Furball was a small band that had a lifespan of a mere 15 months, however their experiences typify those of countless bands who try (and fail) to make it in the music business. This entry demonstrates the ups and downs of life as an unsigned band, while providing factual information for those interested in the music side of things.
Furball appeared in July 1995 in Manchester, England. The five-piece group consisted of:
- Paul Taylor - vocals
- David Hancox - guitar
- Chris Willcocks - drums
- Cazz Kenzie - bass
- Mark Cunliffe - guitar
Paul, David, Cazz and Chris had been members of the bands Slouch and Kerosene while Mark came to the band through ads placed in the A1 and Johnny Roadhouse music shops.
The First Demo
Furball were fortunate in that the last Kerosene project before their demise was a demo recording session at the Frog Studio in Warrington with producer/engineer Ian Caple1. Furball used some of these tracks to put together demo tapes of their own - the songs were all penned by David and featured the talents of only one person not a member of Furball, so they felt little guilt about 'stealing' songs.
One by one these tapes, accompanied by handwritten notes, were dispatched to small local music venues, to independent record labels and to music management agencies, with the hope of generating interest.
At the same time the band began rehearsing regularly at The Red House practice rooms, a stone's throw from Manchester City Centre. Most of their prospective set-list (the songs a band play live) at this stage originated from old Kerosene songs that had never been released, such as 'Bravura', 'Me vs the World', 'Formula Rock' and 'Spacegirl'. New songs were written and added to Furball's set-list at a rate of about two per month for the next year or so.
The First Show
Furball's first live performance was at the Boardwalk in Manchester on 28 August, 1995. Although the band was the last to play, they were not headlining. The two other local bands who played that night, Baby Suicide and Urm, were in the same boat as Furball - none of them was capable of filling a top slot - so the playing order was randomised. The Furball set-list was:
- 'Punk Rock Agenda'
- 'Formula Rock'
- 'Half Way'
- 'Me vs the World'
After the first two bands played, some of the audience left the venue, having only come to support their friends. But then the first show is never about gaining mass audiences; it's about playing live. Could the band cut it in front of an audience? Would the songs sound as good when heard by 'the public'? Could the band members cope with being on stage? Fortunately for Furball the answer to all of these questions was yes. They were musically proficient and lively on stage, and Paul even began some mild banter with the audience. It was a good, competent start.
The First Review
The day before Furball's second show2 the music paper Melody Maker (The Maker) was published. On page 58 was 'Holly's Demo Hell', a third of a page devoted to Holly Hernandez's rantings about the generally atrocious demo tapes she was sent by bands without record contracts. That week, however, she had something good to say:
A style so fantastically pop it can stop your heart before the end of the first chorus... 'Spacegirl' is 'Girl From Mars' performed by Green Day and produced by Teenage Fanclub.
- Holly Hernandez, Melody Maker, September 1995
She liked Furball. Publicly.
Furball's Melody Maker review was soon followed by interest from some management companies, most notably from Adrian Boss who also managed Carter USM, My Life Story and Drugstore. It was his promise of a progression towards achieving and maintaining a large fan-base and a record deal that tempted the band more than the quick-fix offers of some of the others. A deal was struck and the band signed to Adrian Boss Promotions (ABP) on 7 September for a mere 20% of their future earnings.
The Publishing Contract
Adrian quickly set to work: he contacted A&R3 men from various labels, began to arrange shows across the country, talked to producers and record labels about releasing a single, and secured a publishing deal with Complete Music. This brought the band some much needed cash - £10,000 in fact. Someone obviously had confidence in the band. £10,000 may seem like a lot of money to be given in one lump sum, but when used to pay off a manager, and finance equipment purchases, recording sessions, rehearsal sessions and transport to and from shows, it still wasn't enough to provide the five band members with a regular income. A contract with a record company was needed before that could become reality. Using their own logo design, Furball had 100 T-shirts4 made to sell at shows in an attempt to raise still more money.
Through the Value Added Talent (VAT) booking agency (as well as through their own PR) Furball played 12 more shows before the end of the year across the country from London to Bath to their home town of Manchester. The set-list grew as they added new songs: 'Mean', 'Needles', 'Stranglehold', 'Truman's Scam' and 'State of the Union'. But even though they had received national recognition and were signed to a respected management company, there were no limos. The Ford Transit, the workhorse of countless bands, became an unpleasant second home to the members of Furball. The hours spent on motorways, driving through unfamiliar town centres trying to find obscure venues, or attempting to sleep amidst piles of precariously balanced amplifiers and drum cases brought signs of discontent from some band members. This wasn't rock 'n' roll - this was rubbish!
