I never had a train set, never had a bike, lived on a council estate and ran with a gang. I never went on holiday, went to a state school, son of a taxi driver, but no feeble-minded git, me – no, clever. Sharp. Ambitious. No dole factory pension illusion for me. Pop star me!
As a teenager, I was laughed at for being a freak, I never got shagged, instead I got beaten up in the toilets. I was the black sheep of the family, who did I think I was, first with that long hair and guitar, then with that spiky hair and make-up? Blokes don’t wear make-up in Brum. Must be one of them bloody pooftahs. I’d get my own back though, show every bastard what was really what. Pop star me!
The first gig, we gatecrash: The Mekons at The Bournbrook Hotel, borrow all their gear, we only have curly guitar leads, drum sticks and the best-looking clothes. The Mekons give us five songs before their support band. We only have four songs, so we have to do one of them twice. Right before we go on, drummer Dik Davis and I go to the gents, which is stinking up the corridor outside the saloon bar. The saloon bar’s full of British Leyland track workers, swilling it down and setting fire to their fingers to prove how hard they are. We’re standing in the ammonia puke stench, taking a leisurely piss, when we hear a voice behind us, slurred and thick with menace.
“What the fuck am that doin’ in the gents?”
“’Ey girls, the ladies is downstairs,” booms a second voice.
“Oh very funny, you dimmock.” Dik says.
“Yeah, ha-soddin’-ha spunk bubble.” I add.
“What do yow say, yow bleedin’ queer?”
Dik turns from the tile, smiling, “Your missus doesn’t think I was very bleedin’ queer last night.” he says.
I don’t have time to laugh or brace myself, much less zip up. My face is slammed into the tiles and everything goes to fuck. I get hit, I try to hit back, I get kicked, I try to kick back, but there are fists and boots everywhere. It doesn’t last long, it’s over really quickly, probably just as well. As suddenly as it started, it stops and they’re gone. The British Leyland lads are already back in the saloon bar, laughing over a fresh pint of slop about the fun they had with the queers in the bog.
I’m down on my knees, cheek against the slimy tile. I struggle up from piss-stained knees, wobbling, waiting to see how badly I’m hurt. I can taste blood and my lips feel like old inner tubes. I see a pair of black leather legs sticking out of a stall. Dik’s lying on his back, head propped against a crusty, brown toilet bowl. One of his eyes is already starting to close and his nose is streaming blood.
“Yow alright?” I ask him. My mouth feels broken. He grins up at me.
“’Ello darlin’,” he says, “Come here often, do you?”
Just the working class fighting the working class – a necessary part of keeping things the way they are.
We play our five songs – one of them twice as an encore – and fourteen minutes later we’re out of the door, and off down the road, with the applause still ringing behind us.
Pop stars us!
We work hard, the gigs get better, we think we’re on the stairway, but we’re not, we’re Brummies, working class council estate oiks, second city, second class, tolerated but not really invited to the party that is London. Court jesters? No, pop stars us!
A year later onstage at The Hollywood Palladium we’re still the support band – we’re not The Police: a teacher on bass, a public school hippy on guitar, and a member of one of the richest familes in America on drums. We’re shite! We still have our pride though. We’re clinging to it by our black glitter fingernail polish. Pop stars us!
Come on you bastards, when do we get our go? All this promising us the nice car, then buggering us senseless and sending us home on the bus with spunk running down our legs.
Your single won’t be a hit – we’re spending every penny to make sure “Message In A Bottle” by The Police is bought in every country across the globe. Whether they have electricity or not!
Sodding pop stars us! Now one old man, two dead, and one missing – pop stars us? Not really … not even close!
Eyes throbbing pain. Drooly shirt front. Bladder full.
“I need to piss!”
“No time big boy.” Miki says swerving us across three lanes of downtown traffic, “We’re almost there.”
“We’re late Luke.” Annette adds.
Fucking managers. “We’ll be wet Luke if I don’t have a slash soon.”
The truck lurches, stops, doors swing open and spit me out onto the asphalt. Staggering for balance, ice cold night air knifing my lungs, head clearing but then I’m shoved toward and swallowed by the stage door mouth. Down narrow gloomy corridors, through a door, bearing a tarnished star on flaking paint. The dressing womb. Toilet stall in the corner, thank fuck. Pissing in almost orgasmic relief, I lean one hand against the wall in front of me. Back in the room I find a speckled mirror, framed by lightbulbs, only three of which work, and a cold, metal, folding chair. Starting to focus, make-up ritual, deep breathing. Enough of that, fuck all that yoga shite Sting does, get a cigarette lit, suck some blessed relief. Fag balanced on the burn- decorated table edge. Foundation, eye-liner, eye shadow, blusher, hair gel spiked, perfect.
