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Chapter 6:



  Brand New Age  


   (Part III)  

In which Alvin tours the UK promoting his first Subs single; misses a career ending slide tackle by Nicky 'bite yer legs' Garratt; sees the broadcasting of his Top of the Pops debut cruelly denied; tours a cold and cold war Europe; gets tear gassed by security; is shown the way with German wine before the U.K. Subs are incredibly lucky to escape death in a collective drunk-driving disaster involving a fortuitously placed tree!

The revamped, rejuvenated U.K. Subs were required to return to the road just a mere 3 days upon completion of our final show of the October European tour in Germany. This time it would be a thirty-three date sortie around the United Kingdom with only one scheduled day off for some rest and recovery. It was an excursion that provided my diary with some memorable incidents.

Party in Paris press ad
   The Party in Paris Tour commenced at London’s Music Machine on the 19th of October, 1980. Charlie, wishing to look suitably Gallic, wore a blue and white striped Breton shirt and knotted a scarf around his neck in the manner of a Left-Bank Parisian painter - only the beret and a necklace of tear-inducing onions were missing. It was a good, workman-like show for us, but our support for this opener, and the remainder of the tour, The Citizens, looked to have had a counter experience.

  They were a decent enough band but their music veered towards a Gary Numan-ish, industrial-edged sound which didn’t quite meet the expectations of a Subs audience desiring to hear some high octane Punk rock. 
Throughout the tour their set would be met with indifference or barely concealed hostility. Having been on occasion in similar situations playing support slots with The Physicals and Brains/Hellions, I empathised and did my best to commiserate and encourage; but, in truth, as musically adept and as pleasant a collection of people as they were, The Citizens were simply the wrong fit for us. And then things got worse for them.
   The Subs prided themselves on having a decent band and crew football team and would commonly challenge support bands to a fiercely competitive game after sound checks. We had already beaten The Citizens on two occasions and after our check at the venue for the Bournemouth show, which had a function room easily large enough to accommodate a seven-a-side soccer match, we gamely offered them the opportunity to begin to even things up.
   I couldn’t take part from the off as I had a fanzine interview back at the hotel to take care of so instructed Tinny - originally a glue-sniffing follower of the band who had recently been seconded to backline roadie duties - to take my place until I returned. When I got back the first indication that something appalling had occurred were the screams emanating from the centre of the venue. There, writhing in agony on the floor lay the keyboard player from The Citizens. The rest of his band, along with the Subs’ entourage, were spread out on the periphery of the room with individual expressions that conveyed either pity, horror, helplessness or remorse, depending upon who you were observing.
   Nicky Garratt, regret written large on his face, came over to me to explain what had happened. Seems Nicky had slide tackled the advancing keyboardist, who, in an attempt to avoid impact, had leaped up, lost balance and landed in such an awkward way that he had severely fractured the tibia of his right leg in two places. The pain from his injury was so acute that when the medical team arrived to see to him they immediately administered morphine and oxygen. It would take him many months to recover and we later heard that he quit music altogether to take up another profession.
   Another degree of misfortune occurred on this tour during what should have been a solely triumphant occasion. ‘Party in Paris’ had become a Top-Forty single - it had in fact charted at thirty-seven, one place ahead of Motorhead’s ‘Ace of Spades’ - and what was supposed to be our only day off was now earmarked for an appearance on that iconic weekly British televisual event: Top of the Pops. This was a deeply exciting prospect for me. My witnessing of a T. Rex performance in 1971 on this chart-based music show had been the initiator for my resolve to become a professional rock musician, and even prior to that life-changing event I had devotedly watched the program during my childhood and teenage years. I now looked forward to joining the likes of Slade, David Bowie, Alice Cooper and a plethora of other personally influential bands who had memorably performed their chart commodities before a nationwide viewing audience of millions. But, ultimately, it didn’t work out like that.
