Werewolves of London
In which Alvin listens in with a Duke, further laments the loss of a great Guy, fails to fire his girlfriend, is exasperated by an astonishing Houdini-like on-stage disappearing act by Charlie Harper, performs whiskey-inspired horizontal stage whirls according to others, proposes marriage mish-takenly, experiences the love of the Lyceum, feels the therianthropic fun from the nocturnal delights of the capital in the company of many like-minded beasts, returns to his least favourite forest, rides in the freezing 'Fuck Subs' Bus, and is strip-searched for sword possession by the Dutch police, whilst wishing for a getaway car!
1981 and 1982 were, for me, the two most creative, interesting and enjoyable years of my initial period of involvement with the Subs. During this important phase of personal and professional evolution I acquired greater confidence in playing the bass and worked on my development as a songwriter and distinctive live performer. This was the season I finally established a particular musical stance and visual identity for myself while simultaneously being able to contribute to the band in a more comprehensive way.
But it has to be conceded that 1981 didn’t get off to the smoothest of starts for the Subs.
Without Mike Leander present, we - the band - reviewed his final mixes for ‘Diminished Responsibility’ at Matrix Studios in early January. As each track succeeded the next through the studio monitors it became sorely evident that his auditory ideas hadn’t fittingly served the material we had provided him with. The sound was emaciated and lacked the meaty power the songs warranted: only ‘Party in Paris’ benefitted from Leander’s idiosyncratic reverb-centric treatment. Something had to be done, quickly.
Nicky Garratt asked for, and was unanimously sanctioned by Charlie, Steve and I, some additional days at Matrix in the company of house engineer Mike Gregovich for the purpose of remixing these disappointing offerings submitted by our absent producer…
Just a quick detour for some additional information here: Mike Gregovich enigmatically appears on the ‘Diminished Responsibility’ album credits as the Duke of Montenegro. This is because he claimed familial inheritance of this title from an ancestor, Duke Mirko Petrovic, an entitlement that had been forever lost to his forefathers and their descendants following Montenegro’s absorption into the Socialist Republic of Yugoslavia, post Second World War; and, after the break-up of the Soviet Union, the establishment of an independent Republic of Montenegro…
So, the self-styled Duke and our categorically common guitarist set about trying to salvage the album while I rebuked myself for not speaking out when such an unsuitable candidate as Leander had been proposed at the initial meeting to resolve who would guide the sound direction of the record at the Gem Records’ offices some months back.
After Nicky and Gregovich had completed their reconstructive aural surgery we returned to those same offices to sign off on the artwork and make a final comparison between Leander’s original and Garratt’s new mixes. The abstract paintings of each member of the band that appear on the front cover and inner sleeve of the album were provided by Caroline Kalberer, who happened to be the girlfriend de jour of our soundman Mike Staplehurst. I thought the four representations of each member of the band were skilfully rendered and endowed an artistic, less formulaic visual packaging for the record. I liked the title too, which had been suggested by Steve Roberts one afternoon during the recording sessions, but the sonic quality of the album was still in doubt.
Having consented to the subsidiary aspects of what would be my debut LP, we then utilised the Gem boardroom to decide which mixes would make it to the final cut. Leander’s were played first, followed directly by Nicky’s. I voted for every Garratt mix apart from that of ‘Party in Paris’. I seem to recall Steve did the same, but that Charlie went kind of fifty-fifty with it. Still, democracy prevailed, and every track on that record is a Garratt mix, with the exception of the previously issued single.
Nevertheless, I was still disappointed with the aural outcome of ‘Diminished Responsibility’. Garratt had certainly done his best to inject some vitality and muscle into the production, but he could only work with what Leander had supplied in terms of raw recorded sound. As a result, and despite really liking songs such as ‘You Don’t Belong, ‘Time and Matter’, ‘Party in Paris’, ‘Fatal’, and others, it remains as one of the least favoured albums that I’ve contributed to as a U.K. Sub. This may surprise some, but, as I’ve mused once before in these memoirs, I still can’t help but wonder how different things could have been if we’d had the nerve to award the production duties to the mad genius that was Guy Stevens.
