I’ve been home for a while now after spending the majority of last year touring the world with some of my favourite bands.

After spending so much time away, I really notice the little changes when I return. I’m excited that I can now get decent sushi from multiple places. I’m genuinely gutted (and didn’t realise how much I used it) that I can no longer pop to Wilkos for last-minute tour Sharpies or things to fix up the house. 

I have yet to pop in, but it’s awesome to see Level Best Art Cafe – a cafe that offers genuine and meaningful work to people with learning disabilities – move to shiny new premises. 

Three Wise Monkeys now can their own beer. Firstsite have moved their gift shop. And it’s now three for £6 on bottles of beer in our local Tesco instead of three for a fiver. 

I had the pleasure of bumping into Jez and Steve from Best Days Vintage the other day, where a quick “hello” turned into a half hour deep conversation about balancing a creative life whilst currently going through the process of trying to conceive. I’m 35 now, rapidly slipping (comfortably, may I add) into a more adult phase of life, and I would like to be a dad soonish! 

I first arrived in Colchester at the age of 23. As a plucky young kid, oozing misplaced confidence by the bucket load, I sung my overly-earnest compositions that I imagined were akin to the genius writing of Nick Cave. Spoiler alert: they weren’t! But the Colchester scene allowed me to find my feet, experiment, and develop into the songwriter I am now. And more importantly, develop the self-awareness to know I’ll never be akin to Nick Cave!

When I first arrived in Colchester, I put a message up in Keep Colchester Cool, proudly announcing my arrival and looking for shows. Again, in retrospect, I don’t know how I had the confidence to be so forward. However, it worked! I was offered a show by Ben Howard at Tin Pan Alley (now Queen Street Brewhouse), opening for a band called Dingus Khan.

I have two memories of this show. One – that the bar was packed! I’d never played solo tunes in front of more than 20 people. To have been in my new home town less than three days to play a packed bar was overwhelmingly joyous. My second memory was that Dingus Khan were the wildest band I had ever seen. They attached a huge inflatable swan to the ceiling which came crashing down first song, swamping the swarming crowd, before deflating and being thrown all over the pub. My partner Lorna hid behind the bar to avoid being bashed into by the bonkers crowd – the place went wild!

This was the moment I fell in love with the Colchester music scene. Fast forward a decade, and Ben Brown, the singer of Dingus Khan, was our tour support around the UK. To this day, he remains one of my favourite songwriters.

On Monday and Tuesday this week, I had the pleasure of judging the Three Wise Monkeys young persons’ Battle of the Bands alongside my brother and PET NEEDS guitarist, George. The talent and passion of every single act blew us away. It was especially cool to see last year’s winners, The Strays, return to headline both nights. Over the course of a year, they have transformed from an excellent band to absolute rock stars.

The Colchester music scene is ridiculously strong at the moment. Our friends, The Meffs, are currently touring Europe. Generation Feral is releasing some of the most incredible, poignant tunes imaginable. The mighty Slugworth have reformed and are headlining Colchester Arts Centre. Bridget. has just announced her first EP after getting played on BBC Radio One. And we, PET NEEDS, are releasing our third album, which may be on course for a top 40 record.

Colchester is my home. I spend far less time here than I would like. Soon, we are packing our bags once again, piling into the van and heading around the country. To the Keep Colchester Cool community, I cordially invite you to our HMV in-store show on Wednesday, 21st February, at 6pm, followed by an invite-only (you’re all invited) after-party at Three Wise Monkeys. We will know where we are in the mid-week charts by then! It’s going to be a day I’ll remember forever. 

To get tickets, each of which also comes with an album that counts towards the charts, please visit: https://hmv.com/Live/Pet-Needs

I don’t take for granted that we get to play all over the world, and I am fully aware of the local scene that embraced us and built us up in the first place. I’m proud to say on stage every night, thousands of miles from home, “We are PET NEEDS from Colchester, Essex, UK.”

I’ll never not say that. Maybe some of the traits of that overly-earnest 23 year old still live within me!

Johnny Marriott (PET NEEDS). Photo credit: Vanessa Söllner