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.