Sunday, August 30, 2009

Thin White Rope in the United Kingdom

It’s been quite a while since I’ve posted a blog here and I apologize for it. All the usual excuses apply. Not enough time while trying to make money; various minor medical problems; lack of motivation and pure laziness; etc, etc. I was tempted several times to write a political rant about all these ignorant anti-healthcare asswipes, but as bothersome as they are, I just can’t get myself all that worked up any more. These people will get the government and the healthcare they deserve, and both will hasten the downslide this country has been in for decades now. I’m going to spend my anger time looking for a way out instead. (If there’s any of you non-Americans out there who need a manservant or cook, let me know. I’d be glad to dust, wash your dishes and/or cook your meals, and I’m a damned good cook, in exchange for getting out of this hellhole and having a place to live.)

So, lacking a rant, I’m going to give you all what you really want and present a new Thin White Rope road story. In fact, I’ll give you a whole bunch of them. So, I present to you: Thin White Rope in the United Kingdom!

Please keep in mind that I still can’t find my journal that had all the TWR tour dates and information in it. It’s around somewhere and when I do finally find it, I will make all corrections that need to be made. But until then, I have to trust my memory, and that means that some of what follows is a bit sketchy. In the case of this report, I have called in help from the members of the band as well as the always accountable Andy Bean, who provided me with his data base of TWR dates he was at, which was a good many of them. But even with all that help, I know some of the dates and events will be a bit off. (And if any of you have additional information, please send it to me so I can make corrections.) One of these days, when I can find all the information I need, I’m going to take all these tour stories and upgrade them, but until then, this is what you get, which I think is better than nothing.

This is a long one, so get that cup of coffee, or whatever beverage you prefer, and whatever snack you’re partial to and sit back and enjoy.


After playing several tours in Italy, our booking agent, Paulo, decided that the time was right for us to start making inroads throughout the rest of Europe. He hired a driver for us, a dapper guy named Pino, who’s various adventures and idiosyncrasies I’ve documented in an earlier blog, and we headed out on our first great European adventure.

One of the shows we were really looking forward to was our first in London. The UK was very much responsible for a good amount of the reason the band was where they were at the time. The English magazine, “Bucket Full of Brains” wrote one of the first articles on the band, an article that led to their signing to Frontier Records and the attention that enabled the group to tour Europe in the first place. So we were pretty excited about this show. The only problem was that we didn’t have any work permits and that’s a big problem when playing in the UK.

We got around this by packing all the equipment, including the guitars, in the van and as we approached the Belgium ferry that would take us over the English Channel, we all got out and walked into the building and onto the ferry, while Pino drove the van onto the ship. Once we arrived at Dover, we walked off the ship, claiming we were all on vacation and were going to catch a bus to London. Once cleared, we walked a ways down the main road until Pino met us with the van. We climbed aboard and headed straight to London, where we played our show with the British government none the wiser. (The customs people did question Pino about all the band equipment, but he didn’t speak any English and after several long minutes of babel-confusion, the customs agents grew impatient and waved him through, since he had all the correct paperwork allowing him to possess all the stuff.)

We arrived in London in early afternoon and had the rest of the day off. We were met by a member of our European record label, Demon. I believe his name was Spike. He asked if we wanted to go to a club called Dingwalls to see the band playing that night, a band called Spaceman Three. The band created a deafening drone using guitars and old analog synthesizers. They were extremely loud and we thought they were great.

The next day our show was at a hole-in-the-wall bar by the name of the Sir George Robey. We were the middle band, opening for the great British punk-poet John Cooper Clarke. The opening band was some forgotten band from Canada who was terrible and had the distinction of having one of the slimiest managers I had ever met. (Andy has this date as being in March of 1988, but I believe it was in the fall of 1987. I think we put out the “Bottom Feeders” EP in Europe only so we would have a record to tour on, and that record came out in ’87.) I remember the show as going very well for us and John Cooper Clarke was amazing and extremely nice, which thrilled me to no end, as I had a lot of respect for the man.

