Reminiscences 1976-80

Rip this joint

“Ed” I said on the 'phone, “Are you serious about me joining the Hot Rods"? “If you are, then the answer's Yes!” Next day Ed, together with Barrie Masters, came round to my house with some scribbled lyrics. “See what you make of these”, he said, “I want MC5 meets Iggy and the Stooges”. I had been working on an uptempo song about leaving Sarfend - I wanted to call it Quit this town, so I let them hear that, which got us off to an uptempo start. It was even better the next day when a scramble of writing that reminded me of Aleister Crowley's “Do what thou wilst shall be the whole of the law”, metamorphosed in my brain to the Springsteen-inspired Do anything you wanna do. When Barrie and Ed came round that day, I presented them with working drafts of the two songs.

The Hot Rods, having had great acclaim and chart success with Teenage Depression, were the hottest band in the U.K., and it was agreed that I would join them on stage at the next opportunity. They were playing a warm-up gig at Keele University, before making their first appearance, the next night, at the Finsbury Park Rainbow. Was I up for it? Was Sammy Bin-Liner fundamentally a Rich Kid? What was even better was that the Road Crew consisted of my buddies Robert Harding and Colin Tuck who had been sacked from the Kursaal's road crew.

Driving to Keele University, playing on stage with the Hot Rods, then driving back to Southend is one thing not to be attempted with a car whose top speed seemed limited by the prevailing wind. I think I played 96 tears, Kids are all right On the run and Get out of Denver, together with a riotous Gloria as encore. Driving back, coming into  Southend as the sun was rising, all was right on the planet. I was doing exactly what I wanted to do and I was having a shit-load of fun. Life doesn't get much better. Little did I know (pun intentional). The next night at the Rainbow, what was a theatre with stalls became a dance-hall - the seats were trashed by the excited audience, and trampled to matchsticks. It was not to be the only night in the next few years that I would come off stage with ringing in my ears.

A bit of rehearsing next, and organising some new songs for the next album. We used the Island HQ at St. Peters Square and the famous Basing Street Studio, and quickly learned a couple of mine and couple of Dave's. We were also editing the live tapes from the Rainbow concerts, and discovered, to everyone's surprise, that my guitar had not made it onto the multi-track. Quelle horreur! Ed really wanted to put out a live E.P. from the gig. With little regard to the truth, it was decided that, if I went into the studio and played along in Real Time with the tracks, that would constitute a Live Performance. Live Albums, in those days, were routinely “polished up” in the studio, so, if I only played one take of each song, then it was OK. This was At the Sound of Speed, a title coined by Howard Thompson, the band's greatest fan at Island Records. We also found time to record Dave's song I might be lying, Do anything, and something or other (for the B side to Lying). By this time, the Press had cottoned on to the fact that the Hot Rods had a new member, and so had CBS. Now I'd signed to CBS as part of the Kursaals, and I expected them to release me without any problems. The corporate minds there realised that there was a New Wave of music happening, and they didn't have any part of it signed! Suddenly they wanted to hold me to my contract and insisted that I supplied them with an album's-worth of new material in demo form. They weren't going to pay me any money to do any recording, they were just going to extract their pound of flesh by refusing to let me sign to Island Records. Contractually, I had to comply. While Steve Lilywhite, Ed Hollis and myself were mixing Do anything at Island, which involved quite a few guitar overdubs to get that famous droning slightly off-tune sound, I banged out a dozen ideas with guitar and piano. They were ROUGH Demos, recorded straight to two-track, with no FX and no overdubs. I think it took about two hours. CBS knew I was taking the piss so they refused to release me. They couldn't stop me playing with the Hot Rods (although they tried their damnedest), which is why Mike Read introduced a radio show by the Hot Rods from the Paris theatre, featuring an appearance by new-boy Rikki Rocket on guitar. Such is fame! The next day we were on the ferry for a trip to Belgium and France.

