Wednesday, February 12, 2014

Continental Plumbing Meets Foxhunting, And All In Leather...

I had meant to publish these in some kind of chronological order but that's now gone out of the window.  So we now jump back to the tail end of 1988...

Now it has been said that many a strange thing happens in a Belgian toilet (that has been said, hasn't it ?) but, on the evening of Monday November 14th 1988, I think at least one resident of Gent may have thought things had a got a little too strange. The occasion was the first show proper of The Wonder Stuff's first European tour. They had previously appeared at a couple of European festivals but now we were into a run of 12 shows starting in Belgium and dipping in and out of France, Austria, Switzerland and Germany, or that was the plan. The first show was at a very lavishly appointed venue called the Vooruit in Gent, Belgium where the band would be supporting the (in my opinion) very wonderful Julian Cope.

It was here I finally got to meet the bizarrely monikered Baron Beat Moll Troy who had been unable to work on the "Groovers on Manoeuvres" tour as he was working with Cope. Strange fellow, dressed head to toe in black combat gear but with long red hair held out of his face with brightly coloured plastic clothes pegs.

All went well as I recall and we were all packed up in time for me to be able to watch Cope's show. He was toward the end of his black leather and that microphone stand period and, let's be honest, Copey has never really been "all there" as it were. So...I was having a fine old time watching the show when I saw Mr Cope disappear from the stage. As it was during the song "Reynard The Fox", and he had a radio microphone and there is a fairly lengthy ad-lib/spoken bit I presumed he'd jumped down into "the pit" (that being the space between the stage and the barrier for those not in the know) to entertain the front row and I decided to go relieve myself of some of the Belgian beer I'd drunk.

On my way to the Gents in a corridor near the stage I came across Beat Moll frantically searching around for something.

"Have you seen Julian" he asked me
"No" I replied "but I can still hear him singing so he can't be far away"
How strange, I thought, as I continued on my way and entered the Gents, how do you "lose" your singer ?

But OOOOOOH what a sight greeted me on entering the male facilities ! Trapped wild eyed in the corner, desperately looking for a way out of his current predicament, was a rather distressed looking Belgian fellow, facing the urinal with "tackle in hand" you might say. And the cause of his wild eyed desperation and distress ? One fully be-leathered Julian Cope dancing around him in the corner with microphone in hand, bellowing the closing phrases of "Reynard The Fox" at our somewhat dazed Belgian..."AND...AND...AND...HE SPILLED HIS GUTS ALL OVER THE STAGE" before turning rather smartly on his motorbike boot clad heels and sprinting back in the general direction of the stage.

That tour staggered on for another 5 shows (including a very amusing stop over for a night off in Austria) before coming to a crashing halt in Frankfurt when we all decided to go home and cancel the remaining 5 gigs (sorry Europe).

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Adventures in Car Removal...

September 18th 1991, a Wednesday as I recall (you lying git, you just looked it up on the internet!) and we were in the City of Brotherly Love, or Philadelphia, for the first show proper on The Wonder Stuff's "Never Goin' Back To Memphis" US tour for a show at the Theatre Of The Living Arts.

We'd been in the US for a few days having already played a festival gig in Phoenix, Arizona with, among others, Richard Thompson and Crowded House. It was blazingly hot in Phoenix (when we'd arrived the evening before and the doors opened on the air conditioned terminal building to let us out to our waiting cars I swear you could feel the hairs up your nose sizzling it was that hot outside) and maybe this contributed to the fractious atmosphere the next day at the festival site. I felt kinda sorry for (the legendary) Richard Thompson as he tried to play a solo set with myself and Mr Smith crawling in and around his feet trying to set up The Wonder Stuff's backline as everything was running late. I didn't feel at all sorry for Crowded House's tour manager as I watched The Wonder Stuff's Manager, Les Johnson, threaten him with all kinds of physical harm as it was his band that had caused the late running and mine and Mr Smith's overly close proximity to folk rock royalty, but that's another story.