This show started a particular thing that puzzled me, but I found was par-for-the course in England. One of the three weekly music newspapers in England, Melody Maker, took a strong liking to us, but because of that, the other two, Sounds and New Musical Express, decided that we weren’t to be bothered with. This was highly frustrating to me and to the people at Demon. During the run of the band, MM gave us the cover once and always had a major article about the band for every new record and tour, even sending journalists on tour with us in the UK, throughout Europe, and in one instance, directly to LA to cover the recording of the “The Ruby Sea” album. We managed to get a few small articles out of Sounds, most notably a short interview that took place at Stonehenge and Hampton Court Palace, but NMN never acknowledged us at all, as far as I can remember. This was an attitude I never really understood. I also had problems with the nation’s foremost disc jockey, John Peel. He would bring bands into his studio and record them for broadcast. Those recordings always received a lot of attention, but I was never able to get any interest out of him for TWR. The people at Demon simply told me that he didn’t like the band, but I was never able to talk to the man myself, not due to lack of trying, so I never got any real reason that I could understand. Because of this, I don’t have the respect for Peel that most people in the music business have for him. I understand that he made many careers, but he didn’t help me out and didn’t even give me the courtesy of an answer when I tried to contact him.

Things get a little sketchy for the next year or so. We met Andy and Duncan during a spring 1988 Dutch tour with Nikki Sudden and the French Revolution. They were playing drums and bass in the band and they became great friends and an even greater help to us during our UK tours and with the European tours in general. We started splitting up in London, with some of us staying with Andy, Duncan, or their friend, Chim, in order to save money. When we could afford it, we would give them a break by staying at the Columbia Hotel near Hyde Park, which was the rock and roll hotel in the city and always provided a good time. But we always ended up back at Andy, Duncan and Chim’s, since we preferred staying with friends and they would always feed us with great English breakfasts.

(I remember one tour when we stayed at a hotel near the British Museum. There was absolutely no place to park the van. It wouldn’t fit in any of the parking structures and the posted hours on the street meant we would be towed. I asked a street cop what we should do. He simply told me to find a parking space where the meter was broken. If I found one of those, I could stay in that space as long as I wanted. So, we got back from our show that night and found an empty space. We then pulled out our tool box and proceeded to completely dismantle the parking meter for that space. We were making a horrible racket, but only one person, who was staying in the hotel room near where we were parked, asked what we were doing. We just told him to shut his window and go back to bed. The meter was in pieces all over the sidewalk and we just collected it up and threw it away. The next morning I woke up and went out to check on the van. There was already a brand new meter placed on the spot, but our van was un-ticketed and left alone. I saw the same cop I had talked to the day before walking towards me. He said, “I see you found a broken meter.” Then he winked at me and walked away. I always look back in amazement on that moment.)

I don’t think we did a UK show during that early 1988 tour. There were two shows in London in late 1988. One was at Dingwalls and the other was a week later at the Sir George Robey, but for the life of me, I can’t recall anything about those shows.

Then, in July of 1989, we came back to do a show at the Marquee Club. We were using a new English booking agent at the time. I believe his name was Mike Hink and he was supposed to be a big deal, booking Morrissey and many of the more popular British bands. We were starting our tour in the UK this time, which meant picking up a van that would drive from the right side of the car (left side of the road). We would have to get used to this, as we were taking it over to Europe with us. We also found that we didn’t have as much room as we wanted for us and all our equipment, so we took all the rental amps out of their cases and left the cases in Andy’s house, which took up quite a lot of space in his flat. Let me tell you, that man was a saint to put up with all the stuff we put him through. (He can tell you of all our increasingly crazy favors asked of him, as well as nightmare tales of broken down vehicles, fried equipment, and drunken escapades throughout the countryside.)

We had a few days before our first official show at the Marquee, so we hastily arrange a surprise show that would be attended by word-of-mouth. That show was at the Camden Falcon and became one of the most infamous shows the band ever played. The place was packed and the band was spot on that evening. But it was hot as hell in that club. Sweat was evaporating, rising to the ceiling and then condensing and raining down on the band and the audience. And there was no air in the place. Our drummer, Matt, passed out part way through the show due to lack of oxygen. We got him back behind his drums eventually, but it wasn’t long until everyone finally just gave in to the heat exhaustion and depletion of H2O. It was a wonderful show; one that people still talk about to this day. In contrast, I can’t remember the official show at the Marquee at all.

I think this is when we did our first official English tour. As I mentioned above, we were happy because we had a real booking agent and the tour should have been a great one. It was anything but great. We arrived in Birmingham to find that we had been booked into a black soul/reggae club. Once they took a look at us, they didn’t really want us to play and told us that there was no PA. I was insistent though and along with our genius soundman, Elliot Dicks (another saint in the history of the band), we dug up enough equipment around the club to put together a PA and play the show. It actually did okay, with enough people coming out to see the band that the club was relatively happy. I fell in love, or I should say in lust, with one fan and kept the band waiting long after the end of the gig while we chatted. But we finally got on the road and realizing we were starving, found an Indian restaurant that was open late and indulged in some of the tastiest and spicy-hottest food we’ve ever eaten. That unfortunately led to a late night farting contest in the hotel that found me hiding in a closet and trying to sleep through the hideous stench.

