Born Stupid: A drunken, stupid mess…

This piece was originally published in Lights Go Out Zine, issue #41. Support independent music journalism and check them out.

I’d never been particularly great at expressing myself verbally, so I was naturally drawn to music. Punk especially, as a philosophy and social movement, appealed so powerfully because of it being a home for rejects (and kids with guitars that didn’t play very well).

I have always lived by the old-school philosophy. When forming the first line up, there were no auditions. Just one question, with a follow up: “do you have a [insert instrument name]”; “do you wanna be in a band?” If the answer was yes to both, they were in.

When I first got into a rehearsal room with a enough people to call ourselves a band, I was undeniably a shit musician. I had a stack of songs I’d written over the past few years, and I didn’t know any chord names for them, even as simple as they were. I had to teach Scott, the guitarist, to play the songs by forming them on my own guitar and simply saying, “Here, here, here, and here,” or words to that effect. But, my recruitment process had, serendipitously, led me to get people who were much better than me. Although, actually, that wasn’t difficult.

 Some of my early songs were okay (Scott’s were certainly a lot better). At least one my early ones — Fantasy — lasted until our last ever public performance, when Steve (aka Ste Stupid) and I got up and played it for Newbury’s Second In Line’s “farewell” show, back in 2008. We borrowed their drummer and taught him to play just beforehand. That is a testament to how simple it was, I think (and to the skill of SiL’s drummer, of course).

I like to think I developed as a musician after that. I made a point of learning the chord names, which was a good start. But music for me was an outlet. It was something to divert my attention to. To do something productive with my time, rather than wallow in self-pity, bathing in my own excrement.

As childhood gave way to adulthood, and the insanely intimidating idea of getting up in front of people and playing — exposing myself, you could say — became a serious topic, I knew it was something I couldn’t possibly have done sober. So I drank. 

I would never describe Born Stupid’s music as “drunk punk”, but I certainly was, most of the time. I simply couldn’t have done it any other way. So those tight, simple songs were generally presented to the unsuspecting public as a slurred and garbled mess.

I don’t think many people around today have much memory of Born Stupid. We were pretty notorious around the Reading “Punk” scene in the early 2000s. Those drunken, sloppy performances, with me slurring some bullshit in between songs, often didn’t go down very well.

I don’t think our reputation was helped by the popular skate punk scene going on at the time, either. We were caught in the middle a bit, regardless of how well we played on the night. We were “punk”, in the creative philosophical sense. Our songs were a little too heavy, a bit too slow, and not lala enough for the skate punk crowd, and far too sloppy for the metal crowd. When we played up in the Midlands, where Scott was from, we were far too soft, and seen as soft Southerners.

But hell, we played. No matter how many bad reviews or bad comments we had, I always wanted to get up and play. Sure, often I had to have a few beers to do it, but, ultimately, I was never playing or writing for the audience. I wrote and played because I just wanted to expel whatever nonsense was flying around my head, even if it was slurred and sloppy.

Sometimes we connected with the audience, sometimes we didn’t. I can still listen to the recordings we made back then, though, and feel satisfied. I gathered a lot of them together and uploaded them to Bandcamp. I’m not sure how many people have listened to them. But it’s better for them to be somewhere than locked on my hard drive, never to see the light of day.

The last few songs I wrote never made it into the studio. One day, as a mature adult that doesn’t need to be drunk to play live, I’d like to give it another go. Maybe even record those last songs I did, if I can still remember how to play them. But those guys were my guys. I can’t imagine playing with anyone else. Everything that I was I put into Born Stupid. And yes, that included being a drunken, stupid mess…