The Coolibah Tree
This is an account of what it's like to work for a rock band on tour - no, er, how about - this is a diary of the New Model Army warm-ups . . . oh, bugger it.
I hate intros. They're like someone at a party saying - "wow, tell me about yourself!" Crap. What can you say? I mean where do you start? Like with this book - I wanted to write a diary and take some photographs of these warm-ups and then the Big Tour. That's it. I thought it was a good idea - you know, if being on the road was good enough for Bing and Bob, then it's good enough for me. Little did I know what lay in store . . .get the picture?
Yes, we do . . .
I mean, the tatterdemalion world of rock n' roll is littered with the pretentious, the ignorant and the tortured. What I'm trying to do is just write a personal (and I mean wholly personal, as in, like - mine and mine alone) account of my time on the New Model Army "Strange Brotherhood" tour of 1998. My job is the lowest of the low - that of second swagman, or, in Plain English, the T-shirt seller's assistant. But, like any seemingly simple thing, all is not quite what it appears. Firstly, although my position on the road is a humble one, my other jobs in Real Life affect my job in Road Life. In the outside world, I design the band's record sleeves and merchandise line and have done so for 17 stormy years. My main occupation, though, is that of a poet, writer and performer. I also live with the frontman, Justin Sullivan, in an obscure Northern city in Britain, a small island off the coast of mainland Europe. So, you see, nothing in show business is ever what it seems This is a world of illusions and deceptive half truths, founded upon sleights of hand and puzzles without solutions. It's a world that depends on flexibility, profound use of physical and mental energy, desperate improvisations and tricks of light. We have, like all tribes, our own hierarchy, our own argot, our own allegiances, both obvious and subtle. In short, a band is a curious beast - fierce, intense, knackered and utterly focussed on two hours a night - on the show itself.
While I realise nothing I write can truly pierce the Mystery, or enter the Holy of Holies, and the viewpoint of a swagman (yes, I know I'm not a bloke, I don't have a problem - it's just I can't be bothered to write "swagperson", it sounds naff even if it is accurate - let's just say it's "man" as in human ) is completely different from that of, say, a musician. But what the heck - throw caution to the winds - spit on the deck and call the cat a bastard, it's gonna be a bumpy night. Let's begin at the beginning; or to be more accurate, let's begin before the beginning . . .
Section One - prepare for take off.
For the swagman, as for all members of the Great Circus (or the Bloody Juggernaut, as we fondly think of it in times of stress) the tour doesn't start on April the 18th at the Pyramids, Portsmouth, it begins some three or four months before the first warm-ups. For the technical crew there is a mountain of horrible, trashed, stinky old equipment and instruments to swear at and kick into some sort of working order; to tweak, polish, glue, salvage and lovingly repair. The lighting director and his cronies have to brood in their secret lair about "goldenscans" and "pinspots" (techno-speak - no, I've got no idea, either) and twiddly things that light up, revolve and make even the most apalling barn into a fairy grotto. The management have to tear their remaining hair out, dice with their blood pressure and scream a lot inside whilst remaining outwardly urbane. The musicians, naturally, have to rehearse - in congenial surroundings, well supplied with toast and marmite, Twixes, and tea. But the swagmen, ah, the poor old swaggies have the worst job of all.
Now, to many people who go to rock concerts, a T-shirt is just a T-shirt. If it's black, XL, and has the band's name on it, they'll buy it. They don't much care about quality or style, they're easy going types who just want a souvenir. Not so the New Model Army Fan. "Picky" springs to mind; or even "finicky". They are the cognoscente of Fans and only the very best is good enough. For years they have become accustomed to making their selections for the coming season from a haute couture range of extra-premium, heavy-weight, taped seamed, set-in-neck, softly printed masterpieces of cutting edge design. They are accustomed to the finest T-shirts money can buy, emblazoned with proper Art, not just the gurning physog of some hairy muso in a plastic print so thick you could use the shirt as a frisbee, on a fabric so transparent it's a matter of public indecency. No shapeless, bizarre, tubular, water-shy, soap-dodging, rag of dubious origin and criminal cut for them, oh no. They want, nay, demand, Quality. And not merely T-shirts, either - a full ensemble of items and accessories is required, thank you. Three sorts of shirts, mugs, solid silver pendants on tasteful bits of trendy black string, stickers, embroidered sweatshirts, eco-baggies (yes, you heard right), you name it, we're made it. Personally, I think it all went downhill after the boxer shorts, sportbra-and-knicker sets and socks . . .
That means I have to work like a demon for months designing, discarding, designing afresh, crying, eating kilos of chocolate, fainting, having tantrums and producing finished artwork for everything. Then Keltoi Clothing in the form of Waz, has to chase all over the UK to printers, embroiderers, T-shirt manufactures, jewellers and ceramic manufacturers, to name but a few. Samples are sent for and rigorously tested in my aging and vicious washing machine. My washing line is full of soggy garments. Next door thinks I've only got T-shirts in my wardrobe. I agonise over colours, themes, images. I can't sleep for worrying. I crack one of my teeth because I grind them in my sleep and have to have a modified gum-shield from the dentist to sleep in. I am constructed entirely out of solidified stress. No one dare speak to me above a whisper or else I jump and scream. I visit a masseuse who comments that she's had body-builders with softer neck muscles. I get excema. The T-shirts and associated swag is finally finished. I collapse and sleep for 24 hours.
Of course, this has all been left to the last possible minute because I am an Aries and so constitutionally incapable of forward planning. And I don't have the hard job - I leave that to Waz, who does all the tedious, technical stuff with printers, etc and is so fatigued he looks translucent, with bugged out eyes like a cave-dwelling fish - gone is the Golden Viking, now we have a sort of Anatomical Model of a Bloke - so knackered you can see his veins sticking out through his skin. His teeth go weird, too. He's also an Aries.
I pick up a magazine and read about people with stress-free lives, in beautiful, minimalist homes with pale, polished floors, immaculate cream furniture and larders full of sun-dried tomatoes, linguini, pesto and ciabatta. I laugh so much I spit Milka over the cat.
The cat revenges himself by making a nest in an open carton of unprinted black T-shirts which are stored in the spare room. He is moulting ferociously and knows just how bad a tom cat in a temper smells. Huge argument ensues during which the cat gives us to understand that there are other, more tranquil homes he can go to. I consider going with him. The cat is an Aries, also.
Finally, it's the day before the warm-ups. We have sufficient of the swag to make a brave showing; a sweepstake starts about which shirt will sell most. I go for the Mermen, because it's so beautiful. The Men plump for the Eye, because it's manly. Sneakily, I double bet on the Mask - well, it's not a crime - at least, not technically . . .
A total frenzy of packing ensues. Only one bag is allowed, traditionally, but I flout this custom with a big daysack/handbag and a camera case. I have packing down to a fine art and have lists of my packing lists. Naturally, as a woman, I have certain requirements men are free of, like clean pants and tampons. I also pack as if I won't be home for the next five years, just in case . . .my god! What books shall I take? Where are my tweezers? Who's got my lavender oil? Where's the small framed photo of the cat I always take? Who's got my aromatherapy foot gel? Did you take my sewing kit? Anyone seen my pliers? Where shall I put my spare piercing jewellery? What d'you mean, I can't take the computer?
