Saturday, May 30, 2015

Sleeping - Part One

We just recently went out on a ten date European tour with DB.  It’s the first tour, as in real tour and not just a couple of shows, that I’ve been on in a while.  The first since Polly came along.  It was a lot of fun but it was also hard at times, missing my daughter is not something I’ve had to deal with previously.  I still loved it though.  We had a great time with our friends Pyramido.  After all, touring is what it’s ultimately all about, this punk rock, DIY, hardcore thing... As much as I’ve developed a greater interest in recording music over the years, it’s touring that has been the carrot on the stick since I was eighteen years old.  I used to think recording was the biggest pain in the balls, it was just something we had to do to sustain touring.  It’s touring above all else that keeps me playing in bands.  If playing shows and touring was no longer an option then I wouldn’t really see the point in playing music anymore.  

I’ve always had a great sense of adventure, ever since I was a little kid.  I think I get it from my old man.  He would tell me all about the times he’d travel around the country and then later on mainland Europe, following his beloved Liverpool FC.  All those journeys in the van, the shit they went through, the places they slept.  When you’re roughing it, you end up sleeping in some of the shitest places, something I’ve done many times over the years.  But the thing is, roughing it, sleeping in all sorts of misery, as horrible as it has been at times, is all part of the adventure.  I’ve thought many times when I’ve been lying on my back wondering just what the hell I’m doing here, about my dad and the time he slept on a table at a railway station somewhere in Germany, or Holland, making his way back from a Liverpool game.  My dad’s everlasting words of comfort to me, since as far back as I can remember are, “At some point you’ll look back at this and laugh”.  Those words have helped me through many a rough spot. And my dad’s words have proved to be true time and again.  

Last year we played a few shows in England with DB and one of those nights we slept in the room above the classic Nottingham pub/venue, the Old Angel.  The flat up there isn’t anywhere you’d take your better half to stay on holiday but it’s not the roughest place I’ve ever slept, just a bit dank and dusty and there is the odd fag butt here and there on the carpet.  When I woke up on said carpet I felt rough as shit, hungover to piss, and the first thought that went through my head was that I hoped Polly would never sleep in a room like this.  But the fact is, I’ve slept in far, far worse places.  And if Polly would end up doing the same, then I just hope she’d be able to laugh about it afterwards.

My first adventures roughing it were long before I was touring although music was still very much the reason for doing it.  When we were fifteen we started going down to London at the weekends to see bands.  We couldn’t afford the ludicrous train prices so the only option was the bus down to Marleybone.  Even when we could afford the train, a year or so later due to having shit summer jobs, we still had the same problem.  The last train, just as the last bus, departed far too early.  It meant that if we wanted to catch it we’d have to leave before the end of the show.  It was a choice between seeing the end of the Sonic Youth gig at the Kentish Town Forum or taking the last ride back to Corby.  No fucking issue.  I remember once me and my mate Doris left a Dirty Three gig at The Borderline early in order to catch the last train, the pair of us gutted.  I’ll never forget just how much hate I felt for Corby at the point in time.  I decided then that never again would I make such a sacrifice.

Of course, in the days where we could only afford the bus, or indeed even when we could afford the train, we didn’t have the extra money or the nouse to book a hostel for the night.  We simply chose to head to the station at Marylebone and sleep on the pavement outside until the first bus left in the morning.  It didn’t feel the slightest bit fucked up at the time.  I always had my backpack with me, which as well as being part of the skater look, I never actually skated, acted as a pillow.  My favourite memory of sleeping outside Marylebone Station was one night, I don’t remember the gig but there was me, Snitch, Beany and Woodsy, there may have been someone else.  Anyway, Woodsy wasn’t normally in tow for the London trips, but this night he was there.  Woodsy was a bit older than us and always fancied himself as a bit of a hard man.  I loved him,  he was full of patter.  Whereas the rest of us were laid there on the pavement wearing scabby jeans and band t-shirts, Woodsy was dressed like a football casual, fucking pink Ralph Lauren shirt he always had on.  We’re lying there about three in the morning when a cab pulls up and this guy rolls out, obviously steamboats.  He sees us lying there and heads over.  He tells us he’s had a row with his wife and been kicked out.  Woodsy, being in particularly jovial mood, beckons him over, “It’s alright pal, you can crash with us, the more the merrier!” in his plastic Jock accent.  The guy, who the rest of us christen The Punter, expresses his gratitude and lays down at the end of the row next to Woodsy and then falls asleep.  A while later I’m woken by Snitch digging me in the ribs, pissing himself laughing, “Fucking Punter is cuddling Woodsy!”  I look over and right enough, the two of them are fast asleep and Punter has indeed got his arm wrapped around Woodsy.  Woodsy would’ve been enraged had he been aware of the situation.

Eventually other sleeping options became available to us in London, my cousin moved there, another mate’s sister was studying there and so on, but those early outings when we had no plan except seeing the gig set me in good stead for the years ahead.  I’ve spent many a night roughing it since then, and as much as I’ve uttered the words, “I’m getting too old for this” recently, and I admit that I like to sample the finer sides of life too, I still get a buzz out of the adventure of roughing it.

