The van was parked around the side of the pub. It was a miserable morning. Cold, grey, and a drizzle that stealthily soaked you to the bone. Frank’s bright red face certainly lit the scene up a little, though. Despite the weather, he was in fine spirits. In fact, he was fucking wasted. He’s sat in the back of the van, shouting, a lot, about how he hasn’t slept a wink. Been on the cocktails all night, as well as some other shit, I imagine. I sit up front with Daz and Walpole, to gain as much distance as the van will allow from the constant cacophony that is Reagan.
His moods divebombs rapidly south, though, when Tony turns up, minus John. Poor Tone, ever was it thus… Just because he’s his brother, everyone expects him to have some sort of a check on him. When Franks barks at Tony, asking him where John is, Tony just laughs. “How the fuck should I know?” I remember even in the early days of the band, when the two Loughlin brothers were made to travel down to London to do press, Bianchi telling me that when he went to pick them up from St. Pancras that they’d alighted at opposite ends of the train… Frank is not amused by John’s piss poor punctuality, which in turn amuses Daz and I. The volume of Reagan only escalates when Gordon calls John and is told that he’s at Gregg’s buying breakfast. Frank erupts in a barrage of exasperation, “Nothing fucking changes, does it?” Followed by, “Still wiping his arse after all these years Gaz!” Then silence for a couple of seconds. And then, “Nonsense CUNT!” Daz and I piss ourselves laughing as Frank sits there shaking his head. Just then an ambulance flashes past the car park, sirens wailing. “There he is!” Frank parps up again, and with that he returns to amused with himself. I’m still laughing at Nonsense Cunt…
John and American George turn up five minutes later, by which time there is only a whiff of annoyance left in Reagan. I assume he’ll pass out as soon as we hit the road. I assume wrong. But he’s back in good spirits for the entire journey down to London, him and Daz tucking into a couple of tins on the way. Until we get to the outskirts of the capital city. “Fucking hate this place…” he mutters in disdain.
The weather hasn’t picked up any by the time we arrive outside the back of the Electric Ballroom in Camden. The situation with Polly has improved a little, at least, but speaking to Jen she still isn’t sure if she’s going to be able to leave her with Lindsey tonight. She hasn’t puked since last night, which I guess is a good sign. It would fucking suck if Jen couldn’t make it to the show tonight. Polly had really been looking forward to playing with Lindsey and Leon’s boys, as well. Kids and sickness...always the worst fucking timing. Jen is toying with the idea of coming by the venue with Polly to hang out for a while in the daytime, which would be really nice, too. She says she doesn’t have to check out from the hotel for another couple of hours, so we’ll see how the little cub is then.
With not much to do, we head inside and up to the tiny dressing room to check out the rider. Dressing rooms in London venues are always tiny, no matter the size of the venue. Don’t get it. The rider is healthy, though. Chuffed that they went to the trouble of putting on some vegan scran. I make myself a sandwich and take a handful of crisps and sit myself down next to George. It had been great to see him last night, but he was a little wiry since he was stoned off his tits. Today he’s in better form. It’s great catching up with him, it’s been years. We used to be really close when he toured with us back in the early days. I’m glad to see that he hasn’t changed a bit, still the same old pisstaker, Frank his main target, as usual.
Gordon makes a point of saying to Big Jim in front of everyone else that he doesn’t want the dressing room filled with hangers-on, rinsing the rinder later in the evening. Just partners and old crew. He says he’ll be fucking fuming if there’s no beer left after the show. I can’t imagine who he’s making the point to…
With no soundcheck in the foreseeable future I decide to head over to All Ages records to do a bit of shopping. Daz tells me he’ll gladly follow, so the two of us head off. Again, it’s nice to hang out with Daz, just the two of us, for a while. When he’s not drunk, and he’s on his own, he’s pretty chilled. I pick up the re-release of the Negazione 7” that Paco put out on La Vida Es En Mus a while back, which I’m pretty chuffed to get my hands on. Daz buys himself a copy of the latest Church of Misery album. Always like coming to the store when I’m around, picked up a lot of good punk records here over the years. Whilst we’re stood there flicking through records some random guy comes up to me and tells me he’s a big fan of the blog, says he’s been reading it for years. I’m always taken aback in these situations, it’s always really humbling to meet strangers who like the stuff you’re doing. Daz looks a bit confused by the whole situation. Afterwards we walk back down the road and stop in for a pint at the Camden Head, which I know has my favourite tipple on tap, Beavertown Brewery’s Gamma Ray IPA. I treat myself and Daz to a pint.
