The Brudenell Social Club in Leeds is a gem of a venue. Perfect size, great stage, proper backstage, great city, lovely Yorkshire people: all was set fair.
We were a bit worried about playing on the first Friday after New Year. Would everybody be on dry January or skint or just recovering from the excesses of the previous week? And in truth advance sales hadn’t been great. We’d even resorted to some promotion which was demanding as there was no way Facebook was tolerating the advertising of a show including a band called The Fuckwits who, along with the witty, quirky and just generally wonderful Pete Bentham and the Dinner Ladies, were our support for the night.
But commeth the hour and the good folk of Yorkshire didn’t desert us. A great turnout was present as we took to the stage.
Now there’s one thing my voice seems not to be able to survive: stage smoke. Just one puff seems to be enough to remove all the moisture from my throat and leave me with a croak where my once mellifluous, seductive, uplifting, honey-dewed tones of a siren used to be. The effect is quite horrible to hear.
And as we stood ready to crash into the opening chord of Can’t Stop, first song of the show, I spied the tell tale trail of deadly, white, puffs of doom escaping from a blower above the stage, drifting toward me like The Fog in that film by John Carpenter.
And so, quite reasonably, I let out a little girly squeek of panic and leapt into the air, waving my arms about in order to grab the attention of the sound and lighting guy, the man responsible for spreading the end of the world (-well my voice anyway) across the stage.
Unfortunately, after decades of practice with a heavy Rickenbacker bass (now resplendantly purple, by the way) slung round my neck, I am rather good at jumping. And so my head went straight into the sharp corner of a pa speaker cabinet hung above the stage.
For the first time ever, after many decades of experience, I heard and saw an entire audience, in perfect unison, to a man and women, with shocked looks on their faces, say: “Ouch!”.
Karen, Nick and Sophie had similar looks (actually Nick was laughing, the heartless bastard!). “You’re bleeding”, said Karen, a vegetarian so not used to such things. I rushed into the dressing room thinking: “Shall I put a plaster on” but realised there’s very little you can make stick to your hair. The wonderful Chris Jones, promoter for the night, had left some lovely soft, white towels for us. They didn’t stay white for long.
I thought I’d stopped the bloodflow and so ran back on stage to launch into the show. Completely oblivious, I had no idea I still looked like an extra from a spaghetti western until the next day I saw this photo on Facebook, a testament to the unfaltering bravery, and never say die willingness to suffer for his art, character of your humble bass playing Big (Red) Head!
We have had some great times in this band and last weekend was up there with them. Gridlock in London on Friday made us late to The Lighthouse, Deal but the welcome made the 5 hour journey worthwhile. Then thanks to everyone who crammed into The Black Heart for Camden Rocks on Saturday. There wasn’t the same full house for all who played there.
Pride of place, though, goes to the people at Wychwood who stayed in the pouring rain to cheer us on. Not one of you heroes left when the heavens opened and it made us feel so humble. Thank you!
Some places are just magic and Ireland has a fair few of them. It had been another raucous night at Fibber Magees. Drunks had been ejected, Brazilian beauties had samba’d, Irish lads had talked quickly to each other in a tongue which was supposedly English but which no Englishman could decipher, and we had not been allowed off the stage until six encore songs had been played.
My great friend Peter Jones of Irish punk rockers Paranoid Visions told me: “You are all playing the Stags Head tomorrow night right? You’ll have the time of your lives”. Dublin’s cheeriest and most loveable rascals, Charlie Higgins and John Farrell, chipped in: “You’ll not stop us coming up. It’s the best boozer in Ireland”.
And so we took the train north to near the border, on a cold day with the wind blowing specs of rain through our clothes as we walked from the station to our hotel.
But our hearts and souls were warmed to the core as we later stepped into the Stag’s Head to be met by Skinner, organiser of shows and contender for most generous barman in the world. He was assisted by a host of regulars with warm handshakes and kind smiles. Some places just ooze friendliness.
The Stag’s Head has three main areas. There is a front bar, where the older, more restrained element tend to drink, a back bar where the bands play, and an outside smoking area. Now, of great significance to our story is the fact that, when bands set up, the door to the smoking area is to their side meaning smokers need to walk across the stage and through the performing band to feed their craving for the devil’s weed.
With most bands this presents a minor obstacle. The elderly gentlemen drinking steadily and quietly in the front bar can enjoy their seven or eight pints of Guiness while occasionally tottering, in a less and less steady manner as the night wears on, through the din and mayhem of the back bar. They then wend their way between the musicians and exit stage right to enjoy a peaceful smoke with their friends.
