Sunday, August 2, 2015

Sleeping - Part Two

We’d spend a lot of nights in the van during the first few years touring with Speedhorn.  Or the tent… The thing is, we were pretty new to the game then and didn’t know a lot of people, we were just at the beginning of a long process of making friends, contacts, enemies… I’ve always made a big effort to keep the enemies to a minimum, friends are way more fun after all, but not all of the guys in the band were always so arsed about that.  “Fuck ‘em!” was Frank’s usual answer to any sort of conflict.  Back then he didn’t really give a shit who liked him or not, he was always that way.  It was a characteristic I admired on occasion, and at other times it drove me mad.

Anyway, since we were playing all these cities around the UK for the first time and therefore missing a network of friends and associates to rely on for places to sleep we’d end up either in the tent or the van the majority of the time.  I’ve made a lot of friends through touring since I began back in 1998, and these days when we go out on the road we have friends all over the place that can put us up for the night.  Of course, most of the places Victims and DB frequent are squatted venues that have band rooms as part of their set up, in Europe at least.  In the States it’s different, there we normally rely on friends or friends of friends to put us up, and the hospitality is always humbling.   Of course, sometimes you take a stranger up on an offer of a floor to crash on and live to regret it… As I’m sure sometimes the stranger in question ends up regretting their offer.  Especially when the band they were offering a floor to was Raging Speedhorn.

Of course, if you invited a band like Speedhorn back to your house to crash then you might expect that it might get a bit rowdy.  Even when we made an effort to show a bit of respect for the housemates or neighbours it would prove pretty difficult to keep eight or nine drunken idiots silent.  But then on those occasions when we’d stay at some punters place it was usually on the promise of a party.  I remember one time we played Bournemouth and this kid was really excited to have us stay at his place.  He was living in student digs and obviously shared his place with a few others.  It was the middle of the week and we’d got back in the middle of the night, all of us pretty steaming.  I don’t remember the party being particularly rowdy but we’d obviously put someone’s nose out of joint because I was awoken by some snotty little student at eight am.  We were all crashed out on the living room floor and this little fucker had come in, opened the curtains,  being summer the sun was now blasting into the room, and was sat there on an armchair, his feet right behind my head, eating corn flakes and watching breakfast tv with the volume on high.  He just sat there eating, not saying a word.  Fucking bad vibes obviously.  

Another time we’d played Wrexham and it was the same deal.  The young kid who had put the gig on invited us to stay at his place, although I think he mentioned that we’d have to be quiet.  The first thing Frank spots upon arrival is an acoustic guitar which he immediately sets upon his lap and begins playing.  We’re all sat around singing along when one of the guys housemates appears in the doorway looking totally fucked off.  He confiscates the guitar and tells us to shut the fuck up before going back to bed.  Of course, that raises a snigger or two.  Frank though, decides that these people are obviously cunts and for that they shall be robbed blind.  The next day, we’re up early and packing our gear into the van when I see Frank appear at the door, arms loaded with food from the guys freezer.  As he’s stepping out of the house he pauses having clocked something else that he obviously feels he should take with him.  He puts the various food packets down, bends over, picks up a ready rolled, unlit cigarette, puts it behind his ear, gathers up the food again and heads out to the van.  I’ll admit, when we were young, broke and stupid, we all got into stealing for a while, although I never took anyone’s personal shit, just the odd bit of shoplifting from a service station now and again when desperation demanded it, but Frank took it to the next level, sometimes to comic effect.

It wasn’t that often we stayed at people’s places though.  My main memories of that time are of sleeping in the van or the tent.  I remember this old blue tour van we had, that Iron Monkey used to travel in before us, that was the hottest vehicle I’ve ever been in.  The windows were sealed shut and the floor and and the walls were carpeted.  It was a fucking nightmare in the summer.  To make things worse the seats were leather.  We’d arrive at gigs wearing nothing but our bockies.  At night time we’d be spread around various parts of the floor, under bench seats or the table, or across the seats themselves although the floor was better because at least you wouldn’t wake up glued to that.  One night we played Bradford Rio’s, a right shit gig in the huge club, nobody there.  One half of our management duo, Carter, had come along and said he was crashing with us in the van.  He had a bit of money so he got a crate of beer in.  We gladly accepted the beer but we then explained to him that any extra body heat in the van was not an option so we made him kip outside in the car park.  I woke up in the morning to find him actually sleeping under the van.  He probably slept better than we did to be fair, even if it had obviously pissed down during the night.

