By Ginger | April 30, 2004
The Wildhearts – US Tour – March / April 2004 · Words by Ginger · transcribed by Kris Coverdale
The ten days off since completing the European leg of The Darkness world assault has been an emotional rollercoaster that makes touring more similar to a day off in bed than hard work.
With acoustic shows (varying in humiliation), red-eye visa applications (appointments presumably deliberately set too early in the morning for alcoholics, or junkies to contemplate honouring), precious few days with the family, doctors appointments, hair appointments, clothing appointments, irate landlady appointments and a little unexpected, mental/emotional instability thrown in, finally boarding Continental Airlines flight CO 57 (reassuringly looking like the word “cosy”, when written on immigration papers) to Austin, Texas, feels like a large backpack weighted down with shit has been removed from my back.
The flight is full of bands, all attending the forthcoming ‘South By Southwest’ (SXSW) showcase in various states of excitement. You can tell bands these days by ‘that’ haircut, the one that looks like everyone is growing their hair long, and have all arrived at the same length at the moment.
Ironically, or typically, we manage to lose Brad in the airport on the rushed transfer from Houston to Austin, but manage to re-convene hours later at the Holiday Inn, our home for the next three days.
It’s St Patrick’s Day in Texas and it’s a ridiculous time to be sober. Feeling more self-aware and broke than seemingly the entire population of Austin, I settle for a steak dinner and an early night, as the boys explore the debauchery that is 6th St.
After months of feeling bitterly cold, in Europe and the UK, I feel happy to turn off the air-conditioning in the hotel room, in favour of dry Texan heat. This thing is set on ‘low fan’, and it is still fucking Siberian in here when I enter. There is even a heating for ‘high cool’ four clicks away from its current setting and yet more cold air on the dial, if needed. Having shivered my way through the entire duration of 2004 already, I don’t even have the balls to try that one out for curiosity.
American people seem very large; in fact I have never seen so many technically ‘fat’ people in a ten mile radius than I have since driving from the airport to the hotel. Fat people need to feel cold, whereas thin people don’t. I put down the need for a simulated blizzard to be blowing through your bedroom, to this fact.
The first thing that strikes me is the quality of ‘Holiday Inns’ over here, compared to their UK counterparts. It is actually outrageous that British Holiday Inns are allowed to carry the name, such is the drastic improvement of bed size, wireless internet facilities, ice vendors, room space, private coffee machines and ultra-helpful staff.
I spend the morning looking for a ‘Golds Gym’ that hotel residents are given free access to. With the intention to start this visit on a strict health kick, I go from garage to garage, asking for directions to what is rapidly becoming a mythical gym. People in Austin, Texas people are disarmingly friendly and speak faster than any other region I have ever visited.
And they are terrible at giving directions.
Speedily spoken assistance results in a strange, rapid gibberish consisting of ‘turning right/left at lights’, following ‘blocks’ (traffic lights, and ‘blocks’ being the only landmarks on offer) and traditionally consummated with the obligatory ‘you can’t miss it’! At one garage/store I try to explain to the super-smiling girl at the checkout than I am not a Texan, nor am I even an American. I attempt to explain the situation further by asking her to imagine that she is from a very small country, where they speak at a fraction of the velocity. It makes very little difference, as the decreased speed of delivery is un-noticeable to the English ear.
After an hour of searching it occurs to me that these people have very little understanding of the concept of walking. Anywhere. Directions are offered in miles, rather than feet and I have probably walked the equivalent of a 15 minute workout anyway. Frustrated and hungry, I instead settle for breakfast at Denny’s, as opposed to the promised fitness.
Tipping waitresses is an essential lesson for any foreigner visiting US soil for the first time. Waitresses work for tips, as the average wage is disgracefully small. A handy way of figuring out how to tip? Look at the tax on the bill, double it and round it off to the nearest dollar and you have a foolproof method of tipping without insult.
In the lobby of the hotel we are greeted by the charming Mike and Michelle Gearhead and after exchanging pleasantries, Jon gets in a strop because Danny is on the artwork for the album. The artwork for the American “Riff After Riff…” album is a stunning Dirty Donny piece. Donny is one of my favourite living US artists, along with Coop and Kozik, but the painting adorning the back of the album features Danny, who played on the actual album and was done before Jon became a member. I leave him upstairs in his room, to kick chairs about, while I get ready for the day’s interviews. All of which go amazingly smoothly. In fact CNN are the only people I speak to today who are unaware of who we are, which is a great result for an apparent ‘cult’ band. Gearhead are doing a great job of promoting the album, and I’m relieved to be in the company of Mike and Michelle, as Jon and Stidi go about the task of getting heroically drunk, downtown.
We later meet up with the whole band and happen upon Tom Abraham, our new soundman, buying cigars two stores down from where we gather to eat the most wonderful burgers and bask in the glory of an astounding and very British friendly jukebox.
Tom is an old friend and meeting after a four year break is like a comma in a sentence. He drags me back to the cigar store to buy me some sickeningly expensive, astoundingly good cigars, happy in the knowledge that I have acquired a taste for a good Havana and he has a smoking buddy for the tour. It is sometimes easy to forget just how much you miss someone until they’re right in front of you.
The Damned are blasting out ‘New Rose’ as we re-enter the bar, and as David Bowies ‘Heroes’ follows, my mood becomes one of almost uncontrollable excitement at how things are unraveling over here.
I leave Jon and Stidi shouting at the locals and in a bid to retain the good feeling I’m getting about our future, return to the relative sanity of the hotel.
Austin is nothing short of ‘infested’ with music types, old friends and new acquaintances in the business, and a plethora of designer looking bands, covering every inch of the sidewalk. For me, however, there is only one band in town, and they have the best soundman in the US preparing to do battle with the tiny PA in ‘Emo’s’, in a couple of days time.
I couldn’t be more charged.
It’s Jon and Stidi’s first time in the USA and they deserve a huge blowout to celebrate the occasion. The first time I ever came to the US was with a band called The Quireboys, in about ’87 and I had such a good time I was immediately sacked. I didn’t understand it then and they shouldn’t have to now. Tomorrow they will play our warm up shows (two shows in one day), with colossal hangovers, and will wish they had stayed in the hotel to deal with the jet lag, instead of knocking back cocktails until unconscious. In the US, the bar staff don’t measure the shots in a cocktail, and one can get unbelievably drunk without realising it
I guess that some things have to be found out the hard way.
My loyalty to attempting a professional attitude forces me to miss out on seeing The Cooper Temple Clause playing tonight, in favour of getting rid of the remaining embers of jet lag, in time for tomorrows shows. I fall asleep at around 10:00pm, reading Norman Mailers “The Fight” (about Mohammed Ali’s comeback battle with George Foreman), only to wake up at 4:00am as pumped as a cocaine users first hit of the day. I leap out of bed, air punching, shadow boxing. I am absolutely possessed by tomorrows shows. Hell, ALL of these US shows. The excitement and determination I feel is quite unlike anything I have ever felt before. It is a very powerful half hour before the valium forces my body to even slow down, and another 40 minutes before sleep finally takes me.
19th March 2004 – San Antonio, TX @ Sam’s Burger Joint
8:00 an inner alarm clock slams me into consciousness and I’m up, dressed and out running the streets before I can even decide if the legs are up to the job. After running about half an hour, my second wind is turning into a mild breeze. Typical, then, that I should run smack into the mythical Golds Gym of yesterday. I can’t possibly turn around and forget the find, especially after yesterdays expedition. Even though no-one would ever know. Maybe they’ll need ID? Maybe I’ll need to run through a fitness test perhaps? Hey, maybe they’re full? Nope, it’s perfectly empty and the only patrons in attendance are overweight, under-buffed and make me feel like the fittest person in this large room. After half an hours workout I run back to the hotel, to the welcome amazement of Hot Steve and Tasty Dave, standing at the doorway of the hotel, chain-smoking.
These people are not used to seeing me this determined. I am not used to being this determined.
If we fail to break America it will not be down to lack of effort on my part.
Word of warning. When a pack of American disposable razors read “sensitive skin”, it means that they are designed presumably for the use of children. After a few minutes of trying to feel the slightest scrape on my face to indicate a close shave, the first red spot appears followed by the second and so on. I walk down to breakfast looking like I have been tarred and feathered with blood and toilet paper.
Outside of our date with Tower records, for a Gearhead sponsored ‘instore’ performance in front of a few baffled customers, we get to meet our bus. Our brand new, huge black and chrome bus. It is awe inspiring. Leather interior, large bunks, lots of space, two lounges and cable TV. There are even small televisions in every bunk. So much for touring in a fucking van, the US ‘punk’ way. In fact, the US ‘punk’ van carrying The Dragons, that was to be our tour van for the original US tour, has broken down en-route, and is sitting on a freeway somewhere with all of their gear in. No problem, they can use our gear for the instore and travel to San Antonio later today in our bus, where they can use our gear again, for the show, then travel back to San Antonio in our bus. Punk rock, USA? Stick it up your arse. Gimme a fucking tour bus with a trailer full of new gear any day. If it wasn’t for our ‘asshole Rock Star’ bus the show tonite would be cancelled.
Pretty fucking ‘punk’ credible, huh?
The Tower records thing is awful. It feels like we are auditioning for something. Very awkward. Larry Mazer, our US manager, has turned up to see us today and I am less than thrilled that his live introduction to us was playing in a shop!
We leave as hastily as is possible, and travel to San Antonio with The Dragons, who are a great bunch of guys. Dedicated to Rock n Roll, living the lifestyle and playing shitty little places like Sam’s Burger Joint, in San Antonio. Probably the best burgers I have ever tasted and undoubtedly the worst gig I have ever been unable to hear.
So much for the American dream that I had this morning. It seems to have turned into some kind of nightmare, where we get to wake up in a few days time, when back on the Darkness tour.
Little over 20 zealous fans have travelled hundreds of miles to see us play for 45 minutes, in a place that has a sound system like a large stereo, and monitors that don’t work, a slight problem for a band that have four vocalists.
We play valiantly for the few people that have made it here who know every single word to every song and really should have a nice big rock show to attend, complete with ‘other’ people in attendance, instead of this paltry display of mediocrity.
It’s a lonely journey home, now with 3 bands in tow. Both of the bands we are giving a lift to have no alternative way of getting back to Austin.
Punk Rock, USA? We call it ‘pub’ rock in the UK.
Will someone give these bands something to be ambitious for, for fucks sake? Who in Hell would want to spend the rest of their lives travelling hundreds of miles, to make a gig where your allotted stage time is 45 minutes, playing to no-one, on a stage where you can’t hear anything, through a PA system that makes you sound deliberately low-fi, for no money?
It is with great sadness that I climb into bed at 3:40 am and thank God that in the end, we didn’t have to slop around the US, playing to 25 people a night, sleeping on the floor of a van. A broken van, at that.
The ‘cool’ US tradition of ‘doing it for the cause’ is a dream for teenagers and people that can’t play very well. Over the age of 30 you should have paid enough dues to be able to afford to hire a bus, at the very least.
20th March 2004 – Austin, TX @ Emo’s Gearhead Records SXSW Showcase
The day of the SXSW show begins with an interview on the roof of the Hard Rock cafe and a photo session inside one of the biggest, most glamorous hotels ever built by a millionaire Texan oil baron. Designed in the 19th century, the place is a homage to grandeur, with majestic stairways, glorious crystal chandeliers and a huge stained glass skylight that sprays muticoloured shafts into the foyer. The photos turn out fantastic.
We pass Mini Driver in the street, much taller than you’d expect and alarmingly stern looking if truth be told.
Then it’s back to the bus, to make the most elaborate entrance of the day. Directly outside of the modest venue hosting tonight’s show, Emo’s, our spectacularly large bus manoeuvres the slim street and pulls up backwards to the curb, to the delight of onlookers suffering from music fatigue, after a week of bands stuffed into every possible emporium on 6th street.
With our presence well and truly established, we wait out the interminable lull of activity before showtime. Then it’s straight onstage to provide Austin with a new degree in the art of volume. The venue is packed, and the queue outside stretches around the corner of the street and beyond. Word has gone round that The Wildhearts are worth catching, and so we are lucky enough to open the set to a full house of ‘catchers’.
