Wednesday, September 25, 2013

The Crew: Big Doug

I've written many times on this blog that the bands Hard To Swallow and Iron Monkey were a huge inspiration to us when we were kids.  That first Monkey album was and still is one of the most brutal records ever made.  Six songs of slow, relentless, crushing torture.  The attitude on the album just stinks of dissatisfaction.  It is one the most pissed off thirty minutes of music I've ever heard and it changed my life forever.

It all started when I saw them for the first time at an all-day show in London we were playing with Soul Cellar, which was myself, Frank and Darren from Speedhorn, before we found hardcore.  It was some Terrorizer magazine Christmas bash at the old George Robey Club on the Seven Sisters Road, and apart from Orange Goblin, most of the bands were pretty naff, including Soul Cellar.  During the latter part of the day I'd noticed this gang of lads who had turned up who stood out in the crowd as they walked around looking completely bored, as if they had absolutely no interest in being there.  These guys weren't gumbo metalhead types, they were wading through the crowd in trucker caps, skate shoes and rucksacks attached to their backs seemingly signalling they were ready to get the fuck out of there at any second.  There was just something about them.  This was 1997 and I'd never seen anyone else dressed this way at a metal gig before.  I didn't then know who they were..

And then around six or seven in the evening, about three or four bands from the top of the bill, there they were on stage.  Of course, there was none of the strutting and posturing about stage that most of the other bands were pulling off whilst waiting to start their gig, the Monkey guys were stood there, tuning their guitars at an almost nonchalant pace, looking like they'd rather be anywhere else than their present location.  Most eyes were on Johnny, their singer, who was ambling around the stage with shaved head and black rimmed NHS glasses, arms covered in tattoos, looking pretty fucking cool it has to be said.  But there, right in the middle, in front of the drum kit was what had to be the meanest looking bastard I'd ever seen.  Doug, the bass player, looked like Zangief the Russian wrestler from Street Fighter.  Simply a mammoth of a man.  What the fuck was this band?

For about a half hour they simply kicked the fuck out of the place.  And they just didn't seem to care.  It was one of the heaviest bands I'd ever seen and to this day one of the best gigs I've ever witnessed.  It was the first time I'd seen a singer that simply screamed in a high pitched, indecipherable scowl for the entirety of the set.  They were so good it was scary. 

When we started Speedhorn about six months later, our one and only goal was to get a gig with Iron Monkey.  It didn't take us long.  Our second show was the following year's Terrorizer all dayer, which Monkey headlined, which was cool enough, but our third show we were the main support to them at the Bass Clef in Northampton.  We'd achieved our aim pretty early, you might say we underestimated ourselves...

Two years later Doug would be our tour manager, as well as a close friend...

We played with Monkey a few more times before they split up.  I don't really understand why but we started to get more and more popular whilst Monkey never really took the next step.  I guess they weren't the easiest band to manage, as our friend and own manager Dave, who also attempted managing Monkey would testify.  I think in fact that the Monkey boys would admit as much too. The thing is as soon as Monkey split up they became this legendary band, which of course they always were in our eyes, but their cult status ballooned after they called it a day.  Isn't it always the way?  To my horror though, certain elements of the London and Nottingham scenes were seemingly trying to start a war of words between us, asserting that we were the reason Monkey split up and other nonsense.  It was bollocks of course and the whole thing probably had more to do with the fact we shared the same manager for a while, but it hurt me in the beginning.  That subsided though when Doug became our tour manager, something I assumed would put an end to the mythical nonsense that the two bands didn't get on, only to hear from one faceless dickhead that Doug was a traitor.  It was then I realised the whole thing wasn't worth giving a fuck about, however disappointing it was...

I remember the first day we took Doug on tour.  We picked him up from Kettering train station, he was still living in Nottingham at the time, in our yellow British Telecom Sherpa van.  He strode out of the station wearing a thick leather jacket over a Misfits hoodie, WCW cap, Doc Martins that looked like they would crush a man's skull in the blink of an eye and a large, green army camping bag slung over his shoulder and a roll up on the go.  It was a blazingly hot day... He stomped over to us with this mean look on his face and hopped into the passenger seat up front, next to me and Roddy at the wheel, “Alright boys?” he said with a friendly, if not mischievous Edinburgh accent and a huge grin on his face.  We hit it off immediately.

At this point we were still on the UK toilet circuit, playing anywhere that would have us.  I spent a lot of time up front in the van with Doug, talking about punk and hardcore, listening to his countless tales of gigging with Monkey and Ironside before them, generally having a great time.  Our first show on that tour, the very first show with Doug tour managing was in Brighton, at the classic venue, the Free Butt.  I don't know if Doug deliberately intended to set out his marker, to impress upon us his authority as tour manager or indeed just impress us full stop, either way that is exactly what he achieved.  He had our respect from that very first day and from there on in it would be unwavering.

We arrived in Brighton in the early afternoon without a fucking clue where we were headed, this being long before the digital age of mobile phones with GPS or even Google Maps printouts.  Of course we all pissed ourselves laughing when Roddy pulled the van up beside some random guy on the street and asked him where the Free Butt was.  Brighton being the supposed “gay capital” of England this was hilarious to our collective immature minds.

The Free Butt turned out to be this great little pub with a very small back room that had a tiny stage, raised no more than a couple of inches from the ground.  Brighton had a very healthy metal and hardcore scene at this time and there were already people hanging out at the pub in anticipation of the gig.  We were of course buzzing.  We were used to playing to ten to fifteen people a night and this place was already busy.  By the time we played later on the place was absolutely rammed.  It would be by far the best gig we'd played up to that point.

This was our first show in Brighton and so obviously we had no history with the place, either good nor bad.  Not so for Doug though.  This was the town, indeed this was the very venue where Johnny, the singer from Iron Monkey, threw a monitor at some guys head during their set.  I don't remember the exact story but I'm sure Johnny had his reasons, even if the action was a little harsh.. but that was Monkey for you.  Anyway, you could sense Doug and Brighton weren't best friends...