At last, the final, straining hold - all is zipped, the last strap strapped and the fatal morning dawns. Hollow-eyed crew and sleepy musos are stuffed moaning into a mini bus whilst Waz hurtles off in his Big White Van Full Of Useful Stuff. I scrunch into a seat and hope to sleep as the tour manager drives like Dracula's Coachman towards Plymouth; he's Mr. Big in Scunthorpe, but that apparently didn't stop him hiring a re-con Postal Service vehicle as our Chariot Of Fire
. . .and Lord, have mercy on our souls . . .
March 23rd, 1998. The Cooperage, Plymouth.
OK, firstly, I've got to repeat that this is a purely personal memoir. So, what's important and interesting to me is not necessarily what's fascinating to the rest of the Strange Brotherhood. You see, the minute I got into The Cooperage and struggled through the Stygian gloom and up the winding stair to the enormous, genteelly decayed function room that was serving as a dressing room, and into the Ladies, something strange, something weird struck me immediately. I paused, unnerved. A haunting sense of disbelief washed over me and brought goose bumps up on my arms (giving quite an interesting 3D effect to my tattoos, as it goes . . .). Something was missing. Yes, yes! It didn't stink of ancient urine, sewerage, armpits, feet and unadulterated filth! My god, it smelt of bleach and disinfectant! It was clean!
Now, I realise for many of you, this would seem like an over-reaction on my part - hey, I hear you murmur, the woman's a bit hung up on hygiene - but if you had spent the best part of 17 years utilising the disgusting, foully odorous and bacterially over-endowed water closets that I have in the name of Rock n' Roll, you'd be slightly amazed to encounter a clean, tidy and pink-loo-rolled haven. It was odd, very odd. A few minutes later I discovered why The Cooperage was so unique. It's run by two kindly ladies of a certain age, who, with all the mature experience of humanity's needs and foibles, thought nothing of providing mountains of sandwiches, biscuits, ginger beer, and clean toilets. Sure, to them it was no big deal, just part of life's battle to get organised, but to a weary swaggie, it was bliss. The vast majority of venues (big and small) provide dressing rooms so horrible, I wouldn't kennel Tony Blair in them (oh, well, second thoughts . . .). They stink, they're filthy, they're inhospitable to a pathological degree and often, they're either freezing cold and damp, or superheated and airless ( "oh, yeah, bit warm, eh - you're directly over the boiler house, see, and we painted the window shut 10 years ago . . . "). Of course, you get used to it. Sometimes you ponder in a melancholy sort of way about the mentality of promoters who treat the artistes like shit and rob them blind at every turn, then whine about how hard done to they are. You get accustomed to seeing rats, interesting fungal growths, and the Muck of Ages. Once I was shown down to a cellar by the promoter who cheerily assured me he'd set it up as a dressing room, with sofa and mirror, honest - but neglected to mention that he'd divided it in two from floor to ceiling with chicken-wire behind which howled and slavered his two semi-feral Doberman guard dogs. There's nothing like a rabid Doberman hurling itself at a piece of flimsy chicken-wire every 2 seconds to make you do your eye-liner all wobbly.
But The Cooperage, though shabby in a comfy sort of way, bore the unmistakable aura of a woman's touch. And it was just as well. Because along with my swag duties, I had to arrange a surprise 30th birthday party for Waz. This entailed dragging a miserable gofer (as in - oi, Fred, go fer this that or whatever) around Plymouth in his van while I ran in and out of baker's looking for a cake.
Plymouth, never the most vibrant, continental of cities, had a distinctly grey and depressed air that day. It's a strange place to anyone who's idea of a seaside place is a resort, with charming esplanades, promenade cafes and amusement arcades. As I lived in Portsmouth as a child, it all seemed pretty normal to me, but I could sense that to many, it'd be a large, urban lump that just happened to be by the sea. The hippies were depressed, sub-surfie leathery dope-heads, the skaters wore flip-flops. Teenage mums with platform shoes and residual acne stilted in and out of chain-stores murmuring obscenities in that soft Devonian drawl that renders even "Oh, fuckin' shut up, Brad, or I'll fuckin' smack yer" as charming as the Cadbury's Caramel Rabbit (pin-up of a generation of Decent British Lads). In short, it was typically English; tatty, greying, half arsed and home. You just knew you could get the sort of food that turns foreigners green, like slightly rancid fried bread, sausages made from ground up pig's lips and that astonishing luminous pink rubbery jam we were all brought up on before Bonne Maman.
Finally, I hedged my bets and hit Marks and Spencer's, that classic emporium of Middle England so beloved by Parisiennes and last minute birthday-cake hunters.
"‘scuse me" I panted at the uniformed lady with the clipboard " have you got, like, a you know, ready made birthday cake? Please?"
She didn't reply but allowed a faint hint of a smirk to glaze her homely features while she pointed jejunely to the fucking great big heap of birthday cakes 2 inches away from where we were standing. I smiled lamely and selected the biggest chocolate one I could see.
The gofer and I rattled back to the venue where Our Ladies fished out birthday banners, doilies (doilies!) and tablecloths, which were to be stashed until after the gig and poor, unsuspecting Waz was to be surprised. I'm pretty sure he knew something was up, but he played the game and never let on.
By this time, things were looking stretched - it was getting later and later, and Waz and I were struggling to staple T-shirts (dreadful waste) to display boards, count eco-baggies, complain, and fabricate signs, counter space and good tempers. Waz' friend Nev appeared and smiling bravely like a WW1 Tommy about to go under fire, endeavoured to aid us. The band wasn't in a better state. As for the Crew, they had the look of men prepared to do a far, far better thing than they have ever done before.
The Cooperage is staffed with helpful people, all of whom certainly did their best - like the lighting guy, who had waist length silver hair and matching beard and looked like an Old Testament Prophet come to bear witness to our Sins. It was like having Elijah on lights. Paul, our enigmatic sound engineer, just looked cheery but inscrutable and proved yet again he is the 007 of sound. He is so positive, I bet he put the fear of god up his opponents on the rugby field, he always, always looks like he knows something you don't and by gum, it makes him happy. He's the sort of person you want to be with when the plane crashes, because you just know he could whip up some parachutes out of sick-bags and gaffa tape and they'd work.
In fact, it never ceases to amaze me how the Crew create order out of Chaos. Sometimes, as Brett strides manically around the stage like some Marvel Comics demon, declaiming profanity and grasping things, and Scanners, elbows akimbo struggles manfully with the drums, I do think, this time it won't work. But it always does. If it didn't, you'd know, no human being could have done it. There is a particular type of person who thrives on fixing stuff, bodging and mending and Crew, at least our Crew, seems to be wholly comprised of that sort of person. They really enjoy making things right. I feel like that about darning socks.
