Friday, 30 November 2012


I often complain to friends and acquaintances who are salaried and at some point will be able to retire on a large pension, that they don’t have the faintest idea of the stresses and strains the self employed must endure.
I also conveniently forget that a nine to five job with pitiful holiday allocation is perhaps a far cry from my self-regulated meander through life. There maybe benefits and pitfalls on both sides, but while there is any doubt, I’ll continue to complain. The main issue for me is the inability to plan anything, with size of income being an uncertainty, and the annual visit from the taxman, more than a probability, a disorganised creative can fall hard.
Luckily though, for a few years in the late eighties, the government let a major loophole go unchecked, a legal tax dodge of major proportion.
The rules were simple, if you recorded an album outside of Great Britain and then lived outside of Great Britain for one year (save for sixty days, when entry was permitted) then all the income on that album was deemed tax-free. Too good to be true? Well, for a time it was true and those who benefited from it were lucky people. Some time after we tried this, the Spice Girls were sent home, mid term, as the loophole was tightened and then axed. So, somewhere back in 1988 we agreed to leave the country, our families and our friends. Italy was chosen as our temporary ex-pat location, Gallarate, to be exact, a small northern town in the province of Varese. We had come here for two reasons, by now we had developed a passion for Italy and it’s culinary delights, and also our bass player had married a local girl who, it turned out, had some experience in ‘Mud Wrestling’, a common form of Italian style ‘pub entertainment’, at the time. (A pointless digression, but worthy of entry none the less)
Our accommodation was a newly built apartment block, constructed in red brick and from memory, pretty ugly. We were each allocated our own flat and on the top floor was a large room in which we could rehearse. Word soon got round that we had moved in and crowds of kids would gather outside.
The flats were essentially unfurnished and so, with a small budget, we were taken to Italy’s equivalent to Ikea, where we were expected to trolley dash for our contents. I chose a rug, that looking back was not attractive, and from memory precious little else, but compared to my previous Hulme (Manchester’s finest) existence, this was minimal heaven. Because Gallarate was a small town and a good forty-five minute drive to Milan or any other place where civilization could be found, we would each need a car.
Our singer, (and songwriter) had pockets way deeper than ours and promptly invested in a brand new Alfa Romeo Spider (Roadster) in red, naturally. A wise choice and one I was very envious of. I lumped for an Alfa Romeo ‘Alfetta’ (the Italian equivalent to the Ford Cortina) ten years old and in black. It certainly had character and was relatively cheap at one thousand pounds, but the telltale smell of burning oil (which by now I am all too aware of) would render my investment fallow, and sure enough in no time at all I would be spending the same again, when one of it’s pistons decided to wrap itself round the engine. I loved this car though and when in good working order, it would provide me with an escape route and take me away from the band and all things music. I would drive towards the Dolomites until the snow stopped me in my tracks, have lunch in a ‘Trattoria’ and take in the view. Trips to Milan and Verona were regular events and as, for most of the time, there was very little to do, it felt like we were tourists, trapped in a red brick castle.
Although a necessity, driving in Italy was like dicing with death. Traffic lights were rarely observed and when the seat belt law came into play, replica cardboard seatbelts with Velcro attached, became available to buy in some shops. Carefully applied, they could fool a patrolling ‘Carabinieri’ into thinking the new law was being observed: anything to avoid complying.