Ed's ideal line-up was now complete, with myself taking the Wayne Kramer role to Dave's Fred “Sonic” Smith in the MC5. A new line-up takes a few shows to settle in, so a few shows in Belgium was just the job. I must admit that I've always found Belgium to be the smelliest country in Europe, and Ed and I were to find it even smellier. After one show, in Bruges, I believe, we arrived back at the hotel with the normal amount of hangers-on to drink some beer and party a little. The concierge took one look at the slightly sweaty collection and called the Police. I don't recall us doing anything wrong, but the next thing I knew, Ed was in a cell down the local Gendarmerie, accused of causing a few thousand francs-worth of damage to the hotel. (Ed or myself  generally got in trouble through trying to sort out the chaos). Back in England, this was documented as Ignore them (Always crashing in the same bar).

Back to London to begin work on Life on the Line. Dave was going through a writer's block episode, so I cranked out a few songs, with various assistances from Ed, Barrie Masters and Paul. Barrie had a couple of lines of half-decent lyrics that I turned into Telephone Girl, Paul found bass line that fitted well on Life on the Line, and also came up with  I don't know what's really going on, which, because of an appropriate set of chords that I gave him, became Dm-Dm-Dm-C-Dm-Dm in my book. Some juvenile lyric by Ed became a polished Don't believe your eyes, a favourite chord progression of mine became We sing...the cross with the help of a Sunday service sample from the Beeb, and Dave came up with his best-ever song Beginning of the End. Quit this town was heartfelt - I had had enough of small-town bourgeoisie, and was feeling like moving up to London to live. This ambition was helped greatly when Do anything smashed into the charts, a week after its release in that long, hot summer of '77. A couple of appearances on TOTP and we were big. It was such a shame that Malcolm “Ronald”  MacDonald (sic) decided to provoke the infamous Bill Grundy to lose his livelihood and create a media frenzy with a bunch of gits, and John Lydon. Things did need changing though. We found ourselves doing TV shows with the likes of the Nolan Sisters, Ottowan (who?), and refugees from Saturday Night Fever who hadn't strangled themselves in their flairs. We made up for it by trying, very unsuccessfully, to snog Dee-Dee and Babs from Pan's People, and some Portuguese babes (Yes, Sir, I can boogie!!!) whose names I've forgotten. Chris Wheelie Wilsher has written to let me know that the Portugese girls were called Baccara, featuring Mayte and Maria, and No, Sir, they didn't boogie at all! Many thanks, Chris, I'm much obliged.

Smack the manager

We toured the seaside resorts that summer, headlined at the Reading festival, then came time to head for the U.S.A. and Canada for eight weeks during autumn '77. We were excited but we knew that Uncle Sam was still musically backward, preferring the MOR sounds of Chicago, Foreigner, et al to their own Springsteen, Iggy and the Ramones.CBGBs and Max's Kansas City both wanted to put the band on, and it was a case of back to the small clubs for us. After a few gigs in Canada, where I fell in lust with a hairdresser in London, Ontario (what is it with me and hairdressers?), we played the worst show that I can remember at Max's. We found it hard to come to terms with the New York City low life that came to the gigs there, although Paul seemed to enjoy himself as junkies and gay boys competed for his attention. We were holed up at the Mayflower, on Central Park West, whilst Ed Hollis had booked himself into the Essex House, a far swankier hotel. He spent most of that tour in NYC, while we schlepped round the country. I loved it. Barrie and I had already done the tourist number at Niagara Falls, and, together with breaker,breaker on the CB radio, we were cruisin'.

A couple of the dates were in theatres with the Ramones and Talking Heads -Tina Weymouth and Chris Franz, although a somewhat reserved at first, soon got anglicised. I had a lot of time for Dee Dee Ramone as well. Drinking with him at CBGBs, the Island Press Girl, Margret Lapiner, was accused by his current squeeze of trying to get too close to him, and jewellery was being removed for a catfight. Putting on my best authoritative English accent, I told Dee Dee to control his woman, as I didn't fancy witnessing a female mud-wrestling bout. (The floor of CBGBs was pretty close to mud, what with all the shit about). Cue laughter and yet more beer.