When we started Speedhorn we embarked on a journey of roughing it in every way.  Eating and sleeping conditions were pretty bleak at times.  I think one of the worst night’s sleep I ever had provides a shining example of being able to “laugh about it in years to come” because at the time it was sheer fucking hell.  Me, Frank and Tony had taken the train up to Nottingham to see some band at Rock City.  We had a great night, we’d made the usual stop at the Tap N’ Tumbler, the pub where the Notts crew hung out before Rock City, and then seen the gig whatever it was, and by the time the lights came on when the aftershow rock disco was done at three a.m. we were all pretty steaming.  It was only then that it occurred to me that we hadn’t thought about where we were going to sleep.  I don’t know if we imagined we’d hook up with some girls, not likely, but being soaked in sweat from dancing about like a bunch of twats and pissed drunk, I really felt the need for a bed.  It was that classic situation when you come out of the club, the cold air hits you and all of a sudden you can barely walk.  It was middle of winter too so the pavement wasn’t an option.  I was desperate for a bed, any fucking bed.  We trawled around Nottingham, pleading with every hotel and bed and breakfast in the city centre to give us a room, we had money, but everywhere was fully booked.  It was chaos on the Saturday night streets too.  Total misery.  We ended up trudging sadly towards the train station.  It was open at least.  The ticket hall at Nottingham train station is kind of like a tunnel though and the wind blows right through it, or it did then at least, so we headed for the lift that takes you up to the platforms.  Felt like a genius idea at the time.  

The three of us lay down in the cramped lift and tried to get some sleep.  It wasn’t ideal but being boats helped and we soon nodded off.  But a problem soon arose.  The fucking twat lift went up and down all night, on automatic.  And every time it reached its destination, whether up on the platform or back in the ticket hall, the door opened and cold air rushed in.  I remember there was some old guy sweeping the platform who looked at us every time the lift door opened, every two minutes or so, a mixture of pity and contempt on his face.  I’ll never forget the look on Frank’s face, he looked so sad and desperate.  He was lying against the back wall of the lift, wrapped up in his parka jacket fighting to keep his eyes closed, obviously hoping that would entice sleep to return, shaking like a fucking leaf.  Tony beside him looked at the old guy sweeping the platform and then at me, “This is fucking shit.”  I could only agree.  Whenever I’m travelling through Nottingham Station nowadays I look at that lift and smile to myself.           

I remember another time with Tony when the two of us were sleeping at Bianchi, our manager’s place.  We’d just come home off tour and had to stick around in London to do some promotion stuff.  I always hated doing that crap so it was miserable anyway.  But hanging out with Bianchi was usually fun and we’d had a few drinks.  Anyway, he had this place in Harlesden and we were crashing there.  The flat was pretty small and the sleeping options consisted of the two seater couch in the living room and the wooden floor beside it.  I grabbed the couch leaving Tony with the floor.  Not really sure which was the better option to be fair.  Poor Tone couldn’t get to sleep however, the thin sleeping back offering little in the way of padding from the hard floor.  He ended up standing up in his sleeping bag against the wall, trying to sleep that way.  Still, at least we were under a roof.  We’d spend many a night on tour during those first few years of the band where the only roof was either the van’s or the the thin sheet of a tent.

That was the genius plan to solving the sleep issue on tour back then.  We take a tent with us and all we have to do after the gig is drive out of town and stop at the first available spot along a quiet country road somewhere.  There was normally around eight of us on tour so we’d have three in the tent and five in the van.  The van was some rental job, either a Sherpa or a Transit, either way the only seats were the three in the front and the drum cases and guitar cabs in the back.  During the summer this worked fine.  I remember one night spent on Hastings beach, which apart from the fact it was pebbles, was really pretty cosy.  That night we’d squeezed about four of us in this two man tent and John ended up kipping just outside the entrance to the tent on the pebbles in his big puffy jacket.  We had lots of booze and hash to keep us warm though.  Funny how the budget, no matter how small, always stretched to cover those things.  

Anyway, when it hit me that the tent idea wasn’t all that great a solution was this one night we’d played up in Newcastle in January.  I mean, Newcastle is fucking cold in June never mind January.  We were heading to Scotland the next day so we stopped at some layby on a quiet road by the border and pitched up for the night.  The tent was John and Tony’s, they both still lived together at their parents at the time and their relationship was quite strained.  But being that it was their tent they decided they were both sleeping in it.  I sensed trouble since they didn’t enjoy each other’s company at the best of times.  Roddy, who was driving us, joined them in the tent.  It was fucking freezing.  Once the engine went off the metal of the van’s shell soon converted the place into a fridge.  And then the rain came.  Ice cold rain.  I don’t know why, probably because we were tired, hungry, cold and drunk, but me and Gordon got into some argument about something and the pair of us were in a right huff.  Proper on the verge of turning nasty vibe.  Then Roddy opens the door to the van and climbs in proclaiming, “I’m not sharing a tent with that pair of twats,” referring to the two Loughlin brother whose silhouettes you could see arguing through the walls of the wonky tent, a few feet up ahead of the van on the grass verge beside the road.  Apparently they were having a beef about who was getting out in the wind and rain to fix the tent, obviously whoever had put it up in the first place had made a right arse of it. 

I remember that the sound of the brothers arguing cheered me up a little.  And to be honest, the extra body in the van was welcome since even if it was cramped as fuck the warmth it provided was invaluable.  It was still unbelievably cold though.  At some point in the middle of the night I whispered to Gordon beside me, asking if he was still awake.  He was.  Our argument was now long forgotten.  I asked him to cuddle up and spoon me so we could share body warmth.  He did, without hesitation.  And so we finally fell asleep.  When we woke in the morning daylight we were treated with a sight that set us all into fits of laughter.  The two Loughlin brothers were still lying fast asleep in their now fully collapsed tent, the outlines of their bodies rigidly still.  What a pair of stubborn cunts they were.