Great Britain may have been out of bounds but it didn’t take me long to realise that The Republic of Ireland, and in particular Dublin might just be a great place to hang out. As a boy, mainly thanks to my Granddad, I had been well and truly hooked on the art of fishing. Back then I would walk down to the River Nidd and easily spend all day lost in all things nature, distracted from the drudge of school and homework. This would always take place on a Saturday, as Sunday was a day of rest and definitely not a good time to put a hook in a fish’s mouth. It was my ambition though, to catch a salmon, and no self-respecting salmon was ever likely to be found in the Nidd. As I headed over to Dublin for some expat relief, it dawned on me that the ‘Blackwater River’ in County Kerry, was a perfectly good place to start trying to fulfill my ambition.
It had been raining hard and typically, on the day I booked to fish this beautiful stretch of water, conditions were grim and the river had turned to gravy. Undeterred, I pressed on and took some advice from the river keeper.
“Be sure to try the ‘flying condom’ now”
The ‘flying Condom’ was indeed just that. A prophylactic shaped lure with hook embedded, was proving a real hit with the salmon fishermen this particular season. As I cast out my condom into the murky depths with no interest from anything resembling a fish I noticed next to me another fisherman, in full attire and with all the latest equipment. He was wearing chest waders, a waistcoat with flies attached, ‘Polaroid’ sunglasses and had a special device called a ‘tailor’ used to hook round a salmons tail to aid hauling a heavy fish up onto the bank. He was a pro and at first I thought he might not want to talk to me. I had no equipment to speak of and had borrowed a battered old rod from the river keeper. But we got chatting and it turned out that, far from being a stuffy old salmon-fishing snob, as some certainly were, he was a heavy goods lorry driver from Birmingham and a more down to earth chap would be hard to find. He confided in me that he was a none-swimmer and wearing chest waders was quite simply suicide, should he slip, death from drowning would be hard to avoid as the waders filled with water. He had smuggled them out of his holiday home, as his wife did not approve. Cheerfully though we fished on, not giving his predicament too much thought, but then suddenly out of the blue, as I reeled in my ‘Flying Condom’ I felt my line go tight, very tight. My new friend instinctively knew what had happened.
“That’s a salmon, that is”, he declared, and indeed it was. Fooled by the rubber, my first salmon had found me. I had a problem though. The bank was steep and without a landing net there was no hope of getting this magnificent fish out of the water. He sensed my panic and was soon at my side with his bespoke piece of equipment.
“It’s alright” he said in his thick ‘brummie’, “I’ll get her out”.
Relieved, and marvelling at his knowing the fish was a female (as I hadn’t even seen it yet) nothing could have prepared me for what was to happen next. As he bent over trying to reach out for the fish’s tail, he slipped and with a forward summersault, crashed in to the freezing black water. He’d been wearing a flat cap. By now this was the only thing left of him, floating silently on the surface. Seconds turned into minutes and as a non-swimmer myself I was helpless and feeling wretched that this very decent man was going to lose his life, trying to salvage my catch. Rooted to the spot, I knew I had to run and get help, but as I started to move I spotted some bubbles rising around his abandoned floating cap, and then breaking the surface like a river monster, he emerged triumphantly. Hopelessly grateful just to see him alive, I hadn’t noticed what he had in his arms. It was my salmon.
“Didn’t want her getting away now did I”
He promised me he’d never wear his waders again.

