The Pointy Birds: rock bottom
Fans of The Office have good reason to thank failed rock group The Pointy Birds. Without them, learns Dan Carrier, a certain Mr Gervais might be otherwise engaged
21 January, 2021 — By Dan Carrier
Utter madness: The Pointy Birds strike a pose
IT was a childhood immersed in brilliant British rock and pop – and it gave Andy Macleod a burning desire to see his name in lights and his self-penned music at the top of the charts.
And now the hilarious warts-and-all story of a Britpop band whose big ambitions did not match their talents is told in Anoint My Head, a memoir that tracks the life and times of early 90s guitar combo, The Pointy Birds.
Being in a pop band was a childhood dream for Kentish Town-based Andy.
“All this fun was encapsulated every Thursday night on Top of the Pops,” he writes.
Pop music never let him down, he says: from disco and punk to the New Romantics, then on to the likes of The Smiths, Dexys Midnight Runners, Madness, The Clash, The Jam, The Stranglers….
“My youth consisted of band after band after band,” he recalls.
“Year after year after year, hit after hit after hit…”
And then came a new wave of politically charged, anarchic comedy. From Rik Mayall and The Young Ones to Steve Martin’s decade-defining films such as The Man With Two Brains, Andy’s infatuations meant he felt it was predetermined he would either be a singer or comedian – or a combination of the two.
The Pointy Birds on stage
Either way, he’d do gigs, get discovered and then swan about rocking stadiums or theatres in the evenings followed by throwing TVs through hotel windows in the early hours. None of this ever happened – and in his memoir, he wonders why.
“When writing this book I was trying, with hindsight, to look back and see what went wrong,” he says. “I wanted to relive those days, revive the memories.”
And The Pointy Birds saw their contemporaries make it big – they were in the wave of acts that produced the likes of Suede and Blur.
“Music-wise, that time produced such a good vintage,” he says. “We were around bands that went on to have massive success – while we didn’t. They just went right past us.”
The Pointy Birds was a project that got going in earnest after Andy had finished what he describes as “dossing about at university”. He had to, as his dad put it, go through a period of “de-studentification” to ease into the “real” world. He got a job at Soho record shop Selectadisc, and moved into a grotty flat in Golders Green, where his friend, the “never-played-a-note-before” bassist Marcus, did what he could to master the instrument and rustle up the same enthusiasm as Andy for their self-penned songs. The Marcus in question later has earned a public profile in Camden – as a Labour councillor.
Their flat has The Young Ones written all over it: it was perilously squalid, featuring a broken front door and filth caused by young men more concerned with drinking the bottle of sickly sweet Kaddish wine they found in a cupboard than attempting to do the washing up.
But their neighbours showed no concern that a band of limited musical ability would rehearse in their front room, the rent was cheap and, best of all for Andy, it was just four Tube stops to Camden Town. “My first impression of Camden had been one of slight disappointment – random shops on a high street. And not very nice ones – leather coat shops, tattoo parlours and Irish pubs, but if you wanted to anything to do with music this was the place to be,” he writes.
“Everyone looked like they were in a band, or wanted to be in a band, or liked going to see bands.
“It was fun aimlessly wandering around Camden market, soaking up the atmosphere, like we were in a big playground or a film set, and although it was grotty and smelly, I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else… it was a natural place to ponder and daydream about future success.”
The book walks us through various line-ups, from roping in siblings to employing an enthusiastic drummer (a neighbour who had admired their music though the walls) but who, damningly, had absolutely no sense of time. We hear of how a University of London entertainment officer called Ricky Gervais, who was always telling gags, managed them and got studio time and shows. Ricky, of course, was another contemporary, who unlike the Birds, went on to become famous…
Andy relates the stories of the gigs that should have been the big breaks, and the ones that could have been but were in some way mucked up by forces beyond their control (like the time Andy earned an audience’s ridicule after tangling his hair in a harmonica holder).
Other escapades included a gig in his Sussex home town, where he had his triumphant return was stolen by a side attraction: The Birds had added a hairdresser who worked beneath their flat to the line-up – but he did not play an instrument. He was, however, into martial arts and thrilled the crowd with feats of strength and acrobatics, which included ruining the Birds’ final song by leading the audience into a pub car park so he could show how he could jump over all four band members at the same time.
Andy’s memoir is so much fun, it provides a hefty silver lining to the fact they never made it. But the dream hasn’t gone completely. Andy admits he still would like a crack at the limelight.
“Maybe my book will be made into a film,” he wonders. “Harry Styles could play me.”
- Anoint My Head: How I Failed To Make It As A Brit-Pop Indie Rock Star. By Andy Macleod, Pointy Books, £9.99.
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