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Chapter 9:

 

Shake Up The City:

Part One

In which our narrator experiences a shared near-death experience (just) above icy waters, finishes the 'Hardcore Storms America' tour, champions his former champion for another Subs line-up twist, hears Harper's breast-ever bad-timekeeping excuse, takes a socialising sojourn, before getting it on with Straps and a Vibrator for a 12", becomes a Dog, finally finding himself fooling around with Nasty rats and their watering holes...



‘Peggy Sue, with a love so scarce and true,
oh, Peggy…  my Peggy Sue…’


   I never did actually discover who among us had the perverse turn of mind to start singing that tune as our aircraft nosedived towards the icy waters of Newark Bay, although, despite his fearful demeanour, my money would be on Winston being the culprit. Whoever it was, their morbid attempt at levity only levered up the tension as we passengers, as instructed, adopted the classic brace position in anticipation of the violent impact that was expected to occur just a couple of seconds into our shared futures.

   A member of the fictitious rock band, Stillwater, in the Cameron Crowe directed movie ‘Almost Famous’ sings that same Buddy Holly refrain when their private jet encounters a violent electrical storm in a scene eerily reminiscent of our real life experience. The significance of a Holly song for these two corresponding episodes is of course down to the tragic way that early pioneer of rock ‘n’ roll lost his life.

   Just as I started to mentally envision the circumstances of my own untimely death, the engines of the DC-9 precipitously attained some extra power and the plane started to level out from its tailspin, although we were by no means exempt from danger. With bay waves lapping up onto its wings the aircraft still needed to gain enough elevation to raise itself to a height where it could clear an impending bank, beyond which our designated airport runway tantalisingly awaited our descent. If this wasn’t achieved, the captain would have to ditch the craft or risk colliding with the shoreline, a catastrophic prospect that would have certainly resulted in a significant loss of life.

   The engines howled like a wounded animal, the cockpit gradually inched-up, and with a margin of no more than a metre of height we managed to avoid the sloping bank followed by one of the most wayward, jarring, but gloriously appreciated landings I have ever experienced in a lifetime of flying.

   As we shakily filed out of the cabin to take the metallic steps down onto solid ground, the captain, co-pilot and crew stood in line to bid us farewell at the exit door. They shook each passenger’s hand individually and thanked us all for staying calm during such a stressful event. After the captain had shook mine, I asked him just how near we had come to crashing into the murky bay, or, worse, colliding with that solid mass of earth and stone that constituted the bank prior to the runway. He was very forthright in his assessment:
   ‘That, without doubt, was the closest that I’ve come to losing a plane in seventeen years of piloting passenger aircraft’, he disclosed. ‘We were very fortunate to make it’.

   Some months later I happened across something in one of the rock music papers – possibly the Record Mirror or perhaps another similarly more commercially minded weekly. It was a regular questionnaire piece where band members were invited to state what their favourite colour was, their most memorable show, their dream destination, etc. That week it was Animal of the Anti-Nowhere League providing the answers. In reply to the question ‘What has been your scariest experience?’ he’d declared ‘nearly crashing in a thunderstorm on a plane heading into New York along with my band and the U.K. Subs’. In fact even today, whenever I see him at the various Punk festivals we both attend and perform at, Nick (Animal’s actual name) and I always reminisce about that extraordinary tour and remind ourselves of how close we all came to acute injury or mortal oblivion on that turbulent Newark night.

   Following this aviation drama the ‘Hardcore Storms America’ touring party returned to the convivial familiarity of the Iroquois Hotel. We remained in New York for a further eight days during which time the U.K. Subs accordingly signed a legally binding contract to Jane Friedman’s Wartoke Concern management company and, with the ANWL as our opener as per the rest of the tour, performed two final consecutive shows at an historic venue called the Peppermint Lounge on Manhattan’s West 45th Street. This club had once been run primarily for a gay clientele by ‘Matty the horse’ Ianniell, an infamous member of the Genovese mafia crime family. But despite this aspect of its notoriety people were more concerned there with confiding that it was the place where the definitive dance of the swinging 1960s had been conceived – the twist, originally known as the peppermint twist, for obvious reasons.

