Bedraggled Part III
by Marco Rossi
If you’ve been following this interminable saga so far, you’ll be painfully aware of the fact that we’re about a thousand pages of foolscap into it and nothing’s actually happened as yet.
This isn’t deliberate, but it’s pretty significant. The way I like to think of us is the way we originally were when we were comparatively young and theoretically lovely, before we got fisted by circumstance and all seventeen shades of shit hit the fan. I think of us like we were at the start, sitting in Nardini’s in Largs, excitably discussing our glittering career plans and tittering at the amnesiac waiter (subsequently christened Mephisto The Memory Waiter) who kept getting our orders wrong. Had we known that Lady Luck was eavesdropping at the next table, waiting to take our naïve hopes and noisily piss all over them, perhaps things would have turned out differently: we might have taken up careers in accountancy, and turned out to be Fine Upstanding Automatons who don’t blanche every time a letter drops onto the doormat; Pillars Of Society without a Tale To Tell.
However, I expect you ghouls want the full nine yards concerning the manner, extent and angle of our shafting (see chapter 1, “figurative music business penis, grotesque engorgement thereof”), so in the interests of veracity – and as form of primal therapy to forestall the contingency of me ever randomly running amok at the MTV awards with a Kalashnikov – here’s the relevant horror story, with the odd bright spot peeping forth like a sweetcorn kernel in a three-coil turd.
Right. It’s March 14th 1989. I’m standing in a hangar in Wembley with an unplugged Fender Stratocaster, preparing to Give My All for the noble medium of Music Video. I felt like a cunt. The camera didn’t love me. I wasn’t too fond of it either. Then, as now, this kind of attitude spelt disaster. You’re supposed to be Mad For It. At the merest hint of a lens cap popping off, you’re meant to gurn as though in the terminal throes of strychnine poisoning with your face so far into the camera that your nose is lodged in the snappers trachea. If you’ve got anything less than a yard of inner tube around your love handles, get your midriff out sharpish and slap a pound of Happy Shopper lard all over it. Alternatively, wear lots of black, look mournfully down at one of said love handles and pout in slow motion like a collagen junkie.
Alternatively, invite about a million nineteen year-old dancers to shake their well-toned booty in the foreground, background and on every conceivable surface, and look as though they’re delighted to be in your company. In this way, the public gets to know that you are:
(a) Larger Than Life
This principle has held hard and fast for decades, and shows no sign of abating in a medium whose limited repertoire of jump-cuts, hand –held/super 8 footage and panoramic tracking shots was already mired in cliché in 1980. But, you know it’s a necessary evil and all that. Apparently.
So anyway, there we were in a hangar in Wembley with only a crate of Mick Jagger and the prospect of a grimy takeaway pizza to see us through the mortal embarrassment of strutting and preening in front of a bored and cynical crew. Honestly it’s worse than getting your wee man out in public.
The song we were mugging and posturing to was Wheels Of Wonder – the first single from the Mother Nature’s Kitchen album – and the director was Bruno-Whose-Surname-I-Can’t-Remember, who studied our terminal Northern pallor and ineradicable five o’clock shadow with a jaded eye. Bruno’s girlfriend was the ex-vocalist with the Belle Stars, so I was all starstruck for a bit until the cans of Luftaffe lager kicked in, at which point I rather fear I started calling Bruno “Waldo” and belchingly assuring his girlfriend that I thought she was great in Legs And Co.
It was a long day.
Incidentally, I’m not angling for sympathy here – I’m powerfully aware of the fact that there are far worse things you could be doing – but I’m just making the point that appearing in a video is no way for anyone with an ounce of decorum or self-consciousness to be carrying on. I never did get the hang of it, as you’ll see if you can be arsed reading the rest of this mighty tome…
Anyroad, the video was finally “in the can” by about 1am. Do videos have cans? “In the cartridge” doesn’t really have the same ring: mind you, “can” is also slang for “toilet”, so I suppose in a career-furthering sense the video really was in the can all along. I only ever saw it on telly once, and that appeared to have been purely by chance when we booked into a hotel in Modena two years later. “Eh, what a coincidence” we all marvelled; although I’ve since come to suspect that the hotel’s closed-circuit TV system was hi-jacked and the hapless operative held to ransom by one of our management hombres brandishing a sharpened Gold Access Card.
