Part 3: It’s Alive

In May 1989 we got a chance to play our first gig. The local live music association Sessio had this idea of bringing back something they called “school parties”. It meant a bunch of local bands playing in a school gym hall. The party we played at ended up being the first and the last they organized, but they did a lot of other happenings and got us some more gigs later. They were also good at promoting their stuff. There was a write-up in the local newspaper. “Our music is better than it used to be. Fast heavy metal”, Assu commented in it, referring to the Danger Zone days. Damn right it was.

Or, that was the plan, at least. One of the first things we did was to have a poster printed. Assu got us some sponsors to cover the costs, Rytky drew us a new logo, and we had our photo taken, and then we had hundreds of these ugly gig posters. Bold for a band that played ten gigs.

The headliner that night was Nightflight, a local hard rock band with members a few years older than us. The first on the bill was Oasis (no, not them), a new band formed by friends of ours. They were a prog rock group like we were a metal band – more so in theory than in practice. My memories of the gig are hazy. I remember useless things, like I was wearing a sleeveless black t-shirt with a wide blue stripe in the front, and that we started with a song called “Get Scorched” (the title quite obviously inspired by “Get Stoned” by our Finnish metal heroes Stone). I remember seeing the singer of Nightflight watching us play from the side of the stage, and then we were watching them play. After the show, the little brother of Oasis’ singer Mika was telling me that our band was great. The kids say the strangest things.

Because Sessio wanted to help us out and because Assu’s mom was working for the local youth organization, we had more gigs lined up. Thus, we needed to upgrade our equipment. The closest music store was 90 kilometres away, but we got a ride there and back and picked up some new gear with mom & dad’s money. Rytky replaced his school-built black beast with a sunburst Washburn bass. I got a white Charvette guitar. It was like a budget Charvel for those who couldn’t afford the real thing, but I liked the piece of crap at first, because it was white and not too sharp-edged, unlike many of the metal guitars of the day. It had all kinds of pointless features like tuning locks and a Floyd Rose type bridge that I had absolutely no fucking clue how to use. It also had the thinnest neck and really heavy body, very unbalanced. All in all, I would have been better off if I’d just bought new pick-ups for the cheap Strat copies I used at the time, but what did I know.

Our second gig was at the auditorium of the local house of culture on the same day we got our new gear, and we played again with Oasis. I didn’t think playing gigs was fun, because I didn’t like being looked at, but I felt I had to do it because that was what real bands did. I had a stage fright, and I remember pushing the backstage wall with all my might and both hands, because I had heard it helped. (It didn’t.) Had I known how the gig turned out, I would have been even more nervous. I was hopelessly out of tune, and it took a while before I figured out why: While playing, I was constantly pressing the stupid floating bridge down with my hand. It sounded like I was using the whammy bar badly for every chord. Kind of psychedelic in a bad trip way, I suppose.

Next, we played at a small indoors festival. It was held at Tökäri, the People’s House, and again, arranged by Sessio – those guys really made an effort for the local musicians, kudos to them. The happening was called Sessiorock V and had six bands. Since Oasis and Arched Fire were the youngest we were naturally at the bottom of the showtime totem pole. “Are you going to start with ‘Get Scorched’ again?” asked Jorma, the talented drummer in Oasis. I told him no. We were going to start with a new one called “Downtown City”.

It would have been Oasis’ turn to play after us (we took turns), but unfortunately (to them) we couldn’t make the first showtime, because our somewhat eccentric bassist Rytky was nowhere to be seen. Oasis agreed to play first, and while they went onstage, Assu and I rushed to the nearest landline telephone and started making calls to track down the missing person. It turned out he was at his girlfriend’s place. After a short conversation (“Why aren’t you here!?” “Where should I be?”) Rytky was on his way.

Meanwhile, Assu and I did a radio interview. That was another crazy thing about those early gigs of ours: we played live on the air twice and didn’t even think it was a big deal or anything! Hasn’t happened since – thank you again, the local live music association and other powers that be. The DJ called our music “hevispiidi”, “heavy speed”, which I guess said something about something, like the state of contemporary metal music in the northernmost town in Finland.

As soon as the wayward son-of-a-bitch arrived, we went on to play our gig, with “Downtown City” broadcasted by Yle Lapland. I still hadn’t even heard of palm-muting the strings (let alone of any more advanced playing techniques) which made it pretty hard for me to sound metal, but there we were on the air. Radio’d. The paper called it our “trial by fire”. I have a recording from that gig, and “Downtown City” probably was the most radio-friendly song in our amateurish set.

One of the funny things that happened during the gig was that the Oasis guys, still a bit bummed about having to play first, got in front of the stage and started heckling Rytky for some playful retribution. Rytky pretended to kick them, and his bass strap broke mid-song. Luckily, the stand-in bass player in the night’s headliner, the Tampere-based hard rock band Horsepower, was watching us play and came to save the show. He borrowed Rytky his strap (which was too short especially for someone who liked his bass hanging low), but we went on. This class act of a man was Hannu Tervaharju, a well-known Finnish musician and a literature translator. Thank You.

Just a few days later we were back at the House of Culture for our fourth gig, this time an outdoors show. The annual Wood Sculpting Week booked some bands to play, which was an opportunity for us and our favourite progsters Oasis. There are a couple of photos from that gig, and you can see there are two similar Marshall combos onstage. One is mine (I still have it), and the other belonged to Mika, the guitar player in Oasis. He was one of my closest friends at the time, but it never crossed our minds to bring just one amp to the gigs we played together, although they were identical apart from the handles. But I guess there was a lot I didn’t get back then.

The gig was alright, nice summer vacation day, elderly folks applauding politely to the noise we made. The Metal Massacre and Speed Metal Party nights held in Southern Finland were like on another planet from where we were, but it was what it was. We got reviewed by the local paper, and I ended up arguing with my Mom whether the write-up was positive or not. The guy wrote that we played “with pathos”.  That’s positive, right?

By the mid-June 1989 we had played four gigs in less than four weeks. By our standards, it almost qualified as a tour.

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