Shake Up The City:
In which our narrator can only get work as a virtually unpaid Dog, cannot prevent the sad departure of Chutch, breaks records at CBGB's , witnesses Harper's abhorrence of furniture fag-burns at Elvis' abode, nearly talks himself into a drive-by shooting a la Easy Rider, increasingly questions the ambitions of the Subs American management and the map reading 'skills' of tour arrangers, enjoys downtime with the in-laws and takes a (very) short cab-ride and parties with Billy Idol and Arturo Vega...
Richard Bishop ‘phoned me in early autumn to impart the information that the Fallout record label was interested in funding and releasing a long playing record by the Urban Dogs. This was suitably timed news. The Subs’ workload had all but evaporated during this period and in addition to being able to add another album to the professional CV, it’s always a good thing to have a new recording project to focus your creative energies on if you’re a functioning musician.
On October 25 1982, the Dogs were awarded the support slot for Hanoi Rocks at the Marquee Club. Somewhat dishevelled and hung-over after post-show drinks and some pharmaceutical carry-on with McCoy, Monroe, Nasty and co at the St. Moritz club, I reunited with Charlie, Knox and Matthew the next morning at Silo Studios in London to begin recording the first Urban Dogs album. It had already been agreed that the original 45 rpm version of New Barbarians should be included on the LP, which left us with eleven more new songs to conjure up in order to meet Fallout’s six-tracks-per-side contract stipulation.
Over the next five days we captured on tape adaptations of the Subs tracks Limo Life and Warhead, the latter having been given an extra reggaefied makeover; the Vibrators standards Sex Kick, I Need A Slave and Dragnet; and the New York Dolls’ Human Being, on which Hanoi’s Andy McCoy, at my invitation, added some Johnny Thunders style guitar. We also executed an authentic garage rock sounding version of I Wanna Be Your Dog, which to my ears is as good an adaption of that Stooges classic as those offered by Pere Ubu, the Meat Puppets, Joan Jett, or any of the numerous other artists that have felt compelled to cover it over the years.
Original compositions for the record included the song I’d played to McCoy at the Tooting Bec Wreck house, A Bridge Too Far, which also featured him enhancing the track with some choice lead licks and had me appropriating the vocal duties as well as laying down all the rhythm guitars; Charlie’s self-penned War Babies, Be Friends and Human Race were also learned and logged onto analog magnetic memory; and Knox’s only non-Vibrators compositional contribution came in the form of the song New Baptism. Knox also provided the sleeve artwork, this being primarily based on the design for the Rolling Stones’ Exile on Main Street album but with a visually arresting painted rabid dog’s head and crossbones motive on the inner sleeve, which became the logo for the band.
This self-titled album would be released in January 1983. As a marketing stratagem a single was issued shortly thereafter – our rendition of Limo Life, with Warhead taking up the B-side. Four months prior to that, Bishop attained bookings for a series of performances to promote these forthcoming records, opening up for the Angelic Upstarts and then Vice Squad at Hammersmith’s Club Foot. The Dogs then completed headline shows at the Moonlight Club in West Hampstead and the Fulham Greyhound where Andy McCoy joined us onstage to play some slick guitar on Human Being and I Wanna be Your Dog.
Upon its release the album received good reviews and has sold in steady numbers over the years although I have to declare that despite it having been licensed around the world and reissued dozens of times since ’83, I’m still awaiting one solitary royalty cheque from Fallout/Jungle records. My entire earnings for these records amounts to the £70 paid to me in cash by Richard Bishop on our first day in the studio. I guess the super-yacht I was hoping to acquire and anchor in Port Hercule, Monaco, will have to wait a while.
With only two further shows for the Urban Dogs in November and such meagre remuneration for my involvement in the album, money for me and my wife, who was still waitressing in Covent Garden at this time, after the modelling assignments had evaporated, was a very thorny issue. It was with more than a small degree of financial and personal relief then that we embarked on an eleven date Subs’ UK tour from the 17th of November to December 1st that finally brought to an end this extended fallow period for the band.
Above left: Subs UK tour 1982.
