Tag Archives: punk

The girl who loves gangsters the Kray Twins and imprisoned Charles Bronson

Sarajane at the Kray Twins’ grave in Chingford, East London

A few weeks ago, I got an email from Sarajane Martin which said:

“I am aware this may be a long shot but I’m a 21 year old Fine Art student living in London, studying at the University of Westminster and I am in the process of writing my dissertation…”

She asked if I could help her with something. Alas I could not, but I can spot a good blog subject when I see one, so we had a tea and coffee this week. She handed in her dissertation today.


Sarajane: I was born in a moving car going at about 80 miles an hour. My dad kept driving and he said he heard the sound of a child being born behind him. He turned round and me mam was sat there with me and he was fucking flying and he just kept going.

John: He was on his way to the hospital?

Sarajane: Yeah. He ran in and he said: Me wife’s had a baby in the car! And they told him: You are drunk, sir. Please go! And he’s like: For fucksake! My wife’s just had a baby!

John: It was unexpected, then?

Sarajane: Yeah. Afterwards, me dad went back to the house to get things for me mam, like pyjamas and stuff, and the second he hit the spot when I had come out, where he heard that noise, Pretty Flamingo by Manfred Mann came on the radio and he sang it all the way to Durham, thinking about his new daughter. He sang it to me my whole life. I have a tattoo of a flamingo on my leg and it says Daddy and he’s got one on his.

John: When Ron Kray shot George Cornell in the Blind Beggar pub, there was a jukebox playing, wasn’t there?”

Sarajane: Yeah. It was playing The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore. Ron said, the second he shot him, it went: The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore… Anymore… Anymore and it jammed. How weird is that?

John: What is your BA (Hons) dissertation called?

Sarajane: What Does Performance Art Contribute To The Myth of The Criminal?

John: What DOES it contribute?

Sarajane: Well, if I’m being totally honest, I just said ‘Performance Art’ because I’m an art student and I had to connect it to art somehow. I wanted to write about gangsters and bad boys an’ that.

John: In her autobiography Handstands in the Dark, Janey Godley says that old-time Glasgow gangsters were like actors. They were putting on a performance of being gangsters.

Sarajane: It’s right, that. It IS a performance, like it’s not real. I got interested in criminals. I think it’s a thing we all do.

Sarajane Martin at Soho Theatre in a T-shirt

John: You have a Kray Twins T-shirt on.

Sarajane: Ultimate gangsters.

John: Criminals are bad people.

Sarajane: I know. It’s not that I think they’re nice people. I just find them more interesting than good people. That’s just a human reaction, isn’t it?

John: Any specific reason?

Sarajane: I know exactly why. I have two older brothers. The oldest one is 37. I’m nearly half his age. I’m 21 and I’ve done much more than he’s ever done because he has just like been in prison his whole life near enough. Petty stuff. Gone with the wrong crowd. Daft. Stupid. A rolling stone.

He would write me letters when I was a kid. I remember seeing it was an HMP (Her Majesty’s Prison) envelope and I was buzzing, thinking it was really cool. My brother in prison had sent me a letter! I was thinking of this when I was writing a letter to Bronson.

John: Charles Bronson, the criminal.

Sarajane: Yes.

John: He’s changed his name again, hasn’t he?

Sarajane: Yes. Charles Salvador.

John: Some women get married to long-term prisoners.

Sarajane: People start to write to a person because they know that person’s a murderer.

John: Why would they want to write to someone who has killed people?”

Sarajane: Because they see the good in people. They say Ron Kray was mad. But he was ill. Nowadays, he wouldn’t have lived like that. It was such a different time.

John: There are still psycho killers around today, though.

Sarajane: Yeah. Yeah. But they’re treated differently.

John: Have you seen The Piranha Brothers in Monty Python?

Sarajane: No.

John: People say the East End of London was safer when the Krays were around. They only killed their own, not ordinary people.

Sarajane: Yes. In a Fred Dinenage book, Ron is quoted as saying he wanted to kill George Cornell. He says he had shot people before but he did it just to maim not to kill. With George, I wanted to. I walked in there and wanted to kill him. That’s mad.

John: You are from the North East of England. There are loads of hard men up there.

Sarajane: Yeah. But Northerners are wankers.

John: Are you sure you want that quoted?

Sarajane: I’m a Northerner, so I can say it. They’re just not very interested in the world around them.

John: If this were 1963 or 1965, would you have thought of marrying Ron Kray?

Sarajane: Probably. (LAUGHING) I don’t think Ron would have done what he done if we had met. (LAUGHING) I don’t think Ron would have been that interested in me. They reckoned when Ron liked someone, that was it. Someone said: You would hear that the Krays were coming and all the good-looking lads would piss off. They knew Ron was on the way.

John: You just fancy bad boys.

Sarajane: I don’t fancy Bronson or owt like that. I just love ‘em, you know what I mean? I don’t fancy them. It’s not like that.

John: You would not marry Bronson but you love him?

Sarajane: Yeah, but in a different way… Appreciation…

John: …of what?

Sarajane: I don’t know.

John: You appreciate his art?

Art by Charles Bronson was controversially displayed at Angel station, London, in 2010

Sarajane: I do. I love his art.

John: It IS interesting.

Sarajane: Do you know he sent a Get Well Soon card to the girl who lost her leg in Alton Towers? (When a rollercoaster crashed at the amusement park.) Bless him.

John: I hate to say this, but Hitler was an artist.

Sarajane: And Joseph Goebbels was about five foot high and used to wear high heels when he was in photos. What a weird thought.

John: You graduate this year. What are you going to be?”

Sarajane: I felt I knew before I started the course.

John: What did you think back then you were going to be?”

Sarajane: Famous. That was the only thing I wanted. I wanted to come to London and be famous. Like Bronson. Go into prison and become famous.

John: Really?

Sarajane: No. I’m joking. I always just wanted to be a painter. I was going to be pure punk and drop out of Art School and just be a failure. And then I thought: No, I can’t go my whole life saying Oh, yeah, I dropped out of Art School.

John: Have you done any art inspired by the Krays?

Sarajane: I’m saving it for my degree show. I want it to be like you feel the presence of the two of them.  Possibly something like two life-sized sculptures which show the difference in their characters.

John: So what are you going to do when you leave university this year?

Sarajane: I haven’t got a clue. All I know so far is I’m going to Nuremberg and to The Berghof. And Nürburgring. Do you like Formula One racing?

John: I’ve never seen it live.

Sarajane: I like the old 1970s Formula One, me. Much cooler. And they were much more ‘for it’. Now it’s all money and there’s no, like, courage in the game. In the 1970s, they were like right up to death, looking it in the face: We don’t care. Niki Lauda is one of my heroes. His crash happened at Nürburgring. He was on fire. They had to put a thing in his lungs and like vacuum his lungs and he did it more than once. He was that much of an animal he was like: Do it again. It doesn’t even hurt that much, man: do it again.

John: You’re just looking for the ultimate bad boy.

Sarajane: He’s not a bad boy, though. He’s just a total nerd who had an accident.

John: You’re attracted to death and punk. It’s Goth Art.

Sarajane: Goth’s dead. I’m pure punk. I’m pure 1970s punk, me.

Sarajane Martin – work in progress

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Malcolm Hardee + the start of British Alternative Comedy and Stomp music

The bare image promoting the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards

Comedy icon Malcolm Hardee, 1950-2005 (Artwork by Brian Damage from an original photograph by David Tuck; additional visual messing around by Vincent Lewis)

Generations come and go.

Tommy Ramone, drummer with American punk band The Ramones, died of cancer yesterday, aged 65. So it goes.

I think I met Malcolm Hardee – the ‘father of Alternative Comedy’ around 1985 or 1986. He died in 2005; so it goes.

My eternally un-named friend met Malcolm a few years before me.

But Steve Byrne, artistic director of the Interplay theatre company in Leeds. first saw Malcolm perform in 1976.

