Friday, August 27, 2010

No. 9 - Los Angeles

Number nine on the list is a show from Los Angeles, at a venue called the Key Club.

This show is really a representative for a group of other shows that we played in the United States in early 2005. We were on a package tour that was being headlined by the Egyptian themed death metal band, Nile. Yeah...I know. We'd chosen to accept the tour offer because in truth, we knew that a chance of travelling around the United States might never come our way again, and it was an offer we just couldn't refuse. Even if, as usual, it would mean playing on a bill where we fit like a square peg in a round hole.

Speedhorn had been through an extremely turbulent period in the year leading up to the third album being released. Tony had left after touring was completed for the We Will Be Dead Tomorrow record and then Frank, after threatening to do so for the best part of two years, finally quit the band. Although it was on the eve of our first tour for the How The Great Have Fallen album, we accepted his resignation willingly. Having someone constantly threatening to leave the band had weighed us down for too long. We needed to move forward.

Jay had replaced Tony on guitar in early 2004 and had been a part of writing the new record, although he had hardly played a show with us due to the long absence from the road between albums two and three. In extreme contrast, Bloody Kev had arrived in the band to a baptism of fire. He'd rehearsed with us twice, at the very last minute, before we went out on a headlining tour of the UK. We weren't even sure at the time if he wanted to play in the band permanently. Cancelling the tour was simply not an option, and Kev had saved the day. As it happens, the final show of that tour was the Download Festival at Donnington, and would go down in our own personal history as one of the band's greatest ever shows. After that, there was no doubt in anyone's mind that Kev was staying.

Unfortunately the wave of excitement that followed the Donnington show crested out on to the beach, and the next wave didn't follow it as boldly. I had hoped that from there on we'd be back out on the road, with a new album and the support of a new record label, getting back to work as we had for the first two albums, but it just didn't work out that way. We played a couple of other festivals in Europe during the summer, but not much else happened. We soon learned that a year away from the hype, is a long, long time...

The remainder of the year would see only one short spate of shows in the UK, sometime during the late autumn. So when the chance came along to travel the entire USA on a tour that would span five weeks, we didn't need too long to debate it. So what if it was supporting Nile? We were going to the US of fucking A!

We'd arrived in Houston for the first show with a renewed energy and enthusiasm flowing through the veins of the band. Everybody was getting on with each other for the first time in years it seemed, the new album was going to be the first official release in the States, and we were travelling the entire country in the back of a Winnebago. What the fuck more could you ask for?

Well, it soon became obvious, from the evidence of the first night in Houston, that these shows were going to take some work. The crowds were big, at the very least four hundred a night, sometimes a lot more. The trouble was, the majority of the shows, especially the larger cities, were attended almost entirely by staunch death metal fans. Raging Speedhorn was definitely not a death metal band...

These death metal scenesters, like the bands they adored on stage, were serious types. Not that we weren't serious about our music. If there's one thing we were serious about, it was our music. Always. But we came from a completely different background to these guys. They were all unbelievable musicians who played fast and technically and made a big deal of trying to sound angry. We couldn't play for shit, if the truth is told. Well, not like those guys anyway. Our roots were in punk and hardcore, where nobody gives a shit about being able to play a sweep scale on a guitar. We just didn't give a fuck about that stuff. But the death metal guys were so concerned with the technical side of their show that they didn't seem to realise just how fucking boring their show was to watch. It was more like to going to a fucking guitar seminar than a gig.

Of course, the people in the audience loved it.

Thankfully for us, we had some allies on the tour, in the form of Soilent Green. We'd met up with them a while before at a festival in Japan and had got on spiffingly with them. Although these guys played a lot of blast beat stuff, they mixed it up seamlessly with elements of punk and Sabbath-esque riffs. And as technically gifted as they all were, they still kicked the shit out of the audience every night. We became good friends with them as the tour progressed. They were the only people on tour with us who seemed to get us.

The band line up on the tour was as follows: Without Passion, Decapitated, Speedhorn, Soilent Green, Hypocrisy and then Nile.

We were quite generously placed as third on the bill. I retrospect, playing after the very talented and very popular Decapitated only served to make our job twice as hard. Without Passion were more of a mathcore type band, and their singer looked cool, so everybody hated them. We liked them, they were good guys. Then Decapitated went on. In truth, if they been on tour as sole support to Nile, they would have blown them off stage every night. Although, that kind of technical death metal isn't really my thing, Decapitated are a fucking good band.

So then we would go on stage.

In all seriousness, not every gig was an uphill battle. We had some great shows, San Antonio and Sacramento spring to mind in particular, and New York City was one of the best US shows we ever played. But for the most part, we had the crowd on our backs before we even played a note. We could gage how bad our show was going to be, by how good Decapitated's was. If the crowd cheered and whooped and gave the metal horns every time Decapitated played a guitar or drum solo, then we knew we were doomed...

Of course, we were never in the habit of making things easier for ourselves. We'd nonchalantly walk on stage, hungover to piss and looking at the members of the crowd with nothing but contempt. It was a kind of pro-active defence. We'd look completely disinterested in being there as we tuned up our guitars in silence, and then we'd blast suddenly into the set, going fucking wild in the process. The crowd just didn't get it. They had obviously weighed us up with one look and presumed we were some boy band, what with our tight clothes and our short(er) hair. It just didn't match the music we played or the way we performed it. It was almost that, once the surprise had subsided, they grew only more agitated with us. They hated the fact that we were a really heavy band, playing with an energy and determination on stage that was bordering on violent. Self inflicted injuries during gigs were common place with us. The danger of being hit in the face with a guitar, or a microphone, or John's fist, was very real...