Those of you who have seen us live, however, will testify to the fact that there is a fair degree of movement going on by three characters holding guitars, each of whom therefore represents a moving barrier approximately four feet wide (that’s 1.3 metres for our European friends) on a stage, in this case, with a total width of 15 feet.
And so the evening’s entertainment progressed. We all agreed we were having the time of our lives. The audience were completely drunk and sang along to the songs, including a number of glamourous, exhuberent, long legged ladies in cinderella high heels and party dresses. Nick was excited.
Every now and then one of the aforementioned elderly gentlemen would come tottering from the front bar toward the stage in contemplation of a relaxing smoke, to be met by the sight of three dangerous, axe wielding maniacs, the most deadly of which was Welsh and female. Imagine, if you would, a line of desperate, Irish Walter Matthaus waiting by the side of a motorway/autobahn/freeway (call it what you will), hopping from foot to foot, occasionally advancing, then thinking the better of it, while trying to judge the opportune moment to make a dash through the speeding traffic to reach the sanctuary of the far side. If you can imagine that you can picture the scene in Dundalk’s finest pub that night.
So did we slow down to allow safe passage for the elderly gentlemen in their time of danger? Did we hell – we sped up! It became a badge of honour that none should pass. We fought a losing battle, of course, since periodically we had to pause for breath between songs, or one of us would be rooted to the spot while on keyboard duties. On these occasions a flood of relieved nicotine junkies would grab their chance of safe passage through the deranged rabble, leaving for later the challenge of how they would make it safely back to their drinks.
The evening ended with Irish retribution of a kind as Charlie and John joined us on stage, frightening Sophie into joining Karen behind the drum kit. The cheers of elderly men in the front bar could be heard above our din.
After the show the night flowed on into the early hours and much Guiness flowed with it. More unintelligible english was spoken at high speed by our wonderful hosts and even more laughter was to be heard mixed in.
A large 21st birthday party was in full swing when we arrived back at the hotel. We hadn’t found any food on our way but were warmly encouraged to help finish off the birthday buffet, which we duly did.
Ireland: it’s full of the Irish and, because of that, you can’t help but have a good time.
Sad news that Chuck Berry died today. It took me back to the one time I came accross him on my travels.
In 2013 we were lucky enough to tour Argentina and Uruguay with TV Smith. It was a mad tour, as they all seem to be, but great fun.
The tour finished up in Montevideo, a lovely, sleepy town that I’d written a song about, implying that the place was a non stop partying cross between Dublin, Ibiza, Berlin and anywhere else you’d like to throw in where the locals value a good time over sleep eight days a week.
In fact Montevideo has a lot more in common with Geneva where everyday seems like a gentle Sunday afternoon stroll in the park.
It turned out that the government of Montevideo were delighted with my portrayal of the local population as a bunch of 24 hour a day inebriates and decided to bestow on me the honour of becoming a “Visitante Illustre”, the equivalent of being awarded the keys to the city. The only other British musicians to receive this honour are Paul MacCartney and Elton John so it’s a big deal.
In particular they liked the video of the song which can be seen here.
So, after a wild night of last show of the tour celebration, with precious little sleep and a thumping head, off I went to the Uruguayan Parliament to collect my award. This entailed giving a speech in Spanish, – demanding under the circamstances.
Afterwards, as we walked up the stairs to the front of our hotel, the doors opened before us and an extremely sprightly, elderly black guy came through. He was cool. Dressed in a captains hat, bootlace tie and leather bomber jacket, he passed quite quickly on his way to somewhere important.
“That’s Chuck Berry”, said my wife Liz and by golly it was. I didn’t realise he was still alive at the time, let alone still touring the world and playing shows.
So, clutching my medal as the illustrious visitor to Montevideo I felt honoured to have received it, excited to have seen one of the original greats of Rock n Roll ……….. and a complete and utter fraud. Who was I to be honoured in this way when playing in town was the guy who invented the rock guitar solo, the widely acclaimed ultimate poet of Rock n Roll, the man who inspired The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Bruce Springsteen and just about every other iconic musician of taste who picked up a guitar? Indeed you listen to all the great guitar solos on the early punk records and there is one man whose two string style is behind them -Chuck Berry.
I got over it though, and when I showed the hotel my medal they allowed me to check out later that evening, way after the official leaving time, without charging. A memorable day then, but they often are in South America.
(PS: There is a fuller blog I wrote about this eventful tour which begins here )
If you grew up in East Kent the word “Dreamland” will mean only one thing –Margate. And Margate means excitement!
