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OPINION - Centrist Dad: what it’s like to play in a band with Robert Peston and Ed Balls

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Well this is weird. Alongside me, the ITV political editor is bawling, “I am the anti-Christ, I am an anarchist!” at a packed, sweltering crowd. Behind me, a former shadow chancellor and current Good Morning Britain anchor is walloping the drums at twice the speed we have ever played in rehearsal. I’m trying to pogo as I pluck but this bass seems heavier than the last time I did a gig, 35 years ago. Or maybe my knees are not really up to it anymore.

I glance up and catch my 19-year-old daughter shaking her head, a look of sheer horror on her face. Sir Keir Starmer and Ed Miliband have bagged prime spots in the, er, moshpit. Miliband is singing along; the Labour leader is looking slightly bemused about our punk repertoire.

“Ever get the feeling you’ve been cheated?” was Johnny Rotten’s infamous sign-off at Sex Pistols’ swansong gig in 1978. Forty-five years later, punk rock was probably turning in its grave on Sunday afternoon. But, oh what fun we had.

Robert Peston, left, on vocals with John Wilson strumming the bass
Robert Peston, left, on vocals with John Wilson strumming the bass

So how did Robert Peston and Ed Balls end up playing, not only Anarchy in the UK, but also songs by the Ramones, Blondie, The Clash, Bowie, The Who, The Smiths and The Undertones? It started as a dinner party joke. My guitar-playing neighbour Chris Tayler, the only proper musician among us, said, “Oh you play bass? We should have a jam sometime!” From the other end of the table Peston, another neighbour, shouted, “I’ll sing… and Ed Balls plays drums, I’ll give him a call.”

The band existed only on WhatsApp for several weeks as musical differences were quickly established. Robert insisted we were a punk band, Ed seemed unfamiliar with the oeuvre. But once in the rehearsal studio, the can-do Balls spirit that Strictly fans know and love came to the fore, with our drummer fully embracing the punk ethos of attitude-over-talent.

Chris’s brother-in-law helps organise the annual York Rise street festival and asked if we wanted a slot. A gig? With people watching? Two rehearsals later and I was convinced it would be a disaster. But as the festival date loomed and the prospect of public humiliation grew, something wonderful happened in rehearsals. We found ourselves laughing and whooping with joy if we all managed to noisily navigate our way through Blondie’s One Way or Another without cocking up. The band became a weekly release from quotidian tensions. A punk prescription.

And so to our debut. A final rehearsal augured well. Chris brought along his mate Roly Walter on percussion and backing vocals. Robert was in full frontman mode, channelling Roger Daltrey’s gruff baritone on our punky version of The Who classic I Can’t Explain, pirouetting through our interpretation of The Smiths’ Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now. Were we ready? Probably not musically, but as Ed implored us to “own it”, we headed to York Rise relatively confident that people would at least laugh.

A last-minute panic ensued when the band on just before us launched their set with I Can’t Explain. After a backstage conference, we decided to play our version anyway. The irrepressible positivity of Ed came to the rescue again: “Own it!”. And we were on.

In truth, I thought we were shocking. We all messed up lines, forgot key changes, ended songs too early. But people were singing and cheering. Did they get the feeling they’d be cheated? Not when the bar of expectation was so low.

Minutes after we closed our set with Teenage Kicks, a tweet from BBC culture editor Katie Razzall — there as a local resident, not on official reporting duty — announced the existence of Centrist Dad to the wider world. It was immediately reposted by Feargal Sharkey, the man who originally sang Teenage Kicks in 1978. The former Undertone tweeted from his home that he was sure he had just heard his song echoing across the rooftops of north London. He added three handclap emojis. Centrist Dad were delighted.

So, encore? When’s the next gig? I’m not sure there’s much public demand for dodgy middle-aged punk rock, but we’ll be back in the rehearsal studio before long. It’s cheaper than therapy.

John Wilson is the presenter of the BBC’s This Cultural Life