Below left: UK Tour late '82 and UK tour 1982 click images to enlarge.
Things got even brighter when I was sent a copy of the fax transmitted by Jane Friedman containing the dates for the U.K. Subs’ second North American tour, scheduled to begin in Trenton, New Jersey on December 8th, 1982. The UK tour had panned out OK but I’d been acutely looking forward to revisiting the USA and Canada ever since returning to London from our last outing there; but shortly after receiving this list of dates another piece of news put a damper on the impending tour before we’d even set off. Chutch ‘phoned me to explain that not only wasn’t he going to join us for this American excursion but he’d decided he no longer wanted to work for the band, with immediate effect. Seems he’d met a woman in York that he intended to have a healthy and serious relationship with. Knowing full well that this would be all but impossible while still travelling the world with the Subs, he sensibly determined it was time to quit.
I was sympathetic to his reasoning although I still tried to talk him into joining us on the forthcoming tour, rationalising it could be his Subs’ swansong before lapsing back into the orthodox, working world. He wasn’t having any of it though, which was a great pity. Chutch had been a constant source of humour, stability and fun from the day I’d joined the Subs in 1980. He was a good mate and I knew that touring was not going to be as enjoyable without him around. Still, I wished him well and promised I would send him a postcard from Memphis, Tennessee (listed as our gig destination for December 20th), this being the home city of the late Elvis Presley and location of the Sun recording studios where Presley, Johnny Cash, Roy Orbison and other leading figures of the 1950s/early-1960s rock ‘n’ roll genre had delivered some memorable music for posterity. I thought he would appreciate that, but also sneakily considered it might remind him of what he was missing in the forlorn hope it could possibly lure him back into the U.K. Subs’ clan.
Below: Nicky Garratt and I take a break from rehearsing
for the second USA tour, 1982 - click to enlarge
We boarded a Pan Am 747 at London’s Heathrow airport, arriving at Kennedy airport in New York City on the afternoon of December 5, 1982. We were rebooked into the Hotel Iroquois on West 44th Street and my ’82 diary notifies me that later on we all went along to catch a Richard Hell show at CBGBs, where the drinkers among us (everybody but Nicky) liberally lubricated themselves on Rolling Rock beer and Jack Daniels chasers. Following our New Jersey warm-up gig on the 7th it was then our turn to entertain NY rockers of a Punk persuasion on the Ramones’ consecrated stage of Hilly Kristals’ Country, Blue Grass and Blues establishment on the Bowery.
At Jane Friedman’s bequest, Ian Copeland’s FBI agency had booked us six CBGBs’ gigs to be played over three consecutive days – the 9th, 10th and 11th– with each day requiring a matinee performance for under twenty-ones in the early evening that would then be followed by a later show for an older crowd that started around midnight. Every one of those gigs was packed and Hilly gleefully told us afterwards we’d broken the CBGBs’ house attendance record that had been previously held by The Jam. Our support bands for the three days consisted of the Misguided, Kraut, and a group of very young enthusiastic Punks who had collectively entitled themselves the Young and the Useless. The band’s lead singer/guitarist, Adam Horovitz, would shortly achieve substantial commercial success and fame after joining a fledgling NY hardcore outfit called the Beastie Boys.
The Shake Up The World Tour – the designation given for our follow-up attempt to musically conquer the North American continent – began in earnest the day after our final show of the Bowery six, via travelling the two-hundred and fifty miles by van to Washington DC. We were again booked at the 9.30 Club, but due to overwhelming ticket demand the management had us play two sequential shows on the same day – at 10pm followed by another performance that commenced at 1am. Thereafter it would be primarily a flying tour again. Friedman had once more purchased us a series of low cost air tickets with Republic airlines. To be fair to her though, this time around the previous crazy four-flights-in-a-day timetables had thankfully almost disappeared from the itinerary to be replaced by either direct flights to destinations, or, at most, two flights a day and some road travel, although there were still some very late shows followed by extremely early wakeup calls to deal with.