Within the second song, Stidi’s bass drum pedal has fallen apart and the adrenalin pumping through his wiry frame looks set to detonate, at any moment, into pure anger. He stands up and kicks his drum kit in frustration, as Tasty Dave frantically tries to locate a spare pedal. The inconsistency of the flow actually goes toward enhancing the show, as the end of every song is met with an awkward struggle beneath the drum stool and gives the audience’s ears a chance to adjust to silence again, before the next song tears open the fabric of their comfort.
Technical difficulties aside, the show is a stormer, and Larry Mazer, in attendance, seems content with his first proper experience of the band in action.
Tonight I will have a few beers, courtesy of Kenny, of the Dragons, be bought a shot of Jamesons by a cartoon proportioned girl from Hollywood and watch The Riverboat Gamblers lay waste to the rest of the evening’s attendees. One of the best live bands in the country, it’s a joy to watch their singer throwing himself against the stone wall, side stage, like a modern day Iggy Pop.
In Texas drinking stops at 2:00am. And I mean stops. Drinks are forcibly removed from everyone’s hands by the security and anyone putting up the slightest resistance has their bottle grabbed from them and smashed on the ground. I meet various of victims outside of the venue, bleeding from glass shards embedded into their legs. A truly bizarre introduction to the dark side of Texan hospitality.
Back at the bus, Hot Steve has filled the front lounge with accommodating Texan ladies, but the real fun is to be found in the street theatre, going on out outside.
Texan women are fucking mental.
One petite black girl is rubbing herself provocatively against her white girlfriend, which is, naturally, attracting the attention of every male in the vicinity. To watch this small girl then violently attacking a large black guy, as her friends form a formidable back-up behind her, is quite a sight.
Only, as they say, in America.
21st March 2004 – New Orleans, LA
When we reach Shreveport, Louisiana, the next morning, the hangover of last night’s celebrations seems to have set up an insurmountable wall in which to get over in time to put on a decent show. That is until we find out that it’s a day off and we have pulled up next to an uninhabited, open swimming pool. As typical ‘Brit’s abroad’ we commandeer the space poolside, and maintain a level of lunacy enough to keep the locals away from our new oasis. Jon leaps into the deep end of the pool, only to find out that he has forgotten how to swim and scrambles his way to the side. And the madness continues and escalates.
After a Taco Bell breakfast, a quick trip around K-Mart and an afternoon spent swimming outside in the Louisiana heat, we wonder aloud exactly what British bands could possibly find to complain about, touring America. With so many UK bands returning from US, with nightmare stories of up-hill struggles and unbearable miles of travelling from gig to gig, we conclude that British bands who don’t enjoy touring this amazing place are simply not deserving of the privilege.
If you don’t enjoy travelling around the US of A, you are dead.
22nd March 2004 – Atlanta, GA @ E.A.R.L
Atlanta, Georgia… cold… nothing to do… and we’re starting to get sick.
Me and CJ are feeling the courting period of a virus infecting our bodies, getting us in the stomach and hitting the nausea button with consistent regularity.
It’s times like these when you need a good audience turn-out. Yeah, a big crowd could really give this lumpen day a lift. Shame, then, that there are probably less than 50 people in attendance.
The thrill of ‘keeping it real’ and playing to no-one, due to lack of promotion, has worn off completely, and the only thing keeping us from turning around, and going home, is the sheer beauty of the country and the looming joy of meeting back up with The Darkness, to ply our wares to an ‘actual’ audience.
Don’t get me wrong, those 50, or so, people (one of whom is Rick Richards, of the Georgia Satellites) who do actually turn up tonight are very appreciative and receive a fine show. Requests are taken, and hastily rendered versions of “Sky Babies”, “Weekend”, “Caffeine Bomb”, “Suckerpunch” and “29 x The Pain” are trotted out to a baying, if modest crowd.
Tonight seems like a good night to drink. Alcohol seems the only thing that could possibly make this exercise in humiliation any more bearable.
Asking Wildhearts fans for a drink is tantamount to instigating a drinking competition, as naturally everyone wants to buy the band a shot. I lose count how many Jagermeisters, Jack Daniels, Jamesons, Southern Comfort and Lord knows what else are handed up to the stage, in cute little paper cups. All I know is that the stomach pains have disappeared, I’m suddenly in the middle of “Sky babies” and I am drunk. And here comes the solo.
I look forward to hearing a bootleg of this show almost as much as I was looking forward to leaving.
The Dragons have settled down in our bus after the show and a game of “Quiet At The Back There”, featuring Steve Dragon and Random Jon begins. I swap footwear with Steve and come out of the deal with a cool-as-all-fuck pair of black Cowboy boots, with white stars. He gets my old, fake Snakeskin pair, that have trodden almost every country I have ever been to. It’s a good deal and a good end to a shabby, non-entity of a day.
We played, we drank, we swapped boots and got the fuck out of Dodge.
23rd March 2004 – Charlotte, NC @ The Room
And into Charlotte, North Carolina, where the bus drops us off at the only hotel in America that has no telephone service and Chris, the driver, makes a round trip to Atlanta, to replace the blown out television and stereo.
We are slowly killing the bus.
The entire band and crew have picked up a stomach bug. The Dragons are also spewing the day away, which leads us to assume that the food from The Earle, in Georgia, yesterday, might be responsible for the mass nausea.
I spend the entire day stuck in bed, doubled over with stomach cramps, moving only to vomit in the bathroom.
It’s 8:00pm before we order a cab to the show, only to find that tonight’s show will be played to an empty room. It’s funny, but The Wildhearts have never played to an empty room before. Even in our infancy, there were always at least a couple of dozen friends to cheer us on. Tonight, there can’t be more than 20 people in the venue, including members of all three bands appearing.
For the first time since we played Switzerland, we give up the professional facade that we have since been perfecting and drink shots before the show.
Depressed at the meagre turn-out, we reluctantly mount the tiny stage in The Room and tear frantically through the set. A humbling experience, that I’m sure in time, will be remembered as character building stuff. At this point however, it is nothing short of embarrassing. More stiffeners are downed during the show and by the time we eventually retire to the dressing room, post performance, the slump of humiliation has levelled out. And we are relatively shit faced.
A guy hands me a small ball of what looks like ‘black’, a form of hashish, informs me that it is ‘Mexican tar’ and instructs me to stick one half up each nostril, and follow through with a dash of water. It is fifteen minutes later, when I feel my body start to dissolve and my legs become cumbersome luggage, that I realise what has transpired.
I’ve been given heroin.
It is a fitting end to a thoroughly joyless day.
The evening ends with Random crawling on the floor of the hotel, speaking in tongues and hallucinating, as guests here on no-ones particular invite, suspect that the grass that he has been smoking has been spiked with angel dust. Repeated shots of someone’s cocaine ‘bullet’ (a plastic ‘one-hit’ contraption, whose subtlety can fool the user into thinking that it is broken) , does nothing to stabilise his condition, except for to add paranoia to the already heady blend of confusion and inertia.
I am sharing rooms with Jon tonite and will attempt to talk him down from his lofty height, while trying desperately to stay awake throughout the opiated beating that my consciousness is taking.
The blind will be leading the blind tonight, ladies and gentlemen.
24th March 2004 – Baltimore, MD @ Otto Bar
It is 7:00am, when we are woken from apparent sleep. The bus has returned and we are ready to head out to Baltimore, Maryland. Complete with stereo and TV.
I am looking forward to this show for two reasons. Aside from the obvious (it is the last show of this batch of under-attended piss abouts), it is also the place where KIX grew up, and fine tuned their peculiar blend of snotty pop/rock, prior to moving out, getting a record deal and turning into AC/DC. KIX’s first two albums (‘KIX’ and ‘Cool Kids’) are part of the blueprint for the Wildhearts sound. Check ’em out, if you get a chance.
The show is reassuringly packed with Wildhearts fans, most of whom have waited for over 10 years to see us play on home ground. Without a soundcheck, we stumble onto the grubby stage, and tread the worn carpet, now ground to a stained, paper thin remnant of many many bands past. Plugged in and ready to go, I look side stage to Kenny of The Dragons, who has an expression of slight sadness, as we steady ourself for the final show. I slap my new boots, and throw a wink, in an attempt to indicate that this won’t be the last we see of those guys. The Dragons have turned into our new favourite band and it feels like we’ve known them forever.
I have never been too good with goodbyes. Tonight, after we play, I will stay on the bus, while both bands will take advantage of a free bar indoors. Parting with friends leaves me with a sadness that follows me around for days and The Dragons have become firm friends in the last few days, so I will not partake. It doesn’t make sense to the rest of our guys, who will later ask why I didn’t show my face in the aftershow. It doesn’t make too much sense to me either. Maybe it’s a result of having had to say goodbye to so many places, faces and times. I’d rather just move on, be transported to the next happening, and get stuck in.
The show is great tonight. We really excel in front of a good crowd, and tonight the crowd are as ‘up-for-it’ as anywhere we have ever played. They sing along to every word, and delight in the obscure B-sides that we decide to pull out of our stuffed bag of tracks.
Afterwards, even a couple of Vicodan, given by a fan who has been reading about my love of Valium, on the website, do little to soothe my post gig blues. Jed Simon of Strapping Young Lad appears back on the bus, as do Sal and Steve from Electric Frankenstein. It is all I can do to attempt a cheerful pretence until they vacate and we move on.
I guess travelling minstrels shouldn’t stick around long enough to grow roots.
Good bye Baltimore, had a blast, gotta go somewhere.
My dreams are plagued with nightmare scenarios, and I wake up crying a few times. The alcohol and narcotics that have been ingested in the last few days, are having their usual fight with my subconscious and the dreams are devastatingly brutal. It would have been impossible to get through the last few shows without a vice or two to cling onto. Now it’s over, and we are meeting up with The Darkness in 48 hours, it is time to adopt the attitude of a veteran. It is time to raise the bar again. These will be the last in drink-and-drug induced nightmares for now. From tomorrow it’s back on the wagon.
For the most part, anyway.
26th March 2004 – Milwaukee, WI @ The Rave Bar
As we pull into Milwaukee, there is a feeling of the mood being taken from the congestive stupor it has become and lifted above our heads like a fucking great arrow, pointing towards the target. The huge Eagle Ballroom.
Pikey Dan has rejoined our crew today, Larry Mazer is in the venue as we arrive, Doug Brod, of Spin magazine, has brought a photographer down to get some visual evidence of the proceedings, before we whisk Doug off for a day’s worth of bus debauchery, which turns into five!
The guys from The Darkness are filing in sporadically and warm handshakes ‘n’ hugs are exchanged, before they commence a slightly nervous soundcheck. They have a new soundman for this tour – Andy – previously their monitor man, in an almost parallel switch to ours, mirroring the almost supernatural closeness of both bands and our good, albeit differing in sized, fortunes.
We are thrilled that we have a huge dressing room, capable of holding a band, a crew and a workout area, even though The Darkness’s dressing room looks like the setting for a Moroccan orgy.
Faces are shining. Smiles are being smiled, and the game is once again on.
Man, I have missed this setting so badly, I almost want to get on my knees and thank the Lord of BIG ROCK for having us back in a venue with a production. Huge PAs give me a hard on. Just think how much damage we can do with those babies flanking either side of the stage, aiming, almost prophetically, at the unsuspecting youngsters that will gather here tonight.
Fuck. I can’t wait to hurt ’em.
America is a place of extremes, and that strangely suits us just fine. In fact it’s kind of fitting, to a band that exist only to discover new parameters of extreme, that we are starting to feel very ‘at home’ here in USA. We like extremes.
Like not being able to get a strong beer, so you instead buy a lethally dosed cocktail, because they don’t use measures.
You can’t smoke indoors, but outside there are more cars, spewing out carcinogenic fumes, per square inch, than anywhere else in the world.
The technology here is as advanced as Japan, with wireless internet as the norm, but you can’t plug anything heavier than a sponge into an electrical socket without it falling out. Which fucks us Brits up no end with our big fat plugs stuck into large electrical adaptors.
And the news we receive in the UK, from Fox News Network and CNN, shows America to be a country in political turmoil, with a history of race related polarity following it around like a bad tattoo of a shitty ex-girlfriend. What people don’t hear enough of is that AMERICA WAS BORN TO ROCK. They love
it. Fuck, man, they invented the shit. USA, man, US fuckin’ A. We wanna break this place because they won’t take much persuading to like us. It’s like that girl you just met and instantly get along with. There’s effort but it’s healthy effort, leading to something. Something worth investing in.
