Stony Sleep and the favourite bands you’d never remember you had

“The band have been split up for a long time now.”

Now bear in mind that that’s written on a website that hasn’t been updated since looking like this:

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Goodness, the page was created so long ago that it has a visitor counter, one which sadly hasn’t survived the passage of time.

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RIP counter number: I hope you had a great run. (Sometime the brightest flames burn quickest etc etc.)

Anyway, this is what I discovered when I came to search for the online remnants of Stony Sleep – a band who were a favourite of mine during my first couple of years at university, when I wrote music reviews for the University of Aberdeen paper The Gaudie.

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A Slack Romance is one of the few albums I remember writing about. I seem to recall an unflattering takedown for it in Kerrang!, whose reviewer unfavourably brushed them off as Bends-era Radiohead wannabes.

I never understood that comparison myself. Stony Sleep were more abrasive, lyrically roguish, and playful – as well as being occasionally thunderous, fitting in with grunge’s quiet-loud dynamics.

While there was some experimentation also going on, they were more driven and punky than Thom Yorke’s mob. (The NME review wasn’t wrong to mentioned a debt to Black Francis of The Pixies.)

Anyway, I loved the album, especially the first half which I played repeatedly. I mean, that opening salvo of Midmay and She’s a Honey was killer.

But evidently the adoration of an amateur reviewer for a uni newspaper wasn’t enough to propel them to the top of the charts, and Stony Sleep split up pretty soon after this second album of theirs failed to take off.

In one of those mundane twists of fate, the CD is amongst a small selection that I have back home in the Highlands – meaning that whenever I borrow the car from my parents it has become a go-to record used for cruising on the road to Inverness. (Listened to at extremely high volume, I still sing along despite my knowledge of all the lyrics remaining sketchy at best.)

For me it’s a reminder both of of an era when there were many acts I loved who never made it, and of the fact that I have ceased to listen to so much of their output. (Which would be sad, but is usually tempered by me singing along to Midmay like a gibbon.)

Anybody with the slightest passing knowledge of the music industry will be aware of how unlikely it is for an artist to “make it” by being signed to a proper label – and how many of those then fail to “make it” past the first or second hurdle. It’s a spectacularly cruel business for most of those trying to become successful musicians, not least because attention is heaped up the tiny minority whose unique combinations of talent, luck, and perseverance sees them turn their ambitions into a lifelong career.

And even with those who do reach the top, many of them seem to be bloody miserable about it, as Frank Sinatra addressed in his letter to George Michael:

There are so many forgotten bands and lost artists that it could feel utterly futile to keep on going – and yet so many still do. The creative impulse and the ego are powerful things, it seems.

That can be true of those with little experience, but even those who might know better can’t seem to help themselves, a seemingly doomed trajectory which Anvil! The Story of Anvil captured perfectly.

It’s interesting that on Spotify some 20% of tracks have not been listened to once. Even on a streaming service, we settle for the familiar and are loathe to delve further. Does it mean that the efforts of those artists of yesteryear – the ones that we don’t recall, anyway – were made in vain?

I guess Stony Sleep help reassure me that it isn’t so pointless. Even now they have an impact on me, and I love listening to A Slack Romance just much as I used to, if not more so. (Given the warm nostalgia that also accompanies it.)

Mind you, are those fleeting moments of happiness for me really worth the thousands of pounds spent, and the dreams that were crushed? Should we keep people on a track where they’re almost certainly destined for disappointment, simply because it will bring about occasional moments of joy for others?

It’s probably me being a selfish sod, but when I hear certain tracks that I love from acts who never went on to anything greater, the answer is an unequivocal YES. It’s that same response that has also kept myself going through doomed-to-fail musical endeavours, and which will have done the same for many others too. Sometimes you just have to keep on dreaming that dream. (Well, unless you’re George Michael, that is.)