As I previously noted, the tour was to kick off properly in Philadelphia. Myself, Mr Smith and Jez Webb were looking after the band onstage, Sean "Swag" Martin was our Tour Manager, Carl "Trunky" Burnett was on lights (although whether he had picked up his elephantine soubriquet at this point is moot), Martin "Old Bill" Bunn was looking after monitors and I would think Simon Efemey may well have been our front of house sound engineer. Support band for the tour, apart from a couple of shows, were the excellent Milltown Brothers and we were set for a 5 week jaunt around the US. The Theatre of the Living Arts was a great venue to start at. A proper theatre venue used to touring bands and all set up to receive us.

The load in, set up, show, everything went well...and then it was time for the load out. We were all travelling by bus, I don't recall specifically but it was probably a Silver Eagle tour bus, something very similar to this...

...and all the bands equipment was being driven about in what is known in the US as a Ryder Post Truck, something very similar to this...
The back of a post truck has a tail lift for loading stuff on and off it. If you are unfamiliar with a tail lift it's something very similar to this... you can appreciate you need some space behind your vehicle to drop down the tail and load on to your truck. 

Both of our vehicles were parked up at the front of the theatre so after finishing the show, packing everything up and heading out front to open up the truck you can imagine we were not best pleased to find that someone had parked their car about a foot from the back of the truck meaning we couldn't drop the tail down. After a little head scratching we thought maybe it was someone who had been at the show and would be back soon, so if we went and pushed all the equipment up to the front doors of the theatre by then all would be clear.

So that's what we did, and when we'd finished, that car was still there.

We hung around for a while waiting for the owner to arrive, chatting with fans, chatting with Jez's American friend Dennis who had come to the show and was helping us with the load out. The band came out and returned to the bus and then the theatre staff wanted to lock up for the night. We pushed all the equipment out onto the street so they could close up and still the car was there, a foot from the back of the truck. What to do ?

Then someone piped up "We could bounce the car". Who said it I know not but at the time it seemed like a reasonable idea. There were four of us, if you bounce a car up and down on it's suspension you can move it, and that's what we started to do, pressing down on each corner of said car until we had enough bounce going that we could shift the car a few inches. If you keep doing that long enough you can move a stationary car, and we did. Eventually we had shifted the car enough so that we could lower the tail lift, load the truck and get moving...or so we thought.

Now this is where events took a tricky turn...

If you refer to the handy map just above, you can see the position of the Theatre of the Livng Arts (marked with an A) on South Street; you can see that I have marked another street in red, this is a very long street called 4th Street. All the while we had been scratching our heads and subsequently bouncing the car out of our way and loading the truck, sitting, watching from what I have no doubt any native Philadelphian would refer to as the corner of 4th and South had been a patrol car containing an officer of the PPD, the Philadelphia Police Department or the PhillyPolice as they now refer to themselves online.

Anyway, the first we knew of it was the flash of blue light, the "Wooo" sound from his siren that you only generally hear on episodes of US cop shows and the screech as he pulled up next to us. And then began a very strange 72 hours...

Said officer was not pleased at all about what he had witnessed us doing. Even though there was no damage to the offending (in our view) car and it's contents he called for back up and myself, Jez and Jez's friend Dennis were arrested, handcuffed and shipped off to a police station somewhat reminiscent of the one in Assualt On Precinct 13. Once there we were booked in and locked up in an open cell after having our shoe laces confiscated in case we decided to hang ourselves.

It was at this point that an officer came to see us and shared with us the news that the car owner had been found and was claiming the car had been broken into and a laptop computer had been stolen so they would be keeping us a while longer. Another officer came to take our details. Now this guy was a sight to see. He was a generously proportioned fellow clad in those tight Canadian Mountie type trousers, he had thoughtfully removed his PPD issue shirt to display his white vest underneath. Oh and he, of course, was still wearing his firearm. He began asking stuff as expected, name, date of birth, height, weight...and this is where things came to a shuddering halt. I of course answered something along the lines of 11 stone 10 pounds. He responded, in what could only be described as a laconic drawl:

"'re in America now, we measure weight in pounds"

The upshot being that he wanted my weight in pounds. 

Now I'm fairly sure that at the age of about 10 years I was fully conversant with my 14 times table. But at 2am or thereabouts, in a Philadelphian jail cell, being confronted by an overweight police officer wearing a sweaty wife-beater and a gun the answer to 11 x 14 plus 10 wasn't the thing my brain was most focussed on.

