I’ve started writing a new novel. It is the completely true story about a fictional tribute to a fictional band.
I’ve decided to post chapters here and ask for feedback. Maybe if enough people comment, they may talk me out of it.
I will start with a brief history of the band “Surrogate Suns” (this is incidentally the real name of a band that I formed but which never got to do a gig, but in my story it is the name of a famous 70s rock band)
A Brief History of Surrogate Suns
The ‘Suns’ as their devoted fans call them were first formed in 1969 after the break-up of experimental underground band ‘Fruit Loop Explosion’. This had been a bizarre mixture of psychedlic rock and cabaret act. The singer performed with a live python down his trousers, while the guitarist wore nothing but skin-tight patent leather lederhosen and performed an ascapology routine during a keyboard solo. At one gig, the python attacked the singer, and the guitarist electrocuted himself. They were both unable to resume their roles and the remaining musicians quit leaving the drummer, Derreck Pilton, to fulfil a string of contracted gigs.
Pilton’s first recruit was the guitarist from sixties one-hit-wonders The Sugartones, Jerome ‘Jerry’ Morcock, who was wasted in that band. Nervous at joining the Fruit Loops, Pilton assured him he wanted to take a more serious direction. Morcock then suggested a singer, Andy Shyner, who was currently performing with a pub rock band called ‘Secret Salami’. Pilton and Morcock went to a gig in Bournemouth and both agreed that the band were terrible but the singer had a certain something that grabbed your attention as soon as you saw him. He also had a decent voice. Andy was keen to join the Fruit Loops but insisted on bringing his bass player with him. Michael “Ratty” Ratcliff turned out to be a solid rhythm man with a touch of flair when it was needed.
They completed a tour as a four piece. Although dedicated Loop fans were disappointed with the lack of stage antics and some people complained they were too loud there was definite promise. At a gig at The Gazebo Club in London they were watched by a shady man, in a sharp suit, sitting in a corner booth. At the end of the gig, he had the venue management bring the band over and he made them a proposition they couldn’t refuse. He signed them to his new record label, ironically named Cut-Throat Records. Their new manager had said in an interview, “The music business is a cut-throat business, so we decided to name the record company accordingly.” Few journalists wanted to ask many more questions after he looked them squarely in the eye.
The band began to organise a new tour approaching previous venues that had played host to Fruit Loop Explosion, but not getting a warm reception. A change of name seemed to be needed, although how the name Surrogate Suns came about nobody really remembers clearly. All that is known is that the manager locked them in a room with large amounts of alcohol and the name came from that meeting.
Surrogate Suns first gig was in Liverpool on 5th Jan 1970 and the band were paid £3-7s-6d They then criss-crossed the UK playing 3 – 4 gigs per week for the first three months of the year before continuing without a break to play a series of small theatres and concert halls in Europe.
Initially they played a mix of blues and rock and roll covers, plus one or two of Fruit Loop Explosion’s songs but rocked up to the max. At first audiences didn’t know what to make of them but there was a chemistry and the time was right for a really loud band. Led Zeppelin had led the way and Surrogate Suns followed closely in their footsteps. The first album “Supernova” (1970) was recorded in six weeks at a studio in London and was already selling in America ahead of their tour.
It was a raw collection of the regular stuff from the live set but it just blasted away the cobwebs and became a favourite with bikers and rockers in general.
The American tour began in September and they played a staggering 46 gigs in two months. Back in the UK the album had sold steadily but not spectacularly. It was enough to get them a headline gig in Bristol with a local support act. The support band were a strange fusion of jazz and prog and they didn’t really enthuse the audience, but the keyboard player was a bit special. He made sounds come out of the Hammond organ that nobody had ever heard before. He played with his back to the instrument, he climbed on top of it and even took his shoes and socks off and played with his toes. Backstage it was clear that this other band was falling apart arguing and bickering about everything. So Surrogate Suns felt no pang of guilt when they lured the keyboard player away.
His input was the making of the second album which bore the name “Second Sun” (1971) and contained one of their best known songs. “Wild About Love” was a crazy musical roller coaster ride featuring a lengthy solo with all sorts of strange noises made by using and abusing the instruments in bizarre ways.
“Sol Three” (1971) came next with a descent into uncharted waters of jazz/prog and Indian music influenced by the Beatles experiments with Ravi Shankar a few years earlier. Also included two acoustic tracks featuring an obscure blues guitarist from Scotland, Blind Willy MacTavish.
“Centaur Eye” (1972) took the prog ideas still further with the title track at nearly 15 minutes; and yet this was still hard rock too; much heavier than anything produced by Pink Floyd up to that time.
The first four albums appeared at six month intervals and, the whole time, the band were touring relentlessly, playing over four hundred gigs in the first three years. Eventually the heavy schedule caught up with them. They were selling out large venues and their albums were selling by the shed load. The money they were making was being spent on drugs and loose women, and soon it all came crashing to a halt as Andy Shyner was taken seriously ill and admitted to hospital. It looked like the end of the road for the Suns. However, by the end of 1972 the singer was pronounced fit to be sent home, although he immediately flew out to California and spent six months convalescing. The guitarist and keyboard player flew out as well and they spent the time relaxing round a pool and writing songs.
