Back In Five Years
“It’s dangerous to understand new things too quickly” — Josiah Warren, True Civilization
I woke up somewhere in Blackpool, over the road from The Tower Arena, in a cafe, trying to order a vegetarian breakfast. There was 45 minutes to go before Police Bastard would be onstage playing as part of Rebellion Festival 2016. I had spent the day before working with Dua Lipa, she had performed at Brighton Pride. I was trying to work out what day I was in and what place this was. The other members of the group tried to finish their food without concerning themselves as to where the other guitar player had got to.
“. . . an optimistic mind-set finds dozens of possible solutions for every problem that the pessimist regards as incurable.” — Robert Anton Wilson, Cosmic Trigger I: Final Secret of the Illuminati
With 20 minutes to go everyone was accounted for and the race to set up, line-check and play began. There’s nothing like a last minute gamble to see if the impossible is in fact possible.
In just a few minutes we had all the merch loaded in and Rachel, from Guernsey, who had only just arrived herself, was at the helm, offering what we had available and dealing with multiple requests. Onstage the gear was set and ready to go. And so Police Bastard, complete with Si Reeves on bass, covering for Chris Crass, worked through a set of songs as fast as possible to a crowd of barely awake punk rockers, who hadn’t yet started to recover from the previous days drinking.
Rebellion passed in a blur. Last Under The Sun played a short set around 4pm on the “New Band Stage.” The band has only been going 16 years but let’s not worry about wasted time, misunderstandings or futile record release schedules here. The new album has only been about three years in the studio so far. And There’s still work to do.
Robin Licker, otherwise found playing guitar with Restarts and numerous other bands could be seen in the audience along with other good friends and family. Robin is most usually found on my computer screen hard at work in the various Calais and Dunkirk camps doing his best to contribute to work supporting refugees. It’s always fascinating to see who actually shows up to gigs. Some of the characters I spotted while the band were playing I can’t mention by name here, but I’m pleased to say a number of Patrons of Iron Man Records were in attendance.
From Rebellion I drove back to Cardiff and then to London to start work with Roland Gift of Fine Young Cannibals. I loaded the van with a full backline and then drove to Holyhead. The ferry took me across the Irish sea to Dublin while I started reading Dave Dictor’s book “Memoir From A Damaged Civilization.”
I bought the book from Dave himself while I was at Rebellion Festival, he signed it for me. M.D.C have always been one of my favourite bands, not just because of the music, but the lyrics are clever too. Dave was one of the those singers whose words were always interesting to read through in full. He had an interesting take on it all and he had something that was personal, as well as political, going on all at the same time. I remember buying MDC, Rhythm Pigs, Hard-ons, Minor Threat, Stupids, Scream, Black Flag, Instigators, SNFU, DRI, Misfits, HDQ, Concrete Sox, Visions Of Change, Heresy, Doom and all sorts of other records from Vinyl Solution records. M.D.C. were one of my favourites. Many of these bands have come and gone or continued in other forms. I last saw MDC play in 1992, I think, it was in London. I bought an orange T-shirt. I had a brief chat to Dave then, his voice was going and chatting to him briefly at Rebellion in 2016…he’s much the same. He’s perhaps lost a little bit of weight, but he still has the same warm smile. One of the good people, doing his thing and making the world a bigger place for all of us.
But anyway, I arrived in Belfast after the drive from Dublin. I was staying at the most bombed hotel in Europe, a place called The Hastings Europa Hotel. From Rebellion Festival to the most Bombed Hotel in Europe in a matter of days. From sleeping in the boot of the car, to four star comfort. You can’t make this up. Roland Gift played at a festival on Falls Road the following day to about 4,000 people in a big top tent supporting Holly Johnson. The gig was good and afterwards I found myself sat in the bar with the band and everyone in Holly Johnson’s group. We chewed the fat on the evening’s show and all that went on. The last time I listened to Holly Johnson was on the radio when I was about 12 or 13 years old. I remember being at a friends house while my friends older sister jumped up and down on the bed singing the lyrics out loud. I sat there wondering if she actually understood what the lyrics meant. When Holly Johnson finally appeared, he chose to sit next to me, we actually had an interesting chat about all things music, touring and his plans for the next 12 months. I think he probably thought I was someone else but I decided to go with it anyway. Holly seemed to have some interesting things to talk about.