“Any chance of a beer?” I ask the room.
“No.” Annette says.
“Two minutes.” Someone yells through the door.
“Whaddya mean two minutes? What about the sound check?” Dik demands.
“Have to do it in the first number.” Mulligan says.
“Are the guitars and bass in tune with my synth?” Mulligan asks.
“Give it here.” I say.
Practice amp dead, my ear pressed to bass guitar like fucking Beethoven trying to guess the bugger into tune. Have to do, close enough, I think. I hope.
Back out into another birth canal corridor, low ceiling, naked bulbs barely above the top of my head, wading from pool of light to pool of light, feeling the floor rise beneath my Docs. Rumble of crowd growing. Doors slam open, blinding lights, red, green, searing gold, silver, blue. Lights die, I’m plunged mid-step into an abyss. Tap-dancing across snakes nests of cables, a starter roar from the crowd. Fumble guitar lead into pedal, then into a strange amp set on fuck knows what, drag pedal next to mike stand, cable into pedal, cable into guitar, eyes adjusting to the gloom, back to amp and flick standby by switch. Twist volume knob up full, middle all tone controls. Menacing tidal wave of feedback pulsing as I swagger back to microphone.
Blam – lights up, full chaos, searing heat, blindness.
“We are Fashion.” Dik’s voice booming all Bog-like, bam, bam, thud, as he does a quick check of his snare and bass drum.
“Meeeep … warble!” Mulligan’s synth up and running. “Boom boom boom boom boom boom boooom” bass line intro to Red Green and Gold and we’re away.
Oceans of light, then drowning in darkness, coming up gasping, sweat building already, guitar neck slippery, finger positions and song structure now rooted deep in muscle memory, automatic pilot engaged, adrenaline thrill sparking like high voltage through tired wiring, head aflame with pulsing beat, guitar slicing magnesium chops through the back beat. Huge breath, mouth to mike to find it, pull back a couple of inches, and:
“Red, green and gold – let this be the color for all .. no more black and whi-yite game – together we can overcome all!”
This next one must be Burning Down, teeth gritted throttle that fucking guitar neck, smash the chords’ face in, sweat flaying in arcs through the lights as I dip and whirl, psycho carousel of thunder, rising like Poseidon to the mike:
“Can I borrow your lighter – ‘cos my forehead’s getting tighter – and I gotta go gotta go – bu-urn some-um-thing da-own”.
And even before there’s a chance, the smallest gap
into which might creep a whisper of applause, we’re into the third number:
“Die in the west and you’re halfway to heaven, heaven, heaven!” bawled over bratty chords, thunderous bass and drum avalanches.
There’s a gasp of breath after the last looping vocal note and into the sudden ear-roaring silence the applause wells and breaks over the lip of the stage. Take that and I’m straddled, balls to the crowd, and don’t you all just wish you could be me! A dip to the bottle of water a roadie has magicked at my feet, seared throat soothed with ice cold water shock.
“This is our new single. It’s called Citinite. You won’t like it!”
And we’re off into Mulligan’s hurdi-gurdi carousel, drowned Ferry, acid vocals with Andalusian guitar slicing the face from the windshield. Pain in my throat, notes totter on the brink of discord, breath is now furnace hot with every landed fish mouthful seeming to deliver minimum oxygen to starved muscles. One more song segment to go – I think –into Big John and then Hanoi Annoys Me, both of which Dik sings, before I have to sing The Innocent. Move off the mike and dance this beautiful fucking guitar around the moonscape stage. Mulligan and Dik’s faces rising occasionally through the lightshow bombardment like satellites lost in a cosmic stew. Teeth and grins and nods and snarls slamming in strobe. Back to the front of the stage to strafe them with the opening chords to Hanoi Annoys Me. Light spilling back off the stage giving occasional glimpses of upturned faces, arms snaking above a mass of writhing bodies. Then back to the mike to boast:
“We are innocent, it’s not our fault, if we don’t stop moving, we won’t ever come to a halt.”
And then we’ve nailed the set’s carcass to the back wall and run for the wings, a passing “thank you very much” tossed at the mike.
Panting side-stage like dogs, sweat drenched, grinning at the growing roar for more.
