Americana: Part Three
In which our narrator recalls a naked trolley dolly room service scenario, gun-pointing back stage visits, the super-gluing of Charlie's eyes, searching for Mr P Ness, punk hatred from a trio of stewardesses and flying at supersonic speed via warm liquid. Our hero also tells of a substitute drummer, a half band fight, as well as his seeing his cover idea only half realised...
Despite deficiencies of sleep and the absence of regular wholesome food due to travel time constraints – you would have discovered more meat on a dirty fork than attached to my bones on that tour – knowledge that our touring party was to head south to Georgia after the Chicago show lifted the spirits and upped the youthful animal energy levels. This was the region of the USA that I was most intrigued about visiting, being as the southern states were where legendary musicians such as Robert Johnson, Skip James, BB King and John Lee Hooker had helped perfect and proselytised the African-American music genus called ‘the Blues’, which in turn evolved into Rock ‘n’ Roll, and, subsequently, all its many offshoots, including Punk rock.
We departed from Chicago’s O’Hara airport in the mid-morning on an extremely unusual but much appreciated direct flight to Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International and gently descended onto one of its runway at 1 pm. The airport’s interior was icily air conditioned, like a meat locker, and when the automatic exit doors opened at our collective approach the temperature contrast could not have been greater. Hot sultry air struck our bodies like a blowback from a baker’s oven provoking a lot of laughter and profanity at the sheer absurdity of this acute disparity.
Waiting for us directly in front of the airport was a rented fleet of Chrysler estate vehicles, each twice the length of any similar car you might have found back in the UK in the 1980s. We rolled all the windows down in the estate I shared with Charlie and Nicky so that the warm humid breeze could wash over us while Joan Jett’s version of I Love Rock ‘n’ Roll discharged out of the car radio at full volume. As we glided along the freeway we gaped at the exotic southern scenery, occasionally glimpsing a colonial-style mansion straight out of Gone with the Wind beyond the proliferation of hickory trees and juniper bushes that lined our route.
I was to share a twin room at our Atlanta hotel with Garratt again. As we had plenty of time before sound-check I got out my Thunderbird bass and Nicky his guitar to throw around some ideas we both had for new songs. As we were trading riffs and chord structures, we heard a loud pounding at the room door. I got up, swung it open and discovered the insistent visitor was Winston who promptly wheeled into our room on a meal trolley a naked young woman.
‘What the fuck!’ I hollered.
‘What the fuck indeed Mr Gibbs.’ replied Winnie B, who went on to assure us that ‘she’s really up for it boys, told me so, so I figured I’d deliver her to you as room service’.
The disrobed woman just giggled, seemed quite content to remain sprawled out on the trolley displaying her exposed charms for us to view. Nicky and I were proper horrified.
‘Er, very kind of you Winnie, much appreciated and all that but I think you’d better get this young lady back into her clothes and send her home mate’, I suggested.
Winston was disappointed by our puritanical rejection of his gift ‘I guess there’s no pleasing some people’ he said, adding ‘want not waste not’, before rolling the now waving girl back out into the corridor and onwards in the direction of his room.
‘We’ve only been in the hotel an hour, how was he able to meet a woman to have sexual relations with that quickly?’ I asked Nicky, who shrugged his shoulders and merely replied ‘Who knows?’ We later found out she actually worked at our Comfort Inn hostelry serving drinks at the bar, which is where Winston had met her having gone there for a beer immediately after our touring party had arrived. He had either speedily enraptured her with world class levels of charm or she had been an unusually sexually charged and impulsive woman who was quite the predatory match for Mr Blake. The latter explanation is probably the most likely.
This sort of behaviour was not at all uncommon when it came to Winnie B. He loved to gross us out with lewd conduct and his multiple tales of perverse sexual escapades recounted in vivid detail at the most inopportune times – while we were eating together, or when I was suffering from hangover nausea, or among horrified conservative company at airports and hotel lobbies. Winston’s desire to scandalise and appal would shortly lead to one of the more memorable episodes of the entire tour.
The show at Atlanta’s 688 Club proved to be another winner despite the League not taking to the stage until 11 pm followed by the Subs at 1 am. Post gig happenings provided further entertainment.
