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.

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