Before the album had its official release in February 1981 - worryingly, on a Friday the 13th - we returned to a studio setting to record some new demo tracks. I’d written two pieces of music for the session, sans lyrics, as I was still of the mind-set that words were Charlie’s personal creative domain. One had a simple, almost mainstream rock feel, while the other started with a sonorous solo bass phrase after which a metallic power riff from the guitar and pummelling drums entered the composition to provide a dark, taut atmosphere to the piece.
Charlie worked-up some verse and chorus lines, and awarded my tracks the titles ‘I Don’t Need Your Love’ and ‘Countdown’, respectively. He did the same for a Garratt track, ‘Sensitive Boys’. Having completed the vocals for two of these Charlie decided, for reasons unspecified, that I should sing the words (his words) for ‘I Don’t Need Your Love’. I wasn’t really up for the idea, but after some persuading gave it a go. The outcome was very disappointing; the song’s key was totally wrong for my vocal range and my struggle to achieve the notes is all too apparent.
If you’re ever in a masochistic frame of mind and would like to hear the unsatisfactory result of my first attempt at a lead vocal recording you can find this track in the company of much worthier songs on the U.K. Subs compilation albums ‘Raw Material
’ and ‘Demonstration Tapes
’… but, really, I shouldn’t bother if I was you.
You may recall I had determined that I would split from my girlfriend Karen while on the pre-Christmas European tour so that I could honourably enjoy the company of the new women I was invariably meeting while touring, or, for that matter, in social situations that were not even directly work related. It didn’t immediately happen. When I finally met up with her to deliver the archetypal ‘It’s not you, it’s me’ break-up spiel we ended up having such a great time together that I just couldn’t bring myself to emit those decisive words of separation. This, I’m ashamed to disclose, did not prevent me from acting as if the romantic relationship between us had been terminated. I guess my spineless, self-serving thinking was, seeing as I wasn’t actually looking to replace her with another full-time partner, why act precipitously? In fact the photographs embedded in this piece from our outstanding pre-Diminished Responsibility Tour show at the renowned Friars concert hall in Aylesbury were all snapped by her.
The Friars gig coincided with the release date of the album. Two days later we embarked on the official UK leg of the tour in earnest, this being a series of dates designed to promote the new LP and unveil even more material from the record. It initially necessitated us taking a ferry to Southern Ireland in the early hours of the 15th of February. We had a Dublin show booked to play that same night. Quite unbeknownst to us, at a popular Dublin disco nightspot called the Stardust, an electrical fault had triggered a fire that had taken the lives of 48 people and injured 214 as we were traversing that choppy, inhospitable stretch of water that separates the British mainland from the Emerald Isle. This was a national tragedy, one that understandably led to an official day of mourning and the cancellation of our only Republic of Ireland appearance.
On our way to Belfast Carol gleefully revealed to me that the Europa Hotel - the residence for our stay in the capital of Ulster - was the most bombed hostelry in Europe and that we were now travelling through what was she referred to as ‘bandit country’: a stretch of road leading to the Northern Irish boarder where Irish Republican Army snipers were known to take aim at vehicles bearing UK number plates from the hills on either side. On this occasion no shots were fired and we arrived at our heavily fortified, police guarded hotel intact.
The next day we took to the stage of one of the most prestigious venues in the province, the Ulster Hall, to play the U.K. Subs’ first ever Irish show
. It was capacity crammed. There was that unmistakeable air of anticipation in the hall and I wanted it to be a special event, not only for the rationale already cited but because it was also my birthday, and what better way to celebrate having survived the complexities and adversities of life on this blue planet for twenty-three years than with a killer Punk rock show. But, to borrow an over-worked but irresistible line from that wrinkly old roué, Mick Jagger, ‘You can’t always get what you want’, and things certainly didn’t go to plan that night.
All was going splendidly up until the last third of the set. The crowd were more than appreciative and, in response, we notched-up the excitement level and were preparing for an acceleration of energy that would take it home in unalloyed Punk style. Then, following ‘Warhead’, Charlie vanished. It was as if the Bermuda Triangle had relocated to the Ulster Hall. One second he was yelling into his microphone, the next he’d evaporated.
