In which Alvin tastes the Rock N Roll highlife, despite the fear of being blown to bits on stage, as the Physicals support Phil Lynott's Thin Lizzy for two unforgettable dates to see out the end of the 70s in style...
Firstly – a quick apology for the lengthy delay between the last episode and this instalment. As you may, or may not know, I’m taking a BA Honours degree in history with the Open University, which is to my mind and experience one of the finest scholastic institutions on earth. But touring heavily while having to submit tough assignments to tight deadlines meant placing all other writing activities on the back burner for a while; and an end-of-term 5000 word dissertation on the importance of economic systems in empire building didn’t exactly help with what was already a pretty stressful situation. Still, the term has ended now and the dissertation and assignment monkeys are off my back, so normal service will now be resumed until the commencement of a new term throws me into the clutches of more exquisite torment and high anxiety later in the year.
Apology over, on with the saga…
Brian James’ departure to the USA to deploy his considerable playing talents alongside Iggy Pop seemed initially to be an unwelcome occurrence. Thanks to the resourcefulness and connections of Alan Lee-Shaw this event was quickly transformed into an opportunity that would provide great satisfaction for everybody involved.
I liked Alan and looked up to him as a kind of older rock musician brother. He had the appearance of a taller, more physically robust version of Brian Jones during the period when that ill-fated god-star of the Rolling Stones was still in his charismatic prime. Enduringly positive, always looking for fresh career opportunities, and not wanting to be outdone by Brian’s elevated experience touring with the godfather of Punk, he ’phoned John Towe and I to set up a meet at the Ship public house in Soho’s Wardour Street for the purpose of sharing a newly conceived plan-of-action.
“I’ve got a friend called Frank Murray who sometimes tour manages Thin Lizzy”, he revealed. “Seems Phil Lynott is looking for a support band for a couple of forthcoming Lizzy shows in the UK, and Frank really likes the Physicals. He wants to put the band forward for these gigs and I would like you two to be the rhythm section. Are you interested?”
Pointless question! John and I were more than excited by the idea of joining the Physicals to play shows opening for a band that had reached the apotheosis of its fame and could sell out large venues across Europe and the USA in a matter of hours. Having enthusiastically agreed to Alan’s proposal we worked up the necessary material. The only other original Physical to make it to the new line-up was the likeable, very capable German guitarist, Steve Schmidt. Why Alan had ditched his original rhythm section of Chris Sol (bass) and Steve Bye (drums) in favour of Towe and I remained unexpressed and we, quite honestly, were perfectly happy not to question the mechanics of his thinking.
This first get-together as the Physicals went unsurprisingly smoothly. Alan’s Dolls/Iggy/Stones inspired Garage Punk songs were meat and drink to Towe and I. We basically had a set ready to roll after a few hours of playing. Alan was so pleased with the results that he utilised the rehearsal complexes’ pay ’phone to book some studio time to record a batch of new tunes he had thrown our way during the rehearsal.
On a cold November morning we duly turned up at a small attic four track studio called Grannies in Norbury, South London. By early evening we had recorded five new songs: ‘Got a Feeling’, ‘Meat Off the Bone’, ‘The Weights Off Me’, ‘Scum Surf Riders’ and ‘Crying in the Alley’. All of these recordings eventually emerged on the Physical’s compilation album ‘Skulduggery’ in the 1990s.
Frank Murray duly confirmed our Lizzy opening-act status when we met him at an Irish pub in Kilburn in late November. He also introduced us to the Irish firewater that is potcheen and to Phil Lynott, having driven us to this undisputed rockstar’s flat in his Mercedes-Benz Coupé while we were still trying to figure out why a mere three shots of the Gaelic moonshine apiece made walking in a straight line impossible.
Lynott’s girlfriend (later his wife) heeded the plea of the doorbell. She was tall, blonde, hyper-attractive, exactly the kind of woman you would expect to be co-habituating with this debonair musician. Her father was the popular TV presenter Leslie Crowther. Legend has it that when Phil formally asked Crowther for his daughter’s hand in marriage Crowther had replied ‘You’ve already had the rest of her so you may as well have her hand as well’.