   We arrived at the BBC Television Centre, then situated in the Shepherd’s Bush area of London, in the late afternoon and were shown to one of a series of dressing rooms by an employee who handed each of us a script that contained the running order for the show. A short time later, Captain Sensible joined us. He was there to mime his keyboard parts from the single and add some extra colour to the proceedings. I had heard about the cheapness of the BBC subsidised bar and was keen to validate the substance of this information, so Chutch, Steve Roberts, the Captain, Charlie and I purposefully made our way to the place where actors, theatrical agents, TV directors, extras, scriptwriters, entertainers and various other inhabitants of this mecca of non-commercial television, congregated to partake of the available alcoholic beverages.
   A couple of bargain-priced beers later Mike Phillips arrived to round us up and herd us down to where the filming was already in progress in a separate, cavernous part of the building that featured three stages, a prodigious amount of lighting equipment and a battalion of mobile television cameras that careered around the studio floor at the behest of their operators. Each band or artist would be called, as per the script, to one of the stages by a floor-hand and there feign playing their latest single to a pre-recorded backing track in front of a studio audience that normally comprised of members of the general public who’d queued up for the privilege of spending time in the company of such delightful people as regular hosts Jimmy Saville and Dave Lee-Travis.
   The thing was, the Subs were on tour, and during these halcyon days of the band we had dozens of fans who followed us from show-to-show around the country. As a consequence at least a third of this audience consisted of volatile Punk rockers who had discovered what we were up to that evening via a shared mysterious clairvoyance. The scent of youthful dissidence permeated the studio air as we took to one of the stages to record our portion of the show.
   A prerecorded version of ‘Party in Paris’ was played through the TOTP’s sound system and the good Captain and we Subversives put aside the essential artificiality of the situation and performed as if we were truly playing our instruments in a live setting. Expectantly gathered around the stage the leather-jacketed horde exclusively there to see us immediately went into frenzied pogo mode upon recognition of the sustained inaugural Hammond organ chords that heralded the beginning of the song. Towards the end of our performance some of the more excitable individuals among them decided to visit us up on the stage, which then encouraged others to follow suit. By the Can-Can, squeezebox sequence of the song’s outro the band was barely visible amidst the thirty or so uninvited guests that now danced and leaped among us.
   I thought it looked really cool, a spontaneous, anarchic antidote to the predictable, synthetic televisual fare traditionally served up on the show; but the look of sheer terror on the faces of the floor director and his camera crew indicated that the BBC might reach a different viewpoint. Still, we figured it was a job well done, and having watched Adam and the Ants take up their positions on the stage opposite made our way back up to the licence-payer funded bar to celebrate.
   Unbeknown to us though, Stuart Goddard (aka Adam Ant), upon finishing up filming his performance for the Ant’s No. 4 charted single, ‘Dog Eat Dog’, had been escorting his girlfriend de jour, the actress Amanda Donohoe, back to the dressing room area when they were violently confronted by a small faction who were less than impressed with the Ants’ recent transition from cult band to successful hyper-commercial entity. Adam later claimed that one of them pulled a knife on him and Donohoe had effectively saved his skin by flooring the assailant with a swift, unerringly accurate punch to the jaw.
   These violent goons were, naturally, assumed by the BBC chain of command to be part of the Punk rock contingent there to support the Subs, and what with the previous highly unorthodox stage invasion, a punishment was hastily conceived and implemented by this faceless hierarchy. The following day, by telephone, our management was informed that as a penance for both incidents our performance would be cut from the later broadcast (TOTP’s was recorded on a Wednesday and aired the following evening) and, furthermore, we were to be barred from again appearing on the show for the duration of six months. 
None of this was the actual fault of the band, but that didn’t wash with the corporation’s management class, that same bunch of tossers who were aware of, but chose not to take any action against, the pedophile and predatory sexual behavior of certain employees that was occurring under their noses on BBC property at the time. We later discovered Adam’s aggressors were not even from among the fans that had turned up to support us, just some knuckleheads that nurtured a beef with the singer. It was unreasonably punitive, and to add to the sheer unfairness of it all, having now lost this invaluable means of promoting the single, future sales of ‘Party in Paris’ suffered.