When the time came for load in and sound check, Doug enquired with the landlord about where we should set up merch.  He was told that they usually put a cover board over the pool table in the bar and use that as a merch stand.  No problem then.  Except there was.  The pub was busy and the pool table area was especially heaving.  There were two chavs, seriously entrenched in a game, posing and posturing as if they were at the Crucible, as well as a row of Fifties lined up along the wooden edge set as markers for future matches.  Doug strides up to them without breaking pace and simply tells them he needs the table, or actually, he tells them he's taking the table, “Alright lads, game's over, I'm using this for our merch.”  Simple as that.  These two chavs, a little shorter and a lot narrower than this bear of a man at first look taken aback, but after a slight pause to gather their courage in front of their congregation sat around the table who are no doubt waiting for their games, tell Doug he'll have to wait until all of the games are played.  Doug doesn't answer, he just simply starts picking up the balls and throwing them down the pockets, ending it there and then.

Chav One looks at him for a brief second and obviously has a decision to make.  Does he save himself an inevitable beating or does he save face in front of his mates?  Stupidly, he chooses the latter.  Before I know what's happened Doug has lifted the guy up by the throat and thrown him down on to the table, the guy landing crushingly on his spine.  Doug looks at me with a huge smile on his face, Chav One's throat still in his claw, “First rule of touring Gaz.  Take no shit from Brighton!”. 

The bouncer from the venue is quickly on the scene, although he's not the kind of rapist you get at nightclubs in Corby, he's just some older biker guy who obviously can't be arsed.  He breaks up the ruck and then amazingly, he tells the two pool chavs to get their stuff and leave.  Obviously this astounds the pair of them, “Are you fucking joking?!  I didn't do fuck all!  It was him!” pointing at Doug.  The bouncer replies, “If you fucking think I'm throwing him out you're fucking mental!” pointing at Doug...

Speedhorn and Doug...Love at first sight.

As much as Doug was a huge, hard as nails Jock bastard, he was also funny as fuck.  Good knowing you've got someone like that watching your back, especially when you are as stupid as we were.  Sometimes he ended up right there in the shit with us though.

The time we ended up in jail in Spain, back in 2000, whilst on tour supporting Amen, is another long story for another day, and sometime I'll get around to committing it to history on these pages.  But the upshot of it all is this.  The whole band, Doug, Roddy and our manager Dave, ended up behind bars in the local cop shop in Lorette Del Mar, northern Spain.  A wretched English tourist resort if ever there was one.  And we were just the wretched Englishmen (and Scotsman) you love to hate on that occasion.

What saved me from literally shitting myself with fear that night was the fact that I, like the rest of us, was steamboats.  That and the banter Doug was dishing out relentlessly from his cell at the end of the corridor.  He was obviously no stranger to this situation and was certainly not about to let the Spanish pigs intimidate him, in fact, he seemed to find the whole episode hilarious.  There were these two stern faced cops that were marching up and down the corridor looking at us like the caged animals in the zoo we were.  Doug kept calling them to his cell.. I don't know how many times I heard “Oi, come 'ere!” that night.  At first he wanted to get into a conversation with them about Biohazard, who'd we'd just been on tour with, and Doug must have thought they looked like Biohazard fans.  This was obviously an initial approach to befriend them.  That soon developed into him demanding a phone call to his sister followed by, “You'd like my sister.  She looks just like me but with a wig.”  Then he wanted to know where he could order a cup of Bovril.  Then he simply wanted to be let out, “Alright lads, you've had your fun but I'm bored now.  Let us out and we'll hear no more about it”... This quickly developed into the lot of us, led by Doug, shaking the bars of our cell doors and chanting, “Free the Corby Nine!  Free the Corby Nine”.  As much as I was genuinely worried about the situation we'd stupidly gotten ourselves into, Doug had me pissing myself laughing all night.  And the piece de resistance was still to come..

When all had died down Doug once again summoned the by now very bored cops over to his cell.  “Oi mate, come here.  Seriously,” he reasons, “Come here, I've got an offer for you”:  The cop eventually shuffles over to him, defeated.  “Ok, you know where our bus is?  Where you arrested us right?  Well, if you drive over there and go up to the top floor, the door's unlocked so it's no problem, if you go up to the top floor and then into the bunk area, the last bunk on the right, top bunk, is mine.  I've got three Pot Noodles in there, the chicken and mushroom is mine but you can have your pick of the other two.”  I almost pissed myself in the throes of hysterical laughter at that.  We were all in separate cells along the corridor and every cell was brimming with laughter.  Those cops fucking hated us.

Like I say, the full version of that night in Lorette Del Mar is for another time but I'll tell you this, Doug kept my spirits soaring that night when everything else seemed to be crumbling to shit.  It wasn't the only time Doug ended up in the cells whilst out travelling with us either.  At the very start of the aforementioned Biohazard tour, during yet another decadent night, this time aboard a ferry between Stockholm and Helsinki, in the midst of what was a wild piss up Doug had simply disappeared.  Dave our manager was with us and as we sat on the tour bus in the car park having left the boat he was fretting that our tour manager was still nowhere to be seen.  Dave and Doug were old mates since the Monkey and although no doubt deep down he was highly amused he had to at least portray a façade of professionalism.  “Where the fuck is Doug?  This isn't ok, he's supposed to be the tour manager!”  We were all hungover beyond belief, Dave too, and as I sat there looking at the blank expressions on the various members of our crew, wondering at the same time what had happened to American George's clothes, he was sat there in just his kecks holding a half empty bottle of whiskey at seven thirty am, Doug as if from out of nowhere appears in the top lounge of the bus looking as fresh as a fucking daisy!  “Alright boys!” the familiar grin on his face. 

“Where the fuck have you been?” Dave demands to know. 

“Boat jail.”  It turns out at some point during the evening's festivities Doug had gotten into a scuffle with the Norwegian car rally team...

Speedhorn was Doug's first job in tour management, so like us, he was finding his way and learning as he went along, although he was old enough and had been around enough to know what the job entailed.  When the time came to get serious there was no fucking with him, although on first sight of him most promoters were only too happy to help him and give him and us what we needed.  There was rarely a problem with payment.  But if Doug could be very serious when needed he was for the most part a great joker, possessing a sharp wit and a master at tending to sagging spirits within the camp, either with a stupid joke or a “Give yourself a fucking shake!”, depending on what the situation called for..

