a threat of rain in the air; the dull and blackened skies hanging over Barnsley feel keen to soak the evening revellers below. A backstreet leading off from a sidestreet and a blank sheet-metal door is the unwelcoming first impression of a venue called Rebecca’s. Amongst the honed façade of the regular chain-bars, stands this place, a Rock bar fashioned with an old-skool sense of dread and curiosity.
Through the thin corridor and down a quarter turn of stairs is the one and only room. The walls are black, there is little light. There is a mirrored wall and a mirrored ceiling. Tie-dye sheets cling to the walls, perhaps in some failed attempt to brighten the gloom. People buy beer in cans, some sit on black leather sofas, with rips in them.
On stage is a band called The Michael Ainsley Band. They cycle through some chords. G. C. D. G again.
But they are good, the noise they make is an easy one to appreciate and the way their bodies flail around the stage portrays – accurately – the carefree sense of fun that permeates all their work. Amongst the stumbling one of the guitarists takes a bass-end to the face, yet seems to revel in the blood he receives. The audience, only a few of which have followed the band from their native town of Wakefield, lap up their sharp pop constructions and many feel the show is over all too soon.
The DJ, perhaps long deaf after years of forcing his record collection on paying punters, presses play on his self mixing laptop programme and generic indie music fills the venue – at about three times the volume of the bands.
It physically hurts, the hi-end drilling its hissing vibrations deep into a mind previously at ease. Punters head outside, for the relative peace of the doorway, and that all consuming April evening darkness.
Here, the first of the band to emerge are Harry Rhodes and Rob Burnell, both guitarists. A fanzine writer has collared them, keen to document the fallout of one of the most exciting bands his town, also Wakefield, has offered up in recent years.
“It is the most fun band I’ve ever been in” says Rob, a gentle figure, who speaks as if afraid to wake a dog sleeping in the corner.
Harry, speaking into the ‘zine writers Dictaphone, concurs.
“It’s fun because I don’t have to worry about carrying anything, not that I carry anything in any other band but the freedom is there to do what I want to do.’ He pauses to lick the paper of the cigarette he is rolling.
“And practises, when we are writing, Mike will just point at me and say SOLO! And I’ve not done guitar solos since I was in a covers band when I was like 17. It’s fun as a guitarist to do that stuff coz it’s kinda throwaway and I get to fuck around. But the songs at the base of it are really fucking good.”
Harry carries a respectable beard & long hair combo. From 70s prog-rock to 90s slackerdom, he could comfortably fit into any number of styles of band, which co-incidentally, he does. And he likes to talk music.
“I will torture myself over chord progressions in any other band’ he continues. ‘But in this one it’s just do whatever the first chord progression is, coz it’s simple and we know everyone can build on it and make it sound huge. With Piskie Sits and St Gregory Orange I stress because I can’t play a specific chord, coz that’s the first chord I ever played and it’s too obvious. It’s refreshing to come into a band that is founded on a basis of tried and tested stuff, writing for that is really good.”
The zine writer nods in appreciation. This is good stuff. This interview will barely need an edit, or a gimmick, he thinks.
The titular Michael Ainsley arrives. Whilst not quite a giant, he does dwarf all around him. He ambles – a perfect description for his casual movements – into the evening, with an expression that is half startled rabbit, half the flicking eyes of a man constantly on the search for his next beer.
He joins the group, which now also includes drummer Dan Stringer who is, post-gig, a very sweaty man indeed. He is discussing the reason why the band have remained under the title The Micheal Ainsley Band. You see, Mike originally worked solo, but this past six months has seen this super group of sorts explode on the local scene.
“Because we’ve developed such an immense reputation for playing live shows, we can’t change our name. So we are stuck with the chain around our neck, which is Mike’s name. It’s a lovely chain, it’s a chain that feels nice. It’s a chain made of daises, but it’s a chain none the less. But we are glad to wear the chain.”
Mike is bemused and as the ‘zine writer turns to him, is lost for words.
“Is there any pressure’ asks the ‘zine writer ‘that this thing is called The Michael Ainsley Band – and you are Mike Ainsley?”
“I AM MIKE AINSLEY!” Harry chips in, mocking the ‘zine writer for his really stupid question.
“No, to be honest” replies Mike. “WE ARE ALL MICHAEL AINSLEY” Harry continues, as the final part of the Ainsley Band puzzle steps blinking eyed from the venue, into the dazzling backstreets of Barnsley.
“What does this Greg character bring to the band?” asks the zine writer, referring to this tall, lean, handsome character now joining the group. “Fucking useless’ says Mike “he never plays owt right. I mean look at him.”
Greg approaches. He and drummer Dan are older than the rest of the band. They first kicked out the jams back in the ‘90s, as Retarded Fish, when the rest were still playing kiss-chase in playgrounds. Greg in particular carries an air of wisdom; a man who has seen it all, yet endlessly searches for bigger and greater thrills. He’s also been drinking since midday.