The following morning Roland Gift and the band flew back to London and I had to start the drive back. I did my best to pay a quick visit to New Grange, a stone age burial mound on the way. The visitor car park was packed out. There was no hope of finding a parking spot for the van, let alone enough time to go and have a look, and make the ferry departure on time. I had to do with driving past and looking at it across the fields from the window of the van.
I got to Dublin port on time, and once back on the ferry it was back to Dave Dictor’s book.
On arrival at Holyhead I stopped at Tesco’s to pick up some diesel and something to eat. Next, it was a drive to Bewdley to stay over at Roy’s house, before the trip to Belgium in the morning. Roy is the soundman, he’s worked with Led Zeppelin and Robert Plant. Together, Roy and I worked with Seasick Steve for a number of years. Roy is the same Roy named in the song Roy’s Gang by Seasick Steve. I’ve made the trip from Holyhead to Dublin and back several times for Seasick Steve too. Filling up at Holyhead has become something of a ritual. But I digress.
Roy has a fine set of ears. He’s a secret weapon for any band wanting good live sound. Roy has worked hard with Roland Gift over the past year with me, it seems that a few heads are starting to turn at last.
I suppose I should tell you a few things about Roland Gift’s band. Debbie and Julie, backing vocals, have worked with Roland from the start. Painters and Decorators by day, beautiful voices by night. Alle Pearse on keyboards is a musician who can handle all sorts of stress and pressure and still delivers despite anything a band might throw at her. The list of bands she has played with is endless, she manages to juggle kids and full time music and everything else. She’s Someone who has an interesting take on all things and will be on your case if you don’t get your act together. Dave the guitarist has played with some amazing bands and recently helped record and produce the music by Dr Rishi for his campaign song “Stand Up” as part of the campaign to support young doctors.
Dave also found himself across the table from Jeremy Corbyn a couple of weeks ago, but that’s another story. Guy plays keyboards and a vital role telling an endless stream of ridiculous jokes. He helps keep everyone in a buoyant mood, no matter what madness might be confronting the group. Dave Barbarossa on drums was the drummer in Adam And The Ants in the 1970’s. He went on to play in Bow Wow Wow and later, bands like Republica. Dave is a published author. His first book “Mudsharks” is doing pretty well and he’s working on a second book provisionally titled “I left my car in Enfield.” Since John Mostyn moved on to better things, I have had the job of looking after Tour Management for the group. This has meant all the driving and the role of backline tech, and “the person to be blamed for everything.” I suppose that’s a promotion from my old job of “the local live music promoter who should be stopped.” Roland’s band have proved one of the easier groups to look after. It’s just a shame they haven’t had more gigs this year, the band are sounding really good live. Roland’s voice is without doubt, one of the best voices I’ve heard in a long time.
So back to Roy’s place, we had to leave at 6am to meet the others in London. We had to swap the gear van over with a 9 seater splitter, then find the others. I can’t tell you about all of it, but the conversation in the car from 6am to 8am was mind melting. The stories Roy has to tell, when I haven’t seen him for a few days, can be amazing. All sorts of Music, touring and even Led Zeppelin related news started flowing. We talked about the complex issues of sending backline to America, Museums, potential exhibits and the assorted phone calls that can follow from band members and crew. The conversation started me wondering how anything can get so out of hand, by comparison to the penniless failure that most bands, I work with, demonstrate. Anyway, to cut a long story short, by the time we had everyone in the van, we were already running an hour late. This is normal operating mode. We were on our way to Belgium.
The stop watch started and chase scenes from Mad Max and Mad Max 2 started running through my head. I began to wonder how fast I could push the van before anyone noticed, or started to panic. I kept a look out for cameras and watched the wing mirrors for patrol cars. I was half imagining to see a car armed with a harpoon, swerving in and out of view, chasing us all the way to Eurotunnel. But No speeding.
Gambling with a bands mental well being, in an attempt to get to the gig on time, can be tricky. I havent missed a gig yet but, driving across a field whilst terrified punters dive out of the way, dragging the chain link festival perimeter fence, and followed by several local police cars and angry people in flourescent jackets is no way to arrive at the main stage loading area. Sometimes you have to keep your nerve. And don’t speed, all the way. It’s important to consider that the group have to perform. Even if time is limited, it’s no good making it all happen if band members are vomiting into buckets on either side of the stage. Understand that at most gigs; photographers will be active for at least the first four songs. After the fifth song, anything that happens could be argued to be part of the show.