“The first time I saw Malcolm,” he told me this week, “was in a production of Alice in Wonderland. He was the caterpillar on a toadstool that wobbled.”

“Was he a hookah-smoking caterpillar?” I asked.

“Yes. He would just stop in the middle of his lines and talk to the audience and say: I was having a wash and… and you’re not supposed to do that in theatre. You’re supposed to say the lines that have been written down by the great and good. But not Malcolm.

“It was one of those shows that – when you are young Second Year drama students who take themselves a bit too seriously – you look and you say: Oh, but they’re playing to the crowd now! They’re laughing with the audience! they’ve broken it all down! Oh the fourth wall’s gone – All that sort of shit.

Steve with my eternally-un-named and mostly unseen friend

Steve with my eternally-un-named, usually unseen friend

“I was a student at Goldsmiths College and this girl who was a couple of years older than me, in her last year, directed this version of Alice in Wonderland and she’d got Malcolm Hardee and Martin Soan in the same show and I went along on that Sunday afternoon and I thought: Oh, they’ll never do anything!

“I remember looking back at it years later and laughing with Malcolm about it, telling him:

“I thought you were a tosser, a fucking no-hoper. I thought you had no skill, no talent… And I got it totally wrong.

“It was a funny time before Alternative Comedy came round, when nobody really knew which way the land was going to go. I remember people at Goldsmiths saying: We should do more of a cabaret style show. Will that work? Do people want to relax? Less of an audience that’s sitting there reverentially watching something?

“And then suddenly, almost overnight, you’ve got the Comedy Store in Soho in 1982. And there were people like Pookie Snackenburger.”

“They were music weren’t they?” I asked.

“They were music, yes,” said Steve. “but they did strange little things.”

There is a video on YouTube of them performing Just One Cornetto.

Steve Byrne told me: “The guy who ran Pookie Snackenburger was called Steve McNicholas, who I went to college with, and he went on to do Stomp.”

“And comedy manager Addison Cresswell’s brother was also involved in that,” I said.

“Yes. Luke Cresswell. Luke and Steve McNicholas came together after I left college. We’d all bashed a load of bins around and some advertising executive went by and said I want to make an advert of that.”

“An ad?” I asked.

“A Midland Bank advert.”

“And that was the beginning of the Stomp stage show years later?” I asked.

“Yes. But it was all bubbling around. All these people trying to look for different ways of doing things. It was a funny time. Musically, it defined itself very quickly after 1976 because you suddenly had punk. I remember being at Crossfields Festival at Deptford in 1976 and I was wide-eyed with all this music. There was Squeeze playing downstairs on the grass and there was ATV – a bank clerk called Mark Perry started a band called ATV and invented the first punk fanzine Sniffin’ Glue. It was a funny time and I was sometimes in those things and I was sometimes just observing it and Malcolm was around too.”

There is a YouTube video of Pookie Snackenburger’s pre-Stomp dustbin dance and YouTube also has a video of ATV’s song How Much Longer?

The Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards are given annually at the Edinburgh Fringe.

 

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Trouble at the East German border and at the punk rock concert in East Berlin

More tales of old East and West Germany… when Berlin was divided in two by the Berlin Wall and, for West Germans to get into West Berlin, they had to drive through part of East Germany.

“In the 1970s,” Rudiger Schmidt told me in Nuremberg yesterday, “I went with my mother to Berlin.

“If you went to the border, the East Germans asked you Are children on board? Do you have weapons? and my mother was very nervous, because she was old and she thought, if she said something wrong, she would be sent to Siberia.

“I was driving to Berlin with my mother beside me and an East German policeman asked Are children on board? and I said No and, at the same moment, my mother said Yes. He looked into the car, asked Where are the children? and my mother said This is my son.

“The policeman did not find it funny.

Die Toten Hosen’s album Reich & Sexy II

German rock band Die Toten Hosen’s album Reich & Sexy II

“Have you heard of Die Toten Hosen, the rock band?”

“No,” I said.

“They are from Düsseldorf and started in the early 1980s.”

“What does Die Toten Hosen mean?” I asked.

“The Dead Trousers,” replied Rudiger. “In Germany, if a situation is boring and nothing is happening, you say That’s dead trouser – tote hose.

“Just after Die Toten Hosen had started as a band, they went on a tour through Germany and drove from West Germany to Berlin and I went with them in the tour bus. The driver of the tour bus was from Cologne and people from Cologne think they are very funny.

“When we arrived at the East German border, the East German policeman asked Weapons, explosives, children? – He did not ask Do you have weapons, explosives, children? – He just asked Weapons, explosives, children?

“So the driver of the bus, who was from Cologne, said Oh, well, give me two weapons and twelve children.

“The policeman said Please park over there and take all things out of the bus.

“It was about 2.00am in the night and we had to do it. We took everything out of the car and the policeman went inside and was checking everything when the driver of the bus said Oh, while you are inside, please check the oil.

“The policeman did not find that funny.

“We had to take the wheels off the bus, take the seats out of the bus and we did not have the tools to do it – the screwdrivers and the spanners. We just had our little knives. The East German policemen were standing there for two hours laughing at us. We had arrived at the border at 2.00am. When we were finished, it was 7.00am in the morning. All because the driver from Cologne had made these two little jokes.

Lead singer Campino with Die Toten Hosen in 1985

Campino of Die Toten Hosen in 1985 concert

“Die Toten Hosen were going to play two concerts in West Berlin and one concert in East Berlin… but to play the concert in East Berlin was not allowed, so we each had to go into East Berlin via different border checkpoints to take in the instruments.

“The place where they played was a church and, because it was forbidden, you could not have any posters. Nothing.”

“This sounds dangerous,” I said.

“It was kind of dangerous,” said Rudiger. “They started the show and soon after that a guy came into the church and said Down the street on the next corner they have grilled chickens – You could not get grilled chicken in East Germany every day. Maybe once a month you could get them.

“So this guy said: Down the street on the next corner they have grilled chickens and everyone ran out of the church and the band was left with no audience. Nothing. And that was it. The concert was over.”

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The final months of punk rocker Paul Fox of The Ruts: he never surrendered

The Ruts on the inside cover of their CD The Crack

The Ruts on the inside cover of their CD The Crack

(This was also published on the Indian news site WSN)

My chum Lou is an interesting man: he makes knuckledusters and knows interesting people. Last night, he was talking to me about Paul Fox.

Paul Fox was lead guitarist in the British punk rock band The Ruts. He died of lung cancer in October 2007.

So it goes.

“I used to bump into Paul every now and then at what’s now the Coy Carp in Harefield,” Lou told me last night. “On a Sunday, they used to have a few live bands down there. Paul was inspirational, absolutely amazing, a really sound guy. What a man! Never heard him slag anyone off. When I heard he’d got cancer, I told him: I’m your driver, I’ll look after you.

“One day he was in so much pain and I was getting pain tablets at the time but I didn’t need them any more… He was not getting enough pain killers from the hospital because I think a doctor there knew he’d had a problem with narcotics in the past and decided to keep him a little bit short.

“If it had been anyone else, they’d probably have got as much as they wanted, but he was constantly in pain. I used to say to people: When you meet Paul, please don’t squeeze him; he’s in so much pain.

“But Paul wouldn’t go Argh! get off! He’d just stand there and take the pain.

“So, anyway, I used to help him out with his tablets.

“Once, we were coming back about 2 o’clock in the morning from his sister’s in Hastings. He was groaning; he’d taken some tablets, but they hadn’t kicked in yet and he said to me: I’d rather this was over sooner rather than later. And I told him: Listen, Paul, if you want to make a job of it, I’ll help you.

“Yeah, he said, but, if they come after you and you get caught, you’ll go behind the door for that.

“I said: Stupid as I am, I would be like an Republican soldier. I would have done what I thought was right. OK. I’ll do me bird for it. But, if what I did was the right thing for that person I helped. I’d be like a soldier. I’d say I did the right thing.”