Kev and Jay were always at it. One night Jay would accidentally catch Kev in the head with his guitar, the next night Kev would “accidentally” catch his microphone lead around Jay's throat in a strangling motion.

The more the crowd were agitated, the more we did to wind them up. It was us against them and that's just how we liked it. So even though these gigs were what you would call hard work, they were also a lot of fun. From our point of view at least...

It was quite obvious after a week or so on the road, that the Nile guys didn't really get us either.

Luckily for us, their stage manager loved us. We were nothing but professional and polite when it came to dealing with him. He had the job of making sure that the six band bill ran on schedule. He was used to dealing with big bands with big egos. So he was no doubt delighted to meet us guys. I remember the first time of many, when he came to us before we went on stage, apologising in advance, but asking if we could possibly cut our twenty-five minute set down by a song or two. He was shocked when we gleefully told him that it wasn't a problem, that we could cut it down to fifteen minutes if he wanted. After that night, he took a big shine to us, and he, along with the Nile tour manager, regularly supplied us with booze.

Like I say the show in Los Angeles represents a number of gigs on that tour that could have easily filled the number nine spot on my list.

The show in Chicago for example, were one audience member who was stood right up front in the centre of the stage, turned his back on us before we started the first song, and flipped us off for the entire show. He literally held his arm aloft, erect and proud for twenty-five minutes.

The show in Denver, where we were spat on and had empty beer bottles thrown at us from a bunch of “hard-nuts” hidden in the shadows of the balcony, could have easily have made the list. As could the show in San Francisco, were various members of the public shouted “Wankers!” at us, followed by, “Fuck off back to England!”, again, before we'd even started.

The show in Los Angeles has, for reasons more comical, the slightest of edges over those other gigs though.

We'd played the Key Club a couple of years before and it had been a good show. For that reason alone, I'd allowed myself into thinking that the crowd this night would be good for us. Of course, I was wrong. When we'd played here previously, it wasn't on a predominantly death metal bill. In a place the size of Los Angeles, where there are shows happening all over the city every night, no hardcore kid is going to pay thirty dollars to see one band they like, play for twenty-five minutes.

We walk on stage to the familiar look of mass disapproval from the audience. Grins start to appear on faces, peeking menacingly through long curtains of greasy black hair. We burst into Hate Song, by no means accidentally starting the set with John screaming the words, “I hate you all!” We're going full out on stage, but our epileptic fit-like performance is going down like a fart at a funeral.

We're about half way through the show when I notice a guy down the front, right in front of Kev and John, laughing his head off. It's not a fake laugh designed to mock us either. It appears quite genuine. The cunt is almost slapping his thighs in bellyaching laughter. He's got one hand on his forehead and the other hand is pointing at us, and the fucker is pissing himself. It's like, he truly can't believe what he's witnessing.

I can see John is getting annoyed with him, but Kev seems to be a bit tickled, as am I. We play into the next song, and by now this guy has taken a pen and a piece of paper from somewhere and is writing furiously. When he's done, he proudly holds aloft the paper in the air to show us. He's made a sign that simply reads, “GAY” on it. Kev gives him a big thumbs-up. Happy with this, he pulls out another piece of paper and starts scribbling again. This time he's drawn an arrow and he's pointing it at Jay. Now Kev is starting to love this..

Throughout the rest of the show, the guy writes note upon note, all the while giving them to Kev. “Your guitarist wears very tight t-shits”. “Your band is very gay.” “You're band is a joke.” They just keep coming. The guy never tires of it. Either does Kev. It seems to make his night, especially since the majority of the guy's notes seem to be intended for Jay. Just before we play the last song, Kev sincerely dedicates it to Mr. Joker down the front. We play through it and as we're putting our guitars down and heading off stage I see the guy has his arm around Kev's head and is shouting something into his ear. At first I wonder if it's a fight kicking off, but I notice Kev smiling before shaking his hand and leaving the stage.

I asked Kev afterwards what the guy had said to him. He told me that the guy, in all sincerity, asked him to pass on a message to the rest of the band. “I think your band is absolutely shit but I genuinely respect you guys for having a good sense of humour and not jumping me.”

What the fuck can you do but laugh? It's either that or get in a fight. Some nights it goes one way, some nights it goes the other...there were rumours that the guy who flipped us off in Chicago eventually got Kev's foot in the back of his head...I'm not sure if that's true though.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

No. 10 - Belfast

Third on the list, counting down the top twelve silliest shows of Speedhorn's career is a show in Belfast, at a club called the Empire.

It was the December of 2000. This was to be our one hundred and forty-fifth, and final show of the year. We'd either been on tour or in the recording studio since January. It had been hectic to say the least. Our first album was now out and we'd been on a huge European tour, first with Biohazard and then Amen. We'd had a total of five days off since the beginning of September. It was now just a week before Christmas and everybody in the band was fucked, in dire need of a rest.

