Wars stories from the best of times
This one is for casey and kev, the crew which i sailed will the furthest, in the sea of dreams, in the midst of our youth.
Its around 11am when i get out of the van, i look around the place and i proceed to smile.
' were here boys, yaldi buff wi made it '
' this is like abbey road ; just rolled up for a session, casual, bit rough from the night before but generally the high of being there starting to take over. I take a look at the front door and sure enough its says 'abbey road' we had totally lucked out on this one i thought for the millionth time as we took a stroll over the famous zebra crossing, stomping feet with pride and skipping around in joyful exuberance. Maybe we knew it at the time but it was one the true peaks of our voyage together, i was still at school when i bought that wee jagmaster in glasgow and now here we were together 8 years later at the birth place of so much music we all knew and loved. It was heavy without being stoned standing there for a few minutes taking it all in, it was all jokes and laughter but as i scanned the back of the van for my pedal box my stomach started to sink and the tears started to well up as i realised I had left it back in the shire, i was falling through the ground, my world was shattered and i felt for a split second that somone had died in me. I may as well have forgotten my fucking guitar or my hands, what a pure joke i thought as i walked in and limped through the next hour or so, there we were in one of the worlds greatest recording studios and i couldnt play what was in my heart, what i had been working on for months before and i felt so stupid for leaving my gear at home like that, the feeling dominated. We did what we could and savoured the unique atmosphere such a place can afford, took a few photos until the boys from asian dub foundation showed up for their own session just after ours, we wished them luck on the way out and were on the road again, brighton was calling and we couldnt be late.
The other guys said it was cool man, not to worry about it but i took it hard, the true magnitude of the blunder all too much to process in terms of shame and guilt, shame for getting up early to get stoned before i got picked up back home and somehow forgetting to double check that we had everything for the trip and guilt that i was the kind of guy that would never forget to get high but could forget such an important quest item and let the band down. I smoked the rest of my supply on the way down to brighton and drank what i could, i was so gutted i didnt care. The contents of that box was my secret weapon, so what the fuck was it doing back home exactly where i had left it, i thought and i cursed my inner stoner.
If abbey road was an oppurtunity then we turned up like we usually did, cocky, stoned, hung over, stinking of drink and kind of coming down from the night before, it was always the same shit but we loved it, the group led itself to almost every destination with a clear objective in mind; in all cases to have a really fine time would be sandwiched in between doing the gig and getting as wrecked as possible and generally pushing our limits, between our youthful curiosity and all the free booze at our disposal, i dont think we ever played a show dry from start to finish give or take a few. There was always something going on with us and always the flower peolple at my door. It soon got to be that i was never 'well' unless i had some shit to smoke, it was always a prority for me but it was just accepted that we would have our fun. I was a young guy from muirhouse, i didnt know any other way than what id saw already, when i turned 16 and started seeing everyone getting mad for it, i rolled up my sleeves and got stuck in. Every weekend and most thursdays we would meet at someones house and get a swally before heading out, back then i never really thought anything of it, just go with the flow type shit but im not sure that worked for us in london, i felt like they all face palmed everytime we showed up ' not those boys again' type stuff maybe because we always acted like wee northern hill billys, off the leash so to speak in the big city on some fear and loathing in las vegas/straight out of motherwell type shit, generally causing choas whenever we went and fun to be had, professionally unprofessional and to a tea just not giving a fuck because we were young and having the ride of our lives like we knew, never sure to take anything that seriously except for the fun side of life. The toys we played with as children had turned into guitars and synths and drum machines and instead of our rooms and parks we now had london to run wild in. The toys we played with as children had sprutted wings and whisked us down to london for the fourth time. Old london town, I always felt like a proud scruffy wee one in the place somehow too unkempt for the town even in my best clothes, most of the toliets were in a better state than us by the time we got to john peel that first time and maybe the second time too not that i remember correctly but in saying that we always did have a good laugh on the stuff....
