Tuesday, November 9, 2010

No. 3 - Southend

The vast majority of stories I've written on this blog about Raging Speedhorn, could easily have given you, the reader, the impression that we were a bunch of wankers, who did nothing but get pissed and cause trouble.

I want to state as a fact, that that is not the case. It just so happens that throughout the ten years of the band's history, most of the good stuff, the stuff worth writing about, happened under the influence of alcohol. We were just a gang of kids, constantly on tour and constantly in the vicinity of free booze. Sometimes, two and two, simply makes four...

We weren't a bunch of wankers, sometimes we just acted like it. We certainly never set out to abuse or hurt anyone. We were just having fun. Sometimes that got misinterpreted, sometimes it got out of hand, but we never meant any harm. One of my all-time favourite quotes describing the band, is accredited to our old tour bus driver, Chop. “You are a bunch of cunts, but you're loveable cunts”. I liked that. And I think he had it spot on.

There is though, a slightly more famous quote that springs to mind as I write about this particular show.

- For every rule, there is an exception.

That exception would be Chinnery's. Southend. July 7th, 1999.

If you are a member of one of the bands that shared the stage with us that night, and you somehow just happen to be reading this, then I sincerely apologise. If that night happens to be the one and only time our paths crossed, and you think I and the other five guys in my band are a pack of aresholes, you're justified in thinking so. This is one night we really did make ourselves out to be a “bunch of cunts”, not the loveable kind mind you, the regular straight-up kind, and this time we didn't even have the booze to blame...

We were ten or so shows into our first ever trip around the UK, playing small venues to no people on what many affectionately call the “toilet circuit”. The show in Southend was only the twelfth gig the band had ever played. It didn't matter to us then that the average attendance at the shows was around ten people. We knew we were a good band and we didn't really cared who shared that opinion, didn't care a fucking jot. This was the first band any of us had played in that had actually played more than two consecutive shows, what one might call a tour. That was more than enough for us at that point.

I have to admit in hindsight though that we were in a very fortunate position. We had a home town friend who worked for a big management company in London, who had, until we came along, a predominantly “R&B” tinged roster, and no, I don't mean The Rolling Stones or The Hollies, I mean Mark Morrison and that bird with the eye patch. Our friend, Dave, was very good at his job, even though he was working with music he had no real relation to. Luckily for us, when he got a sniff of our band, he really liked it, and coupled with the fact were from his darling Corby, he just knew he had to take care of us.

Dave worked out a deal with the owner of Green Island Management, a somewhat shady Jamaican character who went by the name of Johnny Laws, that stated he could take us on as part of a side company called Black Island, which would obviously cater to a more alternative form of music. When Dave go the go ahead, he got his friend Andrew employed, and the two of them together went about making our band then next big thing in the British metal scene. I've no doubt that Dave genuinely loved our band, but I think a big part of it was the challenge involved, and it was a challenge. Of course, they got some backing from Johnny Laws but Dave and Andrew were our men. And we were happy to go along for the ride. It was a simple deal for us, especially in the naivety of youth. Their plan was to just put us out on the road. It was a plan we were more than agreeable with. We were an extreme band who didn't have a decipherable lyric in any of our songs, if Dave thought he could make us big, then sure, give it a fucking go. We were just happy to get the fuck out of Corby for a while. Even playing to five people on a Tuesday night in Boston was better than working in a warehouse back home. As long as we could get our hands on some booze...

So even though we were living life very rough, sleeping in vans or in tents by the side of the road in freezing weather, sharing two tins of stewed steak and a bottle of White Lightning Cider between six people, we still had somebody looking after us, booking shows, getting us support slots and planning out a career for us. We had nothing to complain about. Although of course, we did complain.

As part of Dave and Andy's aim to get the band out on the road every day of every week, at least in the beginning, we ended up playing a lot of support shows to bigger bands. Dave had a lot of contacts at his dispersal and it was a relatively solid plan. Unfortunately, we ended up supporting a lot of crap bands, or bands that I certainly had no time for. It didn't bother me then as it would bother me now. In fact, today it would simply not happen, but these are lessons I've learned. Back then we adhered to the philosophy of just getting the band seen. If we played a support show to three thousand people, and of that three thousand, thirty liked the band, then that's still thirty that would possibly come to our own show next time around. The trouble this plan ultimately brought was that we overkilled it a bit. We became known as a support band. Don't get me wrong, they took us all the way to headlining the Astoria in London to three thousand ourselves, but by the time we got there, the band, or at least that version of it, was almost spent. We'd given everything by that point and didn't have much more to offer.

The very first such show was at the very same London Astoria, supporting Ministry. Dave and Andy had booked us a small tour around this show, since we'd only played four gigs at that point. So we were going to go on a small spate of shows, with the Ministry show at the Astoria somewhere near the end of the run. Our own shows were attended by crowds of ten or so people, the Ministry show was going to be in front of a crowd of two and half thousand. Quite the fucking jump. Andy was coming out to these shows with us, preparing us for the first of “the most important show of our careers”. Southend Chinnery's was the night before the big show, and seen by Andy at least, as a full on dress rehearsal. For some reason, he was way more nervous than we were.