That was good, that gig in Modena: it turned out to be for the Italian Communist Party – which may go some way to explaining why we’ve always been blacklisted in the Anals of power – and I got to meet a bloke after wards whose name, spookily, was also Marco Rossi.
Marco II asked to have his photograph taken with Kevin: Grazza aimed his camera, Marco flung his arm round Kevin’s shoulder – with the result that somewhere in Italy there’s a photograph of a fuming Kevin McDermott next to some other bloke with my name who is grinningly unaware of the fact that he is pouring a steady stream of lager down the side of Kevin’s groovy jacket…. Grazza went “HAR” loudly and often. But whoa – I’m getting ahead of myself yet again.
The day after “wrapping” the video (note the ease with which I slip into the terminology of the media. Twat) we stood around for six hours in a park on the outer fringes of North London freezing our scones off in an abortive attempt to secure the definitive photograph for the cover of the album. Kevin and I were wearing our 60 quid shirts – bequeathed to us by the record company from a job lot at Pop Star Duds R Us – and that was when 60 quid was a lot of money, etc. Sadly, the gossamer threads which constituted these handsome garments did absolutely fuck all to prevent the icy blasts of a typically arctic London March from noisily whistling up my crevices like James Galway on steroids in an Alpine pass, then playing Lionel Hampton vibraphone solos on my ludicrous rib cage…
At least Steph was nice and warm in his infamous radioactive green velvet-effect ‘one waasher’ shirt, familiar to anyone who might ever have seen us playing live. Such was the negligible build quality of this venerated raiment that one wash would have destroyed it completely. Steph managed to tame it for a number of years with bulk purchases of Air Freshener, but in the end tragically it had to be taken round the back of his condo in Summerston and shot.
Ach well. Where were we? Ah yes.
After a Liquid Nitrogen eternity of, well standing basically (this was High Concept stuff) our rigid carcasses were decanted into the back of an enormous American motorhome driven by A FUCKING MANIAC. Now, I’m as fond of reckless driving whilst pished, naked, freebasing crack, ‘tooled up’and blindfold as the next nun – just joshing, moral watchdogs – but mama, this bloke took the biscuit, and then came back for the rest of the biscuits, then licked up the crumbs and in all probability ate the packaging.
If you’ve been following the recent Land Speed Record-trouncing Thrust SSC, you might have heard mention of the ‘Coriolis Effect’, which is basically something that happens under ‘high g deceleration’ when your inner ear gets all baffled and you’re convinced that you’re hurtling down a sheer cliff face.
Well, this was it, only in Steph’s case it actually happened: while the rest of us were holding on to the fixtures and fittings in the rictus of abject terror, Steph got up to find an ashtray at the exact time that Yer Man behind the wheel hit a red light and jammed on the anchors with such sudden ferocity that he dislocated a hip. Steph actually flew from the front to the back of the Winnebago – a distance of several miles and at least three time zones- but mercifully the foetid voluminous folds of his shirt broke his fall, luckily Kevin, Jim and I saw the funny side etc.
We finally arrived- in flames, up on two wheels and with the expansive flourish of a handbrake turn at mach 5 – at the photographer’s trendy loft studio, redolent of David Hemmings gaff in Antonio’s Blow Up(if you replace the naked ‘dolly birds’ with four disgruntled and malodorous Scotsmen).
By this point, the strain was starting to show, and we all had burgeoning cold sores, post-traumatic stress disorder, eyes wandering in different directions, static cling,etc. You can see the results for yourself on the cover of the Where We Were Meant To Be single, a striking black and white portrait which nevertheless captures us at the most subterranean of low ebbs.
Everyone else gets away with it mind you, but I bear about as much resemblance to a human being as a fucking stick insect drawing by a possessed infant. As part of an eternally ongoing dissatisfaction with my hair, I’d had it reduced to a pile of shavings only days previously, giving me the look of a concentration camp intern who’d just placed his fingers in a socket…
A mate later told me that he came across a copy of Where We Were Meant To Be in a bargain bin at the back of a hardware shop in Islington, and someone had stuck a 10p sticker directly over my face. I completely understood the impulse, but nevertheless this revelation triggered an anxiety attack so intense that I hid in a cupboard under the sink for days, clutching my knees, rocking and moaning until I was eventually lured out with pasta.