After a while a couple of older Corby lads turn up and start talking a lot. From what I can make out, one is Daz’s father in law, the other is his step-father-in-law, or something like that. They’re friendly enough but I get the feeling they have their sights set firmly on getting sauced up. I finish my pint and leave the three of them to it. It was nice hanging with Daz for a while, anyway.
By the time I get back to the venue Jen has texted and says that Polly has perked up quite a bit and wants to go to Leon and Lindsey’s, so they’re on their way to the train now. Then Jen and Leon will head back into the city. It’s a big relief, both over Polly feeling better and Jen being able to make the gig tonight. She has been on the Speedhorn journey almost as long as I have and I really wanted her to be there tonight.
John has a friend with him who he has brought along to take some band photos of us. She seems friendly enough, but I can’t help thinking that this could easily become a hassle. I know the guys and how hard it is getting everyone to gather and stand still for two minutes. I also want the day to be as stress free as possible, and I can sense that this might lead to obstructing that aim.
We stand around on the big stage, with all signs suggesting that we’ll soon be ready for soundcheck. I take a look out at the venue and reflect over the past, back to a short window of time when we were much younger and we were headlining venues of this size. I haven’t played a headlining show of this magnitude for a long time, although we’ve played to some very large crowds with Victims at festivals over the years, but this type of gig isn’t really part of the agenda anymore for me. I get a slight shudder looking out at the huge room. This is going to be fun. For one night only.
Unfortunately Daz is striding back towards his worst side already. From what I can make out he’s been drinking since we left this morning, as has Frank, although it doesn’t seem to affect him as negatively. He just turns into a big loud tool, and it’s fun for the most part. Daz always seems to go a bit darker. He shuffles up behind me, bass strapped over his shoulder, eyes slightly glazed, and asks, “When are we doing the photo shoot with this tart, then?” I could swear he thinks he’s in a Guy Ritchie film. I ask him why he’s talking like that, and tell him he sounds like fucking Alf Garnett and I don’t think it’s funny. Not for the first time this weekend, Daz looks at me confused.
After soundcheck we get around to taking the pics, and it goes by without much hassle. There is a lot of chirping, but it’s all piss taking focused within the group. It’s yet another flashback to a time gone by. How many times have I done this routine with this lot, I wonder. It’s now that the real reunion-theme of the day will begin in earnest.
The Scurge guys have turned up, as well as Charger. To have Jay and Little Dave here playing, as well as Jim in Charger, all three having played a part or still playing a part in the Speedhorn story, as well as those two bands as a whole, means a lot to me. It’s nice having everyone who ever played in the band on stage in some form tonight. Everyone except Kev. I really wished Kev would have been here. He’s at some witch convention in Sheffield, or something.
It really is great seeing everyone else. It’s like being back at a high school reunion with your closest friends. There is a buzz in the air, it feels like everyone is pretty excited about seeing the original line up of the band one last time. I don’t think anyone would ever have imagined it was something they’d see again. Bianchi is visibly delighted. He’s been buzzing about this night since we agreed to it over six months ago. It’s nice having the chance to speak to Carter and his partner, as well as his parents. His dad is over promoting a book he’s written on the decline of various industrial cities, former giants now sleeping. It sounds really interesting, right up my street, and I’ve been on at Carter for a copy. It’s great speaking to them. More than anything, though, it’s great speaking to Doug. We were really close during the time he was our tour manager, but we lost touch after it all fell apart. He was one of the funniest people I’d ever met and I’m delighted to see that hasn’t changed. He still has that cheeky smirk plastered to his face.
Jen and Leon arrive just before Scurge go on stage, which is not that long after doors. Our old friend Slaven is here, too. Two of the people from my first bands in Corby, and still two of my finest friends. I’m glad they could be here for this show. I’m happiest of all, though, that Jen is here. Watching Scurge is a buzz, they were always a vastly underrated band. I’ve been watching them since they were fifteen years old, it was great to see them up on the big stage. Jen is chuffed, she always loved them. It’s funny looking at Jay and Dave, what a journey we’ve had together. It’s funny, because as much as this show tonight is about the original line up of the band, I have some of my happiest memories from the era of the band when Jay and Dave were playing with us.
Afterwards we’re hanging around in a little room with a couple of sofas, just behind the stage. It’s all hugs and kisses. It is a little awkward, though, no denying that. It was only a couple of weeks ago that both Jay and Jim, who is playing next with Charger, left Speedhorn. The situation with Dave is unclear. He’s still officially the bass player, but with his brother now gone, that might change. Fucking soap opera, as always.