At last, after a final flurry of cursing and squashing at the T-shirt stall, the doors open. The audience, who we call "the Punters" in the way you can call your little brother "Fatboy" but just let anyone else try it, stumble in. Their faces are pinched with cold and most of them scurry to the bar. Waz and I stand behind the stall, resplendent in our ritual swag-aprons (no Masonic connection) with expressions of tolerance tinged with despair. We engage in conversation with those of the Following known to us and field questions from the others such as;
" ‘ave you got that in pink/small/glitter/for free?"
with as much amiability as we can muster. A young person dressed as a Flower Fairy trips feyly past, her ripped sea green chiffon micro mini and holey tights giving rise to some comment. Several larger gentlemen debate wether XL is really big enough to contain their ample girths; a tiny woman complains long and bitterly that XL means "ankle-length" as far as she's concerned. The eco-baggies sell very well, much to the mystification of the security - but hey, why not? I'd rather sell an item security operatives think is hilarious than drown in a landslide of plastic carrier bags which is what's going to happen in this country unless we get real. We won't go out with a bang, just a loud, plasticky slithering sound.
At this juncture, a nice, burly Welshman tells me some media types are photographing the Punters round the corner. Like an enraged mother tiger protecting her cubs from the predatory media-jackals, I leap lithely (all right, crawl underneath ) the stall and investigate. Before me are a clutch of Art/Media students trying desperately to pass themselves off as "freelance journalists". Two gangling youths with "bourgeois" stamped all over them and a brace of blank-faced girls whose body language implies unmistakably that they think they're slumming. Upon my asking what they're doing and why, the Bigger Boy goes on the attack. Now,
a) he's half my age,
b) he's obviously a student,
c) if I stamp on his foot he'll cry.
And as my Nana always said, you catch more wasps with honey than with vinegar. My friend's Nana always said, we live until we die unless a big black dog gets us first . . . oh, sorry, where was I? Yeah, so Big Boy gets shirty and I get the hump. This is a normal condition for me, but he's not to know this. He condescends to tell me he's "doing a piece for The Independent on Sunday/ BMX Magazine/ anyone who'll take it." I don't believe a word. Things get polite and frosty. I tell him to calm down and that my primary concern is that Our Punters are not held up to ridicule by the media again. An iceberg would be warmer and more cuddly. I sniff disapprovingly and exit to the dressing room, because onstage, the band has begun it's unholy pavane with noise.
As the familiar (familiar to me, I've been listening to it all for 4 years) strains of the "new" album drift upwards in layers of intricate sound, Dot the owner, A Lad and I dash about blowing up balloons and sticking the cake full of candles, pinning up birthday banners and heaping up party poppers etc. Occasionally, Tommy the Manager and Martin the Tour Manager (Mr.Big) drift past going - oh, great, great - cake!
Running downstairs trying to look absolutely normal, I took a moment to watch the band. The club was totally packed, sweaty and full of an intensity of response and emotion I have yet to see equalled at any other concerts - the nearest I can think of was the legendary Ruts gig at the Royal Standard in Bradford during Punk. I was lucky enough to have witnessed that consummate performance and sometimes, when I watch Justin stalking the stage like a possessed being, I wonder if some of that dark magic didn't pass into him that night. I can't pretend to be an impartial reviewer of NMA; that would be impossible, but I can and will say if I think they were "off" on a particular night. I think over the years, they've achieved a certain standard of excellence as musicians and performers, and I haven't seen a truly abysmal gig for a long, long time . . . now, if you want to know about a certain Middlesborough Poly gig . . . OK, OK, enough, already.
Certainly, I've felt a slight but palpable change of atmosphere since Robert Heaton's enforced retirement. Naturally, everyone was horrified by his terrible illness and brush with death. After his amazing recovery, his decision to give touring a rest came as no real surprise. Not many people would have made any other choice. What is astonishing is Michael Dean's uncanny ability and effortless assumption of the role he had worked to support as a drum tech for so long. He lends a powerful, relaxed control to the beat that pushes the songs along nicely. It's also plain that for Justin, it's a great relief to have a friend step into Robert's shoes so easily. And Michael fetched my bag in from the bus because he was worried it might get nicked - what a nice lad! The sort of lad Mothers knit jumpers for, in my opinion, and rightly. Anyone's Mam do Aran?
I could nitpick and say it was a bit this or that, but really, it was fine - I just worry too much. It's been a long time, but I should just trust them to know what they're doing. It was, and will be throughout the tour, a long, arduous set - about 2 hours solid; I just hope they're fitter than they look in daylight. I know I'm not.
At this juncture, Big Studenty Boy Journalist rushes up and apologies manfully for being a dickhead. He says somebody has told him he doesn't want me for an enemy (who? Who?). I agree with him, but he doesn't get it, being from the Primula Squeeze Cheese Generation, where "enemy" just means someone having a mild snit at you. I, however, am from a completely different milieu, where having an enemy means the dictionary definition of the word, with knobs on. He is very boring and dull, so I laugh loudly and leave. That annoys him, too, but what can he do? I am old and loud and weird, whilst he, poor mite, is young, middle-class and stupid. Impasse.
After many encores, the band finish exhaustedly and we began the selling and answering questions bit. It's kind of weird for me, as very often people will come up to the stall with amazed expressions on their faces and exclaim;
"Wow! Hey, it is you, isn't it, You're Joolz, right? What are you doing selling T-shirts, amazing!"
I don't mind. It is difficult to see someone onstage and then wingo-bingo! There they are flogging you a T-shirt like a Normal Person With Gas Bills To Pay. But you have to remember, in NMA World, everyone has at least 3 jobs. Most of us are creative in more ways than one and like to vary our occupations to alleviate possible boredom (there really are a lot of Aries). Consequently we don't have to leave too many things to Outsiders. That way, we have a lot more control over what we do than most artists. We can tour with people we know and love, we can be fully responsible for the quality and designs of the merchandise, we're not beholden to anyone, we can just do what we bloody well like. It's the Mafia, really, only with cake instead of guns . . .
Talking of which, as Waz made the decision to pack away, and the last punter exited in a state of pneumonia-inducing sweatiness and bonhomie I made my excuses and having agreed with Martin it was now or never, shot upstairs to the dressing room and lit the cake. The room was plunged into darkness and with baited breath we heard Waz chuntering up the stairs, muttering about being busy, and what was all this about? As he entered, band, crew and hangers-on burst into a really terrible rendition of "Happy Birthday" and Dot bore aloft the flaming cake. Waz almost looked pleased, but, being a Yorkshireman, contented himself with a wildly extravagant, "cake, eh?" We ate it like savages as Dean played the piano and complained it wasn't an organ. He should be so lucky. Waz wore his "30th" birthday Big Badge for 2 days and no-one believed him. Or so he said.
Worn out with elation and pride, feet throbbing and brains empty, our faces smeared with best quality M&S chocolate squishy stuff, reeking of Eau De Club (a lyrical, utterly Now blend of fags, beer, sweat and mildew, layered with top notes of decaying feet and evocative, resonant bass notes of rotting carpet and puke), we crashed. What the crew did, I don't know. I must try to stay up one night and participate in their curious, antic revels. Beer, probably, laughter. That sort of thing.