You know how it is: when you look back on summer days as a kid every day was sunny. And so the whole family, Mum, step dad and three brothers would cram into the tiny family car and head off to the coast from Canterbury. There would always be traffic jams on the tiny country roads because everyone else had the same idea. The farmers had always just cut their crops so the whole journey smelled of cabbage!
But what a treat when you finally arrived. Three little boys digging holes in the sand, burying someone’s dog and anything else our parents didn’t keep a close eye on. Swimming in the sea or in the huge stone pool craftily constructed to capture a load of pea green sea water so bathers didn’t have to wade out miles to get up to their knees when the tide went out.
But it was in the evening the fun really started.
First up a local delicacy. A type of shellfish, usually so badly cleaned it was still full of tooth crunching sand, liberally dowsed in face scrunching malt vinegar, going by the name of -I kid you not – cockles! British cuisine is not what it was.
Roller Coasters, candy floss, bumper cars and penny cascades. You’d feed your pennies into the top of the latter, they’d drop down, bouncing off various pegs and, if you were lucky, land in a way that made a load of other pennies be pushed over a ledge and fall in a flash of lights and loud music to a place where you could pick them out. But we’d spent all our pennies on the rides. So one brother would keep a look out for the attendant while another gave the machine a good nudge with his shoulder in an attempt to dislodge the pennies without putting any in. It never worked. The machines were set like the Rock of Gibraltar into the floor of the penny arcade and all that happened was the alarm was set off which brought the attendants running to shoo us out with threats of the jails we would reside in should we show our faces round there again.
When I became a teenager the attraction of Dreamland changed. In London a world of David Bowie, Roxy Music, T Rex and Slade existed. No one ever came to Canterbury but they did appear at Dreamland. Only one problem though. I was banned from going.
Ever since the sixties Margate equalled danger in the eyes of parents for unaccompanied teenagers. It started with mass fights between Mods and Rockers and carried on with dark tales of the worst possible danger prowling the known universe at the time -DRUGS! Evil men lurked in Margate, luring the innocent into a lifetime of addiction in order to relieve them of all hope and pocket money.
But we sneaked off anyway. Especially when Hawkwind were playing. They had a young Lemmy on bass and vocals but, more importantly, a female dancer with huge knockers whose shirt and bra would go missing on a good night. For 13 year old boys nothing could possibly be better than that.
Dreamland closed not long after. Margate became a victim of the cheap beer and sunny weather on offer in Spain and fell into a state of deepening decay.
But largely through an influx of European money things are looking up. You’ll still see a fleet of teenage mothers pushing prams up the high street, dodging the shoplifters desperately running away from overworked store guards. But now Margate is also home to The Turner Gallery, named after the painter who admired the North Kent skies so much and who was the subject of Mike Leigh’s wonderful film. There’s a charming Covent Garden like centre of antique shops, boutique hotels and restaurants and, best of all, Dreamland reopened a few years ago as a vintage recreation park.
At 9pm on September 8 2017 the wheel will turn full circle and I will be there, not as an excited teenager slinking off for illicit pleasure, but as a fully fledged performer appearing at Mick Moriaty’s wonderful Undercover Festival. It’s one of a number of festivals we are playing in 2017. Since we blew people’s socks off at Riverside Rebellion they haven’t stopped coming in!
I’m told by regulars that Undercover is a seriously good time for all who attend. To say I can’t wait is an understatement.
There are some heroes on this small island of ours. Fighters who keep the flame alive and give a platform to those of us who plow our furrow in the unfashionable and underloved arena of melodic, tuneful, punk rock, – heroes who enable weekends as fun-filled and fulfilling as the one just passed.
We’ve been guilty of ignoring the Northern end of Great Britain for a couple of years. Those Germans, Scandinavians, Spanish, Irish and even Americans are just so damn welcoming. And I don’t know what we’ve done to Rebellion but they never answer our emails. We started to put that right this week though.
So step forward Mr Joe Maddox and his band The Breakdowns. We needed a stopover between London and Glasgow and up they came with our salvation. The Chameleon Arts Cafe: smack bang in the middle of Nottingham on a thursday night. Run by two very friendly fellas who are determined to enjoy their work and make sure their wares are up to scratch before offering them for sale. If you ask nicely they are also not backward in coming forward with the Jaegermeister post show.
Heated to a level just a few degrees below St Petersburg on Christmas eve, the Chameleon still has a warmth only the good people of Nottingham can engender. I lived in this town for a couple of years when I was helping to run Nottingham Forest FC (twice Champions of Europe!) and I love coming back to hear the dulcet tones of the local OAPs telling me: “You’re blocking the road and breaking the law”! Well I was, but only because we had to stop somewhere in the car to telephone the venue which is hidden down an alley and up some stairs. A great crowd, a great thursday night and we were bloody good too.
