The wheels of the Pan American Airways’ DC 747 conveying the U.K. Subs’ North American touring party and the aircraft’s additional passengers and crew made contact with the solid terra firma of a JFK airport runway in the early afternoon of the 1st of March, 1982.
As a literary stimulant to get me in the correct frame of mind for the impending tour I spent most of the flight re-reading ‘Diary of a Rock ‘n’ Roll Star’ - an account by singer Ian Hunter of a USA musical excursion undertaken by his band Mott the Hoople
a decade before my first transatlantic foray. I had purchased and initially read the book when it was first published in 1972 and it subsequently developed into an inspirational favourite. As an aspiring teenage rock musician I would fantasise about playing music in some of the cities and venues that Hunter had referenced. In point of fact though, our own tour would be considerably larger and more encompassing than the one Hunter had chronicled, as well as being substantially more incident-packed.
As much as I’d enjoyed revisiting this account of life on the American road there was also an element of sadness associated with the book. Reading about Mott the Hoople conjured up memories of Guy Stevens, who had died in the August of the previous year after consuming too many prescription drugs intended to moderate his alcohol addiction. I had learned of his death via a telephone call to my Chelsea flat from Overend Watts, the former bassist of Mott the Hoople. Overend had taken to producing records for various bands with Mott drummer Dale Griffin, and I had become a regular London drinking amigo to these heroes of mine after meeting them at the Top of the Pops studios during the filming of ‘Keep on Running’.
I was, of course, shocked by this terrible news. Overend also supplied me with the date and details of Guy’s funeral, but to my permanent regret I didn’t attend as we were already booked into Jacobs Studios on Guy’s interment day for the ‘Endangered Species’ recordings, and so, shamefully, decided to put the band’s interests first rather than memorialising and saying my last farewells to a true friend.
I still find it difficult to fully transmit in appropriate words just how exciting, magnificent and utterly seductive the island of Manhattan seemed to me when I first glimpsed her – the feminine gender strikes me as being the right ascription for this divine landmass – while I unrepentantly embraced a cliché by allowing Gershwin’s ‘Rhapsody in Blue’ to play in my head. She had suddenly revealed herself to us from across the East River when Charlie, Nicky Garratt and I reached the crest of the Brooklyn Bridge in the Yellow Cab that was transporting us from airport to the Wartoke Concern offices located somewhere within that crammed citadel of contemporary monolithic edifices and stunning art deco minarets rising above the opaque vapours of the city. Following closely behind us were another two taxicabs in yellow livery carrying the remaining Subs personnel, along with the guitars, basses, amp heads, snares, cymbals and all the auxiliary equipment necessary for the weeks ahead.
Above: Chutch goes all Disneyland on us, while I take advantage of the
Wartoke office 'phone to call home and Nicky looks on. NY, '82 - click image to enlarge
Upon arrival, Jane Friedman and her assistant, Laura Lorrey, cordially welcomed us to Wartoke HQ. After offering us coffee and something they called ‘bagels’ filled with cream cheese (I’d never heard of, let alone tasted one of these Jewish variations on a bread roll before) they passed out the itineraries and explained the mechanics of the tour. It seemed this was predominantly going to be a flying excursion: meaning our prime mode of transport would be a series of jet airliners that would take us from city-to-city, thereafter travelling to the venues and hotels in taxis or hired local transport. This initially sounded very luxurious and privileged until I happened to randomly open my itinerary book. There, on page twenty-eight, I discovered all the necessary information for our Boulder, Colorado show at the Bluenote club, which, naturally, included the means by which we would attain this city after completing our Austin, Texas gig of the previous evening. This is exactly what was written at the top of the page:
DATE: MARCH 29 1982
WAKE UP CALL: DON’T SLEEP!!!
TRAVEL: 1) AUSTIN TO DALLAS BY VAN – 200 MILES.
DEPART FROM DALLAS FORTWORTH AIRPORT
2) Fly Dallas to Kansas City: Depart 8:55 am-Arrive 10:10 am
3) Fly Kansas City to Memphis: Depart 1:50-Arrive 2:51 pm
4) Fly Memphis to Denver: Depart 3:20 pm-Arrive 4:50 pm
5) Van from Denver airport to Boulder.
Hence the travel plan for the accomplishment of this show entailed getting off stage at 12.45 am in Austin, forgoing all sleep that night to cover two-hundred miles of road in a van; then catching three separate flights entailing a near four hour stopover at one of these airports, before getting back into a van to drive from Denver to Boulder where we would be obliged to hang around at the club until our performance time of 11 pm came around to play another show; and after a broader reading of this booklet I rapidly uncovered many other multi-flight travel days that were just as sadistic.