The night carried on sort of like that, them periodically dropping by to scare the shit out of us in one way or another, until at around 6am we were told OK, you can go. No explanation, no sorry for accusing you of all kinds of stuff you haven't done, just steered out of the front door into one of Philadelphia's less than desirable residential areas. Fortunately The Wonder Stuff's manager, Les Johnson, was awaiting our release outside with a cab to whisk us to a train station for a train back to New York where that evening we were due to play the Marquee and we, of course, arrived back in NYC just in time to load in !

And then a whole other type of weirdness began...

As you already know we were being supported on this tour by the Milltown Brothers so we were surprised to find that another band had been added to the bill. It transpired that the promoter had booked another gig in another venue for the band Pylon (contemporaries of REM from Athens, Georgia). This show had not sold well so the promoter had added them to the bill at the Marquee. They came with a full on "friends of REM, we were expecting to headline" attitude, which didn't help matters.

Anyway, we compromised, fitted them in and the bill would now run the Milltown's, Pylon then TWS. We arrived back at the venue later that night in time to do the changeover expecting Pylon to be almost at the end of their set. They hadn't even bloody gone on yet ! Les went up to them and as only he can expressed the need for them to get on stage...NOW! They did, and then proceeded to play for what seemed like, and may well have been, a couple of hours. Oh and had I mentioned that maybe the reason that their own show hadn't sold so well was that they were bloody awful ?

They finally finished, we did the changeover and The Wonder Stuff took to the stage. It was by now around 2am. Miles' opening line to the audience went something like "I'd like to thank the worst band I've heard in my entire life for keeping me waiting until 2am. They call us The Wonder Stuff..." and into the first song.

Bizarrely it seemed the audience had quite taken to Pylon and not to Miles' opening statement which made for quite a fractious show. The audience got quite irate when they refused to do an encore and began throwing bottles and glasses at the stage. This made me get quite irate and I commented down one of the still open microphones that "New York, you f*cked it". Cue yet more bottles and glasses but my head was in a strange place having been awake for the thick end of 48 hours.

The venue was eventually cleared and we got on with the job of loading out. Part way though this we heard a loud bang coming from what we thought was outside. Les and I rushed out as we thought someone may have run into our post truck, but no, all outside was quiet. On re-entering the venue we immediately saw the cause of the loud bang.

Along one side and the back of the Marquee was a balcony. It was by now after 3am. The club owner obviously wanted to go home. In order to hurry us up he had retrieved from his office a handgun and decided to let off a few rounds over our heads into the opposite wall. When you looked up at that wall you could see by the myriad bullet holes there that it was something he had done before. And then we heard him comment "Right, I'm off to get my Uzi". Rest assured, we hurried up outta there !

Les, Mr Smith and yours truly jumped into the post truck and on our way back to our NYC hotel we decided we didn't want to stay in New York and that we would rush into the hotel, grab our luggage and escape to the relative quiet of New Jersey, Asbury Park to be precise, where later that night we would be playing at the famed Fast Lane club.

Now I like Jersey. I have family who used to live there and a whole bunch of friends we made through touring. I was looking forward to getting away from the big city and it's related woes of the past couple of days to somewhere a little less stressful and Asbury Park seemed like the perfect place to be right then. 

By the time we loaded out, got back to the hotel, collected our things and started heading out of town I would imagine it was around 5am. It's an hour or so to drive to Asbury Park from NYC so I'm thinking we pulled up outside our hotel there around 6.30am. Les, once again in the way only Les can, managed to get us checked in to our hotel rooms and off I went to get some well earned sleep.

You would think after being awake for in excess of 48 hours that sleep would come down almost immediately. Did it hell! The sun was streaming in through the drawn curtains and I just could not rest. After about an hour I got up, left the hotel and crossed the street to a small diner looking for gallons of coffee and an all American breakfast.I spent the rest of the day wandering around Asbury Park, up and down the boardwalk, in and out of shops until load in time at the Fast Lane. And off we went again, 3rd gig in a row with no sleep inbetween, running on coffee and cigarettes (that was all...honest). 

When the time came for changeover after the Milltown Brothers set, Mr Smith found me fast asleep across 3 chairs in the dressing room next to the stage. I think I had an out of body experience during that show. It was like watching someone else doing my job, very weird.