When the fifth album “Ra” finally came out in 1974 it was either the greatest work ever or an unholy mess, depending on which critics you read. They had spent almost a year in the studio and it was by far the most expensive album they ever made, but there wasn’t a single track on it that grabbed you at first hearing. One or two were quite jazzy but not in a good way. It was overproduced and inaccessible and yet it sold by the bucket-load to fans who played it once and then put it away for ever.
The tour was not well attended, and newspapers talked of the amusing sight of ticket touts offering tickets for the price of a bus fare home.
1975 saw the band take a hiatus while two of them went to an Indian retreat. Here they gradually got off an addiction to cocaine although they did experiment with a variety of other drugs.
On their return the band spent the first part of 1976 in a Scottish castle cut off from the rest of the world and honed what was to become, arguably, their best album ever.
The aptly titled “Sol Invictus” (the unconquered Sun) was released on Midsummer night at midnight. Loyal fans queued at record shops which were persuaded to remain open and the first run sold out before sunrise. The album was received warmly by critics many of whom had panned “Ra” Even as Punk was set to storm the British music scene, these old has-been rockers could pull something special out of the bag.
It contained eleven tracks ranging from the short and punchy opener “I’m Back” with wailing vocal over a fast and furious guitar riff that was a match for any punk song, to the amazingly ethereal progressive title track. The Suns were indeed back and their next tour was the biggest ever; playing stadium venues in Europe, the USA, Australia, Japan, and South America.
Then at the end of 1977 Jerry Morcock died in mysterious circumstances. They were on top of the world musically and planning their eighth studio album when he died peacefully in his sleep.
The rest of the band refused to consider continuing under the name Surrogate Suns and they disbanded forthwith.
Seventh Son of a Seventh Sun was released posthumously
- Second Sun
- Sol Three
- Centaur Eye
- Sol Invictus
- Seventh Son of a Seventh Sun
Fast forward to the 21st century.
Tributes to Surrogate Suns (incomplete list)
- Wild About Suns
- The Surrogate Suns Experience
- Surrogate Sons
- Son of Suns
- Surrogate Daughters (an all-female tribute)
- Sol Invictus
- Surrogate Surrogates
- Surrogate Supernova
- Surrogate Stars
- Substitut Soleils (A French tribute)
- Balls to Plasma (a bizarre punk tribute)
- Ra Ra Superstar (an even more bizarre disco tribute!)
- Second Suns
Second Suns – a Tribute to Surrogate Suns
- Singer – George Pearce
- Drums – John Briggs
- Guitar – Steve Rowe
- Bass – Barry Hodges
- Keys – Carl Smith
Chapter 1 – Busted Clocks
Music was playing loudly, some sort of prog rock. A phone rang. George looked around for a flat surface on which to place his beer, failing to find anywhere, he scrabbled around one handed among the various items of clothing, books, papers, and empty packaging on his bed, searching for the cordless house phone.
“Where are you?” it was John, the guitarist from Busted Clocks, his band.
“Gig tonight? Are you still at home?”
George looked at the landline through which he was speaking to the guitarist and pulled a face indicative of the ridiculousness of the question; the gesture, of course, was lost on John. He glanced at the clock. “Shit!” he muttered to himself, then to the phone he said, “I’ll be there is half an hour!”
“For fuck’s sake!”
George flung the phone down glanced at himself in the mirror, and headed out the door, beer still in hand. Back inside a few seconds later.
“Mum? Have you seen my gig back?”
A dislocated voice called back, “On the floor under the stairs where you dumped it last week!”
George looked down and realised he was practically standing on the handle.
He downed the last of the beer and dumped the can on the sideboard on his way out.
* * * * *
George pulled up outside the venue. Dave, Mike, and Sandra berated him over his timekeeping.
“You cock!” Dave began.
“Sorry guys, I lost track of time.”
“Pathetic!” Sandra added.
“I said I’m sorry!”
“You’re always saying you’re sorry George.” Mike retorted.
“Well I am sorry, alright? Where’s John?
“Getting a kebab.” Mike told him.
“He’ll turn into a kebab one of these days.”
“You mean he isn’t already?” Mike joked.
“Can we cut the chat and get this van unloaded?” Dave complained. “There’s people already here. We’ll have to sound check with ’em watching now.”
George grabbed a big speaker and lugged it inside followed by Dave, carrying a mic stand, Mike, who took a bag of leads, and Sandra, who brought her smile.
“You lazy buggers!” George said. “You could’ve brought the other speaker!”
“I’ve already brought my bass rig in.” Dave pointed out. “John’s brought his cab and head in.”
“Yeah,” Mike added, “you think these drums set themselves up do you? It’s about time you pulled your weight and stopped dicking us around.”
“Frankly, George,” Sandra smiled nastily, “we’ve been talking about stuff while we’ve been… waiting for you.”