The explanation for this merciless scheduling rested with the nature of the airline tickets Friedman had chosen for us. She had purchased super-budget multi-flight vouchers with a perfectly good, now defunct, domestic American carrier called Republic Airlines; but, due to the low cost status of these tickets, direct flights to destinations were rare and having to swap planes on multiple occasions after lingering stopovers at airports was to be the common travel experience.
We were booked into an establishment that had become a fashionable hostelry of choice with rock bands staying in New York at that time. The Iroquois Hotel was conveniently located between Fifth and Sixth Avenues in Midtown Manhattan. On arrival we watched my favourite Punk band, the Clash, and their substantial entourage depart; and sharp-eyed Chutch spotted Iggy Pop stepping out of the elevator. I was assigned a twin room which I was to share with Nicky.
Once we’d got situated there we both started feeling hungry and decided to order up to our room a large pizza from a delivery company recommended to us at the desk. We had asked for a large one, assuming it would be the equivalent size of one of those you would receive at a Pizzaland restaurant in the UK, but on arrival the cheese, tomato and dough pie was so big that we couldn’t get it in through the door horizontally. There was more than enough for a regiment, so we called Charlie and the rest of our cabal and invited them to a pizza party fortified with beer taken from the mini bar.
While eating, drinking brew and watching a NLF football game on TV the ‘phone in the room unexpectedly rang. All of us, apart from Katie, laughed in recognition of a ring tone that we had become so familiar with from American films and television shows but had never experienced in situ before. We had an identical reaction for the same reason when the insistent sound of a NYPD squad car’s siren drifted up through the open window. We had become extras in a stylish New York based movie, with an impending upgrade to leading men just a mere forty-eight hours away.
Our first full day in the city was dedicated to sightseeing, starting with the World Trade Centre. We travelled up to the observation floor of one of those iconic twin towers in an elevator that moved so rapidly our stomachs seem to voyage in the opposite direction as we ascended. The views offered from this vast space and its transparent toughened glass walls were incredible. You could look down on the Empire State Building in one direction, survey the art deco masterpiece that is the Chrysler Building in another, and at a height of one-thousand, three- hundred and sixty-two feet (four-hundred and fifteen metres) literally get a birds’ eye overview of the wider metropolis that extended for miles in all directions.
Having actually visited and experienced this location makes it doubly appalling then to consider the carnage that would have occurred there when a hijacked aircraft hurtled into this enormous structure on that tragic morning of September 11, 2001. That both edifices, ostensibly so substantial and durable, no longer exist owing to a murderous act of terrorism is a sobering notion indeed.
Looking down on the Empire State Building from atop one of the
World Trade Centre's twin towers. New York City, 1982 - click image to enlarge
Later that evening I wandered down to the Iroquois’ basement bar for a beer. I was only there for a few minutes when I noticed somebody wearing an Arsenal football scarf had taken up residence on the bar stool next to mine: it was John Lydon (aka Johnny Rotten), who I later learned from the barman was a regular drinker there. We got to talking and I asked him what had motivated his leaving London to live in New York – he was later to switch cities again, moving to Los Angeles in the mid-1980s.
‘I guess the answer to your question is that New York is a better kind of movie’ he disclosed. ‘I mean, just look at it. It’s fucking fantastic!’
We shared rounds and chatted for some time. Before moving on Johnny told me about a late club called the Bowling Alley, a fashionable haunt where a lot of musicians congregated to exchange stories, listen to music, drink and, indeed, bowl, being as it also had some functioning bowling alleys from the 1960s.
‘I’ll be there around 1 am’ he divulged, and added ‘if you do turn up don’t forget it’s your round’.
I shared this information with the rest of the band and around midnight we took taxis to the address that Lydon had helpfully scribbled for me on a napkin. John actually turned up closer to 2 am, already somewhat worse for drink, but as promised I got him in another beer. Despite resolutely sliding further into the arena of the inebriated together we still, somehow, managed to have a reasonable discussion about some of our favourite movies as Lydon was very much into cinema at that time having acted alongside Harvey Keitel the previous year in a film entitled ‘The Order of Death’. I also saw Joey and Johnny from the Ramones there, and Iggy Pop put in a late appearance.
‘This is great’ I thought to myself ‘I’ve been in New York less than forty-eight hours and here I am hanging out with a Sex Pistol and exchanging pleasantries with a trio of American Punk deities’.