We'd driven directly to Ireland from the final show on the Amen tour to play five shows of our own on the Emerald Isle. I'd been sick with a heavy cold for the first few Irish shows, which was basically a result of excess during the preceding few months. I'd spent the first couple of days in Ireland in my bed, shaking, leaving it only to play the show at night. I was desperately looking forward to a few weeks off. Home for Christmas, relax for a couple of weeks and then it was back into the rehearsal room to continue writing the second album, before starting out on the first tour of the next year at the end of January.

So it was obviously busy times. For the first time in the band's short history, signs of weariness and stress were starting to show. Most of the guys, including myself, were in relationships that were by now being put under considerable strain. Although we were now travelling on a night-liner and getting fed at the shows we were playing, there were other things to worry about. For a start, we had to find time amidst the constant touring to write the second album. We were a band that liked to just hang out in the practice room as friends, have a drink, have a smoke, and write songs naturally. When we were forced to write songs, it just didn't happen. The songs came when they came and that was that. So, being on tour constantly was by no means an ideal way for us to write a new album. We were forced to write on the road and take the opportunity during sound checks to try out new songs. Nobody in the band was comfortable with this situation, but that was the way it was.

I remember this particular day, we were going through a new song called Scaramanga during sound check. It was the last show of the year and nobody was in the mood for a long sound check, never mind rehearsing/writing a new song. Gordon was in a bit of a pissy mood about the whole thing, as was Frank, I seem to remember. Even though I had no lust myself, I tried to push on with the guys and get on with the job. Eventually Gordon just threw his sticks down and walked off stage to the dressing room. That was the last time we attempted writing a song during sound-check. I remember storming off after Gordon and having a go at him, calling him a moody cunt. I'm sure he fired something equally Shakespearian back at me in return, though I don't remember what exactly.

We soon settled down. Gordon and I rarely got into a fight and if it ever did boil over between us, it soon simmered out, with the two of us apologising and hugging. We'd become close friends over the two years we'd been playing together, but we were both guilty of letting things bottle up inside us, so when the cork finally popped it would be followed by a short explosion. This happened every now and again.

The other guys in the band were more free with their rage, and were at each other's throats far more often. It had been a long year, and it's understandable that each member in the band was exhausted and needed some time apart from each other.

This show capped off the year in fine form and only confirmed the urgent need for a break.

Sound check was over, Gordon and I had settled down and given each other a hug, and we sat around waiting for the show. As I recall, we weren't even drinking as we sat there in the dressing room, glancing every now and then at the clock. Everybody had their minds set on going home for Christmas. There were still a few people grumbling about the sound check and morale in the band was fragile. We sat there like six strangers in a doctor's waiting room. Even though Gordon and I had made up, it was obvious other people in the band were still pissed off.

The venue itself was a pretty cool place. It was an old theatre, that had been reformed into a gig venue. It had a smallish semi-circular stage, raised about a meter from the floor, giving us just about enough room to get our gear and ourselves on there. There was a long, narrow floor area in front of the stage and a small balcony at the opposite end of the room. The place could probably hold a couple of hundred people.

Unfortunately, the show hadn't sold that many tickets. It was a week before Christmas and on top of that, we'd already been to Ireland three or four times that year, probably a slight overkill on the lively, yet small, Irish hardcore scene. The promoter told us that there were only thirty tickets sold for the show, which did little to lighten the atmosphere in the already heavy air of the dressing room. Now thirty people, is as far as I'm concerned, thirty fucking people. It doesn't matter if the place holds a lot more than that, it didn't matter that we'd been used to playing to larger crowds over the previous months. Those shows were not our own. Of course, it would have been better to play in a smaller venue, but those thirty people had still bought a ticket and still deserved a show.  It's not their fault nobody else bought a ticket. I tried reminding some people about that but I could tell the show was going to be a struggle. I had a hard time convincing myself otherwise, if I'm perfectly honest. We were fucking knackered and on that particular night, sick of the sight of each other.

Show time arrives and we go on stage and as usual, play with everything we've got. The start of the show actually feels pretty good. There are maybe fifty people in the room and it actually doesn't look so bad. It's far from what anyone would call busy, but the atmosphere is still pretty buzzing. At least in the crowd. It doesn't take long before the mood on stage starts to sour. The burst of energy we'd arrived on stage with, probably induced more by animosity rather than enthusiasm, has long since fizzled out. We're still giving it everything we have on stage, but I can feel that it's a struggle. Gordon has missed a couple of beats here and there, I've broken a string, someone else has fucked up an intro. It's just not flowing as it had been during the last three months. It's feeling a bit stale...

Frank though, as he often did, found a solution. He invites everybody in the crowd to join us on stage, in an attempt to make the show more intimate. The crowd happily oblige and before we start the next song, the entire audience and the six band members are packed on to the little stage. The floor area is now deserted, except for a couple of bartenders, who are looking on, amused. It's a stroke of genius from Frank. The mood is lightened just like that. The crowd love it, and all of sudden everybody in the band has a smile on their face. I have a couple of chuffed, hefty, Irish metal heads hugging me as I start the next song.

The band kick in with me and the stage becomes a mosh pit, and we're in the middle of it trying to play. Fucking magic. I can't even see the other band members by this point. We get through another couple of songs like that and all of a sudden I'm thinking that this is one of the funniest shows I've ever played. But then it goes sour. Frank is babbling on about something during a break between songs. As he's introducing the next song I see John waving at him with both arms, mouthing something to the tune of, “No, no, no..”