“You mean an Irish Republican soldier?” I asked.

“Yes,” said Lou, “they were very, very committed men, god bless ‘em. Brave men. They weren’t trained like British soldiers.

“So Paul said I’d rather it was over and I said Well, alright. And then I sat there thinking What have I done? I can’t go back. I’ve made a commitment.

“And Paul sat there for what seemed like ages, though it was probably only about ten minutes and eventually he said: No.

We’ll Never Surrender! - The Ruts’ Staring at The Rude Boys

We’ll Never Surrender! – The Ruts’ Staring at The Rude Boys

No what? I asked him.

No, he said, We’re going to see it out to the end.

“I said: That’s good… Don’t forget the song…

What song?

We’ll never surrender.

“And we had a little laugh about that.”

The Ruts’ song Staring at The Rude Boys includes the lyrics We’ll never surrender.

It is on YouTube.

“It was re-recorded by local band Gallows,” Lou told me. “They got big. Paul was ever so appreciative of the money they made him.

“He told me: You know, I got £19,000 and I love this government. They’ve given me this place to live in and they’ve upped me dole money.

“I said: Well, it’s cos you’re terminally ill, Paul. That’s why, mate.

“And he said I’m so happy.

Is there anything you want to do that you haven’t done? I asked him. Whatever it is, we’ll do it.

I wanted to fly,” he said.

Well, we can do that, I told him. I know a bloke with a small plane.

Nah! I wanted to learn to fly, he said.

“And did he go up in one?” I asked.

“Well, a bit of him did,” replied Lou. “His ashes were thrown out over Northolt. Some of his ashes. The rest of his ashes, I think, are with his sister in Hastings, god bless her. She told me they were going to be in a wooden box, so I got a little silver plaque and engraved on it …We’ll never surrender!…

“He died in 2007 – six years ago now,” Lou told me.

“My mother died in 2007,” I told Lou.

So it goes.

“When they diagnosed the cancer,” Lou told me, “Paul asked them How long have I got? and the doctor said Ooh, you’ve got a long, long time.

Paul Fox in final gig with The Ruts at Islington in July 2007

Paul Fox in final gig with The Ruts at Islington in July 2007

“And he asked them Have I got time to write an album? and they said Absolutely.

“A couple of days later, they told him Here, Paul, we made a little mistake. You’ve got a rampant cancer. You may have six months to live. And that’s what he had. About five-and-a-half months. Bosh. He was gone. Bang. Gone.”

“It’s almost better shorter,” I said. “My father was the same. I asked the consultant how long he had left and the reply was Three months to three years and he died almost exactly three months later.”

“We were raising some money for Paul,” Lou told me last night. “We was doing a do. We still do it every year. The Paul Fox appreciation society, mate. We get together once a year and raise a few quid.

“I don’t forget about Paul but, you know, things go on… and then that comes round and I walk into that fucking bar and there’s a picture of him that night – the last night at Islington – and… it gets to me… it’s getting to me now… oh fuck… ”

“Have you seen Blade Runner?” I asked Lou.

“Yeah.”

“You know Rutger Hauer’s death speech?”

“No.”

“When I die all those moments will be lost in time, like tears in rain,”

“Oh, yeah,” said Lou.

Lou looks at Paul Fox’s poster last night

Lou looks at Paul Fox’s poster last night and remembers him

Before Paul Fox died, he had 100 copies made of a poster on which he printed some of his memories.

Lou has No 3 of the 100 posters on his wall.

Some of Paul’s memories on the poster are:

“I was in a band called Hit & Run with Malcolm Owen. He came and played me Anarchy in The UK. We both said We can do that and promptly formed a band. The first two songs we wrote were Lobotomy and Rich Bitch. I can also remember Malcolm giving Sid Vicious a good hiding in The Speakeasy for being disrespectful to his bird. In Malcolm’s defence, Sid was an arrogant cunt.

“I also remember Rusty Egan asking me to audition for the Rich Kids, one of Glen Matlock’s bands after the Sex Pistols. I didn’t get the job because my hair was too long and it didn’t suit the band’s image. Midge Ure bagged the job in the end.

“I remember doing a TV show called The Mersey Pirate which was the predecessor to Tiswas. (In fact, it filled the Tiswas summer break in 1979.) This boat went up and down the Mersey and turned round and come back again. The only trouble was we’d been out partying till the early hours that morning and were feeling slightly rough. We boarded at 8.00am and, when the boat turned round, we kept falling out of camera shot.

“Also appearing on the same show were the guy who played Darth Vader and the Jolly Green Giant – Dave Prowse – and Don Estelle and Windsor Davies singing their hit Whispering Grass. We were skinning up a joint and Windsor Davies walked by and said I used to smoke that in the Army. I bumped into Don Estelle years later when we both appeared as ourselves in the line-ups for Never Mind the Buzzcocks. He remembered that day on the Mersey quite well.”

Paul’s final gig with The Ruts on 16th July 2007

Paul’s final gig with The Ruts in London on 16th July 2007

On the 16th of July 2007, three months before his death on 21st October 2007, Paul Fox headlined a concert in his own honour, teaming up for one final performance with his surviving band mates and with long-time Ruts fan Henry Rollins filling in for original Ruts singer Malcolm Owen who died of a heroin overdose in 1980.

So it goes. Paul is interviewed about it on YouTube.

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Filed under Death, Music, Punk

Working class/middle class comedy, Malcolm Hardee, Mr Methane, the Macc Lads & singer Robbie Williams

Patrick Monahan lost to Tim Fitzhigham in Russian Egg Roulette

Patrick Monahan on stage with Tim Fitzhigham last Friday (Photograph by Keir O’Donnell)

In yesterday’s blog, I quoted a Facebook conversation with comedian Bob Walsh about last Friday’s Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show at the Edinburgh Fringe. It got some reaction from readers, including Bob Walsh himself. On Facebook, he posted (and I’m not quite sure what the first seven words mean):

“If the press put on a show DONT SAY A WORD about it whatever you do. This so called Journalist has turned a 4am drunken rant on Facebook into a thinly veiled advert at my expense, classy ground breaking work. Even if wrong CAN NOBODY CRITICSISE THE CRITISISER without a sad bitter self obsessed old man attempting to ruin their career?”

And, although I was actually not annoyed by his Facebook comments, merely interested to hear in more detail what they were, Bob has commented at the bottom of yesterday’s blog:

“While I understand you may be annoyed a drunken 4am rant on Facebook of mine after the MH Awards which was a garbled mess I admit and I read your article with interest.. I find it difficult to understand why you would take it all so seriously frankly, a drunken comedian acting out on social media about comedy stuff ! NO !
I did withdraw the thread as I realised it was drunken rubbish that had upset people but really you in your job reacting to a few contrary opinions with an article like that. Pathetic.
As for my sources some people have conversations not statements and I am allowed to allude to a conversation with my friends on Facebook without naming them thank you. Is nobody allowed wether correctly or otherwise to CRITICISE THE CRITICISER !”

Another reaction came from Mr Methane, the farter of alternative comedy. He was slightly miffed by Bob Walsh’s quoted comment:

“I hope y’all enjoyed the MH awards whilst the people that actually worked with him DIDNT GET INVITED! The people that headlined his shows ARE NOT INVITED! And his whole ethos has been ignored by middle class cunts who he would have HATED enjoyed yourselves.”

I got this reaction from Mr Methane today, before he set off to appear at a week long steam fair in Dorset:

____________________________________________________

Mr Methane in a train at Crumpsall station, now on Manchester Metrolink

Mr Methane in the cab of a train at Crumpsall, Manchester

Interesting stuff and a strange rant. In my case at least as I worked with Malcolm Hardee. In 1992 I did a short spot at Aaaaaaaaaaaargh in the Pleasance at which Frank Skinner saw me.

