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)