Below left: Me and Kim, waiting to fly, 2nd USA tour 1982 - click to enlarge
Below right: Nicky and Jane at the Wartoke office, NY, 1982 - click to enlarge
There were other variances to the previous tour as well. Laura Lorey, who had proved herself an adept tour manager on the earlier Subs’ European jaunt, had replaced Lenny Fico in that vital position. We had a new soundman in the portly shape of Marti Dolinar, a born-and-bred resident of Kansas City, Missouri, who would prove both affable and efficient at his job. Kim Wylie had, of course, replaced Mal Asling on drums and this would be his first ever North American tour. We didn’t have the Anti Nowhere League along to open up for us, which was a bit of a drag as we had really bonded with the League on the last tour and enjoyed some really excellent fun together – local support bands would be replacing them at each gig this trip. Dave Davis retained his roadie role, though now deprived of the help and company of Chutch who I was still hopeful would ‘phone us at some point and ask to join the touring party somewhere on the American road once he’d started missing the travelling life back in wintery York.
The Shake Up The World tour had got off to an excellent start. We had shattered the CBGBs’ attendance record and been compelled to play two shows in one evening in Washington DC to accommodate everyone who wanted tickets. After flying to Canada, which was super-cold in December and offered shows that were not quite as well attended as we would have liked, we returned to the USA and the more Punk-friendly cities of Detroit, Chicago and Minneapolis where the larger audiences cheered us up, as did the southern warm air and sunshine of our revisit to Atlanta.
Above right: Subs onstage for one of our many
CBGBs performances, New York, 1982 - click to enlarge
Without doubt though, the most fascinating stopover during this early part of the touring cycle was our day and night in Memphis. Having dropped our cases off in our hotel room upon arrival from the airport, Charlie, Kim and I took a taxi to Gracelands to reconnoitre the home of the much acclaimed king of rock ‘n’ roll, Elvis Aaron Presley – Nicky Garratt didn’t join us as he had no interest in anything roots rock related; Garratt hated that music and regularly used to mock Charlie and I for the enthusiasm we shared for artists like Elvis, Chuck Berry, Little Richard and Gene Vincent.
We were somewhat surprised to discover the Graceland house was not as sizeable as we’d anticipated. I was expecting something akin to Buckingham Palace instead of the ample, but not outstandingly so, two-storey mock-colonial building that would be considered pretty unremarkable today compared to some of the grand homes owed by premiership footballers in locations such as Cheshire.
Having purchased our visitors tickets we were led by a tour guide from the white-and-gold-centric mansion’s reception foyer to the other rooms available for viewing. There was the utterly bonkers Jungle Room, complete with Polynesian influenced carved fittings and furnishings, its tiger prints and a functioning waterfall; Elvis' bedroom, with football field sized bed, its matching ivory and gold furniture suite and its silver telephones; the snooker room with full-size snooker table, chintz drapes and furnishings and a classic 1960s-style bar for liquoring-up the Memphis Mafia during play. It was in this particular room that the guide who had been elucidating on the whats and wherefores of the character and contents of each part of the house he’d exposed us to, decided to provide the opportunity for us tourists – along with Chas, Kim and I there was about ten other people in our visiting group – to proffer any questions.
Some out-of-towner asked if the TV we’d seen in another portion of the property was a replacement for the set that Elvis had put a bullet into with his Smith and Wesson snub-nose revolver after watching the insipid lounge singer, Robert Goulet, performing on a late evening show.
It was an interesting question and the guide answered it with all the tact one would anticipate:
‘Yes sir, it is indeed the replacement for the twenty-five inch RCA TV he fired at. Actually though, Goulet and Elvis were good friends, it’s just that Mr. Presley liked to randomly shoot at things from time-to-time, an on-going habit you might say’.
Charlie raised his hand.
‘You have question sir?’ responded the guide.
‘Yeah,’ replied Harper, who made his way to a gloriously retro, large 1970s stereo record-player/radio cabinet resting in a corner of the room onto which he rested a finger on a hardly noticeable blemish on its polished veneered lid. ‘There’s a cigarette burn here,’ he declared, ‘who did that then?’ !!!