She smiled at us, we swooned, and like a pack of smitten puppy dogs followed her passed a veritable constellation of gold albums that decorated the walls of a long corridor that led directly into the apartment’s inner sanctum. Lynott got up from the couch he had been lounging on while smoking a cigarette. Upon shaking the hand of each member of the newly reconditioned Physicals he asked if we wanted something to drink.
We sipped the offered beverage as he revealed New Wave bands sometimes got a rough ride when supporting Lizzy.
“I love the Punk stuff”, he assured us, “but some of those Neanderthal Heavy Rock fuckers like to throw things and give bands like yours a bad time of it”.
“Yeah”, Frank agreed, “the last Punk band they had open for them had to flee the stage after just three numbers due to a shower of glasses and bottles. Thing is…” he continued, “you’ve just got to look the bastards in the eye, show them no fear and play on regardless”.
‘Great’, I thought, ‘here was me thinking we’re gonna be serving up our wares to an appreciative new audience and these two are telling us that we’re going into a fucking war zone.’
I visited Guy Stevens on my way home to discuss these developments. He was keen to play me a white label pressing of ‘London Calling’, which I appreciatively listened to and properly loved. We carried on chatting about favourite personal cuts from the record over drinks at our regular pub on Sydenham High Street, The Dolphin; the same low-end establishment where I had first encountered Guy scribbling furiously away on random pages of his tattered Montgomery Clift biography while ranting to no one in particular. Unsurprisingly, one of Guy’s favourite songs on Calling was ‘The Right Profile’, lyrically inspired by that Clift biography which Stevens had gifted to Joe Strummer during the recording process as a possible source of inspiration.
After a final rehearsal at the PX rehearsal rooms in Convent Garden on the morning of Sunday the 16th of December, 1979, the revamped Physicals set off in a van hired for the occasion by Frank Murray to travel northwards; destination Manchester. After a quick snack at the Blue Boar café (a famous service station eatery frequented by many touring bands in the 1960s, 70s and 80s) we continued on with the van’s radio volume set at raucous and some cans of lager to take the edge off the ‘war zone’ anxiety that would inevitably accrue as our journey persisted. These were thoughtfully supplied by Dave Jordan, soundman for the duration. Dave had been the engineer on the Brain’s ill fated recording sessions at TW Studios on the Fulham Palace Road and had worked on records for Madness, the Specials, and other emerging Two Tone outfits. Frank was at the wheel and would be our tour manager for the next three days. We also had a roadie with us whose name has seemingly left the neurologically misfiring, wine-marinated structure called my brain. Actually for some mysterious reason the name Andrew suddenly comes to mind. If anyone recognises him from the photo of our touring party please pass his name on to this website so that I can make later amends if this hunch proves incorrect.
We arrived in good time at the Manchester Apollo Theatre, the location for our primary show. Frank collected and distributed our backstage passes and directed us to a minute dressing room adjacent the much larger rooms that would shortly be claimed by the headline band. The Rider that awaited us was somewhat on the meagre side too. Now for those of you who have no idea what a Rider is let me educate you a little: a Rider is an agreed and contractually obliged provision of food and drink that awaits a band in its dressing room for the nourishment and enjoyment of the aforementioned faction. For us Physicals, on this occasion, such fare consisted of what amounted to a packet of crisps dumped into a small plastic bowl, two rounds of cheese and two rounds of ham sandwiches which had already started to curl-up at the crusts, and four cans of cheap lager.
“Just as well we all got a little something to eat at the Blue Boar”, was Alan’s laconic pronouncement on the condition of these wretched offerings. Still, we had a show to do, and that immediately became our central concern.
“When is our sound check?” I naively asked Frank.
“Er, sorry lads, I’ve just been told there’s no sound check for yers. Seems Phil and the boys overran a bit on theirs and there’s no time left what with the Lizzy crew having to set up all the pyrotechnics and suchlike”.
One of the aforesaid crew with an unerring sense of timing then came into the dressing room to warn us not to get too close to the edge of the stage as we might inadvertently set of one of those ‘powerful fuckers’, as he charmingly referred to the hair-triggered pyro bombs distributed there. These, apparently, were a proven risk to life and physical extremities.
“Last year a guitarist in one of the opening bands ended up being launched six foot in the air with his clothes ablaze when he stepped on one. Had to spend a month in hospital recovering”, he cheerfully disclosed.
‘We really have come to a war zone’, I thought to myself.
Later on I realised the Lizzy crew were actually just fucking with us.
