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To Live or Live Not:
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Just to show you how boring we are live, here’s a promo clip from our last show in Buenos Aires:
In 1977 The Boys appeared in Leicester with Generation X. We’d played our set and gone down a storm underneath a shower of beer, thrown onto the stage by an enthusiastic, although not entirely empathetic crowd. Next up were Gen X to navigate the surface which resembled an aromatic, melting ice rink.
Key their intro tape and big build up to an entrance by the most image conscious of the early punk bands. Billy Idol made it on with aplomb. This couldn’t be said of Tony James who skidded from one side of the stage to the other ending up on his arse.
“You’ll never be cool”, shouted a wag from the crowd.
Oh how we laughed but, as they say, those who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones.
Some years later, on a cold midwinter’s day myself and the family were staying with Vom Richie, ex band mate from The Boys and drummer with German punk superstars Die Toten Hosen. They were finishing up their latest mega tour with about 10 sold out nights at a 15,000 seat arena in their home town of Dusseldorf. On hearing I was coming to the show they invited me to join them in a cover of The Boys hit First Time. At the appointed time I ran on in front of a colossal crowd, onto a colossal stage which contained a colossal, eye catching drum riser.
“Oooh”, I thought. “What an excellent idea it would be to jump off there. That’ll look cool”………………..Wrong!
The thing you have to understand is that bass guitars weigh a bit. If you jump with one round your neck you fall much faster than usual. So, at the end of the song I ran up the steps to the top of the riser, pumped my fist into the air with my best rock star pose, waited as the penultimat guitar chord rang out into the night, jumped high into the air as the cue for a last triumphant final kerrang and fell flat on my face in front of 15,000 people.
This being the YouTube age it’s now impossible to be a prat and not have it recorded for posterity. You can therefore witness my clowning glory in all it’s awfulness Here.
All was not lost though. My wife and quite a few of the public thought I’d fallen over on purpose. I didn’t argue.
The same tactic couldn’t be used next time though.
Date: July 2016.
Occasion: triumphant return to my home county of Kent for my first gig there in eons.
Opening song: Can’t Stop, a new one we are recording for the as yet untitled 3rd album.
Boisterous crowd in the Lighthouse in Deal, all ready to have a great night. What more could we want? Well have a look at what happened here.
No conning my way out of that one. Full blown backward stumble taking out Tommy Lorente’s full set of guitar pedal cables and crashing into the drum kit, causing major damage. Reminds me of the time I backed my car into my wife’s, giving both a great big expensive dent. Luckily no one shouted “You’ll never be cool”, though it would have been no less than I deserved.
Moral of the story? I may, in my always humble opinion, be one of the best jumper arounders in the long history of modern music but it doesn’t come without its risks.
Will there be a third time? I’ll do my best to prevent it but I’ll keep you posted.
On our first album, Little Big Head, there is a track, Rolling On, which contains my most autobiographical lyric to date. In three minutes odd it goes from childhood, through moving to London, falling into the punk scene, settling down, family and now.
For me, the most evocative part is the early verse dealing with my upbringing in Canterbury, a sleepy, provincial town in Kent. Sixty miles from London but part of a different universe altogether.
I grew up at the edge of town on the London Road Council estate. Uniform red brick houses, three small but adequate bedrooms, sporadic traffic, apple orchards out the back and the famous Canterbury Cathedral, founding place of Christianity in Britain, visible from everywhere.
Solidly working class but safe. No one was rich but no one was really poor. And from the rose-tinted perspective of many decades later, the sun, of course, always shone.
The best aspect of growing up there was that, by and large, we were free. A motley gang of 7,8,9, and 10 year olds always playing football in the street. If traffic came by, the ball would be picked up and, once the car passed, the endless game would carry on.
I say “always playing football” but that’s not quite true. There was always time for other escapades.
As July and August approached the apples in the orchards would ripen and it was time for the farmers to be on maximum guard as the “scrumping” season approached. Packs of German Shepherd dogs were bought in to patrol the crops and save them from the gangs of urchins who saw it as a badge of honour to strip the trees of their bounty of ripe red fruit. The farmers themselves would patrol with shot guns ready to fire at any tree infested with monkey like boys who were busy helping themselves to everything they could grab.
The operation was military in its precision. Small boys were sent ahead to reconnoitre for dogs and guns. If the coast was clear a Game of Thrones like charge of older, bigger, better climbers descended and the harvest began. Sometimes the dogs would hear us without the small boys seeing them, and a mad dash ensued with hounds after their quarry and shotgun blasts going off behind.
