Thursday, May 9, 2013

The Crew: American George

The first few years of Speedhorn's existence were the most hectic of my life. It started off slowly enough, with a few one off shows and a demo recording, but from the moment we went out on our first UK tour, things just spiralled out of control. Before I knew what was going on we found ourselves practically living in the back of a van. One tour followed another, followed another. We'd sold over a thousand copies of the first two demo tapes and were planning to record the first album. Actually, we weren't planning to record any album, but the label told us that if we wanted to keep going out on tour, getting pissed up and acting like non-educated-delinquents then we'd have to have an album to promote. The whole time we were pretty much living like dogs and loving it. In hindsight though, we were probably ill prepared for the pace our lives were suddenly moving along at.

When you're twenty two years old you don't think too much about the future though, I didn't anyway. I was just living day to day in the back of van. Today Brighton, tomorrow Gravesend, in the van, play the show, get pissed. That was all I needed to worry about. I didn't need to think further ahead than what town we'd be in the next day. Every day revolved around sorting out food, finding cheap or even better, free booze, playing the show and finding an alternative to sleeping in the van. Life was simple, and for a short while I thought it would last forever. Or.. I didn't, but I couldn't be bothered thinking about what would come next.

The bigger and more successful the band became, the greater the amount of people became involved with the band. If there is one thing that used to freak me out more than anything else, it was when some stranger would approach me at a show, introduce themselves and tell me they worked for our band. Some radio plugger here, an office assistant at the label there.. I could never comprehend the fact our band had become involved in this world. It seems to be that the more successful you become, in any walk of life, the more hangers on become attached to you. These people are disingenuous and only want to know you as long as you've got something to offer them. That's just the way it is and you have to take these people with a pinch of salt, knowing they'll soon be gone.

When your life becomes one constant tour you do meet plenty of real people though and I'm thankful for the many, many friends I've made all over the world that I would never have known if it wasn't for Raging Speedhorn. In an obscure kind of way my wife is one of them.

Some of the friends you make along the way stick with you for the rest of your life, no matter how seldom your paths cross later on, others come and later disappear into the hubbub of the past, having shared some intense experiences and leaving you with some great memories. One such person is American George, or 8 Pint as he was also known. George was one of the many friends that we chose to surround ourselves with, one of the trusted members of The Crew, which was a gang of friends that we had chosen to surround ourselves with.

George was an old friend of our manager Dave and our roadie, Roddy. I remember George sitting at the door of the old Channel 2 club in Corby, where we played our first shows with our first bands. He had this straight, waist length hair at the time and looked constantly stoned. We knew each other only to talk to at the club but I always thought of him as a good guy. A few years later he had a skinhead and was driving the van and selling shirts for us on tour. He loved a drink and a spliff and we had some amazing times together, pissed out of our minds and travelling the continent. We practically lived together for the best part of two years and George, like Roddy, felt like a part of the band. The sad thing is when the band started getting serious George just couldn't keep it together enough and eventually our paths separated, something I always felt bad about. The thing is though, George wasn't all that happy with his life in Corby and ended up moving back to the States where his dad lived. We only have sporadic contact these days but it's always great to hear from him via the powers of social media and I'm happy to know that he seems to be doing pretty well.

A couple of my favourite memories of George involve the police and weed. There was this one time when we were driving down to Hastings for the first show of a tour with Ninth Circle from Scotland. George was driving our van, which was this old yellow Sherpa that had previously filled the role of a Telecom works van. It was constantly breaking down but what was great about it was that it had a loft space at the back that acted as a bunk for a couple of people as well as a little kitchen space that had a stove and a kettle. In theory it was ace but as I say, it was constantly breaking down. Anyway, we're flying down the M2, nearing the show when we spot what must be another band van ahead of us. We figure it has to be the Ninth Circle guys, although we've never met and have no idea what they look like. We all start egging George on to speed up and overtake them and of course as we do just that, we beep and flip them off and one of us moons them, arse flat up against the window. It is indeed the Ninth Circle guys and they enthusiastically toot back whilst a couple of them hang out the windows cheering and jeering us, giving the obligatory “horns”. We overtake them and speed off into the distance. Ten minutes later we're broke down on the hard shoulder, engine fucking smoking as usual and the Ninth Circle guys drive past, honking the horn and pissing themselves laughing, not stopping, of course. I remember Tony looking at Frank and George under the bonnet and sighing, “I fucking hate our van.”