We used to spend a lot of time down in London in the early days when we were managed by Green Island Records.  Carter and Bianchi, the dream team of band management looking after us.  It’s funny, as much as I love hanging out in London these days, for a limited period of time at least, back then I disliked it immensely.  It probably had more to do with the fact that London then was associated with business, the music business, it was always meetings and press and other such bollocks and I hated all that stuff.  Anyway, a lot of the time when visiting London we’d stay at Carter’s studio apartment on Great Portland Street.  Poor Carter used to put up with a lot of shit from us guys.  This one night we were sleeping there, spread about the living room floor whilst Carter slept on a low bed at the end of the room.  I’m having trouble sleeping.  Carter is snoring and Gordon is nearest him, huffing and puffing in annoyance at the rattling.  To be honest, if anything was keeping me awake it was Gordon.  People snoring used to really wind him up, but him getting wound up used to keep every other fucker awake.  Anyway, Gords decides he’s had enough and jabs Carter in the foot with a corkscrew that happened to be lying around.  In the blink of an eye Carter reaches to the floor, picks up his heavy prosthetic arm which had been lying idly beside him and smacks Gords over the head with it.  It lands with a proper fucking thud.  We all piss ourselves laughing at the shock on Gordon’s face.  

For all the sleeping on floors, in tents, on the cold corrugated metal of a van’s deck, on top of amps or whatever else, there was one score we had set up in the early days that always proved a treat.  A friend of Green Island’s head honcho Johnny Laws, actually I believe he was the company’s accountant, was a guy called Rupert.  Considering Rupert was a posh fucker from an insanely rich family it was maybe a strange match that we all hit it off so well with him.  I guess it was the fact that Rupert had a rebellious streak in him and liked to get fucked up, and seemed totally taken in with Speedhorn’s charm.  He was this really easygoing, quiet kind of guy who for a while turned up to most of the gigs we played down in the capital, just for the party.  His family owned this huge property in the countryside, Kent or Sussex or somewhere, it was like an estate in fact, with these sprawling grounds surrounding it.  On a few occasions we deemed it worthwhile making the trip there after a London show simply because being there was surreal.  We’d all get a bed each, most of us actually got a bedroom each.  We’re talking the kind of place that had staff working for it.  I remember one tour of the south during the summer when we headed there a few times after shows, arriving just before dawn and pissing about in the outdoor pool that looked down over a sloping green hill that wandered off into the countryside, drinking booze straight from the bottle, watching the sun come up.  Sometimes there would be a girl or two that joined us for the trip.  I’d never come so close to feeling like we were in Motley Crue or something equally disgusting.  Amidst the variation of floors we frequented, staying at Rupert’s parents house was totally fucking mental.  We really had no business being there.  But it was fun.

For a period of maybe four years or so, after the first record came out and up to the release of the third album, we entered an era of touring on the next level.  Tour busses, big shows, mainly support slots, catering, big riders, decadence… Kind of.. If I knew then what I know now then maybe I wouldn’t take that route again, maybe I’d be smarter, but it’s still a time of my life I’ll never forget.  When we were “stars”, or at least, allowed ourselves to believe that.  When you’re young it’s easy to get sucked in.  

By the time the era of the tour bus was over and we were back to touring in vans I was living in Sweden.  And it was back to earth with a bang.  Whenever a tour was over the guys would be all heading back to Corby and they’d drop me off at Luton Airport on the way home, homesick and desperate to get the first flight back.  I don’t know how many times I arrived at the check in hall about two am for the eight am flight.  Those days the only option was Ryanair since that’s all I could afford being that I flew so often, and then you had to be at check in two hours before the flight departed.  I’d arrive hours before check in opened and park myself on the floor with a few other stragglers and try to get some kip.  It never really happened though.  It’s hard to sleep when you’re holding on tight to your bag, worried someone might nick it, and then there’s that horrible yellowish lighting of the check-in hall, and on top of that there’s the worry that if you do nod off you won’t hear the alarm on your phone and end up missing the flight.  One time I was so desperately tired that I decided to try the floor of the disabled toilet.  I figured that it’s one room with a lock on it.  I lay there next to the fucking bog, wondering to myself just what the fuck I was doing.  I often think of that occasion when non punk/band friends of mine moan about an unsatisfactory hotel or bed they had the misfortune to cross paths with.  I only managed to sleep for about twenty minutes in the toilet as it turns out, some cleaner guy came and knocked the door and chased me out of there.  Didn’t exactly feel too fucking proud of myself at that moment in time.