Thursday, 22 November 2012


I have mentioned my Dad on a few previous occasions and I may also have mentioned the beret and cine camera and the fact that he was a local preacher. As if all that wasn’t enough, there were other idiosyncrasies that would plague me throughout my early life. School for me was a mixed bag. My inability to remember anything and hopeless lack of concentration may today have been termed, ‘dyslexia’. Back then though, it was called ‘dozy’, and slow progress was made in the classroom. Lunch however, was a highlight, and as one of the dinner ladies was my friend’s Mum, portions were big, especially chips, which from memory I had every day of the week. After this, I would meander my way down to the music block, where an indulgent and very supportive music teacher would let me mess about on a piano for the rest of lunch break.
The music block, I suppose, was a sort of haven, a place to hide from the harsh reality of school, but for me there was another reason to stay hidden; my Dad was the Head of Modern Languages. I would like to send a strong message to all teachers who might think it’s a good idea to send their children to the school in which they teach. IT ISN’T. Dad went a step further, and not only engineered it so that he taught me French, but also made sure he was my form teacher. It’s strange though, because with him being my Dad, I never really got a good objective eye-full as to what sort of a teacher he was. In the late seventies it was quite normal to hit a child, the cane was in full swing and my maths teacher found nothing problematic about using a Bunsen burner’s rubber tubing for his weapon of choice. And so, with all this in mind, I kept my head down and willed the bell to ring. Looking back, it was little wonder my concentration and ability to learn, suffered.
Being no stranger to the pulpit, my Dad was also regularly called upon to take assembly. This was perhaps the most uncomfortable and degrading experience of all. The whole school, assembled in front of the man I called Dad; As I tried to block out the taunts from behind me, I would daydream myself away to a far off place of anonymity. What I would have given for a different surname.
There were some advantages though. A ginger haired boy, who, to be fair was a bit of a loner, had come to school with a pretend bomb. It was just a crappy old box with a battery and some wires hanging out of it with the word BOMB written on the side in marker pen. Nobody thought it was funny and nobody paid any attention to him or the pretend device. At the end of the day, as I walked through the staff car park with a friend, homeward bound, I noticed it had been discarded in a nearby bin. Without thinking, we retrieved it and started to kick it around the car park, laughing at how pathetic an imitation of the real thing it was. We soon got bored and wandered off home. Without realising it though we had kicked it under the Headmaster’s car and now, in the shade and barely visible, it looked all the more authentic. I’m not sure how paranoid our Headmaster was, but spotting the device threw him into panic. Thinking logically, even if he was unpopular enough to get blown up outside school (and he was) surely the perpetrator would avoid writing the word BOMB, on the bomb. Nevertheless, he had the whole school evacuated, and summoned the police who in turn summoned a bomb disposal squad. Several hours later, with the area made safe and with ruined evening plans for several members of staff, the caretaker was finally given the go ahead to lock up the School. Back home, as I sat round the tea table with Mum and the Head of Modern Languages, we were all blissfully unaware of the mayhem that had been going on at school; until the next morning, that is. It turned out that a teacher had spotted our fake bomb kick-around from the staff room window and within minutes of registration, we were standing outside the Headmaster’s office. I have never seen a more red and swollen face on a grown man; uncomfortably reminiscent of the scene from ‘Kes’ in the Headmaster’s office (except we were all guilty) surely this was going to be my first taste of corporal punishment. The boy who made the bomb was, naturally, caned and very unfortunately, so was my friend. I was not. No explanation was given. As I juggled and struggled with the feelings of guilt and relief (for a moment or two) this incident only went to cement my firm belief that, teaching your offspring, should be banned. (I had toyed with the idea of sending a petition to number ten, but as my Dad was also ‘Mayor of Knaresborough’ at the time, and about to appear on ‘The Sunday Quiz’ hosted by Keith Macklin (Anglia TV) I decided to shelve the plan, thus avoiding further shame, that would inevitably rain down on my dysfunctional Father-Son relationship)
