Tuesday, September 9, 2014

The Crew: Wee Lee

It was American George who first introduced him to us.  We were playing a show in Glasgow, back in the early days when we'd play at this club Arena with our mates Co Exist to barely anybody and the promoter, Kelvin, would tell us he'd pay us as soon as his giro came through.   The money would be in the post.. Poor Kelvin.. Anyway, this one night we found George hanging out on the street, it's not like he had people queuing to buy merch, talking to a gang of lads on BMX bikes.  One of them was called Lee, he had his arm in a sling, banged up from an accident.  He seemed like a really nice guy and we got chatting for a while.  We'd come back to Glasgow many times over the years and the crowds would gradually grow to the point where we'd be selling out The Garage, something that would have seemed nothing but wild fantasy back in the days of Kelvin and the Arena club.  Glasgow turned out to be a good town for us.  And every time we came back Lee would come hang out with us.

For a long time he was known as BMX Guy, which later would become Wee Lee.  He's actually not very short and I don't know where that name came from.. Anyway, the fact we were up in Scotland so much meant we'd see a lot of Wee Lee over the coming years.  He was someone who for a long time I thought of as being a friend of the band until one day I realised he was actually just a really good friend, full stop.  Later on Wee Lee would become an integral part of our crew, in fact, he would become a seventh member of our band, being involved in almost everything outside of the music, designing and selling merch, creating the artwork for the Before The Sea Was Built album, driving us all over Europe, helping take care of and maintaining the van, helping me tour manage, everything.  I relied on him a lot.  Wee Lee would eventually just become Lee and in turn one of the best friends I've ever had.

All that said, we really treated him like shit sometimes...

Lee became a fully fledged member of Speedhorn during the second era of the band.  The era that gathered apace after Frank left and hit full throttle once Darren had handed in his notice, a year or so later.  Things had changed in a lot of ways.  We'd been away a while due to various troubles, both internal and external.  We'd released the album How The Great Have Fallen but barely toured it due to Frank leaving before it was even released.  We made the best of it and headed to the States for a tour as well as some European Festivals but by the time Darren left and Dave joined we had already begun writing Before the Sea Was Built, which was a big change for us in many ways.  It was the album I'd wanted to write for a long time and when it was done I knew it would be the last we'd record.  Anyway, after Darren's departure we pretty much immediately scrapped the How the Great songs from the setlist, maybe it was a reminder of a bad time for the band, maybe the songs were just crap... For me, the Before the Sea album represented another time, a time when we'd left the major labels, had taken control of our band, both in management and artistic output as well as touring.  We'd also began to turn our back on a lot of what the old Speedhorn was, and in turn, our old fans.  We'd grown up and we all realised that we had little left in common with the people who still really loved the early albums.  We felt like we were growing apart from a lot of our old fans.  It was no reflection on those people who'd supported us, it was we who had changed.  It's just the whole Metal Head Pantera shirt wearing, devil horn toting, beer belching vibe had lost it's charm.

Nothing represented this new era more than two things though.  Firstly our newly acquired van, Betty, and secondly Lee.  For the first time in a few years we'd be hitting the road regularly again, both in the UK and Europe, and Lee pretty much sacrificed his job to be able drive us on tour and help me manage the band.  Since we could sleep in Betty, DIY touring was really easy since we could play gigs for little money if there was little money going, all we needed was food and petrol, we could sleep anywhere we chose to stop the van.  The thing is, Betty, for all her finer sides, was a slow old bird and a lot of the time, especially on the European tours, we'd have to drive through the night to stand a chance of getting to the next gig in time for load in.  The deal we had was that Lee would do the night driving with one of us up front with him, reading the map and keeping him entertained.  Those of us in the band with a license would have to do any eventual daytime driving.  It didn't always work out that way though...