We waited for more than ten minutes on that dais without playing a note (a seeming lifetime) in expectation of his return. Then Nicky decided to speak to the audience. “If you’ve got Charlie out there please get him back to the stage, we’ve got more songs to play for you”, he pleaded.
The ocean of faces before us were as bewildered by the disappearance as the rest of the band. Chutch was dispatched to scour the building for him but materialised stage-side some time later to render us the universal gesture for ‘I haven’t a clue where he is’ - high shoulder shrug simultaneously tendered with outstretched arms topped off by a facial countenance manifesting perplexity and panic.
“What are we gonna do?” I yelled at Garratt.
“Let’s just press on”, he replied, then added “I’ll sing for now, hopefully Charlie will turn up shortly”.
We soldiered on. I think I even ended up singing the lead vocal for ‘Tomorrow’s Girls’ to give Nicky a break; but the momentum had been lost and the developing excitement had dissipated as we limped on through to the end of the set as best we could without our lead singer present. I was so angry by this wasted opportunity to captivate a new audience in a fresh location that I kicked over all my backline gear before leaving the stage. Having reached the dressing room there was still no information about what had happened to Charlie.
The mystery was only resolved when we left the venue to get in the bus for the ride back to the hotel. As I was about to take my seat I noticed some Punk rockers gathered around a man with a Harper-like bouffant hairdo outside a pub across the road. I got out and ran over to this group. Sure enough, at the epicentre of this gathering, casually drinking a beer and acting as if nothing untoward had occurred, Charlie was holding court.
“What the fuck happened to you?” I asked. He seemed surprised at my agitated tone of voice.
“Well, someone grabbed me by the collar of my T-shirt and I ended up having to jump offstage to stop them from choking me”.
“Yeah”, I countered, “but why didn’t you re-join us straight after?”
“I needed some air and went outside…”
“…Then I saw this pub and thought I would have pint before getting back, but I guess you lot finished up before I did”.
I was stunned at his cavalier attitude but I thought to myself ‘It’s my birthday, let it be’, and instead of arguing the point I went into the hostelry to order and down a pint of ebony coloured Guinness - the extra creamy, full-bodied kind that you can only get in Ireland - which justly set me up for the birthday party that was soon to commence in the bar of the most bombed hotel in Europe.
Charlie was always prone to these curious bouts of unpredictability, and you will learn of other random occurrences when his urge to subvert a winning situation becomes too intense for him to resist in future memoir episodes. It has to be acknowledged though that Chas has, in recent years, been vastly more reliable and responsible in all matters relating to the band, and this positive behavioural change has helped provide the stability that has served the present line-up of the Subs very well.
Back on the British mainland Harper acted with reasonable professionalism, sang, danced and played the Punk ringmaster to perfection without dematerialising for the remainder of the tour. In fact, I was the one that came close to magnificently screwing-up on one memorable occasion, but we’ll get to that in a moment.
We were all gratified and much relieved to learn that the new album had entered the charts at number fifteen. Having a Top Twenty record meant a record company that was far more generous with its tour support money and its publicity budget than it would have been if we’d not attained this exulted chart position, all of which, in turn, helped generate more sell-out shows and greater press interest.
Manchester Poly was revisited then Tiffany’s in Glasgow, followed by the King George’s Hall in Blackburn, where I indulged in some aberrant behaviour that almost led to my undoing on two fronts – professional, and personal. The source of my near downfall was a mixture of cold weather and alcohol. I’ve never liked cold weather. This is probably due to half my blood being of the Latino variety and explains why I now choose to live in the South-West of France. It happened to be a freezing February afternoon when we arrived at our venue in Blackburn. A bone-chilling wind tore through my inadequate clothes as I got out of the tour bus. Although doors were not due to be opened for the public for another three hours there was already a queue of over a hundred people waiting outside in the foul weather eager for entry. We were quickly spotted by this crowd and numerous of them came up to ask us to sign record sleeves and leather jackets, to chat and socialise.
As I was autographing a copy of ‘Party in Paris’ a generous young male Punk shoved a sealed bottle of Scotch whiskey in my free hand and said “Here’s a present for you Alvin. Enjoy.” “Thanks.” I replied, although I’ve never been fond of that particular variety of alcohol. Still, having opened it up and taken a swig or two, its warming effect definitely helped insulate me from the cold and I went on taking regular portions of the stuff right through our sound check and beyond. At some point I realised I’d pretty much consumed three-quarters of the bottle. Then, fatally, as we left the building to take the drive to our hotel, I spotted a girl outside that I thought was quite attractive and emboldened by the whiskey invited her back for a drink. She said “Yes”.