After coming offstage soaked in sweat I drank a cold beer after which, having just completed changing my wet clothes for dry, I noticed a leather clad, shaven-headed man with a goatee enter the dressing room. From the patch on the back of his jacket it was clear he was a member of a local motorcycle club so I tendered my question to him as amicably as possible: ‘Hello? Can we help you with something?’ I asked, as a kind of gentle indicator that he shouldn’t be back there in the dressing room uninvited.
‘Yeah’ he said, in a distinctive southern drawl, ‘I’ve got a question’, whereupon he reached into the waistband of his leather strides and pulled out a handgun. We all froze. He then levelled the deadly end of the weapon at me and asked ‘Are you dudes from England?’
I wasn’t sure what reply he was looking for so I kept quiet, but Charlie took it upon himself to respond: ‘Yeah, were from London. Have you been there?’ he asked the gunman.
An ultra-tense moment followed, the gun still pointed directly at my chest. I had no way of knowing how this was going to play out until, in due course, he spoke again.
‘No, I’ve never been to England, but I understand most people over there don’t possess firearms so I thought, seeing as I enjoyed your band so much tonight, that I would give you all an opportunity to fire a real gun’. He switched the weapon about and offered me the grip end. ‘That, my friends, is a Beretta M9 semi-automatic’.
Knowing I was now safe from imminent death my heart stopped pin-balling in my chest and I freed a sigh of relief before cautiously taking the weapon from him and lowering it so that the barrel was now safely pointing at the floor. I then foolishly asked him if the gun was actually loaded. It was a question that caused him great amusement: ‘Ha, ha, ha! That’s funny son, of course it’s loaded, what kind of fool would carouse around Atlanta at night with an unloaded handgun in their pants?’
We declined his kind proposal of shooting lessons out back of the venue and gave him a beer. He then got out some amphetamine sulphate for those of us who liked to partake of that sort of thing back then, after which I headed off to the bar of the venue where I discovered the perfect woman for another till-dawn-do-us -part relationship – a raven haired southern beauty, who, following a most excellent time at her house, drove me back to the hotel at daybreak in a metallic blue opened topped Corvette much to the approval of Animal, Winston and PJ, who admiringly observed our theatrical sports car arrival and the extended lingering goodbye kiss we gave each other before she revved up the engine and raced away up the driveway. It was another very early start and having watched her vanish into the distance both bands and the crew immediately boarded the quartet of hired estate vehicles to drive for five hours to Charlotte, North Carolina, where we later offered that fair city a sweat drenched exhilarating night of British Punk rock.
It had to happen at some point. We were ensnared in the travelling vortex of the tour with long stopovers between flights becoming harder to prudently deal with and the raw accumulated fatigue and ensuing boredom of kicking around airports for three or four hours at a time waiting for the next connection seriously warping our judgement. The consequential fiasco began childishly enough.
As part of another series of linking flights we found ourselves in Milwaukee’s Mitchel Airport with some more pointless hours to massacre before the arrival of the next Republic Airlines jet to Philadelphia. At first we amused each other by going up to the information desk and asking the staff there to summon fictitious indecent-sounding passengers over the intercom system to meet up in the airport’s forecourt. I requested an announcement for the benefit of a certain Mr P Ness; PJ wanted them to contact a Chinese gentleman by the name of Wung Hung Low; and Winston and Nicky got the best laughs of all when they bid them rouse Harry Bools and Mike Hunt, which, when transmitted with American accents, sounded like they were paging Hairy Balls and My Cunt.
Yes, I know, it’s pretty juvenile stuff, but you really shouldn’t be surprised. There’s an old, painfully accurate joke that goes like this: A young boy goes up to his mother and says ‘When I become a grown up I’m going to be a rock musician’. The mother looks piteously at the child and tells him ‘You have to choose son, you can’t be both’.
Having eventually become bored of making up offensive names for broadcasting Winston went off to take a piss and came back with some cheering news.
‘I’ve found a really good airport bar just a short walk away. Let’s have a couple of drinks before the big bird gets here and were all strapped to those ‘orrible little seats again’.