The German following sleep on the top of a half built office block outside the gig. It's freezing.
I sleep in a truly crap English hotel that chucks you out at 10.30 am. Never mind, at least it's warm and undercover, even if those covers are uterine-pink and made of crimplene.
I dream of the sea.
March 24th. 1998. The Cavern, Exeter.
When I read the name "Cavern" in the tour itinerary, ( or "Book Of Lies"), being a hip, postmodern sort of dudette, I assumed it was some deeply ironic, hyperkitsch, homage to the Swingin'Sixties - I thought, yeah, bet it's all zingy pastels and Lava Lamps with Beatles and Kinks posters framed in dayglo funfur, wow, and groovy inflatable armchairs and . . . I kept thinking that up until someone showed me the get-in. Just down there, they said, it's just down there.
Now, you know those really crap B-movies where some American college kids go camping up at Sinister Lake, that gloomy swamp where Ole Jedidiah said that turrible crime done got committed all them yeers ago? And when they get there, they find the ruined cabin, with the mysterious bloodstained floor and a big ole trapdoor that leads to . . .well, no one knows. So Randy, the football hero, volunteers to open the trap and see where it's leading, and Bobby and Lee-Anne and Cindy-Rae say, heck, Randy, we'll all go! And no one minds they aint got a torch nor nothin', ‘cos that's the spirit that made America great!
That trapdoor was the get-in to The Cavern. I did have a torch and I didn't want to go down there, believe you me, missy!
But I had to, so I did. That's when I discovered it was called The Cavern because that's what it was, not because it was a groovy little niterie. My first impression was that I had accidentally time-warped back to age 16 and was in the infamous "Montmartre Cafe" in Harrogate. Despite it's superficial attempts to get with it in the form of brick walls and cafe latte, it was just the Mont with a 90's glaze. The same clusters of flare-legged schoolgirls with thick lip gloss and unwashed, middle-parted hair painting their nails blue from one communal varnish pot. The same bored bar/cafe staff with that don't-ask-me-mate expression talking amongst themselves just long enough for you to know you're an outsider when you order a coffee. The same skinny dope-head Cool-Boy wasters propping up the pinball machine hoping for a quick bit of schoolie shag in return for a ready rolled spliff and the glory of being seen with Him. My god, it was like rocket retro deja-vu. I was that schoolgirl, that was my nail-polish they were all nicking.
I ran gibbering into the dance floor area and sharply banged my head against the opposite wall. Reeling from concussion, I realised my hankie was bigger. The stage was narrow and deep, so that two musos standing at the front didn't have room to sing and play guitar at the same time.
I glanced round at a knot of Crew. Brett was a fascinating greeny-white with repressed emotion. Scanners looked disconsolate, yet seedy, but that was par for the course. Paul had the intense, focussed dark eyes of a man intent on demolition. Martin looked helpless - this would never have happened in Scunthorpe. I backed away slowly, not wanting to spook them further. Snapping a few pics I edged into the cafe area, not too fast in case of recoil. The next thing I heard was the splintery crunching sound of wood breaking and peering round the alcove I saw Paul directing a local as he crowbarred the in-house bass bins apart in order to move them sideways. They parted with a wet, rotten spangy noise and heaps of rubbish rolled out. I do love a professionally up kept sound system, don't you?
At this point, Waz and I thought we'd take a shufti at Exeter, just get the feel of the place, just get out of the bloody cellar and see daylight, actually. We were in a bit of a state as on the way across, we'd stopped at our favourite Otter Sanctuary and had been allowed to hold paws with an otter (Rosie) who had little, matte black rubber hands like you'd imagine a space-alien would have, and I'd been allowed to feed Jack, my favourite pin-up dog-otter. We were in a blissed-out animal trance and the gross humanity of the Cavern was, hey, bringing us, like, down.
I thought I'd leave my camera baggie in the dressing room, so I located the door that had a bit of lined paper cellotaped to it with "private" scribbled on it and stepped inside. I don't really want to write this next bit because you'll think I'm obsessed; I can't help it, perhaps I'm over-sensitive, I don't know. Perhaps, when I was little my Nana said "cleanliness is next to godliness" just once too often. I mean, it's not like I'm the Clean-Queen at home or anything, not like me Mam, but there are limits. The stench that greeted me on opening that door was just otherworldly. If you soaked a cheap carpet in piss, beer and drain-water, then left it in a warm cupboard for a couple of years, took it out and rubbed it all over with a dead rat and sprinkled it with fag-ash, you'd get the same odour. It didn't help the "dressing-room" actually must have been the coal-hole at one point, either. It was just high enough to stand without cricking your neck and was divided by a three-quarter brick wall, behind which was a nauseating bog. I reckon the entire floor space was equal to a very small lean-to shed. You couldn't fit in more than 3 people at a time, but since no-one wanted to go in it, that was OK.
I backed out hurriedly, sneezing. Seeing Dean snuffling boredly at the schoolie-vacated alcove, I gave him my big camera and its manual and left it safely in his delighted hands. Give a keyboard player a manual, and they're in seventh heaven. It's a an easy fix, sure, but who am I to judge?
Scurrying up the enchanted stairs to Nowhere, we exited, blinking, into the street. I hope you don't think this is yer actual travelogue, with fascinating snippets and route-maps round the various cities we visit and stuff about where you can doss or get a cheap meal. We get in to a city and we see, generally, whatever's within walking distance of the venue. Then we go to another, and another and another city and do the same all over again, daily. I bet there are some really delightful parts of Plymouth, for example, but I just never got a chance to see ‘em. Same as Exeter. If this is ever published, some bright-eyed and bushy-tailed Exetarian will be mortally offended and write me a stinking letter about how devastatingly fab Exeter is and how I totally missed the cool, swinging bits. I know I get really narked when someone from the Guardian or whatever, writes something ill-informed and disparaging about Bradford - I know Bradford's crap, but it's the crap I'm used to, it's mine; and it's got its good bits. Waterstone's Bookshop in the Wool Exchange is the most beautiful bookshop in Britain. The Bombay Stores are like Aladdin's Cave on Acid. The skyscapes are psychedelically cinematic. The food can be fantastic and available at 3 in the morning (unlike London). You know, ‘hood stuff, like that.
Exeter, however, was not particularly homey. It was trying to be trendy; very big on coffee-shops. The sort of coffee-shops that really want to call themselves "Central Perk" and have a swinging, groovy gang of Friends hanging around swapping hilarious in-jokes and swooshing their big hair in a loose, hip way. Nice, young, clean, white, thin, middle class Friends, natch. There are super crystal shops. And fabby bijoux boutiques that tremble on the edge of being head shops. And there are real head shops and clubwear outlets. Yawn. Oh, yeah, and the usual shopping mall, health food shops and, and, what? OK, it was dull, the bit we saw. It was just a tad self-satisfied and not ‘arf so in-crowd as it thought. But like I say, we only saw a teensy-weensy part of the centre. I'm absolutely convinced (absolutely) that we never saw the Good Bits, honest. And the club life is just jumpin', I'm told.