Ed had made an extramural gig for a couple of Hot Rods to star in a photo-shoot with a girl he was shagging, for her magazine . Her name was Rusty, and Barrie and I were conned into getting our shirts off while this Rusty spread her enormous mammaries over everyone and everything. We refused to exhibit our Hot Rods though! On to the desert resort of Las Vegas, and an appearance as support to the Robin Trower band at one of the hotels on the Strip, then to California. One show in San Francisco (and I didn't even get to meet Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters, although I did manage to hook up with an old Southend acquaintance in San Rafael), one show in San Diego. We cruised up the Pacific Coast Highway with Spencer Davis, ready for a week in the City of Angels, featuring three nights at the Whisky a Go Go on Sunset Boulevard, and an arresting performance on the roof of the Island building in downtown LA. Guess who got arrested again! The next Island band to try that stunt was Bonio and the Sledge aka U2. As a press stunt it was almost identical to what we had done. No prizes for originality Bonio!

Ed was still spending all our money in New York City, so it was down to the Tour Manager, one Viv Phillips, to bail Barrie and I out. It was here that I first met Charlene Bowen - a lovely, yet crazy, lady who seemed to like the way I played guitar, and it was extremely hard to let go of the sunshine and palm trees at the end of the week. Back to NYC, and a show at the City University with Mink de Ville, and one at CBGBs for free beer only. They thought that they were onto a good thing but, having drunk them out of Rolling Rock, they decided it would have been cheaper to pay us a fee.

Home to England, and a Christmas show at the Chalk Farm Roundhouse, supported by Peter Perrett and the Only Ones. Our guitars had been held in Customs, so we were forced to borrow some from our Agent, Ian Flooks, who was also representing Andrew Bond. Now Andrew had a revolutionary new guitar design. Based on a normal body, he had manufactured the neck from a sawtooth-shape stainless steel. It was a FAST neck, and looked extremely flashy; the problem was that, with the amount of sweat generated, the fingerboard became so slippery that it was very difficult to play. (I bought one nonetheless - the guitar now has a normal maple fingerboard). He went to design and manufacture some quite revolutionary guitars - I don't think they're still in production, but, I believe, they are collectors' items.

I had also moved in my absence. It had been my intention to share a flat in London with my, then girlfriend, Sue Nye, and my brother Andrew. i had financed the deal and, on my return, a taxi from Heathrow brought me into the alien environment of Golders Green. For the price of a Cabinet Minister's annual salary, I was living next door to an Orthodox Synagogue. This was to be a bad move as some of the worshippers took exception, in the form of bricks through the windows, to a rock n' roll lifestyle. I think Harlem would have been more welcoming! I have no time for fundamentalist religions of any sort; I consider this sort of religion to be no different from barbaric savagery propagated by con-artists for the oppression of the brainwashed masses.It's no surprise that the most fervent of fundamentalists, and the ones who generally die, are those downtrodden and brainwashed zombies, whose blood and brains have been sucked out by the educated and all-powerful priests. All this for a futile promise that things will be different in the afterlife. Fundamentalism, whether Zionist, Islamic or Christian, has caused, and is still causing, the most devastating bloodshed. Surely it's about time to reject this infantile propaganda?

Sue Nye, during the eighties, re-invented herself as, and I almost quote from “Who's Who” wife of slippery son-of-a-bitch Gavin Davies (merchant b(w)anker with Goldmann-Sachs, ex-Governor of the BBC), graduate of Cheltenham Ladies College, and Balliol, Oxford. In fact she left school at seventeen and worked as a secretary at Fords research Dept, Hordon-on-the-Hill, before landing a job as a Garden Room gril at !0, Downing Street. It shows what security checks are made because , as is well-known, Sammy Bin-Liner was head of MI5 for ten years during the eighties! It just goes to show - if you're going to invent a past, make sure it's SO UNBELIEVABLE that even the Sun wouldn't call it into question! I have this on good authority from a schoolfriend of Sue's. As you might be aware, the lady has become ennobled (or should that be enobbled) as Baroness Nye of Latimer Road.