They've pulled the Fast Lane down now. You can see a picture of it being demolished  here, the stage was just about where that big hole in the wall is.I hope you weren't expecting a moral to this story (don't mess with other peoples vehicles, keep your mouth shut in the big city) cos there isn't one. I just thought you might be interested...

(Some cursory investigation has revealed that the timeline alluded to in this article is complete B*ll*cks ! Hey but it makes a good story. As I've said before, this is my blog, if you want historical accuracy, start yer own)

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

The Slugger Don't Like Us...We Don't Care

And so the call came..."you know how to tune a guitar, come and stand at the side of the stage at our next Londodn gig and look like a roadie" was pretty much it.

The London gig in question was at the ULU (University of London Union) on the 5th November 1987, Bonfire night. There may have been a support band, I don't recall. What I do recall is that just before that date there had been some terrorist activity in the UK and every time a firework went off that day in London I jumped out of my skin.

The Wonder Stuff (for it is they we are concerned with) were doing quite well for themsleves. They had released their 2nd independant single, "Unbearable", in September '87 and were gigging incessantly up and down the country. During the last year they had done gigs with PWEI, New Order, Then Jerico, The Go-Betweens and The Shamen and in December were going off on their first UK tour opening for Big Country.

The gig at the ULU was something of a showcase for record companies. There was quite a buzz around the band and a number of major label A&R men were coming to check them out. Hence they wanted it all to look good and having me standing at the side of the stage made it look like they had a roadie and all was well.

We arrived at the venue, loaded in the gear and the band all promptly buggered off, leaving me with a pile of amps drums and guitars to put together. I managed something but it all got sorted out when they came back and the gig went ahead without a hitch as I recall.

This was my brief introduction to life as a roadie or the backline crew or stage tech or whatever job description you want to use, I always used roadie. Due to the uncountable gigs I'd been to since that first time out with SLADE I'd noticed the roadies. They shouted "1 - 2 - 1 - 2" (Obscure roadie joke alert: why do sound engineers only count to 2 ? Cos on 3 you lift !) down microphones during changeovers (a changeover is the bit between the support band going off and the main band coming on BTW). They were usually large, lank haired, bearded men wearing moth eaten band t-shirts and sporting large bunches of keys hanging from the belt that was visibly struggling to keep their jeans where they should be. I don't honestly think I'd ever considered it as a career choice.

But career choice it became...

A mere 25 days after the birth of my son I packed my bag and buggered off on tour for the first of many times. I needed a job, my inarguably better half agreed I should try this out and so, I joined The Wonder Stuff in a minibus loaded with 4 musicians, a tour manager, a sound engineer and me plus all their equipment and baggage to be the support band on Zodiac Mindwarp & The Love Reactions "Tattooed Beat Messiah" UK Tour. En route to the first gig (Leicester University) I was regaled with tales from the Big Country tour and how great that had been and how much help Big Country and crew had been to these first time tourers. So I was kind of expecting the same from Zod's lot.

Oh how wrong you can be. Mr Mannings band had two crew on stage looking after them, Gimpo and Smiffy. When we walked into the venue at Leicester University we were immediately spotted by Smiffy. He was a big man, replete with goatee beard, bandana and, the one thing you couldn't help but notice, an aluminium baseball bat. He came stomping across the hall toward us:

"Who are you ?" he grunted in our general direction
"Errrr...we're The Wonder Stuff" someone answered
"Oh...the support band. Well, I'm Smiffy and this..." he swung the baseball bat up onto his shoulder " The Slugger and we don't like you"

And with that he span around and stomped back to wherever he had been going in the first place. Welcome to the road indeed !

I did later learn a great lesson from this encounter. The man who in the not too distant future taught me the basics of everything I now know as far as being a roadie is concerned, former Clash roadie Digby Cleaver about whom there will be more later, once gave me this great piece of advice "never forget that the support bands of today will be the headliners of tomorrow and we'll always need a gig".

A few years later a not so gainfully employed Smiffy met The Wonder Stuff's lead singer and asked for a gig. He was denied the opportunity with a response something like "Smiffy, if you'd treated us anything like human beings on that tour we did with the Love Reaction, you'd have had a gig years ago". I took Digby's advice and went on to work for many of The Wonder Stuff's support bands.

Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Vinyl Adventures #18

Some recent purchases...