A few years later, in 1997, Frank had a TV chat show and mentioned me to Gene Wilder during an interview – making a casual remark about me being a bit out of tune.

I contacted Frank who said he was only joking and would I like to come on the show and sing a duet which I did… Then it got banned by the BBC and was released on a video which then had an injunction placed on it by Phil Spector as he didn’t like our duet of Da Do Ron Ron.

Frank later wrote in his autobiography that Spector had ranted about our defilement of his masterpiece during an Australian music awards ceremony to which Frank replied: You can have your wall of sound, Phil, and I’ll have mine.

All of the above happened because Malcolm had invited me to make an appearance on his Edinburgh show.

I came to appear at Aaaaaaaaaaaargh because Malcolm knew me from cameo appearances at his Up The Creek club with Charlie Chuck.

These performances allegedly led to Vic & Bob’s El Petomane characters in their Smell of Reeves & Mortimer TV series – They saw what a big laugh a fart gag got.

In the year Malcolm was promoting Jools Holland in Edinburgh he also asked me and Charlie to do a spot at the old Gilded Balloon’s Late ‘n’ Live show.

All these above events happened because of Malcolm’s role as a hub through which comedy ideas and characters flowed and connected with one another.

So, in my case, it’s a very big pair of Malcolm’s Bollocks when someone says I never worked with him and that he would have hated me.

If so, why would he have kept putting opportunities my way?

As for middle class… Well, sorry, Bob Walsh lost me there.

I come from a working class background and think the Guardian is for champagne socialist wankers. I was a staff rep for ASLEF in the 1980s – the union which, after the NUM, was Margaret Thatcher’s most hated trade union and a hotbed of ‘Commie Bastards’ according to most of the tabloid press.

I don’t, however, wear my working class pedigree like a badge of honour or alternatively a chip on my shoulder.

I am very proud of my working class roots as I feel working class values have a far greater depth of meaning, value and integrity than some of the valueless values of being middle class.

The old saying that there is more warmth in a Working Class insult than there is in a Middle Class greeting is, I feel, very true… But, that said, I can live with the middle and don’t endlessly need to slag them off as I believe in respect for others.

As you know, I drove up to do the gig in Edinburgh at my own expense and didn’t stop to network afterwards as I had a drive home ahead of me. In fact, I don’t really network after comedy shows in any case.

So, to summarise & clarify: I let just my arse do the talking and, on this particular night, it seems I was not the only person doing so.

Yours flatulently,
Mr Methane!

____________________________________________________

A passer-by takes an interest in Mr Methane yesterday

Mr Methane showcased his talents at Edinburgh Fringe 2013

Mr Methane had performed for a week at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe, then returned home and, as he said, he came back up to perform on the Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show for free, paying his own expenses.

All proceeds from the show are donated to the Mama Biashara charity and no personal expenses (including mine) are reimbursed. While Mr Methane was in Edinburgh for his week-long Fringe run, he stayed in my rented Edinburgh flat and we talked of many things, including his time touring with the infamously offensive Macc Lads punk band. (Macc = Macclesfield in Cheshire)

“The ironic thing is, when I was on tour with them, I was the only one who was actually born in Macclesfield,” he told me. “The original line-up were public schoolboys taking the piss out of the homophobic, sexist and…”

“They were all public schoolboys?” I asked.

“All except Stez 2,” said Mr Methane. “He was actually a drummer in The Icicle Works. And he was also Eddie Shit, one of Malcolm Hardee’s favourite acts.”

“People took the Macc Lads too literally,” explained Mr Methane. “Jeff, the beta – the lead guitarist – he’s now a postman – he lived with a nice girl. Her family were quite well-off, because they ran one of those car and home stereo businesses. So he’s all right; he doesn’t have to do too much.

“He didn’t like it when people threw urine at him and one night he got upset because he said: Someone must have thrown a turd at me, cos me teeshirt smells of shit.

“He was only doing it for the money. His love was jazz. Back at that time, he was living in Didsbury (a well-to-do part of Manchester) and he was into jazz guitar. So, really, playing in the Macc Lads was below him. It was something he’d done at school. It was something he could still go out on the road and earn a few hundred quid a night in cash from.

“The Macc Lads used to sell out Rock City in Nottingham which is a 1,700 capacity venue. They used to do two tours a year – so, 20 years ago, they were getting a cash income of about £9,000 a year after all expenses were paid.

“Mutley was the lead singer and he was the brains behind it. He started the Macc Lads because he wanted to make a social commentary. He came from Liverpool – I think he came from Fazakerley – and he wanted to make a social comment because he came to this small town – Macclesfield – where people just drank and farted and fought and did very little else and were these strange sexist and racist stereotypes. He decided, rather than write about it, he would make a social commentary, which was the Macc Lads, and he’d take the mickey out of it. But people took them seriously.

“At the time, he was co-promoting it with Sandy Gort. Mutley eventually bought him out or they parted in some way and Sandy went to Manchester to manage various acts which became Steve Coogan, John Thomson and Caroline Aherne.

“Mutley now runs a corporate voting system. When you go to conferences and people ask Do you agree with this? and you press the keypad and you immediately see on the screen what several hundred people think… that’s him. He makes a shedload of money from that.

“But he’s also got this huge back catalogue of social commentary which he sort of shies away from. He’s a reluctant cult superstar. He’s known but he doesn’t like to be known. He’s a very complex intellectual. His house is full of books like Power of The Mind and psychology books. He’s into what goes on in your head.

“Eventually, it all became too much when somebody threw a paving slab at him in Chester and it severed a main artery in his head and, because he had to play this tough guy, he had to carry on to the end of the show.

“Afterwards, he was like something off a horror movie – just congealed blood around his face. It had pumped out of his body. He walked offstage, collapsed in the back and they carried him off to the A&E. In his own words, he said They put me on the machine that goes beep. They pumped a load of blood into him and he said, after that, he was never going to do a gig again because they’d said to him Your artery’s weak there now. You only need another bang there. I think it was near death enough for him to give up. Rock City, at one point, were offering him £6,000 to play Christmas but he said No thankyou.” 

“So there will never be a reunion of the Macc Lads?” I asked.

“We had a reunion when Al O’Peesha Peter Bossley died. He’s the guy who everybody walks away from in the bar scene of the Newcy Brown video. Mutley had brought him in when Sandy Gort left because he needed a PR man and Peter came in from the South Manchester News where he was a journalist and then, when the Macc Lads finished, he went to work for The Sentinel in Stoke and won some national award for his investigative journalism.

Robbie Williams (left) in the Newcy Brown video

Robbie Williams (left) in the Macc Lads’ Newcy Brown video

Robbie Williams is in the Newcy Brown video,” Mr Methane told me. “I think that was his first taste of the music business. He was a big Macc Lads fan. His dad was – still is – a singer called Pete Conway – a Sinatra type crooner. If you go to an over-50s hotel, he’ll be there singing Spanish Eyes or something.

“Like Amy Winehouse learned off her dad, I guess Robbie Williams learned off his dad about singing but, in the early days, it wasn’t working out for him. Robbie was struggling. I remember his dad sent him down to Stoke railway station for a job. But it was the early 1990s and there was a recession, so they weren’t taking on staff.

“So he went away and, a few months later, he got the gig with Take That. Whether he got it on the basis of being in a Macc Lads video, I wouldn’t know.

“The Newcy Brown video is a segment of a whole bigger video of different tunes. I was in a tune called Mr Methane where I solve all the world’s problems – You ring me up and I fart down the telephone.”

“You’re well known for your ring,” I said.

Mr Methane did not react.

“I sort out German unity,” he continued, “and I tell you with a fart who will win the 2 o’clock at York racecourse. At the time, it wasn’t the high point of my career but, because the Macc Lads have got such a strong fanbase and it’s so cult, people are always telling me: It must have been incredible when you were on tour with the Macc Lads. It must have been fantastic!