That first trip down we took lenny boy with us, we thought i would be a laugh since he was a mate, he was of the fun type, could help with some of the gear since we were taking the train with our shitty yet sturdy backline and all, He was straight out o craigneuk that weekend like most weekends back then but would get particularly in the london fog. Banter was of course in high demand so the dynamic worked well as there was always a fresh volley of some shit talk happening. The film of the week being falilv we had come prepared for the trip with a little collection of drugs to sustain us over the next few london nights, always be prepared as they say. We boarded the train at motherwell feeling like wee young rockstars at the start of a beautiful journey and i remember how it was such a tight fit getting all the gear on board, whilst making sure we had a toliet near. We had two guitars, a bass, an ms-10, the drums machine and all the other bits and bobs. We stuck on some tunes and cracked a few cans on the way to edinburgh lenny produced ' the prawn' and stuck on some tunes in the wee the tape player; feeling particularly sporting we also decided to make a start on our pill supply which would likely never last us all the way through the trip. I started off very gently, waiting until just before carlisle before i popped a little half, the pills sometimes made my stomach go crazy with the swally i was always the skinny guy and the shit always hit me hard also it was the strongest thing i had taken at that point and it would be a 6-8 hour trip the first big one, i remember smoking joints out of the window, before edinburgh queitly antisipating the days ahead and getting our shit head on playing through till we made the border, and penetrated england. By that the time the pills had really started to kick in and i found it harder and harder make out the cards and shit so the cards were out. As we had all but given on shit head we decided to venture around seeing that there was a carriage selling food and some booze. Everyone was pretty starving and the cans were running low by this point so an excurtion was planned, lenny boy and kev would go, whilst me and casey would stay and guard the rear stash, after much ado about what to order they finally made it out of the seats and into the food carriage atking the maddnes and the poppers with them. 20 minutes passed and after a scene at the bar they finally made it back with what seemed like some sandwiches and some jack and cokes, it was the last time we allowed ourselves such luxury as those racked up prices astonished our motherwellian pockets as we reached in deep for the deals on wheels shit show. Nothing however would prepare us for the price of a london pint when we finally got there to our final destination 8 hours later, swaggering out at kings cross, rocking, bit wrecked but pure buzzing that we had now hit the capital, the blood in our legs glad at the core to be flowing within us.
After a blurry mad dash in the train we got off and somehow got ourselves and all the gear to our hotel, it was in paddington, it was the cheapest place we could find and it looked and smelt like a fucking dive to be honest, a den of pure debouchary if i'd ever seen one, you could pratically hear the cockroaches scurrying around in the walls too. It was a total of a laberinth to get the room and a pure mission with one of the guitar amps but when we did, we each chose a bunk proceeded to crack a few cans and plan our next move, all of us were up for a walk to maybe find something to eat and of course a wee london swally. Walking those streets that first night, i remembered that it wasnt my first time in london and that i was high, feeling glorious and invincible just being there with a band of merry friends on the cusp of young manhood, riding the crest of a wave of collected vibrations we had made together back in jervie a few months back on some dull saturday night with just a carry out, some smokes and a drum machine (bordem). It was one of those nights when living in motherwell was shite so we stuck on mario kart and changed the tune.
If a song is like a ship then this one song had sailed us down the river to old london town to record for the guy we had all listened to in our beds at night, for years. The man was in institution and it was a 'nae sweat' a surreal experience when casey called up and told me who he had just had on the phone, the wave had started rolling. Often, the best things that we can do are the things that can only be done together, everyone brought something to the table, the three headed approach helped make the kind of music we could never have dreamt up alone. We needed each other for it to work. Each adding a layer of themselves, imposed over 5 minutes of silence, a wee tapestry weaved in transient, timbral, temporality. Casey and kev had more friends and were cooler than me in that i was from muirhouse and yet didnt own a copy of nevermind and various other standards also the first tape i had bought had been that u2 single from batman forever, i was always trying to impress them with what i could do, I was young and very open to trying new ways to make music and i rememeber being torn between the guitar and the synth but i loved to record and i recorded all of our stuff in the living rooms, bedrooms and garden sheds where we used to jam.