“Not too long – let’s go before they change their fucking minds.”
Back out into the land we now own, a roaring wave of applause washing up over me. Mea culpa, absolved, and adored. No messing, smack them with the Fashion anthem and then dive back off down the rabbit tunnel to the dressing womb.
Sweat everywhere, gasping, drowned as rats, towels lobbed over heads, Annette bobbing and gushing, the words “fucking brilliant” buzzing through the air like honey-stoned bees. A drink, a drink, my condom for a drink. A soothing stream of some cheap lager, ice cold pinning me in my seat, a babble of voices, the room filling. I can hardly breath, somebody get me a cigarette. A line, then two of white powder appear on the table at my elbow. No need to even roll my own note these days, kapow, brain floodlit, mouth buzzsawing words into easier to understand pieces, delivered with accelerating blood pulse. Limbs, smooth arms, slim shoulders, silky hair, long legs of mini-skirted slinkers, ruby mouths, proffered breast fruit, juicy arses, a joint here, another line, a shot, then outside, into a cab, I’m suddenly in orbit around a club dance floor, or two, then a hotel lobby, the room, the bed, the faceless orgasm, the exhausted slump sideways into tomorrow.
The door is being pounded. It’s time to get up and do it again.
When I started playing guitar I seemed to be surrounded by other guitar players who thought the faster you played, the better guitar player you were. Alvin Lee from the 60’s band Ten Years After has a lot to answer for in this respect.
The shred merchants who followed in his wake all sounded more like typists to me than musicians. It wasn’t, and indeed isn’t, that I can’t play fast – I can. I just never saw the point of burying the emotion under an avalanche of notes.
The occasional burst of speed as a device to catch the ear, make you sit up say to yourself “woah!” is fine – it’s an effect. But just as playing with the same effect pedal all the time means you’re not using an effect speed for speed’s sake never made sense to me.
There’s an immense amount of snobbery among guitar players. It’s like that old joke:
“How many guitar players does it take to screw in a light bulb?”
“Sixteen. One to screw the bulb in and 15 to say I could have done it better than that.”
Perhaps it’s because guitar players are ten-a-penny, and always have been that a lot of us feel insecure. We’re like the guy with the big red sport car. Check out the speed of my riffs baby, my penis must be enormous.
And so it’s a little sad for me after more than 40 years of playing to find the same snobbery and lack of sensitivity alive and well in my new found musical infatuation, Flamenco. That a music so drenched by turns in pain and joy should be rendered as emotionless as the racket from the factory floor is ridiculous. There are Flamenco guitar players out there working on playing arpeggios faster than the human ear can follow!
Even in a remote town in Andalusia in Southern Spain back in the 1970’s, the same kind of nonsense was afoot. My current guitar hero and master Diego del Gastor (1908-1973) had his own way of dealing with the speed merchants.
Celebrated Flamenco guitarist Niño Ricardo recalled:
“I decided to see what all the hubbub was about, this Diego del Gastor fellow, so I got some señorito friends of mine to hire him for a juerga. When he showed up they explained to him that they had hired another guitarist as well, so that he wouldn’t have to tire himself out.
“Diego recognized me right away – I was well-known, and my photo was splattered about here and there – and it was obvious the poor guy was dying to get out of there. But he was stuck and he knew it; he couldn’t have just left without losing face. I watched him while I played. He seemed to shrink, and refused to touch the guitar throughout the night. All he did was drink, and I was feeling quite contemptuous after some hours. I was warmed up and playing well – really well – and it was painfully obvious that Diego had been had.
“Then around five or six in the morning, when Diego’s hair began springing away from the back of his head, he began looking more animated, started talking it up and encouraging me with ‘oles’, and I must admit I felt a tinge of worry deep in my stomach. But he continued refusing to touch the guitar until about eight in the morning.
“He then actually asked for the guitar. I handed it to him, and he started playing a slow-motion soleá like I didn’t know existed. He played about a tenth of the notes I had, and each note rang clear and true, emotional like no playing I had ever heard. When he made tears spring to my eyes I knew the one who had been had was I. The very essence of this man emerged through his playing. He arrived directly at the soul of flamenco without frills or bullshit. You might say that Diego is flamenco. The rest of us are something else, professionals only too often lost in the technicalities of the instrument.”
- Niño Ricardo, from A Way of Life by Donn Pohren
Stairway To Nowhere
Book Excerpt Read by Luke
October 3, 1979 – Hullabaloos, Albany, NY
“Hello,” Dik says, “Dressing room’s up them stairs on the left. Can’t miss it. Watch out for the leopard.”