“At the time, I just remember we were all very young, so everyone had big strong egos and wanted to be top of the pile.

“I think their downfall was that Oasis took it to the mainstream. Oasis behaved like a real Macc Lads. They were real working class and did the whole rock carry-on, so really the Macc Lads became very tame… And then your rap artists had all these horrible, sexist lyrics contained within the culture of their whole thing. So the Macc Lads weren’t shocking any more.”

So it goes.

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Steve Bowditch on music, The Gits, the Greatest Show on Legs and performing comedy at the 2013 Edinburgh Fringe

Steve in Rotherhithe docks, London

Steve after surviving The Gits – in Rotherhithe docks, London

This is a blog, partly, about how people’s memories fail them.

A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned The Gits in a blog.

I had been listening to an unreleased 9-song CD by the punk band from around 1990 which comprised English comedy performers Steve Bowditch, Stephen Frost and Canadian Alan Marriott. (These UK-based Gits are not to be confused with the Seattle band The Gits.)

One of my favourite tracks on the album is Albert Einstein. Part of the song is posted on YouTube.

I phoned up ex-Git Steve Bowditch to talk about their unreleased album.

“Could you do me a copy?” Steve asked. “I don’t have it. I used to have copies. I dunno what happened to them.”

Steve Bowditch was and is a member of The Greatest Show On Legs, the comedy troupe whose claim to fame is the Naked Balloon Dance. Performer Martin Soan started the Greatest Show On Legs as an adult Punch & Judy show. Then he was joined by the late legend Malcolm Hardee. And Steve Bowditch joined later.

“How did The Gits start?” I asked Steve.

“It was Stephen Frost,” he told me. “Stephen phoned me up and said Do you want to be the bass player in this punk band? and that was it. We practised in Alan Marriott’s flat in Mitchum. Steve was a punk fan and one of our first gigs was supporting the UK Subs at the Amersham Arms.”

“I thought I saw The Gits perform at the Astoria (since demolished) in Charing Cross Road in central London,” I said, “when Malcolm and I worked for Noel Gay TV.”

“No,” Steve told me. “But I remember we did perform at the Astoria, supporting John Otway. It was great to be playing to a packed Astoria.”

“I thought,” I said, “that we must have booked you to play on Jools Holland’s The Happening for BSB.”

“No,” said Steve. “The Greatest Show On Legs performed on that, but not The Gits.”

“What was the idea?” I asked. “A semi-comic punk band that might catch on and you might become millionaires?”

“I don’t know about being millionaires,” laughed Steve. “It was just really for the punk ethics. Stephen Frost wanted to have a punk band and that was that. He quite liked the Ramones. The first few gigs, we did the Ramones’ Suzy Is A Headbanger.

“I had always written comic songs for my act, so we started writing our own songs. Stephen wanted to write something about how you never see the drummer in a rock ‘n’ roll band. So he wrote a song about that. I had a thing about Albert Einstein and Stephen was keen on pub quizzes. So we wrote songs about them. Alan came up with God Squad because he couldn’t stand people banging on his door on Sunday mornings selling God.

“And, years ago when you got a packet of tea, you used to get a picture card in it showing animals and butterflies. I found this card in a drawer with a warthog on it, so just decided to write a song based on the back of a teabag card.”

“And what a fine song Warthog is,” I said.”

“Hog!” sang Steve, impressively remembering the lyrics from all those years ago.

“We played Glastonbury,” remembered Steve, “and at the Hope Festival a couple of times – and St Ives. We stayed in Taunton. Stephen’s parents lived in Penzance at the time.”

Comedian Stephen Frost’s father was Sir Terence Ernest Manitou Frost – Sir Terry Frost – a very highly-regarded artist and Royal Academician.

“His brother’s a famous artist, too,” said Steve. “Anthony – He lives on the edge of a cliff.”

“Don’t we all,” I said. “You’ve always been musical. You usually have a guitar in your act.”

“Right,” said Steve. “I play the violin now.”

“You do?”

“I do.”

“On stage?”

“Well, I bought the violin to do a sort of Jack Benny with it: always promising to play it but never doing it. But then I realised I quite enjoyed playing it. I practise about 2-3 hours a day now. Mainly Irish folk songs – The Irish Washerwoman, Jackie Tar, Chicken Reel, stuff like that.”

Steve at the Edinburgh Fringe in 1993

Steve performs with guitar & strawberry at the Fringe – 1993

“You were always guitar-based,” I said. “Was that because you wanted to be a musician or was it just another prop?”

“Just a way of getting through the act,” said Steve. “I was never really a stand-up comedian. I’ve always mucked around with props and music. Stand-ups have a certain something.”

“Madness,” I suggested. “Your musical career’s going even further at the Edinburgh Fringe this year.”

The Dickie Richards and Steve Bowditch Comedy Show,” said Steve. “The idea is to write a new ukelele song every day, using suggestions from the audience, featuring The Two Yuris.”

“Your act as two Russian generals?”

“Of course.”

“How long is your show’s run?” I asked.

“The 3rd to the 24th of August,” said Steve.

“So,” I said, “at the end, you’re going to have written 22 songs?”

“Hopefully.”

“As an album?” I asked.

“If someone can explain this iTunes malarkey to us,” said Steve. “You told me we can’t talk to Steve Jobs because he’s dead.”

“Don’t let that stop you,” I said. “After Edinburgh, are you and Dickie being a duo?”

“No,” said Steve, “we’re just going up there for the Fringe and, after Edinburgh, it’s hopefully full steam ahead with a Greatest Show On Legs tour and we’ll get work. We’re at the Spiegeltent on the South Bank in London again this coming Saturday – at Wonderground – supporting Al Murray. That’s what we want to do. The high profile things. Well, we want to do ANY shows, really.

“The Greatest Show On Legs was really just… One minute you were on stage at the Astoria or the Montreal comedy festival and it’s a big, packed theatre and the next week you were performing in the fireplace at some pub in somewhere like Ramsgate with 30 or 40 drunk people and afterwards you were at the bar and you’d made friends with everybody. It was always a big variety from top to bottom. That was what Malcolm thrived on. We all enjoyed that.”

Steve Bowditch pays homage to the late Malcolm Hardee

Steve Bowditch pays homage to the late Malcolm Hardee

“Is the story in Malcolm’s autobiography true?” I asked. “that you joined the Greatest Show On Legs in a sound recording studio.”

“That’s right,” said Steve. “I knew Jacki Cook who had a shop in Greenwich – she now has The Emporium. I had a cine camera and used to make little films and she and her friends starred in one.

“Malcolm used to pop into Jacki’s shop. You know what he was like: larger-than-life and getting to know everybody everywhere. He told her: We’re looking for someone else to join in cos I can’t do that skinhead gag any more cos I’ll have a heart attack if I do it one more time. Someone who’s young and up for it.

“She said: Oh, you gotta meet Steve. He’s up for most things. So Malcolm came round and said: Oh, Jackie sent me round. She said you might wanna be in the show. Do you wanna fag?

“I said: Alright.

“He said: Can you dance?

“I said: Erm. Yeah.

“He said: Go on, then.

“So I did two steps sideways, two steps forwards, two steps backwards.

OK, he said. Come round Saturday and meet the others.

“And that was my audition.”

This story is completely different to the one in Malcolm Hardee’s autobiography I Stole Freddie Mercury’s Birthday Cake. In that, he wrote:

Steve Bowditch was recruited when I was walking along the road by my house and saw this bloke sitting inside a recording studio, where he was making the tea. I just liked the look of his face. I went in and said to him: 

“Do you want to be in a show?” 

“Yes,” he said.

So he came round that afternoon, rehearsed about three numbers and next day he was in Rhyl, North Wales, performing with The Greatest Show on Legs.

Malcolm Hardee drowned in 2005.