Back at the shack we had gotten our shit together somewhat and we ventured out to get supplies and a taste of that london evening, i think it was a thursday night and we were buzzing beyond the pills and the smoke and the swally, it was a magical time of night. A week before that we were out at the pub back in motherwell taking a swally, talking it through a bit on the trip hyping ourselves up and now we were actually there it felt like we were really hitting the big time both a heady and very cool feeling walking around on that summer evening with a drink in me and a smoke in me and the pills in me from the way down and my best freinds at my side, all of us re-enforcing a feeling that we were winning, that what we were doing was right and something special, with a pure freindship, to be honest after all that we werent sure what would happen and that i think was what was the most beautiful thing about it all. I would be working my job at primark the weekend after like the weekend just before none of my work mates knew who john peel was but down there in that old south i felt like a rock star in the making , we all did and we always pushed for the fun factor. We had the best start a band could have in britain, we had a very powerful fan and a real champion at that all before we had even played our first gig together. For three teenagers from motherwell it was quite the thing and if it was motherwell that helped make us, then it was motherwell that helped unmake us in the end....
meanwhile we got back to the hotel and i remember hostile midnight phone calls from the chinese at the desk, and shady agression in the bar, we had not almost had our fill and they wanted us out on the first night... we had all but desicrated the place. I remember acting like animals and lenny putting on a particularly wild show of drunken dexterity, climaxing in a rooftop tango with a dead pigeon he found lying around the place and a 3 litre milk bomb we found under a window and comandered for the show. I marvelled at his brutal savagery, he and kev would bait each other on and stirred something in each other that drove them all wild and burning. I tried to keep up but lenny was a champion and had the hardest stomach of us all at the time and he was on tour in london, off the chain for the weekend with the boys, he was unstoppable at the time and a true merchant of 'the patter'.
London was a big place and it felt like it driving around, i have always been a passenger there so i could always relax and enjoy the ride when i wasnt too hung over. Every trip, almost every practise and certainly every writing session i would have almost always have a smoke in me. By the end of every show, recording session i would have had a drink in me. It was just the way of things what can i say, doing all this hit was like going on holiday for us and many a time is when we would stir up some madness. Those nights in jervie proved to be our most fruitful but we somehow lost what we had before we knew what that was i couldnt say, but the fruits of our joyous labour had brought us here, casey had never been in a recording studio before and we still had the guitars we had at school and the most basic of backline we could muster for the trip but there we were. I always have the tendency to feel a bit cheap and professionally inadequite in these kind of places and so maida vale was no exeption with its endless corridors and caves of wonder. This was one of the top recording studios in the whole of the country, honed to perfection by years of solid experience and tax payers money, it was the jewel of a place slap bang in the middle of london, used by top professionals from all over the world day in day out since the early sixties and there we came rolling up out of the black taxi stinking of drink, reeking of gange and sweating out pills, poppers and allsorts from the night before, it had been a big night. I Usually needed a full day and nights sleep to get right when ive been on the pills but we had no time for any of that, let alone breakfast but it was a few hours sleep and off we went at around 8 in the morning or something evil and got ourselves and the gear in a taxi, 18 and off to our first peel session feeling the chemicals sludging slowly through me, i could have been sharper but fuck it. Somehow they checked us in at the security and put on our vistor badges, it was official now, we were in. It was all because of him our uncle john, who gave us the ok and i thanked my lucky stars for the 1000th time as we strolled tentatvley down the spotless corridor like dust carrying speed down to the cave known as studio 2. I remember looking through some doors on the way past, it was studio 1. It was a huge space and there what looked like an orchestra in recording something, we preceeded down the way, the place was like a science complex or an old hospital from the forties or the fifties, proper doctor who shit and the cavernous studio itself was everything i expected it would be and more with lots of custom gear and a grand piano sitting quietly in the corner and a trully professional atmosphere, not many people from motherwell get to come here i thought and we felt lucky and a little proud we had made it there in one piece, gear and all even if feeling a little scruffy playing the songs we recorded in jervie but a few months before. We could have never imagined that, it was like a joke at the time until we got to the place. Chilling out a bit before the session we mustered up all we could for the recording although i remember having to fight the fatigue and glitchyness i was feeling with the fucking pills hanging in me, a beer helped a bit and before we knew it we were back at the hotel listening to what we had recorded on our pink wee tape machine. I remember being happy because of what we had achieved but i felt i little underwelmed with our performance but didnt want to be a downer about it, it was a marvelous moment and besides we had a night out on the the town to get to on with, we were celebrating our first peel session and must have drove the locals mad that night with our drunken rabble and rabid rudeness. Wrapping doors in the corridors, baming up the pool room, trashing our own room but we didnt give a fuck how many cunts we pissed off that night, we were graduating in the world nothing but young rock stars living the dream at the start of a beautiful journey marking the last our teenage years.