The American audiences (well, the ones that we are playing to), don’t seem to mess about trying to prioritise their outward cool, while maintaining an inner respect for the merit of a certain artist’s integrity. They just fucking ROCK! As they do in Milwaukee. Tonight.
They scream the entire show. For The Wildhearts. For The Darkness. For the sheer Hell of it.
We play a great set this evening and after the ‘punk’ shows without any monitor systems to speak of, it is fucking great to get in front of a big fucking speaker with your voice in it! Without a soundcheck, the band just fire into whatever ‘mix’ we are going to get onstage tonight. And we bask in the quality of a top class sound system like fish being dropped back into water after being hoisted out by a rusty, blunt hook.
We surely, then, must be destined to do something on a larger scale, all around the world, because playing large stages, with fine equipment, certainly suits us to the ground. That’s gotta count for something, right?
It’s a shame that the T-shirts haven’t arrived for this show, as we could have made a couple of thousand bucks tonight, easy.
The bus is full of American women with large teeth and large breasts and Doug looks on amused as the photographer from Spin attempts his first foray into mildly soft core porn.
An argument starts up between me and Stidi, that sends me into a wine bottle for the evening. Wine and valium don’t mix, or more to the point, they mix far too well and I am hallucinating by the end of the night in an attempt to distance myself from the anger, surging within.
27th March 2004 – Chicago, IL @ The Vic
I have somehow made it to my bed and wake up in the same frame of mind as I fell asleep in. I enter the The Vic Theatre in Chicago and instantly bump into Stidi.
Spiteful words are aimed at each other and the argument escalates into a brawl on the floor. Right under the nose of the deputy editor of Spin magazine.
The timing couldn’t have be less perfect if we’d planned it for years.
I try to calm down by taking a walk around the colourful streets of Chicago and when Stidi and I eventually come face to face we exchange hugs and apologies. It’s pretty admirable, in such a volatile band, that we can keep our eye on the prize and stay focussed. Fuck man, I’ve wanted to come to Chicago for ever, and within the first hour of being here the band have had a fight.
Nope, doesn’t make any sense to us either.
It doesn’t help that the fucking T-shirts still haven’t arrived either and we are pissing away hundreds and hundreds of dollars. This ‘punk as fuck’ thing is starting to grate. Having no shirts on sale is just lame.
Ironically, a ‘punk as fuck’ T-shirt shop, who sell items of everyone from The Business to Infa Riot, don’t have anything by local bands Cheap Trick or Urge Overkill. Or Big Black, who apparently don’t allow anyone to sell their shirts as some kind of punk statement. I can’t find an Enuff Z Nuff shirt anywhere either, so my ‘homage’ to Chicago bands, in the form of stage wear, is thwarted, in favour of probably another black fucking shirt. Chip Z Nuff even comes to say the bus to say ‘hi’, and I was somewhere else, fighting.
With the mood switching from violence to sadness during the day, this setting appears to be an ideal one for a brutally passionate show tonight.
I love Chicago. Its cosmopolitan streets, its dark classic bars and cheap food, its cool-as-shit clothing stores, and its lineage of great music. There’s a massive anti-Bush campaign starting in the States, which I obviously endorse and nowhere more than here in Chicago. The place reminds me of a bigger St Marks, in New York, such is the inherent ‘coolness’ of the people simply going about their business in every colour of skin in the world.
I want us to leave a lasting impression with the audience tonight. I have a feeling that Chicago is a kind of sonic spiritual homeground for me.
I want to do this show properly tonight and show these people where some of their history has ended up. As an influence to the music they will be hearing tonight.
If they don’t get it in Chicago, we are in big trouble.
I get an internet instant-message from Nikki Sixx, asking how the tour has been going. I ask if he’s coming to the LA show and he replies in the affirmative. In fact he’s coming to meet Frankie, of The Darkness, and “let him know who’s boss”, due to something said about Motley Crue in a Darkness interview (little does he know that it was actually Justin who did the interview!). Nikki has offered to get up onstage and play with us in LA, and he’s also bringing along Tracii Guns. I’m thinking that if Lemmy is in town, what are the chances of having him guest star too?
That would be quite a trip.
“I’d like to invite a friend onstage… Tracii Guns (big roar)… and another friend… Nikki Sixx (bigger roar)… and another friend… Lemmy (roof collapses). “And we’d like to play a song for absent friends, Joey and Dee Dee… this is ‘Blitzkrieg Bop’ (colossal cheer heard in Las Vegas),.. 1-2-3-4…”
Okay it’s just a dream, but you gotta have a dream, or how you gonna make a dream come true, right?
At the moment we are living the dream. Riding the dream. On a full tank.
Time to get up on that stage, wearing a T-shirt that says ‘Cheap Chic’ (an all girl Cheap Trick tribute band, from L.A.). It belongs to Doug, and he’s just gone ploughing through his luggage for it. He is quickly becoming a part of our team, a part of the solution and is eager to help in any way. Tonight cannot fail now.
See you after the show, to let you know how it went…
…it was fucking fantastic.
We made ourselves, to everyone in the venue, their new favourite band.
Wanting to come to America, for so long and it actually working a dream, is like losing your virginity. Over and over again! And people in Chicago know their rock n roll. They are tired of being bored. They demand the right to have fun again. Like before Kurt Cobain inadvertently took the fun out of rock music and swayed everyone in his wake to be so self aware of how painfully ordinary everything is, that they eventually infected an already thriving entertainment industry with introverted pseudo-art. And ultimately took away the entertainment.
I get the feeling that Chicago represents every living person in America right now. Thing’s have gotten way too serious and America needs to be reminded of ‘what else’ it does best.
And if it takes two British bands to shake the memory tree and loosen up a bunch of forgotten traditions and ideals, then we are thrilled to help, in total gratitude for all the great rock n roll America has given us Brits, and the rest of the world.
America should be damned proud to be American.
28th March 2004 – Detroit, MI @ Clutch Cargo’s
The band stagger unsteadily from the bus, suffering the hospitality of Delilah’s, in Chicago (check it out, ask for Mike) last night, and attempt to find the dressing room in Clutch Cargo’s, Pontiac, Detroit. A mammoth task, for anyone without a hangover, becomes an assault course for this bus full of Limey degenerates.
It’s time like these, where I can actually observe first hand, what misery and extreme nausea I’m missing out on. It’s times like these that I don’t crave the drinking experience. Not one bit.
The hangover always lasts longer than the party.
After an hours search I figure that Detroit doesn’t have public telephones. Judging by the amount of junkies pushing shopping carts, full of refundable bottles and cans, maybe having phone-boxes full of ready change, on every street corner, wouldn’t be smartest move in cleaning up the local drug problem.
The stores have bullet proof perspex, separating the cashier from the toothless wanderers trading in bottles for dimes.
It’s a pretty heavy looking area, as bleak as it is wide.
The roads are crammed with huge cars. It’s motor city, baby and one gets the feeling that MC5 and Iggy and The Stooges made drug induced sonic warfare to combat the massive boredom that was no doubt offered as an alternative.
Detroit, man. Kiss were huge here. The Good Rats wanted to be huge here. We hope to be accepted here, even though low-fi, garage rock currently dominates the airwaves. Jesus, they’ve gotta still have a bit of that dirt-rock streak, still seeping through the generations, right? Alice Cooper came from here, fer cryin’ out loud.
After a long interview with Spin magazine, it’s time to get in shape, and begin the evening’s rocking. I want a win in Detroit, I want it so badly that I am calmer than usually, pre-show. All we gotta do is act naturally.
……show over. They fucking loved us!
Detroit knows what’s what when faced with a brand new band. I hear that they can be an unforgiving bunch here in Pontiac and can shower an unsuspecting opening act with open hostility. Not tonight. They cheer the fucking roof off!
We leave the dressing room, to meet, greet and check out the general reactions of the locals. Broadzilla are here tonight and it’s lovely to see the girls again. A nicer bunch of female rockers you couldn’t hope to meet. I quickly lose count of the amount of ‘you guys rocked’ and ‘that was awesome’s’ that are awarded the band, as the crowd corner us and make us feel like the second coming of whatever the last coming was. There are a helluva lot of converts in here tonight. It’s a great feeling to give something back to America. Playing in front of US crowds has a different vibe to anywhere else in the World. It’s like throwing riffs at a wall and watching every one of them stick like glue.
They ‘get’ it, over here, it’s as simple as that.
It is a pity that the fucking T-shirts STILL haven’t arrived, and we are down at least two grand from tonight alone, judging by the crowds reception.
The Darkness are having a small party back at their hotel, and we, of course, are more than happy to attend. It’s funny to see how the biggest new band in the world handle an after-aftershow party. Or to put it another way, if we had their funds, and status, there would be fewer bearded business types in the room, more pretty girls and a lot more bad behaviour.
Being brought up on bands like Van Halen, I imagined partying USA to be an exercise in base, hedonistic debauchery and not an extended meet and greet with record company staff. I cannot fucking wait to headline a tour here, complete with hotels and expense accounts.
Man, that’s gonna be messy!
Dan and Justin are in a very fluffy and tactile mood tonight, hugging and kissing me like a member of the Hawkins family. Sue, The Darkness manager, has phoned Angie today, to get together with the kids and hang out. Funny then, to have me and the boys simultaneously exchanging embraces, four thousand miles across the water. It’s a tight unit that are tearing America a new asshole at the moment. The Darkness and The Wildhearts suit each other in every way.
Jon has gone missing and we later find out that he’s decided to hang out with Ed and will be travelling to the next town with The Darkness. He will, no doubt, wake up confused and totally at a loss as to what to do with himself. Serves the crazy bastard right. Earlier he wanted to throw a TV from the fourth floor of the Holiday Inn and settled for a piss out of the window. He’s in one of those moods. God help The Darkness.
30th March 2004 – Cleveland, OH @ Agora Theatre
Willie and I walk to a local Starbucks as we arrive in Cleveland. The wireless system is in operation, but we still can’t access the signal. The helpful staff instruct us to go to the City Plaza, a massive 24 floor banking complex, right across the street. As we walk in the building is empty. Not a security guard in sight. 24 floors of banks and financial centres and not a security guard in sight. Not a gun in the building.
An old gentleman exits the toilet and advises us that the best signal will be from the Grubb and Ellis, 3rd floor, who are in charge of the entire building. As we walk casually through the glass doors, the place is completely empty. We casually open up our laptop cases and begin to search the net for a signal.
I am fucking dumbstruck at the shocking lack, or rather absence, of security.
We could be pulling out our computers and pressing a button marked ‘detonate’ and the entire banking system of Cleveland would be crippled.
Cleveland sure has a fucking bad memory.
The final, delicious irony comes as we leave the building, in a mild state of shock. There is a bronze plaque on the wall, outside of the City Plaza, in the street, that says: “No Smoking in this area”. I could set a bomb off, no problem, but lighting a cigarette might pose a security risk.
As I said before, America, a place of extremes.
Later, Tasty Dave and I decide to go for a little trip around Cleveland’s seedier underbelly. See what’s really going on in town. Dave enjoys the darker side of society as much as I do, so, after a very welcome shower in our ‘day-room’, we go in search of low life high jinx.
American hotel rooms are an experience in themselves. Whoever designed the standard lights system, in your average US hotel, must have a really good sense of humour. Lights here are operated without logic. A small nubbin between two bedside lamps, provides the illumination for the whole room. This stupid little knob needs to be turned over and over and over again, until one click sets the light into action. And it’s really difficult to work out in the dark.
Our Cleveland walkabout introduces us to some of the craziest bums, junkies and homeless people in existence. We eventually buy our way out of a potentially life altering, and tour jeopardising, confrontation with a haystack proportioned bum.
As I am eyeballing this huge, Grizzly Adams drunk (the kind that has NOTHING to lose, and a history of street fighting, written on his knuckles in scars and open sores), all I can think of is whacking him with a surprise headbutt, and running as fast as I possibly can, pulling Dave behind me. Before this event could occupy another seconds thought however, Dave turned around and handed this bum ten dollars to go and “fuck off”.
Probably the best ten dollars ever spent.