“So the Greatest Show on Legs now,” I said to Steve Bowditch, “is you and Dickie Richards and Martin Soan. Why aren’t you all performing as the Greatest Show on Legs during your show in Edinburgh next month?”

“Martin couldn’t do it,” explained Steve, “because he’s got his own thing happening in Peckham – The Village Hall Experience – on 17th August, right slap-bang in the middle of the Fringe dates.”

The GSOL as they are today (from left) Dickie, Steve, Martin

The GSOL today (from left) Dickie, Steve and Martin

“And then all three of you,” I said, “are performing in the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show on the final Friday of the Fringe…”

“Are we?” asked Steve.

“Oh dear,” I said. “Aren’t you?”

“Is Martin coming up for that?” Steve asked.

“Oh dear,” I said. “Yes, he’s travelling up specially to do that one night performance.”

“Right,” said Steve. “We’ll be there, then.”

“Oh good,” I said. “Do you have any photos of The Gits?”

“No,” said Steve.

“Have you got any publicity photos for your Edinburgh show with Dickie?” I asked.

“No,” said Steve.

“Or a Facebook page or anything?” I asked.

“No,” said Steve.

The Dickie Richards and Steve Bowditch Comedy Show is not listed in the Edinburgh Fringe Programme, but it runs 3rd-24th August at 2.10pm daily in Ciao Roma on South Bridge.

Steve still makes short films. Look for WeShouldGetABoat on YouTube. Here is one of Steve’s films, featuring comic Harriet Bowden: Internet Stalker.

This blog is posted later than normal, because I was interrupted by The Scottish Sun wanting naked photos of The Greatest Show On Legs as they will appear in the increasingly prestigious Malcolm Hardee Comedy Awards Show – for the Women’s section of tomorrow’s newspaper.

It has had a terrible knock-on effect on the rest of my day but, for The Greatest Show On Legs, nude photos in the Sun is just an ordinary day for them.

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I can only barely remember Malcolm Hardee’s old comedy club The Tunnel

Malcolm Hardee at the Tunnel Club in the 1980s
(photo courtesy of Steve Taylor)

In the early hours of this morning, I was talking to a friend who knew the late comedian Malcolm Hardee. She met him as a neighbour before she knew he was a comic or a club owner and she did not go to his Sunday night Tunnel Club primarily for the comedy.

“I used to play pool there,” she told me.

“Not to watch the shows?” I asked.

“I’m tired,” she said. It’s late. I can’t really remember. I must’ve not watched the shows sometimes because I was playing pool. I didn’t go there that often, because it was a long walk in the night from Greenwich, where I lived.”

“I don’t remember The Tunnel much at all,” I said.

“But you can’t remember what happened yesterday,” she said.

I have a notoriously bad memory. I have to write everything down.

“I don’t remember The Tunnel much either,” my friend said. “So you’re never going to get a blog out of this.”

“Was the stage in a corner?” I asked. “You came in the door and turned right, didn’t you? But I think there was something odd about the positioning of the stage.”

“The bar was in the middle,” my friend explained. “On one side were the pool tables; on the other side was the bar; and, at the end was the room with the show in.”

“Was it a separate room?” I asked, surprised. I remembered it being one large pub room.

“It was quite a large room,” she said. “It wasn’t pokey. That was pleasant for a start. And the fact there were two pool tables and one of them was usually free. That was great. Then there was sometimes someone I fancied there. I loved that.”

“The audience always threw beer glasses at acts they didn’t like,” I said.

“It wasn’t dangerous for me,” my friend said, “because I always stood at the back. I didn’t sit in a seat.”

“I remember standing,” I said. “I don’t remember seats. Were you there the night Babs what’s-er-name got hit by a glass?”

“No,” my friend said, opening up her laptop computer to check her e-mails.

“Look, John,” she said, “I’m too tired to remember. Phone up Lewis Schaffer if you want a blog. It’s after one o’clock in the morning. He’ll be feeling pissed-off. Is it Tuesday and Wednesday he does his Soho gigs? Phone him up and ask him how his gig was last night and say how you went to someone else’s show. That’ll cheer him up.”

The Tunnel film documentary

“People who never went to the Tunnel think it was a rowdy bear pit,” I said. “Well, I suppose it was. People were always throwing glasses at the acts. That’s rowdy. Even if they only threw them at bad acts.”

“Well,” my friend reminded me, “at that time, people threw glasses at punk bands. If you went to see a rock band, no-one was able to dance any more. Disco had vanished because people were spitting and pogo-ing.”

“The Tunnel was 1984-1988, though,” I said.

“All I know,” my friend said, “is that, in the late-1970s, there was a sudden moment when lots of pogo-ing was happening and people were spitting.”

“That was before AIDs,” I mused.

“The bands on stage were spitting at the audience,” my friend continued. “You didn’t want to sit in the front rows. If anyone danced, the floor was taken over by young men pogo-ing and bashing into each other so, if you were a woman, you couldn’t dance. That was what social nights out were turning into half the time.

“People throwing glasses at acts in The Tunnel wasn’t surprising. That’s what was happening at the music gigs as well. Musicians on stage would swing the microphone stand and whack it around with people going Whoooaaa! and ducking their heads. You would think Doh! I’m not going near the front. Punk started in 1977, but it was pretty well established by, say, 1979 and, after that, things were getting more and more seedy.

“Before then, people used to wear T-shirts saying LOVE and stuff with rainbows and hearts printed on them. After Punk started it wasn’t just ripped shirts and razor blades and studs and chains round the trousers… people had emblazoned on their T-shirts Oh, fucking hell! and Wot you looking at? and Fuck off, cunt. No-one was having Love and Peace on their T-shirts any more. So, a few years later, if people in a comedy club are throwing glasses…”

“The Tunnel must have been filled with smoke,” I said. “because people were still smoking inside pubs and clubs. It must’ve smelled of beer and fags. I don’t remember.”

“I don’t remember the smell,” my friend said, looking at her computer. “I’ve got a lot of spam.”

“Malcolm and I could never remember when we met,” I said. “It must have been around 1985 or 1986 because he was managing acts and I was looking for acts which might be useful on TV for Surprise! Surprise! or Game For a Laugh. I think I went to The Tunnel and saw Gary Howard and maybe The Greatest Show On Legs.”

“There was that guy with the dog,” my friend said.

“The Joan Collins Fan Club,” I prompted. “Julian Clary.”

“He was on at The Tunnel a lot,” my friend said. “It seemed to me, when I went, he was often on. I didn’t go that often. One time someone I knew stopped and chatted to him because they knew him from Goldsmiths College in New Cross.”

“I’ve never associated him with Malcolm,” I said. “Maybe he was around Malcolm before my time or maybe I’ve just forgotten.”

“He was there a lot,” my friend said. I remember Jerry Sadowitz too.”

“I must have seen him perform there,” I said. “Maybe that’s why I first went there. I can’t remember. I knew Malcolm around the time he released that album for Jerry – Was it called Gobshite? – It had to be withdrawn in case Jimmy Saville sued for libel.”

“I remember Harry Enfield,” my friend said. “I don’t remember seeing him perform… He was there as… someone who…”

“…who was in the audience,” I prompted.

“Well, he wasn’t in the audience,” she said. “He was a friend of Malcolm’s. I don’t remember seeing him perform. Just like Jools Holland went along as a friend of Malcolm’s, but I don’t remember seeing him perform there.”

“I remember the man who tortured teddy bears,” I said. “He was wonderful. Steve something-or-other. He had a wheel of death for the teddy bear.”

“I didn’t particularly think of it as a place to watch acts,” my friend said. “It was a chance to go out and I went along to play pool. I liked playing pool in those days. There was the odd person to fancy and the music was nice.”

“It was always easy listening music before the show, wasn’t it?” I said.

“People like Etta James,” my friend agreed. “At Last. I don’t know if Martin Potter (the sound man) used that track at The Tunnel, but he always put it on at Up The Creek.”

