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...

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