“Leopard? Yeah, right.” He shoulders past me and hares off toward the van.
Up the wooden hill to Gigfordshire I go, into the dressing room, and of course the first thing I see is a fully grown leopard in the corner of the room. It stares at me with look-at-that-huge-kitty-snack eyes and licks its chops. I note with relief that it’s chained to the wall and try not to think about dry rot or termites. I set my guitar case and bag as far away from Tiddles as possible, trying to act nonchalant beneath the smirking gazes of Miki, Mulligan, and Annette.
“Bet Luke gets some pussy tonight.” Miki says.
“Har fucking har. Just as long as pussy doesn’t get any Luke tonight.”
Stewart Copeland heralds the arrival of The Police.
“Hi guys. Holy cow! How cool is that?” and he points his Super 8 camera at the leopard.
A grizzly bear-sized bloke sporting a grizzly beard, bib overalls and work boots clumps into the room and without so much as a howdy throws a whole raw chicken at the leopard.
“Had her since she was 2 days old,” he says. “She’s still get her teeth” – the crunching of deceased chicken attests to such – “but we had her de-clawed.”
“So at least I won’t get disfigured while she’s ripping my head off.” I say.
“Huh? Oh, no. Chain’s good and strong. You’ll be okay.”
We have a couple of hours to kill after sound check so, as we’re stuck in the middle of nowhere, Stewart announces that he wants to work on some more of the film. This is Sting’s cue to go off and have a sulk over the latest Nabakov novel he’s pretending to read. He’s sneered at my copy of Stephen King’s The Stand which is my road novel. I am on my 4th or 5th reading. But then I don’t have any Russian perverts in my lyrics thanks all the same, just the occasional pyromaniac or robotic sex doll.
“Now for this scene,” Stewart says, eying the leopard, “I want Luke on the phone. Demanding the ransom for Annette.”
“They’d be more likely to pay me to keep her.” I mutter.
“You still got that leopard skin shirt?” Stewart asks me.
“Yeah. But if you seriously think for one second that I’m gonna –”
“Aw, c’mon! It’ll look great! With the leopard in the background and all.” Stewart says.
Fuck, he is so bloody enthusiastic all the time, how can I refuse? So when I hit the stage that night my leopard skin shirt is already soaked through with sweat before I’ve even played a note. Still, at least it isn’t soaked through with my blood.
Just to show how unimpressed it is with monkey antics, the leopard falls asleep during the after-gig party. Around 2AM Annette herds us back to the van. We have an overnight drive to Boston. The club’s owners, the lumberjack brothers – who claim to have built the place from scratch themselves, by hand, and who am I to doubt it – come out to say goodbye. They’re effusive about what a great night it has been.
“Great show tonight.” One of them tells me.
“Er, yeah thanks. Great … er, leopard, man.” I say.
“Yeah. Y’know she really took a shine to you.” One or other of them tells me.
“Yup. Must have been that shirt a yours.”
“Er, yeah,” I say, “Must have been.”
“That and the fact she’s in heat right now.”
For the next week or so my nightmares are unprintable
Evan Harrar studied with reclusive Flamenco guitar master Diego Del Gastor in the early 1970s in Morón de la Frontera, a Spanish town in Seville province, Andalusia.
I studied this music with Evan and continue to delve into Diego’s work.
Evan told me many stories about his 3 years in Spain. Some of them will be retold here, some I will invent to accompany photographs from Diego’s life.
The music of Diego Del Gastor lives!
“Diego! Diego! The foreigners are here!”
Diego shifts on the hard wooden folding chair. He cradles his guitar like a lover as the voice drifts up from the bar below.
“Diego? What should I tell them?”
“Tell them to go to hell and leave me alone! I’m busy.”
But then he thinks, how strange is the world now. He is a poor gypsy guitar player. He rarely leaves Morón de la Frontera. He has made no recordings like those long-haired Beatle musicians from Inglaterra. He is not on the radio, the television, in the movies. The juerga is his stage and now he must practice. These falsetas must be branded in blood and bone with sweat and breath, deep in the muscle memory of his fingers, so that the music may fly to meet the soul of the song, the agony of the dancer.
