Thursday, September 4, 2014

R.I.P. Warzone

I was saddened to hear of the passing of Andy “Warzone” Coupland this last week.  It seems that once again that fucking horror, Cancer, has sunk it's wretched claws in and taken one of us too soon.  Through unwanted personal experience I've learned a little more about this disease over the past couple of years and it's given me a somewhat broadened perspective of life and death.  They say that one in three of us will at some point in our lives fall foul of cancer.  Of course, with each passing day the research being carried out by experts in the field is progressing towards a cure.  There is already a vaccine for cervical cancer and they are close to developing others.  According to my sister, the progress made over the last ten years, the period she has worked as a Radiographer, is nothing short of astonishing, and yet there is still a long way to go.  I'm pretty sure that in a hundred, maybe one fifty years time cancer will be spoken about then as Tuberculosis is now, or Polio, or any other disease that at one point in time wiped out the masses.  The thing is, when they've cured cancer, something else will take it's place.  That's just the way it is.  Watching my mum succumb to the disease it really fucking hit me.  The two out of three who don't get cancer aren't going to live forever.  And who would want to anyway?  It's an old cliché but it's true, every day fucking counts, at least if you're lucky enough to be born into a privileged life here in the First World.  You can interpret “privileged” however you will.  Anyway, all that said, it doesn't change the fact that at fifty two years old, Warzone was taken far too soon.

The first local gigs I ever went to were put on by Andy Warzone Coupland.  If it wasn't for him, and I know this is also a cliché, then I may never have taken the whole band thing further.  When our little gang of greasy, long haired “grungers”, as the other school kids called us, started up our first bands we had no idea about playing gigs.  It was just something we talked a lot about, argued about a lot, like what would the setlist be if we ever realised our dream of supporting Megadeth.  But in reality, we had no fucking idea what we were doing and playing a gig was nothing but a pipe dream.  But one of us, James Slaven, knew Warzone a little.  At the time he was putting on smallish shows at the Willow Room in the Civic Centre, and every now and again some bigger bands in the larger Festival Hall above it, although that was pretty rare.  We were only about fourteen at the time, and on the promise that we would stay away from the bar, we were allowed in to see the bands play.  As much as the main reason was always to see bands, like Krust, Ethereal, Monster, Metal Messiah, Envy, Saxon and fuck knows how many others, we would on occasion wander into the bar, sometimes the outcome of such a venture was successful, others not so much.

A couple of years before Warzone had been putting shows on at the Earlstrees Club, Lawnmower Death and Annihilator being particular highlights of the time.  Our friend, Roddy, who later became a long time associate of Speedhorn, was embedded in the Earlstrees scene.  His old band Ignorance played there a bunch of times and he'd become a good friend of Warzone's.  For me the best band of the Willow Room era was Roddy's band, Krust.  I really loved them, and as much as he'd take the piss out of me for saying so now, we all really looked up to Roddy.  He fucking knew it too.  Anyway, if it wasn't for Warzone then I would have been a lot poorer for not experiencing those gigs.  I've told the tale here before, but the night we were reluctantly refused entry to the Willow Room due to crack downs on the age limit, remains one of the biggest buzzes of my life.  With little choice, we hung out at the back of the building, behind where the stage was, and moshed to Krust's set.  Word spread and before long both Roddy and Warzone campaigned to let us in and we were giving a standing ovation from the crowd inside upon eventual entrance.  Warzone really did believe in supporting the scene from it's roots and making sure the kids were a part of it.  If it wasn't for him we'd have nothing but our boom box and shit cider in the woods on Friday nights.

Warzone, like so many other honest promoters I've met down the years, was never in it for the money.  Bad game to be in if you are I guess.  I don't think he ever made much out of gigs, he just got a buzz from bringing bands to play in Corby and feeding a scene there.  He can't ever have made much out of the Willow Room gigs, there was rarely more than sixty people there, but that didn't stop him.  And then one day, a huge day for us, he'd booked a big show in the Festival Hall, an all-dayer with bands like a reformed Ignorance, Naked Truth from the States, Terrorvision and lots more.  The place was pretty packed, must have been a good five, six hundred people in.  It was one of the best days of my early teenage years.  Fucking magic.  Warzone DJing in his sweat shorts, band t-shirt and tye dye cap, looking akin to a heavy metal Timmy Mallet, was buzzing.  He was always enthusiastic but this day the smile was really beaming.  I remember seeing him early on in the day, walking about the hall, talking to people here, there and everywhere, looking fucking chuffed.  Maybe finally he'd made some money, maybe not.. But then a few hours later the smile had gone, replaced by a look of utter desperation.  His fucking house had been burgled during the day!  Couldn't fucking make it up.

After the Willow Room era, Warzone moved on to Bip's Nightclub, one of the two places to go at the weekend if you wanted to drink, fight or fuck.  I noticed over the years that those who didn't do much fucking usually ended up fighting.  Weird that.  Anyway, Bip's had a different atmosphere from the Willow Room, for us it felt like going into enemy territory, being that it was where all the Trendies hung out, the people in school who used to shout such ingenious insults at us like “Grunger”, or “Metaaaaal” or even, “Jumper!”  To be fair we did go through a phase of wearing ridiculously oversized woollen jumpers and probably deserved all the abuse we got.  Thanks Kurt Cobain.. Anyway, the gigs never really took off at the Willow Room, despite Warzone's best efforts.  Bands like Headswim and Terrorvision were booked, bands that were appearing on Headbanger's Ball at the time, but it never really drew a huge crowd.  The room was too big and looked too like a trendy nightclub, which of course is what it was.. One banker, so Warzone thought at least, was the band Reef.  Now, Reef were to my ears, an absolutely fucking awful band.  White students playing funk rock and singing in fake American accents?  Fuck off!  Thing is, they'd appeared on a Sony Minidisc advert that had the country asking, “”Who is that band?”  The advert obviously got a lot of airplay.  Warzone was sure the place would be packed.  Unfortunately for him, the band had a strict stipulation that they were in no way to be advertised as, “The Band from the Sony Minidisc advert”.  No no, they were to make their name through their shite music alone..

