Wednesday, 13 November 2013

August/September 1978
Sham, Jam Thank You Ma’am

Bearded Record Mirror writer Robin Smith lives up the road from the Reading Festival site with his mum and dad. I think we’re the only two guys working for Record Mirror who still live at home. Must be something to do with the beards.
Robin’s covering the event and I tag along. I’ve never been before but the Friday night line-up looks a bit tasty – the Jam, Sham 69, Ultravox, Penetration, the Pirates, Radio Stars – so if I’m going to lose my Reading cherry, tonight’s the night.

I drive down in the afternoon, park in the VIP area backstage and meet up with Robin, a teetotaller inhabiting a drug-free zone. He’s without doubt the straightest man in music journalism, possibly the entire music business. But he’s open and honest, and his self-deprecation is unashamedly charming.

I, on the other hand, could murder a beer and, as the day progresses, turn into a serial killer of the bottled lager that abounds in the caravan dressing rooms dotted around the backstage area. My two favourite caravans of love belong to the Jam and Sham 69. One of the roadies backstage shares a few lines of sparkling crystal speed.

Both bands are riding high again after a ’78 hiatus and they’re eager to please. Predictably, Sham 69’s performance is interrupted by skinheads in the crowd beating the fuck out of each other.

While Ultravox are playing, I sit in the backstage bar with Paul Weller and Jimmy Pursey, drinking lager, smoking endlessly and bemoaning the state of the industry. We talk for ages and I can’t believe they want to spend so long in my company. Good job I’m pissed and speeding, good job they’re pissed, but not speeding – they’re not those kinda guys. Jimmy may be the chalk to Paul’s cheese, but when it comes to illegal drugs they’re both no shows. But they can drink for England and most of northern Europe and smoke fags for Scotland and southern Europe.

Jimmy, at twenty-three, is assertive and loud and determined to get his point across. Paul, just twenty, is more uncertain, his timidity revealing ever-changing moods and a nascent passion. His opinions are still taking shape while Jimmy’s are set in stone.

I’m just happy to listen. I don’t have any opinions on any subject whatsoever because I’m pissed and speeding. I just want to smoke and drink some more and hope the night never ends. And the Jam show is some kinda wonderful.

Robin has arranged for me to stay over at his house. The car cannot remain where it is, so I decide to drive, much to Robin’s horror. By the time we arrive at his house I’m feeling really ill. I drive onto the front lawn, jump out and spew, almightily, over the grass.

I recover sufficiently to make it through the front door but that spinning sickness sloshing the booze around like a washing machine hits the back of my throat like a train and transports six packed carriages across the kitchen floor, hurling splashes of sick onto most of the pinewood cabinets. It’s a Megan moment, all right.

I’m incapable of cleaning up the mess and collapse on the settee. Waking up at six a.m. – I always do in strange houses no matter how fucked – I stumble out the door, reverse the car back over the lawn and speed off. On the way home I have to stop nine times to vomit, four of those on the M1.

Two days later I contract pneumonia. I blame the sparkling crystal speed and the fact that my life is empty without Dina. But mainly I blame the sparkling crystal speed.

When my temperature creeps up to 107, the GP decides to call the hospital. It’s the least he can do. But by the time the ambulance arrives, I’m dead. Or is that Keith Moon? Who gives a shit? They’re coming to take me away hohoheeheehaha. The funny farm burns down and my temperature drops and the ambulance guys decide I’m over the worst of it so I stay in my steaming bed and vow never to touch drink and drugs again.

That’s something Keith Moon vows when he downs 32 Heminevrin pills – one for every year of his life − to combat the withdrawal symptoms of chronic alcoholism before dying in his sleep at Harry Nilsson’s Mayfair apartment.

Mandy Bruce from the AdLib team at the News rings me at home, enquires after my health and asks me what I know about Keith and the Who in general. I tell her, which isn’t much, and crawl back to my bed.

My own favourite Who tale was related by John Entwistle when I went to interview him at his West London home a few months previously. He didn’t come across as a particularly generous bloke – I remember we sat in a room with an enormous bar that stocked every drink imaginable and he never offered me one the whole time I was there. Okay, so it was eleven in the morning but, shit, I was a guest. Still, he did tell me the best LSD story I ever heard.

‘I was never tempted to drop acid,’ he said. ‘The idea of losing complete touch with reality was just too terrifying for words. One night in 1969 at a party, I was handed a glass of punch and after a while I started to feel strange. Then it clicked, the punch was spiked with acid.

‘I panicked. I tried to reason my way out of it but the strangeness was getting stranger. Then I knew what I had to do. I grabbed a bottle of Jack Daniel’s from the bar and ran upstairs to a small bathroom. I locked the door behind me and my intention was to drink the lot, pass out and hopefully sleep off the whole trip. But I was suddenly overcome by a fear that I’d inhale my own vomit like Hendrix because not only would I be out of my mind, I’d be drunk and out of my mind.

‘Then I saw it − a small window above the bath. I figured I’d drink the entire bottle very quickly, open the window and poke my head and shoulders through until I got wedged in. Then, even if I wanted to inhale my own vomit when I passed out, I couldn’t.

‘So I drank the bottle in ten minutes – I was that scared – and then squeezed the top half of my body through the window. I woke up ten hours later staring down at a garden patio, still jammed in the window and suffering the worst hangover I’d ever experienced. And every part of my protruding body was covered in pigeon shit.

‘At that moment, I wish I’d fucking inhaled my own vomit.’

I can’t afford to stay ill and within a few days I’m up and at ’em. I’ve added a few more publications to my portfolio and the cheques are making dents on the welcome mat. My mum, who’s left work through ill-health, spends her day answering the phone and taking messages for me. It’s all getting too hot to handle.

Enter Tim Lott. Tim is still on staff at Record Mirror. He’s a marvellous writer with ambition and is currently doing a few stints at Capital Radio. One afternoon, about a week back into the swing of things, I’m sitting with him in the Nags Head in Covent Garden. We’ve always liked each other’s company and got pissed together on several occasions. I’m telling him how much work I’ve got on and how sometimes it gets a little too much, and he suggests we team up.
By the time we leave the pub, we’ve already decided to set up a press agency supplying local newspapers across the land with weekly pop columns, including interviews, reviews, the works. In return they would each pay us just twenty quid. We’d mail every paper with a freebie taster to get the ball rolling. If only ten took it up that’d be two hundred quid a week, Imagine if we had fifty, or a hundred.

Great idea. On top of that there’s all my stuff that Tim can start helping out with, plus his Capital Radio spots.

We begin to look for a suitable office…

Next: The Stranglers at Battersea

Adapted from the book Tell Me When by Barry Cain
© Barry Cain 2013

Check out Barry's debut novel Wet6 Dreams DrytLives  www.amazon.com/dp/B00H0IM2CY

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