“I just been for a shit in’t girls toilets’ he tells everyone, somehow phrasing it as if it were an accusation ‘coz there were no toilet paper in the men’s toilets. It takes a special kinda guy to do that, to go int’ women’s toilets.”
No-one argues. “Were there any women in the women’s toilets when you went in?” asks the zine writer.
“Fuck yeah’ Greg tells them: ‘It’s just my lifestyle.”
Dan jumps in “Exactly. This is the older generation of the band, keeping it all down to earth. If we hadn’t got back together as Retarded Fish I really don’t think you would have asked us to join your band – is that a fair point?”
“I’ve got a fair point for you” Greg interrupts. After a cautious silence from the congregation, it becomes clear he is making reference to his penis. “I’ve been pubic 22 years” he adds.
A rumble emerges from inside the venue. The next band have started their noise making. The smokers wander back inside, the night rain holds off for a few minutes longer. The bouncers on the door of Wetherspoons just down the hill look up and down the road nervously. That time of night, that dark shifting of sense where the boundaries of the rights and wrongs of everyday life shift and tilt and break are fast approaching.
The fanzine writer has taken the singer and songwriter Mike to one side, away from his bandmates. Mike started this whole thing, but before his solo career, he played in a cult beat-combo called Lapels. He plays in Imp too and has another project on the go called Yard Wars. But this thing here tonight, this is Michael Ainsley. Originally just him and acoustic guitar, he recorded an album with a full backing band, although he did play all the instruments himself.
After many a well received solo show, sometimes with Harry backing him up, the full punk pop assault of The Michael Ainsley Band appeared, alongside recently released album Cyclone, on a record label called Philophobia Music. Hence being pestered by this shady, socially inept fanzine writer.
“I’m really into Springsteen. It’s not any secret.’ Mike explains. “I always wanted to have a big band. If it was my way, if I could do it, I’d have ten more people in it. But practicality… you can’t have it…” He pauses to take stock of his thoughts
“It’s probably the most fun band I’ve played in’ he continues. ‘There’s no pressure on anyone.” The ‘zine writer, soaked thick in agenda, like cheap Lynx deodorant, pounces: “When people say they are ‘just having fun’, it’s often shorthand for not really having any drive, or ambition.”
“I want to do it full time.” Mike tells him, utterly serious. “Just be a musician, that’s it. When you first start out, you are doing because it’s fun, then someone shows a bit of interest. Like Rob (Dee, of Philophobia Music). I don’t know where I’d be without Rob Dee. I met him when I was sixteen, and he decided to release Lapels. And now look at what’s happened.”
“Playing in a band is one thing, but doing it full time?’ the writer asks. ‘Do you really think you can make a living off this? Tonight, for example. The scamming promoters didn’t even pay you. If you want to have a house and buy stuff, you’ll probably have to change something about all this. Would you ever look to doing something more commercial? Or, even selling music for commercials, adverts? More and more bands are doing it now, though without wanting to lead you, I think it’s a fucking travesty.”
“Depends what the advert was…” Mike replied, sly smile in toe.
“Who would you sell out for?”
Mike thinks long and hard. The regulated beats of the bar close by bounce out the window above their heads. Three hardly dressed girls scuttle awkwardly by. The moon slips behind a cloud.
“Maybe Pot Noodle’ Mike replies. ‘And I love any brand of sausages.”
There is some talk for a while that is quite boring. Then:
“The new album is already written. What I wanted to do at the start of the year, with the first record written, I said to Rob, I want to do four, just to see if I could do it. He’s not happy about that because he has to print em all up.”
Speak of the devil; well here he comes, a thick and luxurious ginger beard that has taken up residence on the face of a Wakefieldian saint. He moves like a silent assassin, like a bad fart patiently making itself known to a room, hand rolled cigarette between fingers, checking on his boy.
“Mike just said he’d be nowhere without you” the ‘zine writer says
“Are you wanting a comment on that?’ replies Rob. And in a beat, he says “Me? Without Mike I’d be rich.”
The three of them rejoin the rest and the band. This rock and roll, punk rock machine that is The Michael Ainsley Band are together, stood proud outside the Barnsley venue. It’s a night few of them will remember, except for the fanzine writer’s needlessly detailed recounting of it. But they are out there, taking their music far and wide. The nuts of bolts of Mr Mike Ainsley, shined and polished and brought to life by his friends. The age old story, to be continued some other time.
“I had a shit in ladies toilets.’ Greg confides in hushed tones to the fanzine writer. “You know why? Because there were no fucking paper in the men’s. And I don’t like to be put in anyone’s fucking margin either.”
I guess the point of this story is that you should let the music do the talking, not the bassist.