It appears we no longer have a drummer on stage. “Where the fuck is he?” I shout over at John...

It turns out that during the song before, Gordon had made a fuck up of some sort. I don't honestly remember hearing it, since I was having too good a time playing in the mosh pit on stage, and being banged about in the process by enthusiastic metal dudes. Apparently Gordon's missed beat, or dropped stick, whatever it was, had been enough to irk Tony, to the point where he'd lost his rag and mouthed the word “wanker” at Gordon. When the song had come to a close, Gordon, by now in a fury, had left his kit and went over to punch Tony in the face. Now, I can't swear to any of this since I hadn't seen it, it's just what I could work out from the meleé of words being shouted at the time.

Anyway, Tony had seen Gordon coming at him and when Gords had let his fist fly in Tony's direction, Tony, acting on instinct I guess, raised his guitar in front of his face, resulting in Gordon's fist smashing square into Tony's guitar. I guess that fucking hurt. Gordon, then storms off the stage and is now in the dressing room going wild. The rest of us are on stage, with the entire crowd as company, wondering what the fuck is going on.

Frank let's the crowd know that we temporarily don't have a drummer on stage. The crowd then starts cheering for Gordon to come back. One kid takes it upon himself to sit behind Gordon's kit and try and lead the beat. I hurriedly inform him that that isn't the best idea, even though by now I'm finding the whole thing comical, and he puts down Gordon's sticks.

It takes Gordon about ten minutes to come back on to the stage. He eventually does. I don't know if he's hurt or just embarrassed but before he gets back behind his drums he tells Tony to stay the fuck away from him. We play the rest of the set, Gordon snarling at Tony the whole way through. By the time we get back to the dressing room after the show, World War Speedhorn has kicked off and we're all screaming and shouting at each other, with no particular meaning to any of it.

Gordon and Tony never really had a problem with each other, both were just, like the rest of us, sick of the sight of each other for the time being. After a long year on the road, we all needed to go home to our families for Christmas and rest up. The following year was going to be equally as hectic as this one.. For the first time since we'd started touring, I found myself wondering if this was what I really wanted to do with my life.

Our manager Dave was with us at the time, and he, along with Doug our tour manager, spent a good couple of hours trying to settle everyone down after the show. We eventually did, and we sat on the tour bus home, quietly drinking a couple of beers whilst the bus drove through the night. There were still a few murmurs from people, saying they'd had enough, but I'd heard that more than once during the two years the band had existed at that point.  I'd hear it plenty more over the next eight.

Friday, August 20, 2010

No. 11 - Lisbon

It was May 2001. We were right in the middle of that magical period in a band's career. I've heard other people talk about it in interviews. It's that time when a band is just on the verge of breaking, of going on to a whole other level of success. It's that period of time where everyone in the band can feel the excitement building from every angle. More and more people, who's faces you barely recognise, are becoming involved in the band, you'll meet them at some show or party and they'll introduce themselves to you, saying they work for you. You're no longer just six guys in a band any more, you are becoming part of the industry and everyone you meet is blowing smoke up your arse.

For a short space of time you're on top of the world. And it feels great. Even for guys like us, who's sole ambition for the band at that first rehearsal was getting a gig supporting Iron Monkey.

What you don't realise at the time that that whirlwind is blowing around you, is that it is also the most crucial pivot in your band's existence. It's make or break time. So many bands, whilst just on the verge of breaking big...just break up. Things cave in, tensions and excitement get too much for the people in the band, and things just fall apart. And then you're left reflecting years later on what a crazy period of your life that was, when you were almost famous.

By 2001, we had scaled down from the two hundred or so shows we had played the previous year. We were still playing a lot of shows, but by this point, we were headlining bigger venues and in turn playing shorter tours. Bigger venues, bigger cities. We were not only playing the UK any more. We were playing in Europe and Japan and we were also making our first trips to the States. We'd played the last show of a European tour in Stockholm, then flew to Japan and afterwards Portugal, then played Ozzfest before flying out to New York to start recording the second record and play some shows whilst we were there.

It was mayhem for a while. I look back on that period now and it's something I'm thankful for. I'm glad that I've had that experience in my life. Speedhorn inevitably couldn't handle the pressure, and sure enough the cracks started appearing. We were six kids from Corby, who liked to drink and get fucked up and not consider the consequences. Although it would take another year for this era of the band to truly start unravelling, before healing itself and creating a new era, only to eventually unravel again, we never truly made it past that “next big thing” phase. We did become the band I always wanted to be in, but some people in the band wanted more, and maybe rightly so. I don't know...

Anyway, this show was typical of that period in the band's career It was also typical of the band itself.

At one point or another, every person in the band has made a cunt of themselves on stage. Sometimes we've done it as a band, sometimes individually. This show won't go down as one of John's proudest moments.

Like I say, amidst all the chaos going on around us, the sudden jet-set lifestyle we were all leading, the first cracks were starting to show. I'm not talking about us fighting with each other, we'd been doing that since day one. John and Frank were always getting into fist fights in the back of the van, proper serious stuff, where we'd all have to jump on top, usually on John, and pull them apart. They were both great guys, but they were chalk and cheese. But anyway, physical fighting wasn't a problem, we were all at it with each other at one point or another, and there was always the sense at least that if anyone from outside our gang fucked with us, we'd immediately unite and come out kicking and swinging together. That was the in-built mentality rooted into the band's psyche.