The hours dissolved and Frank shouted “thirty minutes to stage time” at us from the hallway outside the dressing room. The Apollo was packed; some six or seven thousand people out there and we were starting to feel like condemned criminals about to be thrown to ravenous lions in a Roman arena for the entertainment of a bloodthirsty mob. Enter Phillip Lynott, gift in hand, to the rescue.
“Here you go boys, this should help sooth the nerves”. Phil hammered down a bottle of Jack Daniels bourbon whisky onto the table that supported the sorry banquet of antiquated sandwiches and shit beer. He unscrewed the cap and handed it to me.
“Go on son, take a good swig of that”.
I’d never attempted bourbon before. Scotch, cognac even, but I only knew Jack Daniels by name and reputation. The whisky rode through me and I immediately felt enlivened by its warming effect. I handed the bottle to Steve Schmidt who after taking a sizeable portion passed it Alan, who in turn passed it to John Towe. We kept up this circle of passing and drinking until stage time. We were ready to face the lions.
It went so much better than anticipated. When they saw the short hair, King’s Road clothes and Punk demeanour there were some of the expected boos and cries of ‘fuck off’ from a certain type of audience member. A toilet roll was launched during the first song in the direction of the drum kit but passed way over John’s head to bounce off the Thin Lizzy backdrop. As we pressed on with a robust and suitably disorderly rendition of ‘All Sexed Up’, the majority of the crowd attained the understanding that we Physicals fundamentally played rock music too. We incrementally received less abuse and more applause until, by the end of our set, at least three-quarters of the audience were willing to put their hands together in appreciation of our efforts to win them over.
Frank was ecstatic. “Well done lads, not a glass thrown! And applause!” With stage adrenaline still surging through our bodies we headed back to the dressing room to finish off what remained of the whisky.
It was thrilling to watch Thin Lizzy perform all those instantly recognisable songs from the side of the stage. I thought back to when I used to see them play at the Greyhound to a mere two hundred people. After the encores had been deployed and those potentially deadly pyrotechnics activated, we trailed the band as they climbed the backstage stairs and met Frank on the way.
“Give the Lizzy boys twenty minutes or so, then go in and say hi…”
We followed Frank’s advice to the minute. After knocking sheepishly and receiving the OK from their tour manager we penetrated the domain of the Rock Stars to witness how things worked at the Premiere League end of the music industry. Quite a contrast. Their tables positively creaked under the weight of all manner of foods; there were bottles of good French red wine, vodka, Irish whisky and Rum, and a vast fridge filled with premium beers, white wine and champagne. Among the flight cases scattered about I noticed two wardrobe-sized containers stencilled STAGE CLOTHES. Racks of expensive vintage guitars and basses were being re-cased by crew while the band sipped their chosen drinks and decompressed.
Phil called out to us: “help yourselves to food and drink”. I immediately grabbed a plate and unashamedly stacked it with bread, cheese, chicken drumsticks, coleslaw, olives and any other edible Lizzy leftovers that took my fancy. The rest of the Physicals keenly followed my example.
Having eaten I went over and introduced myself to guitarist Scott Gorham. He was friendly enough and we chatted about the pros and cons of touring, even though I had yet to experience a real tour as such. Drummer Brian Downey was evidently shy, or perhaps introverted. Not exactly unfriendly, he just seemed content to have his own space and be apart from the socialising, as was also the case with stand-in keyboard player and sometimes guitarist Midge Ure. Conversely, Dave Flett, the new boy in the band who had recently replaced Gary Moore as lead guitarist, positively invited conversation and external camaraderie. He offered me a cigarette and a cold beer and disclosed we were all off to Lynott’s mother’s famed Manchester lair of fun and intoxication: Philomena’s Bar. “She’s keeping it open just for us. Could be a messy night”, he warned.
We arrived at Philomena’s at around midnight. Phil introduced us to his mother. The matriarch of the establishment was an attractive, congenial, soft-spoken middle-aged woman who declared: “Anything you want to drink is on the house tonight boys. Philip is paying!” Having been initiated to the pleasures of Jack Daniels by her son I ordered up a round of Jack and cokes for the Physicals. We mingled and chatted to the various band members and crew of team Thin Lizzy, drank and smoked, and drank and smoked some more. I have an indistinct recollection of Scott Gorham, worse for drink, plummeting from his bar stool and having to be picked up and carried out by his guitar tech. I certainly checked my watch at his point, it was getting on for 6am, after which I have no recollection until I regained consciousness spread out on a couch in the reception area of the hotel that had been booked for us.