My Mum though, in her own way, helped smooth things along. She could see our pain (my three sisters had previously walked this difficult path) and without being obviously disloyal or taking sides, she would be there to offer some comfort. My Dad would often accuse her of settling for ‘peace at any price’ but this so called ‘peace’ was a welcome relief from his, very often, ‘Victorian’ approach. Take for example the School cross-country run. We lived just a short walk away from school as it happened and our house was conveniently en route. In those days we would be trusted to run three miles or so, out into the unsupervised countryside. Instead of crossing the bridge to the other side of the river, I would take a sharp left, and in no time at all would be letting myself into our house, where I would greeted by this;
“Hello love, I thought it might be you, have you time for a cup of tea and a biscuit ?”
The look on her face was priceless, a mixture of guilt and mischievousness, and there in the kitchen, while she robotically ironed my Dad’s shirts (with Dad, safely distracted at the coal face) I would enjoy a cup of tea and a biscuit, and forget the troubles of school and the cross country run. The timing had to be good though. I would need to re-join the runners as they emerged from the other side of the river. With mud, fraudulently applied to my legs, from the garden, I would seamlessly slipstream myself back into the race, making sure I was out of breath and in no danger of winning. This was our secret, an unspoken bond of understanding, which despite the risks, she lovingly offered me.
As previously mentioned, my Dad was a lay preacher, and very often he would be required to preach at one of the many nearby rural village Chapels. This particular week it was Spofforth. We would all be required to attend. My Grandma and Granddad were also coming along, as they were visiting at the time, but didn’t need any encouragement to soak up some family pride from the altar. My Grandma was a very strict and starchy lady. She would always use my full name (she didn’t believe in any kind of shortening) and was quick to inform my Mum if something on the television was inappropriate for my young and impressionable eyes. I can clearly remember her rushing into the kitchen to summon help with censorship, as the ‘Benny Hill Show’ got underway. Granddad, on the other hand, was a comedian. A small man with one leg a good two inches shorter than the other (due to repetitive motorcycle accidents) He would always be seen with a stick, and would make it his duty to look for the funny side in everything; And he was much adored for it. As a younger man he had played piano for the silent movies. This improvisational role, required a high level of keyboard facility and indeed, he could pretty much play any tune you’d care to mention, by ear.
My Dad had asked him to play the organ at the service, something that carried potential worry, as he had been known to spice up well known tunes with a sprinkling of the ‘Les Dawson’ treatment. As we arrived it occurred to me that our family, quite literally, outnumbered the sparse and very elderly congregation. As the service began, nothing seemed untoward and eventually we got to the long boring bit they call the ‘Sermon’, where we could begin our daydreaming and my Mum could put the finishing touches to the next days shopping list (All in her head, you understand) But, out of the blue, I spotted my Granddads very small, pea-shaped, shiny head in the mirror above the organ. It was brown as a berry, due to regular Blackpool holidays, where he would toast himself for hours on end, sitting on a promenade bench. Within seconds I started to titter. Soon my sister had cottoned on and she too began to shake, and then my other sister, and then my Mum and even my Grandma too (unaware of what was funny, but that’s how it spreads) all as the sermon was being delivered by the righteous and stony-faced Preacher/Dad, Head of Modern Languages and Mayor. My Granddad, who by now had noticed in his mirror that something was making us laugh, also succumbed to it’s infectious nature, and before long, he and the whole pew our family had inhabited, was visibly shaking.
As the preacher noticed our irreverent behaviour, the schoolteacher in him triggered an audible reprimand,
But it was too late, by now things were out of hand and Dad began to lose it too.
The three old age pensioners that made up the rest of the congregation were mercifully too old and infirm to care. And so, eventually, order was restored and we could go home to enjoy the most important part of any church service, lunch.
This incident, gave birth to the term ‘Pew Shaker’ which to my knowledge although not yet in the Oxford English Dictionary, when loosely translated means,
A public and involuntary attack of the giggles in a near silent room’