The cracks that were showing at this period, were far more troubling. All of a sudden there were murmurings of, “He can't play his instrument well enough”, “He's so fucking unprofessional”, “I'm not going on this tour unless I get paid up front”. Like I say, physical fighting can be dealt with and the situation can be cooled down afterwards, but when people in the band start letting that other bullshit take over, then the band is in trouble.

Anyway, we'd flown out to Lisbon to play a one off show supporting Slipknot. It was this huge arena called the Atlantic Pavilion. We'd flown in in the morning, checked into the hotel in Lisbon, sat around at this beautiful market square drinking coffee and eating breakfast, made our way to the arena, loaded in, went sight seeing for a while, played the show, back to the hotel, slept, flew back to London the next day. We really thought we were the fucking shit for a while there.

This was the first arena show we'd ever played. It was by far the biggest crowd we'd played in front of and it was felt by all involved with the band that it would be a perfect warm up for the upcoming Ozzfest show, which was only a couple of weeks away and would be the biggest crowd the band would ever play to. This show in Lisbon was going to be in front of around seven thousand people though, more than double the size of the crowd we'd played to supporting Ministry at the London Astoria a couple of years before.

Although the place looked fucking huge in it's emptiness when we stood there on stage sound checking, I felt more excited than nervous. By the time we went on stage though, that had certainly changed. I was fucking shitting myself during the first song. My hands were shaking so much I could hardly play my guitar. Those nerves dissolved after the first song was done with though and by the third song things really started to feel good. The nauseous feeling of nerves had succumbed to pure adrenalin. I was loving it.

And then things went sour..for John at least. If you would metaphorise this concert as a football match, then John would have to put this one down as an own goal.

The show is going well, the large crowd are responding enthusiastically and we're all finding the rhythm on stage. You can sense the buzz between us as we're playing and everyone is happy. I think we start to play The Gush, which is our new single (our one and only) and the gig, at least for a while, goes fucking tits up! The stage is fucking huge, it must be at least three meters high. In the rapture of adrenaline presumably surging through his veins, John jumps down off the front of the stage, microphone in hand, and is screaming the song whilst down on the barrier in the throes of the crowd.

Now straight away, I can see Frank is snarling. He always seemed to have a problem when John did this. I don't know why. It never really bothered me. I thought it was pretty cool when John would get in the crowd and interact like that. No problem as far as I'm concerned. But like I say, cracks, petty bickering...Frank just didn't like it. It's the petty stuff that always breaks a band up, and if Frank was guilty of it here, then the rest of us certainly had our moments too.

Anyway, John is down in the crowd screaming away. He's there for about a minute whilst the rest of us are up on the stage playing away. John then heads back to the stage, first throwing his microphone and then hauling himself up. The trouble is, he can't haul his considerable bulk up on to that high stage. So we're all up on stage playing away, whilst John is floundering like a confused bear, trying to pull himself up on the stage, in front of seven thousand people. I'm sure we on stage were not the only ones in the house laughing at the scene. I look over the side of the stage to see Doug, our tour manager, pissing himself laughing. Gordon is almost weeping whilst thumping the shit out of his drums. Tony can barely stand.

I'm not sure why, in hindsight, but John doesn't receive any help from the stage security. They probably think it's funny too. So after struggling for half a song, a song which by now Frank is singing on his own, John gives up and runs around the front of the stage to the side, so he can get back in through the back stage and back up to join us that way. But it just gets worse. He doesn’t have his AAA pass with him and the security guards won't let him past them. By now we're playing the next song, and again Frank is steering the ship on his own. It's fucking lucky we had two singers in Speedhorn! Came in handy in times of emergency more than once.

So we're playing along on whilst John is over in the distance, wildly gesticulating with the security guards and pointing at the stage. It's turned into a farce. Eventually, Doug stops laughing and makes his way over to sort the situation out. John eventually gets back on stage with us, two and half songs later, but is so out of breath that he can hardly sing anyway, he just sort of stands there panting. Frank looks over at me, shaking his head in disgust, but the rest of us are just pissing ourselves laughing. Frank's face finally does cracks a smile and even John can see the funny side of it.

We get through the rest of the set unscathed and get off stage. Our first arena show done and dusted. Next stop, Ozzfest. We're all laughing by the time we get back to the dressing room.

“There was a bit of a fuck up in the middle there but I don't think anyone noticed” someone quips as we're sat around, tucking into the cold beer on the rather large rider...

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Speedhorn's Stoopidest Shows..

During the ten years Raging Speedhorn existed, we played over six hundred shows. The first show, on November 7th. 1998, was in the back room at the Rockingham Arms Pub in Corby, which is about two hundred meters from my parent's house, and is where you can still find my dad most evenings, drinking a pint of Samuel Smith's Old Brewery, which is an utterly superb pint I might add. The final show was at a venue called Club Squad, in Yamaguchi, Japan, on November 30th. 2008.

I'd like to think that during that time we became a pretty good live band. We gave everything we had to every show we played, whether there were three people in the crowd or forty-five thousand. That is in fact the range of crowd size we played in the time we were a band. The show we played at the Red Lion in Gravesend on October 17th. 1999, to zero people, doesn't count. The show we played at the Red Lion on July 17th. 1999, to three people, does.

