Wednesday, June 23, 2010


I look back on the Speedhorn years and for the most part I'm happy they are over. Don't get me wrong, the ten years in the band were some of the happiest of my life, but throughout the whole period, there were a lot of hard times too. I wouldn't change a second of any of it, but there is a lot of shite I'm happy I no longer have to deal with.

If there is one thing that still pulls at my heart strings though, that makes me long for the road with the Speedhorn boys again, it's when I happen to see a photograph of our old van. Betty.

Betty was a van we bought with the recording budget we received from our label to record the last album, Before the Sea Was Built. Luckily for us, we had some friends and contacts which made it possible for us to make a great sounding record on limited budget. We didn't receive that much money for the album from the label as it is, but somehow we managed to save about a third of it to buy a van.

It was all par for the cause. Buying a van of our own would make it a lot cheaper for us to tour, which meant in turn that we could tour the record a lot more.  Given the shit job the label were doing on the band at the time, touring was the best chance we had of promoting the record ourselves.  So Gordon went about searching for a big van that with the help of his brother, Sandy, we could transform into a tour bus.

After some searching Gordon found an old school bus, designed for disabled kids. It was a big, heavy beast and although we knew it wouldn't move that fast, the engine looked healthy. And the van was big enough for six beds. Thanks to Sandy's handiwork, we were able to live in that van whilst we were out on the road. He built six beds, in bunks of three, built a wall in the back so that we'd have an area to store the equipment, built an extra seat for a designated map reader up front (we spoke about investing in GPS many times, but it never happened), he even built a shelf for a tv and Playstation to sit safely on. It was our home on the road. Her name was Betty and we loved her.

The three years we spent touring in Betty were the happiest of the bands career, even better than the early days. The band had peaked around the second album, had got as far as headlining the Astoria in London to three thousand people and had played all over the world playing to a lot of others. By the Betty years we were very much back to playing punk rock shows to smaller crowds, but we were still lucky enough to play all over the world to a hardcore fan base, and the feeling that we were all making it happen ourselves was very rewarding. It was very DIY and we had a great time doing it.

We toured so cheaply when we had Betty. If we toured Europe, the only costs that needed covering was petrol and the ferry to the mainland. We talked about servicing the van after every tour but that never happened either... So every gig we played, we were keeping at least 60% of the fee plus the money from selling merchandise. The promoter didn't have to pay for a hostel or find sleeping arrangements for us, so we could take that money as part of our fee too. This meant that we all made money to pay the bills when we got home.

Betty was an old girl though, and she really couldn't move that quickly. Luckily for us we had our best friend, Lee, out touring with us. Lee was the seventh member of the band. He drove through the nights, he sold merchandise, which he also designed, took countless photos and filmed countless clips all in the name of documenting the madness of touring with our band. And he loved Betty as much as the rest of us, so he was always fixing little things with her here and there whilst we were busy doing other tour stuff. It was great having him along. Amazingly, Lee is straight edge. How he put up with us, I'll never know...

We had some great, great times travelling around the continent in that van.  There were also some times that we not so great, but even those memories now bring a smile to my face.

As I have said, Betty was really, really slow. She was so heavy. A lot of that had to do with the huge steel wheelchair ramp which was underneath the back end. It must have weighed about a ton. It took us a few tours to get around to removing that thing. The upside to this was that the van was registered as a disabled school kids bus, so we didn't have to pay tax on it. It was a technicality that probably wouldn't have held water under thorough investigation but it was good enough for us. The obvious downside was the fact it took us about twice as long as the other bands we were touring with to get from venue to venue.

On a few occasions we literally pulled up outside a venue, loaded out, ran on-stage and played, all in a mad, stressed panic. This was caused as much by Betty's sloth-like speed as by our miserliness regarding the purchasing of a GPS system. In general though, Lee would drive through the night to break the back of the journey. A five hour drive for most bands would take us at least eight or nine. But since we had beds in the van we could pull over whenever it suited us and sleep for the night. Well, not Lee so much, he didn't have a bed, just the floor area between the seats, and if it rained hard enough the roof would leak a little, but generally it worked out.

It is amazing that we never got pulled over by the police on the autobahn and told to fuck off home. If we hit just the slightest of hills then Betty would literally be down to twenty miles per hour. We would have to pull into the hard shoulder and drive with the hazard lights flashing, praying for the hill to end before the cops came along. At best, at an absolute push, Betty would drive at sixty, and that would be downhill with the wind up her arse. The normal cruising speed would be between forty and fifty, so the night drives were necessary.

A lot of the time the night drives were when we had the most fun though. One of us would be up front keeping Lee company and reading a map, the rest would be in the back chirping along. On a calm night we'd be playing a football tournament on the Playstation, on a not so calm night we'd have music blasting, necking booze and dancing down the motorway, and every now and then, one of us would end up naked. Betty would literally become a mobile disco, to the annoyance and hindrance of our loyal driver Lee. Although secretly, I think he preferred those nights, since he had no trouble staying awake, even if on occasion he had to tell us to shut the fuck up.