So, en masse, we relocated to this lively well-stocked bar with tour manager Lenny Fico cautioning against overindulgence when it came to the variety of alcoholic beverages on offer. Naturally, we ignored him, and he and Mr Sobriety (aka Nicky Garratt) dolefully watched as we started off reasonably gently with shared rounds of Rolling Rock beer before really livening things up with a tequila shots drinking competition that saw the bulk of our party downing six or seven generous consecutive shot glasses of gold tequila each, complete with salt and limes in the Mexican fashion, in the mere duration of an hour.
By the time our flight was called for boarding most of us were pretty intoxicated. We merrily made our way to the specified gate and on filing onto the plane were confronted by a hellish set of acrylic stewardess triplets who frowned at us in unison having clearly decided we were not the sort of passengers that they wanted to tend to. Yes, we were somewhat boisterous and playful it has to be said, sharing jokes and laughing somewhat louder than usual while sitting there waiting for take-off, but their manifest disproval and snotty attitude only served to alienate and antagonise us.
After trying politely to catch a stewardesses’ attention to pre-order a drink for when we became airborne, Winston, now having been repeatedly ignored by each of these women, unbuckled his seat belt and headed to the rear of the aircraft for what I anticipated was utilisation of the toilets back there. When I turned about though I noticed he had gone up to one of the condescending troika and was saying stuff to her. Whatever was said didn’t exactly meet with the woman’s approval as she immediately stomped down the aisle in a blizzard of cheap perfume and polyester induced static electricity, her strict little ponytail eventually disappearing into the confines of the plane’s cockpit.
Apparently Winnie B had told her that she needed to severely chill out and then proceeded to offer his services in this endeavour, a prescription that entailed him going into graphic detail about the various sex acts he was disposed to perform on her if she would be willing to accompany him into one of the rear toilets for an hour or so. Where the League’s bassist was concerned you could never entirely be certain, but I was pretty sure that this was just a hideously mistaken joke that had somehow been intended to alter their icy demeanour towards us rather than it being a serious proposition.
The aircraft captain and his crew didn’t see it like that. After re-emerging from the cockpit with a face like a demented poodle, it became apparent that the affronted hostess had rigorously grassed up Winnie to the pilots and managed to obtain their permission to call for police assistance to remove us all from the flight on the grounds we were prejudicial to the safety of its passengers and crew. Five burly pistol packing officers of the Wisconsin State Police rapidly turned up and insisted that we – not just Winston but all of us weird looking sorts – had to vacate the plane without delay or a physical ejection would ensue.
It’s a germane fact that I could be very mouthy when I’d had a drink back then; and being as I was still heavily under the influence of the Mexicana cactus juice I began loudly advising these upright officers of the law that they were nothing but Punk hating, gun toting bullies, uninterested in our side of the story and most definitely the types of people who would have made perfect recruits for Adolf Hitler’s Waffen SS during his attempted Third Reich.
Understandably enraged by these accusations, one of these uniformed men grabbed me by a lapel on my leather jacket and attempted to hoist me out of my seat. I resisted by clinging onto the armrest but then noticed he was reaching for his gun. Fortuitously Lenny Fico interceded and deployed all his diplomatic skills to convince the cop that he would ensure everybody left the plane in an orderly fashion without the need for brute force. Eventually the policeman calmed down, released his grip on my jacket, upon which I called him a ‘macho wanker’ – that latter word thankfully being a British term most Americans wouldn’t have been acquainted with at that time – having ultimately agreed to let Fico steer us off the aircraft.
At my tour manager’s insistence I promised I would stop provoking the police, and true to my word mutely trooped out of the plane with the rest of the guys in an orderly manner fully expecting though to be handcuffed and off to a cell for the night for my drunken intransience along with Winston, our intrepid instigator who had also offered up some strong verbal resistance when the law arrived: ‘Fuck off you bunch of tossers’ was his opening exhortation to them I seem to recall.
Much to our surprise and approval then, instead of handcuffs and solitary confinement, an agent of Republic Airlines informed us that we were all being taken to an airport hotel to spend the night there at their expense and, provided we behaved ourselves and remained sober, would be allowed to fly out the next morning for our subsequent destination.