It often surprises me though, that despite some of the more unconventional elements of my parenting, how much I enjoyed these years growing up. More than that, how many foibles and characteristics of my parent’s (especially my Dad’s) I have inherited; a fact I am frequently reminded of, by my wife.

Monday, 19 November 2012


It was the late 80’s and we had been touring Australia. Yes, the Sydney Opera House is impressive enough, and the sunshine can definitely be relied upon. It’s true the people are direct here and personable too, but this place they call ‘down under’ has never really appealed to me. There were some lowlights though. During a meal just in front of this fine Opera House, I spotted the ex-pat boxer Joe Bugner, also eating (what looked like his own body weight in steak) and at the same time signing autographs for adoring ‘forty something’ women. After unsuccessful consecutive fights with Ali and Frasier he had become something of a minor celebrity and had settled down in Sydney. Talking of steak, I can remember accompanying our Sax player to another Sydney meal out. We had seen a pub that, on certain weekdays, boasted a ‘Naughty Lunch’. The only responsible thing to do was to investigate further. Strangely the only option on the menu was steak and chips but in lieu of this and by means of some compensation, all the waitresses were topless. At first this seemed like a novel idea, although when our ‘naughty’ waitress came to our table to order, keeping eye contact, and a straight face was a near impossibility. Looking round the room we seemed thoroughly out of place in our T-shirts and jeans, shoulder to shoulder with suited businessmen grimly pawing the underdressed staff. The food was good enough, but this unlikely combination of pornographic cuisine somehow accelerated our mastication and in a cloud of embarrassment and shame we were soon gone. This ‘poor mans’ America though, would offer us some compensation, as it was customary to continue down to New Zealand after our ‘Ozzie’ schlep.
At the airport the mood would lift, when our tour manager revealed she had managed to get two upgrades to first class. It was a given our singer would take one of them, with the rest of us taking it in turns to feel the benefit. On this particular flight it was my turn to swank it up in first. There was nothing much exceptional about an Air Qantas flight. A four to five hour journey and predictably, steak was on the menu again, (served this time by fully clothed ladies) but in the seat opposite me, spread out like a recumbent gazelle, was none other than John Cleese. Disappointingly though, he slept for most of the journey (I’m not sure what I would have expected him to do if he’d been awake) but I can remember, as the air stewards carried out the safety demonstrations before take off, he burst into uncontrollable laughter when the words “and here is a whistle for attracting attention” were read out. No doubt he might have enjoyed running up and down the plane as Basil Fawlty, whistle in mouth, doing just that.
Safely over the Tasman Sea, we descended smoothly into Kiwi civilization. We had been here before, performing in Auckland and Wellington but this time we would be travelling down to the ‘gateway’ of the South Island to sample the very beautiful Christchurch. Named in honour of ‘Christ Church’ Oxford, and with a river ‘Avon’ running through it, this place had a stately feel, a sense of history with an air of importance. The architecture was grand here and felt more like an Oxbridge College than a city somewhere on the other side of the world.
Not wanting to blow any whistles or attract any undue attention, it has to be said, that from time to time, in, shall we say, more cosmopolitan cities, the services of ‘working’ girls were relied upon by certain entourage members, to provide relief from the stresses and strain of touring life (you understand)
In Christchurch though, this was never going to happen, the gig was only small and after which, a small party was planned in a nearby pub. We would attend out of politeness and then it would be soon to bed, and away nice and early the next morning.
The day we arrived though was our day off, and a couple of the previously mentioned entourage decided to check if this sleepy city might indeed, just be able to provide some ‘love for sale’. As it turned out, we were in the midst of a thriving community of antipodean ‘hookers’, all keen to sample something fresh from the ‘on tour’ larder. Phone calls were made and the hotel was soon awash with the sound of girls ‘working’. We were all surprised that such a prim and proper place should have such a subversive underbelly, but eventually the hotel quietened down and when tomorrow came we would prepare for our first Christchurch gig.
In such far off places it was rare to have a lengthy guest list, indeed nobody in the band or crew had anyone to put on the list that evening, except for me that is. (or so I thought)
I had never met my guests before; they were relatives of my brother in law, five in all, an elderly couple with daughter and husband who, for good measure, had brought along their young teenage daughter. Three generations of respectability, who I would need to meet and greet after the show, in a presumably desolate green room. Not so desolate as it turned out. During some miss spent youth a day earlier, each participating member of the entourage had given their ‘lady of the night’ several back stage passes. (these hookers, it turned out, restricted their friendship group to only people of a similar employ) And so, it dawned on me, as our set drew to a close, that along with one very respectable Christchurch family our green room could now be awash with a multitude of whores. And it was.
As the Grandma remarked that, she’d ‘never seen so many young ladies in one room before, and did I know any of them?’ I prayed to God that nobody would let slip about the after show party.
Once there, I got talking to one of the bar staff, who seemed to know every female in the room. He explained to me that, whilst for most of their week, sex was exchanged for money; the chance to get laid like a normal person, with no money changing hands, presented a huge turn on. Which I suppose would explain the ‘I Claudius’ like orgy that ensued.
The back stage pass has a lot to answer for.