The amazing thing about Lee is he's straight-edge.  That's not that such remarkable a thing in itself but the fact he was out driving us idiots for so long and the fact he didn't kill anyone really is quite an achievement.  I always admired his self discipline.  There was only one occasion that his discipline failed him, and that was in the early days when he'd just started to hang out with us on a regular basis.  He'd never been a drinker but hanging out with us had made him curious and he decided he'd give it a go.  As is the case with most straight-edge people I know, it's either one extreme or the other, moderation is nothing they atone to.  So it was with Lee.  We were playing the Cathouse in Glasgow and we had Charger and Vex Red supporting us on tour.  I was shocked when Lee turned up with a bottle of vodka and a two litre Irn Bru to dilute the fucker with.  He drank the lot within a couple of hours and ended up puking on the jeans of the Vex Red guitar player, a young kid who didn't know what the fuck was going on.  That, to my knowledge was the last time Lee drank.  It's clearly not his forte...

Like I say, Lee for all intents and purposes, was a member of the band.  He lived and breathed it as much as any of us did and when we went on tour, instead of paying him a fee from each gig for the work he did, we simply split the money at the end of the tour seven ways instead of six.  He was more than worth his share.  The countless hours he sat at the front of the van, driving through the night with one of us sleeping beside him with a map on our face was worth his share alone.  Kev was more often that not the man for the map job, something he really enjoyed to be fair and the two of them became pretty close.  It always felt safe and secure to see them up front chatting away as I'd pop my head through the divider curtain and say goodnight.

On the odd occasion Kev was knackered or steaming someone else would take a shift.  I had some great nights myself.  I remember one night fondly.  We were driving from Warsaw to a small town just on the other side of the German border called Rudolstadt.  For us it was a good ten hour drive.  We set off around one am and I remember feeling that there was no way I was going to be able to stay awake until Lee's usual six am clock out time, but we loaded up on coffee and Red Bull's and before I knew it was six thirty and I felt like there was no need to stop.  We'd been chatting all night, about this, that and everything, listening to Tiger Lou records whilst the rest of the band slept cosily in the back.  Even now we talk about the Tiger Lou times on tour.

It's fair to say that some people put more effort in than others.  Dave, bless him, claimed he couldn't read a map.  The fact he was always pissed by drive time probably didn't help.  The thing with Dave though is that he has a heart of gold and his intentions were always good.  I told him that he didn't need to worry about it, he should just have a good time on tour, but this one night he insisted he wanted to help and that he was taking a shift as the Map Man.  Lee was unsure but Dave insisted.  Dave was drunk of course.  Before Lee had even pulled the van out of the car park Dave had fallen asleep.

Like I say, it was mostly Kev on map duties and it was Kev who has the majority of the stories to share from those times.  Those two took the shift over the Alps, something we did a lot, almost every time.  I remember one night leaving a show in Switzerland and heading for the mountains, the rain and wind howling as if warning us of the perils ahead.  But we had a journey to make and waiting it out wasn't an option.  I remember falling asleep as the incline began.  Within half hour the van had screeched to the side of the narrow mountain road and Lee, Kev and Gordon were outside in the pissing rain arguing.  One of the windscreen wipers had flown off the side of the mountain... Quite why the three of them were all screaming at each other I'm not sure, I guess desperation does that to you.  The three of them did their best to make amends of the situation, I think they actually recovered the wiper somehow and gaffered it back on and Lee and Kev soldiered on.  When we awoke the next day it was to the clearest of blue skies and the two of them were in a blisteringly good mood.  They were telling us of how once they'd reached the peak of the mountains the weather had just changed and the views were amazing, that they'd stopped at dawn at a mountaintop café and had breakfast together, looking at the scenery and scoffing at the rest of us sleeping inside and missing out on it all.

Another classic experience those two shared I've written about before but it's worth a reminder.  The time we were driving from Prague to Warsaw through the night and the motorway just stopped dead.  Kev was looking at the map confused and had mentioned to Lee that it seemed very much like the motorway just stopped, and within seconds of him saying this the breaks have been stamped on and the van comes grinding to a halt opposite a wheat field.  They have a simple left or right to choose from and being that the only lights, however small, are to the right, they choose that direction.  Those lights belong to a small village with a dirt road going through the middle of it.  All about the road, scattered everywhere, requiring careful navigation, are dead cats.  Loads of them.  As they're creeping through this fucking village of the damned, wondering what the fuck is going on, a car comes flying up behind them, headlights blaring, zooms past them splatting the head of one of the dead animals as it does so.  To say they were freaked out would be an understatement.  Lee decides he's had enough and puts his foot down.  Before they know it they're away from the village and the motorway picks up as suddenly as it left off.  I've wondered many times over the years if this story is really true or at least maybe grossly exaggerated, but then I'll remember the pale look on Kev's face as he told us about it the morning after...