I had a bad feeling about this show from the moment we arrived. The “vibes” weren't that great. For a start, it was Southend, which is basically like Corby, but with sea and some tacky arcades. It was a Wednesday night and the venue seemed rather large to me. It could take at least two hundred people. There was no way that we'd play to even a quarter of that amount. To make things worse, we were headlining, or playing last on the bill. There were three other bands playing, and one of them, a band called...I want to say All? (but I can't really remember), who were from Southend anyway, did not seem too pleased with the line-up arrangement. They had a point to be fair. This was their home town (of which they seemed very proud), they'd been playing for a few years and certainly had more of a name then we did. Who the fuck were we really?

I've since learned that playing last, or headlining, is not always the best slot to play. If you're a nothing band, then playing last, after a band of local heroes, is actually a shit fucking slot. Everyone fucks off after the local heroes are done, so it's really them who are “headlining” anyway. You go on stage, but the party is over.

Anyway, the Southend boys were not happy with their slot on the bill, and they didn't try to hide it. They were a big bunch of fuckers with skin-heads too, and I found them a tad fucking intimidating. So, we just quietly go about loading in, sound-checking, and try to be polite to everyone in the venue. Andy, being American (sorry mate), doesn't find being quiet to be quite an easy a task to perform as we do, and couldn't give a piss about what the other bands think of the bill. He let's everyone in the place know what the deal is. Speedhorn have a hugely important gig tomorrow and they're playing last and going through the exact set that they'll be playing at the Astoria the following day. So, if things run late, then the bands on before us will be getting their sets cut. Tonight is all about our set. Now, Andy is just doing his job, but I remember myself and Tony being hid away in the van outside, dying of embarrassment. Gordon and Frank didn't seem to give too much of a fuck though. Gordon, unlike me, loves getting people's backs up. He actually seems to get a fucking thrill out of it.

So the vibes are bad. Andy keeps telling us how important the show is tomorrow and how tonight is the perfect opportunity to iron out any creases in the set. And of course, we're not allowed to drink. In truth, that's not exactly a law he has to enforce since we're all completely skint and the only way we'd be getting our hands on any booze is if he buys it, which tonight, he isn't...

We certainly ain't getting a rider out of Chinnery's, that's for sure.

So the first band plays and there are around twenty people in the venue. I can't remember a thing about them except the fact that they play for thirty minutes. Andy and Roddy, who is out driving the van and kind of tour managing us, are fucking livid. All the bands have been told that they have a twenty-five minute set list. If they play over-time then the rest of the bands get their set times cut, except Speedhorn of course. There is a curfew at the venue, but no matter what happens, Andy and Roddy will be seeing to it that we play the whole forty minute set that we're in essence, rehearsing for tomorrow.

So, Andy and Roddy give the first band a bollocking, and we hide in shame. The second band are Enmity, who's bass player, Paul Ryan, will later become a good friend and eventually our booking agent when he scores a job at The Agency. Paul is friends with Andy and tells him that he understands the deal, even though their set is cut down to twenty minutes. Paul always was a good guy. I'm sure he had to break it to his guys that they'd driven all the way to Southend just to play twenty minutes, and I'm sure his guys weren't happy about it. He never mentions it to us though, and they just get on with it. They play their set and sure enough, as soon as they're done, Roddy is up on stage ushering them off and loading their equipment for them.

So then it's time for Southend to go on stage. They don't look fucking pleased. Apparently Andy has just told them they have got sixteen minutes worth of set time to enjoy, due to the delay in change over time, and that it's nobody’s fault but their very own. The singer comments on this a few times during their set. I'm stood in the crowd, which by now is maybe thirty strong, and I'm wondering what the fuck is going on. Even though the guys in the band do seem like a bunch of turds, this doesn't seem right. They obviously go over their allotted set time, because before long Roddy and Andy are stood right in front of the stage, gesturing at them to cut their set but waving their hands in front of their throats. You know the gesture. Tony and I look on, laughing nervously. I know they mean well, and they don't care about any band but the one they're looking after, but for fuck sakes.

So it's finally our turn to get up and do our thing. It feels bad from the get go. Not the fact that, yes indeed, two thirds of the crowd have fucked off once Southend have finished playing, but more due to the fact that the sound on stage is absurd. I've played over eight hundred shows since I was sixteen years old and I still haven't found an answer to the mystery of the sound-check. I'd say that maybe forty percent of the time, the sound on stage that we've had whilst sound-checking, has somehow dramatically transformed into something else completely by the time you get back up there and play the show. The sound we had whilst checking tonight had not been the greatest, but it was a shit load better than the chaos that greets us by the time we go on stage for real. I wouldn't be surprised if the sound-guy hadn't deliberately fucked us over, due to the actions of some during the night. I wouldn't blame him if he had really. Nevertheless, when we kick into our first song, Superscud, we're greeted with a throbbing wall of muddy noise.