We staggered back through the chilly rain to the Pitte Of Helle, and set up the stall. This completely bemused the bar-staff.
" Pretty professional set-up, mate" they pondered, " nice lot of stuff - who's the band, d'you say?"
We told them over and over, and we told them the history, geography and practically the biology of the band. We really, really tried. They were very nice about it.
"Umm" they went "you don't say . . ."
It was plain they'd never, ever heard of us and they had no curiosity whatsoever. A friend who lives in beautiful, gracious Exeter later said lack of curiosity was a trait round there. He said you could rush into a pub and go;
" My god! America's nuked China! Millions dead! World eco-disaster!"
And the unperturbed reply would come, "oh really? Turrible that, turrible. World's gorn mad. The usual, is it then?"
But placidity can be charming. It was, however, very far from placid as the tiny Cavern slowly but surely filled up like a rain barrel in a thunderstorm. In and in they came. Women in shorts. Men in skirts. Great big huge enormous men in red tartan skirts (presumably they don't make the Mc. Exeter Hunting Tartan in proper kilts so M&S red tartan Nana-skirts must suffice . . . och, I mun awa fer a wee cream-tea, ye ken). Even before the band came on, the oxygen started to run out.
The set started as usual for the new-look gig; Justin walks on quietly, alone, with an acoustic guitar and starts singing. Naturally, this takes many of the Punters by surprise. There's a semi-surge towards the dance floor by those in the know (i.e, went yesterday) and then a chorus of bloody hells from the others and a larger, more crushing surge. As the band have decided to support themselves, it's certainly value for money if that's what you're after in a gig - but there are problems. When this was first tried out last year at a one-off benefit for the Road Protest Movement ("The Third Battle Of Newbury"), Justin instructed the promoter to state on the posters etc., that it was New Model Army and nobody else. Some dashing wit decided it would be tres amusant to bill it as New Model Army and Nobody Else. Naturally, most Punters thought it meant a band called Nobody Else. Well, you would, wouldn't you? That meant most of them were drinking in the pub next to the venue when the band came on to do the acoustic first set. Being naturally gifted with an incredibly loud voice and no shame, I went out and informed the drinkers what was happening - but hey ho, lots of them just sniffed and said, god, what is she on about now. This error of judgement on their part (I never just shout for no reason, really, weird I may be but M.A.D I'm not - well, not yet anyway) resulted in loads of complaints to the swagmen after the gig - but what could we do? Not a lot, as it goes. I rather fear the same billing has appeared on the up-coming German posters/tickets - my god, I do wish people who arn't funny wouldn't try. There's nothing wrong with being humourless, nay, downright miserable. At least it's honest misery, not ill-timed fuckwittery. Look at me, I've made a career out of being dark and tragic. It's OK, people, we can't all be Oscar Bloody Wilde, you know.
Any road up, in a venue this, this . . .brief, everyone pretty well got the idea before they missed more than a chorus and soon, the beautiful (unbelievable, but true) sound of crystal clear Loud Music throbbed passionately (oo-er) from the other side of the alcove. I thought the band were spirited and lively considering they all had to keep their elbows well tucked in; they paced themselves and didn't fade or let the pace slacken right up to the end. It's a pleasure to witness very good musicians doing what they do well - I never tire of listening to them. I also wondered if they were doing these warm-ups as a sort of aerobic fitness training for the Big Tour - if so, we should be doing a year of them. I just stand around and I'm knackered at the end, never mind tote a heavy git-tar about and sing at the top of my lungs for two hours while throwing yourself about. It's a good thing they're wiry buggers. Like ferrets, in a lot of ways . . .
During the gig, squashed dancers would ooze out of the melee and breathe heavily by the stall; viz and to whit, the large bloke in a skirt, for one. A very big chap indeed, he had turned an alarming but rather attractive shade of scarlet and was, quite literally, dripping with sweat. As he was a softly spoken, cultured type of fella, he apologised profusely for drenching the stall and I forgave him because of his innate courtesy and the fact that he was as red as his plaid - I was rather worried he might explode, but he seemed to be enjoying himself, despite having to wring out his vest. One of the women later commented on his gentlemanly conduct on the dance floor - ah, would that all blokes were so amiable when leaping about like rutting salmon to the syncopated rhythms of our hot beat combo.
At the end of the concert, after many a rapturous encore and assertions by Justin that if he deemed it necessary he would play every song he's ever written (which would entail us still being in the Cavern until Xmas 99, god forbid) the Out (meaning; the bit where Punters slog out of the venue into the pissing rain/the Crew dismantle the equipment/ the swaggies re-pack the merchandise) went like water flowing back up a drainpipe. There were swirls and eddies of people red-glazed with sweat like so many Peking Duck all debating wether to buy a shirt or not and trying to get free water from the bar to re-hydrate themselves before they desiccated.
That glorious gypsy troubadour Rev. Hammer swung into view glowing with the warmth of human kindness (Jameson's) and urbanely strolled off to attempt inserting himself into the dressing room, no easy task for a man of substance, but one with which, as a musician and bon viveur, he is familiar. The bar-staff, who had been genuinely friendly all night and kept us supplied with coffee and pop were as bemused as ever. The security, who were impersonating the Gallagher Brothers (with little success), struggled to contain the flow of wandering humanity and get the place empty.
Finally, waving the Rev. a fond farewell and eating a lump of excellent egg-and bacon pie supplied by some Cornish friends, we all set off for a horrible night journey to Newport. This is the kind of drive where every cell in your body screams for sleep but you dare not, because you know the driver feels like that too and it's a case of wether you want to crash and die awake or asleep. The road unrolled like a dim and tedious dream while John Wyndham's "The Chrysalids" played on the tape-deck. The reader's voice stitched in and out of the desperate doze I kept falling into, so I have got to re-read the book itself sometime to see what was real and what I dreamt. I woke groggily with a cricked neck at a large, bland corporate hotel just outside Newport, which was decorated outside with that sort of imitation Victorian statue of a semi-draped woman that always makes me laugh due to it's hilarious surreal breast arrangements. Consequently I was giggling like a loon as I staggered through the carpet-smelling corridors to my room, which was blissfully unexciting.
Sleep, beautiful, precious, lovely sleep.
Wednesday March 25th. TJ's, Newport.
I like Wales. I know it's not tourist-friendly and full of itself like Ireland, for example, and it's not hip or cool in any way - the only trendiness it ever achieves is when some Welsh band gets successful by playing the we're-all-mad-and-we-know-it card. Newport itself, in the steady drizzle, is a place carved from greyness and sports the kind of deadly chippie that you know serves fried fish-flavoured grease and rectangles of solid grease instead of chips. Newport is like the Eastern Bloc before MacDonaldisation; it has an unremitting melancholy that to me, is both comforting and reassuring.