He is more than 60 now, an age that should be respected, instead he is pursued by the American, the English, the German, even the Japanese. They arrive with guitars that either sound like shit or have a sweetness of sound that these rich extranjeros will never release. They want to know the secret of Flamenco, to somehow learn it, penetrate the mystery of a heart they can never know, a pain they will never feel in the luxurious privilege of their life.
And yet, he is intrigued, flattered perhaps. He is a man, he has pride, but he also has pride’s demon, the monkey on pride’s back, vanity.
This crazy American woman who has declared herself his girlfriend, offered herself to him. She wears mini skirts and carries a pistol in her purse. He doesn’t think giving women weapons is a good idea. They’re dangerous enough without guns and knives.
“Tell them,” he yells, “Tell them to come back tonight. We’ll see. Perhaps tonight.”
And he lays his check tender as any lover just above the curved side of his guitar and narrows his eyes to follows his fingers as they begin to move across the fretboard..
Okay, so this is what it looked like on screen. But what about behind all the glitz and glamour!
Fashion Live at BBC Pebble Mill, June 1 1979
“It’s fucking impossible.” Miki says.
“Unlikely, I’ll grant you.” I say, eying a model’s cleavage, “But nature is occasionally overly benevolent.
“What? No, no, you lecherous old sod. Not her tits. The levels!”
“The what?” Mulligan asks.
“The levels.” Miki growls, then with the infinite patience of experience explaining something vital to idiots says, “Look. Will you lot please tear yourselves away from the tart brigade for two minutes and listen. This is important. These BBC engineer wallahs are insisting we record at ludicrously low volume levels. And you should see the steam-driven old PA they’ve got. We’re talking BBC World Service circa 1929, not 19 sodding 79!”
“Doesn’t he get excited.” Dik says, casting a connoisseur’s eye over a passing bottom.
“Well, it’s a good job someone does. Or you’ll end up making your television debut sounding like a wet fart in a blanket.” Miki says.
“Nothing new there then.” Annette says.
“Oy. Do you mind? That’s enough of that. She’s spending far too much time with us, you know.” I say. “I think it’s starting to rub off on her.”
Annette stares daggers at Dik, daring him to make some crack about rubbing off on her, then turns and asks Miki,
“What can we do?”
Miki lights a B&H.
“Dunno,” he says, “Look don’t worry about it. Just play like you normally do. I’ll try a bit of surreptitious level nudging. Oh sorry mate, was that your elbow, sort of thing.”
The TV studios are yet another glimpse of the plush world that lies beyond the bullet proof shop window we’ve got our noses pressed against. Although, truth be told, after five minutes of no one asking me what the fuck I’m doing in their nice TV studio throwing me out on my arse, I start swanning about as if I owned the place.
The show we’re on is called Look! Hear! (How do they think these things up?!) This episode gives Midlands fashion college’s bright young things a chance to show off their graduating collections. This is their first time on the telly as well. I watch them as I tune my guitar for the tenth time in as many minutes. It’s hot enough under all those lights to have your g string twanging a flattened crochet below concert before you know it. Watching them ponce around I reflect that their dreams must be filled with dodgy frocks. Their burning desires to center around endless lines of blow and throwing up the old bulimic petit-fours in the great fashion capitals of Europe. Whereas we, much more sensibly, intended to simply become the biggest band on the planet … before I die on that penthouse bathroom floor.
“Look at them.” Dik says, nodding as designers flutter around models making last second adjustments.
“Yeah. A right bunch of bleedin’ mommas boys and doomed birds.” I say. “I bet they all listen to that Leonard Cohen and Laura Nyro bollocks while they knock out their sketches. I mean look at the state of most of those outfits. Not even my Aunty Gladys on acid would be seen dead in that lot.”
Which was a pretty ripe opinion coming from a band dressed like one of Gore Vidal’s nightmares.
“You two can be a right pair of oafs sometimes.” Mulligan says.
“Oooh, get Mr. Thenthitivity,” I lisp.
“Yeah, sorry. We forgot. Should have guessed you’d be right in your elephant with this lot.” Dik added “And shouldn’t that be oaves?”
We are to perform Product Perfect, our glib little piss-take paean to excessive consumerism, that we’ve already decide would be the title track of our hopefully soon-to-be recorded first album. After a bunch of gabbing by the Toyah and some lame interviews conducted by a couple of blokes who look like their Moms choose their telly presenter clothes, a few models strut up and down in front of the cameras. For the most part, if you ask me, which sensibly no one does, most of them look like rejects from bad episodes of Dr. Who. But then I know as much about haut couture as these designers know about slotting reggae breaks into punk songs. To each their own, innit?