Delores Hall - Good Lovin' Man

Doris Willingham - You Can't Do That

The Belles - Don't Pretend

Jimmy Ruffin - I Will Never Let You Get Away

Wally Cox - This Man

The Magic Tones - Together We Shall Overcome

Julien Covey & The Machine - A Little Bit Hurt

Johnny Johnson & The Bandwagon - Breaking Down The Walls Of Heartache

Earl Jackson - Soul self Satisfaction

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Vinyl Adventures #17

Another double header...

December 2012 has seen the passing of 2 great soulmen.

On December 2nd Howard Tate passed away at the age of 72. Born in Macon Georgia in 1939, as a teenager he began performing in a gospel group that also featured the great Garnet Mimms. He recorded R&B sides for Mercury and Cameo Records in the ealy 60's and also performed with the organist Bill Doggett.

Garnet Mimms introduced Tate to the legendary producer Jerry Ragovoy and between 1966 and 1968 the two of them produced some outstanding soul/blues recordings for Verve Records including "Ain't Nobody Home", "Look At Granny Run Run" and "Stop" all of which reached the Billboard R&B Top 20.

After more recordings for Turntable, Epic and his own label, Tate retired from the music business in the early 1970's and began selling insurance in Philadelphia. Tragedy struck when he lost his daughter in a house fire and as a result he started drinking heavily and became addicted to drugs, ending up homeless. By the mid 1990's he had cleaned up and was counselling drug users and preaching. Around this time his 1967 album "Get It While You Can" was reissued on CD and in the sleeve notes Jerry Ragovoy wrote that Tate was probably dead.

In 2001 a chance meeting between Tate and a member of Harold Melvin's Blue Notes in a grocery store let everyone know he was very much alive and in 2003 Howard Tate and Jerry Ragovoy worked together again to produce the comeback album "Rediscovered". Over the ensuing years Howard Tate had a second career, making further albums and touring regularly.

So in tribute I give you Howard Tate's 1967 recording for Verve "Baby, I Love You"...enjoy

Just 4 days later on December 6th came the news that Dobie Gray had also left us. If you don't know Dobie's name I'm willing to bet you've heard his 1973 hit single "Drift Away" before.

Born either Lawrence Darrow Brown or Leonard Victor Ainsworth (a name under which he later recorded) in 1940, his family were share croppers in Texas and he developed a love of gospel music through his grandfather who was a Baptist minister. In 1960 Lawrence/Leonard moved to Los Angeles where he recorded for a number of local labels under various names, including Leonard Ainsworth, Larry Curtis and Larry Dennis. Sonny Bono recommended him to Stripe Records and it was they who suggested the name change to "Dobie Gray" (a nod to the then popular sitcom "The Many Loves of Dobie Gillis"). During the early 1960's the newly renamed Dobie Gray issued a clutch of singles on Stripe and more on Real Fine, Cordak and Jak before he turned up at Charger Records.

Dobie's first single for Charger gave him his first worldwide hit. In 1964 "The "In" Crowd" reached number 13 in the US Pop charts and 25 in the UK.
His legendary position with UK soul fans was, however, cemented by his 5th release for Charger. "Out On The Floor", released in 1966, is Northern Soul encapsulated on a 7" single. It was a complete flop when first released but has become revered over the years due to it's popularity on the Northern Soul dancefloor. When re-released in the UK in 1975 it reached number 42 in the charts and in 2000 former Wigan Casino DJ Kev Roberts placed it at number 2 in his list of the all time greatest 500 Northern Soul records, second only to Frank Wilson's "Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)".

So we bid farewell to Dobie Gray, one of the greats of Northern Soul, by bringing you "See You At The "Go-Go""...I'll see you where the girl's are...

Monday, December 12, 2011

Vinyl Adventures #16

OK, so I'm sure Mr William 'Smokey' Robinson needs absolutely no introduction...does he ?

Singer, songwriter, record producer, record company executive, known as "Mr Motown", he was probably second in importance at Motown Records only to Berry Gordy Jr himself.

Bob Dylan described him as "America's greatest living poet".

The list of songs he has written is, frankly, quite astonishing, "My Guy" for Mary Wells; "The Way You Do the Things You Do", "My Girl" and "Get Ready" for The Temptations; "When I'm Gone" for Brenda Holloway; "Ain't That Peculiar" and "I'll Be Doggone" for Marvin Gaye, not to mention the many classics for his own group The Miracles, "Tears Of A Clown", "Tracks Of My Tears", "I Second That Emotion", "Shop Around" and "You've Really Got A Hold On Me" (later covered by The Beatles).