And so to Glasgow. Last time we were there was a Saturday afternoon matinée. Bold idea and a good one. This time it would be a friday night proper, promoted once again by the charming Alex Mainy Main, a man of many entertaining opinions, as evidenced by his blog –“Itsaxxxxthing” (Warning: do not read if you like your point of view filtered by the Daily Mail, or are of a Trumpish disposition). He is also a general doer of good deeds for struggling musicians through his local collective The New Hellfire Club. The venue, Audio, is one of the best in the UK as were the two support bands, Media Whores and Heavy Drapes.
I love a big stage. Give us a Big Stage and we’ll show you how to use it! Sophie K Powers threw her best poses, thrashing away with no regard for life or limb, a blur of hair, white Les Paul Junior and legs.
Mauro Venegas strutted his patch, a wild mixture of Mick Ronson and Steve Jones. Our own Jones (Karen) whacked away behind. How does someone so light hit those drums so damn hard?
And me? You know what I do when you give me a bit of space.
We were shit hot that night. It was worth the long drive just by itself.
Afterwards we headed off to sample the bars of Sauchiehall Street. Glasgow late on a drunken Friday night? Well why not? You only die once.
Actually it wasn’t threatening at all. We arrived in an establishment full of young bearded fellows, quite clearly off their faces on MDMA, throwing karate poses to each other in time to modern music of indeterminate quality. The girls, clearly also floating in another dimension, were together enough to be pissed off at the lack of attention from the blokes who, despite their lack of terrestrial presence, seemed to be quite aware that they looked like a bunch of bearded Craig Revel Horwoods.
And then things got weirder. The besuited DJs played first “War Pigs” by Black Sabbath, then Whitney Huston, Dolly Parton, Sheena Easton and a whole host of guilty pleasures from the 70s and 80s. By this time the place was heaving with hipsters all getting off to music they probably wouldn’t be seen dead owning up to on Sunday morning.
We’d been joined by Guy Jardine, boss at Rebel in Print T Shirts (Check them out), a man who wouldn’t be seen dead on facebook (cough) and unmistakably: A PUNK! “This isn’t Punk” grumbled Guy, “Punk was invented to get rid of all this”! “Don’t be a silly sausage” I said. “Yes, come and have a dance” said Sophie. So off he sheepishly trotted to have a bop whereupon the DJ took Lionel Ritchie off and put on Billy Idol to save Guy’s blushes. Hospitable people these Scots.
We were on at the perfect time: about 8 pm. But: we followed Church of Eon and Cyanide Pills. Watching them both I was thinking, “This is going to take some serious showing off to keep up with”. Church of Eon even had a portly local jump up in his ABBA pyjamas during their cover of Mama Mia.
Cyanide Pills were simply magnificent: everything you want when Leeds meets Lager.
So we really did get up to some serious, world-class showing off. There weren’t the wide open spaces of Audio so we crashed into each other a lot, I couldn’t hear a word I was singing and the mike kept flying off its stand. But I think we pulled the largest crowd of the night and kept them there to our glorious finale.
On the way back to the hotel Mauro stopped to pick up a local delicacy: the Chicken Parma. He had a half sized one which was about 4 kilos of breaded, fried chicken covered in 3 litres of melted cheese and a bucket of fries. I share a hotel room with him and was worried (having seen Monty Python’s Meaning of Life).
The ever smiling Harry Steen, arranger of gigs in far flung corners of Norway, purveyor of fresh Norwegian salmon at unexpected times, and general uplifter of the soul, sent me a text: “Is it alright if Honest John comes on the tour?”. “Is it alright?” Bloody hell! Is it alright if all my birthdays come at once? Is it alright if Cara Delevigne declares she’s gone off girls and would like to pop round tonight?
“Does he want to?” I replied. “He says yes”, was the short answer.
I didn’t think it would happen though.
Believe it or not, there were those who tried to stop it. To the incredulity of all in the know, there was an element (no member of The Boys I hasten to add) on the phone to John, many times a day, heaping pressure on him not to play with me. And John hates confrontation. A lover of the easy life he’ll shy away from anger rather than be the cause of trouble.
But good for him. A bang on the head and glimpse of the hereafter has given John a view of life a little above the rest of us. And: an ability he once didn’t have to ignore silliness.
I still didn’t think it would happen though.
But the week before, I was on the phone to our mutual mate Jim the vicar who mentioned with joy in his heart: “So John says he’s coming on tour with you next week”. “Did he say that?” I said.