   I really didn’t want this tour to end and so it was with some reluctance that I boarded a Heathrow bound Pam Am 747 on the 13th of April 1982. There were compensations though. I hadn’t seen my girlfriend Mary Jordan for six weeks and we had a wonderful, passionate reunion when I got back to our flat in Sloane Square, after which I submitted to some much needed sleep. When I woke I noticed she was tiptoeing around the bedroom, evidently doing her best not to wake me. Mary was somewhat startled then when I spoke to her from beneath the sheets.
   ‘Are you going to work?’ I asked.
   ‘No,’ she replied ‘I’ve just got back from the second shift of work since you returned. You’ve been dead to the world for over thirty hours’.
   She had got up, travelled to work, returned home, tried to wake me, to no avail, eaten her dinner alone, gone to bed, arisen the next morning, gone to work, returned to the flat and was looking to change out of her clothes and take a shower when I’d surprised her with my question.
   Thirty straight hours of sleep: I guess the deprival of reasonable slumber time and the visceral fatigue accrued from the thousands of miles travelled on my first ever tour of North America had finally caught up with me. Additionally, it took a good couple of weeks before I jettisoned the severe jetlag and managed to resume a more traditional day/night cycle. This inevitable consequence of long-haul international touring was a condition that I was destined to re-experience, like a bad dose of déjà vu, many, many times over throughout my career.

   There was much to preoccupy the U.K. Subs following our arrival back in London: Ramkup were informed that their management services were no longer required; then, via numerous long-distance ’phones calls to Jane Friedman in New York, we fixed a strategy for the band that included a UK and a continental European-wide tour, a return to North America for another epic visit, and the recording of new material for an EP vinyl release – all to be achieved before the year had played out. We were also on the hunt for a new drummer.

    Having returned to the UK Mal Asling decided he no longer wanted to be in the band. I didn’t blame him. He had done his best to patch things up with Nicky Garratt for what had remained of the ‘Hardcore’ tour after that unfortunate New Orleans’ incident, but I knew it had really upset him, and I fully understood why he wanted to move on.

   Although I was sad to see him depart, this new development did fortuitously provided an opportunity for me to return the favour that John Towe had bestowed on me two years before in praising my prowess as a bassist to Charlie and Nicky when they were looking to discover a replacement for Paul Slack. It was this recommendation that had led to my audition and consequent induction as a U.K. Sub. I therefore championed Towe’s cause in the same enthusiastic manner and convinced Harper and Garratt to put together a rehearsal day to gage John’s suitability for the drum vacancy.

   After leaving Brian James’ outfits, the Brains/Hellions, Towe had joined a band formed by Ian Mitchell, a former member of mid-1970s tartan wearing, teen heartthrob pop quartet, the Bay City Rollers. Mitchell wanted his all-male backing musicians to have gender-ambiguous names. There was a Lindsay on a second drum kit, a keyboard player called Nicky, a Jay on bass, and so, in order to meet this bizarre precondition for employment, John Towe had changed his name to Kim Wylie, an appellation that he legally adopted by deed poll a couple of years later.

   Having at first enjoyed the echoed popularity Mitchell possessed in Japan due to his Rollers’ connection – a valuable past association that gifted large venues packed with swooning teenage girls, various TV appearances, good hotels and star treatment throughout the land of the rising sun – Wylie rapidly became disillusioned once they had returned to the realities of gigging in Britain. Back in the UK, the Ian Mitchell Band only attracted a diminutive audience in pubs and small venues with wages accordingly adjusted. Kim was thrilled then when I ’phoned him regarding an audition for the Subs, and was even more delighted when we subsequently invited him to join as a permanent member.

   We started rehearsals at B.A.N, where Wylie was soon inducted into both Harper’s curious attitude to these practice affairs and his warped sense of time-keeping. Charlie was always three to four hours late for the five-hour-long booked session and permanently had some weird alibi for his habitual unpunctuality. My favourite of the many implausible explanations he gave us during that early Wylie-period came when the rehearsal time had just expired and Nicky, Kim and I were packing away the equipment in preparation of returning home.

   He breezed into the room just as we began loading gear into the storage cage, saw what was occurring and cheerfully said ‘Oh, dear, seems I’m a bit late then’.
   ‘Yes’ Garratt replied ‘Five hours late. You have a written copy of all the rehearsal dates and times like the rest of us, what happened to you?’
   ‘Well’ Charlie began ‘I was at the Music Machine in Camden drinking with Alvin last night…’
   He now redirected his gaze towards me: ‘…and if you remember Alvin, after I pulled that woman at the bar and said goodbye to you, me and her headed back to my place’.

   This was all perfectly true. Chas and I had met up at the Machine to drink beer and check out whatever band was playing that evening, and I certainly recalled the female in question, how could I forget her. She was a substantial woman who had somehow managed to cram her ample proportions into a tight black leather bustier and a correspondingly constricted leather miniskirt. The fetishist aspect of her primary outfit were further enhanced by black fishnet stockings, six-inch-high stiletto heeled shoes and the carrying of a black leather cat-of-nine-tails-style whip. During the evening she enthusiastically employed this flagellating tool on the backside of any man that attracted her interest, with Harper eventually being a happy recipient of the light arse flogging that led to their ensuing coupling.

   ‘Yes,’ I confirmed ‘all correct, but what has that got to do with you being five hours late for rehearsal?’

