I’ve just realised I haven’t picked up my blogging pen since July and haven’t touched the IV Play story since February. Obviously this is because – contrary to the impression the blog may sometimes give – I do have other things to do with my time. However it’s a shame I wasn’t able to mark the tenth anniversary of IV Play’s golden Spring. Suffice to say that two moments stand out. The first was a gig at the Tiger’s Lair in Hull (the second of two) which may just stand as the band’s finest performance. That gig saw the debut of Felt Tip Pen, the last truly great IV Play song and maybe the best song they ever put their name to. Like Gimme Shelter by the Rolling Stones thirty five years before (and the two songs are almost equals in my eyes) it began with a guitar intro that was worth the money on its own, the fact that the rest of the song was a killer was almost incidental. Felt Tip Pen (like Pick A Letter before it) is a song about empowerment, picking yourself off the ground and not being beaten down by things that don’t ultimatelymatter. However while Pick A Letter was cheeky and wistful, Felt Tip Men was a four minute blast of melody and defiance.
The second magic moment was the farewell party at Carriages in Knaresborough before the band set out for London; as a fan, listening to 17 play over the beer garden as the sun set is something I’ll remember forever. Because that day, although we didn’t know it, something ended for good.
There’s a myth about pop and rock music that is almost as old as rock and roll itself; the myth of boy (or girl) writes songs, forms a band and conquers the world. It doesn’t happen like this. Much as we might sneer at Simon Cowell the fact is that Elvis could not have happened without Colonel Tom Parker and Beatlemania owed as much to Brian Epstein’s marketing skills as Lennon and McCartney’s century defining talent. Perhaps the youtube era may finally be changing that but we’re talking about 2004 and IV Play (known as Mile High by this point but we’ll continue to refer to them by their local name) had come so far on talent. Now they would have to work with people who – like David Essex thirty years before – were gonna make them stars.
To my regret I never got to see any of their London gigs and never shared in the London adventure, nor did I really see the band’s sound change as it was moulded by people who claimed to know about these things. And I should add, maybe they do. Rock music is ultimately showbusiness and it’s a cruel industry. There’s no denying it.
However the band did have something to build to, namely a key spot on the Silver Bear concert in aid of Children in Need. Held at the Clapham Grand, a former theatre turned nightclub/ music venue, it gave them a platform to showcase themselves and – critically – gave them something they could invite their Harrogate fans to.
The show itself wasn’t quite the big deal the organisers seemed to think it was. The bill was a curious mix of other up and coming bands and contestants from the BBC’s Fame Academy reality show (a forerunner of The Voice and just as missable). This latter category consisted mainly of also rans singing along to backing tapes but one contestant Peter Brame (the token indie bad boy of the show and the Frankie Cocozza of his day – and just as quickly forgotten) was billed as the headliner which, given the TV exposure, wasn’t entirely unreasonable.
Except here our heroes scored what might have been their final triumph. The Harrogate fans were told that the band would play one set about fourth from the end and there would be no encore. However when word got around that IV Play had brought a coachload of fans with them and greatly swelled the audience by doing so they were promptly promoted to headliners and Brame relegated to second on the bill. Suffice to say he ended up the villain of the day, getting some stick on the messageboards for choosing to walk out into the audience and detract attention from the singer performing at the time. He subsequently managed a little burst of vitriol in his set when she said that, `he pitied the person who had to follow him` (which ten years on could be seen as bravado for his fans rather than a dig at another act).
But for most of the audience Brame was forgotten almost as soon as he stepped on stage. The waiting was finally over and IV Play were on stage. They opened with Tell Her, a song new to the Harrogate audience but which had them jumping along just like the old days. The rest of the set list was largely drawn from the latter half of the Harrogate days with no songs from the two EPs and Pete’s Palindrome the only relative oldie featured, although Call Em Girl – a song largely dropped in 2004 – made a surprise comeback. The sound had evolved to become heavier and more pop orientated and perhaps it lacked some of the variety and originality of old. With hindsight you could feel the presence of those who were involved with the band but didn’t follow them on stage. Talent is any band’s bread and there’s an old saying about daily bread I won’t repeat here.
At the time didn’t matter. The audience expected, IV Play delivered. Nobody seriously believed it would be for the last time but for many in the audience, it was. They demanded an encore and they got one. Peter Brame’s fans had already vanished into the smoke, the Harrogate mob stayed to hail their heroes. There was only so long the farewells could be dragged out and the coach was waiting. Nader followed on board and asked for the microphone to thank everybody for coming. Matt, dressed in a white shirt and black, stood by the door watching the fans depart. The coach set off back for Harrogate and it was over.
For Liam, Nader, Matt and Jonathan the endgame was beginning and with hindsight they might have known it. However belief is not something that is earned easily and on that Autumn night in 2004 the faithful believed like never before.