I was already pretty intoxicated and despite there being a show to play that evening I managed to drink yet more alcohol with this young woman in the hotel bar. The next memory I have is of awakening in bed in my hotel room naked beside my correspondingly disrobed drinking partner.
“Shit!” I screamed, “what’s the time?”
Having been brusquely awoken by my panicky execrations she glanced at her watch.
“It’s ten o’clock”, she calmly reported.
“Ten o’clock! I’ve missed the entire gig. I’m doomed - they’ll kick me out of band. Fuck!”
“What are you talking about? You’ve played the gig, its 10 am; now get back into bed…” and smiling she ominously ended this sentence with “… husband to be”.
I didn’t want to go there, well, not straight away, first things first: I threw on my clothes, told her I would bring her back a cup of tea and headed for the breakfast room to check if any other band members were down there eating to sound out what had occurred during the previous evening. On the way I passed Nicky Garratt in the corridor. I was expecting a frosty reception but he simply bid me “good morning” and asked if I was going to get something to eat.
“Yeah, sure” I told him, and together we joined Chutch, Steve and Charlie at a table where they were all keenly consuming fried food, the kind of stuff you definitely don’t want to encounter when a platinum-level hangover has just fully kicked in: but, encouragingly, they also uniformly acted towards me as if all was well, which helped sooth my paranoid disposition. Only when they had all dispersed leaving just Chutch and I at the table did I take the opportunity of confiding about my alcohol induced amnesia of the previous night.
“I have almost no recollection of the gig Chutch. Did I play OK?”
“Yeah, fine” he confirmed, before adding “though we did notice you were spinning around on the stage floor on your back a lot, which is not your usual thing… it looked good though”.
It must have been some form of mental auto pilot that allowed me to enact those songs successfully while being so absent from myself; that, or a variation of Muscle Memory perhaps. Although my position in the band was evidently secure there was still that ‘husband to be’ situation needing to be dealt with. Sure enough, having returned to my room with the promised tea for my new bed mate, it turned out that at some point after the gig, while still enfolded in the arms of advanced inebriation, I had impulsively proposed to the young woman; and, unfortunately, she’d accepted.
I gently, apologetically, explained to her that, as lovely as she was, I wasn’t in any position to marry anyone at that time; although, I added, if such circumstances changed then she would be the first to know. I thought about alleging ‘Diminished Responsibility’ due to alcoholic contamination but quashed the idea having apprehended this was not an appropriate occasion for that kind of warped humour.
There was a disappointed but tolerant acceptance of my new position on her part and I’m pleased to write that we parted company as friends that afternoon. In fact, a year or two later, having moved down to London, she formed a relationship with a musician acquaintance of mine. I would occasionally run into them at a club or a West End pub and we would cordially chat and share a drink or two until, eventually, she drifted out of our Bohemian Punk rock circle for good to live, work and socialise in the conventional world.
Lesson learned. I have never allowed myself to drink anywhere near to that extent prior to playing a gig from that cold northern day in 1981 to this.
We finished up the ten date ‘Diminished Responsibility’ Tour in style. London’s Lyceum Theatre is a venue of both personal and general historical significance. In the age of Dan Leno its gaslights had illuminated the popular slapstick singers and sentiments of the Victorian/Edwardian music hall; Oscar Wilde had premiered his comedies ‘The Importance of Being Earnest’ and ‘An Ideal Husband’ within its gilded walls; and, on its restored and sizeable stage, I had witnessed the U.K. Subs for the first time and saw many other bands of significance on its designated New Wave night, this being a regular Sunday evening of Punk-orientated music organised by promoter John Curd.
On 1st of March 1981 it was my turn
. Firstly though, the outfits that had opened for us throughout the tour - The Stiffs and Anti Pasti - again played their parts, along with special guests, Chelsea. Then, to Gary Glitter’s ‘Come on, come on!’ refrain, we laid our claim to the stage, and, with some sincere passion and elementary audio power, ignited the Subs faithful under the amazing lightshow prepared for us by that outstanding engineer of illuminations, Malcolm Mellows.