One of my favourite memories of his famous wit came very fittingly at a time when the camp's morale was at one of it's lowest ebbs.  The journey from the jail cells in Spain to the next show in Milan was a long and solemn voyage.  We were all pretty down and knackered.  If the first night in the cells had been a laugh due to us all being boats then the following day was anything but.  Nothing quite as sobering as waking up in a cell in a foreign land.. To say we were relieved to be out of there and on the bus heading towards Milan would be an understatement of the highest order.  We got to Milan very late, obviously, and when we arrived we had to load straight in and line check.  Once that was completed we had about half an hour to kill.  I followed Doug to the bar looking for a glass of water, Doug looking for a fag machine.  There was a young girl setting the bar up that Doug approached for information, “Hiya, just wondering if you have a cigarette machine here anywhere?”  The girl barely registered Doug, she simply pulled out a packet of fags from her back pocket and handed one to Doug.  Doug, impressed with the service, continues, “...Er, do you have a beef and horseradish sandwich machine?”  It goes completely over the girls head but I piss myself laughing!  It was the first time I'd smiled since leaving that fucking cell fourteen hours earlier.

In all the time we toured together I only ever saw Doug really out of control drunk once, and that was on a day off.  We were parked up at a place near the beach in St. Tropez.  We didn't do much sightseeing, it was already pretty late, so we headed straight for a supermarket to get some booze to drink by the sea.  Thinking St. Tropez would be the most expensive place on earth for some reason we were delighted when we found a brand of red wine that only cost a few Francs, I think it worked out about two quid.  The fact that it was sold in a Tetrapak carton should really have given the game away but we didn't consider that as we bought about twelve cartons of the stuff.  We bought a few slightly more expensive beers and a bottle of relatively cheap vodka to accompany it. 

We headed back to the bus with the booze and I opened up a pack of the wine to test it out.  It was of course completely undrinkable.  Even in full on tour mode this was beyond the limits of acceptability.  I almost spat the fucker out, shocked by the rancidness of it.  Of course, no one was truly satisfied with my judgement and they all took their own swig, only to reconcile with me afterwards.  We left the cartons of wine on the bus and headed down to the beach with the beer and vodka.

There we met some student types, can't remember where they were from but our friendly Welsh bus driver Chop had approached them directly and made acquaintance with them and before long we were all hanging out, drinking and listening to music around a camp fire someone had made on the beach.  Cosy as you like.  And it stayed that way for a while..

Until the beer and vodka were polished off and somebody went back to the bust to retrieve a couple of those cartons of wine..

Before long we're all encircled around the camp fire cheering people on as they take turns running through it, high jumping it as two of us held a rope above the flames etc. etc.. all of us pissed out of our minds.  I think it was Dave who started it.  These kinds of things were normally his idea.  Doug took it to another level though.  One of the last things I remember is Doug building himself a platform from some debris and doing flying elbow drops into the fire, full on WCW style, giving it the whole commentary thing and all.  He did that more than once. 

By the time we ended up back on the bus everything was a horrible, horrible blur.  I was fucked, as was everyone else.  But Doug, he was fucking gone.  He fell down the stairs at least twice, rolling down arse over tit movie like, somehow not breaking his back.  We were all a little shocked since we'd never seen the big man in this state before.  Unable to handle any more I crawled down the aisle to bed and prayed for forgiveness from all the Gods and fairies I could think of, hoping one of them would hear me and show me mercy when I next awoke.

I woke the next day earlyish, maybe around ten.  The bus was still moving but then it would be for most of the day as we were heading towards Milan and would arrive late.  I was wearing a ten ton hangover.  The Gods had not been kind.  I realised that if I had any chance of recovery I would have to get out of bed and eat something, since hangovers of this magnitude are not cured from lying in bed.  I head down to the toilet in nothing but my kecks, feeling absolutely revolting.  My stomach almost turns inside out when I see the twelve empty cartons of red wine slewn about the back of the bus.  Everyone else is still in bed and the place fucking stinks.  And we've got about another six hours to go until Milan.  This won't do.  I take my piss and then head back upstairs to get some clothes from my bag, which is in the spare bunk below Doug.  When I open my bag I find it filled with Doug's lumpy, burgundy tinged puke.  I'd never felt so low in all my life.  I headed back to bed and decided to stay there until Milan.

Doug to be fair, felt really bad when he arose, saying he would sort my laundry out for me whilst trying to come to terms with the fact he was sick, claiming he hadn't been sick when pissed since he was eighteen.  I ended up doing the laundry myself since I couldn't wait for him to sort it but he did at least give me the money to cover my expenses.  A couple of days later we were in Munich and the two of us went to this cool swimming baths that was inside a converted old church.  Really nice place.  Swimming was always a nice way of getting clean on tour.  I hadn't thought any more of it and didn't at first understand the gasp of shock from the German family getting changed in the same room as us.  And then I saw Doug's back.  It was blackened and burnt from the fire, bruised yellow and blue.  Quite a sight, this bald, tattooed giant with all these wounds on him.  Doug found it funny.

Like I said, this was the only time I saw Doug boats whilst on tour management duty.  Apart from Dublin, but that's a whole other story and he wasn't strictly on the clock then.  The fact is, whilst on the clock he didn't drink at all, he had a lot responsibilities with his job and he was faithful to them.  He commanded respect from everyone he met, though doing so always with a friendly manner. 

In one sense we must have been quite a luxurious band to tour manage because we were all friends and there was no place for rock star treatment, if anything like that crept up Doug would soon vanquish it without mercy.  He could put you in your place with one swift lash of his tongue.  Maybe it wasn't always like that later on for him but then I guess the more you get paid the more you have to put up with..  But with us there was never any of that.  If you were being a whinny little bastard and saying that you needed this or that, or rather demanding things beyond reason Doug would tell you to either get it yourself or indeed just tell you to go fuck yourself.  In all the time we spent on the road together there was only one occasion where we came close to arguing, although I doubt Doug remembers it... We were sat around backstage somewhere or other and moaning about something inane, as usual, and I got all arsey, which is quite rare I have to say, and aired complaint in a stroppy way, although not making eye contact with him as I did so.  He cut me down immediately, “If you've something to say Gaz, say it to me, not to that packet of crisps on the table!”  I felt like a right cunt and I shut up there and then.  He taught me a valuable lesson.  Since that day I've made sure that when I talk to someone, whether in disagreement or not, I fucking look them in the eye as I do so.