It’s starting to get busier now and there are more and more people buzzing around the backstage area. Precisely as Gordon had feared, Daz and his Corby clan of four, his wife and her best mate have now joined the two dad-in-laws, have completely besieged the dressing room and swarming over the rider like flies on shit. I can’t be arsed, so keep myself downstairs. Gordon is getting more and more angry about everything, though. As a tension-reliever, Doug comes to the fore. One of the production people wade through the crowd in the tight room and start asking people for their passes, obviously wanting to clear the space a bit. Doug doesn’t have one, or if he does, he refuses to show it. He simply points at his face and making a circling motion around his coupon, and says, “This is my pass. It’s the only pass you need to worry about”. The promotion bloke looks flummoxed by the giant Scotsman and leaves.
To add to the ingredients of the already vastly incenstious mix, Frank is now singing with Charger. I have to say, the big lump impresses me. Despite the fact he’s been drinking since four pm yesterday, and taking fuck knows what besides to perk him up, he still puts in a monster performance on stage. His fucking pipes just seem to get stronger with age. Fucking respect to him. He always puts on a show, no matter what condition he’s in. The first time I saw Speedhorn without me, as in the first time I went to a show after they’d reunited, Jen and I had bumped into Frank in the pub in the afternoon and he’d almost fallen into me. He had white powder in his moustache and a piss stain on his crotch. He somehow still put in a banging performance that night. I’m happy he’s not quite as bad as that tonight, though, despite the incredible innings with the booze.
Charger put on a great show. We toured with these guys a lot back in the day, and although there aren’t many members left from back then, it’s brilliant to see Jim and Jez up there again, with their first love. I couldn’t have imagined anyone better to take over my position in the band than Jim. We had some great times together. I’ll never forget the time he crashed at my parents house one time, and he was absolutely wankered by the time we got back. For some reason my mum and dad had this stuffed squirrel on the wall of the stairs and Jim couldn’t get past it, he thought it was the funniest thing he’d ever seen, at that moment in time anyway. Then the next day my mum had put on a huge fry-up breakfast for us, giving it the usual Smith-family hospitality they were known and loved for, and Jim was so hungover he couldn’t bring himself to eat it. He was exhausted with anxiety by the end of the ordeal. My parents had seen it all before, though. Even if it’s all a bit up in the air at the minute with Jim and Speedhorn, I get the feeling he’ll be back in the band again soon. I hope so.
As they played, we retreated to the small dressing room upstairs, Big Jim had told the Daz party in no uncertain terms to clear the room. One of the dad’s had actually asked Tony who he was as he helped himself to a bottle of what they apparently assumed to be their rider. It was fucking nice to get rid of everyone. Now it was just the band, Jen, Katy and the crew. It was time to concentrate on the job at hand.
As we walked down the narrow staircase to the back of the stage, I could really feel the buzz starting to rise inside me. It had been a long time since I’d played what felt like a “concert”, as opposed to a punk gig. We made our way through a passageway of smiles, Bianchi at the end of the line, like a chuffed dad. We gathered behind the curtain at the back of the stage. The lights went down, and the crowd erupted into a familiar chant, “Raging fucking Speedhorn! Raging fucking Speedhorn!” It sounded more like a football match than a gig. It was amazing to be part of this one more time.
We walked on, and, even though I’d heard it was pretty much sold out, I was still blown away by the size of the crowd. A sea of faces and arms held aloft. I looked down to the front at my side of the stage and saw Jen, Leon, Slaven and Richey, all with huge smiles on their faces. Another mate, Jimmy, had flew over from Sweden, and he was at the front on the other side. I’d only had the one beer during the day, but this feeling right now would top any booze rush. My whole body, from the tips of my limbs, was tingling…
And then Gordon counted in Deathrow Dogs and the place erupted. I don’t think anyone was expecting us to start with a seven minute sludge fest. It was the perfect statement of intent, I felt. Unfortunately, Gordon missed the phase into the second riff, which comes in at about four minutes, and for just the shortest of moments of chaos, it was all falling apart. Gordon looked at me, smiling panic, not knowing where he was in the song. It was so close to just grinding to a halt, which would have been a fucking disaster, but somehow, somehow, we pulled it back from the brink. I’m sure most of the fourteen hundred in the crowd noticed it though, you wouldn’t have had to have known the song to realise it was going tits up for a little while there.