The nudity thing became more and more of a regular thing towards the end of the band's days, to the point where we joked about saying to the press that we were are splitting up before one of us ends up fucking someone else in the band and the whole thing gets too awkward. I don't know why British guys always get naked in front of each other when they're drunk and away from home, or at least why we did, it's just one of those tour phenomena. We realised things were going to far when one night, we were all fucking steaming, sat in the van in the dark, driving through the night, naked. We were pushing the boundaries it seemed. The boundary was well and truly reached when someone's voice in the dark, asked if we dared to cup each other's balls. We eventually decided against it, but pissed ourselves laughing about it the next day. I think in reality, we were getting carried away with our aim of distancing ourselves from the typical metal head gumbo who would attend most Speedhorn shows. We were done with the whole “ macho metal” thing.

There was one occasion we were playing a show in Copenhagen. We'd had a great show supporting Carnivore and were having a whale of a time afterwards. We were all pretty pissed and we'd got friendly with a few girls we'd met at a bar after the show A couple of the single guys in the band were obviously interested, but the girls were just cool people and we were having a laugh hanging out with them. We ended up on Betty at the end of the night, sitting around chatting with these three girls. Really relaxed scenario. Until, in the space of what seemed like two seconds, completely unprovoked, our bass player Dave has stripped off and is pole dancing, rubbing his arse up and down one of the support poles that went from floor to roof inside the bus. He didn't really realise it at the time, but his arse was only about ten centimetres from the one of the girl's faces. We all piss ourselves laughing, but the girls don't see the funny side of it and they make their excuses and leave sharply. Dave has no idea why they were offended.

I think it was actually Dave's voice in the dark that time...

There were of course, as I said, some bad times too, or at least, some worrying times.

Another occasion we were playing our own show on an off during a European tour. We hooked up with a guy called Lorenzo who had booked us this show in northern Italy. When he mailed me about the show he told me the venue was on a mountain. I was a bit confused by this but shrugged it off as a translation thing. We met up with Lorenzo in this beautiful little town called Montebelluna. It was a glorious day and we were in high spirits. He told us again that the show was on a mountain and that we'd be playing outside. Intrigued, we followed him. We drove away from the town and started heading for the Alps on the horizon. After about twenty kilometres, we take a turn and start heading up a steep road. And up. And up. I call ahead to Lorenzo and tell him Betty's engine is getting pretty fucking hot. He tells me that it's only another couple of minutes. Well, five minutes later we're on the side of the narrow mountain road, the engine is on fire and Lorenzo is still telling me it's only another couple of minutes away. I'm sure we are well and truly fucked at that point! Stuck on a mountain dirt road in northern Italy with a burnt out van engine. But amazingly we get the van cooled down and the damage appears to be minimal. We decide to load the gear into cars from the venue and worry about the van later. The venue turns out to be a cottage and we're playing in the garden. They have a mobile bar, home made lasagne and beautiful scenery. We later manage to get Betty to the house, thanks to John pushing her up the hill, like a scene from Superman. About a hundred kids show up to the show and go fucking crazy. It turns out to be on the best gigs I've ever played, if not one of the most bizarre. And the party afterwards is of an epic proportion.

As much as we loved her, there was usually something going wrong with Betty. It's hardly surprising, we drove her over the Alps about ten times without ever servicing her. There would be black smoke bellowing out of the exhaust and we'd just grumble and put it down to her being an old van...

We never did the simple thing and make things easier for ourselves in Speedhorn. One winter's night, at a petrol station at the foot of the Alps, we're humming and hawing over whether to purchase some snow chains for the wheels. We're heading over the Alps from Italy to Germany, over night. After some quick discussion we decide we have better things to spend twenty Euros on. Of course, a couple of hours later we come speeding out of a tunnel at the top of the mountains into a vicious snow-storm, almost come veering off the road and get completely stuck in snow. We're there until morning, waiting for the snow plough to turn up. When we finally get going we still have a huge drive to Saarbrucken to make. We get to the venue and run on to stage with our gear to play the show, about an hour late...still, it turns out to be an awesome show.

Whenever something would go wrong with the van, in typical Speedhorn style, we'd just end up shouting and fighting with each other, before settling down and trying to get things sorted.

Another time on the Alps, during a European tour. We were two weeks into a tour and it had been raining every day. Literally. Every fucking day. We'd just played a show in Zurich and were heading to Italy through the night. It was a sober night and everyone had gone to bed. Lee was at the wheel and Kev was co-pilot. I remember nodding off once the city lights disappeared into the shadows of the mountains and we started moving in an upwards direction. It was fucking pissing down and every now and then I could hear Lee and Kev gasping and cursing at the weather and the roads. I get woken by a jerk and Lee shouting “fuck!” The van is pulled over and Lee is calling to Gordon. The van is on the side of the dark mountain road, the heavens are pissing all over us, and the windscreen wiper has flown off into the abyss somewhere. How Lee managed to pull the van over safely is a miracle. For some reason, Lee and Gordon break into a huge argument. Probably the stress of the situation. Anyway, they're soon friends again and are out in the pouring rain looking for the missing windscreen wiper and a method of putting it back in place. The thing has just snapped off. I think it was gaffa tape to the rescue as always. I stay hidden in my bunk during the ordeal, trusting the boys work it out...they do.