Luckily for us, we had Frank in the band, who was a car mechanic. Lucky in that every van we ever had, normally purchased through a channel of Frank's, constantly broke down. Before Frank can get the van going this time though, a cop car pulls up behind us on the hard shoulder. A friendly enough looking guy gets out of the car and walks over to us, asking if we need assistance. I remember thinking what a pleasant change it was to meet a friendly pig as he was bent over the bonnet with Frank talking to him about engines. What I had also noticed is that a pale looking George was shifting from foot to foot on the other side of the van, keeping as far away from the cop as possible. The cop was with us for about five minutes and inspected the van a couple of rounds, and each time he moved, George shifted to the other side of the van, doing his very best to look like he was inspecting something and that he had a fucking clue what he was looking at. The thing is, George stank of weed! Not surprising considering the amount he had on him. The cop finally pulled off once assured Frank had the situation under control and George let out a huge sigh of relief. We all pissed ourselves laughing at him as we continued our journey to Hastings.

Later on during the same tour, this time in Edinburgh, another incident occurred involving George, the van and weed. We'd played a show at the Attic and had a good time. Afterwards we hung out in the bar downstairs and got hastily pissed up on cheap lager, hanging out with our new Jock friends Ninth Circle and their gang. When the time come to leave, Roddy went off to fetch the van and pulled up outside the bar on the busy, city centre street. The van was parked up outside, facing upwards on a hill as we loaded in the gear from the venue. When the van was packed we headed back into the bar for one last drink before leaving. George and few others stayed in the van to get stoned. When we later leave the bar there is a big fight kicking off with some chavs and there is a heavy police presence about. We make the smart decision to get into the van fuck off as quick as we can. Of course, the fucking van refuses to start. Most of us get out and start to push the van up this fucking hill amidst the chaos and the sirens. Fucking ridiculous scene. George the swine, has stayed in the van though. We're pushing this yellow van up this hill and the next thing the sliding side door flies open, just as we pull up beside these cops who are busy arresting some chavs. The van stops at a halt as we stop pushing and there sits George, hash pipe in mouth taking a big puff. The cops and George stare at each other in amazement/fright for a split second. George hurriedly slides the door back closed and we continue to push until Roddy finally gets the engine to kick into action. Somehow the cops decide to do nothing, thankfully busy with the small riot going on around us, and we speed off back to Ninth Circle' border towns where we're sleeping that night.

One of the few towns we never actually played in the UK was Torquay, but we visited the place a few times since George had an uncle who lived there, and he let us crash at his place. We'd normally head down to Torquay after playing a show in Exeter. Seems daft now really considering it was a bit of a way in the wrong direction, but it was a choice between that and sleeping in the van. And besides, Torquay is pretty nice. But going there meant that we'd drive through the early hours and arrive sometime around six am. And this meant that one or two would have to sit up front with the driver whilst the rest of the lads were in the back, blasting music and partying. This one occasion we were heading down there we had a bit of a hairy time of it. It was me, George and I think Gordon up front, the rest of them in the back. There was this curtain behind the front seats that separated the back of the van, which meant they could have the lights on in the back without blinding us up front. We were winding around the narrow country lanes that lead from the motorway into Torquay, which at five am seem to go on forever, and the guys in the back were having the time of their lives, blasting AC/DC's Back in Black album loud as fuck, and drinking filthy, cheap booze. Completely oblivious to what was going on up front.

What was going on was a fucking nightmare! The headlights kept failing all the time, every minute or so they'd just go out for a few seconds. It was pitch black out in these back roads and they were windier than the Nile. The roar from the back completely drowned out our screams of “Shiiiiiit!” every time the lights went out. They had absolutely no idea what was going on. Fuck knows why we didn't pull the van over and inspect the problem? I guess that would have just caused more commotion as there wasn't a brain cell left in the back of the van. For a while there I was genuinely terrified. We made it though, somehow. I remember as we pulled into Torquay the sun was starting to rise and I thought at the time that I'd never seen a place so beautiful. When we arrived at Uncle Harry's place, he was on his way out to work. The rest of the guys crashed pretty much straight away, but George and I sat up until around eight am, shooting the breeze and just enjoying being alive.

When I think of George now, it's always one lasting image that sticks with me though. On our first tours, when we'd play from to anywhere between five and thirty people a night, George would go on stage and introduce us before we came on. Proper over the top American style. This one night in Chelmsford, in front of about fifteen bemused onlookers, George takes to the stage wearing nothing but boxer shorts, gaffer tape on his nipples and a newly styled Hulk Hogan haircut, courtesy of a set of clippers we had in the van, and screams into the microphone, “Alright you fuckers, here we go! You wanted the best, you got the fucking worst! Raging Speedhorn!!!” We thought it was hilarious, the fifteen people in the “crowd” didn't know what the fuck was going on. Pretty much sums up the band right there...

I haven't seen George in years, I think he's still living in North Dakota. Sad how life sends you in different directions sometimes. For a while I felt like George was my brother, so close were we. But that's the intensity of touring for you. You live together, scrap together, survive together. It's like this weird bubble you're in and when you're out things are completely different. But the memories last forever. And when I think of George I think of him with a Hulk Hogan haircut with gaffer tape on his nipples.