Back touring in vans, after the period of rock stardom had passed, we now knew people that could put us up in most places, having been around the circuit a few times.  In the UK at least.  Not that that guaranteed any standards.  We had friends like Wee Lee and Jamie Maggot up in Scotland who had great places and staying there was always ace, but then we’d stay somewhere like my mate Beany’s gaff, now living in Manchester having moved from Corby.  Of course, you’re always grateful of a roof to sleep under, but by now Gordon had grown wise enough to always claim the front seats of the van to kip on, unless we were staying somewhere that he was absolutely sure of.  At Beany’s place, Gords opted for the van.  I wish I had.  

He was living with a few student mates in Rusholme and had offered us his place to crash/party.  He’s one of my oldest mates, of course I wanted to hang out.  I shouldn’t have been too shocked by the state of the place though, he was always a messy bastard.  I remember his room at his parent’s house, you could barely see the carpet for all the junk.  This place was no different.  We hung out in the living room, a thick cloud of joint smoke hanging in the air.  I was knackered and as much as I wanted to hang with Bean, I was too tired for the hazy atmosphere and the constant flow of stoner rock and stoner talk.  I was therefore delighted when Beany offered me his bed, he said he was staying up for the long haul anyway.  A few of our guys and his housemates looked more than happy and I suspected I’d find them all in the exact same position when I woke in the morning.  Relieved, I made my way upstairs to his room.  The relief dispersed as soon as I opened the door though.  The poxy little room had his drum kit set up in the middle of it, his bike was stood against the one wall, there were records, clothes, empty pizza boxes and fuck knows what else spread about the floor.  I made my way through the obstacle course that was this room and managed to get to the bed on the other side.  I pull the quilt back and recoil in shock as a puff of old ash plumes into the air.  A fucking ashtray had been lying in the bed, full of old roach.  I removed it, brushed the grey stains as best I could from the yellow quilt cover and crawled gingerly into bed.  In the morning I found them all snoring in the living room in various positions.  I went for a shower which was in the bathroom beyond the kitchen on the other side of the living room and found a dead mouse lying underneath the bathtub, their cat had obviously left it there.  Unfortunate timing probably, but it just put the icing on the cake.  We stayed at my other old mate, the third member of mine and Beany’s circle, Snitch, the next night.  He was living in York and the cleanliness of his flat upon arrival almost brought me to my knees in gratification.

The worst place I ever slept though, made Beany’s place look like a fucking palace.  We were playing a gig in Yeovil at a place called the Ski Lodge, which was a dry ski slope clubhouse that hosted shows now and again.  The gig was pretty good, lot of people there, I guess the kids in Yeovil were chuffed with whatever bands came to town.  After the gig this big friendly bouncer who seems to be a bit of a fan of the band offers us a place to stay.  We happily take him up on his offer.  The night then takes a very weird turn.  

After the gig we hang out on the ski slope, drinking plastic containers of scrumpy cider that we’d bought from one of the Somerset farms en route earlier in the day.  When the bouncer guy knocks off work we jump in the van and prepare to follow him.  Now, we were going through a period of watching UK Most Haunted on tv and were checking out creepy places in our spare time on tour.  Bouncer tells us there is these old ruins on the outskirts of town that were pretty chilly, the fact that the building used to be a mental hospital adding to the aura of the place.  Perfect, we say, let’s check that out.  We follow Bouncer to the site and sure enough, the ruins are pretty John Carpenter.  We sneak over a spiked iron fence and into the grounds, Kev with Gordon’s video camera at the ready.  

There are two buildings, the first one we enter is a couple of stories high although there are no floors left, leaving a dark vacuum filling the space between the moss on the ground and the shards of stone roof left up top. It’s a dark night and when we enter only our voices and shadows remain.  We all start pissing about immediately, trying to shit each other up.  After a while Gordon shouts from the back somewhere, “Get the fuck off me you twat!”, pretty pissed off since he’s a bit sensitive with the old ghost stories.  A little while later Gords shouts out the same thing again, really annoyed now with the fact that one of us is grabbing him around the wrist trying to scare him.  He storms off back out to the open grounds and eventually the rest follow him.  He’s stood there with a right gob on and the look on his face makes me feel pretty sorry for him. 

