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.
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’ café. 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?