“Once,” I said, “I asked Malcolm why he didn’t play rock music before gigs, because that was more the audience, and he told me he played more sophisticated jazz-type stuff because he thought it put the audience in the right mood to see people perform comedy. Relaxed them. I thought Malcolm chose the music, but you told me it was Martin Potter.”

“Etta James singing Sunday Kind of Love,” my friend said,” He always played that because it was Sunday.”

“I don’t remember,” I said.

“You never do,” my friend said. “That’s why you write things down.”

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Punks were Hippies with short hair – the link from beatniks to The Beatles

When I was in my teens, I used to read the hippie newspaper it (International Times – the title was reduced to the iconic it after The Times threatened to sue, on the somewhat unlikely grounds that people would confuse the hippie International Times with The Times, serious recorder of world events). Later, I wrote a column about movies for a briefly-revived it.

In the earlier issues I read, though, there was a far more prominent column by a guy called only Miles.

He was and is an interesting man. He had created the International Times with that other seminal Swinging London figure John ‘Hoppy’ Hopkins.

Miles managed the legendary Better Books shop in London’s New Compton Street and later, with Marianne Faithfull’s husband John Dunbar, he ran the Indica gallery/bookshop where Dunbar introduced John Lennon to Yoko Ono. Still later, Miles ran the Beatles’ Zapple record label and lived in the Chelsea Hotel in New York.

Last night, he was chatting to the Sohemian Society, who shrewdly billed his talk with the line:

If You Can Remember The 60s, You Are Probably Miles

And – though this might be affected by a comparison with my own terrible memory – he does have an extraordinary, fluent memory for names, dates and descriptions of locations… they all tumbled out, recreating the height of the Swinging Sixties, which he reckons really ran from about 1964 to about 1976.

“I always thought punk was really the end of that same period,” he says, “I used to know The Clash quite well, because I used to write for NME, and they told me Well, of course, we grew up in the years of Oz and Kerouac and Burroughsbut we couldn’t tell anybody, because Malcolm McLaren had told everyone to say ‘Who gives a shit?’ It was all ridiculous.

“You see early pictures of Mick Jones and The Clash with hair out to here, it looks like something out of Mott The Hoople who were, of course, his favourite band.

“I always thought that the punks were just hippies with short hair.

Joe Strummer cast the I Ching to decide whether to join The Clash or not – you can’t get more hippie than that.

“Somebody like John Lydon was probably a bit more authentic and generally more angry and cut off from that underground culture, but most of them were still arts students. I used to know Rat Scabies’ mum. She used to come to the UFO club.

“It was part of the same scene as far as I was concerned. Joe Strummer was only eight years younger than me.”

Miles’ start in trendy London, though, was much earlier, after seeing a TV documentary on the American ‘Beat Poets’ – Allen GinsbergGregory Corso and Lawrence Ferlinghetti.

He became the 21-year-old manager of Better Books, which had links with the City Lights bookstore in San Francisco (run by Ferlinghetti) and the Peace Eye Bookstore in New York’s Lower East Side (run by Ed Sanders of The Fugs).

This ultimately resulted in an astonishing poetry reading – the International Poetry Incarnation – at the Albert Hall in London on 11th June 1965.

At the beginning of 1965, Allen Ginsberg went from the US to Cuba to “check it out” and managed to get himself deported. They could not send him back to the US because there had been no official transport connection between the two countries since the Bay of Pigs/Cuban Missile Crisis problems.

So they deported Ginsberg to Czechoslovakia where eventually, according to Miles, he “fell foul of the secret police. He got so involved with the students there that he was elected the King of May and 100,000 people paraded through the streets and he was wearing a crown and the authorities started to take a very dim view of this, so the secret police managed to get hold of his secret notebook which, unfortunately, had a long description of some insertions of a broom handle. So they put him on the next plane out of town and that was going to London.”

Ed Sanders had given Ginsberg a list of interesting contacts which included Miles at Better Books.

For a time, Ginsberg stayed at Miles’ flat in Fitzrovia which, then, was a ‘beat’ area.

Ginsberg, according to Miles, was “hanging out at all the local beatnik bars around there. In the winter, everybody used to wear long greatcoats with long white scarves – I think that was the symbol of being a proper English beatnik.”

Ginsberg, though widely-travelled, had never encountered the concept of gas meters, where you put a coin in the meter to obtain a power supply.

“One day,” says Miles, “a man from the Gas Board came to empty the money from the meter and had to stand on a chair to get the half-crowns out. I just left him there as usual and went off to do something in the back room. Then, suddenly, I heard him say: I’m finished now, sir. Can I go now, sir? which was odd.

“Normally, he would just go and let himself out. I went back into the room and the man from the Gas Board was on the chair with Allen standing stark naked next to him asking him all these questions about the money going in the meter and how it worked. The man refused to come down from his chair until Allen moved away from him.”

Ginsberg later turned up at an event naked and, according to Miles, John Lennon’s reaction was: “You don’t do that in front of the birds.” Ironically, says Miles: “John himself did it two-and-a-half years later on the album sleeve of Two Virgins, so everybody could see.”

When Ginsberg had first walked into Better Books, Miles had asked him: “Would you like to do a reading?”

“Of course,” came the immediate reply.

At that time, Ginsberg had a policy of not charging for readings – because poetry had to remain “pure”… Look, it was the 1960s.

The reading was unadvertised but the shop was filled for it, with people halfway out into the street.

Donovan was pressed against the window,” Miles remembers, “and there was Gypsy Dave and Andy Warhol was in the front row – he would never have been outside.”

This Better Books reading was so successful, they decided to have another more ambitious one because they found they could get Ginsberg, Ferlinghetti and Corso together in London at the same time.

Ginsberg was almost entirely gay but had an on-off girlfriend, underground film-maker Barbara Rubin

“She was very, very aggressive,” according to Miles, “just like his own mother and poor Allen was quite scared of her.”

Both Barbara and Ginsberg’s mother had mental problems: his mother died in a mental hospital.

“When the idea of having this big Beat Poet reading came up, Barbara asked: What’s the biggest hall in town? and my wife said, Well, the Albert Hall, I suppose. So Barbara phoned the Albert Hall and booked it. Pure American chutzpah. My weekly wage at the time was, I think, £8.16s.8p. The Albert Hall cost £400; an unbelievable amount of money. Plus another £100 for every hour we ran on.

“The booking was in ten days time, but we got quite a lot of publicity in the Sunday Times, the Observer and so on. At that time, Hoppy (John Hopkins, co-founder of it) was a press photographer and handed photos out all around Fleet Street.

“We got so many people turning up, we had to turn people away. I think the Albert Hall holds about 7,000. It was just an unbelievable evening.

“The one flaw in it was that we ended up with 17 people on the bill and an awful lot of them had never read in anything bigger than the upstairs room in a pub. And they were just frozen sometimes with all the lights and 7,000 people looking at them.”

Very 1960s.

The film-maker Peter Whitehead made a short documentary Wholly Communionon the 1965 International Poetry Incarnation, which is on YouTube in four parts.

Miles’ books include London Calling: A Countercultural History of London Since 1945.

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Filed under 1960s, Culture, History, Music, Newspapers, Rock music, Society

A very Irish police officer encounters and gives advice to Tofu Love Frogs

Al Mandolino, resident musician at the always-quirky weekly Pear Shaped comedy club in London, read my blog yesterday about Ireland and e-mailed me:

It’s jogged a fond memory from when I toured Ireland in a punk folk band called Tofu Love Frogs.

One summer’s night after a particularly riotous gig in Dublin I was driving an old VW camper full of ‘colourful characters’ through the city centre. Our drummer in the passenger seat was being very loud and animated with bongos, hanging out of his window and shouting stuff.

We stopped at a red light.

A motorbike drew up along my side.

The Garda officer stood up on it and his helmeted head filled my open window, inching into the van, sniffing.