I called ahead and made sure the stage crew were ready to load the gear in on our arrival. We would need help to stand the backline up for line-check. We would have about 20 minutes once we had arrived and the van had cooled down enough to open the rear doors. The stage manager told me to relax, she had sent someone on a bicycle out to the main road to wave us in. I asked if she understood what country she lived in. The puzzled stage manager replied “Belgium, is that a problem?”
“Of course Belgium is not a problem,” I said. “It’s just that everyone is on a bicycle in Belgium. How are we going to notice someone on a bike, there are hundreds of people on bikes. Can’t you send someone on stilts with a flare gun or something?” I asked.
Too late, we were already past the turning. Pedestrians and Local Police were running in all directions as I spun the van round and tried to double back to get in through the artist’s entrance. There was a small hole in a hedge, with no sign, at the end of a quiet residential street, that was the entrance. The only give away being the smiley festival types turning and walking down an unmarked street, for no reason, in the middle of nowhere. The band went to the dressing room to calm down while I tried to get everything set up onstage. Roy, ever ready, was already behind the sound desk and making requests before I could get the drums out of the cases.
To spare you the pain, the band went onstage in good time and played their full 45 minute set as agreed. I thought the gig was a good one, and even if I had been fired for crimes commited, at least I could have left on a high note, and not in the back of a police car. They’d have to catch me first anyway.
From Belgium, I returned the band to London before taking a brief day off to catch up on all things Iron Man Records, then I was off again, this time with Dua Lipa. Back to Belgium for Pukkel Pop and then on to Lowlands in Holland.
Lowlands was probably the gig of the year as far as my work with Dua Lipa is concerned. The band had a good one and Dua did her thing to a packed out circus tent with people trying to see in from all sides. The show was filmed and broadcast the following day. Forget Glastonbury and the other shows in the UK, Lowlands was the gig to see Dua Lipa, the crowd loved it.
After Lowlands I dropped the band to Amsterdam airport and made my way back to London. I always find it hard coming back to the UK after being away. It’s a culture shock stopping at the first services to see the misery on every face. The coffee is better in Europe, the toilets are cleaner, and not everyone looks so depressed. But anyway, I can only speak English. At a push, I can do English louder. So the UK is where I have to live for now.
Back on the M25 I took the opportunity to do a chevron for the joy of upsetting other road users and causing momentary panic all round. I resisted the temptation to do a full M25 lap and opted for a quick pit stop at Cobham. Tea from Greggs is the official hot drink on the way home. The service station coffee in this land makes me depressed. Before returning the backline and the van to its rightful place, I enjoyed the last few miles of M25 listening to Pink Floyd — Wish You Were Here.
Travelling gives you time to think. Driving from one nation state to another, from Festival to Festival, passing the Refugee camps in Dunkirk and Calais, it’s easy to understand that “Cultures act to preserve the illusions of the population. They’re not interested in you if you are an Einstein or a Jackson Pollock….unless they can fit you in to the pre-established systems of commerce and canons of aesthetic order …..and that’s called being civilised.”
Understand that art, writing and music belong to the people who make it, share it and those who enjoy it. No Government or funding organisation should ever have anything to do with any of it. But enough of that for now.
The M25 is a vast swirling time loop, taking drivers back and forth across the Greenwich Meridian. The Greenwich Meridian separates east from west in the same way that the Equator separates north from south. Inextricably linked with Greenwich Mean Time, it also sits at the centre of our system of time zones. Its path is determined by the location of an historic telescope, the Airy Transit Circle, which is housed at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich.
No wall should ever be built to divide east from west, one time zone from another. No wall should divide one group of people from another. No human being is illegal. If you are born on the planet you should have freedom of movement on the planet. Tomorrow is just a word. We have work to do. “Imagination is the only weapon in the war against reality” — The Cheshire Cat, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland. The M25 belongs to Gimpo, he is the current artist in residence here. Art is not just what hangs on rich people’s walls. Try it for yourself. Embrace the contradictions. I’ll be back in five years.