   The answer was a peach: ‘Well we got to mine and before getting into bed together I set the alarm clock so that I wouldn’t oversleep. But at some point during the night she turned over and her tits were so big that they knocked the clock off the bedside cabinet and broke it’.

   Who could remain infuriated at the man after such a splendid tale?
 
   We laughed long and loudly and disregarded our former irritation, but Charlie’s consistent lateness for rehearsals, interviews and band-related meetings slowly chipped away at our reserves of patience and became a lot less amusing as time went on. It was if he wanted to demonstrate that the rules that governed Nicky, Kim and I didn’t apply to him and that he was somehow exempt from good timekeeping and any proper consideration of his fellow band mates because he was the indispensible star of the show; and, if we weren’t happy about that, then tough. It was this accelerating attitude of exceptionalism that would eventually lead to the confrontation that resulted in the U.K. Subs changing its core membership and essential sound the following year.
 
   Despite these professional gripes, on both a social and personal level I still got on very well with Charlie. We even started talking about having a side-line band together. We shared the same tastes in music and were both looking to get back to gigging in some configuration during this period of enforced down time as our dismissal of Ramkup necessitated Friedman having to engage new booking agencies for our European and UK dates, although she seemed to be taking a serene, even Buddhist-like approach to achieving this task.
 
Above: Melody Maker piece 1982 - ligging instead of gigging with our
Punk rock comrades - click image to enlarge
 
   And so for three whole months we simply rehearsed, went to see other bands play in lieu of doing our own shows and took to socialising on an industrial scale. One of the bands I saw a lot of during this fallow Subs gigging period was Hanoi Rocks, who had teamed up with London based manager Richard Bishop. On his advice our former Scandinavian support band had moved operations from Helsinki to the UK’s capital city. I made sure then that I attended every gig of theirs in the South of England and would often get up to join them on bass for a number during the encore section of the show.
 
Above: Chutch, Wylie & I take time out from rehearsals to catch some
Summer sun, 1982 - click image to enlarge
 
 
Above: More socialising during our 3 month gig-less sabbatical, Summer '82 - click image to enlarge
 
   They all lived together in an Edwardian terraced house Bishop had rented for them in Tooting Bec, this being a staid, predominantly middle-class suburban district where the sort of people you would least expected to encounter would be these very colourful, long haired, Glam dressing, rock star types. I visited them there on many occasions for drinks, to party and play records, to listen with interest to their latest demos and as a meet-up location before a night out in central London together. The place soon became a disaster area.

   Within a month of them moving in, there was a vast amount of empty beer cans and drained liquor bottles scattered about the place; a constellation of cigarette burn holes to be seen on the couches, chairs, beds and other furnishings; numerous broken windows resulting from one or other of them having to force entry after realising they had forgotten or lost their door-keys; smashed crockery and shattered glasses littering the kitchen surfaces alongside a mountainous stack of festering dirty plates, saucepans and cups that remained untouched in the sink because no one wanted to rinse them.

   Unsurprisingly there were regular visitations from a pack of local rats that took full advantage of this loose way of living to prise a meal from the unwashed bowls and plates or to quench their thirst on some discarded flat beer in a glass that nobody could be arsed to empty and clean. I once encountered one of these rodents when I entered the downstairs toilet to urinate. The creature was gnawing on the vestiges of a piece of soap that had been discarded on the piss-sticky tiled floor. It remained completely unconcerned about my being there and continued feasting until I’d finished urinating, whereupon the rat leapt into the toilet bowl and swam off down the waste pipe. 
    
   The alcohol abuse and drug usage at this rapidly deteriorating dwelling was of a superior level. I recall utilising one of Andy McCoy’s guitars while sharing a half bottle of cognac in his room to play him a new song I’d composed called ‘A Bridge Too Far’, a tune that he liked well enough to grab his spare Les Paul Junior to add some tasty lead breaks. Our jam though was abruptly brought to a halt by second Hanoi guitarist, Nasty Suicide, who staggered into the space looking wasted and agitated after an evening out on the town.
   ‘Hey’, he slurred ‘have you two got any alcohol for me to drink?’
   Andy and I had just polished off the cognac and we didn’t have any further supplies of booze. When we shared this unwelcomed news with Nasty he immediately lunged at a decanter of aftershave that he’d spied amongst the used socks, grubby T-shirts and cigarette butts atop Andy’s chest-of-drawers. Before McCoy could stop him Nasty had unscrewed the bottle and ingested its content in one swift swallow. McCoy was not pleased.
   ‘What the fuck man? Get out of my fucking room you drunken arsehole’.
   Andy grabbed the swaying guitarist, thrust him out of the door and bolted it to prevent his re-entry. Nasty hammered away with his fists and screamed ‘Come on, I know you’ve got more aftershave in there, let me have some’ over and over until he finally gave up and went away to sleep his boozy binge off on one of the burn riddled couches in the lounge.
   ‘Look on the positive side’, I told Andy, ‘at least his breath will smell nice when he gets up tomorrow’.
   ‘You know’, McCoy replied, ‘I wouldn’t mind so much but that’s the third bottle of aftershave he has had off us when he has been pissed this week – apparently he’d also indulged himself recently with mouthfuls of Mike Monroe’s and Sami Yaffa’s favourite man-scents too – and that stuff is not fucking cheap man’.