Even though we’d pulled it back in line, just about, I was still anxious now that Gordon was going to lose it. He’d been so looking forward to this, and he’s so involved behind the scenes, that I could imagine this fuck up throwing him off completely. And right enough, he looked mardy as fuck through Hate Song and Superscud that followed. But I knew how to handle this. During the next block I made my way over to him and played as hard as I could, right in front of him, giving him a smile as I did so, hoping it would perk him up. It did the trick.
The next hour, which is more than twice as long as I’ve been used to performing this last ten years, simpy flew by. I couldn’t believe how good it sounded on stage and how tight we were. The gang of friends and family behind us were cheering and smiling, the crowd in front of us were moshing like fuck. The only thing that came close to spoiling the experience was when Daz stood on my pedal giving it the ridiculous Steve Harris move, and cut my sound. I stamped it back on quickly and gave him a hefty elbow to the ribs, letting him know he should fuck off. I don’t think he even noticed.
Before we played the final song, High Whore, the tears did just about trickle. As Frank was making a crack about how the band had started twenty years ago, and that if we reformed again in another twenty years he’d be fucking sixty!, Tony and I met in the middle of the stage for a hug. I knew how much this had meant to him, but not as much as I thought I knew. He grabbed me tight and said thanks, that it really meant the world to him.
And then after five or six minutes of the long outr riff, it was all over. It had been an amazing night. There wasn’t much left of it as far as the venue was concerned, they wanted everyone out because they had a club night opening afterwards. It was perfect for me, though. It was only ten pm, and having only had the one beer all day, I was now ready for a couple of pints and a chat back over at the World’s End, where the entire party was heading. We hung out for a short while in the dressing room with Doug and Bianchi, the two of them on top form. Doug telling me how he’s officially announced himself the mayor of Weldon, the village connected to Corby where him and Frank live. He says Frank lives at the trampy end of the village. Gordon was pissed off, though. There wasn’t a drop left of the rider, and he also couldn’t find Katy, who he thought he might have given his phone to. Just another jog down memory lane. I didn’t want him spinning out though, I was really looking forward to a drink with him after the show, and now he was banging on about just going back to the hotel. Fuck sakes. I got ahold of Jen on the phone, and she told me that she was with Katy and they were having some food at some place next door, and Katy had indeed Gordon’s phone that he’d given her. It wasn’t quite all sorted in Gordon’s mind, but he levelled out just a tad.
I went back upstairs to get my bag from the room and there was Daz, at his worst by now, lurched on the sofa. I was just passing through, he was there on his own otherwise. “Yo Gaz, I heard that there were some people pissed off about the fact there was nothing left on the rider after the show?” he asked me. I just kinda shrugged, just couldn’t be arsed. I said yeah, I guess there was a bit of a bad vibe about that.
“You know what I reckon, mate? If you want a beer then you should fucking drink it when you have the chance!” he continued, smugly chuffed with himself. Yeah cool, I said, and left him to it. It would be the last time I saw him that night. Maybe ever, who knows…As of now, I didn’t know when I’d see these guys again after tonight, but it had been over ten years since I’d last saw Daz and our paths aren’t that likely to cross again anytime soon, I imagine.
Gordon and I went to meet the girls at the falafel place next door and then we went over to the pub. It felt like the entire crowd from the gig was in there, the place was packed. Gordon still couldn’t really settle, it felt like he was having a hard time relaxing until all the business side of the gig was taken care of. Been there many times before. Don’t miss it. The only thing that felt like a bit of a anti-climax after the gig was that I barely saw the rest of the guys in the band, or Carter and the crew. Bianchi had fucked off already, since he seems to be in a lot calmer place these days, too. I saw Doug for a while at the bar and we chatted a while longer, saying we’d meet up again next time I’m over, but I barely saw the rest. Only Gordon, who handed me an envelope of cash with my share of the earnings for the weekend. I’d been looking forward to hanging out with everyone for one last trip down memory lane, but it wasn’t to be. You could barely move in there and everyone was dotted around various parts of the establishment. I did have a good chat with Richey, Leon and Slaven, as well as Jay and Dave and the other guys from the Kettering crew. It was a nice couple of hours.
Jen, Leon and I took an Uber back to Tring around one am, Leon up front chatting away to the driver the entire time. I was knackered and grateful for Leon taking that particular duty. After all of the emotions I’d been through during this last couple of days, it came to a head when I went and checked on Polly and found her fast asleep in the spare bed we’d all be sharing, her gorgeous cute cheeks resting on the pillow.
We had a nightcap with Leon downstairs before hitting the hay. Gordon texted me, telling me Daz had been kicked out of the hotel they were staying at for acting the cunt with the receptionist, and was now sleeping in the van. Fucking brilliant.