Despite all his hard slog driving through the night, Lee was the only one of us who didn't have his own bunk.  Often I'd wake up for a piss in the morning to find Lee scrunched up on a bean bag, or on one of the merch boards stretched over two of the bench seats.  As if that wasn't bad enough, the roof leaked if the rain was heavy enough and the drips of water always found their way to where Lee was sleeping.  Of course, when the rest of us woke Lee would creep into one of our bunks but we were always loud as fuck and he could hardly have gotten any Z's.  He rarely moaned though... He had the patience of a saint.  Of course, even saint's have their limits...

This one night we were in Hanover and some people from our label had come down to the show and were getting the drinks in.  Obviously we were chuffed.  We couldn't give a tom tit about the label otherwise but if they were getting the bevvies in then their presence was tolerated.  Lee could see we were having a good crack but at the same time he was fretting a bit, knowing we had to drive through the night.  We made a deal.  We agreed that if we took the merch after the gig then he could head back to the van and get some sleep.  We could pack up, stay and have a few drinks and then we'd head off around one.  We were finished by eleven so it was fair enough.  Of course, one o' clock came and went.  It was a quarter past before I even thought about it and I'd just started on a new pint.  I looked at Gordon and motioned to the clock and then to our drinks.  I suggested that we head back to the van, that Lee would be waiting.  “Ah fuck it, he'll already be pissed off!  You know what he's like.  We may as well stay and drink these, what's the difference?” was Gordon's reasoning.  Of course, I was half pissed and what Gordon said sat perfectly well with my conscience at that present time.  One fifteen became three thirty... We were boats, the fucking lot of us, by the time we crept back to the van.  We were shitting ourselves, imagining the rage on Lee's face and what he'd say to us.  To our surprise though there wasn't any sign of Lee as we approached Betty.  I'd had a picture in my mind of Lee being sat there with crazy eyes, rocking back and forth at the wheel but the driver's seat was empty.  We stumbled onto the van to find a note resting on the steering wheel, it read in large, bold letter “CUNTS”.  Lee had gone to one of the bunks to sleep.  One of us would be driving in the morning with a hangover, of that there would be no discussion.  Lee didn't speak to me or anyone else until later on in the afternoon, only breaking his silence as we pulled into the next venue for load in, “I expect it from those cunts Gaz, but not from you.”  The shame weighed heavily upon me.

Every now and again though, the option of Gordon or Jay driving in the daytime was simply not on the table.  One such time was the day after mine and Kev's birthday bash.  We share the same date of birth but funnily enough only once have we been out on tour for the occasion.  This particular time we were in Slovenia's capital city, Ljubljana.  We were out on a three week European tour and the only and only day off happened to be the day before our birthday, which fell between a festival show in northern Italy and Lasko, Slovenia.  We'd started the day off at the beach in Trieste, which was fucking wonderful.  The sun was shining and the sea was glistening in it's rays.  Trieste is a beautiful place.  After we'd spent the morning and early afternoon there we headed off across the mountains to Ljubljana., where we'd stay for the night.  The plan was dinner and then drinks.  Drinks turned out to be an extremely cheap affair, we found one bar where they had happy hour seemingly all night and the cocktails were two for one.  One cocktail cost about two quid which obviously led to the lot of us being absolutely twatted!  The last thing I have any recollection of is drinking something called a Flaming Lamborghini which entailed the waiter bloke lighting the drink with a lighter and then pouring in two shots of something vicious simultaneously whilst I drank the fucker through a straw.