Whether the guy had a knife, a death wish or even a gun (like the many many ‘sentries’, dotted around the huge crackhouse, on the very Brooklyn looking downtown street that we find ourselves on), now he has ten dollars, and has forgotten ever meeting two Limeys. Soon he will have a glass dick in his mouth, and will forget everything.
Cleveland reminds me of Switzerland. Large and lonely. Big, big drug problems, to which the police-force turn a knowingly blind eye.
Let’s face it, Grizzly bear sized drunks pose much more of an actual, physical threat to society than skinny crackheads, bumming enough quarters for their next hit.
Backstage, at the Cleveland, Agora Theatre, pre-soundcheck, I am sitting thinking through what I’m going to write for today’s journal, when Tom walks in with a look on his face that says: “I’m your new best friend… you just wait and see why!”.
With him is a guitar case and inside the guitar case is the most spectacular piece of artistic beauty that these eyes have been privileged to witness. Merely calling it a guitar seems insulting. It is an Ibanez, Paul Stanley PS10. It is 22 years old, and has never been played. It is black, shiny and has as equally an attractive shape as a naked female. It is fucking awesome.
And Tom has just bought it for me, from a friend who wanted someone to take it out into the world and be seen. This fucking thing should be adored, let alone seen. It should have its own religious cult.
Tom thinks it would look better on me than anyone else he can think of, and has put serious money behind the idea.
Fuck, today has started rather well.
And it’s getting stranger by the second.
The Darkness turn up to soundcheck, and Justin’s voice stops working. He can’t hit the high notes, which is obviously a large part of his ‘schtick’ (to coin my current fave US term).
They have decided to pull tonight’s show.
A cancellation? And we aren’t even to blame! Now THAT is ironic.
We want to play Cleveland so bad. “Cleveland Rocks”, as Ian Hunter once said, and we wanna find out if it’s true.
(I hope it hasn’t just turned into a term for the most popular trade on the streets.)
Outside, photographs of Iggy onstage with Stiv Bators, Wendy O Williams, Joey Ramone, Mick Ronson, Johnny Rotten and Joan Jett adorn the windows of the building, like a shrine to the very spirit of Rock ‘n Roll. I am still going to have a good few hours work-out, to get fit enough for whatever today throws at me. Willy rushes around, determined to stop The Wildhearts having to turn around from this place, and leave with no memory of playing in front of a Cleveland crowd. The room next door, The Ballroom, has a few bands playing tonight, and one of them, funnily enough, was originally booked to support us, with The Dragons. This might be a good sign. Time to do some haggling.
After much debating, we manage to book a show headlining The Ballroom tonight, and by 7:00pm, the entire place is fucking jammed to capacity with Darkness fans, and presumably a few Wildhearts ones too.
This is turning into one of the stranger days of the year, and all in front of the Spin magazine scribe, detailing every moment of our first US tour.
You just couldn’t make this shit up. You really couldn’t.
After raiding The Darkness’s dressing room of headline-band items (like cold meat platters and beer for days) and taking full advantage of the uneaten catering, we take the stage to the strangest vibe of any room I have ever played. 50% were die hard, crazy motherfuckers, moshing, dancing and singing their beautiful little hearts out until mute, 40% were strangely compelled to stay and 10% were visually bitter and disgruntled, yet still wouldn’t leave.
Once again, the local crews, and promoter thought the band were fantastic and the offer of a future headline show was issued. Getting the vote of local crew is the seal of obvious quality. These guys have seen everything and can get quite jaded. And when you lift their spirits they can get very animated and have no problem voicing their obvious pleasure.
Still, I dunno why, but if I see five or six people in an whole room, not having a good time, I will play to those half dozen, in the usually vain hope that we can convert them. When they refuse to show any emotion, or actual awareness that the band are actually playing their fucking hearts out, it bums me out, big time. Why? Who knows? It really shouldn’t matter.
Who gives a fuck about them, in reality?
Yet I do. Far too much.
We played a storm, and came away with a definite victory, but I’m thrown off track a little.
I’m in a ‘support band’ kind of mode, and headlining to an unsuspecting audience came as a shock that we weren’t able to readily appreciate. Maybe if The Darkness pull tomorrow’s show too, we will rise to the occasion of stepping in to divert the audience’s disappointment, by playing somewhere close to the venue. Offer them an alternative to going home. Hey, maybe we’ll all even enjoy it?
Cleveland will not be forgotten in a hurry, but for none of the reasons I was expecting it to leave an imprint.
31st March 2004 – Pittsburgh, PA @ Rock Jungle
After leaving Crack Central, Cleveland, the irony of the next venue in Pittsburgh, being called “The Rock” is not lost on us. The gravity of the situation is a bit of a blow, though.
The Darkness have cancelled tonight’s show too.
We have not waited over ten years to play USA, not to appear. We didn’t travel thousands of miles to take multiple days off.
We’d better find ourselves another gig nearby… and fucking quick. This is George A Romero country, and I am fucked if we ain’t taking a part of it back home with us.
The local promoter is told about the bad news and is frantically assembling a street team, to flyer the new show (or ‘alternative option’) around Pittsburgh, as I write.
We have tracked down a venue, The 31st Street Pub, in which to carry on our US assault. This introduction for the USA to The Wildhearts, that is rapidly starting to look like a guerilla style operation.
The inside of the venue is rock n roll incarnate. Autographed snare drum skins cover the ceiling, signed guitars hang side by side behind the bar. Stuck to the wall is a huge Jaime Hernandez (“Love and Rockets” – the greatest comic book of all time) poster, which puts a big, goofy, nostalgic smile on my face. The stage in tiny, and the capacity can’t be more than 200. I hear they can cram in 300, at a push. Boy, that’s some push.
This place is going to be fucking sardined to the rafters, if all goes well. Which I think it just might……..
……well, sitting here, post show, I have to admit that I was wrong.
The 150 or so that attended made a sound akin to 300 people and the show was great fun (complete with TVs at the back of the bar, showing ‘Grease’, which I watched all the way through the set), but any indelible etching of Pittsburgh onto our collective memories is severely diminished.
The bar is a strictly ‘over 21’s only’ emporium, that used to be a biker bar, run by the current owner, Joel. It is safe to say that the police have their eye on this venue, as it’s one of the only places still promoting live bands and if a teenager is found on the premises Joel’s licence gets taken away by the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board. This of course, eliminates most Darkness fans from entry, right off the bat.
It’s tough to run rock gigs in what is still a Quaker State.
We decide to collect our e-mails at ‘Brave New World’, a great record shop owned by the ever helpful Spahr Schmitt, whose girlfriend Marcie is handing out flyers for the show outside of the proposed Darkness venue.
This she does for hours. In the rain. To little avail.
Ho hum. I guess our time spent in USA Punk Hell, at the start of the tour, prepared us for eventualities such as tonight. It sucks that we have to play places this small (the stage is slightly bigger than a drum riser, with appallingly underpowered monitors), as opposed to breaking new ground, with a massive Darkness audience.
Fuck it, I will get drunk tonight.
1st April 2004 – Pittsburgh, PA
Wake up in Philadelphia, PA, and decide to take a walk with Pikey Dan (who is now our bass tech) and CJ. After eating some of the best food I ever tasted, we go in search of tacky goodies in the area. I pick up a CD version of the Cheap Trick single ‘Baby Talk’, produced by Steve Albini, for the ridiculous sum of one dollar.
The people of Philly seem to be as nice and helpful as any I have ever met. The day is sunny, the place is spotlessly clean and even has a walk of fame, where I have my picture taken hugging Joan Jett’s plaque. Let’s face it, without a sex change it’s the closest I’m ever gonna get to intimacy with Ms Jett, right!
The murals that adorn hundreds of walls in town (a painting for every year Philadelphia has been around, apparently) are breathtakingly wonderful pieces. The sun is out. It’s turning into a lovely day.
That is until I get a phone call from Tom, who wants to meet in a local ‘gentlemans’ bar, just around the corner. It seems serious, so I quickly locate ‘The Mahogany’ on Walnut Street, to find out that Tom is leaving us in a few days.
He has been offered a job designing the sound for a new production from the makers of Riverdance. It is going to put a fortune into his pocket, and see that he gets paid for every time the show is performed, whether he is there or not.
I can’t blame him for taking the job, and he has already found us what he describes as a perfect replacement, John Blasutta, who will be arriving in time for the Atlanta show. John has worked with ALL the big names, from The Beach Boys to the Bee Gees to The Who to Ozzy Osbourne to ZZ Top, and is no stranger to guitar volume as well as harmonies.
I hate changing crews in the middle of a tour, but it happens so regularly for us that I’ve gotten used to absorbing the shock. Still, it hurts (and it sucks a lot of dick) that we can’t afford to pay people the money they’re used to making.
Everyone works for us, at the moment, for the love of the music and the band.
That kind of love, however, pays no bills.
After graciously buying me some really good cognac and cigars, I leave Tom and walk the streets to try and get positive before I go back to the bus and tell the boys, who will be gutted. Un-fortunately there is no-one back at HQ when I arrive, so I sit and wonder what shape the next disaster is going to appear dressed in.
I think I’ll go to bed early, and hope to dream of something positive. Something lasting. Something that I can call my own, without someone else paying for it to leave.
2nd April 2004 – Philadelphia, PA @ Theatre of Living Arts
There are a confused bunch of potential rock stars leaving the bus, attempting to drown the sorrows of another crew member leaving by checking out the main street that includes The Theatre Of Living Arts as one of its attractions. Our home for tonight’s show.
The main drag looks like Camden High Street, only with the kind of people that Camden would be saturated in, if they could only lose their pretend cool. Philly people are like New Yorkers, except the ‘big brother’ vibe and inherent paranoia that permeates New York doesn’t appear to be present here. Everyone seems ‘okay’. Friendly and chatty. So much so in fact, that it’s slightly discomforting to get at ease with the ‘punk-hippy’ social mutation. This must be what happens when people ‘get along’.
People from Philadelphia get along good. Blacks hang with gays hang with metallers hang with nerds hang with tattooed biker types. It’s the kind of atmosphere that makes you feel like a social novice.
The shops sell the coolest clothes and the food is fucking superb. ‘Jim’s Steaks’ is the recommended place to eat a Philly Cheese Steak, a large sandwich stuffed with a squeezy cheese base, steak filling and copious onions on top. It is an almost religious culinary experience, added to the fact that we haven’t eaten all day, in memoriam, and have a huge show tonight.
Sanctuary records have decided to sign the band and release the last album “The Wildhearts Must Be Destroyed” on May the 4th.
Cue joke of ‘May the fourth be with you’.
Fuck, we have a major American record deal all of a sudden and we didn’t even have to beg. We just played live, kicked a lot of ass and it filtered through to the right sources. Namely Sanctuary (curiously, the first record company that Larry approached about signing us and the first to turn us down). Things are ceasing to make linear sense, so we are just gonna ride this baby until it stops bucking. Ride the wave of fun, all the way back to the shore.
I decide to work out all day. Weights, sit ups, press ups and boxing with Danny (a great sparring partner, as he is an ace pugilist) in a bid to look like a complete pro’, come show time. Plus, Larry Mazer has turned up tonight, and has invited all manner of people from both his management company, as well as from Sanctuary. This will be their collective ‘first time’ as regards seeing the band live.
We play a fucking excellent set and everyone is happy. The crowd give as good a welcome as could an audience well versed in and weighed down with the ‘rules of cool’. Apparently we went down better tonight than a long line of opening bands, so much so that the ‘support slot’ has, for the longest time, turned into an excuse to hit the bar. Tonight the bar is empty.
Something changed within the band tonight. We hit a gear that feels like it could and fucking should, be replicated at any given time. We hit the black water like a shark chasing its lunch. We play with ‘something extra’ because we were playing an important gig, for us, for the audience and for the industry. If we can get some kind of break in America, as we have been told could happen, we have to pull this shit out of the bag every night. Without fail.
No one, least of all The Wildhearts, should take new found fortune for granted.
The guys have all gone to a club, but I want to stay in the bus and bask in the glory of the domino effect that is going on around us at the moment. After the show tonight The Darkness tour manager, Alan (Mozzer) Morris offers us the Darkness June tour, which I hear is the very same week of the first single (“Vanilla Radio”) to be released by Sanctuary. The dream is finally falling into place so perfectly that I could not get any higher than I am right now. No coke, no clubs and definitely no female attention would help maintain this buzz. It could only ruin it. This is as good as a
body can feel.
