Bedraggled Part II
by Marco Rossi
Where were we again? Ah yes, Dundee. A tidy gig, as I recall, although Kevin didn’t seem overtly ecstatic when we returned to the dressing room. As the new boy, and a lapsed but post-traumatic-stress-disordered Catholic into the bargain, I convinced myself it was my fault – which in fairness it may well have been. I absolutely excelled at inadvertently pissing people off at the time, and I hope it’s of some meagre consolation to all affected parties that the shame still makes my face burn like magnesium – and always will. That whole ‘mea culpa’ thing is as persistent as a PPI reclaim cold-caller.
Oh man, I was full of it. To offer just one example of my uniquely abhorrent gift, I remember Kevin and I being interviewed quite early on by two girls for a fanzine. We’d been in the pub beforehand so I was pished and voluble, sweating like Henry VIII, breathing stertorously and, betimes, bursting involuntarily into snatches of popular song. One of the girls happened to mention ‘Scottish rock’ and I went off like a starting pistol, knocking over pint glasses in the course of an earnest but interminable tirade about how patronising and misleading it was to lump together a bunch of completely diverse bands just because they happened to come from the same country. ‘People don’t talk about “English rock”, do they?’ I declaimed, no doubt anticipating a warm collective round of applause for the redoubtable clarity of my reasoning. I failed to notice the ominous silence.
Warming to my theme and grasping the microphone of their Philishave cassette recorder, I went on to slur some bollocks about how we obviously came from Scotland, but that it didn’t necessarily mean we had anything to do with… and at this point I rather fear I started mentioning names, hurling completely unwarranted abuse at a glittering array of Scottish stars. Some of these, unbeknownst to me, were friends or acquaintances of Kevin’s, and he started making scary noises in the back of his throat like a feral cat. I didn’t do very many interviews after that.
On February 1, 1989, we arrived in Southern Ireland for a week-long mini tour: a ‘tourette’, if you will, not an entirely inapt term given the tendency for spontaneous caprice which we shared with sufferers of that unfortunate affliction. When we checked into Blooms Hotel in Dublin, I remember feeling as gobsmacked as David Haye’s sparring partners to discover it had satellite TV. This was 1989, remember. Besides which, I was still unusually naïve in the ways of the wider world. Remember, it had only been a month since I discovered the answering machine, courtesy of Kevin. And it had only been a year since I descended from the forest canopy and learned to walk upright.
We breezed straight round the corner for lunch at the Bad Ass Café, where I spotted Sinead O’Connor and my metabolism quickened with the unmistakable symptoms of mild fear. Needlessly praying that ‘bad ass’ wouldn’t prove to be a self-fulfilling prophecy, we tucked into scran that was sufficiently scrummy as to keep us returning there throughout our stay: and I can’t begin to express my delight on discovering that it’s still there. (The café, that is: we ate the food in question 26 years ago.) I must go back someday: I was charmed beyond words by Dublin’s beautiful, idiosyncratic vibe, and didn’t think ever I’d find anywhere outside the confines of comic opera where literally everyone sings in the pubs. Wonderful.
That evening’s gig was the first of four in a row we played in the Baggot Inn, which can legitimately claim to be Dublin’s Marquee. (It’s still there as well, gratifyingly.) We set off in Andy’s terminally ill Mercedes van, offhandedly summarised with admirable precision as ‘a smoker’ by Grazza. This vividly illustrative term was thereafter applied to everything from grotesque venues to miniscule and seedy hotel rooms with nylon bedding which worryingly smelled of fish.
If memory serves, Grazza’s opening gambit as tour manager was to grab the wheel with both hands, turn his Jack-Kilroy-on-steroids profile towards us in the back of the van, and start pontificating thus: ‘WHO’S WEARIN’ THE GINGIN’ AFTER SHAVE? IZZAT YOU STEPH, YA HOWLIN’ SWINE? GIES A TAB, YA SHITE.’ This kind of spiritual uplift, with minor variants, constituted 95% of Grazza’s utterances for the next five years: there was little danger of anyone getting big-headed in this band. I acclimatised quickly, and even got used to the ritual before every gig wherein Grazza would bellow: ‘RIGHT – ARE WE UP FUR IT?’ and propel us towards the stage by jabbing us in the arse with a Maglite torch, which seemed to grow exponentially larger with each tour.
My first time in a studio with KMO was also in Dublin on February 2, recording ‘Suicide On South Street’: a psychobilly-ish berserker with a faint rhythmic similarity to ‘With A Gun’ by Steely Dan, albeit sporting far more pertinent lyrics – if you don’t mind my saying so. It would in time become a failsafe stage favourite, but we somehow never got round to releasing it: possibly because it was one of those bloodthirsty initiatives that only makes proper sense in a live context, when you could actually see us randomly rattling around like pinballs, tripping over guitar leads and tumbling into punters’ laps in the front row.
The recording was painless and trouble-free, although my hooligan Mesa Boogie amp had to be sequestered in a priest hole at the far end of a long corridor in order to achieve separation of sorts. The session was helmed by an avuncular, laid-back producer called Leo: laid back, that is, until someone casually mentioned that ‘Suicide on South Street’ was provisionally earmarked for release as the b-side of our first single.
‘Jaysus fockin’ Christ!’ Leo spluttered – his exact words, I remember them quite clearly. ‘Yez nivver said it was for a record, boys!’ He instantly broke into a clammy sweat, ate four packets of fags and started arbitrarily moving faders up and down on the mixing desk, which he continued to do until the infinitesimal hours of the morning. I remember sitting in a spartan antechamber with Jim and Steph, so desperately tired and bored that we were reduced to counting each other’s pores for amusement. In our weakened condition, a picture on the wall of an apologetically grinning showband called Mulligan became disproportionately funny, and we later recreated their pose for ourselves in a photo taken on a bridge in Cork. You thrust your hands into the front pockets of your trousers, hunch into the folds of your Fair Isle jumper and wince meekly as though fouling your own undercrackers to keep warm. Several years later, Vic Reeves and Bob Mortimer devised Mulligan & O’Hare. Coincidence? I suggest not.
Two days after the studio episode, which left Leo a broken man and us with an excitingly brash if ultimately unreleasable master tape, we gigged with the then hotly-tipped Irish CBS signings The Four Of Us in Tralee, the town where our long-deferred paranoid psychosis finally took hold. It seemed to us that we were being openly stared at as we walked down the street, and that people in cars were slowing down to get a better look at us. Wearing that meat dress was a mistake.
The hotel provided little respite – a disconcertingly gloomy sepulchre constructed from decaying dark wood which moaned and creaked like the hull of a cursed clipper ship. The broad staircase had incurred steep subsidence down one side, and the decor was limited to mounted animal skulls: just the skulls, no flesh or any other evidence of taxidermal intervention. Photographs exist of us all fearfully huddled into one room that night, eating a haunted Chinese take-away and constructing a pentagram out of old guitar strings to ward off evil spirits (Grazza). The gig itself was tops, though: not for the last time, we wiped the floor with the headliners. Not in the literal sense, of course, although we’d arguably have earned more by wiping the floor.
We escaped from the hotel with lives and reputations intact, staring out of the van windows at rain-lashed labourers constructing KMO wicker men for our next visit. ‘Eh, two Ladas havin’ a wee dice,’ noted Anal as a brace of Riva saloons beat us away from the traffic lights at a top speed of gas mark four. Soon we would be back on the mainland: we had an album and a single to release, and a video to make…