This was an enquiry of such sublime triviality that it caused the guide to be dumbstruck for few moments. Kim and I started laughing uncontrollably, which only increased our escort’s confused disposition.
‘I can’t say sir… it, er, well it could be a number of people, possibly a guest…’
‘Well all I can say’, chipped in Charlie, ‘is that I hope Elvis kicked them out of the house after they put a lit fag there – it’s bloody rude damaging a nice bit of furniture like that’.
Below left: Press clipping, USA, Winter of 1982 - click here to read cutting text
& below right: Shake up the World tour, sporting my drape jacket - click images to enlarge.
That night’s show at the Memphis Antenna club was made all the more piquant in the knowledge that we were making our debut in the Hound Dog singer’s home town. We took to the stage at 11.30pm, got back to the hotel at 2am and were awoken by Laura Lorey at 5.30am to travel to the airport for the flight to Cincinnati. New Orleans followed on with an identical late showtime and an identically early wakeup call. Then we went to Texas.
We had plenty of time before our soundcheck in Houston so after Kim and I had downed a couple of beers at the hotel bar, we decided to take some tour-grimy jackets and the Teddy Boy-style grey drape coat I’d recently purchased in London’s Carnaby Street to a drycleaners that was no more than a fifteen minute walk away. As we strode along the pavement carrying these garments, a two-seater pickup truck slowed to a crawl alongside us bearing its full capacity of passengers and what was evidently a gun rack supporting a hunting rifle of some sort that had been affixed at head height, just to the rear of the seats. The occupant of the passenger position with the greasy mullet hairdo, eyebrow ridges, broken teeth and Ted Nugent T-shirt then screamed at us: ‘Hey, where do you fucking faggots think you’re going?’
I guess the leather trousers and motorcycle jacket combination I was wearing bore some responsibility for this vulgar enquiry but my response of ‘Fuck off you redneck wankers’ didn’t exactly endear me to this pair of only partially evolved humans. The driver then joined in with the general verbal insubordination before escalating the situation an unhealthy notch by threatening to use Kim and I for target practice. I was about to foolishly up the ante with another earthy riposte – I think I’ve already disclosed somewhere in these memoirs that I could be very mouthy back then, especially after a few drinks – until Kim firmly gripped one of my arms and said ‘Don’t utter another word, they’ve got a rifle in there with them?’
‘Yeah,’ I replied, ‘but these shit kickers are not going to shoot us here in front of all these people in broad daylight’.
‘Haven’t you seen the film Easy Rider?’ he countered.
Wylie had a point.
Easy Rider is a road movie released in 1969 about two Californian bikers: Captain America played by Peter Fonda and Dennis Hopper in the role of his sidekick, Billy. Together they take a trip to New Orleans on their motorcycles, during which journey they encounter verbal and violent reactions to their shared insouciance, long hair and the perceived absurdity of the contemporary hippy-style clothing each wore as they proceed further and further into the southlands. Extreme prejudice towards them in the small towns of the south eventually leads to a travelling companion they’d hooked up with, American Civil Liberties Union lawyer George Hanson – consummately acted by Jack Nicholson – being bludgeoned to death by a group of hillbillies.
The film reaches its bloody climax when an identical pickup truck to the one that shadowed us in Houston – complete with its duplicate pair of vicious Hicks and stocked rifle rack – pulls alongside Captain America and Billy as they cruise along a Louisiana road heading back to California. One of the rednecks starts up with the insults but upon failing to elicit a reaction, points a shotgun at Billy who dismissively gives him the finger. The southerner casually unloads both barrels of his shotgun into the biker. When Captain America rides to his friend’s aid, they cavalierly murder him too.
In Texas in the early 1980s, the rock music soundtrack as well as the long hair and style of clothing featured in Easy Rider by the two motorcycle-riding Californians had ironically ended up being the preferred listening and acceptable look for the average American redneck. Punk rock fashion and music was now the inheritors of all that hatred and misinterpretation once directed towards the 1960s freewheeling counterculture community. There on a Houston street in the late afternoon, Kim and I were revised but correspondingly reviled versions of Captain America and Billy for a new era.