Our sound engineer went on to work extensively with AC/DC and told me that crew members were routinely issued with back stage passes, to give out to pretty girls. This is of course is standard, but some girls were, allegedly, ushered in early and encouraged to have sex during the gig with (specially chosen) crewmembers, under the see-through Perspex catwalk that made part of the staging. The band would be fully entertained whilst churning out songs they could sing in there sleep. This was all in the name of keeping things fresh, as an average AC/DC tour could last up to 2 years and the boys would need some inspiration to see them through. Savvy members of the crew would utilize the high currency of the pass in imaginative ways. Before administering it, they would ask the willing fan to earn it, by administering something else first. Pretty girls, invariably have standards though, and would turn down this ‘tit for tat’ arrangement, thus forcing the crewmember to enlist a groupie of a lower aesthetic quality. (An unwashed rigger, three months into a tour and living on a bus would, to be fair, present a challenge to even the most rugged of groupies) When the band noticed however, that the eye candy had taken a turn for the worse, they changed the system slightly and each pass would have the crewmembers name written on it in indelible ink. A days ‘per diems’ were withheld for any sub standard ‘tottie’ found back stage, and soon the band were back in business.

Friday, 9 November 2012


Thankfully, so far in my life, drugs had not featured heavily. One thing that can be said of my strict religious upbringing is that it kept me blissfully ignorant of most things illicit. Having said that, I can remember, whilst cutting the grass of an old lady who lived opposite (aged thirteen) also finding time to secretly slip into her garage and make a cigarette out of newspaper (just newspaper). This resulted in a less than smooth smoke and how I got away with it, as I returned home stinking like a bonfire, I’ll never know. And so, for the first 18 years of my life, it is fair to say, I was genuinely disinterested in smoking and even in the pub I would limit my taste for alcohol to the odd gin and tonic, which looking back was perhaps even more dysfunctional than the newspaper cigarette.
However, when Music College came into my life, so did real cigarettes and pretty soon after, I noticed that some of my friends were rolling their own but with an added ingredient. With only a few weeks of ‘nicotine high’ acclimatisation under my belt, I was promptly thrown into a much more grown up arena of smoke. Like most cities, Manchester could provide all the ‘goods’ and for a time we would frequent the toilets in the ‘Band On The Wall’ for our combustible purchases, where, waiting for us, would be a small ‘rasta man’ by the name of Benji. We only ever heard him utter two words.
“Two Pound”
Green as the handful of tomatoes I managed to produce this summer, I put it to him that we wouldn’t require that kind of weight and perhaps he could consider selling us a smaller quantity, a half ounce perhaps?
“Two Pound” was the response and when the penny finally dropped I handed him two crisp (also) green paper pounds and left with our weekend supply.
During this period we also had heard that magic mushrooms could provide extra nuance to one’s evening and after a tip off that the nearby Lyme Park had a plentiful stash, we hotfooted it over to Disley and began to search for the elusive Psilocybe Semilanceata. We soon amassed a heavy ‘SafeWay’ bag full and returned home to begin the task of drying out the little beauties in our airing cupboard. There, they would be laid out ‘in state’ for a week or so, by which time we would have a ready made stash of ‘natural’ high. From memory we would boil up seventy or so mushrooms in a large pan of water. Coffee would be added and sugar and anything else that could mask the foul bitter taste of this special fungus. Swiftly moving onto beer, to cleanse the palate, we would then settle down on the sofa and quite literally watch a pair of drawn curtains. After about twenty minutes, when the pleats started to swirl and swim, we knew we were in. Several hours of uncontrollable laughter would follow, but in the morning a red roar throat would make us pay for the enjoyment.
In a nearby street, another student house had taken the whole mushroom thing to a higher level. They had a psychedelic light box called a ‘Skiffington’, which, whilst under the influence of the ‘shroom’, could take you to forbidden places. On the side of the box was a picture of its inventor, a man by the name of Gerry Adler, a scary looking creature with a beard and certainly not easy on the eye. One evening we decided to join forces and see for ourselves what the ‘Skiffington’ could do. It didn’t seem to take me anywhere I wouldn’t have ordinarily gone, but one of the other housemates reacted badly, spooked by the image of Mr. Adler, disappeared to the cellar below and began to smash the place to bits. It was time to go.
Post Music College and in a band of keen smokers, clearing customs could prove tricky. Even if we weren’t carrying anything, our clothes would harbour the tell tale odours of misdemeanour. Anybody who has travelled to Italy will know that it is ‘de rigueur’ to be greeted by a pack of Alsatians, highly trained to sniff out the pot smokers. When we arrived it was always a feeding frenzy of canine excitement. Lumps of expensive cling-filmed hash could be seen flying through the air, evidence scattered in panic, as the dogs moved in. Our drummer on one occasion decided to ingest his stash to avoid being detained. I’m not sure this plan had been thought out properly, as once his digestive juices got to work he became unarousable for the next twenty four hours, which luckily coincided with a day off.
It was clear that travelling with Hashish was a ‘no no’ and we soon adapted by making new European dope smoking friends.
Amsterdam, under the circumstances, with it’s coffee shops openly selling grass and hash quite legally, was a Godsend and as luck would have it Holland became one of our biggest territories outside Britain. We would visit Amsterdam on numerous occasions, staying in ‘The American Hotel’, situated just opposite the famed ‘Bull Dog’ cafĂ©. There were two menus here, one for food and drink, and one for the extensive selection of red and black ‘Lebanese hash’, ‘Grass’ (of all kinds, including ‘Thai sticks’, Sensimilla and the notoriously potent ‘Skunk’) were all on offer.
We were in heaven.
It didn’t take long for some of us to start thinking about how we might get some of this quality produce back home. Perhaps posting it might work? And so, with no thought given, and after a concerted smoke, I packaged up some quality ‘black’ into an envelope I had found in my hotel room. Needless to say, the envelope was emblazoned with the Hotels name and I had stupidly addressed it to myself. Even the most amateur of smugglers would not have made these two errors, but once it was in the post box I didn’t give it a second thought.
Landing at Manchester was usually a smooth, speedy operation, the men at customs knew who we were, and we knew who they were, sometimes an autograph was requested and we would always oblige willingly. But this time something was different.
I noticed they had pulled over one of our managers and had started looking through his luggage. I made my customary bee- line for the exit, and as usual I made it through the sliding doors without incident. It wasn’t until I was literally half way into a black cab that I felt the ‘arm of the law’ upon my shoulder. They had detained my manager in error; it was me they were after.
Once escorted back to the airport, and with a beating heart, I was shown into a small room where for the next 2 hours I would be rigorously questioned and then strip-searched. The man doing the interrogation bore an uncanny resemblance to ‘Mr Mackay’ in the British sitcom ‘Porridge’ and took pleasure in whistling one of our bigger hits, as he rummaged through my dirty laundry, with me standing on in just my underpants. In a thick ‘Glaswegian’ accent he uttered these reassuring words:
“ a hope you’ve noh planned anything fo tonight laddie”
 After what seemed like a lifetime, a lady lawyer showed up and explained to me that the dogs at the airport had easily intercepted my illicit package. If I were to pay a small fine then they would let me go. I would have given them my life savings and found out later that if I had driven away in the cab I would have eventually been arrested by the Police, and this then would have resulted in a criminal record, scuppering my chances of going to America ever again, and guaranteeing me a splash on the front pages of the Manchester evening news. My parents were never to get wind of this unfortunate incident. I was a lucky boy.

