Wednesday, September 22, 2010

No. 6 - Gravesend

In ten years of existence, Speedhorn navigated itself through the complete spectrum of success and status.

We experienced about every aspect of touring life in a band, from living on a budget of five quid a day, sleeping in the van if there was no floor available, to travelling in a night-liner and flying all around the world with a crew of friends, to finally becoming a self-sufficient touring outfit, in our own van, where we took care everything ourselves.

We went from playing the worst venues the UK has to offer, to minuscule crowds, shows that barely paid us money for petrol, where food and drink was out of the question, to headlining shows in Japan and staying in classy hotels, to travelling and sleeping in our own made “tour bus” all over the continent, playing everything from large club venues to house shows.

We had management, major labels, even a monthly wage at the height of it all. At the twilight of our existence, when we more D.I.Y., we were still coming home from tour with money to pay the bills. In the beginning though, around about the time we played this show in Gravesend, we had such little money that we would take food from the bins at service stations when they closed. We'd figured out that the fast food joints at these places threw whatever food they had left at the end of the day. We'd simply pull up and wait out back for them to throw it.

We'd played the Red Lion in Gravesend on the previous tour to this one. That night we'd played on our own, and three people had paid to come in and watch us. I remember the guy who ran the place was a particularly dislikeable fellow. He was a typically rude cockney guy, who bragged about the fact he'd had Maiden play his place back in '79 or whatever and seemed to be still promoting his venue on the back of that. Although that was cool enough, it had absolutely no fucking bearing on our gig.

We were used to playing to nobody in those days and three people, plus our friend Waldie, was good enough for us. We didn't get food and certainly didn't get beer, but one of the guys who'd paid to come in had felt sorry for us and bought us a couple of rounds. In those days, booze was either scrounged or stolen.

So this time around, we're on tour with the bands Breakneck and Enmity It was about three months after the previous non-remarkable show at the Red Lion, in Gravesend. Fucking Gravesend? The name of the town alone should be warning enough to steer clear of the place...

The bass player from Enmity, Paul, who later went on to work for the Agency and become our booking agent, had told us at the show the night before, that he had no intention of playing the show in Gravesend, citing it as a complete waste of time. Although we knew it was most likely going to be pants, neither us or Breakneck wanted to cancel the show. We were on tour having fun together and what else were we going to do, go back to Corby for the day? Fuck that.

So we decide that we're going to Gravesend, Enmity tell us they'll meet up with us the day after at the show in Norwich or whatever...

We'd been touring the toilet scene in the UK on and off for about half a year, playing to crowds averaging ten to twenty people a night. We were doing this with the attitude that the ten people that did make the show would be blown away and then they'd spread the word, so when we come back a couple of months later, the ten people would have doubled to twenty people, and the time after that would be forty, and so on. And I was always proud of the fact that no matter how small the crowd, we played our asses off every single night. And for the most part, it worked.

I thought as we pulled up outside the Red Lion pub that our hard work at the previous show had paid off, in a huge way! We trundle out of the back of the van, the sun is shining and the bar room of the pub is packed with people. What's more, they're all donned in heavy metal clothing. I can't believe it. This is going to be the best show we've played in our so far short career. We're all chuffed and laughing at Paul and Enmity for fucking this show off.

We start loading in to the gig room, which is the room adjacent to the bar, where Maiden is waiting for us. We shake hands with him as he welcomes us once again to the venue that is his pride and joy. I remark that it looks promising for tonight, to which he replies that they're all watching the footy, but yeah, it should be good.

So we load in and get set up on stage, do a quick sound check and then go through to the bar. I'm hoping that with the already buzzing atmosphere in the place, the barman will offer us a drink. I've come to learn in the many years since, that such hospitality should never be expected in England, no matter what the size of the crowd. He tells us that he'll wait and see how many of the punters come through to the gig later on before he hands out any beer to us, although he promises me it should be good. Ok, typical. But hopefully we'll get a few beers later then...

We decide along with the Breakneck boys, to pool whatever change we have and get some booze. Between ten guys, we've got enough smash for a bottle of cheap vodka and a few cans of lager. I set off with one of the guys in search of a supermarket. The sky is turning grey by this now, and the sights of Gravesend dampen my spirits somewhat. It really is a fucking depressing place.