Usually though, all passed peacefully and a procession of scamps would be seen wending their way back through the estate, jumpers bulging bulbously with their illicit bounty. Mothers would wait at the door to give each and everyone a clip round the ear for being “naughty”, but apple pie was always on for “pudding” at “tea time”. Nothing was wasted.
Or there were the bike trips. “Where are you going?” our mother would ask as bikes were wheeled past the back door. “Just down the road” was the reply. But in fact an expedition was planned to Whitstable, 10 miles away and the nearest coast. The route would involve 20 or so imps often cycling down a dual carriageway to get to the sea. Swimming would follow, then drying off on the way back. No food was packed so we’d knock on the door of complete strangers and ask for a sandwich. An ordinary day dodging high-speed traffic, risking not just drowning but, from the viewpoint of this modern, paranoid age, abduction also.
“Where have you been?”, was the question on our return. “Nowhere”, was the reply.
I could go on with tales of organised shoplifting in the toy shops of Canterbury high street. The aim was to get one over on the security guards who knew exactly what we were there for, but never caught us. Often the booty was thrown away as it wasn’t really the point. Or playing chicken on the electrified main rail line from Dover to London. Raids to let the bicycle tyres down of kids from other streets. “Knock out ginger”, easy pickings fishing in local fish farms, fake dog turds left on the steps of Canterbury Cathedral to shock the tourists, breaking my little finger the one and only time I hit a boy who had just hit my little brother………. you get the picture: a childhood of adventure and “We were all in clover”.
But “time rolled on”, I turned eleven, and for complicated, domestic reasons I was torn from the family home and sent to a middle class world where I needed to mend my ways and hide my roots, else people would think less of me if they knew where I came from. But that’s a story for another song.
So what has bought on this orgy of nostalgic reminiscing?
Well on 23 July we play in Deal, a hop and a skip from Canterbury, in that delightful seaside town, remote enough to be saved from the weekend home buying Londoners that Whitstable has been prey to, but lively enough to enjoy a thriving live music scene. It’s also now my brother’s home and we appear at The Lighthouse, his local and a boozer I wanted to play the minute I walked in.
All sorts of family will be there and, if you want to join us at this free gig, the details are here.
Thank you for your indulgence and company on this fond meander down memory lane.
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.
I wrote this blog, which first appeared here in Uber Rock, after a tour to South America with TV Smith. The events, all of which are true, were the inspiration behind the song “One Night in Rio” on “The Difficult Second Album”. You can see a video of a live performance of the song at the end:
It’s a long way to Argentina and there’s no flight that goes straight there. Even the BA flight that claims to be direct makes you wait on the tarmac in Brazil for ever while the crew changes, and then takes off again for a few more hours to Buenos Aires. It’s a gruelling journey.
So why not stop over in Rio de Janeiro? Party capital of the carnival world, samba dancing lovelies, and Copacabana beach-footballing geniuses.
It also has one of the world’s greatest disparities in wealth between a rich upper middle class and poor incomers, who live on cardboard boxes or in the “favelas”. Shanty towns on the hills which are in the process of being freed by the police from the dead grip of drug gangs.
There’s a great, Oscar nominated film called City of God. If you haven’t seen it then please do, for a flavour of life on the wrong side of Brazil.
But there’s also the picture postcard side. Sunny people living a sun kissed life, world class bikini clad backsides on the beach, never ending bars, and great, African derived food. A city which, especially during the very short dusk as the sunshine fades and the twinkling lights turn on in the hills, is one of the most beautiful in the world. And all overseen by a towering figure of Christ on high, trying his best to make sure the population don’t get completely out of hand.
And it started very well. Pierre, a local fanzine editor and singer, had hooked me up with Davi, a drummer, and Mauk, a local rockabilly guitar legend, and a plan to play 3 songs as guest at a pre organised gig. We had a sweaty rehearsal on the Saturday afternoon and ran through “Sick on You”, “Terminal Love” and “First Time”, all of which went perfectly, almost from the off. As we still had an hour booked at the rehearsal studio I showed them “Montevideo” and “Thinking” and those went very well too. So our 3 song set had almost doubled in length and had an interesting, rockabilly slant to it coming from Mauk’s vintage Gretsch guitar.
I asked Pierre when I would be playing, bearing in mind the 4 hour time difference between the UK and Brazil that I still hadn’t adjusted too. It was explained there were 2 bands on before me, starting at 11pm, so I would perform about 12.30. Now, I’ve played in Brazil before and so knew that my Northern European sensibilities about time and punctuality would need to be softened. If a Brazilian says he will be round in 10 minutes you have time to order a 3 course meal and probably fit in the coffee, cognacs and cigars as well. “So I’ll be playing at 1.30”, I thought, which would be 5.30 in the morning for me but, what the hell, plenty of time to sleep on Sunday.