An airline provided bus whisked us off to a Holiday Inn whereupon, having checked-in and placed our bags and instruments in our rooms, the more intemperate element of the touring party (Winston, Animal, Chutch, Charlie, PJ, Magoo and myself) made for the hotel bar where we ordered up some cocktails, swam in a heated pool, took a sauna, and finally dispersed to get some sleep around about 3 am.
Justifiably hung-over, this faction, along with the more moderate, clear-headed members of our touring group, then caught a 10 am flight to Philadelphia later that morning. Lenny, sagely, prevented us from visiting any more airport bars for the duration of the tour.
This was the one and only occasion we encountered boorishness from a Republic Airline crew. Before and following this incident their stewards and stewardesses were all reasonably helpful and courteous. I know that alcohol didn’t help matters, nor the accrued tiredness or that curious malady known as ‘tour fever’ which can negatively alter personalities after too many weeks on the road; and, certainly, Winston’s twisted attempt at levity gave just cause for our eviction but, in truth, that trio of women had it in for us from the moment we walked onto the aircraft.
Punk rockers were not, as I’ve mentioned before, exactly universally accepted during this time period, especially so in America where popular early-1980s’ TV shows such as Quincy ME were portraying us as nihilistic ultra-violent death-cult devotees. I guess the flying witches of Eastwick had fallen for the media nonsense and decided to pre-empt what they though was going to be a heap of trouble with their disapproving neglect, which, paradoxically, initiated a self-fulfilling prophesy. It is a testament to how much Punk culture has become absorbed into the mainstream these days that these contemptuous attitudes towards our clan have virtually all but disappeared; and that is most definitely a change for the good.
I was excited. The next destination was New Orleans, and what’s more, New Orleans with an entire day free from travel or a show following the previous evening’s gig in the city at a place called Jimmy’s – a six-hundred person capacity venue helpfully adjacent to Tulane University (it was packed with students) on Willow Street which, incredibly, still functions as a live music club although these days it’s open for business as the Willow Uptown. However, that particular performance conveyed to the fore another inevitable piece of unpleasantness which began when we were obliged to consider taking the stage for a third encore to placate the cheering and clapping emanating from a very appreciative audience.
Mal Asling didn’t want to do another encore, said he was exhausted and simply couldn’t go on. The applause and shouting persisted and Charlie told him we had to play at least one more number to placate them. He refused, so Chas, Nicky and I took to the stage believing that he would soon join us once he realised he had no other option. He didn’t.
Some uncomfortable minutes evaporated, sans Mal. Charlie then asked over the microphone if there was a drummer in the house who knew how to play some Subs songs. A young Punk rocker then climbed up onto the stage and told us he was good to go with Tomorrow’s Girls and C.I.D. ‘Get behind that kit’ ordered Harper, and we completed the final encore with this stranger proficiently pounding away at the skins much to our relief and admiration. Asling’s refusal had backfired, and he knew it.
On re-entry to the dressing room Garratt immediately made with the verbal karate. He forcefully instructed our drummer in what was expected of him as a member of the U.K. Subversives. Mal countered he was far too tired and, anyway, why was another encore even necessary?
‘We’re all tired but that’s not the way we handle things in the Subs’ Nicky responded.
Then Mal made another fundamental mistake: his disposition turned from defensive to aggressive. He leaped from the couch he’d been sitting on, squared-up nose-to-nose with Garratt brandishing clenched fists and screamed that he wasn’t about to accept a lecture from anybody in the band whoever they were. Nicky’s instantaneous response was to land a punch to Asling’s jawline which propelled the unfortunate drummer back onto the couch on his arse. I then hastily got between them and hauled Garratt away before more fisticuffs ensued.
It was a distasteful incident: fellow band members who should be looking out for each other resorting to verbal and physical violence; but I knew it was coming, and this is why:
Before we’d set out for the USA Charlie and Nicky suggested taking Mal’s girlfriend Katie along with us as a thank you for having hooked us up with Jane Friedman. In the interest of the new democratic disposition of the band following Steve Roberts’ ousting and our mutual decision to split from Ramkup’s management, it was determined that a vote should take place at the Blackfriars office in order to validate or abrogate this proposal.