The size of the crowd watching, as far as I'm concerned, has often times had little to do with how I've felt about the show itself. I've had shit gigs in front of thousands of people and I've had great gigs in front of very few, and of course, vice versa applies.

Of the six hundred or so shows we played, most of them were what I would call good shows. Some of them were great, some were maybe even more than that. Those shows though, are usually not the ones you chat about with friends and touring acquaintances over a pint of Old Brewery. The shows that normally come up in conversation are the ones that are filed in the box labelled “Shite”. It's those shows that, as it happens, I have the fondest memories of today, since it's those that make me laugh when I think about them.

The majority of the “incidents” that happened during the Speedhorn years occurred away from the stage. The shows we played were often the glue that held the rest of the nonsense together. The only place where we could normally be relied upon to have our shit together was on the stage. The following is a list of exceptions to that rule...

No. 12 - Stockholm

So, first on the list is a show at Klubben, in Stockholm.

We were on our second European tour at the time, although the gap between the first Euro tour ending and the second tour starting was only something like five days, so it actually felt like one huge tour. The first tour was as support to Biohazard, which lasted seven weeks. The second tour was as support to Amen, which was a further four weeks. It was a long old haul.

I remember sitting on the tour bus, about two weeks from the end of the Biohazard tour, and our manager told us that we'd been offered the Amen tour and that we were going to be doing it. That's how it was for us then. We were young, and willing to play wherever, whenever, with whoever. Our manager Dave, who was also our good friend, was in our sole trust to take care of all that stuff. We didn't care. We just wanted to play and we were having a great time. And by this point, we were travelling in a night-liner with a bunch of friends as crew. Our music wasn't touched by anyone outside of the band, we made it exactly as we wanted it. What was there to fucking moan about? I remember feeling when Dave told us we were going straight back out on tour after the Biohazard dates, that although it was a huge stretch of shows, I was chuffed.

So now we that were travelling in a night-liner, playing bigger shows on a slightly bigger production, we decided we wanted to have some intro music to come on stage to. You know, make the show a bit more professional. Now, the few attempts we've made down the years at coming on stage to an intro, have invariably failed miserably. It just wasn't us. It's a fucking cheesy concept anyway. But for us, a band whose prime goal was to get up on stage, kick the shit out of everybody and leave, the intricacies of arriving on cue to intro music was always going to be a tough nut to crack. We just weren't that arty.

During the course of the Biohazard tour though, we'd been talking about finding some music to come on stage to. After days of discussion we'd decided we'd walk on stage to the David Allen Coe classic, Long Haired Redneck. So during the back end of the Biohazard tour, we'd get our sound guy, also a mate called Dave, (it's extraordinary how many men in the touring industry are called Dave...) to play the song over the P.A., which would then bellow out into the venue as we'd walk on stage.

It's was nothing complex really. The idea was that Dave would fade out the song at a certain point and we'd then blast in with the first song, The Hate Song. Hate Song was perfect since it starts with John screaming the line “I hate you all” and then the music kicks in. So the idea was to have this real dynamic to the start of the set. For some fucking reason though, we couldn't master it and it never quite worked. Half of the time, at least one of us would be drunk and we'd come on dancing to D.A.C, and then when the song fades out and John is about to scream into Hate Song, he's cut off by either someone tuning their guitar, or Gordon kicking his bass drum and shouting the immortal words, “I can't hear fuck all in my monitor!”, or it would be Frank giving it the old “one, two” in his microphone.

It's amazing to me now then, given the fact that we couldn't master this simple intro routine, that we actually attempted to take it up a notch for the Amen tour.

We decided for this tour that, not only would we come on to the intro song in complete silence, before John would scream us into Hate Song, we'd also do it in total darkness. The light's in the club would be out, David Allen Coe would come on, we'd walk out on to the stage in the dark to our instruments, the music would die out, John would the scream his first line and the stage lights would burst on as we blasted the first chords. Not that difficult you'd imagine? Sure, it would mean getting to our stage position's and having our instruments ready to go, but Long Haired Redneck is a good three minutes long. It shouldn't have been that difficult. And besides, Roddy, our long suffering guitar tech, had all the guitars tuned and ready to go, all we had to do was put them on and turn off the tuner pedal.

The early attempts at this new and improved intro fashioned the usual results. The intro song finishes, John is all ready to go...dunk, dunk, dunk... “I can't hear fuck all in my monitor!”.

The intro song finishes, John is all ready to go...”one two, one two, hello”. It was quite pathetic. And John was getting more annoyed with the whole thing, since it was he who was most keen on the whole intro thing anyway.

So we're sat in the dressing room at Klubben, a few minutes before stage time. We've decided we are now serious about this intro thing and we're determined to nail it tonight. No more fucking about. It's not that fucking hard, let's just fucking do it.

Doug, our tour manager, comes in and tells us to get our arses to the side of the stage, Dave is about to put Long Haired Redneck on.

The lights go out, “Country dj's all think I'm an outlaw”...We walk out on stage in the pitch black. My guitar is on, tuner pedal turned off, ready to go. I can see the dark shadow of Gordon, sat behind his kit in place. John and Frank, as usual, come on to the stage last, walk past me, pick up their microphones. Not a peep. It's all good. Fuck me! We might have actually cracked it.

Dave fades the music out.

And then...