“Have you been drinking?” he inquired.

“No,” was all I could manage.

“Good,” he said. “If you do, don’t let him sit in the front. He draws attention to you.”

Then he left.

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A funny thing happened to IKEA’s image at yesterday’s shambolic public relations disaster

If you don’t like long moans about incompetent ad agencies, PR people and IKEA, progress no further, gentle reader.

The words “piss-up”, “brewery”, “a”, “organise”, “couldn’t” and “in” spring to mind.

I am not going to name the top-notch comedy warm-up man and four excellent featured stand-ups who were employed to make IKEA’s next TV commercial yesterday, because it would be counter-productive to link their names to this shambolic PR disaster for the normally stylish and efficient Swedish company.

I got invited to be in the audience because a friend and I both have IKEA “Family Cards” despite having no family (look – it gives discounts and I am a Scot brought up among Jews).

The promise was a “live stand-up comedy TV production… The fun starts at 1.30pm… There’ll be plenty of refreshments and breaks provided, plus entertainment while you’re waiting for the filming of our TV ad to start.” It would last from 1.30pm to 6.00pm.

Bear in mind, dear reader, the phrase “plenty of refreshments and breaks provided”. We will return to this. It is up there high in the ranks of hype along with that jolly interview in which Colonel Gaddafi said that all his people loved him, anyone who didn’t love him was on hallucinogenic drugs jointly provided by the Americans & Osama bin Laden and no-one had demonstrated against him anywhere in Libya.

The IKEA fiasco started badly. There was supposed to be an audience of 250 or 300 (the publicity seemed uncertain which).

Instead, at 1.30pm, waiting in the icy cold outside the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith, was a queue of under 30. There was no-one from the production team to be spotted anywhere. Eventually, someone left the freezing queue outside the Riverside Studios and, with trouble, found a couple of people inside the building. They told her they had no idea when it would start but the crew were “about to go to” lunch.

At 1.45pm, freezing, after someone else had asked, the audience was taken inside the building to stand for another 20 minutes in a line by the open-plan restaurant, watching the cast and crew eating their hot lunch. About 15 minutes into this 20-minute wait, an Australian came along asking everyone to sign ‘release forms’ (no explanation of what they were – yes, I do know).

Then, at 2.05pm, it was into the studio to… yes… wait another 25 minutes while the crew finished their lunch and drinks and, by 2.45, things had been got-together enough to start… ish.

We should have known there would be a problem when the warm-up music for this family-centred comedy ad included the punk anthem “No Future” and the Australian with no microphone inaudibly explained what was going to happen to the bemused audience while loud music continued to play, drowning his words out.

At this point, I just sat back and wrote everything down, secure in the comfort that the ad agency ‘organising’ this destruction of IKEA’s public image to its loyal Family Card members was so incompetent and so unused to staging live shows to a live audience that comedy gold could only follow – entertaining for me, though annoying for the until-then IKEA-loving but now freezing and starving audience. Yup, only around 30 of them, but word of mouth is a powerful thing.

Sure enough, having employed four good comics whose daily professional job is to create situations in which audiences laugh uproariously, the show started with the four hapless comics standing in the background on the IKEA comedy set like enforced lemons while the French floor manager stood in front of them and told the audience to “laugh” unmotivated while cameras shot reactions. Sitting there, cold – both in showbiz terms and in temperature – the audience was instructed to give belly-laughs, laugh louder etc etc. Someone sitting near me said: “Maybe they think we all went to drama school.”

The ad agency had employed an experienced and excellent warm-up man (a comedian whose London circuit work and hour-long Edinburgh Fringe shows I have seen – he’s top notch). He was not, of course, used in this surreal show-starting scenario of asking the audience to laugh at nothing. The French floor manager just stood there and told people to laugh.

Lack of direction was what characterised the entire afternoon.

During the long hours ahead the warm-up man succeeded in the near-impossible task of keeping the audience responsive and the four on-set comedians did sterling work in getting audience laughs from a misconceived sexist cliché of an idea with some occasionally godawful lines.

The ramshackle concept was to mix straight-to-audience stand-up with the TV series Friends in an IKEA-built set under a large neon sign saying MAKE STORAGE NOT WAR. The misconceived and yawningly old-fashioned premise was to look at Which sex is messier at home – the guys or the girls? The gags, I think, were partly supplied by the four comedians but also, with fatal consequences, obviously also partly written by some faceless ad agency copywriter who thought he knew what jokes are. Well, OK, maybe not faceless. I’m guessing it was the young guy skulking around in the Ayatollah-like beard.

The comics tried their best with some occasionally deadly lines. The famous laughing automaton on Blackpool Pleasure Beach would have had difficulty laughing but the audience were pros. Or, at least, they did their best to pretend they had been to drama school.

The ad agency seem to have assumed they could get steady laughs over four hours from an audience for the same series of jokes repeated perhaps (I’m guessing) seven times over that four hours. The audience tried their best but it’s hard, at best, to laugh convincingly at a joke when its repeated twice or three times. The ad agency should have put together an audience from members of the Alzheimer’s Society.

Though the one thing even an Alzheimer’s audience would not have forgotten was the key phrase in the e-mails they got: “plenty of refreshments and breaks provided”.

See? I told you to remember this.

It is a key phrase because some of the audience members I talked to had left home at 11.30am to get to Riverside Studios in Hammersmith at 1.30pm, then wait until 2.45pm (with no refreshments) until the show started.

During the recording, which ended at 6.00pm, there was one break in which the audience discovered the phrase “plenty of refreshments” involved around ten apples and ten pears plus Twinings Tea, Nescafe Coffee and an unknown brand of milk. What would have happened if the expected 250-300 punters had turned up I don’t know. Perhaps the ad agency used its fee from IKEA to have Jesus on standby with loaves and fishes.

My reason for mentioning Twinings and Nescafe by name is that these are not products on sale in IKEA, so they were presumably bought by the advertising agency. The irony is that IKEA sells and provides very cheap good food and drink and would presumably have given free food and drink to the ad agency to give to their IKEA “Family Card” members.

To be honest, there wasn’t just one break, there were two. On the second one, the break in which the audience was told to go eat, drink and wee in the toilets was interrupted after three minutes (I timed it) and the audience urgently called back to their seats (abandoning half-drunk cups and apples with one bite taken out of them) “to line up cameras”. They were then not needed for 17 minutes during which time, for a brief period, all four comics were visibly eating and drinking on set in front of the seated, unfed and unwatered audience. (Not the comics’ fault; they didn’t know the audience wasn’t being given food, but the production crew should have seen and twigged what was happening.)

The whole somnambulistic shambles came to an end just before 6.00pm with increasing audience grumbling around me about not being given any of the promised food. One person said to me, “At least a ham sandwich would have been something. They are all getting paid and had food. We get paid nothing, we have to perform and we get starved for four hours.”

Despite an out-of-control production, the comics and the warm up man succeeded in the amazing, near impossible task of keeping the audience on-side and responsive for four hours. With good editing, there was more than enough material shot yesterday to create maybe five good 20-second commercials. I will be interested to see the uproarious final comic ads with the roaring audience reactions (‘sweetened’ in the sound edit suite) and happy audience faces.

The agency behind yesterday’s farrago was Mother Advertising.

They were certainly being thought of as a bunch of mothers by the IKEA Family Card-carrying audience members I was sitting among.

Except, of course, that’s not true. I thought that myself.

Ordinary punters did not think the shambles was mis-organised by an ad agency and presumably had not, as I had, checked on the release form they signed at the beginning of the afternoon to see who the ‘producers’ were. They saw it as an afternoon organised by IKEA.

So, yesterday afternoon, IKEA’s reputation was tarnished to around 30 of its most loyal customers and, as I say, word of mouth is a powerful thing.

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There are later blogs by me on this subject, including this one about the audience. You might also want to follow me on Twitter  – @thejohnfleming – or Facebook.

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