Never Gig With Your Heroes
On a whim we emailed the Television Personalities, to see if they wanted to headline a gig with our band at The Cluny, Newcastle. We weren’t even expecting a reply. But their guitarist, Mike Stone, emailed straight back. They agreed to do it for £400 and travel expenses. No messing, and no agent-massaging necessary. We were about to host a gig and share a bill with one of our favourite bands. Dan Treacy, frontman and genuine rock and roll anti-hero was one of my few living idols. It was a dream come true.
Pierre and I went into town at midday to meet them, Mike’s warning still echoing in our ears: ‘Dan’ll be fine. We just got to keep him off the drink until later on and he’ll be magic.’
To keep Dan out of the pub, Mike suggested going for a cup of tea in the afternoon, which was obviously sound advice. Dan was notoriously inconsistent in a live capacity, and it was imperative we ensured this gig was one of his more sober.
Their train was due to arrive at Newcastle’s Central station, and we had time to kill before heading to the venue for soundcheck. Luckily, there was a Costa coffee shop right opposite the station.
‘Perfect,’ I said. ‘We’ll take them in there.’
We went into the station.
‘Ey up,’ Pierre said. ‘I can see them.’
Among the crowd on the platform bobbed several guitar headstocks. Then, as they got closer, I glimpsed the pale, childlike face of Dan Treacy. It was surreal. That indescribable magic when your brain has to process a face belonging to other, electrical worlds. Here he was. That day rock and roll didn’t arrive in a high-gloss limousine, a cocaine-dusted suit with an entourage of GUM-tested blondes in coordinated bikinis. It bumbled through the commuter crowd in an old beanie hat with a guitar on its back and a snare drum under a needle-pocked arm.
‘Orite Dan, I’m Shaun.’ I shook his hand and struggled for something fitting to say, wanting to joke about travelling in style, but too afraid to offend him. ‘How was the journey?’
He gave a sly smile. ‘Shit.’
‘Here, let me carry that for you.’ I took the snare drum.
‘Reyt then,’ Pierre said. ‘Soundcheck’s not ’til four. We were thinking we could get a nice cup o’ tea over the road, and get a taxi to the venue in a bit?’
Mike nodded with wide eyes. ‘Yeah, sounds good to me.’
We started crossing the road and realised Dan was still on the pavement. ‘Cup o’ tea?’ he said, his face wrinkled in disgust. ‘I wanna get FACKED!’
We took them to the nearest Wetherspoons, found a nice big table surrounded by leather sofas and went to the bar.
‘What do you reckon?’ I asked Pierre.
‘He doesn’t look too bad. As long as we only have a couple he’ll be reyt.’
‘Aye, he’s a professional. He’ll be used to playing with a few on board.’
Dan ambled up beside us at the bar. ‘Are you getting us some drinks in here, for the rider?’
I looked at Pierre. We hadn’t agreed on a rider. £400 and their train tickets was all we could afford to pay them, and we didn’t want to tell Dan the ticket sales didn’t even cover that.
‘We got you some beers in backstage,’ Pierre said. ‘Sorry man, we’re stretched as it is- we can’t afford any more.’
‘What about an advance then? We’re a bit skint.’
We agreed to give him £50 of their fee.
We sat around the table with Dan, Mike, and the drummer and bassist, drinking pints and loosening up. Mike and the others were chatty. I got the feeling Dan didn’t warm to me. I was a bit hurt, but I put it down to the fraught exchange about money. I realised I wasn’t warming to him either. His sly smile perhaps wasn’t conspiratorial as I’d first thought, probably more disdainful — he seemed to enjoy testing our gullibility, by feeding us stories and watching to see what we swallowed.
‘It’s ace that MGMT have written that song about you, Dan,’ Pierre said.
‘I wrote songs for them as well.’
‘Yeah?’ I said. ‘Which ones?’
He took a drink, watching me over his tilted glass. ‘I wrote their whole facking album.’
After five pints we paid for a taxi to The Cluny, in which Dan, increasingly chatty, treated us to more unlikely stories.
‘Maximo Park have been getting a bit of airplay on Radio 1 lately,’ I said to Pierre. ‘They’ve moved on from battle of the bands.’
‘Yeah,’ Pierre said, ‘they’re doing well.’
‘Radio 1 keep playing our tunes at the moment,’ Dan said from the passenger seat. ‘They can’t get enough of us.’
‘Yeah?’ I said, smiling at Pierre.
At the Cluny Dan continued working through his advance. After requesting some hard drugs, too late in the day, he went for a lie down in the backstage dressing room, just off the main stage, as we soundchecked our entire set at full volume. It amused me that Dan Treacy was trying to sleep on the dressing room bench under a large image I’d drawn in black marker of a local scenester (a Geordie Honey Monster with a badly infected appendage in the shape of a Lion Bar.)
When the time came for our heroes to soundcheck, Dan shuffled out of the dressing room, looking paler and older than before.
I was thrilled he was actually going to use my Fender Hot Rod Deluxe amplifier, and I joined him on the stage to give him an introduction.
‘Change any settings you want, Dan,’ I said. ‘You might wanna turn the gain down a bit.’
‘You should write down your settings before I change them all.’
‘It’s okay,’ I said. ‘I know them anyway.’
‘No offence, Shaun, but I don’t wanna sound like you.’ The pain of his insult was offset by the satisfaction of having destroyed his afternoon nap with a barrage of shrill, metallic distortion.
Their soundcheck saw Dan sinking a couple of pints and just about making it through a full song, which his band didn’t appear to know.
‘Here’s another one off the new album,’ Dan said, and launched into a blundering version of Radiohead’s Fake Plastic Trees, which clanged and staggered to a standstill. There was still three hours’ worth of drinking before they were scheduled to play.
Mike, their guitarist, apologised in advance for their performance and, seeing the last of the hope drain from our eyes, compensated us with some pre-release CDs of their latest album, A Memory Is Better Than Nothing.
The doors opened and we watched the crowd file in, anxiously watching each £3 drop into the box, the tinkling coins like mock applause in the face of our looming financial disaster. We needed 200 through the door to break even. By the time they stopped coming we had counted less than 100 (some would even demand their money back, unsuccessfully, telling us not to pay the headliners — advice we obviously rejected.)
During our set I watched Dan mingle with his fans in the audience, soaking up free drinks and spilling others, in preparation for his headlining slot. At one point I caught him watching me as I staggered to the front of the stage and mauled my guitar. My own drunkenness : inspiration ratio had peaked and was falling, taking with it my refinement and touch. Dan gave a knowing, childlike grin and I smiled back over the crowd.