I held my tongue as Wylie asked. We had cut Steve Roberts loose just before our previous North American tour because we were afraid his unpredictable behaviour would get us shot in places such as this; I could hardly put our lives at risk to satisfy my sense of being unjustly harassed by this brace of morons by deploying more antagonistic words. We grimly looked straight ahead and walked on, enduring yet more insults and threats of violence until we’d reached the relative safety of the dry cleaning store. They lingered awhile in order to instil some extra moments of peril into the situation before eventually driving off into the distance.
As we watched them depart from our vantage point behind the storefront window I was reminded of a memorable scene in Easy Rider that featured Jack Nicholson’s character, CLU lawyer George Hanson. He was speaking to Billy about the prejudice they’d been experiencing and the psyche of the type of American male we had just encountered –
Hanson: ‘You know this used to be a hell of a good country. I can’t understand what’s going on with it’.
Billy: 'Man, everybody’s gone chicken, that’s what happened. Hey, we can’t even get into a second-rate hotel, motel, you dig? They think we’re gonna cut their throats or something, they’re scared man’.
Hanson: 'Oh they’re not scared of you; they’re scared of what you represent to them’.
Billy: ‘Hey man, all we represent to them is somebody who needs a haircut’.
Hanson: ‘Oh no, what you represent to them is freedom’.
Billy: ‘What the hell is wrong with freedom man? That’s what it’s all about!’
Hanson: ‘Oh yeah, that’s what it’s all about alright, but talking about it and being it is two different things. It’s real hard to be free when you’re bought and sold in the market place. Of course don’t ever tell anybody they’re not free ‘cause they’re gonna get real busy killing and maiming to prove they are. Oh yeah, they’re gonna talk to you and talk to you and talk to you about individual freedom, but when they see a free individual it’s gonna scare ‘em’.
Billy: ‘It don’t make ‘em running scared’.
Hanson: ‘No, it makes ‘em dangerous’.
This lucid analysis by script writer Terry Southern concerning the raw psychology behind the feverish verbal and physical aggression directed towards those considered too different, too educated, too liberal, too emancipated by that not unsubstantial proportion of America’s population that is undereducated, socially immobilised, gun addicted and feels powerless, is as applicable in Donald Trump’s USA of the present as when this scene was originally conceived some fifty years ago.
Christmas was upon us but nobody was going home for the holidays. On Christmas day we had a gig to play in Dallas. Stage time was set for midnight so we drove around the city looking for somewhere to have a Christmas meal. Every restaurant we tried was closed for business, for obvious reasons. At Laura’s suggestion we eventually made our way to the Hispanic quarter where we discovered a Mexican cantina that had no qualms about feeding people on a public holiday.
There were a lot of Latino families dining there but they paid us no mind, none of the hostility and suspicion we regularly encountered when entering some American eateries in the southern states in the early 1980s. The waitresses were friendly, the atmosphere was relaxed and the food and drink was delicious.
When we returned to our hotel prior to our midnight ramble at Dallas’ most renowned Punk rock venue, the Hot Klub, Kim Wylie and I decided to make the room we were sharing more festive by draping toilet paper around the place to weakly imitate paper chain decorations and squirted shaving foam on various surfaces to mimic snow. Instead of cheering us up, it just made us ever more mindful of how far we were away from our homes, family and friends at this celebratory, coming-together time of year.
Our next Texan city on the itinerary was Austin. For me Austin represented, and continues to exemplify, a wonderfully bohemian, arty, welcoming, laid-back oasis in the midst of the Lone Star State. A bunch of ex-hippies from California had moved there in the 1970s to start bookshops, art galleries, vegetarian restaurants, record stores and music venues. It has a well-regarded university and as a consequence, there is a lot of liberal thinking, bright young men and women about the place looking to hear rock music and frequenting the bars and eateries. Austin was, and still is, cool – I was last there a couple of years ago and in that particular geographical portion of America, it’s one of the few cities that I would actually consider living in.