The First Single
Adrian had managed to persuade Abstract Sounds5 to fund the pressing and distribution (but not the recording costs) of a single by Furball. 'Spacegirl' had become a live favourite and had received acclaim in reviews, so it was chosen as the A-side. A power-pop-punk song reminiscent of Ash's 'Girl From Mars', it was complemented by the slower, thundering 'Mean' on the B-side. Lyrically the two songs differ rather wildly: while 'Mean' is concerned with regret and sorrow, 'Spacegirl' takes its inspiration from the cult Alex Cox film Repo Man.
The band travelled down to the Greenhouse recording studio in London on 27 December, 1995, to spend three days with producer Pat Collier6. No one enjoyed the experience of recording - it involved hours of waiting to do their 'bit' and a sense of lost control. Experience told Pat Collier to shut himself away from the band to mix the song, only letting them hear and comment on the finished product, when he allowed them to make a few token changes. The end result was a 'Spacegirl' that retained its pop and power but had somehow lost its punk. At a cost of over £3000 to the band it was indeed an expensive lesson.
After the recording was finished, Abstract decided that a CD version of the single would need three tracks. Could the band record another song to make up the numbers? Grabbing this chance at regaining some control, Furball hired a studio in Manchester for a day to record a version of 'Punk Rock Agenda'. They went in, played the song as they did live, mixed it with Paul Roberts7 and left with a DAT (Digital Audio Tape), happy. Unfortunately, neither Adrian nor Abstract were happy with the song: 'too fast' was the general response, which seemed ludicrous considering the title. And so the original (Kerosene) demo version of the song was included along with 'Spacegirl' and 'Mean' on the first Furball single.
The First Radio Airplay
Pre-release press labelled the single 'Meteoric Debut of the Week' and 'pushy pop' so when it was finally released (with a sleeve designed by the band) in March 1996, expectations were high. The band had played a further 12 shows from York down to Plymouth in order to promote the single and audience sizes were beginning to grow - the band themselves were the attraction, not the promise of 'Three bands for a fiver!' or 'Cheap lager b4 10pm!' Local music publications included adverts for the single in an effort to maximise the audience numbers, GLR DJ Gary Crowley played the title track several times, and the band were delighted when Steve Lamacq played 'Spacegirl' on the Radio 1 Evening Session just as they were about to go on stage in Birmingham.
At a limited pressing of only 1000 CDs and 500 7" singles there was little chance of having a huge success. But minor successes were possible. The 23 March editions of NME8 and The Maker placed the single at numbers 29 and 22 respectively in their independent singles charts. The Maker also carried an interview with the band by music industry mainstay John Robb during which he describes 'Spacegirl' as 'a blast of great guitar punk-rock pop'. This was high praise indeed, from a man often so scathing.
The First Television Show
On the back of this success, Abstract decided to chance another single by Furball. A show was also arranged at The Orange Club in London which was broadcast live on cable TV to literally tens of people across the capital. A&R men from Polydor, Echo and other labels went to see Furball live with a view to offering a long-term contract, but these meetings always ended with 'You're getting better; I'll come and see you again,' much to the chagrin of the band.
Another ten shows were played across the UK over the following two months. This may not appear to be an excessive workload but some of the transport costs were paid by the band9, and fitted around rehearsals and part-time jobs, it was enough. The highlight of these shows was an appearance at Manchester's legendary Hacienda club supporting Gold Blade, John Robb's band. Other venues included a converted church (The Chapel) in Derby where the band played from the pulpit, and The Forum in Tunbridge Wells, a building that had once been a public lavatory and had retained that distinctive odour.
The Second Single
Furball returned to London and Pat Collier (at Adrian's insistence) in May to record a new single. Record label Dedicated were also keen to include a Furball track on one of their Best Kept Secrets series of 7" singles by small bands, and so four tracks were recorded over four days: 'Half Way', 'Truman's Scam', 'Open Ended' and 'State of the Union'. The band stood up for themselves (in an ineffectually modest way) in the studio this time and included a few production ideas of their own: the trumpeter from My Life Story gave a lift to the chorus of 'Half Way', while elsewhere they used hand-claps, a sampled snare drum from Tears for Fears' 'Shout', and a Frank Black style 'devil's microphone' sound.
Best Kept Secret 2 was released in July 1996 and received some favourable reviews in the music press, with Furball generally ranked as better than Tam but not as good as Coade (the other two bands on the single). 'State of the Union' was perhaps not the best choice of song; it was pleasant and catchy, in other words it was mostly harmless. 'Open Ended' was also used by Paul Talling on Volume 5 of his Snakebite City series of CD compilations. Unlike the three-band Best Kept Secret single which was available in the HMV and Virgin record shops, Snakebite City 5 featured 24 bands in all and was available only through mail-order from Paul's Bluefire Records. In some ways 'Open Ended' stands out among the other tracks - it is slow and brooding, yet at the same time powerful and dynamic, reminiscent of The Wedding Present during the early 1990s. With all the attention they were getting, the band could be forgiven for thinking that success was just around the corner.