I'm looking at Gordon and I can see him playing, but I'm fucked if I can hear a beat coming from his drums. The same goes for Frank and John, and Tony on the other side of the stage may as well not even be there. All I can hear is myself and Darren's bass. Gordon is apparently having the same trouble. But whereas the rest of us are trying to put a brave face on it until we get to the end of the first song, Gordon is making no such effort, continuously mouthing to me and everyone else that, “he can't fucking hear shit!” It gets to the point where we're all playing different things. It sounds like fucking shite and almost...almost comes to a stop. At the start of the song we'd been bouncing around the stage, throwing shapes and giving it all, but by the end of the song we're strumming along, looking at each other, lost and confused. They say that the band on stage are far more sensitive to fuck ups than the crowd are, but even though the people here watching tonight have never heard our song Superscud, I'd be amazed if they believed it was supposed to sound like this.

We finally trudge to the song's end and Gordon goes off on one, shouting at me, at Frank and at the sound guy. He's shouting at us to turn everything in his monitor up and waving his stick in an upward motion to demonstrate what he means. We go into the second song and the sound is only worse. Gordon's monitor is now so loud that it's the only thing anyone on stage can hear. Gords looks equally as pissed of with this new monitor set up as he was with his previous. I look at Frank, who is getting on with it, but I can tell he's losing his rag.

In Speedhorn, Frank just screamed on top of our songs, but in reality he was the most talented of any of us. He was both an amazing drummer and guitarist. Gordon, being Frank's oldest friend, is a little sensitive to this issue. Insecure I guess you could say. Of course, Frank giving him dirty looks every time he fucks up doesn't help. This gets on my tits a bit. Frank played drums in our old band, and without doubting he is a great drummer, I think Gordon's simple battering style was more suited to us. But with Frank and Gordon being childhood friends, Frank has a hard time containing his frustration with what he deems as inferior drumming. I couldn't give a fuck about that. What I did give a fuck about is Gordon's total inability to hide his anger/embarrassment whilst on stage. Roddy spoke as much shite as sense during the years he toured with us, but if there is one thing that always stuck with me, it was this. You never show you're divided in front of anyone, you never argue in front of anyone and if things fuck up on stage, you get on with it like it's no problem. That is something Roddy definitely had right.

So we're half way through the second song and it's a fucking mess. By now Gordon is shouting at anyone who'll listen, or can hear him at least, that he wants his monitor turned off completely. The guy taking care of the monitors gets a barrage of abuse from Gords. I look over sympathetically at the man, but he just crosses his arms, shrugs his shoulders and smirks at me. He's obviously decided we're a bunch of cunts and he's fucking our gig off. So that's that.

The second song somehow makes it to the finish line, although barely.

Well this is going well.

The small amount of people left in the venue, stood in front of the stage, look bemused. Roddy and Andy look worried. Frank, looking like he wants to be anywhere but on the stage, offers a half assed apology to anyone who cares. We trundle on into the third song but we only make it half way through. Gordon loses us again and this time he just throws his sticks over his shoulders and the song comes to an abrupt halt. Frank doesn't even look at the rest of the band, he doesn't say anything to the small crowd, he just walks right off the front of the low stage and straight out the front door. Tony follows suite in exactly the same fashion. And then Daz, and then John. I put my guitar down and look at Gordon who is still sat behind his drums. “I hope the show tomorrow goes a bit better” he offers, with that cheeky smirk of his spread wide across his face. I can't help it, I burst out laughing.

We pack up and walk out the front of the venue to find out the score with Frank. Within seconds he and Gords are shouting and screaming at each other, Gordon giving his usual attitude, “Who gives a fuck anyway?” You have to love him really. He knows he fucked up, but there isn't a chance he's backing down if it means backing down to Frank. Frank just looks exasperated. The screaming continues with Roddy and Andy in the middle, trying to calm things down, as the remaining people who were at the show walk out and straight past us. Tony then points to the fact that the other bands on the bill must really think we're a bunch of wankers. After all that shit from Andy and Roddy, we only play two and a half songs. Even though it shouldn't have been funny, we all crack up anyway.

Andy pulls a bottle of vodka from somewhere and suggests we all head down to the to drink it. It's pretty fucking cold but the thought of drinking some booze by the sea after an alcohol-free disaster seems like the best idea I’ve heard all day. We all get pretty tipsy before everyone heads back to the van to sleep. For a while, Andy, Tony and I traipse around the back streets of Southend's sea front, looking for a cheap B&B for the night at the expense of Andy's credit card, but every single one declares itself full, so we join the other five guys and the eight of us bed down in whatever scrap of spare room of van floor we can make for ourselves.

The show the next night turned out to be a bit of a nothing event. We played on that huge stage at the famous London Astoria, to a shit load of people who couldn't have given a piss about us. We played ok, and although it wasn't a bad gig, it wasn't that great either. It was just...nothing really. And I've since come to the opinion that those shows are the worst of all.

Within four years, we'd be back on that stage, headlining, and playing what really was a great gig. And by that time, Gordon was a great drummer too.

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