We were met on the road by a Melody Maker journalist, who went with us to the next gig in a town called Morecombe, which is one of those seaside tourist towns that seem to be planted in several places along the English coast. But the next day we discovered that the club was a new one that hadn’t even opened yet and because of that, there was no show to do no matter how bad we wanted to do it. So we spent the day walking along the seaside attractions with the journalist and his photographer. I remember getting my fortune told and the fortune teller telling me that I would realize that my choice to be a band manager would eventually be proven to be a correct one. (I’m still waiting on that.) And we bought a bunch of candy nougat, which was supposedly the one claim to fame of this town, to find it inedible. So we threw it to the seagulls, who would swallow it and then spit it out in disgust. That kept us amused for quite awhile. You know something’s horrible when the gulls won’t even eat it.

In Glasgow, Scotland, we arrived to find that our gig was being advertised for a week later. The first person we met at the club was impossible to understand, his brogue was so strong. But we finally found the club owner and through all sorts of apologies, let us know he still wanted us to play. We went out to dinner and met a group of fans at the local Wimpey’s Burger. When they found out we were in town at that time, they rushed around and told people about it. We ended up with a small, but very rowdy group of fans and the show turned out to be quite fun. At one point, a group of fans were in the balcony above the stage and Guy handed his guitar to them, which they strummed and made all sorts of unholy racket with. It all fit into the set very well though.

We had a day off the next day and I wanted to drive up to Loch Ness, but the band rebelled at that idea. They didn’t want to be in the van any more than they had to, so we took the train to Edinburgh and toured the castle there, marveling at Mon’s Meg, the big cannon they have in the museum. (I eventually made it to Loch Ness during a vacation with Skip years later. It was wonderful, but so was the castle. Glasgow is one of my favorite cities anywhere in the world.)

There were other English shows that weren’t as bad as these. Some of them were part of this tour and some weren’t, although I can’t remember where they fit in. By the way, we never used Mike Hink to book any date ever again.

On that same tour, we showed up for a show in Hull to a panicked club owner. It seemed that he had accidentally booked two headlining bands on the same night. The first was us. The second was a band that was beginning to make waves all over England, My Bloody Valentine. I hadn’t heard MBV at this time, but I knew they were on the cover of the Melody Maker that week. (We had been on the cover the week before.) It was decided that we would both play, but it couldn’t be decided who was the headliner. Since they were on the magazine cover that week, I thought they should headline, but they didn’t want to follow us. We finally decided by flipping a coin. We lost and had to headline. I walked out to watch their set and upon the first note, my jaw hit the ground. They were amazing. One of the best live groups I’d ever seen. I have to say, I was rather nervous about the band following them, but in pure TWR style, they rose to the challenge and played an amazing set that had the audience going wild. To this day, that was one of the best concerts I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen thousands of them. And it turned out that Hull had the best fish and chips I have ever eaten, making it a double-good place.

We did a show early on in Milton Keynes, which at the time was known for having fake cows in their meadows for whatever reason people have fake cows in meadows. Paul Weller and Style Council even did a song making fun of the town. It had been described to us as a leisure town, whatever that means, and we were worried it would be a horrible show. But we showed up at some community center there and ended up having a really pleasant show after all.

I was always disappointed we didn’t make it to Liverpool, but we did do a show in Warrington, which was between Liverpool and Manchester. Opening for us was the Charlatans. This was before they were well known. They had a different lead singer, but their sound was developing towards the one that gave them hit singles. I remember them as being very nice guys, but I don’t remember the show at all. We also did a show in Manchester and I was very excited to be playing there, it being the home of the Fall and Joy Division, but I really remember nothing about that show except some frustration in finding a place to park our van when we arrived at the club.

We did several shows in Leeds and they were always fun, except the one time we played a university community center where the Who recorded “Live at Leeds”. I was excited about being there, but the show has left an unpleasant taste in my memories, and I can’t remember why. I know Guy has the same memories, so something didn’t work with that show. (I do remember being lightly hassled for being gay at that show, which was the only show in Europe or America I was ever hassled at.) Much better memories of Leeds come from the three shows we did at the Duchess of York. Those shows always did great. One of them was a Halloween themed show (the club’s idea) that turned out to be a whole lot of fun. We eventually met some of the Mekons, a great Leeds punk/country band, on the road in Germany and that gave us a place to stay the last show we did there. I always looked forward to Leeds.

