How the hell did that happen?
I last saw Ruts D.C. in 1981 and 1982. It was the same show as it was New Year's Eve (clever eh?) at The Fulham Greyhound. It was an incredible evening. Details are a bit sketchy here and there (you know why...) but I'm pretty sure the support band were Auntie And The Men From Uncle (very strange but oddly compulsive, with Esso on drums) followed by Captain Sensible, Segs and Rat Scabies giving an impromptu performance of 'What Do You Give The Man Who's Got Everything?' from the Captain's solo single 'This Is Your Captain Speaking' before Ruts D.C. came on. They were amazing. Amazing. AMAZING. As good as any band I've ever seen. I've got a signed setlist somewhere. And that was almost exactly 30 years ago. Amazing.
I was a fan. I'm still a fan. But now I'm playing in the band. How the hell did that happen?
I asked myself that very question as I sat in Frank's Cafe in Uxbridge Station at 9 o'clock yesterday morning. The waitress had just bought me some beans on toast. I'd asked for brown bread, but she'd bought white. It didn't matter.
'When I'm up North I like to spend a couple of hours in a Little Chef - you know, extra beans, do a crossword or two, let my food go down and then get stuck into the Arctic Roll, you know what I mean'.
We're on the M40 - Seamus is less-than-seriously planning the next few hours while attempting to make sense on the passenger seat climate control, Dave is behind the wheel being highly amused by Seamus's comments and I'm sitting behind Dave reading the latest edition of Guitar and Bass magazine. Manchester is around 3 hours away; it's a lovely bright afternoon, we've got the soundtrack to 'Pulp Fiction' on the CD player and the mood is good - and why not?
So how the hell did that happen? How the hell am I playing for a band that I used to follow 30 years ago? Well for a start there was the rehearsal for the Paul Fox benefit show with Henry Rollins on vocals, when I discovered that all those hours playing along with 'The Crack' and 'Grin And Bear It' (and indeed 'Animal Now' and 'Rhythm Collision volume 1') meant that I could play the songs almost without thinking. I discovered I could do the same thing for the same reason with The Sex Pistols material when I depped with The Sex Pistols Experience and The Pistols. And The Commitments and Blues Brothers stuff wasn't hard either. Weird. Some people would call it wasted youth - but what do they know?
I used to talk to the band members at gigs. They were always friendly, always had a bit of time for the fans. I liked that. It stuck with me. I decided that if ever I was ever lucky enough to be in a band then I'd talk to anyone that ever wanted to talk to me. And I've been lucky enough to be in quite a few bands - I hope I've always been as friendly to people as Ruts D.C. (and indeed The Ruts) were to me.
Somewhere on the M6 Dave's car started playing up. A barrage of swearing from all concerned wouldn't make the dashboard light go off - 'they said that they'd fixed this' said Dave as we shuddered towards the hard shoulder, 'it's done this a few times, it might clear in a minute...' As he said that, it cleared. Good.
We arrived in Manchester just before 5 o'clock. We passed the Peace And Love Barbers (run by Mohammad Ali) and The Red Sea Coffee Shop; as we turned into Whitworth Street Dave gestured - 'The Hacienda - I remember it well'. After a bit of manoeuvring we parked on the double yellow lines outside the front doors of The Ritz to unload after which Dave went off to park the car as I ask Seamus if he'd played at the venue before - 'late '80s I think, with Iggy Pop'. I'd been watching The Stooges on DVD earlier - a good omen.
The Alabama 3 are soundchecking - a sample of Ray Winstone's voice booms out into the cavernous auditorium as I'm fixing the guitar strap in place. Segs is on bass, he makes a comment that it's 'time for the support band to have a go, after all we don't want any trouble from them now do we?' He smiles at me, a bit weakly, he looks as nervous as I fell i.e. a bit but not too bad.
We set up across the front of the stage. My amp is on the keyboard riser and I'm standing next to Steve the guitarist's pedalboard. London Transport still haven't found my pedalboard (and I fear they never will) so I've borrowed a Carbon Copy delay pedal from ex-Awaken guitarist Pete (thanks mate) and I've dug out a Bad Monkey overdrive pedal (which I have as a spare for the Tube Screamer that I use with the Blues Brothers shows) and a Micro Amp as a volume boost for solos. They sound good, but I really miss my old Boss Chorus pedal. If I don't get the board back, that's the one that I'm going to have to replace first.
I'm stage left (on the right as you look from the audience) with Molara in front of me - she suggests that I move a bit to the right so that people can see me, which I do. Segs is on my right, Dave is next to him and Seamus is way away from me on the other side of the drum kit. We're using loops on two tracks so Dave has his computer on a table to his left, after a bit of monitor adjustments it all sounds good. We also run through 'Babylon's Burning' with John Robb on vocals who's joining us for that number, it goes a bit wrong at the end with John saying that he was waiting for a guitar cue that's on the recording and Segs saying that I'm playing it just like the recording, we try to run through it again but there's no time as they're about to open the doors...
In the dressing room there are a few cans of coke and bottles of beer which go down well with all concerned. With Dave suggesting that we dress 'in suits, a bit gangster-ish' there are hats to try on, I settle on a flat cap which John describes as having 'an Andy Partridge look' - I thought he said Alan but cheer up when I realise he didn't.
Suddenly it's 7.30 and we're on stage - I'm sure they didn't used to go on that early when I used to watch them. It's a breathless 30-odd minute performance to a room that looked fairly full by the time we finished. We played well - there was a real 'first gig feel' about the show but it was still a great thing to be part of. Well it certainly was for me.
How did we sound? Click here to find out!
It would have been great to stick around, have a drink and a chat, see The Alabama 3 - but Dave had to get back so we had to leave promptly after the show. Shame. As we pulled away the touts were touting, the queue was queueing - oh well, there's always the Bristol show next week. I'll see them play then.
The dashboard light came on again on the way home but I must admit I'd dropped off to sleep at that point. During the course of our journey Dave and Seamus bought far too many pork pies (the sight of them scouring a service station for mustard was something to behold, particularly when they were advised to try W.H. Smith...) and I'd bought some chocolate that was on a special offer, then didn't eat any of it. Rock 'n' Roll eh? In the meantime an ecstatic Segs had roared his approval of the show to us all on the speakerphone and we all agreed that although our first show had indeed been a good one, the best is very definitely yet to come. And that's a really good feeling to have.
Well I'm still not sure how the hell it all happened. But I'm really glad that it has.