Next thing I know we’re being told we’re on in two minutes. And a right nerve-wracking time of it we have. Live TV and all. As Miki has warned we’re told in no uncertain terms not to play too loud, on account of this is TV. We grin and try to nod reassuringly, then following a run-through where volume levels are barely above the whispers BBC sound engineers have deigned they should be, we crank everything up and wallop into Product Perfect. Apparently there is much hair-tearing by said sound engineers and we’re later threatened with all sorts of dire consequences, including being banned by the BBC. All very Sex Pistols of us, I’m sure. But everyone speak to later who watched on their tellies says we sounded just fine, very strong, and after all is said and done that is the idea.
To cap a perfect evening I’m snubbed by all three of the models I try to pull, and duly go off home to a cold and lonely bed. I while away the insomnia hours conjuring visions of what I’m going to do with it once I get my hands on the great unsuspecting record-buying public.
On The Stairway, Off The Stairway
“I’m worried about Dik.” Mulligan says.
We’re standing out in the alley that leads to the entrance of The Rum Runner, or Duran Duran Way as it’s becoming known. We rehearse in the Rum Runner, as do the chosen ones. The Beat filmed the video for Mirror The Bathroom inside the mirrored tack of The Runner. Mulligan and I are taking a break from another slog of a rehearsal, trying to come up with new material for the second album, and mostly failing. So, a quick breath of traffic fumes with our fags.
“What?” I ask. “Why?”
“I’m worried he might leave the band.”
“Huh. You should worry more about me leaving.” I say.
“Yeah. But the difference is … well, he might actually do it.” Mulligan says.
Oh dear Jon, wrong thing to say, very wrong thing to say.
“Goddamn it!” Miles yells and punches his desk. “I’ve lost two bands this week! First this asshole kills himself. This other asshole steals the truck and all their gear and drives off into the desert. I got gigs lined up, radio, TV, all kindsa shit. I don’t need this. This is not some goddamned game we’re playing here!”
No, it isn’t. It’s people’s lives. Their deaths even. And soon, soon you pompous Yank git, there’s going to be another one of your band’s who are a singer/guitarist short of a full deck.
“You sure about this?” Dad asks.
We’re sitting in his black cab, parked round the corner from Outlaw Studios. I’m right back where Fashion recorded our first demo – was it only two years ago? It feels like bloody years, and all of them stacked on my back. I stare out at the grey veil of drifting rain.
“Yeah Dad. I’m sure.” I turn and smile at him, an expression devoid of any warmth, “Fuck the music business, eh.”
“But I thought the tour with that Irish band went well.” He says.
“U2? Great band. Fucking disastrous tour for us. If you can call a dozen small clubs a tour.”
“Well, long as you’re sure.” He says.
“Too late now anyway.” I say.
On the way into town, we’d detoured along the Kings Norton Road and parked outside Annette’s house. I was a bit nervous tiptoeing up the drive with the note, like a bleeding lovesick teenager with a Dear Jon note. I slipped the note through the letterbox and legged it back to the cab.
Dad drives me across town and lets me off outside New Street Station. Never ones to show each other much emotion we shake hands.
“All the best then, son. Stay in touch. For your mother. Y’know.”
“Yeah. I will. Tarra Dad. Thanks.”
I pick up my hold-all and guitar case and walk into the station. I don’t look back. The message in the note I’ve just put through the boss’s door runs a tape loop mantra in my head … Fuck this, gone to New York … … Fuck this, gone to New York … … Fuck this, gone to New York … to the tune of Message In A Bottle … Fuck this, gone to New York …… eee oh eee oh … Fuck this, gone to New York …… eee oh eee oh … Fuck this, gone to New York …
Coming soon, Chapter One …
Luke Sky: guitar and vocals
Mulligan: Bass and synth
Dik Davis: Drums
Band meeting, Birmingham, England – July 1978
Mulligan, dyed platinum dreadlocks flying behind him like jet stream, bursts into the room.
“The Cla …. The Cla … The Cla…” He pants.
“You’ve got the clap?” Dik asks.
“What, again?” I add.
“No … The Cla ….”
“You really should cut down on the fags you know.”
“No stamina these keyboard players.” I tell Dik “What do you expect though? They just stand there all night.”
“The fucking Clash!” Mulligan explodes.
“Congratulations. A complete sentence. Sort of.”
“I knew he could do it.”
“WE’VE GOT A GIG WITH THE CLASH!”