This is the top of the fucking world. And when you are on the top, wherever you are is a good place to be. So, tonight, I (the most content tourist in America) am spending the night writing to you, from the comfort of our beautiful bus. It’s a great place to be.
Shit man, this is the life. This is the fucking shit!
3rd April 2004 – Boston, MA @ Avalon Ballroom
And, as if things couldn’t get any better, I don’t even get a chance to get out of the bus – which is just pulling into Boston – before I hear that we are playing the same venue as The Distillers tonight. A band that I love, heart and soul. We are apparently on at 7:00pm and they’re playing at 8:30pm. Perfect. Excited as fuck at this brilliant case of timing, I grab my stuff and head off to find the dressing room. The room is a huge function area, and is being shared by all the bands playing tonight.
Kind of like an Ally McBeal communal toilet, without the potential for perverts.
The bands sharing tonight’s room are: The Wildhearts, The Darkness, The Icarus Line and The Distillers. Four bands lumped in the same area together is a very basic, non-glamorous sight, but the voyeur in me finds much interest in how ‘other bands’ hang. Well, actually, non-glamorous except for the gorgeous Brody, of The Distillers, who I’ve been dying to meet ever since hearing “City Of Angels” on a Casey Chaos compilation CD, free with Kerrang! magazine. I’ve followed their meteoric rise in the UK with suspicion (most UK music journalists have the loyalty of scorpions) and awe. Brody always seemed like the real deal, to me, and I fucking love her voice like a favourite flavour of ice cream. So, it’s finally great to see that Brody is a lovely, friendly, ‘take-no-shit’ kind of girl who oozes confidence and vulnerability in equal measure.
We tear the house down tonight. Sticking a rendition of the “Cheers” theme tune into the set is an inspired piece of genius on Tom’s part and the receptive Boston audience lap it up, as they do our entire set.
Our publicist, Jen, has turned up to finally check out the band in a live environment. The true test of any group’s real merit. This girl has already gotten me an interview with CNN, so I’m quite impressed with her ability. Not nearly as impressed, however, as Jen is with ours, who gushes with praise after the show. I can only fit in so many compliments aimed towards us, before The Distillers play and I have to quickly and politely vacate.
And they fucking ROCK.
Oh fuck, are they good tonight!
After show there is a huge drinking session in the huge dressing area. I finally get to hang out with Justin and Dan, politely pull Brody away from killing an idiot, watch a ‘Celebrity All Star’ “Quiet at the back there” (featuring Ed, Dan and Frankie… and, typically, Jon Poole) and meet some alarmingly nice Bostonians.
We all decide to convene at a private party in somewhere called “Saints”.
I’m not sure if it’s being held for The Darkness or The Distillers, but me and Pikey Dan are in a taxi without much persuasion. Everyone from The Darkness, The Distillers and The Wildhearts, bands and crew are partying the night away in the kind of club that you picture when you read “American Psycho”. The place is packed to the rafters with rich people in rich people’s clothing.
There is a strict no smoking policy in Boston and we are repeatedly told to extinguish our cigarettes.
No smoking in a bar or club is the biggest contradictory shit ever to have the audacity to call itself a ‘rule’. “We will happily damage your livers and destroy your kidneys, but you can’t be fucking with your lungs man. That might be unhealthy”. Bullshit of the highest order. Every club should have a smoking room.
A beautiful black girl asks me for chewing gum and as I tell her that I’m chewing the only gum that I have, she sticks her tongue in my mouth and retrieves the gum with such admirable accuracy that it sends me scurrying outside into the street to smoke, calm down and remind myself that being in a band does not grant you a licence to indulge in fantasies and screw up your entire existence as you know it. I am in a taxi, and back at the bus before I can even imagine doing anything that I would regret with suicidal loathing the next day.
I must stop drinking, for a good few days at least, as of tomorrow.
I can see how this stardom shit could go to one’s head and ruin one’s life.
Sitting on the bus I write a song called “Generica”, about the many temptations offered to horny men, on tour. It’s the second song I’ve written since the idea for the new album concept came about. The other song is called “I Love America”, which is a provocative track that I can’t wait to into shit because of. We want to call a new album “110 bpm”, as that’s the tempo of every riff that is quintessentially American. Roughly the speed of “Adams Apple”, by Aerosmith, according to Tom. And we want Butch Vig to produce it, write it in USA and record it almost live.
Just another dream, for now. America is good source for song material and a good source for dreams.
I stay up drinking with Jon, who has just realised that he’s getting married at the same time as we next play the USA, with The Darkness, and so we’ll have to get a stand in. This situation sucks, but we’ll make the best of it, I have no doubt. Fucking bass players!
The good news is that it looks like Tom will finish his Riverdance job on May 31st and be back with us the first show of June.
4th April 2004 – Providence, RI @ Lupo’s at the Strand
It is well into morning when Jon and I finally hit the bunks and the next day I wake up with a hangover as gargantuan as has ever been recorded by a living person. Only death could feel worse. I quickly shut my eyes and hope that the feeling is at least partly in my imagination. On re-opening the eyes the truth is finally revealed. I do actually feel this bad.
I haven’t felt anything like this for years and years and cannot imagine being able to play Lupo’s At The Stand, Providence, Rhode Island tonight. I can’t even get out of bed. When I eventually manage to writhe to the opening of the bunk I fall out and twist the shit out of my ankle, also landing on my finger, bending it like a pipe cleaner.
Today has started badly.
Dragging myself through an interview does nothing to help matters, even tho’ it’s ironically with the guy that replaced me in The Throbs – a NYC based band I was sacked from – after being too out of control. Funnily enough they gave me the job because I had just been sacked from The Quireboys, for the same reason. To ensure that I didn’t get sacked again, I was forced into forming my own band. The same band that are now on tour in America with the hottest new act in the world, while the previously mentioned bands relax in obscurity.
Sweating, vomiting and shaking we strap on our guitars and bravely head out to the stage to play. Willing ourselves to get through the next 45 minutes of agony. There is always somewhere to draw energy from, even on an empty tank and tonight we rocket through a seamless set with flair. The constant nausea held secret from the fans. Steve has managed to get me a radio pack this evening, and the stage is huge. With space enough to expend a bit more energy than normal, we win over the Rhode Island crowd, and the cheer at the end of the set is orgasmic. That cheer indicates that we just kicked the ass of another US city and it also means that the set is over and we survived the ordeal.
With nothing harder than root beer touching my lips tonight, it is with great joy that I hit my bunk. And I’m asleep within seconds. Spent. Finished. Out.
Rhode Island seems to be a great place, with more girls in the audience than the previous dates (always a good thing) and I can’t wait to come back and headline. The next time I promise myself to be sober and actually enjoy, as opposed to endure, the experience.
6th April 2004 – Washington, DC @ 9:30 Club
After a day off in Tyson’s Corner, DC, I am more than happy to be pulling into the mighty Washington DC for tonights show. Yesterday I discovered that taking pills for constipation is the stupidest thing to do on a tour bus. (Come to think of it, CJ actually gave me the pills, so it probably WAS his idea of a wind up.)
Luckily we had moored at a Comfort Inn and with a terrifying start I woke up at 1:00 am with an urge to ‘go’ and ran for my life to the reception where they graciously let me use their facilities. After a couple of days off the grog and some good quality shut-eye, I am fighting fit for tonight’s show. I have a fantastic workout inside the bus with Dan, which includes weights, sit-up’s and boxing training. And an hour before showtime I am glowing like a dog about to be let off the leash at the park. Gimme Washington. Gimme those kids. Now.
Reports are coming in, from the UK, that all the US shows are working in our favour. Journalists back home are starting to listen to the band again. Reviews of the new B-sides album (‘Coupled With’-UK only) are favourable and feature in magazines that wouldn’t even acknowledge the official album that the B-sides were written for. Leaving home has certainly made the UK miss us a little. This is a good thing, as we plan to spend most of this year playing USA. That could well make our own country miss us so much that they put our fucking music on the radio. Gee, at this rate maybe we’ll even be asked to play some fucking festivals?
Or maybe not.
Anyway, it’s showtime, and the UK is the furthest thing from our minds as we attempt to fit four people, some speaker cabinets and a drum kit on a stage the size of a large foot mat. The Washington DC audience are the least vociferous of all the US audiences we have played to, so far. Yet, in an almost identical fashion to Norway, we sell a ton of merchandise after the performance. I guess Washington is a tough town, period. Dan walked to the garage earlier today and within ten minutes he was offered sales of two knives and a gun.
The eruption that emanates from the crowd on the Darkness’s entrance enforces the fact that we ARE a support band, and shouldn’t be surprised if the response towards us is occasionally lukewarm. After all, we are winning purely by the element of surprise on this tour and that isn’t something that can be guaranteed consistently effective.
But tonight we actually feel like a support band, and this, surprisingly, comes as a shock.
Maybe I will start to check out the stage size before figuring out how much of a work out the show really warrants. A three hour ‘sweat-a-thon’, for 45 minutes of trying not to fall of the lip of a minute stage, is tantamount to training to watch TV. Bummed out at our average reception, I attempt to regain my ‘star’ composure by letting a pneumatic stripper flatter me with compliments at the bar. Ultimately this is doing nothing to improve my mood, or bolster my ego, so I politely excuse myself and retire to the bus to drink red wine until morning. I guess every show can’t be an exercise in shock and awe. Ironic, then, that the least bellicose appearance should be in Washington DC.
8th April 2004 – Atlanta, GA @ Cotton Club
Before hitting Atlanta, Georgia, we have to change our tour bus for a far less rock n roll, ‘maroon’ number, with no leather interior and no mirrors. It seems a little diva-esque to complain about having the luxury of exchanging your bus for another, when the former is down, but damn, I loved that previous vehicle. I loved everything about it. The colour. The leather. The interior strip lighting. The wall to wall to ceiling mirrors. The overly varnished wood. The gentleman’s back lounge.
From now we are going to attempt to ransack every town like marauding Vikings, arriving in a bus that looks like a gay cabaret act are about to vacate.
Walking into the gloriously over the top colossus that is The Tabernacle, Atlanta, Georgia, we meet JB, who is our new soundman. This will be Tom’s final show for this tour, hopefully he will meet back up with us again in June, but for now he’s on his last blast. JB has worked with ZZ Top, The Who, Bad Company, Jimmy Page as well as a ton of Jazz acts and seems perfect material to bring some serious experience to the party.
Strolling round downtown Atlanta reminds me of a huge Hackney and I am the only white person within miles and miles. I get a hunch that I should be much more intimidated than I actually feel.
Back at the venue, backstage, I walk into Warner Hodges, ‘Jason and the Scorchers’ guitarist and all round great guy, and his wife Deb. Jason and the Scorchers were tour-managed by Mozzer, who now tour-manages The Darkness, so there is already a neat camaraderie about the dressing room area.
Hanging out with Warner until showtime is an honour and a pleasure, as I’m a huge fan and he is effortlessly easy company. Jordan Zucker from Sanctuary has turned up too, so tonight better be a belter.
And fortunately it is.
The Atlanta audience stun me into silence, between songs, on a couple of occasions, which is a rarity as I can always find some bullshit or other to ramble about, while guitars are being tuned and potential silence reigns. The cheers at the end of the show are deafening. There is a theme beginning here.
We get a large stage… the audience go nuts, we get a tiny stage… they look at us like some kind of caged curiosity.
The band are flying high on a natural supply after the show and can’t wait to get into the showers and into the Jack Daniels. Warner taps me on the shoulder, says that he has a friend he’d like me to meet. I turn around and Rick Nielsen is standing there face to face with probably the biggest Cheap Trick fan in Britain. Me! Fuck!! Rick fucking Nielsen, man!
As I jabber and stammer praises for his huge contribution to the history of Rock he invites me to “come meet Steven”, a friend of his. Hey, any friend of Rick Nielsen can get a ‘hi’ from me. It isn’t until I turn to greet his friend, that I realise that his friend is Steven Tyler. Fuck!
I just came out of the shower, I’m dripping wet and half naked and I’m hanging out with Warner Hodges, Rick Nielsen and Steven Tyler in The Wildhearts dressing room.