I've said it many times before but Speedhorn was a very dysfunctional little family.  We argued and fought between ourselves almost constantly and at the same time got pissed up together and had the time of our lives, over many different parts of the world.  And as much as we scrapped amongst ourselves we would unite in the blink of an eye if an outsider started shit with us.  A fine example of this happened one night in Glasgow after a gig at The Garage.  We'd played, had a good gig, got drunk and got into some sort of nonsense debate on the bus afterwards.  We were parked up for the night behind the venue.. In a split second, some junkie bastard has opened the back door to the bus which faced the bottom lounge where we all happened to be sat around arguing, and grabbed the nearest bag to him, which happened to be Dave's, and made a run for it.  Without a word John and Doug have flown out of the door and caught up with him before he even makes it out of the car park.  The two of them beat the living shit out of him.  When we stumbled our way out of the bus, pretty shocked at what had just happened, we found Doug and John kicking this guy around the car park like a rag doll.  I felt nauseous watching Doug's heavy Doc Martin boots thundering down on the guys chest.  The junkie had a gang of mates who had been waiting for him at the bottom of the car park, five or six of them, who were now shuffling themselves inch by inch to the help of their mate, trying to display confidence but failing miserably.  Doug looks at them and urges them to come closer, they refrain.  The junkie guy is now lying in a heap, the kicking has paused.  The gang turn and run off leaving him stranded.  I'm happy they haven't killed him.  Doug and John turn to leave but as they do so the junkie guy slowly pulls himself up into a sitting position.  Without a word, John turns back to him and boots him square in the face knocking the poor bastard out cold.  It was a fucked up scene to say the least. 

When we awoke in the morning the guy had gone.  I hope he was ok.  I guess you can say his grab and run attempt didn't go exactly to plan.. I am glad to say though that it was pretty rare that incidents of this brutal nature occurred, but when they did I'm thankful Doug was there with us.  With the likes of Doug and John around I rarely needed to get myself involved, which suited me just fine.  Compared to those two I wouldn't exactly have much to offer anyway...                 

Doug was a brilliant tour manager and I was sad when we lost him, but then we lost all our crew as the band's success waned.  Although I felt a little hard done by at the time, I understood that when Speedhorn took a six month break to battle our record label, the guys in the crew still had to work.  It was a harsh reality check when we came back and they'd all moved on to bigger and better things.  Of course, we couldn't have afforded them anyway.  We were gone too long and we'd been left behind a little.  It was essentially our own fault.  And deep down, I knew the wave we had been riding wouldn't roll forever.  I had no problem accepting that because I'd only ever wanted to be in a DIY band, it's just, I missed the guys in the crew, missed having them around.  And I'm sad to say that when Doug left we lost contact.  He was with Funeral For a Friend who were touring all year round so it's not that weird, but I never really made a lot of effort to stay in touch later on, which is a shame, but that's life.  It moves on.  And life on the road and life at home are two completely different things.

These days Doug is married to an old friend of ours from Corby, Jo, and they have two kids together.  Doug works mainly from his home in Kettering now as I understand, doing pre-production for tours.  I haven't seen him for a long time but then I live in Sweden and our lives have taken different paths these last ten years.  If there is something I feel really bad about it's the fact that we missed the party for Doug and Jo's wedding, this being long after Doug had moved on from Speedhorn.  We had played a pretty shit show in Birmingham on the same night but had planned to make it back for the end of the party as soon as we were done.  And then of course after the gig drinks started flowing and we started arguing about who was driving and bullshit, bullshit, bullshit.  We really were cunts at times.

I've only met Doug once since then, at Dave's office in London.  Although it was a little strange seeing him after such a long time, he was by then beardless and without a cap, it was great to talk to him.  He was just the same as he'd always been.  Same smirk, same sense of humour.  The only difference was that the beard and cap were gone.. and that we didn't really know each other anymore.  But that's life.  It moves on.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Fuk Reddin'

It would be ten years to the day that we played the main stage at thee Reading Festival with Speedhorn.  I'd been to that festival as a kid, five years running between 94' and 98'.  It was the dream to play that stage, a dream I thought had a snowflake's chance in hell of coming true.  I mean, I'd seen the likes of Helmet, Jesus Lizard, Teenage Fanclub, Radiohead on that stage, what was the logistical possibility that I'd be up there myself one day?

And then there I was in 2003, in front of twenty thousand odd people with Raging Speedhorn, my mum, dad, sister and girlfriend all side stage, proud as fucking punch.  And that was that.  It was alright.  We'd done a couple of other big shows by that point, a couple even bigger than Reading.  Don't get me wrong, it was still a buzz going up on that stage but if anything I was happier for my family than myself.  I could see the pride in my parent's eyes and it was that pride that gave me the biggest buzz of all.  I hate to sound like an ungrateful cunt but we were having problems within the band by then and it kind of took the shine off the whole thing.  And I do hate feeling that way because I know there are a lot of people out there who would have given anything to have been on that stage, just like I would have all those years before, but a few years in the music business when you are genuinely only in it for the music, can get to you.  And I guess by that point it had gotten to me a little.  Reading Festival was by then just another gig.  We'd played about four hundred or so shows in just a couple of years and had been through all the usual bullshit with labels and management ripping us off in that time. 

When you have that adolescent dream of going up on that stage you're dreaming that you will be lifted right there and then from the crowd and into the headlights, thousands and thousands of eyes looking right at you, and you would shit yourself with panic and excitement in equal measure and then afterwards when you've done it all the adrenalin washes over you like a tsunami and you would feel like you've just been on Jim 'l fucking Fix It!  It wasn't quite the case with us... We'd arrived the night before in the back of a white van in the pissing rain, denied entrance to the backstage area.  Me and Jen were sat on top of a couple of guitar cabs with a bottle of vodka and a bottle of Cranberry cordial, we'd even failed to get the drink right, we were of course supposed to buy the actual juice.  We didn't even have a glass, we'd take turns at taking a swig of voddy followed by a chug of cordial and mix the fucker in our mouths.  And it was pissing down outside.  And there we slept, on top of the cabs.  The big rock stars.