Another night I'm in my bunk, tucked in all cosy for the night, was during a mammoth drive between Prague and Warsaw. Again, Lee and Kev were in the cock-pit. I wake the next day and we're well on our way to Warsaw and everything is going smoothly, though Kev tells me the night journey had actually been somewhat interesting.

They were on the motorway heading towards the Czech Rep./Polish border and all was well. Traffic was non-existent, the weather was calm and Kev and Lee were awake and up for the journey at hand. After a couple of hours Kev noticed that there was something on the map didn't quite look as it should. “It's weird mate, but according to this map the motorway we're on just ends dead. It just seems to stop”, he casually mentions to Lee at the wheel.

Nah, it must be an old map. It's probably under construction or something and hasn't been updated..

They carried on in silence for a while, the unspoken and uneasy feeling in their stomachs that something was up. It was a Speedhorn tour after all.

A half hour passes or so and the uneasy feeling is starting to pass. Signs for the Polish border are starting to appear and all seems well again. The greater concern is the renowned roads on the other side of the border. BRAKE!!!!! Lee brings Betty screeching to a halt. The motorway we are on is now a farmer's field. No signs. It just ends. There is a t-junction and the choice is either right or left. Straight ahead is a fucking farmer's field. It's dark and they'd seen nothing warning them that the motorway does indeed just fucking stop. No off ramp, no signs, no lights. Stop.

They're sat there, a little in shock, staring at the field ahead and the options to either side. It's completely dark to the left.  Behind them is the three hours of motorway they just drove. There are a few faint lights off to the right. They decide that's their option. They just hope that will bring them back on course towards Warsaw at some point.

But it just gets weirder. The road they are now on, the one they turned right onto from the broken motorway, is a pot-holed dirt track. The bump along in the dark heading towards the lights in the distance.

The lights ahead belong to a small village. They approach with caution, still a little shaken up. It just gets weirder. Driving through the village in the dead of night, they notice there are small object spread out randomly on the road. Just as they're about to ask each other what they think these objects could be, Betty's headlights reveal the somewhat macabre truth. The objects all over the road are dead cats. Dozens of them. Everywhere. This is fucking weird. It's starting to feel like a scene from Texas Chainsaw Massacre. Just when it can't possibly get any weirder, it gets weirder.

They're navigating Betty through cat corpses, a bit freaked out. All of a sudden, a car's headlights blinds them from behind. It's overtakes them at high speed. As it's passing Betty, it's wheels crush the head of a dead dog that is lying in the road! Just fucking splats it! They both fucking scream at this point and Lee puts his foot down! They speed away from the village and back into the darkness on the other side of it. They drive off not quite believing what just happened.

Amazingly, a short while later they are back on the motorway and they are at the Polish border. It's the same motorway they were on before, according to the signs.

When Kev tells me about it the next day, it seems he's still shocked by it and I can tell he's not bullshitting me. We can only assume that the motorway was not completed and in true east European style, the dirt road leading through the village was the construction companies' idea of a de-tour. Quite what the village with the dad animals lying all over the roads was about, is beyond us.

I'm sure everyone in the band has their own personal memories of Betty.  For me there certainly are many, too many to recall now.  They normally re-surface when we manage to catch up with each other in the pub, on what are now rare occasions.

Yes, Betty has seen some things in her time on the road with the Speedhorn boys. I miss her and those days more than any other of the Speedhorn period. We finally did give her that service she so badly needed. Right before the final UK tour. She drove like a fucking dream! Cruising at seventy miles an hour on the motorway, not a puff of black smoke in sight.

When the band came to an end, we left her in Gordon's hands. The guy who had found her. He eventually found someone to buy her and look after her. This new age traveller guy who bought her just happened to be looking for a van like Betty.

She's now retired and living in Spain, seeing out her days in the sun.



  2. Good times and I really miss them, I think my new band REGIMES have taken that naked at ease with other thing to a new level though ha! ha!

    Great memories and I used to love those night drives with Lee, we saw some amazing stuff and had some proper adventures.

    Ah Betty she's sorley missed but I have a new van in my life now, Gladys.

  3. Got to say I enjoy reading your blog dude. brought back memories when I used to drive, Joss read the map and the rest of them would be steaming or sleeping. No dead bodies though but I did fall asleep at the wheel on the M6 near birmingham and woke up driving towards the side of a lorry, i shit myself and so did john who was following behind and saw the whole thing. Hope to catch up with you sometime dude. Take care