At this point, Tom enters and acknowledges the gathering with a cool “Hey, nice posse!”
If this isn’t living the dream then I must be asleep.
Moments like this don’t happen more than a few occasions in a lifetime, at best and it is what being in music is all about.Getting the chance to personally thank your heroes, without whom you wouldn’t be here playing music. Without Aerosmith, Cheap Trick and Jason and the Scorchers music, The Wildhearts would probably sound like Duran Duran, if we even existed. The night turns mushy as it gets longer. I dunno, but having those three guys talking to me about how long they’ve been clean and sober turns me into such a jibbering fan-boy that I need a drink to calm me down. And another, and another…
Watching The Darkness, side stage, shooting the shit with Rick Nielsen as he hands me a pocket full of plectrums, then chatting later with Tom Hamilton about how he still finds it a bitch to begin the set with “Toys In The Attic”, due to it’s intricate bass line.
Man, I am one lucky lucky motherfucker. Normally I would use the word fortunate to describe anything that one acquires. Usually there is some good in us dictates that fortune comes to all of us, once in a while. Tonight, however, I readily use the word LUCKY!
Came up with another song, “I’m Only Drinking Whiskey ‘Cos They Ran Out Of Wine”, but Brad tells me that the riff reminds him of Saxon. Almost guaranteeing that you will never hear the song, or at least the riff.
What could even compete with such a perfect evening? Surely the next day will be such a comedown that anticlimax is guaranteed?
9th April 2004 – New Orleans, LA @ The House of Blues
Well, maybe, if the next gig wasn’t New Orleans. Playing ‘The House Of Blues’.
Sitting in the middle of an ornate garden behind the venue, eating free Seafood Gumbo with corn bread and maple syrup butter, drinking ice tea and listening to a fantastic blues three piece in the smiling sun doesn’t suck. Not one bit.
Every inch of the venue, garden and surrounding area is decked out like a cross between a Mexican funeral and a voodoo convention. Carvings and paintings of skulls adorn every wall and door and blues related paintings, similar in detail to Joe Coleman’s style, bring every table top to vibrant life. The stores and bars around Bourbon Street look exactly like you’d imagine New Orleans to look. ‘Old America’ style buildings, with wooden signs hanging form every bar front, and a vast array of tasteful music pumping into the fairly packed street.
New Orleans is the prettiest, loveliest most laidback place I have seen in States. I would be amazed if anywhere else in USA even comes close to exuding the comfortable vibes that is on offer everywhere in this area. Let’s hope the show matches the places legend. It’s JB’s first night. I’ll let you know how it went…
…it was brilliant!!!
New Orleans is my absolute favourite place so far in the US. The crowd are psychotic and cheer in decibels usually only ever used to measure the volume of an aeroplane take off. Rudy Reed has turned up tonight, Sue, The Darkness manager, has turned up tonight, Angie has turned up tonight and the only thing that could compete with last night’s backstage ‘stardom’ vibe is tonight’s backstage ‘family’ vibe. Even though, back home, I am living in a different apartment to Angie and the kids, it still feels like a kind of family bond when I see her. It is also Pikey Dan’s birthday today, so Angie and I set about scouring the streets of New Orleans for some suitable gifts. We find them in the form of Alligator meat, a ‘Bourbon Street’ vest, some Green Label Jack Daniels and humorous condoms.
Then Angie discovers that her purse has gone missing, either left in the last store we shopped in, or stolen from the dressing room. Full of dollars, credit cards and, most importantly, pictures of our kids, the build up of todays ‘good feeling’ is suitably quashed.
Spirits are lifted however after the show and news of a Darkness party, to be held on the John Jay Audobon Steamboat, moored somewhere in the French quarter of New Orleans. Ushered in like genuine VIPs and with a free bar, we set about making the evening as unruly as possible, without losing anyone overboard.
After an excellent party we meet back up on the bus, only to find that Stidi had gone missing during the party and took a walk around the French quarter only to run into someone looking for trouble. Stidi naturally holds his own and grabs the guy around the neck for the impending fight. The next thing he knows, a friend of the instigator has a knife up against his throat.
‘Fronting it out’ in London is obviously a lot less perilous than in New Orleans and he arrives back on the bus shaken and in a mild state of shock. The only thing to do is for him to rest and wait for the after effects of the attack to subside. This will take at least 24 hours, and fortunately we have a day off, next day.
I have booked myself a hotel room for the next day, and have woken up that day with the most massive case of ‘homesickness’ I have ever experienced. I’m missing my kids like crazy and decide to attempt to kill the pain with a good meal and a movie. The movie (“Raising Arizona”, in the Coen Brothers top three, along with “Fargo” and “Blood Simple”), however, is impossible to watch, as every few minutes the flow of the action stops, to issue a storm warning. This gets more and more annoying as the warnings get more and more severe. Come morning, the storm is still in almost full effect and rain is falling like water bombs, while the wind whips up everything that isn’t nailed down and sweeps it around the sodden streets like the scene in The Exorcist, where the possession is first taking place and artifacts are flying around Regan’s room like a whirlwind. There is at least 2 inches of water to wade through, making the walk from the hotel to the bus and ridiculously wet affair.
Dripping, as I write, I am still feeling as sad as a father could possibly feel, being so far away from his children. At least I got a song out of it, “Always Away”, which I have utilised a chorus of a song “Only Lonely” to more heartfelt effect.
Funny how, in the most dark of times the guitar can be your greatest friend.
Right about now, a ‘Gibson Firebird’, sitting in the back lounge, is handing me an emotional lifeline that I can’t imagine getting from any other source, other than drugs.
I think that songwriting should be made a mandatory lesson in schools.
It will get you through tough times where, quite frankly, ‘general studies’ won’t.
11th April 2004 – Houston, TX @ Engine Room
Houston is a strange place. Quite barren, but with tons of rabid rock monsters that love to party. And party they do. From the moment we hit the stage ’til the outro track of the Darkness’ set, “The Time Of My Life” (you know the one, it’s a duet by a duo with names like Peabo Bryson and Roberta Flack, or something… it was in ‘Dirty Dancing’).
One of our more hardcore fans, Blake, cheers me up three times tonight. First he gives me a bag full of hand rolled cigars (his family’s trade), secondly he converts his wife into a Wildhearts lover and thirdly he sees a guy flipping us the finger during our set and punches him out. Blake is a big guy. I like Blake. It’s a comforting feeling to have big, loyal Wildhearts fans dotted about the audience, ready to flatten someone that won’t even give us the benefit of a listen, without shouting out insults. I am not a great advocator of violence, but let’s face it… some people deserve a good smack in the teeth. Ignorant cocksuckers very much included.
Ignore us all you want, but if you openly insult us then be prepared to, perhaps, catch the eye of a Wildhearts fan ready to give you a well deserved slap.
If you don’t like us go to the bar. Don’t shout insults. It isn’t too complicated.
There’s a party after the show, but The Darkness didn’t enjoy the gig as much as we did and so only Frankie turns up. There are some really cool people here and I end up in a friendly stand-off with an LA ‘actress’ who is convinced that she is intimidating me. I like girls, and find them very un-intimidating, especially when they act tough. I actually find the whole ‘tough girl’ thing a bit funny. Real tough girls don’t act tough. It’s common sense that if you’ve had a hard up-bringing, the last thing you want, as an adult, is to continue the aggression. Outwardly aggressive girls usually have rich Daddies. This one has. After half an hour she turns into a pussy cat. She could have wasted a lot less time just asking for a hug in the first place.
I can’t settle tonight and stay up drinking Jack Daniels, even though it isn’t having any effect. My head is working harder than the liquor. Every day can’t be a classic, and today was such a day.
Perhaps tomorrow will turn out better.
Shit, I miss my kids.
12th April 2004 – Dallas, TX @ Gypsy Tea Room & Ballroom
Maybe the ‘Gypsy Tea Rooms’ in Dallas – the next show – will clear my lonely head and reset my focus on the task at hand? Maybe the welcome in Dallas will be as large and impressive as the skyscrapers that ‘Dallas’, the TV programme, filled our screens with? Or maybe it will be a lukewarm waste of time, playing in front of a bunch of people that have long forgotten how to enjoy themselves.
If you guessed the latter then award yourself a pat on the back and a promise that you will never visit this ugly, unlikable place.
My only positive thoughts, for the rest of the evening, are of our return to Austin, Texas, tomorrow. Our ‘homecoming’, of sorts.
13th April 2004 – Austin, TX @ Stubb’s Bar-B-Q
The scene of the first show of our first American tour, back in South By South West, a show that didn’t quite match our expectations of ourselves.
Pulling up outside of Stubb’s BBQ, the mission for the day is to destroy Austin and leave a lasting impression this time. Stubbs BBQ is an out-door affair, set up to look like the OK Coral. The sun is shining, the barmaids are stunningly pretty and Rock ‘n Roll is most definitely in the air. After a great soundcheck Pikey Dan and I attempt a frantic workout in the bus, then it’s onto the stage, in front of an crowd so apathetic that you wonder if someone has spiked the beer with valium. There are a few really enthusiastic people in the crowd and I am beginning to discover that age plays a large part in our success in America. The older people don’t like us as much as the younger people it seems. At least in Texas.
Going onstage in broad daylight is a strange feeling, as every passing song ushers in a new stage of sunset and paints dramatic, shifting designs in the beautiful Texan skies. In fact I wish the sun to set quicker and blank out the small number of miserable bastards standing at the back of this mini festival, armed with untouched beers and blank expressions. All the while maintaining a flat refusal to welcome The Wildhearts into their large, jaded Texan hearts.
Half way through the set, Dave, drum tech, decides to add ‘microphone fixer’ to his CV, and kneels behind me, forgetting the fact that he has never seen eyes in my arse before. I am unable to see behind me. Typically and spectacularly I might add, I run backwards and fall over him in a similar manner to the trick you would play to people at school. Pushing them over, with a friend kneeling behind, thus ensuring that they look like a prize twat in front of everyone within eyeshot.
Dave succeeds in making me the laughing stock of everyone in Stubbs BBQ. Fortunately the doors opened only 15 minutes prior to us going onstage, ensuing a sparser crowd than could have been witness. After getting back on my feet, in utter frustration I stab Dave with my new Ibanez Paul Stanley guitar and send him reeling off to the side of the stage.
Now with the guitar miles out of tune, I turn around to Steve for a quick guitar swap.
Steve isn’t anywhere to be found.
By this point I have shark eyes, filled to the brim with hatred for the lethargic Texans standing happily hostile at the back. The anger quickly builds up to an uncontrollable peak. My prized Paul Stanley is lifted from around my neck and hurled in the direction of where Steve should be standing, colliding with The Darkness’s guitar rack and smashing my new baby into pieces.
We finish the set and I attempt to calm down on the bus. CJ drags me into a club that he swears will calm me down. At the bar I order a Margarita and the gentle Texan tones of the barmaid work their medicinal properties into my mood. I’m slowly calming.
Then a guy walks up to me and calls me an asshole.
My initial reaction is to headbutt him and leave the cunt bleeding into the floorboards, but I want to be cool. I’m thinking fast. What would Brody Distiller do? I remember Brody asking her aggressor “are you trying to provoke me?”, back in Boston, before she was about to launch into his head. I recall this episode coming over as quite remarkably cool, so I ask this big meat-head the same question.
“Are you trying to provoke me?”
Then the cunt just eyeballs me and walks away.
Incensed by this staggering display of cowardship, I run over to him and right hook him in the face. He is ushered into the bar indoors, where I am physically forbidden to enter. Even more angered at him getting away with this, I pull away from the bouncers grip, run into the bar, locate the wanker and another right and left hook are issued to his ugly face, which is getting uglier by the punch.
This time I am forcibly removed from the bar by security, who are being very cool throughout. I tell them I will wait for him outside all night if need be.
I have absolutely nothing better to do with my evening and I have had a really bad day.
I am told that he has already left and instantly I look to my left and see what looks like my instigator standing at the street corner with two friends. Once again I evade the grasp of security and charge down the street, as the provocateur just stands there, watching me approaching. Once I ascertain correct identification, I again start launching into his huge, empty head. As I get him in perfect position to knock him out cold with a right hook, my swing is intercepted by one of Stubbs BBQ’s bouncers, and I am pulled away from the scene.