Back on the road for the Life on the Line tour in the Spring of 1978. It was a good tour; supported by Radio Stars and Squeeze, and it was one that enhanced our reputation as the most potent live act in the country. Both Quit this town and Life on the Line had charted, and, after the tour, we felt that, if we got back out to the States quickly, we could cash in on the reputation that our previous visit had earned. Ed, however, had discovered heroin. He and others were spending our money as fast as we could earn it. A meeting with Island Records, who were, also, facing bankruptcy, told us that our finances were extremely shaky, even with all the royalties that were accruing. In addition, Ed had been spending more of our money on studio time with little regard to cost-effectiveness, although there were some good results. A tape with Siouxsie Sue, a few songs with Giovanni Dadomo and the Snivelling Shits, and a collaboration between Paul, Steve and I, and Rob Tyner of the MC5 were the only real benefits of studio extravagance and smack consumption. We had to work, and work quickly. A tour of the States was shelved (BAD MOVE) because we didn't have the money, and a new studio album was seen as the only way out of the financial black hole. The trouble was that no-one had had time to write any new material to record, we were lacking a producer to produce it, and a manager to take care of things like that. Island weren't about to spend money on a Hot Rods album with me producing, even though I had already done quite a reasonable little single with a Scottish band called the Zones - in fact, I didn't even have a contract with Island. I felt that a name such as Bob Clearmountain was required, or Steve Lilywhite who had worked successfully with us on Life. Island vetoed both of those suggestions, and, as a result, we were stuck with Peter Ker, a “Grizzly Adams” lookalike. Peter had just achieved a little success with the Motors, and looked like a good bet from Island's point of view. The one good thing was that we were able to use the Abbey Road Studios, due to a financial life-saving tie-up between Island and EMI.

Abbey Road +Thriller

We needed another hit single and we needed it fast! Ronald MacDonald and the Sucks Pistols had caused the onset of severe throat infections for every band in the country, as torrents of gob carried pathogens throughout the musical community. The idea of Punk was to shock establishment dinosaurs out of their collective comas, but washing yourself down after a show, became obligatory. We were playing selected shows in the UK and Europe to keep solvent. One of the problems the band's cash flow faced was that Paul, Steve and Barrie were ensconced in hotel rooms in London at the band's expense, while they played Rock Stars with various hoi-polloi, including Johnny Thunders. Dave had come up with a couple of good songs, Circles and Living dangerously, and I had Media Messiahs, a poorly thought out song, Power and the glory, Strangers on the payphone, Take it or leave it and Breathless, after a couple of lines that Barrie had written, were also down to be recorded. We got into the famous Studio A at Abbey Road, and started work. I had come up with another couple of riffs that became He does it with mirrors and Echoes. Dave put words to the first one and I gave the second one to Paul and Steve to encourage them to contribute a little. While we were working on Power, Paul and Linda McCartney came in to see what was happening. I explained that the song was a powerful political song about the disenfranchisement of the proletariat, stealing a couple of phrases from the Lords prayer. “Aah!” he says, “a love song”. He was, probably, right. We asked Linda if she would like to sing some backup vocals, not only because the song was in her register and out of Barrie's and mine, but also because Paul was rolling the most sublime spliffs known to medical science, and the entire Control Room resembled a collection of grinning Chinamen.

Unfortunately, budget requirements meant that we had to mix the album at the Roundhouse Studios, not a bad place but without the class of Abbey Road. The album was good, but lacked two or three killer songs. Island Records, for some unfathomable reason, wanted Media Messiahs as the first single. Dave and I wanted either Power or Circles - we were outvoted. The album Thriller (now where have I heard that title?), and subsequent release of Power as a single failed to trouble the top ten, either because they weren't good enough, or because Island, undergoing one of it's routine clearouts of staff, were not promoting them as vigorously as they should have done. With a new MD every time we called into St. Peters Square, and the departure of Ian Flooks, who had been managing us, Robert Harding and I went to see Chris Blackwell, owner of Island Records, at his country retreat close to Theale. We needed a re-financing package to keep us solvent, and managed to re-negotiate some sort of financial lifeline. It was then that we discovered what had occurred, and was occurring, to the Hot Rod money. Ed had defrauded the band to an enormous extent with his spending on heroin, and that, together with the hotel bills for Barrie, Steve and Paul, had caused us to haemorrhage money. Neither Robert nor I had the financial acumen to steer us out of deep shit. Except for the fact that EMI were willing to sign us, and Island were willing to release us, subject to an exorbitant penalty clause, the game was up. However, Ben Edmonds, at EMI, had liked my production work with the Hot Rods and the Zones, and allowed us studio time at Freerange studios in Covent Garden to come up with some new material. This was the summer of '79. The deal was that Robert would find us a heavyweight manager, and I would produce some new material for EMI to consider.