Our friends in Nervebomb, who subsequently were being managed by Warzone in a loose sort of capacity, were supporting that night.  I'd went along with them for soundcheck and was amazed when Reef turned up and kicked us out of the backstage area.  Fucking wankers!  I couldn't believe it.  If not for Warzone's sake, I was absolutely delighted that there was barely anyone at the gig.  I can only imagine what kind of ridiculous fee they were charging.  I'll never forget the disappointed look on Warzone's face as he stood in the DJ booth, mic in hand, the usual dodgy cap, t-shirt and I think purple sweatpants on, ready to introduce the band.  “Ladies and gentlemen, please give a big Corby welcome to....” I knew what was coming after the anguished pause...”The band from the Sony Minidisc advert, Reef!” Cue smattering of applause.  The band walked on, the singer's poncey face awash with fury, looks over at Warzone, “Nice pants”... “You wanker!”.  Some thanks you get.. To my utter disbelief, Reef went on to become pretty fucking big for a while, at least in the UK.  I'm sure nobody else ever gave a piss about them though.

My favourite memory of Warzone though has to be from the time our band Sect, along with Nervebomb, played a school over in Uppingham, a town in the countryside about ten miles from Corby geographically, although a million miles away in every other measurement.  Warzone being Nervebomb's manager had set the gig up and had been good enough to drive us all over in his work van, which was a little Ford Escort or something similar.  The gig was pretty shit to be honest.  We played in this big hall on the floor in the corner of the room.  Even though there were quite a lot of people there, school kids like us, the brightly lit room did nothing but show the look of disapproval on a great many of their faces.  What did we expect really?  We are from Corby and pretty much every one of our neighbours hates us because we don't talk like they do and we don't think like they do.. It was the first time I remember playing a gig and feeling like we were up against it, feeling like I just wanted to get the fuck out of there.  It would be good training for the future.. By the time Nervebomb took to the floor the atmosphere had grown pretty hostile, I remember Tom, who also sang in Sect, was sat up on top one of the big PA speakers, shaking his head in disapproval as he sang.  Posey as fuck really..

I don't recall if anything had fed the hostility in particular, more than the fact that we were from Corby, it's highly possible one of us had made an attempt at chatting up one of the local girls or something, I really don't know.  What I do know is that as soon as Nervebomb were done we loaded out and piled into the back of Warzone's van.  There were the two bands and a few other mates.  We were sat there in the dark, lying on work tools and whatever other scrap, packed in like sardines as Warzone sped away from the car park, a lynch mob of locals shaking and banging the van as he did do.  Fucking ridiculous situation.  It didn't end there though.

It's ten miles of windy country lanes between Uppingham and Corby.  We must have been about half way home when I heard Warzone cursing to himself up in the front as the engine began to slow down.  “Right, keep quiet back there, I've been pulled over by the cops” Warzone warns us from the cockpit.  It was equal parts scary and exhilarating as we sat there in the dark listening to Warzone talk to the cop, putting on the chummiest voice he could muster.  It was hard to make out the mumbled tones.. It all seemed pretty calm though and for a minute I thought we were going to be ok.  But it was taking it's time.  These cops are never in a rush.  We must have sat there for ten, fifteen minutes and we were starting to get a little restless in the back and then I heard the cop ask, “What have you got in the back of the van?”.  Fuck... “Just some work tools” came the reply but there was no conviction in it.  “Lets av a look.”

When Warzone opened the back doors he yelped, doing his best to sound surprised, “Oh yeah, and a few bodies!”  We were crammed so tight that those of us at the back of the van almost rolled out on to the road.  Warzone was left with nothing but a look of resignation.  To be fair to the cop he looked like he was doing his best not to laugh and he was pretty good about the whole affair.  A few of us took a ride in the back of his car and followed behind the rest in Warzone's van to Corby.  We were kicked out as soon as we got to the town boundary.

I don't know if Warzone got a fine but he never moaned, it was just a shit end to a shit night.  Our relationship with him fizzled out a little afterwards.  The gigs became less and less frequent until they just stopped and for a while we had nothing until Franny Lagan started putting shows on at the Nags Head and a new era begun.  Andy's contribution to the scene was priceless to us though, he'd given us all our first taste of what it was like to be involved.  The years went by and we all moved on and Andy became just one of the many figures in our musical history.  In later years he would become a part of Corby Radio and once again his name became heavily associated with music in the town.  Anyone who ever worked with him spoke of him with great admiration.  His professionalism behind the board and his enthusiasm for music were unflinching.  I paid a visit to the station last time I was home to do an interview with Pat McMahon about amongst other things, my life with Speedhorn and growing up in Corby.  Pat told me that Andy had been on the sick for a while and that his outlook wasn't good.  I was sad to hear that.  You hope things will turn around but you know the deal when the person telling you the news has that look on their face.. I've seen it before.  Pat also told me that he'd learnt a great deal about radio DJing from Andy, about timing, technique, professionalism, the lot, and like everyone else, as a person he held him with the absolute highest of regard.

A part of our old scene has gone.  He will be missed.  Fuck cancer.

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