Vasco da Gama Logo 2007
Band at the YMCA Beeston 1979

Vasco da Gama, perhaps the most famous band ever to be linked with the YMCA. No-one dressed up as a construction worker or a red indian, though. Indeed, when the band met the Village People outside the Stockton Locarno in 1979, fists and limp wrists started to fly. Naturally the Gama men, having grown up in the tough streets of Wetherby (and, to a lesser extent, Leeds) emerged unscathed. Police made no arrests. As usual.

Gama's place in the Pantheon of Rock

Thadavea Gama's place in the Rock 'and' Roll Hall of Fame should have been assured in 1977 with the release of the Sculduggery album. Although it is a classic of it's period, the years have treated it less kindly and today it is more of a curiosity than a standard. Whereas the vinyl generation have rushed to replace their Dark Sides of the Moonses and their Tubular Bellses with the CD versions, the Gama platter has stood alone and unloved, dragged out only during periods of bereavement or when someone has died.

It is noteworthy that no Gama song has ever made it on to Desert Island Discs with Sue Lawley, Roy Plomley or Leslie Crowther ("Come on Down!") and while Slade and Wizzard make a fortune every Christmas from the performance royalties on hits such as "Cum on feel the noize", Gama's splendidly festive "Cold Turkey Twizzler" has faded from the playlists like icicles in a broken frigo.

A casual observer might be left to conclude that Gama are no more than a bunch of wannabe no-hope has-been losers - which would be very hurtful. Taken in the context of record sales, sell-out tours, merchandising and general popularity, it's true that Gama lose out to stars like Chicory Tip or even Mike Reid (TV's Frank Butcher from EastEnders) but the Gama Men were never interested in popularity or mass appeal and never measured success in terms of financial security (although it would have been nice). Instead, they set about creating a new sound, a style of music which would stretch the limits of the Rock genre and test the patience of the county set.

Dave Atha, Gama's highly-rated guitarist remembers the excitement within the band when they began to understand the direction they were taking -

"We spent some time in the country getting our thoughts together, trying out new ideas in a workshop type environment scenario thing and after a few days one of them, it might have been Phil Robertson, jumps up like he's been bitten by a rat . Turns out he has been bitten by a rat and his arm goes a funny colour. Anyway, the fuss dies down, we get to thinking and swapping a few ideas on arrangements, production techniques, who wants salami - At this point the Sound and Righting engineer Frasher Kaye comes in and says "Reave it out!" So we decided we'd write the sort of stuff that no-one else had ever written"

And did they think they succeeded?"

"I remember some radio station playing half a song and saying it was derivative - we were well pleased and phoned everyone we knew but then somebody looked it up and found it what it meant.....and we were all a bit upset for a while…"

Hippy HitchenThe summer of discontent of 1976, the preparations for the Silver Jubilee, the imposition of the hugely unpopular Tool Box Tax, the riots on the streets of Spofforth, Nana Mouskouri dancing naked on the Esther Rantzen show - it was against this social backdrop that a band of musicians came together in the hope of creating something unique and thus were born Vasco da Gama - they may never make it into the Rock Circus tourist trap in Piccadilly Circus, they might never have headlined at Reading or Glastonbury and they might have been overlooked for the Band Aid Record… but they tried and who's to say they failed? Actually, they did fail if you measure success by applying the generally accepted criterion of popularity but that is only a technicality. What if they set out to be very unpopular? Then they would be deemed to have succeeded, wouldn't they? Ladies and Gentlemen, Vasco da Gama, the most unpopular band on the planet… deliberately and deservedly so!

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