Some time around then, we were invited to appear on the Marc Bolan TV show, which would feature an appearance by David Bowie. Now Marc was hanging on by the skin of his teeth to a musical career that had, in the early seventies, shifted shit-loads of records as the Face of Glam. Having gotten the sack from John's Children, he formed the plinky-plinky hippie Tyrannosaurus Rex, then, never one to buck a current trend, he re-invented himself as the 21st Century Drag Queen for T.Rex. We reached the Manchester studios to record our slot and sat.........and sat..........and sat........while the TV technicians were driven ape-shit by this preening little pansy. He had been keeping Bowie waiting as well; eventually they managed to film Bowie, and asked us if we wouldn't mind coming back next week to do our slot. One good thing, and one baddish thing came out of this. On the way back to London on the train, we were invited by Bowie to share his compartment. A very tedious trip was transformed into a magical one as David told us tales that had us rolling on the floor. The next morning, the newspapers had a report of a fatal road accident, in which one Marc Bolan had managed to wrap his car round a tree. We still went back the next week to record our slot.

Freerange studios was a lovely little sixteen track, with a great engineer, Steve Forward. Steve and I became friends as the Hot Rods worked there intermittently. We were desperate for paid work, and played many shows in many strange places. Robert had found Harry Maloney, a manager with Manfred Mann among his previous clients, and he was one of the few people who was prepared to talk to us. Working out of an office in Blackheath, his immediate promise was to stop the cash drainage of hotel rooms by getting mortgages for Barrie and Steve in Blackheath, paid for by the band. I had moved from Golders Green the previous Christmas to a house in Brixton, aided by my own publishing royalties. Dave had also bought a place on Canvey Island, and Paul, for some reason, wanted to move to Cardiff, God only knows why. Notwithstanding that, a tour of America was arranged and off we went. The band had not been playing together for some time, what with external commitments by Paul and Steve with various Yankee musos, and the edge was gone. What used to be tight was sloppy, although there were still the occasional nights where we performed well. Unfortunately we had missed our opportunity; the audiences were not there. Apart from good attendances when supporting Tom Petty and the Police, we were not earning enough to pay for the tour. We were driving 4-500 miles a day between gigs with no hope in hell of sticking to the 55m.p.h. speed limit, and no money to pay the inevitable speeding fines. The only way to get paid was to get to the gig, and the only way to get to the gig was to charge the fines to my Visa card. We had to abandon the tour and fly back home.

It was looking like Last Chance Saloon time. Harry Maloney sacked Robert, put in his place, as Personal Manager, some joker by the name of Captain Bob - I think he'd been recruited from the SAS. Still out of pocket from the USA, we tried a tour of the UK with the London date (three from the end), again at the Lyceum theatre. My health had been deteriorating for some time - my diabetic control was slipping and I was experiencing more and more episodes of hypoglycaemia (low blood sugar). This made my judgement quite arbitrary and my behaviour quite weird. For example, one morning after a gig at the Redcar Coatham Bowl, I attempted to climb into the tour bus dressed only in a cloth cap! However, I was able to judge well-enough that the game was up for the Hot Rods. The performances on stage had been deteriorating and everyone seemed to have their own agendas. It was time to bail out after an abysmal performance at the Lyceum. I had become so fed up by this time that I decided that comedy was the Last Resort. Steve never knew what bit him, but it was quite a bizarre way to announce my resignation from the band.