Our show there was a choice one and the following day we flew in an easterly direction to Arizona, with gigs in Tucson and Phoenix, then jetted north along the Pacific coast to California to entertain Cali folk of a certain caste in Berkley, San Francisco and San Diego. Leaving the sun and warm temperatures behind us we returned to Canada for a trio of performances and thenceforth across the vast expanse of the USA from west coast to east coast with visits to Philadelphia, Boston, Long Island NY and Milwaukee. I remember being astonished when I noted in the tour book that directly after the Milwaukee visit we were flying back to the west coast for a solitary Los Angeles gig after which, we were immediately returning to the east coast again, this time to its southern extremity for a pair of shows in Florida.
‘What the hell!’ I exclaimed on realising we would have travelled from one coast of America to the other and back again – twice over – in just a matter of days.
‘What is it?’ Charlie asked, somewhat alarmed by my spontaneous outcry as we sat drinking coffee together awaiting yet another early morning flight.
‘It’s the people that put these tours together Chas,’ I expounded, ‘don’t they own a fucking map between ‘em?’
‘Obviously not’ was his concise answer to my rhetorical question.
The Shake Up The World expedition was originally, according to the itineraries we’d been given on day one, due to finish on January 16th 1983. After the Tampa and Miami shows we were pencilled in for just two more additional gigs at CBGBs. But Jane Friedman unilaterally decided to add another seven shows to the tour, stretching the visit out until the latter part of February. Thing was, she hadn’t shared this information with anyone in the touring party. It was only when Laura made one of her customary daily phone call to the New York Wartoke office on the very week we were due to be flying home that Jane nonchalantly broke the news to her and she, in turn, relayed this information to the band and crew.
What was even more disconcerting about this situation was that the first of these freshly booked gigs wouldn’t occur until February 4th – nineteen days after what was supposed to have been the final CBGBs tour-ending show. Because of evident financial considerations, flying back to the UK for the gig-barren period and then coming back for a mere seven shows was out of the question. We would have to remain in America in order to fulfil these bookings for the whole duration of the nineteen days, deprived of work and fending for ourselves. Jane’s feeble solution to this conundrum was to ask Laura if she could persuade her mother to put up the band at her home in Tampa, Florida – providentially, soundman Marty could return to Kansas City and Dave Davis had a girlfriend in the States he could stay with. Tampa was actually where the first of these seven shows were fixed to be played, at the Red Rose Club, despite us having already performed at this same venue just two weeks before.
Laura’s mother agreed to it, but I wasn’t going to sleep on some stranger’s couch for close on three weeks if I could help it. And anyway, I’d never been that partial to Florida – I’d met too many people there into the far-right trinity of god, guns and the KKK – so I ‘phoned my wife in London and asked her to see if she could get a couple of weeks off work to fly over to San Francisco so we could spend this unforeseen downtime together at her parents place in the Richmond district of the city. She got back to me the next afternoon with news that the required time off had been secured and her parents were looking forward to having us stay, as, apart from anything else, they had not been present for our wedding and were proper keen to throw a party and invite wider family and friends to latterly celebrate the occasion.
After our second CBGBs appearance I went directly from stage to airport and caught what is descriptively known as the ‘redeye’ flight to SF. As a grudging, belated wedding present, Friedman gave me two grams of cocaine in a small ziplock plastic bag, which I concealed in one of my boots while I travelled.
My time with Mary and her family in the city by the bay passed agreeably enough. We visited the deserted, sinister Alcatraz prison on its solitary plinth of rock off the coast of the city; went wine tasting in the Napa and Sonoma valleys; had numerous trips to both Japan and China towns, and hung out in the restaurants, bars and cafes of the north beach district where we ate Italian food and sampled good Italian wine and espresso – all those indulgent touristy things that I ordinarily didn’t have time for whilst in touring mode.
When the day finally came to fly to Tampa to re-join the Subs I was emotionally reluctant to part from my wife and her home city of San Francisco. Never-the-less, to be an effective professional musician requires duty and necessity to come before just about all other considerations, and so I drove with her to the airport, said my melancholy farewells and via a change of aircraft in Dallas, reached my Florida destination later that evening.