“It’s those night school classes he’s been – WHAT!? What did you just say?”
Mulligan has got his breath back. He sniffs and turns his back.
“Never mind never mind, fuck face, what did you just say?” Dik demands.
“Come on Jon. What? A gig? With The Clash? You’re kidding, right? Like that time you told us your granddad was a captain in the IRA.”
“I’m not telling you now.” Mulligan sulks, but I can see malicious glee is all but straightening his dreadlocks.
“What we need in a situation like this is a manager.” I say, “So we’d know what’s going on.”
“Or a swift knee in the bollocks.” Dik says.
“Oh, alright then. I was in town and I ran into Corky. He needs a band this Saturday to open for The Clash at Barbarellas. He said we could do it if we want.”
“If we fuckin’ want?!” I’m hopping around the room like a totem pole on the loose.
“Hang on,” Dik says, “It’s Friday today innit. That means, tomorrow night?”
“Yeah.” Mulligan says, “You aren’t busy are you? Washing your pubes or anything?”
“Right after the gig Jon, that’s precisely what I plan on doing.” Dik says. “Right, rehearsal tonight men. There’s gonna be some fuckin’ white men in Barbarellas tomorrow night!”
The rehearsal is absolutely terrible, Nobody’s mind is on what they’re doing. We’re all time traveling forward to sharing a dressing room and then a stage with Joe Strummer and his pals. I forget the words and try to make up for it by playing chords that have no business being anywhere near a guitar neck. Mulligan’s synth plays itself when it feels like it, mostly between numbers, and it’s only the relentless fury of Dik’s drumming that occasionally holds the whole thing together. Not that he sees it that way.
“I can’t decide whether I sound like I’m building a fucking shed or pushing a suit of armor down our cellar stairs.” he says.
“Oh shut up, you tart. This is the third string I’ve broken this afternoon. And what the sodding hell is up with that bloody Wasp Jon?”
“I think it’s lonely.” Mulligan says, and as if in agreement the black and yellow, touch-sensitive keyboard lets out a sad, dribbling sounds not unlike a farting badger being blown off a cliff.
“Well lads,” Miki says, “You know what they say, lousy rehearsal, brilliant gig.”
“So on the strength of today we’ll blow The Clash offstage then.” I say.
“Here, here big nose,” Dik says, “a bit less of the fucking blasphemy if you don’t mind.”
I’m at home practicing for when we’re on Top of the Pops, skank dancing in front of the wardrobe mirror, miming to Product Perfect. The neighbors are probably banging on the wall but I can’t hear them. I ponder the eternal question, if a neighbor knocks on the wall but there’s no guitarist around to hear it, is he still making too much noise?
Then I decide more important matters are in need of my attention. I bring my Technofascist Doc Martens to a halt, set the John Birch custom on its stand, and go into the kitchen to get the boot polish and my brush. The docs are going to be polished to mirror-finish tonight. There’s a knock on the back door and it topples into the kitchen. I really must get around to rehanging it on its hinges sometime – that was some party though. So they tell me. Dik comes into the room like Taz off the Bugs Bunny show, a whirlwind of hair, knuckles, drumsticks and invective. He pirouettes to a halt in the middle of the floor and lets out a bellow of rage.
“Nice of you to pop round.” I spit on the toe of my left Doc and attack it with the brush.
“I’ll fucking’ swing for him, The cunt! He’s only pulled us.”
“Pulled us?” I’m not really listening. I often don’t.
“Corky. From the gig tonight.”
His voice sinks to a low growl filled with the promise of extremely painful retribution.
“He’s pulled us and put those New York poufters Suicide in our place. I’m gonna-“
“-please. Spare me the details. They can’t be any worse than the ones I’m thinking.”
Mulligan creeps into the kitchen. He looks like some severely depressed Revlon field mouse who’s lost his tea party.
“We have to do something.” I declare.
Mulligan digs in his jumpsuit pocket and pops a handful of small purple pills into his mouth.
“I’ll put the kettle on.” I say.
“It won’t fit. And besides, it doesn’t go with your eyes.” Miki has trailed in behind Mulligan. He lights a B&H, so he now has one in each hand.
As Mulligan subsists almost entirely on a diet of toast and pills it only takes about ten minutes for the purple hearts to gallop through his empty stomach into his blood stream. Somewhere around my second cup of tea, his head snaps up.
“Fuck ‘em.” He says, “we’ll do a gig anyway. Our own gig.”