Gig ticket from the collection of Martin Prophet - click image to enlarge   Apart from these two negative episodes there was also much to enjoy on my inaugural major UK tour as a Sub. In particular those stunning shows we played at the Cardiff and Sheffield Top Ranks, West Runton Pavilion, Retford Porterhouse, Glasgow Tiffany’s, Manchester Polytechnic, Liverpool Brady’s, Newcastle Mayfair, Middlesbrough Rock Garden, and our consecutive four night stint at the Marquee Club - from the 17th to the 20th of November, 1980 - which broke all the attendance records for this culturally famous London venue and provided us with the perfect tour finale.
From the Mark Chadderton U.K. Subs collection
From the Mark Chadderton U.K. Subs collection
   There was hardly time to unpack my suitcase before I was repacking it for travel on November 24th. We were again ferry-bound for Europe – 2 shows in Switzerland followed by 8 in Germany, and a revisit to the Paradiso in Amsterdam to finish up the touring year prior to our Christmas break.
   Even though we were no longer living together and she had given up her job in London to study for a degree in Media Studies at Reading University, I still had a nominal relationship with Karen. As a result of her attendance of university though and my new heavy touring schedule we were seeing less and less of each other and, to be quite frank, with all the opportunities that were coming my way to enjoy the company of attractive and interesting women on the road I started to almost resent our relationship. I had tried my best to be sexually faithful but it was becoming increasingly difficult to reconcile my genuine regard for her with my young man’s desire to taste and touch and be free of the guilt that resulted from my occasionally succumbing to enticements of the flesh. 
So, on the journey to our first gig in Zurich, I resolved I would indulge my craving for physical intimacy with new women and initiate the inevitable breakup with Karen on my return to the UK. This was a resolution I embraced enthusiastically in at least six of the cities visited over the course of this particular tour, an absorbing excursion that also proved notable for events of a different nature.
   Our venue for the Munich show was a place of sinister historical significance. The rebranded Lowenbrau Keller was a long, flag-draped hall with a sizable stage at one end that in recent times had hosted both music concerts and carnival parties for beer enthusiasts who would sit together elbow-to-elbow on long tables and imbibe great quantities of Bavarian brew. But forty-two years prior to our appearance there - to the month - up on the very stage on which we were shortly to perform, Adolf Hitler had delivered a speech that openly called for an immediate and widespread persecution of the Jewish inhabitance of Germany and Austria: an invitation that directly resulted in the deaths of 91 Jewish men, women and children, the arbitrary arrest of 30,000 incarcerated in concentration camps, the burning of over a 1000 synagogues and the destruction of an estimated 7000 Jewish-owned businesses, all within a terrifying 48 hour period. These acts of barbarity are now commonly unified under the German title Kristallnacht - Crystal Night - owing to the fragments of broken glass that littered the streets from the broken windows of Jewish shops and buildings during this Nazi Novemberpogrome
   Punk rockers were commonly perceived to be men and women of the political left. In my case that was certainly true, although my affiliation was with the moderate, rational Left (I was a Labour Party supporter and voter) having become disdainful of the rabid pathological Marxist/Leninist wing who I had discovered by association could be just as irrational and incurably zealous as those on the far Right. I wore my Anti-Nazi League and Rock Against Racism badges with pride, attended many events and demonstrations organised by both organisations and knew of many other Punk musicians and devotees of our beloved music that supported such causes. It came as no surprise then to be informed by the promoter on arrival at the venue that he had been tipped off that a far Right German group were intent on violently disrupting the Subs’ show that evening, presumably because we would be polluting their hallowed site with our ideologically unsound lyrical ideas and decidedly un-Aryan looks and dress sense.
   With this threat in mind, the promoter had hired a number of uniformed security guards to make sure the event wasn’t trashed by neo-Nazis. As we played through ‘Warhead’ up on the stage to achieve a good sound balance for the forthcoming gig, the leader of this security team was busy demonstrating something to his crew below us where you would normally expect an orchestra pit to be situated. I turned to adjust the volume control on my amplifier (up!) and as I rotated back noticed that these men were now running in all directions as a thick greyish smoke filled the room.