Before leaving we decide to check out the building adjacent, which looks to be in slightly better shape although the windows have long since gone, leaving only black holes behind them.  There is a stone staircase attached to the side of the building leading that has a door at the top of it.  Me and Daz decide to go up and check out the second floor.  The door opens with ease but we’re a little anxious to walk through it being that it’s so dark you can’t see a thing.  Daz creeps forward to the door and pokes his head through.  He’s about to step over the threshold when he realises there is no floor to step on to.  We decide that this place is now giving us all the creeps and it’s to head back to Bouncer’s.  

We park up outside the semi-detached house, suspecting nothing of what is to come.  Gords, still pissed off, says he’s sleeping in the van.  Jay and John stay with him leaving me, Kev and Daz to Bouncer’s place.  We follow the big guy up the garden path to the door.  He opens up and walks in.  I’ll never forget the look on Kev’s face as he turned to me.  The smell.  It was like walking into a thick wall of stench.  What the fuck could smell that bad?  We tentatively walk into the house and follow Bouncer into the living room.  It literally looks like they have taken an industrial sized bin and emptied it over the wooden floor.  There is trash everywhere.  Fuck this.  There are a couple of sofas, also covered in various items of garbage that me and Kev clean off and claim as beds, leaving Daz to the floor.  Daz, using his arm in  a sweeping motion, clears debris and makes a space for him to lie in.  The stink never really quite settles…

It feels far too awkward to tell Bouncer that we’re staying in the van instead so I decide that we’re just going to have to lump it, try and get to sleep as quickly as possible and make a sharp exit in the morning.  Then Bouncer appears back in the living room with some tins and asks us if we’ve heard the new Rob Zombie album and if not do we want to hear it.  I say, sheepishly, that we’re all pretty tired and wouldn’t mind just getting our heads down, what I’m actually thinking is that I’d rather listen to the sound of my own leg being sawn off than hear the new Rob Zombie album.  Doesn’t make the slightest bit of fucking difference anyway since Bouncer totally ignores us and puts the twat on full blast.  Full, fucking, blast.  I can almost see the tears welling up in Kev’s eyes.  Daz is pissed and enjoying one of Bouncer’s tins, so he’s not too concerned.

I wake up after a pretty sleepless night and find Bouncer’s wife and toddler in the room.  She asks if we want any breakfast, I politely decline.  There is the cutest labrador puppy hoping about the place too and for a second my heart lightens, until I see the smear of dogshit on the floor, right next to the toddler who is eating a sandwich off the floor, right beside the turd stain.

Unbelievably I decide to take a shower.  I head upstairs and see Bouncer passed out on a dank double mattress on the floor in one of the bedrooms, still fully clothed, boots on, the lot.  The mattress is also littered with trash, empty Coke cans, crisp packets and the like.  I shake my head and continue to the bathroom and then to the sink to brush my teeth where I find a fag butt floating in shallow water.  I feel dirtier after the shower than before I got in.  I can not understand how anyone could live like this.  The weird thing is, Bouncer and his family are really nice people and seem completely oblivious to the conditions they’re living in.  We fuck off out of there before Bouncer wakes, thanking his wife for the hospitality, Kev having also showered and been equally appalled.

We’re met by a trio of grins in the van.  Gobsmacked we tear out of there.  After the chatter dies down about the state of the place we slept in we get to talking about the mental hospital and what happened with Gordon.  He’s still not amused by it and says his wrist where he was grabbed actually hurts quite a bit.  We study Kev’s film work and to our confusion find that the film from inside the mental hospital is blank.  The sound is still there but the the picture is completely black.  Not like, it’s really dark and hard to make anything out, but black as in not there.  It was dark inside the ruins but given that large parts of the roofing were missing there was still enough moonlight to guide us through the shadows.  Seems a bit weird.  The film literally goes blank from the moment Kev steps inside the building…And continues normally once we come back out.  Kev swears he wasn’t pissing about with the lense cap.  I believe him.

We laugh it off and continue on to our next destination.  When we make a first piss stop me and Gords get talking about the night before again, he says his wrist is really aching.  We take a look at it and no fucking kidding, there are two bruise marks around his wrist, they’re kind of faded, but it’s still two, quite apparent, straight lines.  We look at each other a bit baffled.  And then a thought occurs to me.  They look like strap marks.

We never went ghost hunting again.  And I always slept in the van, unless we were staying somewhere I was absolutely sure of. 

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