I woke up in John's bunk, he'd carried me back to the van and put me there around eleven pm.  Kev and Jay had wandered off and got lost in town and haven given up on finding the van elected to kip down next to a fountain in the middle of one of the town's plazas.  John had found them and led them home.  When I woke up the next day, on our birthday, I felt like fucking shite!  The only thing that saved me was the ghostly looks on the rest of my comrades faces.  All except Lee, who was sat there bright as sunshine, reading a magazine.  I soon realised that we were parked up at a service station somewhere.  Lee had driven us a bit out of town towards our next destination.  He was of course committed in his stance that he wouldn't be driving another meter until his next shift started after that night's show.  We were left with a bit if a stand-off.  We coweringly asked Lee if he could drive.  “Nope” came the reply, his eyes never leaving the magazine he seemed to be engrossed in.  We bartered with him for a while but got nothing from him.  This was after the whole “CUNTS” episode so we knew where on thin ice already.  Eventually Gords throws his arms up in the air, “Fuck it, I'll drive. Fuck you twats!”  He hobbles off to the cockpit, flat cap and sunglasses disguising his disposition.  I'm not sure this is a good idea but I let it go, feeling there is no point in pleading anymore with Lee.  Gords starts up the engine and we start to move across the car park towards the exit for the motorway that awaits.  We're moving very slowly.  Very.  Slowly.  And we're driving on the wrong side of the road... I know something is terribly wrong and I jump up front with Gords.  I ask him if he's fit to drive.  He confirms he is without shifting his gaze from the road.  I inform him he's on the wrong side of the road and then I remove his sunglasses.  I've never seen such small eyes.  Like two little piss holes in the snow.  Exposed, Gords turns to me with a look of resignation.  “Please Lee, look at him!  There's no way he can fucking drive!” I shout from the map seat.  At first Lee refuses to budge but bows under the pressure of our collective pleas and comes up front to take a look at Gordon's little face.  “Fuck sakes”... he mumbles as he kicks Gordon out of the pilot seat and takes the wheel.

The fact Lee put up with us for so long is a measure of his character, and his great love for the band and it's members.  He was especially close to me and Kev and we had some amazing times together.  The one time we headed out to Europe without him, when we supported Carnivore for a few weeks, he was greatly missed. It was right before Christmas and he couldn’t get the time off work.  We had a great time on that tour but it wasn't the same without Lee.

Our farewell tour would be in Japan and I was really happy that we could pay for Lee's flight from the money we'd made on the preceding UK tour that was funding it.  It felt like a wonderful present to be able to give him after all the many hours of work he'd put in to our band.  That Japan tour was one of the best experiences of our lives, it was an amazing way to bow out with the band.  We were so close, for the most part, by the band's end, unified in what we were doing and it felt almost daft to be putting an end to it all, so great were the shows and so high were the emotions surrounding them.  I'll never forget walking off stage in Yamaguchi, I'd left my guitar feedbacking against my amp, Gordon and Dave droning on amongst it, one last stand, tears in their eyes.  I found John slumped on a step backstage, shaking his head, he too fighting back the tears, “I fucking love you man!”.  It was poignant to say the least.  And throughout the entire final set, there was Lee, in the middle of the mosh pit with a load of Japanese kids and weirdly enough, some American Marines... Lee felt it, exactly like we did.  I'll never forget his face in amongst the crowd as we played those songs for the last time.

It was a surreal feeling, landing back at Heathrow and saying goodbye to each other as bandmates for the very final time.  I was heading back to Sweden, unsure of what the future held, although rehearsing with Victims was very much on the cards.  Kev had a bunch of bands and we'd made a pact to one day play together again.  The others, I wasn't so sure how much I'd see them.  I knew I'd be seeing Lee though, he was a regular guest of ours over in Stockholm, although when the next time would was uncertain.  He'd given up his job to come to Japan with us.

He's doing well these days, working as a designer for IKEA.  He always did love Sweden so that job suits him pretty well.  We don't see each other nearly enough but I could say that about many of my friends, that's adult life I guess.  Whenever we do hook up though it's like we've never been apart.  And of course, me and Kev did end up getting another band together, Diagnosis? Bastard! I'm hoping one day Lee will join us back out on the road, it would be amazing the three of us being back together travelling the highways of Europe again.  I won't allow him to quit his job next time around though...although he probably would if we had enough gigs booked.

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