Like I say, the gig was ok, in fact, it was really good, of course it was, there were shit loads of people there.  It's just, it wasn't how I'd dreamt it would be.

Ten years on and we were playing the punk retaliation to the corporate event, labelled Fuk Reddin', with Diagnosis? Bastard! in Tottenham, North London.  I was certainly not disillusioned this time around, I knew exactly what I was getting myself into and I couldn't wait!  Coincidentally, my very good friend and ex Speedhorn band mate Gordon was working as a tech for Funeral For A Friend at that other festival a few miles up the M4.  Funny that.       

I'd flown in the night before to Heathrow and made my way across the tube network to Deptford, where Kev and our gang of mates live and work and where we'd practice the following day before making our way up to the fest.  Three of us coming in from Stockholm, all on different flights.  You'd think we hate each other.. Viktor had been in since this morning but he another agenda, namely his new girlfriend Bea, who is an old friend of Luk’s, who he met here when we played last time around.  We'd be seeing Vik tomorrow.  Lucas was coming in late since he had to work.  We'd be staying at Viv's place again who had kindly offered her flat to us even though she's away the whole weekend.  My plan was to meet up with Kev and some of the other guys, get some grub and a few beers and then wait for Luk.  When I get to London Bridge Kev texts me telling me to head straight for Overdrive Studios, around the corner from the coffee shop he helps run.  When I get there Wayne puts a cold can of beer directly into my hand.  Good start to the night.

It’s a warm summer’s night and a cold can of lager goes down a fucking treat.  We hang out in the street by the studio which lies underneath the railway arches. Marv Varukers, who owns the place with John Conflict,  is around, as are Steve from Nausea and his wife who are over here for the week from New York.  Marv is his usual amiable self, chatting away as he necks a can or two.  Steve seems like a decent guy, very American but nice enough.  Marv and I have a funny history.  He was part of the old Nottingham crew that encircled the Iron Monkey guys and was very close with Johnny.  He makes it quite clear that he had no time for my old band, “copyright infringement” I think was the term he used, but although there was tension between those two crews there’s never been anything personal between me and Marv.  And these days he’s sporting a quite stunning Victims tattoo on his neck, a band I guess he holds in somewhat higher regard than the previous lot I was with.    All that Monkey, Speedhorn bullshit appears to be long over now anyway.  He takes the opportunity when he can to take the piss but that’s a given. We actually talk for a while about the Welsh valleys where my dad’s side are from, him being a Cardiff boy he’s only too happy to talk about his proud homeland.

We’ve been waiting for Jamie and as soon as he arrives the four of us head to The Orient, a great Chinese restaurant that has become something of a tradition every time we’re in London due to their outstanding black bean tofu and salted aubergine dishes.  Worth a trip down to Deptford just for those.  Jamie, Kev, Wayne and I fill ourselves to the brim and then head to a new “hipster place” that Kev, with more than a hint of guilt in his tone, admits is “alright”.  Nan’s Bar is on New Cross Road right at the top of Deptford High Street, its entrance a temporary door in a wooden building site outer wall.  The place is tiny, smaller even that our bar in Stockholm and done up just like your grandma’s living room.  They even serve the cocktails in china tea cups.  It’s all very obvious but cool nonetheless and the guys running the place are really friendly.  Needless to say the tiny space is packed and we squeeze into a corner with a couple of Irish girls who are friends of the gang.  Wayne has bought me a pint of Tiger, the only lager they have on tap, and the fact that it’s cold is about the only positive I can think of.  Not that I’m ungrateful, of course.  But it takes a while to drink, it’s heavy, gassy body not settling too well on top of the food I’ve just devoured.  When it’s my turn to get the drinks in I scour the fridge and decide upon a bottle of Brooklyn Lager.  I’m not really in the mood for it but it’s a fuck sight better than the Tiger which Wayne is only too happy to have another pint of.  I know exactly what shit Kev is going to hand out when I go back with the beers and he doesn’t disappoint.  “I fucking knew it!  Fucking Scando toff!  Look at im, less beer for more money, typical!”  I’m of course happy to point out that the same beer would cost twice as much at home and in actual fact this is what I consider cheap as fuck.  “Cunt” mutters Kev and it rolls on from there.  Fucking love it. 

I was thinking Lucas would be arriving in time for a last pint tonight but it turns out he’s not getting in until around one am.  We’d headed to the Bird’s Nest thinking we’d meet him there but by the time he texts us telling us he’s waiting for a train from Gatwick it’s already gone midnight.  What’s more he’s encountered some top notch treatment at the hands of the trusty English service industry.  He’d asked a guy working at the statio the simple question of what train he could get to Deptford, the guy’s reply was, “Not today mate”.  And that was that.  How the fuck is that even an answer?  I get that these people hate their jobs but Jesus Christ.  It ends up being that Lucas gets as far as London Bridge and calls us.  Kev informs him of the various bus options that will get him to the Bird’s Nest, Lucas tells him he’ll take a cab.  “Fucking typical…” mutters Kev again.

We’d been at the Nest with Misa, our Japanese friend who is absolutely mental but in that wonderful way all Japanese people are, at least the people I know who I’m lucky enough to call my friends.  Misa loves my black, cabin suitcase and she asks me if I have it with me this trip.  When I confirm that I indeed do have it with me she bursts into fits of laughter and then commences to mime walking about with it around the pub, leaving a few onlookers a little bemused.  Love her.

We end up meeting Lucas in front of the coffee shop, both me and Kev a little tipsy, bear in mind I’ve had four pints and a shot tequila, which these days is rather a mammoth amount for me.  Lucas spots the glint in my eye straight away and has a chuckle to himself.  We go into the coffee shop and sit about munching on Wayne’s veggie sausage rolls, which are also another reason to visit Deptford.

It’s late when Lucas and I settle down at Viv’s place and the two of us nod off in the middle of a long, sleepy conversation about girls.  Of course, it’s Lucas doing most of the talking and me doing my best to hand out some hard earned pearls of wisdom but failing for the most part.