Its was maddness on the way back home, the train was late or we got there early and we were burst and weary now the deed was done. I was reeking again, I remember the only thing we had left at that point was the poppers and some cans, i could hardly stomach a drink but we had some cans before it all got messy with the other passangers. The look of outright disdain from a mother sitting across from our table is one that would haunt me forever and i felt dirty in a way that made it seem impossible to be clean again, my blood was a mess as we called in at the local when we got back to motherwell and chilled in the pool room drinking cider and blackcurrant and did the last of the poppers smoking cigarettes and riding out the last of the trip before we all headed home, incapable of telling anyone else what had really happened to us those last few days. You had to be on the trip to appreciate the delicacy of the situation and even if you felt sick you werent, even if you were sad you wouldnt impose that on the group, you would keep it to yourself, if not then the spell could be broken and at worse it could have triggered a cascade of the type of sadness which all the scottish are suspeptible to at some point in their lives.
Motherwell never felt the same when we got back from that trip and the more we went away the smaller it became, Life was a bleak place without music and it gathered us all together like a camp fire every thursday night at the local. There were more bands than i can remember and almost thursday there would be a gig on and it was amazing and inspiring to see all the local talent, we were all burning so bright.
After that when we started do play our first gigs, I remember the buzz i would get when we would hit play on the drum machine. We always played the same song to start and it had a long intro and it became like an old friend in town after town, city after city. The heart rate goes up with the antisipation and you knew what it meant, that in a minute the amp would kick in and you would be rocking away playing what you can, singing what you know. Sometimes i would get too carried away as i struggled to manage all the adrenalin and nerves at the time, having a body was still so new to me and it was both thrilling and terrifying to play at the start like riding on top of a large animal more powerful than you are. We had started out as a recording project and hadnt really thought about the gig thing until john peel had called up. It took a while to iron things out but two years later we were straddling scotland like a bunch of pros, decent enough as a live act although the bar way was high north of the border with many great acts playing at the time. There werent many scottish towns were we didnt play but glasgow, edinburgh and aberdeen all seemed to take a shining to us, especially in edinburgh where our label was based. We probably played more shows there than anywhere else in those first years. We didnt really know what we were doing but at some point after the first peel session, we got asked if we would like to do an album with a small label out there, they were all staying out of this huge country home just outside town and it all added to the charm. There would be no recording budget so it would be up to us to get it recorded and then they would put it out for us. At the time no-one else seemed interested in us so we took them up on there offer and proceeded to buy some recording gear, we ended up doing it ourselves which i regret and to this day i cant listen to that record without feeling shame, shame that our recordings didnt sound much better than our originals, it sounded more like a demo than an album and i wish that we would have gone to a professional at the time but i always thought we would get another chance if we got picked up by a bigger label.