Charlie and Nicky raised their hands in favour of Katie joining us, as did, predictably, Mal. I voted against. The rationale behind my negative vote was, firstly, I knew it would not be in Asling’s interests to have his girlfriend available on such an intense and lengthy tour as being a new untried member he needed time to bond with the rest of us on his own, without the distraction of having a romantic partner around twenty-four-seven; secondly, as an inevitable result of touring, interpersonal stresses and strains are generated which are artificially magnified by the abnormality of relentless travel. It is therefore very important to deal with these potentially damaging conflicts directly – as disputes and differences occur – rather than store them away so that the dissatisfaction builds up into a pressure-cooker-looking-to-explode situation. When you have a girlfriend or wife around, the tendency is to confide in them your frustrations and discontents back in the hotel room at night instead of expressing them in the raw as they transpire.
And that is exactly why Mal had antagonistically launched himself at Nicky in the dressing room – he had bottled up his road weary displeasures after exclusively sharing them with Katie who, understandably, did not challenge him, and was also patently unable to resolve the problems at hand. If he had been partner-less, our drummer would have been far more likely to unequivocally confront any arising issues in situ and settle them. It was a situation that would, regrettably, have significant consequences for him as a member of the U.K. Subs.
My day off in New Orleans was a real peach. I lounged in the fiery Big Easy sun around the hotel pool with the League for company, sipping beer and eating spiced crawfish – mini-lobsters prepared in a chilli-tinged sauce, a delicacy common to the South. Come the evening Chutch and I took a cab to the epicentre of the city’s renowned social life, Bourbon Street. There I purchased from a liquor store a half bottle of Rebel Yell whisky which, in those times, was only readily available in bars and stores in the southern states of America. The only reason I knew that this potent bourbon even existed was because I’d read a Keith Richards interview during which the Rolling Stones’ guitarist had name-checked it as his favourite tipple.
Catching some rays, New Orleans, USA 1982 - click to enlarge
Passing the bottle back and forth Chutch and I walked among the multitude of hedonistic adventurers – polyester enhanced tourists, drunk military and naval types, pretty young women, drug dealers, pimps and sex workers, cross-dressing nightwalkers, scam artists and giddy students high on brew – all crammed together looking for a desired fix of one sort or another. Every half a block we would dive into a bar that had aroused our interest based on the live music that seeped out onto the street emanating from an abundance of free-to-enter venues. Jazz, blues, rock ‘n’ roll: a congenial melange of sounds available to sample from a variety of bands and solo artists whilst we rehydrated with an icy beer before moving on to the next place of attraction. Caught up in the visceral energy of the place we drank in the whisky, beer and entertainment until the early hours and then hailed a taxi to return us to the hotel to snag a short nap. The next day we headed for real cowboy country.
Houston, Dallas and Austin were surprisingly trouble-free superb shows. I was expecting a redneck problem but it didn’t materialise (not this time anyway) and was very gratified to discover what a progressive and liberal city Austin turned out to be with its large student population’s needs being catered for by its many books and art shops, music clubs and eateries. In fact the only ill-starred incident in Texas was self-manufactured.
We traversed the state in two hired vans, the League and crew in one, Subs and remaining crew in the other. Charlie though had opted to join Animal et al in their vehicle, maybe, simply to get a brief respite from the rest of us. While they were travelling together Winston decided to make a repair to his bass that entailed super-gluing the nut on which the strings rest at the top of the instrument’s neck after it had become dislodged through road attrition. Unfortunately Winnie pressed the tube of glue too forcefully and a portion of the glutinous liquid squirted directly into Harper’s eyes.
Despite pulling into a service station to flush them out with water Chas was still all but blind by the time we reached our Hot Club venue in Dallas. I had to lead him out onto the stage and place his hands on his mic stand so he could figure out where the microphone was and throughout the show continually shouted out warnings when he drifted too close to the stage’s edge fearing he would tumble face-first into the front row of the crowd and injure himself. By the following morning Harper’s eyelids had become mercifully unglued and we pressed on.