Born William Robinson Jr. on February 19, 1940, at the age of 6 his Uncle gave him the nickname "Smokey Joe". In African American culture "smokey" is used to decscribe dark skinned black people. Young William was very light skinned and his Uncle told him "I'm doing this so you won't ever forget that you're black". In his teens "Smokey Joe" was shortened to "Smokey" and the name stuck.

In August 1958 Smokey, who was already playing Detroit venues with his group The Matadors, met Berry Gordy Jr and co-wrote the song "Got A Job". The Matadors changed their name to The Miracles and recorded the song with Gordy for End Records in November 1958. The Miracles also recorded for Chess Records and in 1959 Robinson suggested to Gordy that he start his own label. This saw the birth of Tamla Records.

The Miracles were amongst the first signings to the new label and in 1960 their 4th single for the new label, "Shop Around", became Tamla's first number one hit on the R&B singles chart and companies first million-selling single when it reached number 1 on the Cash Box Pop Chart. During their career The Miracles achieved 17 US Pop top 20 singles.

"Whole Lot Of Shaking' In My Heart (Since I Met You)" wasn't written by Smokey Robinson and didn't make the US Pop top 20, it peaked at 46 and missed out on the UK chart completely. The song was written by Motown staff writer Frank Wilson, of "Do I Love You (Indeed I Do)" fame.

It's a 100mph slice of prime Motown soul featuring an urgent horn section and the Funk Brothers creating dance floor dynamite on the backing track. The vocal performance by all of the Miracles is fabulous but check out Smokey's almost scat like vocalising on the word "I" at around 2 mins 14 seconds, that's a masterful singer at work.

I've just had a copy of this record given to me (yes GIVEN!) and it'll definitely be getting an outing at our next soul night on 14th January. Until then please enjoy The Miracles and "Whole Lot Of Shaking' In My Heart (Since I Met You)"...

Saturday, December 03, 2011

Vinyl Adventures #15

This is one I bought back in October but didn't get around to writing about and I think it deserves it.

Erma Vernice Franklin was born in Shelby, Mississippi on March 13, 1938. 4 years later her sister Aretha came into the world. Together with their sister Carolyn they sang at New Bethel Baptist Church in Detroit where their father, the Reverend C. L. Franklin, was pastor.

In the late 1950's Erma was approached by Berry Gordy and his songwriting partner Billy Davis who were interested in making her the first artist for their new record label. She travelled to Chicago with Gordy and Davis to meet with Phil Chess of Chess Records trying to arrange a distribution deal for their fledgling label. Erma's father persuaded her to complete her education telling her that she could always sing after she graduated. She was later to learn that three songs Gordy and Davis had intended for her to sing were recorded by others, most notably "I Get The Sweetest Feeling" recorded by Jackie Wilson. She did eventually record the song, releasing it in 1970.

After Erma finished college The Rev. Franklin took her and Aretha to audition for Columbia Records. Aretha signed with Columbia and Erma with their subsidiary label Epic. The label issued 7 singles and an album on Erma between 1961 and 1963. At the end of her contract she spent 5 years as the featured vocalist with The Lloyd Price Orchestra.

In 1967 Erma signed with Shout Records and that year released what is probably her best known recording, the original version of "Piece of My Heart", which earned her a Grammy nomination for best new artist in 1968.

Following the sudden death of Shout label owner and songwriter, Bert Berns, Erma moved to the Brunswick label where her debut single in 1969 was "Gotta Find Me A Lover (24 Hours A Day)".

I first heard this at a very sparsely attended charity allnighter and it grabbed me immediately. That driving guitar gives it the feeling of a rock single as much as a soul groove. But whatever, it's a fantastic record that sends me dashing for the dancefloor whenever I hear it.

Erma Franklin sadly passed away in 2002, but she left behind some great music (the b-side of "Gotta Find Me A Lover..." is well worth a listen too). But right now sit back and enjoy the driving "Gotta Find Me A Lover (24 Hours A Day)" from the "The Queen Of Soul's" big sister, Erma Franklin...