After this superlative show and our end of tour party had concluded I sat in the front passenger seat of the tour bus awaiting a ride back to Croydon. The road crew were busy hauling our equipment out of the back doors of the theatre into a large truck. One of them suddenly stopped his exertions, walked over to the bus and tapped on my window.
Now here he was, my soundman, shifting my gear. The irony was not lost on him.
“This must be weird for you” Dave contended, “I mean, just a few of years ago you were humping shit around for me, and now look!”
I resisted the urge of threatening to put a microphone stand up his arse if he scraped my bass cabinets, and instead smiled and agreed it was, very weird.
It was a significant moment, and I allowed myself the luxury of feeling pretty pleased about this advantageous realignment of my life as we sped off to negotiate the interminable streets of that sometimes inhospitable, sometimes charitable, but always beguiling city of London.
When not on tour, which wasn’t for very long, I liked to socialise, catch a live band, share stories and drinks with likeminded people and meet some pretty women. Charlie was of a similar frame of mind, while Nicky, being a non-drinker with a live-in girlfriend, would only venture from his home in Kingston to join us on rare occasions. Steve Roberts, as the only married member of the band, would come out to play sporadically but felt compelled to spend some quality domestic time with his wife when not gigging. It was left up to both Charlie and I then to be the off work, night ambassadors of the band.
There was a recurrent group of people that we would hook up with on a regular basis when carousing around Soho and other parts of the capital in the early 1980s. Howard Bates and Mick Rossi of Slaughter and the Dogs; Captain Sensible and his then girlfriend, Kirsty; Chutch, our trusty driver and gofer; Jim Reilly, who was drumming for Stiff Little Fingers; guitarist James Stevenson, often in the company of various other members of Chelsea; Lemmy from Motorhead; Decca Wade of the Angelic Upstarts; journalists Carol Clerk and Gary Bushell; Overend Watts and Dale Griffin, formerly of Mott the Hoople; Gary Holton of the Heavy Metal Kids; Tim and Gaye of the disbanded Adverts; along with many other names you might well recognise if cited.
Inspired by the title of a cool song by Warren Zevon, both Chas and I took to calling ourselves and our band of rakish brothers and sisters The Werewolves of London, seeing as we would descend on the town only after the sun had abdicated and the moon was in the ascendant.
The Rock Garden in Convent Garden, Gossips Nightclub at 69 Dean Street, The Embassy Club on Old Bond Street, The Music Machine in Camden Town - all common hangouts; but, in particular, there was a much favoured triangulation of places on Soho’s Wardour Street where the Werewolves would routinely convene for hedonistic purposes.
First stop, The Ship, this being a public house that had been traditionally frequented by rock musicians since the 1960s. It was owned by a surly elderly couple who banned me from their premises on no less than five occasions over a three year period for such misdemeanours as talking too loudly, accidently spilling beer on a table top, and, distracting their (comely) barmaid from her work by engaging her in conversation that was not strictly customer/server related. There may have been better reason for the other two bans, but I suspect not. They were both habitually hostile and pathologically unreasonable, but still, perversely, I loved the place.
After downing a couple of pints at The Ship, it was a mere two minute walk down the street to reach the Marquee Club where each night you were guaranteed a band would be engaged in submitting their visual and aural wares for appraisal. We knew the manageress, Barbie, very well. She always allowed us free entry and had previously inspired Charlie to write ‘Barbie’s Dead’ after she’d become absent from her post in the ticket office for a month leading to the spurious rumour that she had succumbed to a deadly illness. We would continue our revelries in the Marquee bar, which had a glass partition that allowed you to watch a band on stage while also being able to chat and drink without suffering the full volume encountered in the main room if the outfit playing was not to your taste. After the Marquee closed up at 11.30 pm, whoever formed the Pack that evening would take another two minute stroll across to the opposite side of Wardour Street to the funhouse that was the St. Moritz Club.