I still didn’t think it would happen though.
But on Thursday 14 April 2016 we were in Oslo and so was John. Ready to play his classic “Where have all the Good Girls gone”, and an almighty cover of M.O.T.O.’s “I hate my fucking Job”, backed by the outstanding Oslo band, Hard Luck Street. And more importantly John was there to play “Box No.”, “Sick on You” and “First Time” with us.
I’ve spent the last 3/4 years with the Big Heads praising and promoting The Boys. In print, on the radio, and at every gig I laud their achievements and what they meant to the world. And especially John, author of so many classic songs. So what a thrill at the appointed hour as the big man stepped up, plugged in and launched into Box No. Oh how I’ve missed standing in front of that monster, world class chug. Even If you ignore all his other achievements John could take any other punk on in a rhythm guitar contest and wipe the floor with them.
The audience were a wall of cameras and phones. Word had got around Oslo through John’s many friends that this reunion was happening and the various gadgets couldn’t hide the mile wide smiles on faces as the familiar, iconic intro chords to “First Time” rang out.
As I looked up I felt a huge wave of relief that this had come to pass. We nearly lost the fella last year and I would never have had the chance again. There’s a lot of silliness in the world but we only live once. Let’s ban silliness and, like John, rise above it.
We’d all be happier and better off.
Some things never change though. On the last night of the tour I was at the bar ordering my customary pre-show water when a familiar Londonised Yorkshire voice cut across the room: “Duncan Reid LPs; half price for cash”! Yep. Someone had let him loose on the Merch stall!
Last summer our delightful Norwegian agent, Harry Steen, turned up to our London show with three kilos of salmon and four jars of caviar. It was a charming gift, albeit constituting a somewhat unconventional package to carry around at a gig.Thankfully he brought the fish in a cool bag so I managed to get it home without it starting to hum our tunes.
Wild Norwegian salmon. What a treat.
Stockholm last week managed to surpass that. My total haul for the gig was as follows:
1 hand painted portrait freshly arrived from Finland,
2 bottles of liquorice firewater,
2 bars of dark chocolate, and …….
the icing on the cake ……….
2 jars of peanut butter.
Aren’t people wonderful?
Rock and Roll: it beats shopping and still provides the essentials of life.
And so to the ferry across the River Plate and the bus to Montevideo. I’d played here two years earlier with The Boys and had the time of my life. So much so that I wrote a song about it and, in particular, the ClashCityRockers bar where I’d spent most of the time hanging out.
The effect of the song was pretty much to big the place up and everyone was talking about going to this mythical location as if it would be the source of all happiness. “What have I done?”, I thought. “It’s only a bar. Everyone is going to be so let down”.
The gig was in the smallest venue of the tour with a suitably scaled down audience but the reaction was the loudest and most raucous. Tim was not allowed to leave the stage and nor where we.
There was also a first for all of us: an outdoors dressing room! Liz came into the four walled, lit up area, about the size of a normal room. It normally served as the grill area of the bar. “This has got a very high ceiling”, she said looking at the sky. “And it’s got a barbecue!”.
And onto ClashCityRockers for an after show drink. It didn’t take long for Alex to get up on the tables with Tim’s guitar and start taking requests, most of which he could sing and play to the delight of the locals. Everyone took turns to join in and goodness knows how long we were there singing and drinking. All I know is it was 7am when we left.
“How do you do this all the time?” I asked Valentina, wife of Hugo who organised the gig. “We only do it when you come”, she replied smiling.
“This bar is the best place in the whole world, isn’t it?”, said Alex to Tim as we made our way out. “Not far off. But then so was everywhere else”, was the reply which pretty much summed it up.
A truly superb week. New friends made, especially Jose on drums, Tommy and Juan on guitars, Chino the roadie and Mariano to thank for organising it all. Sad farewells made as the rest of the guys headed back to Buenos Aires.
Liz and I stayed on an extra day as I had a date with the minister to receive my “Illustrious Visitor” award. A charming lady as it happened, who made a welcoming speech which I responded to in Spanish without mishap. Then onto a TV station for an interview which, this time, I took the sensible way out and did in English.
As we walked up the steps to the hotel a very sprightly old black guy came down toward us. Dressed in one of those 50’s American jackets James Dean might wear, and a captain’s hat, he was the coolest looking 86 year old you’ll ever see.
“That’s Chuck Berry”, said Liz and by George it was. So, one of the greatest Rock n Roll poets and inventor of the rock lead guitar is in town and I’m the “Illustrious Visitor”?