I am probably one of very few ‘forty something’s’ working in the music industry, who can claim to have never snorted a line of coke, or snorted anything for that matter (well perhaps water, whilst trying not to drown, each time I try to swim) It’s also true that in my time in bands during the 80’s and 90’s the drug of choice seemed to mainly be smoke, but when the insidious white powder did arrive, things would start to go wrong. Smoking was inclusive and a mellow social icebreaker, while coke and its admirers were banished to the toilet, sheepishly snorting, and bolstering up their paranoia levels. Coke was, of course all around us, and there are many tales of heavy users behaving badly. My favourite though is of a female singer in a very successful 70’s rock band who with an insatiable appetite for the white powdery stuff had completely worn out her septum. During the bands shows she would need to be constantly topped up, and with a, now redundant nose, had developed her own unique technique for maintaining a high during a gig. At the side of the stage, a small tent was erected, hidden in the wings, and between songs she would disappear into it. Inside the tent was a roadie. This unfortunate individual had been supplied with a straw and with it, a large bag of coke. As his musical mistress bent over to touch her toes, he would be required, with straw in mouth, to shoot a quantity of the said powder, somewhere in the vicinity of a place the sun would seldom shine. Apparently the lining of this particular orifice, is super efficient at absorbing anything you might care to mention, into the blood stream, and so really this was a perfectly logical solution to the problem. Back out onto the stage, with rear end fully supplied she would sing on, to her unsuspecting fans.
It is extraordinary, the lengths some people will go to and how cruelly the pleasure threshold gets raised when addiction kicks in. The man in the tent, I assume, must have signed the ‘Mother’ of all confidentiality agreements before undertaking the job of pimping this lady’s derriere. And today, as his grand children bounce on his knee, I wonder what words of advice he will offer them?