I am then told to quickly get onto the bus and hide in my bunk as the police have been called and are about to arrest me.
They duly arrive and don’t fall for the “he’s not on the bus officer” line and I must get off and face the music.
With my favourite guitar broken and facing a night in a Texan prison, I leave the bus to face the music with Texas’ finest, expecting the worst. After being told the full plight of my day and the provocation at the draw of evening, the two burly officers buy my story and I am a free man.
Why a man would provoke another to the point of confrontation and then just walk away, will never compute in my mind. It stands alongside wifebeating as a confounding example of pure cowardice. It should be a crime to provoke. I hope the Texan police-force arrested this guy for wasting police time and being a fucking baby.
I am now missing my kids with a physical pain in my heart, would kill for a simple kiss from a beautiful stranger and the 50 milligrams of Valium I have ingested are doing nothing to ease the pain.
I am sick and tired of having a shit time in Texas.
I want to enjoy this place so badly, and it simply won’t let me.
I walk to a tattooist around the corner, and ask him to tattoo my daughter’s name on my hand, to bring a little joy into this confused picture. His friend has committed suicide just ten minutes ago and the tattooist has stopped working for the evening. Obviously.
It is one of those days.
Back at the bus, with the valium swimming around the Jack Daniels in my stomach and floating through my head, I think of people I have known that have committed suicide. I think about cowardice. I think of the current anniversary of Kurt Cobain’s death and curse his cowardice at leaving a daughter without a father in this fucked up world. All in a selfish display of weakness that the music industry sees fit to celebrate as some kind of iconic statement.
And I hate the world at this moment in time.
14th April 2004 – day off
As the ‘Big Gay Bus’ (as it will be hereby referred to as) drives leisurely through the Apache mountains in the desert leading to El Paso, the next morning, we stop at a Wendys for breakfast. There is openly racist graffiti all over the toilet walls.
The girl selling burgers is better looking than most actresses currently employed. It leaves me thinking that the novelty of having pretty girls around has certainly worn off since Europe.
I understand how easily someone who grew up a skinny, gawky, ugly kid at school could fall for the potency of attracting female attention. Almost to the point of obsession. Once the reality of the situation is established, however (and the truth is that ‘Quasimodo’ could pull women if he sang in a Rock n Roll band), the thrill is gone. That thrill is replaced with a longing to meet someone to talk to. To be attracted to someone’s brain and fall for the kindness of someone’s heart. Pretty faces just aren’t doing it for me any more.
All I want is to kiss someone nice right now.
On settling down in El Paso, we realise that we are about 20 minutes on foot from the Mexican border. Hot Steve, Tasty Dave and I decide to make the trip. After yesterday’s rifts, it couldn’t hurt relations to spend some time together in a nice, dodgy area.
The streets of El Paso are empty as we head towards the border that leads to Juarez, Mexico. The style of the streets don’t change when across the border, only the volume of people. Mexico has its streets full of people, night and day. Every corner of every block you see men dressed in Mariachi outfits, without instruments. Homeless women beg for change as their children play with faded old toys in front of them. It is a sad place from a foreigner’s viewpoint. Especially when I consider how fortunate my children are to have a roof over their head and nice toys to play with. It’s all I can do to fight away the tears.
And let’s face it, a six foot white guy with dreadlocks, in a fur coat, walking amongst Mexican civilians, crying his fucking eyes out isn’t going to help me look less conspicuous to the locals, right?
We eat some fantastic and almost criminally inexpensive food and take a walk around the area until we tire of the constant begging, offers of drugs and generally shady characters following us from behind.
It’s nicer to brag that you went to Mexico for the day than to actually go there.
We are happy to see the bus again and feel that at least a little of the friction of earlier has disappeared.
I suppose that doing slightly scary things together can help blokes bond.
I can’t shake the blues today, so I am going to go to bed early, without a shower and without taking advantage of the laundry facilities available in the hotel that we have a day room at. Tomorrow I will regret not having a suitcase of clean clothes, but for tonight I care even less about personal hygiene than I do about chasing girls. This evening I hurt with sadness. And when in the grip of sadness all one can do is wait for the fingers to loosen.
I can’t sleep. Last night’s events running through my head, destroying any chances of being replaced with dreams. I hate fighting. I hate myself for doing it, for losing my cool and for stabbing Dave with my guitar.
This isn’t the person I want to be, but it is who I am. Who I am battling to get rid of?
I wonder just how much we can change ourself for the better? Or if it’s all a trick of the will. Do the demons still follow you around, waiting to be unleased and are we then just putting on a good facade?
Sitting here, as the bus quietly sleeps, with a bottle of Jack Daniels, and some foul tasting dark American beer called ‘Harpoon’, I can’t help blaming alcohol for a lot of mistakes, but can’t quite allow it take the entire rap.
I will stop drinking again (as of tomorrow), just to ensure that I have some kind of control over the demon drink, however psychosomatic. I’m looking at the whole picture a little differently and I have a feeling that I’m lying to myself about a few things.
Maybe there is a ghost of Kurt Cobain still around the place? Maybe I do secretly still harbour a desire to fuck things up?
I will have to start working hard at this again. Harder than I am, anyway.
This second chance we have been blessed with, to make some waves in the USA, could just as easily go wrong as work in our favour. This is after all The Wildhearts. It is a dog with big teeth. Be thankful that it lets you pat its belly, but don’t forget those fucking teeth.
As Jason Ringenberg would say onstage, “he who rides the tiger finds it hard to dismount”.
Last night reminded me that we still have a volatility, that won’t find us many friends in this business. But, more than that, I want The Wildhearts to be seen as a musical force to be reckoned with. Not just a bunch of hooligans. We must shake the hooligan element, or hide it in a fucking ‘Fort Knox’ sized box.
No one, and nothing should be allowed to weaken this band.
If we succeed in this business then the reputation that has so far followed the band around, like a fucking virus, will be exterminated. Or at least brushed underneath a carpet so thick that you’d never imagine there being a floor beneath.
Just gotta watch out for those fucking teeth.
15th April 2004 – Tempe, AZ @ Marquee Theatre
“By the time I get to Phoenix…” as the song goes. Well, when I arrive I feel truly humiliated and disgraced by my behaviour in Austin. CJ is the first face I see on rising from my bunk and he tells me that the shit has hit the fan. The Darkness crew are pissed off, both our managers are disgusted at me physically abusing a member of our crew, a Texan journalist has apparently refused to write about us and the only good news of the day is that Steve has managed, somehow, to fix the broken guitar.
I couldn’t feel smaller. And tonight’s show is fucking huge.
As some pathetic concession to ‘irony’ I am going to wear a Stubbs BBQ T-shirt tonight.
I feel so badly for Dave that I cannot even look him in the eye today, even though we spent the day together yesterday. Today the gravity of my embarrassing temper tantrum has hit me like a moral ‘flu’ that renders the host humble and meek. I have acted like a prize wanker in a wankers convention, held in wankerville. I need to pull something out of the bag for this evening’s show, and I have mislaid the bag.
Dave, I am so sorry. So fucking awfully sorry. I will make it up to you. I promise.
Tonight, I have to regain the respect of my band and most of the crew. Dave will be harder to win over, but it’s a start. Every long road begins with one step.
Tonight, in Tempe, Phoenix, I begin the set with an apology to the crew. It’s just as well, as the microphone isn’t working and I’ve picked just about the best time of the set to find this out. Once the problem has been eliminated, I issue a heartfelt monologue about how honoured we are to have such a great crew. I aim the main praise to Dave, who thanks me after the show.
This is a good first step, now to stay off the drink for a few days and begin the walk.
The show is astoundingly tight, and the crowd lap it up and hand it back in incredibly loud packaging. “Someone That Won’t Let Me Go” almost has me in tears tonight. When we hit those harmonies with combined power, it really can get to a guy.
Phoenix is fucking great, and the audience are just what we need to get this bus back on track. I am so relieved to have been able to slightly redress the balance that I get back on the bus as quickly as possible, before the urge to drink sets in. I will shake the hands of a lot of fans, then get back to the safety of our mobile home. An early night is much easier intended than executed, but if I can make it to my bunk before the guys get back and the party begins then I’m doing good.
I’m still on probation, so I’d better take it seriously.
It is easy to fuck up in America. You enter a city, and the city wants to party with you. Hence the guys are drinking like it’s a sport that they excel at and take pride in. The people of the city get to party for the one night and that night they’ve been waiting for weeks. Sometimes months. So the guys end up getting wasted every single day.
This is how things can unravel and focus ultimately be lost.
Only when I am sober can I see such obvious bleak heritage and understand why so many bands come to the USA, only to be unceremoniously returned back home without success following them, like some kind of right.
Breaking America is a serious business. It cannot be handled in any other manner.
Thank God that things look good again.
The guys are back… the drinks are being poured… I’m outta here.
16th April 2004 – Mission Beach, CA @ Canes Bar & Grill
When sleep finally arrives, after hours of evasive action, the morning comes as a blessed relief.
One day dry. That’s how it starts.
I decide to go for a walk through the streets of San Diego, the first place I ever heard of in America, as my first childhood skateboard came from a friend who had been there on holiday. On initial impression, the place doesn’t seem like much of a holiday place, although it is on the coast and offers a beach. Maybe I’ve just seen the ugly side so far.
The people I meet are uniformly unfriendly and when I walk into a beautician and ask if they will dye the roots of my hair, I am stared at like I just pulled out my penis.
Then the locals patrons start to snigger. Imagine the picture. By ‘locals’ I am including men having manicures and facial rubs. In San Diego having nailpolish applied is seen as more macho than having your hair dyed, I guess.
After hunting down a pharmacist (it looks like this dye job is down to yours truly), I run into a ‘Krispy Kreme’ doughnut shop, the most spectacular sweet-cunlirary experience you can have in US. A quick breakfast of doughnuts and coffee and it’s time to attempt to dye my hair at a venue that has no towels, no showers and the smallest sinks I’ve ever tried to squeeze my head into. This is impossible, of course, and I spend the remainder of the day dripping red dye over everything I pass. Just as well that I’ve decided to wear white tonight, right? It might look quite funny actually, as the legend on tonight’s shirt reads “Genuine Mexican Parts”. It will look like it has been through the Spanish Civil War by the time I get off stage.
Still pre-show, still wringing wet and so far unimpressed with San Diego’s amenities, I run into Kenny, of The Dragons, who is a local boy. He is horrified to find that I have only seen the side of San Diego that he calls ‘Mallville’ and drags me into his car to drive me around the coast line, around the beautiful beaches and the majestic cliffs hugging each lip of sand.
A very mood altering experience. I come away not knowing quite what to make of San Diego, except that it certainly has a few faces. And a couple of thousand of them turn up tonight, for one of the best shows of the tour.
The band are relaxed, and in playful mood, whilst not rocking as hard as we have been known to do, we certainly impress the fuck out of a wonderful mixed race crowd.
Pretty half-native American looking women mingle with scandinavian looking guys, as a blend of Spanish and Mexican coloured children run amok in this all ages venue. It’s beautiful.
“Strictly no alcohol and no smoking” read the signs plastered on any available walls and doors, yet it doesn’t deter the party from enjoying the holy shit outta themselves.
Man, this is what rock shows are all about.
Mike and Michelle, from Gearhead, have turned up tonight, as has Dirty Donny and after the show we are all ushered to the Casbah, the favourite bar of The Dragons.
Standing with a cigar in one hand, and a pint of Red Bull on the other, I stand happily talking to Steve Dragon’s lovely wife, and watch the most eclectic looking patrons gather in the smoking section of the club. The ‘no smoking’ bar sits pitifully empty.
The no-smoking law in California must rank alongside ‘stoning’ as a social winner.
Then, walking right past me, looking slightly more buff than the last time I
saw him, is Bladder, who played drums on the SilverGinger 5 album ‘Black Leather Mojo’.
We haven’t spoken to each other since a falling out over some trivial nonsense some years back and are both delighted to see each other. After establishing that water had indeed long passed under the bridge, he informs me that he is now living in the USA, playing drums full time for KMFDM and is standing in for the band tonight. The Dwarves.
The Dwarves are playing this tiny club.