We ended up playing two shows on two consecutive nights at the Red Rose Club, then flew to New York where we were shocked to discover Jane Friedman hadn’t even booked us into a hotel but instead expected us all to stay in her miniscule one-bedroom apartment situated in NY’s lower-eastside, Jane included. Laura thankfully offered to house Nicky, Dave and Marty at her Brooklyn apartment so after they departed Charlie, Kim and I tossed a dime coin to decide by a process of elimination who got the solitary couch and who would end up trying to get some sleep on a couple of thin blankets spread out on a portion of the restricted floor space. I won the toss but insisted Harper take the most comfortable spot, as even back then we thought he merited some extra consideration being older than the rest of us.
Friedman had arranged three sequential nights for the Subs at the Peppermint Lounge on West 45th street - see the two photos below; but we only got to accomplish one gig before an Artic-level snow blizzard descended on New York with unprecedented fury, paralysing transport systems, rendering streets hazardous for pedestrians and putting an end to any chance of completing this trio of shows. Instead, the band ended up being marooned at Jane and Laura’s, anxiously waiting for the storm to lift and the resulting city chaos to subside.
It was during this enforced confinement in Friedman’s apartment that I decided to confront our manager about her lack of ambition for the U.K. Subs. We’d learned she had booked all the additional shows herself, and in so doing had pocketed the agency fees she would have had normally been obliged to pay over to FBI. Keeping us in the States for this length of time to merely play a handful of venues already visited, seemed to us a strategy more to do with earning her some extra short-term money rather than furthering the band’s interests in the USA.
So, as an opening gambit, I asked her why she had us hanging around in the States for so long to play a handful of clubs that we’d already gigged in.
‘Well I’m not exactly being inundated with offers for the band to play anywhere else other than places you’ve already done well at’ was Jane’s response.
‘OK,’ I replied ‘but how does it further the band’s long-term career having us do those two additional shows at the Red Rose Club in Tampa and one more at the 9.30 Club this Sunday, which will be our third there this tour and, even worse, book us into CBGBs this coming Monday knowing we’ve played eight shows in total there already?’
Her answer was both combative and defensive, in equal measure.
‘I gotta tell you people that it’s getting very difficult now to get any interest in Punk rock groups, period. The attraction is just not there anymore. Press, promoters and record companies are all onto new kinds of music. I’m doing my best, but it’s not happening at the moment; what can I tell yah?’
This was not the explanation that I wanted to hear; but there was definitely some truth to her viewpoint regarding the current groups and sounds that were surpassing and beginning to supress the popularity of unreconstructed Punk rock, and Punk inspired music. Even in the several months since we’d last toured the USA it was noticeable that the radio stations we routinely listened to while travelling in hired cars or vans were no longer playing the Ramones, Joan Jett or the Stranglers, as had been the case earlier in the year. Instead they were endlessly airing tracks by the likes of U2, Flock of Seagulls, Depeche Mode, the Human League and Soft Cell – benign, catchy, commercially sustainable music that America’s mainstream could comfortably embrace and also safely deem edgy and alternative.
Even so, a manager’s job is not only about articulating the hard truths of a situation. It’s also about having a plan of action to surmount them. The Clash was a case in point:
Having incrementally evolved away from the raw Punk sound of their debut album they had managed to carve out a viable niche for themselves in America despite this tangible changing of the musical guard. The crossover singles from their double platinum album Combat Rock – Should I Stay or Should I Go and Rock the Casbah – were regular players on the FM airwaves alongside the contemporary electro pop and glossy new wave tracks in ‘83. I tried to argue the case for a similar strategy for the Subs but it rapidly became obvious that Friedman was only interested in what she could garner from the band in the short-term and had no enthusiasm for trying to turn things around for us. Even without discussing this managerial issue with the rest of the group, I knew her continuing relationship with the U.K. Subs was destined to be short-lived.
Another personage from the UK Punk scene who was in the process of transitioning to US mainstream success was William Broad, AKA Billy Idol. With trademark spiky peroxide hair, leather-heavy outfits and cartoon snarl, Idol had an acceptably leftfield image for middle-America; and in conjunction with the radio friendly AOR songs he’d recorded with guitarist/sidekick Steve Stevens, the ex-Generation X singer was on the cusp of achieving stardom in his adopted country in early ‘83.