“Great idea, Jon. I mean it’s not as if anyone’s going to Barbs tonight to see The Clash is it. They’ll all need something to do.”
“No, come on. Fuck this. It’s us against the world, right?”
“Apparently.” Dik mumbles, but then he gets a sudden devilish look on his face. “Jon’s right. Us against the world. Come on lanky, shake a leg, we’ve got a gig to organize.
I’m standing with Miki at the back doors of the van. He’s just driven it over the pedestrian-only little humpback bridge outside the main entrance to The Canon Hill Arts Center. No trolls were harmed in the parking of this van.
“Barbarella’s has changed a bit then.” Miki observes. B&H smoke swirls around him like Sherlockian fog.
“Yes,” he says, unraveling the electric cable holding the back doors of the van closed, “it’s amazing what a dab of paint and turfing over Broad Street can do for a club’s ambiance.”
“We’ll be needing a fucking ambulance if you don’t shut it.”
“Oh yeah? You and who’s army sunshine?”
Mulligan bursts out of the arts center doors and hares towards the van.
“His.” I say.
“Oooh, you big butch cowboy, you know I love it when you talk dangerous.”
“Alright chaps?” Mulligan wants to know.
“Just fine and dandy.” I say with a face as long as the line currently winding its way round Barbarellas to see The Clash.
“How you are adjusting to life in the army Mulligan?” Miki asks him but Mulligan has already learned to disregard the more surreal of Miki’s questions. Which is most of them, then.
“Let’s get in and get set up.” Mulligan says and then I need you to take me back to my place please Miki. With the van. To pick up a few things.
I stand and marvel at the stage, upon which sits a good deal of Mulligan’s flat. There’s the sculpture from the bog, the one that always confuses me as to where I’m supposed to piss. His biggest paintings are strung from invisible cables so that the minotaur on the black and white checkered floor looks as if he’s about to step over and adjust the stack of televisions. There are ten television stacked on a board that’s balanced on the backs of a couple of female shop window dummies posed down on their hands and knees. All very Korova milkbar, I’m sure.
Dik’s standing onstage wielding the mystic Premier drum key and doing mysterious things only drummers pretend to understand to the 3-D jigsaw puzzle of his kit. There are a couple of motorbikes parked either end of the stage. Center stage, a large white screen is silently showing one of those old black and white French films, all full of rotting dog carcasses, eyeballs being sliced by razor blades, and other things the French think of as art.
Then those two thin white dukes in trench coats I’d met last week at Mulligans walk onstage, and start setting up a couple of amps and a keyboard. What were they called again?
“Duran Duran.” Mulligan says coming up behind me and making me jump.
“I wish you wouldn’t do that.”
“They’re going to open the show for us. That’s their screen and projector.
“Very multi-media, I’m sure. Where’s Miki?”
“Up the village. In the pubs, trying to get a few punters down the hill.” He tugs a pocket watch from his jacket pocket, “He should be back in a minutes, then we’ll do sound checks. I’ve got a couple of phone calls to make” And he rushes off like a dreadlocked white rabbit.
Afterwards, how did I feel about the show: Fashion and Duran Duran at The Cannon Hill Arts Center on that night in July of 1978? We’re helping hump Mulligan’s furniture and artwork back into his flat around about half past midnight? And I’m surprised to find I actually ended up having a great time. I managed to shake off the depression of losing what would have been at that time the most important gig I’d ever played.
I’d actually quite enjoyed Duran Duran – they were a bit synthy and drum machiney, but they had a few other good songs as well as that Girls On Film we’d heard on their demo tape. They were a bit funky in places, that John could play bass by slapping it with his thumb which is quite impressive, then again, I am easily impressed. Add in Nick’s synths meeps and warbles, and decent singer in Andy Wickett, and their set had seemed a good enough soundtrack for the black and white arty, Frog flicks.
And whereas there were only about 35 people in the whole 200-seater theatre, I did actually manage to get into our songs. We played a tight set, twisting and dipping, roaring and whooshing, in all the right places, all the right notes in the right order sort of thing. I completely forgot where I was, and why I was there, and those 35 punters must have picked up on that because they did a Dr. Who Tardis number on the theater, and somehow seemed to fill the place. It was only our eighth gig and despite the circumstances it felt like progress.
I’m tired, sweaty and almost happy as we unload the gear back into Mulligan’s flat.
“Help me get the sculpture back in the bog.” Mulligan says.
“Good idea.” I say “I’m dying for a piss.
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