After flying to Colorado for the Boulder gig, we took a plane to San Francisco for performances at three bay-area venues that were part of a promoter owned chain that each shared the name the Keystone Club; one resided on Berkley’s University Avenue, the second on California Street in Paulo Alto, with the third Keystone being located in SF itself, on Broadway. All three had a capacity of eight-hundred persons and all shows were, satisfyingly, sell-outs.
Whilst backstage in the last of this North California trio we had an unexpected visit from the Hell’s Angels motorcycle club. The Subs and the League were sampling rider food and drink, preparing for the show to come, when two tough looking males entered our shared dressing room. One of them was carrying a shotgun. The patches on the back of their sleeveless leather jackets identified them as Oakland Angels, the original chapter formed by Ralph ‘Sonny’ Barger in the 1960s. The shotgun carrier levelled the firearm at us and walked up to me with both the barrels angled at chest height.
‘Oh no’, I thought, ‘not this nonsense again.’
It seemed uninvited bikers bearing guns backstage were becoming the norm.
He studied me for a while. I stared back and made a reasonable job of masking my nervousness… Animal from the League had gifted me the advice of two ‘don’ts’ in relation to the biker fraternity: ‘Don’t ever show a biker any fear, and, NEVER give a biker your home address’. I had taken his knowledgeable counsel to heart and decided to front it out with the man bearing the Death Head patch and lethal firearm. I even grabbed a sandwich and began nonchalantly eating it while continuing to fix my eyes on him. Some moments that approximated an eternity passed before the Oakland Angel lowered his weapon, smiled and told me ‘You’re alright’ before repeating the same ritual on Chas and Nicky, who both followed my cavalier example and were then declared ‘alright’ too.
Animal, Magoo and Winston, delighted to be in the presence of two members the most infamous motorcycle gang in the world, asked if they could have photographs with them. Soon these men were posing with the League for the cameras, the shotgun now a mere prop resting safely on one of its owner’s shoulders.
‘What was that about?’ I asked Animal after they had departed.
‘They just wanted to let us know whose territory we were occupying and test us out a bit as people. Seems we passed, they appreciated the face off. It earned their respect’ he told me.
‘Next time the Hells Angels decide to test us I’m wanting a written examination’ I replied.
I also had some time to do the eager tourist thing during our bay area stay: SF’s Chinatown, Golden Gate Bridge, Alcatraz prison, Haight Ashbury; a lot of walking, picture taking and infusing the sensibility of that wonderful city with its synthesis of East and West, its bohemian beat poet and 60s counter-culture past, its precipitous streets and attractive Victorian-era houses. I really liked the look and feel of San Francisco. It was a city I could definitely embrace as a place to live.
A full day off in Los Angeles ensued after a mere one hour flight from SF to the Big Orange. This was just as well. After the Broadway Keystone gig I had hooked up with my girlfriend’s sister and some of her friends at her Frisco downtown apartment for drinks. Noticing at one point that a coffee cup was being passed round and communally sipped from I asked one of her friends what it contained.
‘Try some’, he said ‘you might enjoy it’.
I was passed the cup and then to the evident dismay of all concerned took a huge swig that pretty much finished off the remainder of the warm liquid.
‘What?’ I anxiously asked, having noted their shared expressions of consternation.
‘You’ll see’, answered one of the drinkers.
Less than twenty-minutes later I was speeding like a boy racer in a modified Peugeot 106 with the constabulary on his tail. The coffee had been liberally laced with a very potent amphetamine, which is why everyone else had taken small sips rather than the generous mouthful I’d consumed. As the night progressed the influence of the chemical actually accelerated despite my attempts to negate it with vast amounts of alcohol.
Having returned to my hotel by taxi at dawn I was more than ever in the grip of this wretched drug. Sleep proved impossible. This wasn’t fun anymore. It was like being on a fast moving, out-of-control rollercoaster that you were desperate to leave; but then, just when you thought the ride might finally be coming to an end, would disturbingly pick up velocity and career around the track once more. I had no choice but to try to sit it out and watch TV until our departure for the airport later that morning.