Early morning light illuminating my surroundings, I gradually raised my sore head to look up at the pretty receptionist sitting behind the counter. “Where’s the rest of ’em gone?” I groaned.
To my relief she laughed, and revealed “they tried to get you to your room but you insisted on sleeping on the couch. Looked as though you all had a good time of it.”
“Yeah, I guess we did. Can I have my room key now, please?”
It’s amazing the sheer immensity of one’s powers of recovery from a night of epic drinking and the spouting of inebriated bollocks when aged twenty-one. I had slept off my hangover, devoured a large greasy breakfast in the city centre, and feeling completely revived looked forward to spending an evening off in Manchester carousing with Phil Lynott and whoever else was up for seconds. After dinner we gathered in the hotel bar where assorted members and associates of Thin Lizzy and the Physicals eventually turned up in various states of disrepair. Scott Gorham confessed to me he had no remembrance of the bar stool incident and assumed he’d made it back to his hotel room by his own guidance.
Taxis were summoned and I shared one with Phil, Frank and Alan Lee-Shaw for the short drive to that night’s palace of possibilities: The Millionaire’s Club. This venue was exactly as its name implies: wholly pretentious with a complete absence of taste or subtlety. It was liberally decorated in replica tiger skin, fake marble and gold lamé wallpaper, and there was a Rolls Royce Silver Shadow parked in the centre of the club in a futile attempt to lend the place a degree of sophistication. ‘Why oh why’, I asked myself, ‘did Phil and the rest of the Lizzies want to visit a place like this?’ My self-posed question was shortly answered.
There were a lot of women there who were refreshingly transparent about finding a man to partner up with for a brief time period. There was also a couple of guys, I think connected to the club in some manner, who would make regular visits to the toilet facilities with Lynott or some other member of his band. They were certainly not spending that amount time in the toilet cubicles together because they were suffering the same kind of bladder infection and the involuntary sniffin’ and clasping of nostrils as they returned to the bar were significant giveaways.
Phil being, I was sure, the only real millionaire in the place, and famous and handsome to boot, became the centre of attraction for a lot of the predatory women who prowled the club. He was constantly visited by such female company. I watched amused as one particular woman tottered up to him in maximum elevated high-heeled shoes. She was wearing what looked to be a two-inch lycra pelmet in place of a skirt; her impressive breasts were bursting out of a low-cut (and I’m talking low-cut) blouse by means of a mechanically enhanced brassier; her face exhibited the liberal use (and I’m talking liberal use) of tandoori-coloured foundation, while her eyelashes drooped under the sheer weight of application of black mascara. Having placed her hand on Lynott’s thigh she thrust those remarkable tits up into his face, and dispensing with the usual formalities, immediately propositioned him. He laughed then diplomatically declined her invitation, or so it seemed from where I was watching.
Alan Lee-Shaw was observing the episode with amused interest too. “Why would a man like Phil Lynott, with such a gorgeous and classy girlfriend, want with a woman like that?” he mused.
“I’m not sure Al, but I’m certain that particular woman is looking to have sex with a male human in order to initiate the apocalypse”, I warned.
Despite the deficiencies of the Millionaires Club in relation to the natural conviviality and easy going atmosphere enjoyed the previous night at Ma Lynott’s bar we did managed to get pretty inebriated by attempting to sample every drink on the cocktail menu and laughed ourselves daft when John Towe endeavoured to pull the big-breasted daughter of Mephistopheles only to receive a tirade of Mancunian accented expletives and a face slap for his troubles. The next day we boarded the van and headed for Stafford.
The Bingley Hall was a huge venue. A cavernous aircraft hanger of a place that could comfortably accommodate twelve-thousand punters. As twelve-thousand tickets for that night’s event had been pre-sold, as relayed to us by Frank Murray, we were looking forward to performing in front of a sell-out crowd later that evening. We were surprised but happy to see a Rider that, if not quite as extensive, at least approached that of Thin Lizzy’s awaiting our pleasure in a spacious dressing room off one of the labyrinth of corridors in the backstage area. I was also delighted to see my girlfriend Karen there. She had hitched a ride with Towe’s latest squeeze, the immensely posh and well bred Sasha, who would go on to marry a Lord of the realm after having her fill of slumming it with ordinary people.