And after finally being able to leave Friedman’s diminutive apartment once the snow storm had dissipated following two solid days of incarceration there, it was Billy Idol that Kim and I ran into at the CBGBs’ bar when we taxied over there to drink beer and lose the cabin fever – Charlie had succumbed to a really virulent cold and reluctantly decided not to join us to cough and snot it out in Jane’s petite but adequately warm apartment.
Kim, in his former guise as John Towe, had been the original drummer in Gen X, so Billy got down to giving a him a brief résumé of the circumstances behind him leaving the band and relocating from London to New York in 1981 to initiate a solo career. He then turned to me.
‘I love that Teddy Boy drape coat you’re wearing man, it’s really cool. That’s the problem with people over here; they don’t know how to dress sharp… hey bro, have you got a cigarette I can bum off yah?'
‘Fucking A man! I love Kools… hey John (Billy, like myself, refused to call him Kim), this guy’s great, you better look out that I don’t nick him for my own band’.
Two compliments from Mr Idol in as many minutes, I was starting to warm to the guy.
After a few more drinks together Billy suggested we go over to a friend of his with a loft apartment about ten blocks away to score some cocaine before heading over to one of his favoured late night clubs to drink and hang out some more. I was somewhat surprised then when he asked one of the bartenders to order us a cab.
‘If it’s only ten or so blocks away Billy, why cab it when it’s easy enough to walk there?’ I asked him.
‘Oh no, you don’t want to be walking these Bowery streets at this time of night, even if it’s only a few blocks… unless, that is, you’re looking to die young’, he warned.
We completed the two minute cab ride to his friend’s place and after being buzzed into the apartment block, made our way up a number of floors to be greeted by a Hispanic man in a Ramones T-shirt with a Dee Dee Ramone-styled haircut. It turned out this was Arturo Vega (pictured right), the graphic designer and artistic director who’d created the iconic Ramones logo based on the American presidential seal. Vega worked on the band’s record and poster artwork, and devised their stage lighting and props such as the handheld signs Joey held aloft with slogans such as ‘Gabba Gabba Hey’ during certain songs. So important was his creative input deemed that Joey, Johnny, et al, referred to him as ‘the fifth Ramone’.
While Billy got down to the business of buying blow, Kim and I admired the Ramones posters and band memorabilia Vega had decorated his apartment walls with. Deal done, we taxied together to a since forgotten club that played Punk rock music and served generous shots of gold tequila. Idol was also pretty generous with his drugs and after giving Billy and Arturo a hug apiece and thanking them for a truly top night, Kim and I headed back to Friedman’s place around 8am – just in time to join the rest of the band and crew for the long drive to Washington DC. That night’s show at the 9.30 club done it was back to New York and the concluding tour gig at CBGBs; and then, finally, the flight out of JFK airport to London, and home.
Like the last USA tour, I slept off the accumulated weariness over a twenty-four hour period. I then contacted Charlie, Nicky and Kim to finish up the discussion we had on the journey back to Heathrow Airport about terminating Jane Friedman’s services as a manager. After all, she had failed to negotiate us a record deal, and finding us an agent for a UK tour had taken her a seeming eternity during which time, we earned no money and were close to being unable to pay rent and buy essentials – If it wasn’t for the Urban Dogs’ shows and Mary’s waitressing income my wife and I would have been homeless and hungry. By her instigation we’d also been obliged to tread water – again without earning – for close on three weeks just to allow her some extra income via the agent fees Jane collected from those unnecessary shows she’d underhandedly tacked onto the USA tour; and she was clearly disinterested or unable to further our collective careers, having now adopted a purely hand-to-mouth managerial policy.
The winds of change and chance were again discernable; but what I didn’t anticipated upon my return to home and wife, was that in a matter of days I would be playing my last tour as a member of the U.K. Subs for the remainder of the 1980s, and beyond. Poland and disintegration beckoned...
TUNE IN NEXT TIME FOR...