We walk over to Deptford in the morning and head straight for Café Bianca on the High Street.  They do a great English fry-up although I’m gutted to find that they’re out of veggie bangers, but the breakfast goes down a treat all the same, nothing quite like a huge plate of fried food and a greasy cup of tea to wash it all down with.  The two of us sit there afterwards discussing the merits of such grub but concluding that as superb as it is, there is no way we could eat it every morning.  I do love it but once per trip to the island is enough for me these days.  It’s fucked up to think that there are people that start every day of their lives this way, a quick glance about the café and you can figure out which are the regulars in amongst the crowd.

We spend the best part of the afternoon hanging out at the Waiting Room watching Kev work as we drink coffee.  The weather has taken a turn for the worse and the rain is now miserably drizzling down from the grey sky above, doing nothing to quash the humidity unfortunately.  After a couple of hours we decide to take a respite from the shop and go for a walk down to the south bank of the muddy river, just at the bottom of the street past Kev’s flat.  We walk around in the rain talking about fuck knows what for an hour or so and then head back, by which time Vik has arrived and has a smile the width of The Channel across his coupon.  I guess he’s had a good night.

We have a couple of hours booked at Marv’s place to rehearse for tonight.  Marv is around and in sombre mood.  The news was out today that Joey, the drummer in Eyehategod has died, aged just forty seven.  There has been nothing said of what the cause was but Marv is sure it was smack.  Fucking tragic.  He had a seven year old daughter too.  Marv knows the guys pretty well having toured with them over the years and he’s understandably gutted.  It seems like Joey was a good guy and will be missed by many.  Fucking smack, what a shite way to go.

We go through the set once before Kev joins us, having got off work early.  It’s sounding good and we go through it once more with Kev and then play him the three newest songs we’ve written.  He seems pretty chuffed with them.  Looking forward to recording them for an upcoming split with Hello Bastards.  As we’re packing down Marv plays us a couple of tunes from a new band he has with Pablo amongst others, that sounds good.  Really heavy Sabbath style but dirty as shit.

Chris from the tattoo shop has come to hang out too and he’s been scanning the internet to find the best way to get home tonight after gig.  The thought of travelling back to Deptford on about four night buses at two am is too much of a nightmare to even think about right now.  It’s mind blowing that the tube in a city the size of London closes at midnight.  I know it’s the oldest tube network in the world and requires a lot of maintenance but fuck sakes.  Chris hands us a print out of our options for later which is very kind of him.

Jamie comes over in the car and takes the gear we need for tonight with him, we hop on the tube and make our way up to Tottenham.  The rain is heavier by the time we exit Seven Sisters station and trek up the road to the venue, which is a place called T Chances and is apparently an old German community centre.  Marv is having his wedding party here next week, an event Bugs are playing.  We head into the venue and check the Fest out.  There are a few punks hanging out in the car park under a tent but thanks to the weather most of them are inside, something which is of great advantage to us since most of the scum punks, as they’re known, would rather stand outside drinking the cans of beer they bought from the offy than pay fifty pence more for the beer inside.

To be fair there are sixty bands playing this event, of which I’ve heard of about three.  We’re up to about the middle of today’s bill by the time we arrive and there are a good amount of punks in.  There is a large carpeted room where the “big stage” is as well as all the distros and merch and there is a smaller room with a bar and a small stage that is around ten centimetres in height and which thankfully is where we’ll be playing in a few hours time.  I was worried we’d end up on the big stage which would not have been good.  Much prefer the intimacy of the smaller room.

There is a room off the main corridor of the venue which has been put aside for bands and gear.  There is no one officially guarding the room but there is this crazy old boy dressed in a string vest who seems to have taken the duty upon himself to do so.  He’s talking to anyone who will listen about fuck knows what.  He makes a comment about my Vans shoes, noting that the style matches the chequered floor, I politely nod and exit.  If he wants to keep an eye on the gear then fine.

The night drags on and we make our way back and forth between the venue and the car park, keeping ourselves in order with the booze, waiting to play and checking out the odd band.  The Vile, Rat from Varukers band are on a short while before us.  They’re not really my thing.  Sean Hard to Swallow used to be in them but the terrifying looking skinhead on bass beat the fuck out of him a while back, so I’m told.  Fuck knows what that was about but Sean isn’t in the band anymore.  You can see by the look in this guy’s eyes that he’s a genuinely nasty bastard and I make a mental note to myself to stay the fuck out his path.    

By the time we play the stage is running about an hour late and instead of starting at ten it’s closer to eleven.  It’s still raining heavily outside so the whole venue is relatively full but then Coitus are playing the big stage at the same time as us so we know we’re up against it.  As it is there is a good crowd in the small room as we start the set, deciding to start with an instrumental riff from one of the new songs that is a lot slower, figuring it’s probably a good idea to give people a chance to figure out we’re playing before the fifteen minute set flies by.  It works pretty well as a few more punks filter in by the time Kev shouts “Diagnosis fucking Bastard!” and we blast into the song of the same name.  I spend most of the time on the floor in amongst the crowd and really enjoy the show.  Except for the odd occasion when my guitar viciously de-tunes and the fact that the only thing I can hear is my guitar thundering through Jamie’s amp, that he’s been kind enough to lend me, the set goes smoothly.  It is a pretty weird feeling to look at Kev flying about beside me screaming and Vik behind me hitting the fuck out of his kit and I can’t hear any of it, all I can hear is myself.  It’s as if they’re miming.  Kind of off-putting...

Before we play Am I Stupid? Or Idiot! Kev attempts to dedicate the song to Joey Eyehategod, although it doesn’t really come off although the intention is commendable I guess.  “This song is dedicated to…what’s his name?” he looks at me. “The guy from Eyehategod who died.  Stupid cunt.”  Of course Kev doesn’t intend to be out of order with such a comment.

Wayne has turned up out of the blue tonight.  We’d met him earlier but he was supposed to be working tonight.  He’s a chef at a pretty fancy vegetarian restaurant in Primrose Hill.  Just so happened that the place flooded under the pressure of the rain during service and they were forced to evacuate everyone.  He made his way straight up to Tottenham and by the time we’d started playing he was pretty fucked.  I only realise this when I look over to Lucas, wondering why it’s taking him so long to start the last song, Join the Queue, and see Wayne mauling him and attempting to open his belt and pull his jeans down.  He eventually gives up and we blast through the song and then as soon as we’re done I see him heading straight for the back door out to the car park.  We see no more of Wayne for the rest of the evening.  It turns out he went straight home.  Steam boats.