“Mirror, mirror on the wall, whose the fairest of them all?” he rhetorically asked in that attractive lyrical Dublin accent he possessed having caught our impending advance in the reflective body of the mirror. Although born in England, Karen’s parents were both Dublin Irish and she was already enamoured with the man for this connection, as well as for his other evident charms. Up close and personal his immense sexual gravity drew her in and having kissed her hand after I had made introduction I thought she was about to have some kind of amatory seizure. Phil Lynott was, without doubt, a consummate ladies man, a verity that the rest of us middling males both admired and envied him for.
We Physicals went down even better with the huge crowd that awaited us than at the Apollo theatre. There was a definite festive atmosphere to the proceedings, the stage having been decorated in tinsel, Christmas lights and trees, even fake snow, by the road crew. This was Lizzy’s last gig before impending Yuletide and the twelve-thousand strong crowd seemed in a joyous mood and were willing to listen and gain some pleasure from whoever took the stage that night. Having come through a tougher proposition in Manchester we really enjoyed playing and receiving the appreciative applause garnered after each tune we delivered. We almost got an encore, but the houselights that were too speedily turned on and the music that simultaneously emanated from the PA system put paid to that.
Happy in the knowledge we had entertained to the best of our abilities we headed back to our dressing room to discover Frank awaiting us clutching two bottles of chilled Champagne, uncorked and ready to be shared out.
“Fucking great, boys!” he exclaimed, “Christmas starts here!”
Karen came in carrying her ubiquitous camera. She had been out in the audience taking photos and absorbing the festive atmosphere. She walked up to me and delivered a kiss.
“Now that took courage, Alvin”, she confided. “What was it like up there in front of so many people?”
“It felt like home”, I answered. A somewhat pretentious but factual reply.
After being driven to our house on Sydenham High Street by Frank Murray in the early hours of the following morning, Karen and I got in some necessary sleep. Quite a party had ensued with Thin Lizzy, and all those in their orbit, after their blistering set for the Bingley Hall faithful. I didn’t see much of Frank after that. He would go on to tour manage the Specials and Elton John before breaking Shane MacGowan’s Pogues in the early 1980s as mentor and manager.
Karen and I threw a Christmas dinner party for friends on the weekend following the Stafford gig. Among the guests was Guy Stevens. He again refrained from breaking any household items and behaved himself impeccably, entertaining us all with his seemingly endless stories of Rabelaisian rock excess, enjoying the company, the wine and food, and looking contented and relaxed. He had brought over a demonstration copy of ‘London Calling’ as a Christmas present. It was signed ‘To Alvin + Karen (especially!) Guy Stevens, Xmas 1979’. Well, I guess he was still worried about her reaction to his behaviour on that infamous ‘Psycho’ chair trashing night.
It was an ideal end to a fine year, a year during which I’d substantially broadened my recording experience, performed before many thousands of strangers and survived, and received a brief but instructive taste of what it was like to tour at the higher echelons of the music business. On December the 31st, 1979, I noted in my diary that I fully expected the coming year to surpass the previous twelve months in terms of my career advancement. Words of optimism and hope. What I couldn’t have predicted was that the 1980s would in fact deliver opportunities surfeit to any I might have reasonably imagined in the dying moments of the 1970s, and that both Phil Lynott and Guy Stevens would not live to see another decade beyond the one that had just commenced with the conclusion of the midnight hour.
First published 26 June 2013.
TUNE IN NEXT TIME FOR:
Our icarus-like upwardly mobile bassist expands his touring experience on the continent supporting such luminaries as the blonde-mopped, chart-intruding trio The Police, the bump and grind rock 'n' roll burlesque act that was The Cramps, and Ska masters, The Beat; eventually succumbs to the allure of that willing manifestation of female carnal comfort, the Euro groupie; runs up hotel bills far in excess of his income necessitating the deployment of a false identity and some speedy getaways; finally becomes disillusioned with his Hellion ways and initiates a brand new age for himself by joining an established Punk outfit with renowned subversive tendencies...
Below: Phil Lynott plays out 1979 on the Kenny Everett show!