   I stood mesmerised as this acrid cloud reached us on the stage. Now I don’t know if any of you have had the wretched experience of being tear-gassed before, but for those who haven’t, take it from me, it sucks. My eyes stung as if lacerated by wire wool, a cascade of hot tears poured down my cheeks, my throat burned, lungs ached, and then I started to gag and vomit. Although collectively blinded by the gas we all managed to somehow scramble into the dressing room where tour manager, Greg Price, un-gassed, having stayed put to attend to some paperwork in there, immediately slammed the door shut behind us and laid down wet towels to seal the draft space between door and floor. It seems during a demonstration to his crew of how to correctly deploy a tear gas canister the security company big cheese had inadvertently pulled its release pin, hence the speedy flight of our would-be guardians from the building.
   It took a good hour and many handfuls of water ladled onto our swollen eyes before we were ready to resume sound checking. I told the promoter I was more fearful of the people who were there to protect us than those supposedly  coming down to do us harm: and sure enough, the gig turned out to be a real peach, free from any violence and Nazi infiltration, and full of energy and action of the positive kind.
   Although in this instance the rumoured politically motivated disruption failed to materialise, there would be future occasions in the early-1980s when aggressive factions of the Far Right would target the U.K. Subs for real.
   Another notable occurrence on the 1980 November/December Euro Tour could have had far dire consequences.
   By the time we reached Heidelberg most of Germany had become enveloped in a layer of crisp snow that, although visually pleasing, had made driving conditions less than favourable when leaving the main routes and Autobahns. Our gig in this city was at a perfectly appointed mid-sized club that was owned by a very generous and genial man whose name I unfortunately failed to record in my diary. Anyways, after the audience had dispersed and as a ‘Haben Sie vielen Dank’ for filling his venue to its 500 person capacity, he kept the bar open for our exclusive use and proclaimed: “You can drink whatever you want here for free”. To which news the band and crew - minus the ever abstemious Nicky Garratt - gleefully set about placing their individual alcoholic beverage orders. I’d already had a couple of beers, and being in no mood for strong liquor, decided I’d take a glass of white wine as a less harsh alternative.
   Now, the only German wine that I was aware in those far off days was something called Liebfraumilch, a semi-sweet variety that had been very popular in Britain during the 1970s, and which continued to be a common wine of choice there well into the subsequent decade. As this name passed my lips the venue owner and his bar staff erupted into laughter. Our host, upon having composed himself, told me: “That’s the shit we send over to your country! You must try a good German wine”. He then fetched a bottle, uncorked it, poured and handed me the glass. I took a large swig and the Valkyries raised me up and allowed me a brief but tantalising glimpse of Valhalla.
   Yeah, I know, too overstated and unduly pompous, right? But honestly, it really did taste that good to me, so fine in fact, that I managed to empty 2 bottles of the stuff, unaided. Charlie, Steve and the crew had been equally ambitious with the quantities of alcohol they imbibed and when we finally collectively left the venue at 2 am, all of us apart from Garratt were in a state of advanced inebriation. This, alas, also included the designated driver, Chutch.
   The hotel was situated on the outskirt of Heidelberg, at the summit of a broad, thirty-foot high tooth of rock. There was a small, sinuous road that led up to this hostelry gilded in ice hidden beneath a deceptive sprinkling of snow. As soon as our vehicle started its climb it began to slide and skid on this treacherous road surface. Mutually drunk as we were (driver included), we just hollered and laughed each time the bus veered out of control and acted as though we were a bunch of kids on a rollercoaster ride at Alton Towers. Resolutely sober Nicky had a different perspective on the situation and warned of impending doom, to which we jeered and berated him, and called him a boy scout.