There's this huge fucking crash! We stand there in the dark, in silence. I'm wondering what the fuck is going on..I look over at the amps and the drums, they all seem to be in place, still standing. And then I hear the faint sound of Frank groaning in apparent agony.

Both the stage lights and the club's house lights come on, unveiling a confused looking band. I look over to where Frank should be and realise immediately that he's not there. He's lying on the floor in a heap, down between the front of the stage and the crowd barrier, with a stage monitor on top of him.

Gordon looks at me for guidance. “Start the fucking song!” I yell at him, repeatedly. He looks at me confused, but then kicks into the second song in the set, Redweed, and we all get on with it, except Frank, who is still lying their in agony, the security guys lifting the monitor off of him. The house lights turn off again and we play through the song, the remaining five of us by now smirking at each other, trying our best not to laugh, although John is having the hardest time accomplishing that. Not only does he have to carry the song on his own, he has to scream the lyrics whilst suffocating the urge to howl out laughing.

To his credit, Frank gets back on stage for the start of the next song in the set, looking a bit bewildered, but nonetheless getting on with the job. The rest of the show goes smoothly, although I sense we collectively understand that the whole intro idea is fucking over.

Afterwards, we check out Frank's injuries. I swear to you, I have never seen bruising like it! He's black, blue, yellow and green all the way down one side, from his arse cheek to his shoulder blade. The fact that he got back up and played the show is actually pretty amazing.

The night of that show actually stirs fond memories in me for a couple of reasons, since later on that night I met my wife, Jenny, for the first time. Her band, Misdemeanor, were good friends with one of the guys from the Amen crew and they'd come down to the show to hang out.

Luckily, they'd been out drinking beer at some bar down the road whilst we were on stage...

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Home and Away. And Home Again...

I can barely believe that it's already the middle of August. They say time flies when you're having fun. Well I guess that's true.

It's been three weeks since we came home from that short spate of shows we played in July.

After sleeping on the van floor at Puttgarden ferry port for the night, we got back to Stockholm without any notable incident. The drive was long, but painless. After a quick shop on the booze boat at Puttgarden, we drove almost non-stop and were home for nine in the evening. A cup of tea in hand, I settled on the sofa in front of the football, my mind jogging through the previous days...

Wasn't the World Cup fucking shit by the way? It's not sour grapes over the whole England thing, I'm truly not that avid an England follower, how can I be when the team is made up by a majority of players who play for clubs I fucking hate? It's just...the World Cup was generally pretty crap.


Due to either travel sickness, booze sickness or just plain tiredness, I realised that there were a couple of incidents I'd forgotten to mention whilst writing the tour diary from the back seat of the van. Nothing particularly major, but just stuff I forgot at the time. A tour diary is just that, a diary written from the road, and not always with the benefit of time for reflection. So it's not unusual that small details are missed now and again.

First off, when we were driving on the narrow, winding roads through northern Poland, on the journey between Filip's B&B and Berlin, we saw an old drunk guy come close to getting mowed down by a car. Jen was driving the van and Johan was reading a map with a short-cut Filip had drawn up for us on it, which would eventually lead to the main motorway between Gdansk and the German border. The short-cut seemed to go on forever though. The roads were slim and full of sharp bends, making it almost impossible to overtake the various tractors and other slow moving farm vehicles that occasionally blocked the way. Of course, we were foreigners and not prone to taking chances on the unfamiliar lanes, so we'd hang back, cursing the time the short cut was taking.

Your everyday Polish driver is an impatient type though. We were constantly gasping at the other cars on the road, seemingly chancing death at every bend, whizzing past us, zigzagging in and out of the lanes, not giving a fuck what was coming their way on the other side of the road. It is quite a sight to behold. And it's almost weird that we didn't witness a major accident.

The closest we actually came to seeing an accident was not to the fault of any motorist though, but that of an old drunken fart, wondering about in the middle of the road.

I was looking out at the fields we were passing, the sun shining on them, bringing them alive with colour. I was thinking about the misconception some people seem to have about Poland being an ugly land. Nothing could be further from the truth. Anyway, as I was looking out at the beautiful Polish countryside I noticed an old boy up ahead, staggering about by the side of the road. He was dressed in a grey suit, looking like he'd just come from the party. Just as we were getting close to him, he sauntered out from the grass bank on the road side, a good two foot into the lane, his back to the oncoming traffic. Ten in the morning, fucking boats! We all kind of looked on in silence as a car in the other lane lazily swung around him, barely missing him, beeping at him whilst doing so. The old boy just gives the driver the fingers, looking totally nonchalant about the whole thing. Whilst we're in the van shouting a collective “Fuck!”, the drunk old cunt and the driver that almost hit him barely broke the stride of their morning. Just normal activity on the roads of Poland.

There were also a couple of things I forgot to mention from the night of the hotel bar in Trutnov.

The scene was actually kind of weird. Whilst I had been sat with Johan, Andy, Stachel and the Misery Index drummer Adam, Jon had perched himself on a bar-stool and had kept company with Jen, the two of them knocking back a few beers and having a laugh. My wife gets on with Jon really well...

By the time Jen went up to bed and Jonny came over to join me, the company by then consisted of the two of us, Adam and a roadie guy from D.R.I. I'd missed the D.R.I. set earlier at the festival due to the fact I couldn't be arsed getting pissed on by the heavens. Andy had watched a little and told me they were actually pretty good, or at least, it was fun to see them play Violent Pacification and a couple of other classics. I guess that would have been cool, but hanging out in the warmer, drier merchandise tent had kept me away from the main stage.