“Oh really? And what have you been … saying then?” George mimicked her emphasis.
“Leave it Saan, let’s get set up and do the gig eh?”
“No! Shut up, Mike. Come on, Saan. Out with it.”
“Guys come on,” Dave tried. “We’re mates right? Been together with this line-up for, what is it? Six months now? Starting to come together; gigs lined up; people already here; be full up by nine o’clock.”
“Well he has to know some time,” Sandra sneered. “You’re not wanted in the band any more. This is the last gig with you.”
“Oh. So that’s how it is, is it? Dave? It’s Mike and Sandra’s band now is it? They make all the decisions? As I recall, you and John put this band together and it was all going fine until Mike brought Sandra in.”
Dave looked only a little apologetic. “Mate, it would help if you turned up on time occasionally.”
“Oh right, so now arriving on time is the criteria for a rock singer is it? Axl bloody Rose sometimes didn’t arrive until AFTER the audience had all gone home!”
“You’re NOT Axl Bloody Rose though are you?” cut in Sandra. “You’re George useless-moron Pearce. Pub singer and all-round prat. You’ld be late for your own bloody funeral and, by the way, nobody in the band likes Surrogate Suns, and nor do the audiences.
“What the fuck’s that got to do with anything?”
“You constantly going on about doing Surrogate Suns covers,” Mike cut in. “We already do ‘Wild About Love’, fair enough. That’s a classic, everybody knows it and can sing along. But what’s that shit you played at rehearsal last week?”
“’Sol Invictus. Its bloody genius is what it is. Not that you lot would ever be able to play it. Takes a drummer who can handle something other than four/four the whole night.”
“From the bloke who has to stop playing tambourine if he starts singing.”
“I don’t have to be a musician to know you’re a shit drummer!”
Mike threw a drumstick at George which bounced off his head. This amused Mike, at least.
Dave attempted to calm the situation. “Chill, guys. Come on there’s people looking at us. Anyway, whoever said a drummer was a musician, right?” he laughed weakly. “Let’s get set up and do this gig eh?” This speech was about as much use as a kazoo solo at the Albert Hall.
“No. Fuck that. If you’re so keen to dump me, then let’s get on with it. Why wait until after the gig? I’ll fuck off now and leave Sandra in charge. I’m sure she’s more than capable of taking over all the songs I do.”
“Damn right I am. I’ll do a damn sight better as well.”
George hadn’t expected her to be so keen. “Yeah right! You got your lyrics written out then? You can’t even remember your own songs, you slag.”
“Oy you…” Mike began.
“Ignore him Mike,” Sandra said, turning her back on George. “It’s all sorted. some people come prepared. I knew you would flake out on us one day and I’d have to cover for you.”
Dave made another attempt to defuse the situation. “George man, come on, we’re mates, we don’t need all this aggro. Let’s get set up have a few beers smash the gig and talk about this at the next rehearsal eh?”
But George was already shoving his heavy speaker back into the van and coming back for the mic stand and cables.
“Bollocks Dave,” Sandra said. “He’s a dick and the sooner he’s out of our hair the better. What’s the deal for this gig? Hundred quid tonight? You can’t even divide that by five can you? Anyway, whatever it is, split four ways we get more each.”
Dave and George exchanged a look of despair at Sandra’s lack of basic arithmetic, and even Mike was a bit non-plussed as to how anyone could think you can’t split a hundred pounds five ways.
“Sorry Dave. This isn’t your fault, but I’m not hanging around if I’m not wanted. Good luck with this mental bitch and her boyfriend!” George glared at Mike as he loaded the remaining bits into his van and slammed the door.
Sandra couldn’t resist a parting shot. “If you love Surrogate Suns so much, why don’t you start up a tribute band to them? You could call it ‘Test Tube Babies’.”
George was in the driving seat by now, but he paused, almost lost for words. “What are you on about? That sounds more like a tribute to ‘Peter and the Test Tube Babies’.”
“The Who?” Sandra replied.
Dave couldn’t resist. “Nah, not The Who; Peter and the Test Tube Babies.”
Sandra’s blank stare was a revelation She was younger than the others, but still…
“Punk band,” Dave tried by way of explanation. “Zombie Creeping Flesh?”
Sandra continued to look blank.
“Rotting in the Fart Sack”?
Still nothing. George started his van and drove off, with a spin of rubber on tarmac. No mean feat in a twelve-year-old LDV convoy.
“You’re not familiar with their work then, I take it?” Dave continued.
It was at this moment that the guitarist, John, returned and said, “Alright Dave? Was that George?”
“Why’s he driven off?”
Sandra interrupted, “Because he’s a dick. Don’t worry, I know all his songs, and got the lyrics written out… Some of us can manage to come prepared.” She flashed a brief, smug, grin and headed into the venue.
“Brilliant,” John said. “Well that’s all sorted then.” And then, because Sandra was moving away he raised his voice to add, “…and you’ve got a P.A. as well?”
Dave, Mike and Sandra all looked at each other as realisation dawned.