I was still in the unwelcome clasp of this powerful substance on the flight to LA. I kept writhing in my seat, sweating, my mouth trembling, spouting out rapid-fire sentences to Chutch who, once I’d confided what had occurred to him, kept reassuring me that I would be coming down soon enough and not to panic. He was right. On the drive from airport to the Tropicana Motel on Santa Monica Boulevard, our home for the next two days and nights, the effects of the speed started to diminish and I even started to contemplate the possibility of sleep.
The Tropicana Motel was the place to stay in Los Angeles for mid-level touring bands in the 1980s. U2 (still on their way up), Bow Wow Wow, Echo and the Bunnymen and Joe Jackson had all recently stayed there and on our arrival we discovered that Squeeze, along with Nina Hagen, were in residence too. It was a classic LA platinum late morning – bright sunshine, hot and vivid – and I decided to get some sleep in the sun by the motel’s swimming pool. When I woke most of our touring party were also arrayed about the pool catching some rays and imbibing iced drinks purchased from Dukes Diner, this being a restaurant that was part of the motel complex and a favoured hangout for local rock musicians.
Myself, Chutch and soundman Kevin Harvey, Tropicana Motel, LA 1982 - click to enlarge
Our soundman Kevin Harvey was sunning himself on a lounger beside me, so I asked him how long I’d been sleeping.
‘About six hours’ he told me.
‘Six hours! Really, six hours?’
‘Yeah, we tried to wake you to see if you wanted to join us for a meal at Dukes earlier but you opened your eyes for a mere second said ‘fuck no!’ and went straight back to sleep.
‘I don’t remember that, guess I needed the siesta more than the food’.
‘Go get yourself a burrito from there’ he advised. ‘They’re epic’.
The following day, prior to leaving for sound-check at the Country Club in Reseda (that evening’s impending venue situated in the San Fernando Valley), I took a stroll for some sightseeing and eventually ended up on Sunset Boulevard to check out the Whisky a-go-go, the Roxy and the Rainbow bar and grill, each being an important edifice of LA rock music mythology. On the way I stopped off at the Tower Records store to peruse the vinyl. Noting that albums were all alphabetically arranged according to the first letter of a band’s name, I sought out the U section curious to ascertain what U.K. Subs records were being stocked. I was taken aback by what I discovered.
There it was, at the front of the pile, my first glimpse of Endangered Species. The album had been released worldwide while we were states-side and I took it out of the rack to examine it further. It was an adaption of my original and band approved concept that informed the artwork on the front cover. I was a regular visitor to the British Museum and one of the more fascinating exhibits in the Egyptology section of that institution was a large glass case that contained the corpse of a five-thousand, four-hundred year-old male mummified by time and desert. Interred alongside this Predynastic period body had been some personal belongings which those who had buried him had assumed he would still have need of in the afterlife: jars of grain, dining bowls, a dagger, various pots and drinking vessels.
Endangered Species LP front cover - click to enlarge
My adapted idea was to have the album cover emulate this burial with a mummified Punk rocker surrounded by a number of his or hers’ modern personal effects. Instead of ancient artefacts there would be a stack of rotting vinyl records, a Walkman cassette player, a decaying guitar, a rusted studded belt and wristband, etc. I was therefore disappointed that the artist NEMs had chosen and with whom I’d discussed the notion hadn’t exactly reproduced my fundamental concept in its entirety. In place of the mummified Punk and possessions they had provided a Day-Glo, multi-coloured skeleton wearing headphones attached to a Walkman player with just a guitar resting on its bones as the only other relic in the piece.
When I ended up living in Los Angeles a couple of years later I encountered many musicians, both Punk and other, who would tell me that the Subs’ Country Club performance was a hugely influential event. Over a thousand people attended and I clearly remember the facial expressions of shocked admiration and sheer glee of those amassed before us when Nicky and I leaped high off the drum riser during the opening sequence to C.I.D and then, upon landing and without missing a note, went straight into the pulsating riff that drives that song along. It was an excellent gig and a very satisfying way to finish off our West Coast sojourn.
The next afternoon we took what should have been a straightforward and relaxing flight to New York…
It turned out to be anything but.
First published 30 June 2016.
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