Anyway, we're sitting there, drinking fabulous beer in this hotel lobby. It's getting late. Adam is getting a taxi to the airport at 5.30am, so he's decided to stay up and drink. I'm feeling guilty with every passing minute for denying myself a proper night's sleep in a proper bed. Jon is speaking at a pace of about three words per twenty seconds and the D.R.I. guy is coming out with some weird shit.

Me and Adam are both pretty straight, but Jon is going through an intense time of things and is in an equally intense state of drunkenness. When he's holding the conversation, it's almost painful hanging onto his words in silence, such is the space between them. It's like a David Lynch dialogue. I'm used to it, but Adam and D.R.I. obviously aren't. They try to be polite. I try not to laugh.

The D.R.I. guy turns out to be their long serving roadie, who has been with them for years. In tragic circumstances, he actually had to get up on stage and play the set with them tonight. The D.R.I. guitarist, Spike Cassidy, has colon cancer and although he had intended on playing the show, hadn't made it through airport security in the States due to him having a colostomy bag. Obviously, fucking tragic stuff.

The roadie guy is a close friend of Spike's and is understandably upset by the whole thing. So, we're sat there listening to him telling us about that and to Jon, who is intensely conversing with him. The pair of them pretty wasted. One is barking in a high velocity New York gnarl, the other in broken, drunken English, taking it about as slow as you can take it without it just...stopping.

Despite the shitty circumstances, the D.R.I. guy seems to be buzzing from the show. Rightly so, of course. He says he never imagined that he'd play a show to that many people. He seems really made up by it. After some time listening to him though, I start feeling a bit sorry for him. He's going on about being a “nobody”, who no one cares about. He starts talking about how the other guys in the band were signing loads of autographs after the show, whilst he signed just a couple, and that nobody gives a fuck about who he is. He asks Jon if he's ever signed any autographs. I'm starting to think that this drunk conversation is getting too much for me. He seems really down on himself and he seems to be looking to Jon as the person to pull him up out of the dumps.

“I signed fucking loads of autographs” is Jon's reply. I can barely watch by this point. It's painful. I have to produce a fake laugh just to help D.R.I. understand Jon is fucking with him. “Really?”, the D.R.I. guy replies, although it carries about as much weight as a wet, silent fart. “Wow.”...

He mumbles on about how he never signed an autograph in his life before tonight, and that tonight was only to a couple of people. He tells us how, most of the time he just stood there like a plum whilst the other guys in the band signed pieces of paper for the fans. “Nobody gives a shit about who I am man...” Jon eventually tells him that he's only joking, he hasn't signed that many autographs..that seems to cheer him up a little.

Funnily enough, Jon spent his whole day talking to people he knew, or people who recognised him at the festival. He'd played there a bunch of times with various grind-core bands. He was a fucking legend at the Obscene Extreme Fest!

Anyway, I leave for bed, not being able to take any more. In the lift up to the hotel room, I look in the mirror. “That was weird”, I inform my tired reflection.

Like I said, just a couple of memories that came back to me whilst sat on the sofa, staring at the nondescript World Cup match playing out on the box in anticlimactic fashion.

As it is, those shows will more than likely turn out to be the last Victims play in 2010. We're trying our best to say no to any further offers until the new album is recorded. We're hoping that is going to be November, but it depends on whether we can get ourselves gathered in one place, namely our rehearsal space, on a consistent basis.

The summer is a difficult time to keep everybody together. We're all off in different directions, doing our own thing. Since we got back from the shows, we'd only met each other the one time, and that was the was the first night home when Converge and Kylesa played at Debaser. Since then, I've been to Glasgow and we've had my parents over visiting. Otherwise I've been working and when I haven't, me and Jen have been out in the woods at the log cabin we rent. The other guys have been doing their own thing too.

The summer has flown by, mainly due to the fact that the weather has been amazing and I've enjoyed every minute of my free time. I've actually enjoyed working for the most part too, as it so happens. The atmosphere at work has been really good and I've met a lot people and had some interesting conversations.

We practised yesterday, for the first time since we got back from the shows. It was good to be back in the rehearsal space, playing through the batch of new songs we have written for the record. It is shaping up now. We're up to thirteen songs. Four or five more and then we'll spend a month rehearsing intensely, getting them ready to take into the studio. Although we're hoping it's going to be November, we're not putting any pressure on ourselves. I'm really looking forward to recording my first album with Victims and going out and touring it next year.

We're going to have a lot of fun in 2011.

Right now though, there is still a few weeks of summer to make the most of. And I'll be doing just that. Tompa, from Battle of Santiago, is getting married on Öland in a couple of weeks. That's going to be an absolute blast, and myself and the rest of the Santiago boys will be drinking wildly in his honour. The weekend after that, my sister and her boyfriend are coming to visit. I'll be showing them what a traditional Swedish crayfish party is all about. And then, a few days after that, Jen and I are going to California on holiday for just over two weeks. We have a bunch of friends and a list of record shops to visit, and we'll be drinking the odd Margarita in the process.

What do you mean you're going on holiday? Your whole life is a bloody holiday!” - My dad.