We get back to the venue and hang out for a while. We decide to leave the voddy for after the show since we don't want to get too fucked up. We sit in the van and drink a can of cheap pissy lager, hopeful for the night ahead. We head in to the venue when the last dregs of lager are finished off. The bar is still pretty packed with people and the landlord's wife is setting up a table by the entrance.

An hour passes and still nobody has ventured into the venue from the bar room next door. The landlord hasn't even bothered putting on any music, as way of setting a bit of atmosphere. It's soon time for Breakneck to start and still nobody has entered the building. The landlord is still in the bar next door, which is separated from the bar in the venue room by a wall with a door in it. The punters have to go out into the car park to come into the venue, but the bar staff can just drift between the rooms. The landlord's wife is sitting by the entrance, reading a book. Fuck sakes, I go in search of landlord guy and ask if Breakneck can go on a little later, when some people start coming through. He barely breaks his glance away from the footy on the tv, but assures me that once the punters hear the music they'll start coming in.

So Breakneck go on and the only spectators in attendance are the Speedhorn boys and Roddy, who is out driving us. They play through the entire set, somewhat light-heartedly. We have a good time watching them and Jacques, their singer, put on a good show as always. They play through, and we cheer them on, but still, not a soul from the bar has come through. It's fucking Saturday night for fuck sakes! What is wrong with people?

We all feel the need for a sip of the voddy now. It has dawned on us that this show is not going to be the best show we've ever played, but more likely the worst. The previous worst show had been here at the same venue, a few months ago, when those three people attended. It could be less than that tonight...

I speak to the landlord again. Of course, he hasn't offered us any beer yet, but he still remains confident people will come through. He tells me people aren't interested in the support band, they want to see us. Yeah right. What I don't get is that there is still no music of any form being played in the venue room, yet hard rock is blasting out of the juke box in the bar now that the footy is over...

We get up on stage and nobody has come in. I feel sick to the stomach. I actually feel more nervous for this show than any other, simply because I feel like a complete twat. The landlord has at least come through to the bar in here, and is stood there waiting to watch us. He's STILL saying people will come through.

The Breakneck boys are returning the favour of support and are the only people waiting for us to start playing, along with the landlord. We kick into the set, putting on the normal show. We get to the end of the first song and just let the feedback ring...still nobody in the venue. We carry on into the second song, still throwing ourselves about the stage but not masking our embarrassment quite as well. During the third song, when still not a single punter has come though, I notice the landlord, standing there with his arms folded, shaking his head at us. Before the song is over, he's walked back through to the bar room. By the forth song his wife is packing up the table and fucking off. I feel like a complete cunt. I'm sure Paul and the Enmity guys are in their local pub, pissing themselves laughing.

We get to the end of the forth song and Frank is talking to a crowd that's not there, as if this was a normal gig. I've had enough. We cut him off and ask him what he's doing. We all just look at each other and decide to pack the fucking gig up.

We get off stage and aim straight for the van and that bottle of Vodka! Frank is incensed, so are the rest of us. Nobody has the balls to go through and ask the landlord for petrol money though. We just drown our misery with the vodka. When the vodka starts taking it's effect on us, we actually start cracking up. We're by now, just hanging in the car park and listening to the new band Roddy has spontaneously started with Jamie from Breakneck.

They're on stage, Jamie on guitar, Roddy on vocals with Gordon on drums, they've called themselves Dog Meat, and are playing loud as fuck. They have one song, which I presume is titled, Frank is a Cunt, since that seems to be the only lyrics to the song.

The three of them are in there on their own, the landlord's wife is long gone, and we're out in the car park getting pissed, listening to the cacophony. It lasts a good thirty minutes and Roddy seems to be having the time of his life!

When it eventually dies down, and the voddy is gone, we pack up the gear and put it back in the van. We're in better spirits now, realising we've hit bottom and the only way is up. The landlord actually comes out and tells us that it was a shit gig. Fuck you, fuck you very much.

We never, ever go back to the Red Lion, or Gravesend again.

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