   ‘I’m a living wreck, I live in Tooting Bec’ – Hanoi Rocks even composed a song about their dissolute existence at this celebrated residence. Suitably entitled, ‘Tooting Bec Wreck’, you can find it on their 1983 album release, ‘Back to Mystery City’.

   As well as all this socialising, the temporary lack of Subs activity allowed me the time to get drawn into a couple of solid extracurricular music projects. I first met Knox Carnochan when he was taking time out from his main group, the Vibrators, to support the U.K. Subs with his solo band in Glasgow as part of my first British tour with Harper and co. Knox’s exceptionally dry sense of humour was the conduit for us becoming good friends. He was quickly inducted into our Werewolves of London set, drinking with Chas, myself and the other lupine night-creatures in the watering (alco)holes of Soho and wider London.
 
Above: Eddie from the Vibrators, my friend Patrick Kerrane and I - taken during the Subs
down time period, Summer 1982 - click image to enlarge
 
 
Above: Nicky (armed and dangerous), Buck from the Defects, me and Chutch,
hanging out 1982 - click image to enlarge

   As a consequence of this camaraderie and the fact that he was being professionally supervised by my friend and Hanoi’s manager Richard Bishop, Knox asked if I would be interested in playing bass guitar on another side-line venture of his: the recording of a twelve-inch single that would consist entirely of an extended club-mix of his Vibrators’ composition, ‘Troops of Tomorrow’. I naturally answered ‘of course’.

   While we were working on this at Silo Studios in West London we began discussing the idea of forming a band for fun and meagre profit that would function outside our commitments to the Subs and Vibrators. Knox had already suggested such an arrangement to Charlie, so when we three met up at the Ship public house in Soho after the Troops’ recording session had concluded, Harper proposed the name Urban Dogs for our embryonic outfit and, in so doing, we cried havoc and let slip the dogs of Wardour Street…

   OK, if you didn’t identify the pun there you should check out the original line from Shakespeare’s play ‘Julius Caesar’ if only to appreciate just how bad at puns I truly am. Sorry, couldn’t resist.

   The ‘Troops of Tomorrow’ twelve-inch was thereafter released and regrettably achieved spectacularly bad sales, although it has to be pointed out that there was no publicity for it and the main function of the single anyway was to attract DJs as purchasers so they could play it as part of their repertoire in the clubs and bars. As well as myself on bass and Knox on guitar and keyboards, the superb Kevin Wilkinson, who went on to play with the Waterboys, Squeeze and China Crisis among other name bands and artists, provided the drums; and Andy Hutchinson, who these days makes violins and owns a string instrument business, supplied the fiddle parts. It has become a bit of a collector’s item so look out for it at record fairs and suchlike.
 
 
Above: Back cover of the Troops of Tomorrow extended 12 inch single, released in mid-'82.
Cover artwork by Knox - click image to enlarge
 
   As well as providing my services for supplementary studio work I also filled in for two live performances with London-based Punk outfit, Straps. We had a brief evening rehearsal upstairs at the Rose and Crown pub in Wandsworth (the same rehearsal facility where I’d successfully auditioned for the Subs two-years previously) and the following day I debuted on bass with the band at the Clarendon pub in Hammersmith. The show went well enough and a couple of days later we played at a relatively new London venue called Skunks – a name that fused the appellations of Skinheads and Punks into a single entity – which, despite being intended as a centre of coming together, had quickly earned a reputation as being a place where abrupt violence between the two subcultures regularly occurred. The evening the Straps and I played there was thankfully free of any aggro and having tasted live work again during our imposed break I was doubly eager for the U.K. Subs to get back out on the road again. The Wartoke Concern’s delay in retaining new booking agencies was rapidly becoming a source of real frustration.

   It was during this period of professional drift then that I made what was simultaneously the best and worst decision of my life: I resolved to get married.      
 

Alvin on stage again - click to enlargeFirst published 2 November 2016.

TUNE IN NEXT TIME FOR...

 
>>>  A Chelsea wedding where both the bride and groom prophetically wear black, after which our bass playing pilgrim returns to UK gigging with some Subversives and a pack of pedigree dogs; the new Subs go back to the studio to shake up the city while welcoming the prospect of a return to the holy land of rock 'n' roll where cars are as large as bars, the beer is cold, the women are warm and gun-toting bikers come as standard issue at shows...  <<<
 

T&M