It was a good start.
Above: Charlie 'bouffant' Harper, searches his bag
for his hairbrush, USA 1982 - click image to enlarge
We’d truly gone for it: Nicky and I had repeatedly leapt off the drum riser and made jumps from the tops of our amps onto the monitors; Charlie had trashed his microphone-stand as he whirled around like a Sufi dervish; and during the entire performance the three of us kept up this constant fusillade of physicality and scarcely contained aggression.
After the show Jane’s succinct consideration of what she had just witnessed was delivered in her strongest, most compelling NY accent: ‘We need to talk!’
Friedman explained that the tour wouldn’t be able to financially support the kind of breakages she envisioned based on what had just occurred and asked us to refrain from throwing the microphones and their stands around, as well as from jumping up onto the amp heads or onto monitor speakers in case we damaged them – she was very relaxed about Nicky or I falling off and injuring ourselves, it was just the equipment she was worried about.
We told her we would comply with her fiscally concerned request knowing full well we would carry on doing exactly the same. This was, after all, adrenaline fuelled British Punk rock we were playing and a touch of chaos and a dash of destruction were all essential parts of the package.
The following evening I finally made my pilgrimage to the Mecca of American Punk rock following a two hour rehearsal at an undocumented facility somewhere in Manhattan. Hilly Kristal’s CBGBs was a dilapidated, low-rent joint in a hazardous part of the East Village. Positioned on Bowery Street, this particular stretch of road and its surrounding area was famed for its itinerant winos, junkies, break-ins, muggings, and the not-so-occasional murder. In other words it entirely lived up to its reputation and was as perfect a venue for Punk music as Berlin’s SO36 or the Paradiso in Amsterdam.
While socialising at CBGBs Jane Friedman introduced me to Jeffrey Lee Pierce, the singer/guitarist of The Gun Club, a fine and critically approved band that had recently swopped their native LA for NY. Pierce was an affable and instantly likeable person and plans were made to hook up to drink and talk some more about music after our first Ritz show the next night. Ian Copeland from the FBI agency also showed up. After conversing with the band awhile he generously opened up a tab for us and instructed the barmaid to supply us with whatever alcoholic beverages we wanted for the rest of our duration at the club. I was starting to seriously fall in love with New York City.
We got to officially meet our Hardcore Storms America support band after our sound check some hours before the first Manhattan Ritz show on the 5th of March 1982. The League came into the large shared dressing room in the manner of nineteen century Wild West outlaw gang looking for either a good time or trouble. They certainly appeared the part, and having watched and listened to their check from stage side I noted they sounded the business too. They initially kept to themselves but having poured myself a small portion of Jack Daniels to take the edge off the building adrenaline, their bassist came over and asked if he could share a shot with me.
‘Sure’ I said, ‘here, help yourself’.
‘Thanks’ he replied, took the bottle in one hand, offered the other to shake and said ‘I’m Winston, named after a great British statesman, you would be Alvin Gibbs, right?’
‘Right’ I confirmed.
‘Yeah, I’ve read about you lot in the press and thought you were alright at that Christmas on Earth bash’.
‘I liked your band too Winston, one of the best of the night’.
‘Oh, alright, cheers!’
Winston and I bonded and became instant friends. As our travels progressed we would all discover just how mischievous and distinctive a character Winnie B (as everybody eventually came to refer to him) was.
Above: Me and Winston Blake (aka Winnie B) spot an inviting bar in the distance & try to figure out if we've enough time for a swift one. USA, 1982 - click image to enlarge
The League certainly didn’t disappoint the thousand-plus crowd that turned up for the first Ritz show. It was then our turn to gather under the arc lamps to initiate the mayhem. It was a great show, although with one unfortunate incident that slightly blemished the occasion.
Above: Magoo and P.J, guitarist & drummer with the ANL,
hanging around for the next flight. USA, 1982 - click image to enlarge
During the dramatic finale of the set, with the guitar being thrashed, Mal double-pounding his drums and Charlie whirling the microphone stand around his head, I decided to vertically launch my treasured Thunderbird bass upwards so that when gravity conveyed it back my way I could theatrically snatch it out of the air, drop to one knee and pummel the strings with a series of windmill arm sweeps. Unfortunately though, I was oblivious to the fact that a foot was resting on the guitar lead: ergo, instead of a fully intact bass falling into my awaiting arms a sizeable chunk of it, torn from where the chord plugged into the instrument, fell at my feet with the guitar lead still attached to the socket. I was then forced to helplessly watch in what seemed like decelerated time as the remainder of the bass summersaulted through the air and landed, headstock first, into Asling’s kit.