Chuffed with the gig, we set about drinking beer in earnest, which in my case means about four cans before I’m sauced.  It’s the way it is when you have a six month old at home…We hang out by the merch stall and watch Hannah Bugs’ other band Defcon Zero play their set.  It’s actually Hannah’s final London show with the band.  She’s a great drummer, plays fast as fuck and totally has her own style, but you can tell she’s not having a great time of it up there tonight.  Her boyfriend Ben plays guitar in the band although he’s so steaming he’s not playing much of anything tonight.  As they were setting up before their set he’d been stood around without an amp completely scoobied.  He hadn’t even bothered to ask anyone for help, or just didn’t know what was going on, but then Jamie came to the rescue with his amp and set it up for him.  Good boy is Jamie.  Like I say though, Ben hardly even strummed his guitar during the entire set.  I was well on my way to getting drunk too though and thought the gig was great.  I told Hannah as much after the set to which she replied, “Really?” not convinced in the slightest.  My boozed tinged ears genuinely enjoyed it though.

The band before Defcon are a Czech mob called Malignant Tumour who play a completely acceptable form of Motorhead injected thrash metal.  What I don’t really understand though is the fact the entire band are wearing joke clothes and cowboy hats as well as party wigs and fake moustaches.  Looks fucking ridiculous.  The scum punks lap them up though and the place is pretty packed during their set.

We sell next to fuck all in the way of merch, something Kev had forewarned us about.  “It’s not a merch buying crowd..” No shit.  It looks like most of the punks in the place have been wearing the same clothes for the last year.  I must really stand out in my slim fitting, nicely washed Gauze t-shirt.  I actually feel a bit conscious of it the more beer I consume.  And then I find myself thinking how much I respect these people for simply not giving a fuck.  One guy buys a shirt and another one, the bass player in the band that played before us, a sludgy metal outfit called Swinelord, wants to buy a record.  He’s out of his fucking mind though and struggles to count the required four quid from the smash in his palm.  Eventually he looks up at me and asks, “Are you the guy that was in Raging Speedhorn?”  I admit that I am indeed, “Fackin najs one mayt!” and then stoats off in search of more money.  I had seen Kev talking to him before he’d approached me and the fucker had in fact pointed him in my direction.  Now I know why.  Kev hates talking to old Speedhorn fans..

Whilst hanging out in the car park later on I get talking to a French guy called Dave, who plays in the band Filthy Charity.  He tells me that he really liked the gig.  “Big surprise, big surprise! He says in wonderfully thick accent.  He tells us that he’d noted there was a Swedish band on the bill but given the general tone of the line up he was not expecting us to sound the way we do.  “Big surprise, big surprise.:” he repeats numerous times.  He’s a lovely guy and we have a good chat in the rain.  He tells us that if we’re ever in France then we have a gig in Marseille, something I’ll be only too happy to take him up on sometime down the line.

Not many of the Deptford gang have made it up here tonight due to the utter pain in their arses that four night busses would cause.  One who has made the journey though is Kelly Apple, although by the look on her face she’s had more than enough of the place.  First I meet her in the car park after talking to Dave Charity and she suggests we go to a rave.  She looks bored off her tits.  Then a while later on as we’re stood about inside the main room she hands me her drink and says, “Hold this for me Gaz would you, I’m going toilet and I can’t be arsed with some punk that smells like piss knocking it all over me!”  Brilliant.

It’s one thirty am. and I’m a little drunk and tired and the thought of the journey back down south is a harrowing one.  I could happily take a cab with the others, pay whatever it costs, back to Deptford and head for a last pint before heading to Viv’s.  And then suddenly, like a redeeming angel sent from the heavens above, Jamie tells me he’s driving his car back to the promised land that is South London and that we can take a lift with him.  He says he’s only had one beer and can’t be arsed having any more only to have to take a bus later.  I could smother the bastard in love, so golden are these words to my ears!  I tell Luk to go fetch Kev.

Luk comes back laughing his ass off, explaining that Kev is boats.  Apparently he’s decided to stay.  Apparently he’s cornered Dean from Extreme Noise Terror and he wants to have words with him.  When Luk had told him we’re leaving he grunted, “No.  I’ve got Dean ENT cornered!  Five more minutes and I’ll have the bastard!  Tell Gaz, he’ll understand.” 

Luk had implored him to come, explaining the golden opportunity that is Jamie’s lift.  Kev grunts that he’ll be out in five minutes.  Whilst we’re waiting for the old turd to return we end up doing a bit more merch business.  A girl who knows Kev wanted to buy a record and we told her we’re happy to dig one out of the bag in Jamie’s car boot.  She doesn’t want to be a hassle but we assure her it’s no problem.  We ask if she wants a shirt too but she tells us she only has five pound and some change.  We tell her that will do.  All the while we’re conducting this business Luk has been giving her a shoulder massage from the back seat of the car as she has been sat on the edge of the open hatchback.  All you can see is Luk’s hands doing their work and his eyes in the darkness of the car.  “What the fuck is this?  A record, a shirt and a massage for five pound thirty two?  Are you guys like the nicest punk band ever?”

Kev finally turns up but only to reaffirm that he’s staying.  “I’ve got him cornered Gaz!”  We double check and double check again that he’s definitely staying and then we fuck off in Jamie’s car.  It’s pissing down and the windows in the car are steamed up like a fucking sauna making the journey pretty interesting.  We fly through the street of London and get back to New Cross around two fifteen and make our way straight to the Amersham Arms which is the only pub open until three.  Just as we pull around the corner to the street that the pub is located on a shadowy figure steps out into the road causing Jamie to slam the breaks on.  We all yelp in unison but the thud never comes.  Must have been fucking close though!

The pub is packed and there are two hipster girls playing shite, loud music on a raised DJ alter.  They are quite clearly in love with themselves.  At one point one of the girls catches me and Luk looking their way, but in actual fact Luk is pointing out some artwork on the wall behind them.  She looks over at Luk as if to ask, “What are you looking at?”.  Luk just sneers and looks away, completely unimpressed.  Fuck how I do not miss being single.  Or young..

I’m really quite pissed by the time Luk, Vik and I end up back at Viv’s. 