This was a private members club frequented almost entirely by rock musicians and those involved in the music industry in some capacity that opened its doors seven nights a week from 10 pm to 2 or 3 am, depending on prevailing attendance levels. As with the Embassy Club, you paid a small annual fee for your membership card and this circumvented the licencing laws that prevented public serving of alcohol after 11 pm. It was situated in the basement of a Swiss restaurant and run by its chef, who also worked the door; a decent and likeable man encumbered with the unfortunate nickname, Sweetie. Gloriously dark and seedy and decorated in the poor taste of a German bier keller, it was composed of three separates rooms: one containing the bar; another a dance floor illuminated by some headache-inducing flashing disco lights and a DJ booth where the records were spun; and, most popular of all, a kind of frolic room where you could get semi-intimate (in some notable cases, very intimate) with whoever you’d coupled-up with there that night. The toilets where off in the back, its cubicles mainly being used for the sharing and inhaling of powdered amphetamine sulphate or, if you were particularly flush that week, cocaine. There was also a One Armed Bandit gambling machine on the premises, where if Motorhead were on down time, you would always find Lemmy feeding his money into while consuming numerous glasses of Jack Daniels.
After Moritz throwing out time some of us would continue up the road to Chinatown and order soup and noodles to soak up the booze at our preferred Sino establishment: The Lido. This Chinese restaurant was open for business 24 hours a day and as such was very popular with the dissolute night creatures of Soho. There, if you were still of a mind-set to illegally consume alcohol, liquor or wine could be purchased in ceramic teapots affecting to be Jasmine tea for a reasonable price. Dawn’s untimely light would usually have arrived before we finally drifted off to our various abodes to catch some sleep, during which inactivity, we would gradually transform from our adopted nocturnal Lupine identities back into our original human forms.
We were off playing more shows on mainland Europe just over a week following our momentous Lyceum appearance. Starting with Hamburg’s Markt Halle on the 10th of March 1981
, we played several more consecutive concerts in Germany and five in the Netherlands. This included yet another appearance on the stage of The Paradiso in Amsterdam
, and, unfortunately, another visit to Apel Doorn. Yes, we were back in those dreaded huts in the interior of that miserable forlorn forest, and just to make things worse, post show in the town, we discovered the windscreen of our bus had been smashed out and someone had spray painted in uranium orange ‘Fuck Subs’ along the length of the vehicle. I guess the band was not universally appreciated in Apel Doorn.
Charlie (surprisingly), Nicky and most of the crew had already taken taxis back to Stalag 18 leaving Steve, Chutch, Julian, another couple of fans who had travelled over from the UK, and I, to party on at the venue. Harper and Garratt actually seemed to like staying in the Disenchanted Forest, but Roberts and I hated it and wanted to spend as little time as possible there, hence our staying on to drink at the club until the early hours at our promoter’s expense. It was the month of March, but very, very cold. The ride back in the bus minus its windscreen was excruciating. I only had a T-shirt on and Steve was likewise unsuitably dressed. The freezing blast of air that whipped into the interior through the open chasm that once possessed a glass barrier had Steve and I huddled together on the floor below the two front passenger seats trying to accrue as much heat to warm our bodies from the engine as possible. Chutch had wrapped a blanket around his head to protect him from the icy blast, but by the time we got back to the huts his jaw had frozen shut and he couldn’t speak until the thawing-out process had been completed several minutes later.
The next day we were told there wasn’t enough time to have the screen replaced before setting off to the next gig. So, not wanting to suffer the glacial wind-tunnel bus experience again, Steve and I decided to take up the offer of a ride to Eindhoven offered by two female German Punk rockers who had driven to the Netherlands to see us play on the previous night. We called the ‘phone number one of them had supplied me with and a short time later they arrived, evidently excited and happy to be chauffeuring a couple of Subs to their next port of call. As well as our suitcases I also placed in the boot of the car an object I’d discovered and purchased in an antique shop at one of the previously visited Euro cities. It was a Japanese samurai-type sword, most probably a trophy acquired from a prisoner of war in Asia by an American or British soldier at the conclusion of World War II. I was very much into Japanese culture and history at the time: I was (am) a huge fan of the samurai films of the great director Akira Kurosawa and I’d just enjoyed reading James Clavell’s epic historical novel, ‘Shogun’. I’d acquired it purely for its aesthetic and antique value, and never even considered its potentially dangerous application.