Friday, 2 November 2012


Montserrat is perhaps one of the most beautiful places I have had the pleasure of visiting. The ‘Emerald Isle’, nestled into the Leeward Islands, deep in the heart of the West Indies, was discovered by Columbus in 1493. It was late 1988 and from Antigua we took a perilously small twin prop plane that would land us virtually on the beach at W.H Bramble Airport, a glorified rough track that has now, along with most of the south of the Island, been destroyed by the previously dormant volcano in 1995 (to add to that tragedy, in 1989, just months after we left, Hurricane Hugo also made a visit and destroyed 90% of the Islands infrastructure) Clearing customs was a ramshackle affair, much like a car boot sale, all carried out in the open with fragile looking trestle tables, our luggage and passports were given a cursory glance and we were soon set free to roam the island. Pre the afore mentioned natural disasters, this small nugget of paradise was home to ‘Air Montserrat’ a purpose built ‘state of the art’ studio, who’s proud owner was Sir George Martin. We were to stay in his ‘plantation’ house, a wooden, single story structure surrounded by a classic picket fenced veranda. As a child I was always encouraged to notice and appreciate nature. This is something that has never left me and so, typically I suppose, while the rest of the band settled in, I chose to wander round the extensive gardens. In front of the house was a large expanse of grass that had an unusually large number of golf ball sized holes in it. If this was somewhere to practice ‘putting’ then whoever had made the holes had got carried away, as they were dotted around everywhere. Instinctively reaching for one of the long blades of strong grass that grew at the perimeter of the garden, I inserted it deep into the hole to see what might live there. As soon as the grass reached the bottom, something latched on violently, attaching itself and making the blade heavy. Carefully I slowly retracted the grass wondering what might be holding on, a mouse perhaps or large native beetle? The legs came first, followed by a huge fury body. I am no arachnophobe, but I wasn’t prepared to be up close and personal with a real live tarantula. As I fled to the house it struck me that we would be living amongst these creatures for some time. To their credit though, they kept themselves, to themselves.
Morning came and with it a sumptuous breakfast, prepared by two ‘Tom and Jerry’ style apron-wearing ‘mamas’, both showing evidence of a committed eating programme. Freshly made pancakes were lovingly laid out before us and it was here that I would learn to ‘hedgehog’ a mango; each half, cubed with a knife and then turned inside out, still a delight to this day. Fruit of all kinds, grew in all places, begging to be picked.
The studio itself was beautifully positioned, set high up with far reaching views of the Island. Outside, was a large swimming pool, warm and inviting, and for refreshment, cold fresh coconuts (with straws inserted), were offered with a smile by the aptly named studio assistant, Sugar Daddy. All this and more lay on hand to cool and sooth away the stresses of recording. Food, and my hunger for it, has seemed to define and punctuate most of my life. This trip and the gastronomic delights it offered would provide no exception. Our chef, born and bred on the Island, and economically named X, was a giant of a man, who would prepare for us some of the best food I have eaten. Locally caught fresh Lobster (with curry sauce!) and fish of all shapes and sizes and of course chicken, lip tingling with hot sauce were all standards in his repertoire. We discovered in time that only chicken legs made it onto the island, perhaps breasts and thighs were deemed too expensive, so, when we saw ‘Mountain Chicken’ on the menu we fully expected to encounter other parts of, a perhaps, more local bird. But again, only legs arrived. This time though they looked slightly strange, bigger and darker in colour. They tasted great and it was only when X appeared for his after dinner applause that we noticed a suspicious smirk on his face. ‘Mountain Chicken’ was in fact, a frog, a huge local variety of the species, and the size of a melon. On occasion they would hop up to the pool and sit silently in the sun.
Meal times were the high point for me. The time spent in the studio could be exhilarating alright, but with a ‘deliver or you won’t feature’ policy in place, stress levels would rise (for me at least) At dinner though, the work was over for the day, and now there was eating to be done and some interesting banter with it. One evening when we had finished our food and the chef had made his customary appearance (to be told how talented he was) the conversation turned to the local female ‘talent’ and what bar or night club might be worth visiting, understandable given we were all male and with healthy levels of testosterone between us. Suggestions were made and long tales of fine Montserratian ‘babes’ already conquested were banded around, when suddenly, out of the blue, X hung a dubious left in the conversation. In a strong local patois, he uttered these unforgettable words.
‘Yeah but, ya aft ta *uck a duck’
 As silence enveloped our table, someone plucked up the courage to press for further detail, which resulted in the realisation that it was indeed true, our man in the kitchen, had stayed from the beaten path and had a weakness for a duck. Later that evening, prompted by this earlier revelation, our producer divulged to us that, a now famous blues legend (who’s name I will keep to myself to ensure my future health and happiness) had grown up on a farmyard and also took ‘pleasure from the feather’, in his case it was chickens. There must be an easier way, I mused, even though poultry may well provide for an uncomplicated mistress, but could this be a clue as to why only chicken legs made it onto the island, and why our chef had turned his eye to the larger ‘billed’ ladies?
Moving swiftly on and to more savoury recreational matters. At the weekends we were invited by an English expat to spend the day on his catamaran, something we ended up doing on a regular basis. The beaches on the island had a rather dark brownish sand due to the volcanic rock, but he knew a beach that was pristine with untouched white sand that could only be reached via the sea. After an exhilarating sail round the island with sightings of flying fish and dolphins we would dock up and enjoy the snorkelling (As a near none swimmer I found that with a mask on, I could submerge my face in the water, and miraculously, my body would float, although sadly I also discovered that if I laughed, I would sink) Before leaving the studio for the catamaran, our singer had commissioned X to make a cake, the kind of cake that would leave a long lasting impression on everyone who sampled it. As the snorkelling came to an end and the skipper prepared to sail us home, we noticed that our technician was nowhere to be seen. It turned out that fully stocked up on cake he had headed off into the sunset. Delirious and happily hallucinating, we would have to wait two hours for his return, by this time sobered somewhat by the third degree burns to his back. By way of compensation though, the mermaids and sea monsters he had witnessed would provide endless stories for his grand children. Tired out by the fresh sea air we would very often sit and watch a DVD from the studios varied collection. This particular evening we had chosen ‘Spinal Tap’. As we sat down (not for the first time) to enjoy this very funny film, the studio manager, an English lady who had worked at ‘Air Montserrat’ since it opened in 1979 remarked on how popular this ‘rockumentary’ was with the very type of band it mocked. Under her watch at the studio she must have witnessed some of the biggest names in the business, from Stevie Wonder to Michael Jackson, Lou Reed to the Rolling Stones, they had all been here, but it was Black Sabbath that sprung from her memory, as Rob Reiner began his introduction to this spoof.
The boys from Sabbath, she recalled, had sat in silence for the duration of the film and as the credits rolled, with misty eyes, they began to discuss what they had seen.
“that was sad”

(long silence)

“yeah” (long silence)

“yeah, that was sad ... but they had some great songs”

Having been to the top of the Soufriere Hills volcano and peered down into its molten yolk, I couldn’t have been more unaware of what would soon happen. Shocking were the images of the islands capitol, Plymouth, reduced to an oversized ashtray, this small slice of paradise is now forever tainted. I often think of the homegrown (now late) Montserratian ‘soca’ star, ‘Arrow’, who was responsible for the worldwide hit ‘Hot Hot Hot’. He was reputed to have an arrow shaped swimming pool and known for his no nonsense, direct approach to life. On one night out we would meet him and indulge in some mutual backslapping. The conversation, however, ended with his trademark honesty as he uttered the words,
“yeah I like ya music”

 (long pause and whilst walking away)

 “to a point”