The band I'm in has just entered Phase 2 of its musical journey. It's a little unclear what Phase 2 entails, but we've gone as far as we can with Phase 1: In Which People Are Pleasantly Surprised To Discover We Don't Suck; and we're a long way off Phase 3: In Which We Can Afford To Pay Someone To Drive Our Amps To Leeds.
Phase 2 begins on a train heading north, with all our equipment crammed on to the luggage racks at both ends of the carriage. The drummer is asleep with his forehead against the window. The bassist, the guitarist and I are swapping medical complaints. The fiddle player is sitting in first class with his wife, which is considered to be a matter for his own conscience, although we've already sent him a rude text to let him know his complimentary ploughman's is not very Phase 2.
We don't look like a band on their way to a festival. We look like a bunch of old men on a distillery tour. Later, when we're wandering around town with a stapled itinerary and some mixed nuts in a Tesco bag, looking for a place to sit down, I catch sight of my reflection in a shop window and am struck by its haunting fragility. An hour after that, when we are carrying our stuff into Grassington town hall, I notice that the previous band, who are all in their 20s, have graduated to Phase 3 – two burly men are loading their instrument cases into a van.
After the sound check, we change into shirts we have specially ironed and write out set lists in huge letters so we can read them without our glasses. We repair to the pub, returning in time to catch our support act, a band called Mik Artistik's Ego Trip.
"Oh Christ," I whisper. "Are they better than us?"
"Don't think about it," the mandolin player says. We go backstage to eat free grapes until our hour on the stage arrives.
The end of our first number is met with an astounding silence. We can't see the audience beyond the lights and for a moment I'm convinced the hall is empty. Then there comes a sound I can't quite place, like bacon frying, but amplified. It's applause.
In the three years we've been playing together, we've learned to prepare for all eventualities bar one: success. We could have gone on all night had the bulk of our audience not needed to catch the last bus to Skipton. We still managed two encores, and afterwards Mik Artistik told me how pleasantly surprised he was to discover that we didn't suck.
On the train home, tired and hungover, we assess the likelihood of us dying before we reach Phase 3. We question the drummer, the only one of us ever to have been on a real tour.
"Did you have groupies?" the guitarist asks.
"No, nothing like that," the drummer says, gazing out the window.
"Actually, there was a girl who got on the bus at a science college in Egham. It was the last day of term."
"What did we agree about next weekend?" I say. "Are we driving?"
"I think we agreed to buy a huge container of wine and bottle it ourselves."
"We were supporting the Blow Monkeys," the drummer says. "I think she was with us until Edinburgh."
I arrive home in time for lunch, hauling my stuff up the front steps in stages.
"How did it go?" my wife asks.
"It was weird," I say. "We were brilliant."
"That's nice," she says.
"No, seriously," I say. "It was completely..."
I don't finish my sentence, because I'm not entirely sure I want her to believe me.
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