The Beatles. U2. The Doors. The Pixies. Many of the world’s greatest and most influential bands had their humble beginnings in the inauspicious surroundings of secondary school or college. Those tumultuous teenage years, ripe with melodrama, self-loathing and chemical experimentation, provide invaluable sources of inspiration for burgeoning poets and aspiring songwriters alike.
According to friends in other universities, the story is similar; bands flourish like mould in a student kitchen and the latest ‘next big thing’ is hiding around every corner, acoustic guitar and broken heart in hand. So, as an innocent (read naïve) fresher, I arrived at York burdened with as much of a drum kit as I could fit in a 3’ X 3’ box, eagerly anticipating hoards of guitarists vying to enlist my services. Besides, the timetable of an arts student leaves lots of time that I would have to fill in one way or another (I still haven’t been able to bring myself to tell my parents that I only have seven hours of contact time a week…), so why not write some songs?
Or so I reasoned. The reality has been somewhat different. Band practice rooms seem to possess a mythic quality, similar to leprechauns or the Loch Ness monster. People swear to have seen them, one night, when drunk and wearing a balaclava backwards, but there appears to be no tangible evidence to support their claims. Finding a drum kit in playable condition appears to be a task of comparable magnitude to climbing K2 without using your hands. Nigh on impossible, in other words. Unfortunately, without a place to play, a place for young musicians to test ideas, to get to know each other’s styles and to develop that all-important musical chemistry before stepping onto a stage for the first time, without all of this, there can be no bands.
But is there a solution? And, perhaps more importantly, why should we care? While I accept that opening up the Music Department’s already overstretched practice facilities to anyone who can bang out a shaky rendition of ‘Chopsticks’ on piano isn’t a viable option, surely the University doesn’t think that four practice rooms (one of which contains a broken piano) hidden away at the back of Langwith are sufficient facilities for those of a musical inclination who have decided to read a degree other than music? Rumour has it that the Music Society are considering purchasing a drum kit, but this brings with it further logistical difficulties – primarily, where to house the aforementioned percussion instrument, because drums tend to produce a huge, cacophonous racket when played in anger. I know: I have both the statistics and the tinnitus to prove it. However, there are many reasons why a thriving campus music scene is desirable for both students and the University alike. With campus bars struggling to remain financially viable, new incentives are desperately needed to encourage students to bring their custom to the university bars rather than the considerably livelier alternatives in town. And what better incentive than truly brilliant live music?
As Neil Young so memorably sang, “Rock and roll can never die”. I really hope that he’s right.