The Beginning of the End
Around this time (June 1996), Abstract decided that they didn't fancy their chances of success with 'Half Way' and 'Truman's Scam' as the proposed second single and pulled out of the deal, leaving the band with a bill for the studio that they couldn't afford to pay. 'Half Way' was a pure jump-up-and-down pop song, full of energy, but sadly for the band (and this may have been involved in Abstract's reasoning) it sounded like 'Me and You Versus the World' by Space, which was at that time receiving pre-release airplay. 'Truman's Scam' was a different kettle of fish, however, stealing riffs from 'Message in a Bottle' and punking them up before spitting them out in a furious thrash. Adrian made some attempts to find another label willing to release the songs but his efforts were in vain.
Progress elsewhere also seemed to flatline for Furball, from the constant 'maybe next time' from A&R men to audience figures that had stalled at around 50 for a headlining show. Despite Adrian's efforts, Furball were not to play at any of the summer festivals, but coming up in August and September was the annual 'In The City' celebration of music, that year to be held in Dublin. Furball applied to appear at the 'Live Unsigned' gigs and were accepted. They had another chance to make an impression on those that count in the music business.
The journey to Dublin was fraught with stress, to say the least. The band had to pack as much equipment into the boot of a Mondeo Estate as was possible, drive to Holyhead to catch the ferry and then attempt to locate the venue somewhere in Dublin without the aid of a map. Everything took longer than it should have, and by the time they had reached Eamon Dorans (the venue) it was well past sound-check time. They rushed through a couple of songs using some borrowed equipment (the drum kit and bass guitar amp were far too large for the car) and tried to relax before showtime. The band did receive a very pleasant surprise while awaiting their turn on stage - a CD featuring 21 of the 54 bands playing at 'Guinness in the City Unsigned' had been pressed to distribute to music people and Furball's track 'Open Ended' had been put first on the disc.
The competition took place over three days in six different venues, with three bands playing at a time. Only the very best would go through to the grand final later in the week. Although they threw in some fine new songs like 'Recoil' and 'Lazarus', success was not to come their way. Their competition (PR Louie and Barker) were mediocre, but then so were Furball. Top Welsh band The Stereophonics also played in the competition (they were unsigned at the time) and were the eventual winners of the competition.
Furball travelled back to Manchester the following day, naturally disappointed, with little or no idea what to do next. Over the past 15 months or so they had travelled thousands of miles in ridiculously unsafe and uncomfortable conditions, eaten 'food' that should have made them all seriously undernourished, and spent a large proportion of their income on equipment and travelling, but more importantly had written some damn fine tunes and played some excellent shows to receptive crowds. Isn't this when the payback comes?
Four days later the five members of Furball met on Oxford Street in Manchester. David said he'd had enough of failing to get a record deal and Paul agreed. And that was that.
Appendix A: Furball - The CDs and The Vinyl
If you look carefully you might find some of these records and CDs in second-hand shops. They'll probably only cost £1 so what have you got to lose?
|Tip Sheet #141||CD||n/a||Music industry only mag and CD, features 'Spacegirl' alongside tracks by Wet Wet Wet, Bruce Springsteen and The Bee Gees, among others|
|'Spacegirl'||CD and 7"||Abstract Sounds||The first single, catalogue number FUR 001/FURCD 001|
|Best Kept Secret 2||7"||Dedicated||Features 'State of the Union' alongside tracks by Tam and Coade|
|Snakebite City 5||CD||Bluefire||Features 'Open Ended' alongside tracks by Mega City Four, The Sweeney and 21 other bands|
|Guinness In The City Unsigned||CD||n/a||Features 'Open Ended' as first song on 21 track compilation of bands entered into the competition|
Appendix B: Furball - The Best of the Rest
Furball recorded songs regularly during their short career, usually on portable '4-track' recording studios. Although it's a very primitive method of recording some of them actually sound quite good. The following songs were never released but will shortly be available in MP3 format (probably):
|'Truman's Scam'||Greenhouse Studio with Pat Collier||Aborted second single|
|'Half Way'||Greenhouse Studio with Pat Collier||Aborted second single|
|Luna||4-track demo||A spunky waltz, no less!|
|'Me vs the World'||4-track demo/Kerosene demo||Punk rock in the style of Green Day|
|'Bravura'||4-track demo/Live tape||Virtually every show finished with this song - life is intense, man!|
|'Punk Rock Agenda'||Drone Studio with Paul Roberts/Kerosene demo/Live tape||'Don't you know hair length can't change the world.' Indeed!|
|'Stranglehold'||4-track demo||Bleeding hearts go rock|
|'Recoil'||4-track demo||Another blistering waltz|
|'Poster Angel'||4-track demo/Live tape||A jump-up-and-down pop-punk-rock song|
|'Ferman Saved My Life'||4-track demo/Live tape||A quirky track about the chairman of the British Board of Film Classification|
|'Lazarus'||4-track demo||Furball's last great song, loved by A&R men in Dublin, but it was too little too late|