Ten years ago today, at about half past nine, I took to the stage at the Outback Bar in Llanbadarn, Aberystwyth and nervously played some songs to a room full of my fellow students for the first time.
Through a quirk of fate I set up a PWL website not long afterward and, through lack of content, did a section where I wrote about gigs I’d played. So there is still a record of what I wrote at the time:
“Bottom of a bill also featuring deflour and The Jonny Narcissist songs played were:
1.The Cynical Little Train
2.Life’s too good (for other fkers and not for me)
Some teething troubles with an absent P.A. led to me singing through deflour’s guitar amps, thanks to them for that. No thanks to The Jonny Narcissist for sitting on the stage with their girlfriends/groupies and talking all through my fucking set, being generally arrogant, slagging deflour off before they’d even come on, and being one of the shittest bands i’ve ever had the misfortune to sit through twice.”
Between then and now I’ve played a further one hundred and ninety eight gigs, and every single one is documented with setlists and notes here.
I’ve also made four albums, about twelve EP’s, and written more songs than I could feasibly remember. I’ve played at festivals, been on Radio One and Xfm, met countless fellow musicians and music enthusiasts, some of whom have become firm friends, some of whom have been utter tools (you know who you are).
As I look back across the records I’ve made I can see them almost as a diary of the past ten years. Starting out as fumbling, slightly inept chronicles of love and longing, later starting to look outside myself to the world around me and let a little bit of politics trickle in, as I reached the end of student life some angst about the future starts to creep in, the songs are suddenly questioning whether I’ll still be the person I am in 2003 when I’m all grown up and have a mortgage etc… I think I’m still asking that question today.
Then I think there’s a sudden lurch forward around 2004 where suddenly I find some confidence, kind of a voice of my own. We’re entering territory where you, gentle reader, will have heard some of these songs. After writing a few songs like ‘Our New Hospital Sucks’, ‘Winston Churchill’, ‘Good Christian/Bad Christian’ and above all ‘The Memorial Hall’, playing a few gigs back in Aberystwyth to, for the first time, genuinely positive response I started to feel that I might actually have something people want to listen to.
I mark the transition from hobbyist to ‘taking it seriously’ as occurring on the 13th August 2005. I played at Night & Day Café in Manchester. This wasn’t my first gig outside Aberystwyth – I’d played open mic’s in Cardiff, and a bizarrely well attended headline slot in Brighton when I lived there which went down a treat. But the Manchester one stands as a milestone. It was done on the legendary ‘flyer deal’ which I’ve since concluded is a slightly less iniquitous form of pay to play. On this occasion pretty much everyone I had known or cared about made the trek from whichever bit of the world they’d landed in after uni and turned up to support me at ‘my first big gig’, I made about £50 from flyers. Clearly I was destined for greatness.
As someone frequently (and somewhat fairly) described as ‘cynical’ it’s notable how naive I was back then about the music business worked. I really thought that there were people out there who just picked bands they liked and pushed them hard until they became successful. I thought ‘word of mouth’ actually existed, and that news of my greatness would thereby spread. Everyone involved in music knows the reality it a little more depressing, and I shall not labour the point.
Thankfully for me, I have been fortunate to work with John ‘Brainlove’ Rogers since 2006. A man whose passion for music and attitude to the place it should have in the world is comfortably close to my own. But he’s less hard line, and more pragmatic about what needs to be done to make a record successful. Which is good for me, because I’m not particularly adept at it myself. He often has to patiently deal with my telling him that I plan to release three EP’s and an album this year, and does he have time to promote them all in between everyone else’s records?
John has turned a CD-R label releasing 50 copies of everything into a well respected independent purveyor of consistently excellent records – pretty much through sheer enthusiasm alone – and it’s been pretty exciting to be part of it for all this time. Even if a massive wodge of cash from some alien source to back up the enthusiasm wouldn’t go amiss.
I occasionally grumble to my dear wife, Sian, about the fact that I don’t sell more records. A while ago she pointed out ‘well you don’t exactly make it easy for yourself, do you?’. Or words to that effect. The point being that if you make obscure, wordy, ostensibly brainy pop songs, full of swearing and odd transitions, slightly provocative turns of phrase, and lots of songs that go on about how stupid the public are, people aren’t exactly going to queue up in droves.
But on the other hand I got ‘the Tree of Knowledge’ – a song about religion and sexual repression in private schools, which begins with an incantation of mercilessly obscure references for 70 seconds, and contains about twenty uses of the word ‘fuck’ – played on national Radio One (by Huw Stephens – thanks Huw). So I count that as a small victory.
And despite the slightly waffly preamble, this is what this post is supposed to be about. The last ten years have been a succession of small victories. My, Andy Regan’s, life cannot be separated from Pagan Wanderer Lu – everyone I know in Cardiff I know because of doing music (except my wife). I once ‘bumped into someone I know’ walking down the street in Stockholm – music has made the world a smaller and friendlier place for me. I’ve had incredible amounts of fun, met amazing people, and been inspired and frustrated in equal measure. God alone knows what I would be doing with myself if I’d never picked up a guitar.
For a while there was a message on my website that said ‘Pagan Wanderer Lu activity will cease on 13/12/2010’. I don’t recall exactly when I put that message up there, but it came at a time when I felt I was putting a lot of myself into something that was, because I wasn’t becoming ‘successful’, mostly making me unhappy, so I gave myself an end date.
That date has now arrived, and….?
Well, the message disappeared earlier this year because I wasn’t sure I could go through with it.
2010 has been particularly successful and fun. The album I did this year got the best reviews I’ve had. I’ve done two very different tours with great sets of people, I got to play in Iceland (Iceland!) – more small victories. I’ve also kind of made peace with the level of success at which I appear to have plateaued (though I wouldn’t say no to a bit more). So why stop now?
The main thing is that the ideas haven’t dried up. I have around twenty new songs written since ‘European Monsoon’ and ideas come through as thick and fast as they ever did. I still idly scribble endless tracklists for albums that will never be released. I still write the lyrics with care, just in case anyone is listening with care. Just going through the process of writing new songs has always been the best bit. The idea that I would stop is just… well I don’t think I would know how. What would I do instead?
What I am going to do is take a break.
I need to recharge batteries a little. Refocus on life a bit more to help me write. I’m not going to attempt to pre-decide how long this ‘break’ is going to be. It could be a few months, a year… who knows? I plan a little celebration to mark the PWLiversary and of course I’ll let you all know about it.
I feel, if I’m honest, pretty fucking proud of the stuff I’ve written over the last ten years. For someone who can’t really play an instrument or sing I think I’ve done pretty well. I think I’ve earned a celebration (and an over-long slightly self-indulgent blog post).
Above all, I want to thank the people who read this, and the people who’ve supported me over the years in various ways. If you’ve ever booked me a gig, said hello after a show, played in my band, helped me make something, bought a record, or just hung out with me before the gig starts (yeah especially all of you) then thank you.
See you soon.