You see, only the Welsh know how to be really, truly, saturatedly miserable. This is the reason I love them so much. They take huge pleasure in their depression and their dark, brooding gaze on life and they don't pretend to be happy. I mean, if you see a happy Welshman, he's either piss drunk or really, really, actually, honestly, happy. He's not being cheerful for the sake of it, not smiling while his heart is breaking, not putting a brave face on or any other stupid socially acceptable crap. He's happy. Just that. You can always rely on the Welsh not to laugh at an unfunny joke. They're not fooled into thinking that they're owed happiness as some sort of psychic birthright. They embrace misery and cuddle it to themselves like a Grim Teddy. That's why they're always bloody singing - they can, because the tragedy of Welshness springs up in those beautiful voices like a river of tears. Personally, I am so heartily sick of the sodding Happy Thoughts Club that the exquisite gloominess of the Welsh is a tonic to the soul. Perhaps it's my Welsh ancestors, keening in my heart.
Mind you, the Welsh themselves probably think they're little rays of sunshine; so it's probably too much Dylan Thomas in my case . . .
After a happy morning towing each other round the hotel swimming pool (get it while you can, I say) I entered TJ's with a strong sense of deja-vu. Naturally, it was a grimy, sodden hovel that stank like a neglected privy, but that's not unusual. No, it was something else, something . . . Well, it wouldn't swim up from my unconscious so I wandered around trying to get my bearings.
At some point, the owner, who bore a startling resemblance to Tom Jones (if he'd stayed on the building sites and got his dinners at the chippie mentioned above) had decided to create an ambience by moulding stalactites (or mites, whichever hang downwards) and "rock" walls in cement over and around the dance floor. So enthusiastically had this been done that only persons of 5'2" could safely dance, at least they could if they didn't bounce or anything. So it was quite funny in a Schadenfreude sort of way watching Brett and other taller crew-members hunch about like so many Quasimodos.
Now, normally, decor that demanding would be interesting in itself. However, in order to qualify for the music venues section of House Beautiful, the owner felt he needed to make a bold statement - so he bought the cafe next door and knocked the wall through, leaving the floral wallpaper and quasi-wooden furniture intact. A step to the right (ducking your head neatly) put you in Newport Showcave and a step to the left put you in your Nan's front parlour. Like, schizoid, or what.
Still, I'm not complaining - the owner cooked a dinner that would have charmed Lucifer from the Maw of Hades - or Exeter Cavern, whichever was deeper. There's something about good food that casts a rosy, benevolent glow over the most appalling circumstances; renders pliable the most recalcitrant individual. After the groaning table of delight, even the concrete excrescences seemed a piece of charming, baroque whimsey . . . but then, I'm an inch or so shy of 6'.
However, as the sound check (ha ha ha) progressed with the rapidity of snails copulating, and Paul's face grew more impassive in that Easter Island Head way that means all is not well, and Waz propped the T-shirt boards up agin the wall that was covered in posters for Indie Nights called "Saucy Spankers" and other such tedious, sexist claptrap and we realised that the only way on and off the stage was through our stall, I began to have that deja vu feeling again . . .no, no, it still escaped me. Bum, so close and yet, so far.
Eventually, it became evident that the P.A didn't actually work, as such, and I heard some damfool say - wow, this sort of place must be really nostalgic for you, sort of going back to your roots - and I thought, no. No it isn't "nostalgic". I don't yearn for the glorious days crushed into a transit haring about from one shithole to the next, living on Wimpeys and struggling with sound systems made from biscuit tins covered in tin-foil (literally, in one case). I know you're supposed to get all tearful about What Fun It All Was and to say otherwise is tantamount to blasphemy against the Great God Rock n' Roll, but I don't tremble fondly at the thought of those vicious rows that ensued when everyone was tired past all endurance and any kind of success seemed a million miles away. I don't ponder on the days when some happy soul would thank us for presenting our work in a godforsaken burg by stealing our things, letting the tyres down on the Rent- a - Rek and bricking our driver round the head. Only music business journalists who have never done a day's proper graft in their whingy, sapless lives drone on about nostalgia and selling out and how fab it all was back then. Bugger back then. Bugger stupid little clubs that treat bands like lepers and rip off their clientele blind, employ brain dead thugs as bouncers and tell you not to eat the cheese that's stashed in the roach infested fridge sharing your "dressing room" because it's for the sandwiches tomorrow. Sorry, sorry - never mind about the cheese bit, it's an old grievance and I get carried away, you know how it is.
Quivering with suppressed outrage which warred with the notably good curry garnished with fresh coriander I had eaten previously, I helped set up the remainder of the stall. The band went to chill out and watch TV in the owner's rather romantic pied a terre penthouse flat, complete with roof garden, which was over the club and could only be reached by going outside and then in again through a heavy wooden door, and up a flight of dimly lit, sinister stairs. These stairs were exactly like something from a Film Noir set in East Bloc, where a handsome, world weary (Robert Mitchum) trench-coat clad American writer finds a beautiful Russian girl (Verna Lisi) fatally stabbed, an event which leads to his being pursued across Slovakia by a thick set man wearing a gold signet ring in the shape of a Scarab ( Ernst Borgnine) who thinks the American heard lovely Olga's last words which were about secret defense plans, and Peter Ustinov and Barbara Stanwyck are in it too, and. . . well, you get it.
Back in TJ's, the fatal flaw in our stall set-up became apparent. Right above our heads was a disco speaker set at full volume + 10. As random tracks howled out at Mach 1, I knew that unless something was done, I would be bleeding from the ears. I enlisted the ever-resourceful Scanners who bobbed up on a seat, stuck his hand up the speaker's backside and twiddled. It died. I wrote him into my will. From then on, it was only a bearable cacophony of thumping noises from the dance-cave.
The Punters oozed in and the temperature began to rise, along with the humidity which finally got to around 100%. You expect that in Bogota, but not in Wales on a rainy night. This moisture laden air had the effect of ensuring massive condensation (was this entire club sheathed in plastic, like a kind of gigantic condom or something) that started to run like a river under our feet. This meant most of our work was trying to keep our beautiful, box-fresh T-shirts off the incredibly filthy wet floor. I mean, it's not very nice for some unsuspecting Punter to wander (or wade) up to the stall and only be able to buy something that looks like an oily dishrag. I don't even like the fact that the stench of ciggie smoke clings like a miasma to the boxes and stuff (never mind clothes and hair). But yes, we all know I'm a smells person. If this goes on I'll be going into the clubs and spraying everything with Dettox, like they do on the plane to New Zealand.
The band were palely loitering at this point and ascended to the stage in alphabetical order as Justin finished his "solo" numbers; from where we were we got a superb view of the side stage, and were able to watch what turned out (against all odds) to be a blinding gig. We sang along until our throats were raw. I know it's not supposed to be cool, singing along, but I just don't care, it's so cathartic. I do the actions, too, so I suppose that's me beyond the Pale for all eternity. Oh, sod ‘em if they can't take a joke. Life's far too short, nasty and brutish to worry about what anyone thinks about you; my god, if having a sing and waving your arms about a bit is cause for gossip, then people must have very drab lives, in my opinion.