The ride started out pleasantly enough. We chatted and smoked cigarettes, listened to music provided by the vehicle’s cassette player and took sips of the fruit flavoured schnapps that was periodically offered to us by the woman in the passenger seat. Just as Eindhoven Bridge loomed into view things turned sour.
“Oh, I think we’re being followed by the police” our driver warned. Steve and I looked out of the rear window. She was right. Seconds later this police van activated its siren and one of its uniformed occupants signalled for us to pull over. Having complied and come to a standstill roadside, two Dutch policemen emerged from the vehicle and gestured that they wanted us out of the car. Before we obeyed, one of the girls confided that we were almost certainly being stopped because they had observed the German number plates: “Dutch police around here still hate us because of a fucking war that ended before I was even born”, she told me, before adding for good measure: “stupid bastards!”
Having asked for papers and upon handing them our passports they noted two of the party were British, which motivated an officer to ask me in exemplary English what we were doing with these women. I told him exactly why we were travelling with the girls and revealed Steve and I were members of a Punk rock band playing in Eindhoven that evening. In retrospect, this was a gross error. These men may have detested Germans for whatever Hitler’s military henchmen may have inflicted on their family members some thirty-six years before, but, for sure, they equally loathed Punk rockers of whatever nationality. The discovery of my sword in the car boot was all the ammunition they needed to fuck with us.
We were cuffed at gunpoint and led into the back of their van, taken to a police station, where I know not, and individually humiliated by being stripped searched and forced to have our orifices inspected by an officer wearing latex gloves who evidently enjoyed mistreating and demeaning people of our kind. I was then shoved into a cell on my own. I kept shouting through the cell-door slit that we had a show to do and needed to resolve the situation quickly or a lot of people were going to be let down and angry. “What the hell are we being charged with?” I yelled several times, but the sadists wouldn’t respond.
After five or six hours of pacing around my cold, austere, claustrophobic cube, its door swung open and a policeman announced that I could make one ’phone call to inform someone of our arrest. Luckily, before setting off, Mick Staplehurst had given me the promoter’s number in case we encountered any difficulties on our journey. We had only considered the possibility of automotive mechanical failure or a heavy traffic situation - certainly not the off chance of being arrested and banged up for being in possession of a dangerous weapon, which, predictably, turned out to be the charge.
The Dutchman at the venue at the other end of the line told me not to worry: “We’ll get you out of there in time for the gig”, he reassured. Another two hours of uncomfortable isolation elapsed before our promoter arrived and negotiated Roberts’ and my release after paying a fine (in reality, a bribe) and agreeing that I would leave the sword in police ownership.
“How about our German friends?” I enquired.
With a fatalistic shrug of his shoulders he replied: “The police tell me they will be free to go tomorrow morning. There’s nothing else we can do”.
Although on the surface this occurrence might well be characterised as a negative event, I later managed to utilise this misadventure to stimulate my modest creative juices. The result was the lyrical narrative for a song of mine that appears on the self-titled Urban Dogs debut album of 1983. Entitled ‘A Bridge Too Far’ (lifted from a favourite war movie of mine that involves the capture of Eindhoven Bridge by allied forces in 1944, the very same structure we were about to drive across just before being arrested) it recounts the experience of ‘running ’round like a cat in a cage’ in that tiny bare cubicle for all those hours while anxiously pondering ‘where’s the getaway car?’.
I provide the lead vocals, bass and rhythm guitars on the recording, but embellishing this track with his singular lead guitar playing is a Scandinavian musician that I was destined to meet in the Spring of ’81; another one of those mysteriously reoccurring people who would eventually go on to enhance my career in strange and unforeseen ways.
First published 27 January 2015
TUNE IN NEXT TIME FOR...
>>> Harper goes all Charles Aznavour with a version of Party in Paris, en Francais; Mr. Gibbs starts to appreciate why, in the words of Mott The Hoople: “Chelsea girls are the best in the world for company”; the Subs jump record companies, and despite his undisputed talent as a drummer, Harper, Garratt and Gibbs reluctantly agree that Steve Roberts has become a serious liability for the band, and act accordingly... <<<