   Despite the mad swerving and wheel-spins and the utter stupidity of allowing someone highly intoxicated to take the wheel, we caught a glimpse of the hotel up ahead and it actually looked as though we were going to make it… then, in slow motion (this, by the way is not a literary cliché, it’s exactly how it felt), the bus careered across the width of the road and accompanied by the sickening sounds of rupturing metal and shattering glass collided, bonnet first, with a tree trunk. The impact sent us flying about in all directions - nobody bothered to wear seatbelts back then - and Chutch’s face visited with the window screen where he sustained a bloodied nose, a cut ear and some lacerations to his cheeks. Apart from those injuries and some minor bruising we were miraculously unscathed. Still childishly hollering and clowning around out in the freezing night air, we abandoned the bus and holding onto each other for support, gingerly made our way up the ice-bound slope to carry on the party in Charlie’s room with some beers I’d requisitioned from the rider.
   It was only when we revisited the site of the crash the following morning, when clarity had been bestowed by the daylight and some level of soberness restored, that we realised just how close we had actually come to forfeiting our lives. The margins between life and death are at times negligible. In this case, if the bus had not collided with that stout oak tree and we’d instead hurtled through the flimsy bushes to either side of it, we would have plunged over the trail’s edge to free fall twenty-feet onto the road below and ended up as just another tragic news story.
   It was this Euro excursion that also gave me my first taste of the city that Iggy Pop relocated to in the 1970s because New York wasn’t decadent enough for him: Berlin. The Iron Curtain was still indefatigably drawn shut then and the only way a western European was able to travel in a road vehicle to the Western sector of the former capital city of Germany was via one of just three motorway corridors that took you out of the West, through the Communist East, and, the Stasi secret police allowing, into West Berlin through one of three checkpoints – the most famous of these being Checkpoint Charlie (ho, ho, ho!)
   Travelling along these stretches of road was always an interesting if somewhat frustrating experience. Inevitably, every couple of miles, GDR police vans would require us to pull over so their occupants could charge us with some offence: wrong tyres, illegal headlights, dangerous driving, and their all-time favourite misdemeanor, speeding, even though other vehicles were tearing by at double our velocity at the time. All bullshit charges of course, each bogus transgression requiring a cash fine that would go straight into their pockets.
   Having completed this unexpectedly pricey journey we flashed our passports at the British military guards at our designated border post, entered West Berlin, and continued onwards to our ultimate destination, Club SO 36. This venue was in a pretty rundown neighbourhood of the city, situated amongst a lot of squats and decaying buildings. We immediately warmed to it – a good U.K. Subs environment. When we got through with the sound check though, a crusty style Punk who had by some process managed to slip into the venue, clambered up onto the stage and started to harangue us in reasonable English for playing in such a “fucking commercial shithole!”, as he charmingly put it.
   He then handed me a photograph and snarled “This is where the real Punks play, not this fucking place”. I examined the photo; it was of a small hut engulfed in fire.
   “But this place is in flames”, I countered.
   “Yes, it was, but even though it doesn’t have a roof anymore and everything is burned it’s still more Punk rock than here”, he insisted.
   We declined the offer of playing his Punk-pure, commercially untainted burned-out structure and opted for playing a venue which at least came with a roof. It was the first time the U.K. Subs had performed at SO 36 and our primary show there was so good that an enduring bond formed that night between Berlin and the band. It has subsequently become one of the legendary European venues, and we have gone on to play on its perfectly proportioned stage many, many, times since.
   Indeed, I’ve just received the tour dates for the Subs’ 2015 Winter Tour of Europe and, sure enough, there she is (music venues, like ships, are always female), placed in the itinerary between Prague and Hannover; and it gives me considerable pleasure, pride and a degree of wonderment to know that I’ll be performing there again thirty-five years after our first acquaintanceship, in the city that truly never sleeps.      



Alvin's 1980 diary - front cover plus a couple of inner pages, from which Alvin researched the latest instalment... click images to enlarge


Alvin on stage again - click to enlarge


First published 7 October 2014.






CHAPTER 7: ‘Werewolves of London’…

>>> Having moved to a Chelsea address, Alvin joins the werewolves of London; finally gets to be broadcast on Top of the Pops, during which process he attempts to seduce one of the Nolan sisters, but instead ends up dating an American model; goes down on the farm to record a classic Subs album; and, while touring  Scandinavia, meets some colourful Fins who would eventually go on to enhance his music career in unforeseen ways... <<<