I wake up in the morning in panic.  Viv’s flat mate, a girl we’ve never met before is in the shower.  IS there only one toilet here?  I fear so.  My stomach has turned itself seemingly upside down and I have the biggest shit on record demanding to be released.  The sound of the shower continues for the next ten minutes.  Ten minutes I’ve spent pacing about the living room with my guts bubbling, wondering if there is a café nearby where I can release this horror and whether I’ll even make it there without it flying out of me.  I have cold sweat running down my back and my head is pounding from last night’s beer.  I am near the verge of crying.  When she finally vacates the bathroom I shuffle furiously down the hall and let it all out.  I’ve rarely been so relieved.  I imagine a scenario with Viv asking me later on how the stay was and me having to explain I shat on her living room carpet.

That horrible episode over we head back over to the trusty Waiting Room.  Kev’s back in town.  Apparently he’d slept at a friend of theirs, a Canadian guy called Sean who is mega rich and lives in an apartment in the Centre Point building.  The story is that Sean was an internet pioneer and the man responsible for bringing it the public in Europe, into the realms of commerciality.  He made a fuck load of cash and retired at the age of thirty and spends his days going to punk gigs all over the place.  At least that’s the gist of what I pick up from Jamie.  Kev had slept at Centre Point anyway.

Luk and Vik are heading home today.  I’m sticking around until tomorrow and then I’m meeting Jen and Polly at St Pancras and taking the train up to Widnes for the week to hang out with my family at my sister’s place.  Luk leaves around midday but Vik comes with us in Jamie’s car back to the Fest to see Slow Plague who are opening the big stage.  We make a quick stop at this vegetarian café that is near Jamie’s work and then turn up at the Fest around three.  The sun is shining and what punks there are seem to be hanging out in the car park.  There is barely a soul watching Slow Plague.  Me, Vik, Jamie and Sean stand alone at the front of the dance floor and watch them play their set.  Vik has to leave before the end and as we go to see him out I crack up when I see Wayne’s girlfriend Clara sat on a seat with her back to the stage, not even watching her boy play.  Vik leaves and tells us to say goodbye to Wayne and Pablo and when we head back inside I see that Kev and Clara are now stood watching the guys, but it’s a depressing gig.  Not unlike many I’ve played myself over the years.  The boys don’t really seem to give much of a piss though.  “They’re used to these kind of gigs” Kev laughs in my ear.  They end their set and Wayne announces that it was dedicated to Joey Eyehategod.  Not one of the handful of punks stood further back down the hall seem to listen, or care.

The atmosphere amongst the few in the car park is subdued to say the least.  Ben, Hannah’s boyfriend seems to have skipped the whole hangover thing and went straight back to pissed.  Wayne is looking hungover but insists he’s on for a long night of it since he’s still off until Tuesday.  There is this older punk guy called Monkey, who is taking over from Hannah in Defcon and is playing in a band tonight called Cavity Search, who is very chatty and very cockney and he’s been walking around with drum sticks in his hands all afternoon.  He gets talking to Wayne and I in the band gear room and asks Wayne if he’s watching Cavity Search later on.  “Yeah definitely! Really looking forward to it. What time are you on?”  Monkey tells him they’re on last, around midnight.  Wayne grimaces. “Er well, er, I’ll do my best” not altogether convincing anyone.

Bugs play around six pm in the same room we played.  There are around twenty odd people in the now sunlit room.  Funny how this place looks different in the light.  This is the first time I’ve ever seen Kev play bass with a  band.  I don’t know what to expect although I expect to have fun watching them but as it is they blow me away!  For a start Hannah is just awesome to watch play, as is Wayne, flying about the floor like a demented whirlwind.  And then Kev and Jamie just bang it out fast as hell.  I have a great time watching them and feel an immense pride watching Kev play bass, the neck of Street Bass marked out with numbers so he can keep a track of where he’s supposed to play.  They wipe the floor with the place and I feel totally chuffed when they’re done.  I could almost drink one of those luke warm beers they’re serving in the bar.

I get about half way through the can before deciding that in actual fact it’s doing fuck all for me.  Actually it’s only making things worse.

The mood amongst the lot of us, except Wayne and Clara, is contained and Kev is talking about getting paid and heading home.  Something I’m in complete agreement with.  There are punks turning up in greater numbers now and with it being bank holiday Monday tomorrow I’m sure the night will be as wet as the preceding two days.  One punk, some big beefy bastard with a bleached blonde Mohawk announces his arrival by puking up in the car park, right next to where a gathering of other punks are sat.  None of them make to move.  It doesn’t seem to bother them.  Bleach Blonde doesn’t seem to give a piss either and steps right into his own bile as he turns away and cracks open a can of cheap lager, only making the slightest of swipes with his sleeve to his mouth as to clean away any remaining chunks before swigging on the can.  I crack up a while later when he staggers over to us, hanging out by Jamie’s car waiting to leave, and tells Hannah that he’s booked Bugs to play a squat show in a couple of weeks’ time. 

When Bugs get their fee for the gig, Kev, Pablo and I head off to the tube station and make our way back to Deptford.  We’re playing two shows over a weekend with Bugs in Copenhagen in a few weeks’ time, something that should be a lot of fun and should witness a lot of alcohol being consumed.   I say my goodbyes to the gang, telling them how I look forward to their company again in the near future.

Kev and I part ways with Pablo at London Bridge and take in a curry on the New Cross Road before one well earned, good pint of ale at the Albert, a trendy pub just at the top of the High Street.  Well, I enjoy a pint of good ale, Kev goes for a pint of Amstel.  He tells me he doesn’t like the taste of beer so he couldn’t give a fuck about drinking real ale or whatever other hipster shit.  In all honesty, as good as my pint of IPA is, it’s a struggle to get it down.

The night comes to end with the two of us sharing Kev’s double bed, watching the Japanese classic Violent Cop staring and directed by Takeshi Kitano.  I couldn’t think of a better way to end the night. Tomorrow I’ll follow Kev to work and enjoy the fabulous coffee they serve there one last time before getting a quick tattoo done by Mucky and heading off to St Pancras to meet the girls. 

It’s been a superb weekend in the capital.  I enjoy London so much more these days now I no longer live on the island.