The band played with astonishing commitment and energy - each song building on the last like a - oh, like a waterfall in reverse. Great number like "No Pain" and "Wonderful Way To Go" had a special poignancy in this particular corner of Little Britain, and the lush passion of "Queen of my Heart" was like crimson silk, black velvet and diamonds. It made you feel you were somewhere that specialises in hot, still nights perfumed with the scent of night-blooming jasmine, somewhere with the Southern Cross clear in the dark sapphire of the night sky -and it must have been good if they could manage to create that effect in Newport.
It gave me quite a jolt to realise they'd finished and these drained, exhausted men clambering over our stall were the same guys who'd taken us all on such a long, inward journey.
I still wasn't quite with it as we sold our carefully tended shirts and kept a watchful eye on some tedious wannabe-crusties who were hoping to sneak some freebies when we wern't looking (fat chance ). They'd already made dicks of themselves on the dance floor, but hope springs eternal in the breast of the socially-challenged when they think they can do a bit of stealing - whoops, sorry, man, I meant of course, liberating some gear from the capitalist oppressor. They were so pitifully obvious it was cruel, really, to pretend we didn't know what they were up to. Still, they drifted off eventually, looking for half-drunk and abandoned pints to purloin; reputations to keep up and all that.
At this point, a man came up to the stall and said in a matey, confiding sort of a way;
" Bit different this, from the last you was ‘ere, eh?"
" The last time you was 'ere - with Bomb Disneyland, don't you remember, like?"
Suddenly, it all came horribly clear. I had been here before, whilst managing probably the world's loudest and most horrible thrash band. My god, it had been such a hideous "tour", I'd expunged the ghastly details from my mind. Now they came flooding back and it was all I could do not to run yammering round the club like rabid poodle screaming, No! No! No!
I had been here before. It was the retro thing again, only worse. My life was running backwards in a dreadful reversal of the natural laws of Time. What could I do to halt this terrifying unravelling before it was too late - before all my past errors rose like flocks of screeching crows to greet me - before I got totally hysterical and burst into tears. Well, if this was a science fiction book, not the feverish ramblings of a Voyager on Life's Storm Tossed Ocean etc., I could reach into the swag box and retrieve a luminous, smoking green potion (No.9) and swiftly neck it. This would alter my molecular structure and free me of my physical constraints, thereby allowing me to enter my own cells and re-program my DNA, thus ensuring I was re-born as Michelle Pfeifer with Einstein's brain. Or Einstein with Michelle Pfeifer's brain. Whatever.
But it isn't. Science fiction, I mean. It's my diary, so I had a cup of tea and a Toffee Cream Slice courtesy of the owner, a man who obviously knows the holistically healing qualities of cake.
Despite this soothing combo, I was pleased to exit TJ's, and my past.
It was raining.
Wales, Wales, land of the mist and the briar. Where ever I roam, be it far from my home, the Mother is calling her Child.
Even in Newport.
Thursday, March 26th. Aberystwyth University Student's Union.
As you may imagine, I have copious notes about these gigs. I haven't even attempted to put in everything I jotted down ( not even the Exeter Satan's Slave who was at the Cavern and offered the band a gig at the Slave's Clubhouse for all the ale they could swallow - and they didn't accept! Some people don't know they're born!). I have a Black Book ramjammed with scribbles and diagrams, until we got to Aber.
Open the page to Thurs, Mar. 26 and it just says;
"Look! Apathy, disinterest, and plain old stupidity! We must be at a University!"
Now, we'd had a beautiful, scenic drive to Aber, through the marvellous Welsh countryside, with it's tumbling hills and grey stone brightened with splotches of brilliant yellow lichen. Brooks that tumbled through tiny gorges while the wild, scudding clouds brightened and darkened the waters. Lakes and tarns that lay like shadowed scrying mirrors reflecting the worn, ravelled green velvet of the hillsides, or the russet swathes of bracken. Just gorgeous. Baby lambs. Fresh air. Bird song. Empty hills unspoilt by tourism. Craggy old blokes in gas stations who said things like;
" Going to Aber are you? Hmm. Best take your buck- et an' spade , then."
I had bucolic visions of a seaside paradise, the waves lapping the golden sands while the promenade rang with the glad cries of kiddies playing tag.
Mind you, Aber is a wholly different matter. Despite the astonishing fact that Mr. Big of Scunthorpe says he went swimming there as a child (well, that explains it then) Aber is not exactly a resort, in accepted sense of the word. It's Welsh, for a start. My room, in our hotel/brothel/after hours drinking hole, had two bibles and the window propped open with a bit of stick so the howling gale full of sea water came directly in. You wouldn't want to be enjoying yourself, now. I got my own back by reading Revelations aloud in a Dylan Thomas voice very loudly. Now, that is my idea of a good time.
As for the University, it's a great white eyesore on a hill on the way out of town. Some architect probably got an award for it - it's all ugly, blockhouse-type buildings, high-rise towers and exposed pipework. Friendly, welcoming - you know. And the speed-bumps are so severe as to be vertebra-shattering. Also, it's full of those handy rapist's nooks and crannies University architecture specialises in, so you can jump out and assault women at will, then vanish into the complex again. All these places were designed by men for men; no sense of safety. No sense, actually.
I did a poetry gig here once, in the Arts Section. Terrific venue if you like performing in an airport waiting lounge - had just the same sort of angular, knee-high seating modules upholstered in livid blue polyester.
The Union is just round the corner from there and is not dissimilar. Only, because there are students in it, it's knackered, vandalised and loud. Future leaders of our country etc. The venue itself was a school hall. Remember the school dance? That's it. As the venues hadn't been allowed to advertise nationally because these were warm-ups, no one in the house crew (no comment) could really be bothered to exert themselves too much - well, just a group, innit? Clubbing's more my line guv'nor. As you can tell, they wern't from Wales, on the whole. If I said they were laid back, that would imply some sort of urgency, which would be inaccurate. The Social Secretary had pressing business elsewhere. His assistant, naturally, didn't know what the fuck was going on.
It was clean-ish, though. Got to look on the bright side. You could use the toilets without contracting an interesting disease. There was chocolate in the dressing/seminar - room. It did smell of school, though. Hormones, Impulse, feet and institutions. I must get off this smells thing.
Slowly, the gig came together; tempers were somewhat frayed due to sleeplessness and that strange sense of let-down that comes after a blinding gig the night before. You'd think that a good show would fill you full of joy and energy, but it just aint so. A curious sense of emptiness is the performer's lot, as if all that you were had been tipped out; you feel lethargic, distant. This is when being a professional comes into it's own. The years of rigorous self-discipline and training mean that like it or not, you get up on stage and do it, and do it well, no matter if your brain has been reduced to synaptic tapioca or not.
But to return to the venue awhile. I realise that I've dwelt long and hard on the relative apathy of the organisation, and it's true they were hopeless. But in order to compensate for this, the security were in fact undercover members of the SAS, who were using Aber Uni as a training ground for riot control.