I later learned from some paying attendees that this unintentional stage antic looked really cool and authentically Punk to them, but lucky perceptions aside, when I got it back to the dressing room and inspected the damage I was horrified to discover a four-inch wide circular hole where the socket had been ripped out of the body of the bass.
Moments after I’d given up all hopes of using it for the following night’s Ritz show, Jane Friedman came in to the dressing room accompanied by a long-haired, denim-swathed older rocker type who told me he’d seen what had happened to the bass and then mercifully offered to repair it for the subsequent evening. Turns out he was the guitar tech for Van Halen; and although not the category of guy you would normally expect to be at a Punk show, confided that he’d really enjoyed both bands and on that fortunate basis decided to tender his services as a repair specialist, which were appreciatively accepted.
And yes, sure enough, that following afternoon, just after finishing our sound check for which I’d utilised my spare bass (the black Fender Precision), he handed me back my now perfectly restored Gibson Thunderbird. It was amazing. You couldn’t see where the damage had occurred at all. I was extremely grateful and asked what I owed him for such swift and skilled work.
‘No money necessary’, he said, ‘just put me on the guest list for tonight’s show’.
I guess being of an age that would have made him part of the Woodstock generation meant he had acquired and still retained that old-school hippie belief in the essential comradeship of travellers of the road and in assisting brother and sister musicians without thought for remuneration. This is now regrettably an archaic philosophy. And even though I never really liked the group he teched for, whenever I now catch a clip of Van Halen playing ‘Jump’ I remind myself that they had some decent people working for them, which in turn indicates that the band themselves may well have been good people too.
For my part, I was being nothing but bad. After the opening gig at the Ritz, and despite having a permanent live-in girlfriend back in London, I relinquished meeting up with Jeffrey Lee Pierce and his musician friends at CBGBs to instead go drinking with a very pretty woman who’d approached me at the stage door when we were leaving the venue. Her family was of Italian origin and I’ve always been a sucker for young Sophia Loren lookalikes. We ended up back in my hotel room and took full advantage of Nicky Garratt being absent at a late club with the rest of the Subs to get to know each other more intimately.
I’m also reluctant to report that I ended up sleeping with a woman – a different one – after the second and concluding Ritz show the following night. This time we went to her apartment in Manhattan to consummate our reciprocal regard for each other. Later, as dawn broke, I made my way back to the hotel on foot while loudly singing a favoured early-days Mott the Hoople song, ‘Angel of Eighth Avenue’ as no cab I hailed would stop for me.
Above: Catching some rare shuteye during a stopover at an airport
somewhere in the USA, '82 - click image to enlarge
Although I know these confessions do not portray me in a good light I’m determined to be severely honest about my behaviour and not succumb to editing out any misdemeanours, transgressions or embarrassing events. The authenticity of these memoirs must be implicit; for it to be otherwise would be an offence between us – writer to reader. At the time though my anaemic defensive rational had me believing that being three-thousand miles from home in such a seductive place meant it was quite reasonable to act this way and to separate my home life and my road existence without expectation of adverse consequences. Indeed, the very idea of fidelity in such circumstances seemed abstract and theoretical as to be almost meaningless.
Now, of course, I realise I was just being a self-indulgent, duplicitous arsehole.
Our first mode of transport after our NY shows and the genuine commencement of the tour turned out not to be a jet plane but a humble train. The dramatis personae for this journey from New York’s Pennsylvania Station to Washington DC – and for the rest of the tour – was as follows:
Charlie, Nicky, Mal and I – the U.K. Subs
Animal, Winston, P.J. and Magoo – the Anti Nowhere League
Lenny Fico and Dennis Sheenan – Tour Managers
Chutch and David Davis – Road Crew
Also, along to take care of our meagre merchandising (just one type of T-shirt and one variety of tour poster) was Mal’s girlfriend and ex-Ramkup receptionist, Katie; but more about how she came to be part of the touring party later.
Without doubt the most memorable and gratifying show of the many notable and enjoyable gigs played on this stellar tour was our appearance at the 9.30 Club sited on Washington DC’s F Street that very evening. Four-hundred punters were jammed solid within in its walls, this being double the legal limit.