Mauk picked my wife Liz and I up at 10.30 in a taxi to go to the gig. “It’s a 20 minute journey” he explained and all was fine for the first 15, whereupon we appeared to have come to a stop. There was animated discussion between the taxi driver and my bequiffed guitarist. The Portuguese language is not one of my strong suits but I’m pretty sure I was getting the gist. The taxi driver was advancing something along the lines of “You want me to drive down there!?” To which the reply was “Sure. It’ll be alright.”
A financial arrangement was struck and on we drove ………… into a world for which an upbringing in an English cathedral town was not the most apt preparation. Imagine Mad Max meets modern day Syria. Empty colonial style buildings either falling down or about to fall down. Cobbled streets with grass sprouting through the stones. Cul de sacs ending in barbed wire barricades. “The Buzzcocks played round here once” said Mauk. “That’s alright then” I said.
There were no snipers, however, and every 50 metres or so was a bar. Our gig was in one of these and and apparently Rio’s red light district was conveniently situated one block away.
I had a look inside the gig. No furniture except a table for the merchandise, one bar, one unisex toilet directly in front of the bar lending some confusion as to who was queuing for what, and a small stage set up with drums and amps. “That’s an interesting looking pa ” I thought. Pa.s, the large speakers through which everything and especially voices are played, usually come in pairs, I.e. 2 sets of speakers, one on either side of the stage. They have on stage monitors, so that the band and especially the singers can hear themselves, and a mixing desk. This pa appeared to comprise of one speaker and amp with a few wires at the back of the stage.
It was a hot evening and even hotter inside so Liz and I, being pale skinned ice dwellers not used to these climes, were kindly offered a table on the pavement outside to while away the short time until I would be playing the relative hop, skip and a jump of a mere 5 song set. I would afterwards, of course, receive the adulation which would be my due, before making fond farewells.
A large crowd of about 300 had arrived to create a happy atmosphere, spilling out of the hot small bar into the street. All were saying hello, thank you for coming, photographs were taken, as ever, more or less successfully depending on how well people knew their mobile phones, CDs and vinyls were signed, and everything was extremely jolly in our little bomb site.
I queued up for the loo in front of the bar. The olive skinned beauty in front of me turned round, talked in rapid Portuguese when she saw me, and then fell into my arms. She was, by her own admission, very, very, drunk.
The first band went on at 12.30. “OK”, I thought, “I’ll be on at 2 am. Six in the morning really but still alright” and returned to our table outside. The vocals could not be heard and I made a mental note to turn down the guitars and bass amp.
It was then that the night’s main cabaret began. The sound of the band had achieved more than accelerate the crumbling of the neighbouring buildings. Along the street marched 50 leather clad, booted, studded and very vacant teenagers. They had clearly been roused from their enhanced reverie by the sound of fresh meat ready to eat and were lined up on the pavement across from our table, arms folded, eyes glaring ready for the signal to charge over and devour their prey.
“Let’s run for it” said Liz. “It’s going to kick off”. “We can’t” I said. “You’ve got heels on, the streets are cobbled and we wouldn’t make 10 yards.”
And if it had been England there is no doubt it would, indeed, have kicked off. The mixture of strong alcohol and teenagers striking aggressive poses would have lead to at least one of the big guys present taking his index finger across the road, jabbing it in the chest of the most aggressive looking kid and asking who the fuck he was looking at like that? From there blood would have ensued.
But this was Brazil. So a couple of very big looking gentlemen did amble across, smiled at the feral near adults and asked what was happening. Soon all was sweetness and light. The kids got bored with threatening everyone and marched off down the street to carry on stoning police cars and taxis, which was what was keeping them amused before.
But by now it was 2.30 am and only one band had played. I went off to find the promoter to “ask” that I play next and, like, “now please”. He had a worried look on his face while he explained that the home made pa had blown up. But, not to worry, another one had been sent for and it would be there in an hour.
Liz and I had a conference with Mauk and Davi. All were in agreement. This wasn’t going to happen and everyone was drifting off home in any case. Which is what we did.
So, all in all a less than successful but completely invigorating evening. Many new friends made, a few CDs sold, promises to come back again and sights seen that no tourist would witness in a decade of weekend jaunts.
Next up Buenos Aires when, as we came in to land on the other side of the world, I would discover I had lost the hotel address together with my phone. All in a day’s work!