Fuck man, the last time I saw them was in London, where the whole show lasted about five minutes and ended in a mass fight. Tonight is shaping up to be quite spectacular. The Dwarves are on blinding form, playing for nearly an hour, quite a record for them. The set suitably ends in the drums being trashed, as mass mayhem ensues within the crowd.
What a fabulous night and to think I was going to stay on the bus and miss all this fun.
Back at HQ, some friends have joined us for a drink. The only thing I am drinking is coffee and a couple of caps-fulls of NyQuill. Within ten minutes of ingestion the NyQuill hits me over the head like a sleep-mallet and I am awake and outside the Hyatt hotel, in LA, before I even remember getting into bed.
17th April 2004 – Los Angeles, CA @ Henry Fonda Theatre
The Hyatt, the famous ‘Riot House’, of old.
I’m not staying with the band tonight, as Dan Darkness has paid for me to stay in their hotel, the Mondrian, to schmoose with the shakers and makers of Hollywood, that will be in attendance over the next two days. Dan is doing this simply to further my relations with the people that have made The Darkness the huge success they are today. He wants us to succeed in the States, even at the cost of his own earnings.
Can you think of anyone else in the world of music that would do such a thing?
This is another side to The Darkness that no-one will ever see. Their total devotion to the cause of keeping rock fun and alive. Turning away payola and even investing their own funds just to see a British institution like The Wildhearts win over the towering, mammoth business that is the USA. For no other reason than they simply can.
It’s like earning a million, but instead of loaning a friend a few grand, teaching them how to earn it themselves. A thoroughly more rewarding result for all concerned.
These are the last two dates of this tour, a trek that has saved the lives, or at least the career, of The Wildhearts.
And it all down to four guys from Lowestoft, England.
They still insist that they’re paying us back for having them open up for us a couple of years ago. They already paid us back months ago, in spades. This is beyond the cause of loyalty. This is friendship, of the most brotherly kind. We will forever be indebted to The Darkness for their kindness and belief. Whatever the outcome of the next 48 hours.
Nowhere in the world is like Hollywood.
And for that the world should wake every morning and thank God.
The place is as vacuous and plastic as I remember it being, back when I used to live here.
Like some weird social genetic experiment, people have been arriving in their beautiful droves, to find stardom, only to settle for a job providing a meagre service and ultimately having children with someone that meets their own physical standards. Since the thirties, beautiful failures have been procreating, resulting in stunningly pretty babies, who grow up and either move away, or stay and carry on this odd tradition.
Looks are everything in LA. And if you don’t have them you can buy them.
It is the most lonely place in America, by far, as catalogue men and catalogue women talk each other into bed, for another night of meaningless sex, followed by a hollow morning where the courtship ritual begins anew. Or the catalogue people get married and have children whose fate is likely to be working in a bar or swinging around a pole in a strip club, whilst maintaining that they are actually budding actresses/actors/rock stars.
Tonight the beautiful people are out en masse. And it looks like a catwalk version of ‘Dawn Of The Dead’.
They loiter around the lobby of the Mondrian hotel, not as residents but as eye candy. A meat market. It’s a strange tradition and one that should be seen at least once in one’s lifetime.
Inside the post-show party, budding rock stars ‘out crazy’ other budding rock stars. Girls with sharklike eyes hardened beyond emotion, stare at you, and past you, and through you, ever ready for Mr Right to walk into their lives, only to spend the night with another Mr Right Now. Men talk ‘cocaine speak’ in the toilets about who they are going to fuck this evening, presumably forgetting the face of the intended lucky lady, when thrust back into a sea of identical blondes. A huge bouncer threatens to hit a girl because she hasn’t left the premises as ordered at closing time. There are places to smoke, but not drink, places to drink, but not smoke and a roped off area that you can do both, which is crammed with unhappy smoking drinkers. It is safe to say that I hate this place.
I wish I could find the humour in Los Angeles and laugh at the barely human remains of what plastic surgery and gym work has left untouched, but I can’t. LA makes me feel very flat, and very sad.
The show, at the wonderful Henry Fonda Theatre, is suitably in keeping with the ‘style over content’ celebration of what was once known as Hollywood. The ‘Hollywood’ sign that adorns the mighty canyon should be pulled down, and replaced with a sign that reads ‘?’. Hollywood doesn’t exist. It is as much a reality as having a fun time at Disneyland, or Michael Jackson being a good babysitter.
It seems that whatever joy, graft and determination that made Hollywood great, once upon a time, has withered in the California sun, and now its children have taken over the family business, yet can’t be arsed to open up shop. They drive around, seemingly all night, hammering home the fact that communication in LA is, by and large, carried out by car horn or mobile phone.
The thing that cracks me up about mobile phones is that not only are they killing the art of communication, but are starting to destroy the art of conversation, as people thumb messages as opposed to actually speaking them.
LA, tonite, is an exercise in how to have a thoroughly average show, for us and for The Darkness. Dan is in a rare pensive mood after the gig, saying that the less the audience participate the more you try and work them, and this tiresome tactic becomes an embarrassing parody of what is so great about being in a band.
Namely, the audience.
Justin is also out of his usual ‘chipper’ character, bemoaning the fact that the audience stared at the band like some perverse kind of audition. I am actually relieved to hear that they had a bad show. I thought the crowd just didn’t like us.
Larry has invited along a bunch of publishers, and I am in desperate financial and creative need of a publishing deal. We play too fast, we’re too excited. I don’t know if they liked what they saw or not. Time will tell, I guess.
People from Sanctuary are raving about how great the band are and anywhere else I would believe them, but this is LA. As mean as it sounds, I wouldn’t readily believe the date on a newspaper in this city.
Amongst the would-be-famous and probably rich by association, are a few welcome faces. I chat to Steve Coogan about Willie Dowling, who formed Honeycrack with CJ a few years back. Willie writes all the music for Steve’s comedy shows.
Steve Coogan plays Alan Partridge, and is almost identical in character to his alter ego. Except a little more glum. He’s on the wagon, as I am and this probably explains the lack of spring in his step.
I meet Clint Poppy (or Clint Mansel, as he is now known), again, who I have met only once before, when he stood out from bunch of semi-famous muso wankers like a rhinestone in shit, at an aftershow some years back. He was the founder of Pop Will Eat Itself, a band years ahead of their time. He is a genuine character and a very nice, very talented guy. He now writes movie soundtracks, his most stunning work being the music for “Requiem For A Dream”, one of the most intense movies that will ever be made.
I opt to leave the club early, as LA is fucking with my head. I walk around the streets looking for normality, or anything even resembling it.
There is none.
Only huge advertisements for glamour, designed to keep plastic surgeons in holidays and make the population of LA feel even worse about their self image.
Hollywood. What a truly loathsome place.
18th April 2004 – Los Angeles, CA @ Henry Fonda Theatre
The next day, day two of the LA shows, arrives, and no-one is really in the mood to end the tour in this awful place, if last night was anything to go by.
The following incidents, that make up the final day of the US tour, could not be stranger if one was inventing them. You just could not make this shit up…
Firstly, I spend the day writing journal stuff, taking a long bath in the huge, overpriced room I am staying in and generally taking my time before venturing out into the plastic Hell that is Hollywood.
It is by pure co-incidence that I then run into The Darkness, as they head out for soundcheck. I’m off to buy my kids some toys and am heading for Willie’s hotel room, across the road, as I excitedly tell Ed that Lemmy has accepted to play with us tonight and he will be arriving at soundcheck at 6:00pm. I try to get hold of Nikki Sixx, who originally agreed to play with us, but he isn’t available anywhere. Ah well, maybe the dream won’t be ‘fully’ realised, but Lemmy getting onstage is quite enough of a boon for any opening act.
Fucking LEMMY, man!
I run to Willie’s room to grab some cash to spend in Toy’s ‘R Us (an occurrence that will have to eventually wait until tomorrow, when I find out just how fucking useless LA Taxi services are, spending over an hour and a half waiting for a cab and nearly causing us to miss our flight… useless lazy fucking cunts). At Willie’s room I see him answer yet another phone call and presume that it is yet another guestlist request. As I am heading out of the hotel I am called back and told that Lemmy has recently said something derogatory about the Darkness in the press and so The Darkness have barred Lemmy from entering the venue at any point today.
The shopping spree put on hold, it is my duty to get hold of Lemmy to tell him the bad news. It is Sunday however and we cannot get in touch with Motorhead’s management, so I will have to go to the venue, wait for him to arrive and let him know in person that he cannot enter the building. On the way to the Henry Fonda Theatre, I pick up the biggest bottle of Jack Daniels I have ever seen, as means of appeasing Lemmy, once I let him know that he has wasted his day coming to the show.
On arriving at the venue I see that our bus has been spray painted during the night, by a band that claim to claim to hate us. Considering no-one knows who we are over here, I deduct that they have mistaken our maroon Gay Machine for The Darkness’s bus and have even written their name on the side, in a message that reads “____ _______ hate you”
(we will not reveal the name, so as not to be incriminated when we find this band and repay them for their kindness).
Painting the name of your band on a bus, as form of protest, must place you
as the most stupid band in LA, which is REALLY saying something.
Meanwhile, at the venue, I wait and wait and wait and Lemmy doesn’t show up. I later find out that his tour manager has already been told the news, and has relayed it to him, but not to me, or indeed the security of the venue, who have photocopied print-outs of Lemmy’s face, to make sure that he doesn’t get into the building.
Lemmy’s driver has also been kept out of the loop and appears at 9:00pm to take him home, detonating a new security alert that Lemmy is in the building and could be out to cause trouble. I try to explain that Lemmy is a splendid bloke and definitely not a troublemaker, so I spend the remainder of the evening trying to track down surely the most recognisable face in the world of Rock, only to find that, obviously, he is not here.
Only in the world of The Wildhearts do uniquely fucked up things happen as regularly as they do. This, however, is a new level in irony, even for us.
The guys that originally agreed to get up onstage with us tonight disappear from the face of the Earth, while the outside chance, the king of LA, the guy that would have made the moment legendary has agreed to appear. And has been barred from entering the venue.
The show is a belter and the crowd are brilliant. Yesterday was obviously an industry attended show, hence the feeling that someone had died. The Darkness have a fantastic show, as Justin has the entire crowd in stitches with a swearing game that could have been lifted from an adult version of Sesame Street.
After the gig I get to hang out with Dave Grohl and I tell him the story of the day’s earlier drama. He seems like a great guy and cannot believe that Lemmy has been barred from an LA show.
CJ informs me that Dave has telephoned Lemmy and requested that he come to the Rainbow Bar and Grill – Lemmy’s favourite LA haunt, where The Darkness will be having a post-tour drink.
Lemmy duly arrives, looking every inch the dapper Rock Star and like a true gentleman talks to Justin, assuring him that the journalist had misquoted him and the entire thing had been taken out of context by an anti Darkness scribe.
Sitting at a table, with Justin, Dave Grohl and Lemmy really does make one pinch oneself in disbelief. Especially when one of your heroes is explaining away a problem to a friend who is currently saving your life and your career, at the behest of the world’s greatest living drummer, who you informed in the first place.
As the party gradually settles down and Rock n Roll people flood the street of Sunset Boulevard, Lemmy shakes my hand and assures me that there are no hard feelings between Motorhead and The Darkness and Dave Grohl gives me a big hug for helping him patch up a repairable rip in the delicate fabric of this most volatile of businesses.
It is the perfect end to what has been a perfect tour and as perfect an introduction to America as we could have ever wished for.
After the smoke clears, it is evident that everyone who plays music is in the same position and has the same rights and dreams as the next man. And the same vulnerability.
You are all potential victims of the explosive nature of the gossip industry. You are all potential fodder for the machine to churn out another success story. You are all potential friends of heroes that have carved out the path that you have chosen to follow and admire.
And we can all do a little more than is necessary, to help, should we give enough of a shit.
The one thing that ties every great person together, in this intriguing industry, is the love of the music. Before a penny is earned and a video is aired, there is the love and the passion for the music and the belief in the performance.
Without this there would be no heroes, there would merely be success stories.
And what would success be without the desire to respect, and be respected?
The record companies don’t own the musicians and they don’t control the real world that is music business. Without the musicians, the business of making money could not exist. The real music business exists behind a curtain of deep respect for another musician and acknowledgement of another’s merit and talent.
If you ain’t got respect then you ain’t got shit.
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