The freezing park shots proved unsurprisingly abortive, so the cover for Mother Nature’s Kitchen eventually ended up in the hands of David Hiscock, a pleasant Graham Chapman-esque block who manfully rose above the playground sniggering every time someone mentioned his name to produce the hand tinted portraits which were the end result.
In the days preceeding the second shoot on April 3rd we played gigs in Glasgow (Fury Murray’s), Edinburgh (The Venue), The Osprey Rooms in Aviemore (for some inexplicable reason which may or may not have had something to do with the fact that it was April 1st) and Fat Sam’s in Dundee, following which our driver Sherpa Tensing drove us round in circles around The Same Roundabout We Had Previously Been Driven In Circles Around By Him before grinding to a halt in the teeth of a blizzard following our previous Dundee gig in the bar Chevrolet (February 22nd).
We also recorded a Radio 1 session at Wessex Studios in Highbury for that smart-arsed, self-aggrandizing little fuck whose name escapes me if it knows what’s good for it. As I recall, the session was chiefly notable for the fact that it included a stops-out version of Suicide On South Street which I’d love to hear again if anyone’s got a copy…
On April 4th, we supported Fishbone in Newcastle’s Riverside, which was considerably more like it. Their vocalist Angelo Moore was A Star-no two ways about it- with a silver topped cane, a permanent expression of haughty distain and a lacerating wit which I saw him use to devastating effect on one of the Wee Papa Girl Crappers on some late-night crud-u-like TV show once.
Better still the following night saw us supporting The La’a in the Manchester International. I was – and still am – a True Believer, completely in thrall of Lee Mavers as an inspired oddball with the most lucid vocal approach since Peter Noone (which is meant to be a recommendation). When we turned up to soundcheck, Grazza bellowed “HAVE YE SEEN THE DRUM KIT? EVEN FUCKIN’ SOOTY WID BE EMBARRASSED TAE PLAY IT”, which is a tad overstated but nevertheless bears testimony to the idiosyncrasies of Chris Sharrock’s 1920s dance band artefact with ‘skin up ya bass’ written on the kick drum skin.
The dressing room was shared, so I came away with the impression that Lee Mavers is every bit as withdrawn as his legend suggests, while John Powers gave the impression of being the boyish enthusiast he remains to this day, sauntering over to ask me what song I was playing on our lager-spattered ghetto blaster (“it’s My White bicycle by Tomorrow” - “sound, la”).
At the gig, The La’s were scrappy and fractious but still wonderful: Kevin and I went backstage to tell them as much but they weren’t having it – “it was foockin’ ccchhrapp, la” – which in respect seems to be the way they regarded everything they did. A great shame.
April 6th saw us playing the Moles Club in Bath, which in my estimable opinion was one of the best gigs we did – not because there were hordes of baying fans blocking the roads outside (there weren’t), not because the venue was the last word in space and comfort (it’s basically someone’s cellar), but because we played from start to finish in a murderous rage which would have done The Who c. 1965 proud.
I was initially all excited because it was almost a hometown gig for me, in a venue that I perceived to be cool and bohemian, with several mates in attendance.
However, Kevin, Jim, and Steph were deeply disillusioned to find themselves in a soft Southern priesthole with an audience capacity of approximately three. To add insult to injury, an administrative fuck-up meant that we found ourselves supporting some unknown blues band from Tiverton or something, which was a low psychic blow for a freshly-signed outfit with an album and a single about to be released. I felt mortified and partly responsible for some disturbed Catholic reason, so one way or the other we were all wondering what the fuck we were doing there, and consequently took the eggbox-sized stage with black hearts. I wish I had a tape of it – it was pulverising in the extreme, a gear-trashing decible-fest which was neither Big nor Clever but emphatically plugged into whichever primal source it was that first drove Teds to slash cinema seats.
One In The Eye for cretinous hacks looking for the next Deacon Blue….