In 1990, we arrived in London to do a show at a club called the Subterrainia. We arrived at the club and I immediately got excited when I realized it was the same club I had seen Joy Division in during my first trip to London in 1979, except it was called the Acklam Hall back then. That show went great and led into a very drunken party at the Columbia Hotel that included our visiting German booking agent, Christof, as well as the head of our label, Lisa. That party wound down after guy mistook an occupied phone booth for a urinal and peed all over it and the poor guy inside. The next day we headed off for a month long tour of continental Europe, before returning to London for another show at a big venue called the Astoria. At the last moment though, the Astoria got cancelled for reasons I don’t remember and we hastily put together a show back at the Subterrania. For whatever reasons, that show did terrible though and Roger cracked the neck of his guitar in frustration. We left London feeling rather blue. But before we left England, we did another great show in Leeds, that show in Manchester and a show in Doncaster at a club called the Jug.

In 1991, we had three shows in London. Two of those shows were busts for us. The first was at the Marquee in June. Unfortunately, there was a tube strike that day, so attendance for the show was terrible. That was too bad, because it could have been great. It was followed the next day by a free in-store concert at the HMV Record Store on Oxford Street that went well and saved the day for us. In late August, we were back to play the Reading Festival and then played again at the Subterrainia, this time with two great bands, the God Machine and Whipped Cream. (The same line-up played the next night at the Joiner’s Arms in Southampton.) That same tour took us to shows in Sheffield, Wendover, Leeds (again), Leicester (where there was a great jukebox on which I played Hawkwind’s “Silver Machine”, impressing the band so much it later became a cover in their set), and Nottingham.

The Nottingham show is notable for a number of reasons. The promoters were a couple named Anton and Linda who were huge fans of the band. They were so excited about TWR playing their club it was almost frightening. (They showed up for the last show ever in Gent, Belgium a year later and cried over the band breaking up.) I recall that it was a great show that night.

I also recall the day before. We had a day off and decided to visit the Sherwood Forest. As usual, we all drank a little too much. I bought a Robin Hood outfit, put it on, and then we proceeded to rage about the forest in mock battle, with me being Robin and Andy being the Sheriff of Nottingham. Before long, we stumbled across a couple of standard-size poodles someone was walking, and started shooting rubber-tipped arrows at them, which didn’t please either the dogs or their masters. I think it all ended out of pure exhaustion. And yes, there are pictures of the battles. I recall one of Andy and me trying to clock each other with tree branches. Oh, the fun we had.

The Reading Festival was great fun and I felt very proud having the band there, since I had been trying to get them into a European Festival for some time. (The next year they played Roskilde in Denmark.) We were only playing the small tent to the side, but I was just happy to have the band there on any stage. We ran into some old friends (Babes in Toyland, American Music Club), made some new friends (meeting the guys who would go on to form Swervedriver), and generally had a great old time despite the rain that turned the ground into a giant mud pit.

Our last show in England was on October 17th, 1991. It was at a big place in London called the Venue New Cross. We were playing with a band made up of TWR fans called the Gorgeous Space Virus, I believe. I remember having all sorts of anxieties about playing there, but being told by the label and booking agents not to worry. I also remember that it did terrible and that few people showed up. I never got a logical reason for that.

The band played their last ever European tour June of 1992. They didn’t have time to schedule a London date in there. A lot of English fans came over to Belgium for that last show and it was great to see them there, but I’ve always regretted not having a show in London for the last tour. Everything kind of started there and it would have been nice to put a formal finish to it all there. But that’s the way it goes sometimes.

(By the way, the English tours always turned out to be a great place for me to check out and discover bands. While on tour there, I became fans of Spaceman Three, Cornershop, Blur, My Bloody Valentine and the Young Gods (thanks to That Petrol Emotion, who insisted we show up to their show on time to see the opening band),. I also saw the Fall play one their shows with dancer Michael Clarke, including guitarist Brix riding around on a giant hamburger. And I was able to experience the Velvet Underground reunion, which was pretty damned exciting for me. This doesn’t even include all the local and visiting bands that we played with, some deservedly going on to greater things.)


And that’s all I have for now. As I said, I’ll eventually find my logs and this will all get updated with correct dates and events. Sometimes memories work out just fine, so I hope you enjoyed these stories. So, until next time, which I hope will be more sooner than later, take care and be sure to have fun. It’s about all we have left in this world. -ML