I'm not agin a good, efficient courteous security presence at gigs; in fact, the kind of enormous, genial, easy going martial artist you sometimes get makes me feel kinda snug. I was a security operative myself for some years at the Queen's Hall, Bradford in the early 80's. So, I do understand the problems of crowd and venue control. I do, honest. What I don't understand is why somewhere as completely bloody harmless as Aber Uni requires heaps of big blokes in red polo shirts and fixed scowls toting more walkie-talkies than a survivalist's convention. OK, they were worried about people getting up on each other's shoulders on account of what they considered a low ceiling (obviously they'd never been to TJ's) but did we have to be in a state of Red Alert with eagle-eyed (and gripping handed) chaps posted up on the side stage looking as if the Eiger was about to be Sanctioned? Why did they all look as if they were dying, just dying, for some punk to make their day? All it does is rile the Punters and put everyone on edge. Like, did they know something about Aber Uni we didn't? Had they had a tip-off about a heavily armed, Mortal Kombat Chem. Eng. student with a grudge against society, wanting to make a name for himself and win the love of Emma Possett from Business Studies 2 by blowing away a musician in Aber?
No, they had not. They were just jolly well over-reacting. To be fair, it must be ever so boring in Aber when you're a beefy gym-jockey with nothing to do but pick up horribly drunken studentettes who cry soddenly about what a complete bastard Miles is while rubbing liquefied mascara on your pristine polo shirt and sicking up down your back. The sight of all our travelling Following who at least look like adults, must have been like waving a sirloin at a pit-bull.
I cannot say in all honesty at this point (Following and genuine NMA Fans excluded) that the Aber Punters were, on the whole and taken generally etc., ( bit of arse-covering, there) an attractive bunch. I mean that personality-wise, I couldn't care less what a person looks like, if they're nice. Well, saying that, there were a few courageous fashion statements, but hey hey, we were all young once, or so it's alleged. There's nothing wrong with those big, stupid Festival fun-hats, nothing at all. Really.
No, as Punters go, they were young, gormless and spoilt, actually. Plus they were desperately pissed. Oh, yeah, and the young lady/albino stick-insect who informed me she was very disappointed, because she had been led to believe (by whom, I wonder) this was a folk concert and what did I intend to do about it, can bog off. Sorry, but even someone as pure and saintly as myself gets a wee bit narked when condescended to by a person just outta nappies.
This sort of thing (barring my artistic dance interpretation of a Sisters of Mercy track during the disco - yes, I was a Goth and no, I am not ashamed. It was a long time ago and I've come to terms with it thanks to Goth Anon) set the tone. The band came on and as they later told us, couldn't see the Punters because of the badly set lights, which is annoying because it makes you feel like one of those late night local radio DJs, talking into thin air, wondering if anyone's out there. Also, Michael Dean's monitor blew up resulting in him being unable to hear himself. Monitors (here's the science bit) allow the musician to hear himself and the other musicians on stage. Without monitors, musos cannot hear what they, or the others are playing because of the enormous noise they're generating outwards to the crowd. Bummer, eh? So when you hear some musician sobbing about the terrible monitor sound - have sympathy, it's a mortal nightmare to them.
Plus the Wild Youth of Aber Uni (mad, just mad, honestly!) well, a couple of them, thought it would be fun to shout unintelligible insults at the band (don't even try to see the logic in this) from the front row, resulting in a weedy scuffle and the passionate, orgasmic pleasure of the AUSAS squad who walkie'd and talkie'd themselves to a climax. This, and them practising their Target Seeking Drill, led Justin to remonstrate with them mid-song. Never a good idea to disturb the Frontman in full flow. Bad Karma. Said Frontman not pleased. Rest of band not pleased. First half of gig less than perfect. Uh oh.
But, the second half saw a lightening turnaround, my son. They seized the day and put their backs to the wheel and other mixed metaphors; disliking failure, (however minor) as they do, any hiccups just tend to spur them on. We had the pleasure of seeing them take full possession of the stage and peak nicely towards the encores. They have a well-defined sense of comradeship on-stage, however they feel off-stage, and their ability to present their work in an intense, yet controlled manner no matter what, is a tribute to their skills.
I felt rather sad that we hadn't finished at TJ's which was such a good show, but in the end, it's curiously satisfying to watch artists falter, then by sheer strength of will and ability, pull themselves up to triumph. Heartwarming, gives the old spine a shiver. That sort of thing.
I can't remember much of the out except selling things and eating some ropy old pizza in the fearfully pants dressing room. Then we were back in the brothel, whoops, sorry, the hotel. The bar was still open, simply because it never shut - breakfast apparently (I skipped this treat) was tablecloths thrown over the big barrel tables in the bar and bits of old sausage. Semi-concious, I tried making some tea in my room (phew, this life! Crazy!) but it became obvious the cup had been washed out with the rancid lump of Palmolive in the en-suite privy and so tasted like emetic. Still, I fared better than Dean who apparently found a real live drunken naked lady in his bed when he staggered up there at some godforsaken hour in the morning. How she got there was a mystery as the door was locked and he had the key. But the conversation went something like;
" Blood and sand! Dammit! There's a naked woman in me bed . . . Miss, oh, Miss, I believe you have the wrong room . . ."
"Errrgh, fuckoff, oooh, grug . . .'ere, where's me dress?"
" Umm, I really don't know, Miss. Er, I do need to sleep, so if you wouldn't mind . . ."
" Me dress, where's me fuckin' dress?"
"Ah, is it that charming creation in leopardette and PVC thrown over the back of the chair?"
" ‘ere, get it for us . . .turn yer back now, while I get innit . . .tara then . . ."
Departure of phantom nude inebriate. Collapse of nonplussed keyboard player - Undergraduate and Gentleman. Although it must be said, Dave alleges Dean ran into his room at one point going "There's a naked etc." and asked Dave what he should do. Dave refuses to disclose his reply and Dean's not telling. No sense of gossip, men.
And then, next day, we drove home. Mr. Big's Big Red Postie Van blew a gasket and we passed a happy hour by the motorway in the sun, until Waz fetched some of us and true to his nature and geography, gloated like a bastard.
It was over.
Now we had to prepare for the Big Tour; which meant yet again, stress levels so high we weren't allowed near naked flames. We could look forward to bigger venues, catering, showers (sometimes), sleeping in a tiny coffin on the Bus with 16 other Doomed Souls, never being wholly sure which city you're in - never mind what country, being unable to hold a cogent conversation due to extreme exhaustion, losing one sock and your sponge bag in Hannover, watching the Blues Brothers on the bus video at 4 o'clock in the morning again and again and again and generally Gypsying round like a demented Psycho Circus. Brett wants to be known as Mr. Smith for this tour and I don't blame him.
Well, see you all there, then, hopefully - weather permitting etc.
Ta-ra a bit.
Anyone seen the cowin' Bovril?
© 1998 New Model Army. All rights reserved.