Among them were Ian MacKaye and his band Minor Threat, members of the Bad Brains and Iron Cross, along with just about every other major mover and agitator from the DC Punk rock scene. During the set I witnessed American hardcore responses to our music for the first time: guys doing back flips off the stage into the crowd; a seething mosh pit of thrusting fists, elbows, sweat and testosterone; crowd surfing and an occasional madcap who would climb the PA stacks to launch themselves from a height of ten feet or so into the awaiting arms of equally deranged catchers below.
We were chanted back on for no less than four encores and afterwards the owner of the club visited the dressing room to announce that he had just beheld ‘the best motherfucking show ever played here’; which, considering the many remarkable bands that had already adorned the 9.30 stage was a pretty hefty compliment.
The woman I’d hooked up with after our first New York show attended and later took me to a bar where she told me about a new subculture within the DC Punk scene called Straight Edge. I was appalled to learn that this entailed young men forgoing the pleasures of smoking, drugs, drink and sex in the name of healthy living and enhanced, sustainable reality.
‘What! Are you kidding me? Surely not drink and sex too?’ I solicited.
‘Yeah’ she affirmed, ‘alcohol and sex too’.
Having already happily contravened one of these bizarre Straight Edge commandments we went back to my hotel room to eagerly disregard the other. Our intimacy didn’t last as long as we both would have liked though as morning wakeup call was set for 5 am. After seeing her to a cab it was pointless even attempting sleep, so I just waited in the lobby for the rest of my fellow travellers to wearily appear after having dragged my suitcase and one of my basses down seven floors worth of steps after I discovered the elevator was now refusing to work. I wasn’t too troubled by the lack of sleep as this was to be a rare gig-free twenty-four hours, but a genuine relaxed day off it most certainly wasn’t.
Our schedule went as follows: we travelled at 5.30 am via a hired van to Washington’s Dulles Airport to catch a Republican Airline jet leaving for Atlanta at 8 am. Having landed there at 9.30 am we were required to loiter with intent in the Atlanta aerodrome until 1 pm when another flight conveyed us to Detroit. Upon our arrival in the home city of Motown music at 2.30 pm there was to be more loafing around and coffee drinking until 4.50 pm, at which time we boarded yet another aircraft, this time Montreal bound. At 7.15 pm we touched down in this premiere city of Quebec and de facto capital of French speaking Canada, where, after having the traditionally fraught time with immigration and customs people, we eventually extracted ourselves from the airport to attain our downtown hotel around 9 pm.
So, having already forgone sleep for forty-eight hours what did I do? Correct. I slung my bass and bag onto my hotel bed and made straight for Winston’s room to see if he was up for some bar hopping. Naturally, he was. Having then rounded up the rest of the League and Charlie for added company we drank, smoked and traded tour stories, joked, laughed and bullshitted in a series of Montreal bars until daybreak.
My mind-set for such cracked behaviour was this: I was a young man with all the natural resilience and energy of that pleasing stage of life, and seeing as it was always possible this would be both my first and last tour of North America, I was resolute to savour every waking morsel of Americana as I could.
Boston, Massachusetts followed the lively Montreal show. There we played at a venue with the ridiculously uber-Punk name: SPIT. I already knew something about this club as my girlfriend Mary Jordan had been a regular attendee there when she had been studying at Harvard University before taking time out to work and model in the UK. The doors to SPIT didn’t even open until 10 pm, with the League due on at 11 pm and our stage time set for 1 am. This was, would you believe, followed by a 4 am wakeup call (yes, didn’t bother with sleep again) and another brutal series of flights and stopovers.
Above: Lift off at the SPIT Club! Boston, 1982 - click image to enlarge
Boston to Minneapolis via four other airports; Minneapolis to Detroit via three separate airports; likewise Detroit to Toronto, Toronto to Ontario, and all achieved while grabbing a beer and sandwich and seizing a half-an-hour of sleep in flight with another half-hour or so of shallow, inadequate slumber on whatever seating was available to sprawl out on at the next stopover aerodrome. We were always in transition, always negotiating the possibility of some post show hedonistic fun but with another stupid-o’clock wakeup call and a corresponding full day of travel to the next city and another late show to play thereafter.
This indecent lack of rest, the stopover boredom and the alcohol was a recipe for future trouble; and, sure enough, what made Milwaukee famous was about to bring the Hardcore Storms America touring participants into direct conflict with the gun-toting, Punk-hating Wisconsin State Police.
Above: Post-show group photo at the SPIT club, Boston, USA 1982 - click image to enlarge
Note: Hover pointer over all the images for Alvin's further comments