Sunday, 2 February 2014

December 1978

Gerry & the Pisstakers

It’s cold. It’s Liverpool. It’s Devo. I’m talking to the guys in the Holiday Inn lounge.

Devo have just played the local Empire where the five Akron portables pumped it up precisely and with intent. Their indefatigable cohesion galvanised the Pudlians and there was scousely room to breathe at the front.

The crowd more than simply enjoyed the static, they worshipped these bespectacled college kids.

Behind those glasses (which most of them wear off stage too) you get the feeling there’s a world of victims, staring and expecting you to punch them on the nose and kick them in the bollocks.

Their show is Tubes without the Quaaludes, Clash without the accent, Vince Hill without the nose, Boney M without the tits, Meat Loaf without the inches, Blue Oyster Cult without the lasers. Yes, Devo are without.

But within they’re fine upstanding young spectacles with inveterate principles.

They wake up in the middle of the night and cry out, ‘Why are we here? What are we doing? Where are we going? Where’s the toilet? Can I have a glass of water, Mummy?’

The boys have escaped the frenzied mob and are seated around a table reading reports about themselves in assorted music papers. They don’t appear to drink much, smoke much or munch much. They sip tea sedately, and nibble biscuits conservatively. Gerry Casale does most of the talking.

Three fans stroll into the lounge with posters which they ask the boys to sign. They talk of the heavy stewarding at the gig.

‘There's two thousand of you and only twenty of them,’ screams Gerry. ‘If you all worked together you could trample over them. But none of you would do that, would you?''

The fans shrug and walk away. Gerry turns to me. ‘Those bouncers really want to hurt the kids. It’s a totally Fascist attitude and overtly sexual. They hate the kids because they have the ability to get off on something. The kids represent a kind of healthy sexuality. The bouncers feel threatened by this because they see life as a situation that has to be controlled. People like that find jobs where they can give vent to their repression in a socially acceptable way – like being a bouncer. In future we’ll have a say in the security before we set one foot in this country to tour.’

After initial raves, Devo have come in for piss-take upon piss-take in the music press.

‘It was a real Devo situation,’ explains Gerry. ‘We read all the laudatory British press and then came over. We did all these interviews and gave truthful answers to every question. We told them about Akron, we told them about us, about why we wrote our songs, everything. And they really laid into us.

‘What they resented was the fact we didn’t tell them we liked to wank and pull chicks and eat hamburgers and watch TV. We simply told them what motivated us to create.’

Now that’s asking for trouble. Gerry smacks his teacup on the table.

‘Yet they can tell kids to go along to a Clash show and lose their front teeth or an eye and then go back to the factory. See, when they realised we were in no way similar, they got offensive. They found Devo a threat and that’s typically human.’

‘But the press really believe they’re deities − "The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away."’

I feel distinctly uncomfortable at this juncture. I adopt the false-laugh method of interrogation. Ha, well, haha, boys, hahaha, your album wasn’t too, hahahaha, hot.

‘It was a three-and-a-half-week Devo classic,’ says Gerry.

‘Today’s noise is tomorrow’s music.’

Hahahahaha, today’s music is also, hahahahahaha, tomorrow’s noise. I sit tight waiting for their reaction.

They laugh.

‘We are sensitive to change and use it. We won’t repeat our music,’ says Gerry. ‘Change is what keeps a band going. What you start out to do is ultimately changed from what you intended. Of course, you could end up like Jefferson Starship, a band who know exactly what’s going to happen to their music at any given time. When you stop moving you become a statue and then you fulfil middle-class expectations.’

And he goes on into the wild blue yonder . . .

I decide to leave as Gerry admits he finds it difficult to accept the fact that Siouxsie and the Banshees are praised by the rock press and Devo just get systematically slagged.

Don’t know what they’re worried about. Once you start getting ripped to shreds by the press you’re on your way to a fortune.

Bryan Robertson’s mesmerising guitar solo on ‘Still In Love With You’ from Thin Lizzy’s Live & Dangerous album is just about the finest guitar solo I’ve ever heard and I get the opportunity to tell him just that down at the Speakeasy one night.

I swear to God, he starts to weep, gently. Okay, he’s probably pissed and I’m probably standing on his foot, but I’ve never managed to make a rock star cry before – in a nice way − at something I’ve said, and it’s one of the more poignant moments of my life.

Just before Christmas I have a quick chat over the phone with another guitar god, Rory Gallagher, currently on a massive tour. ‘I do enjoy the way I live,’ he says. ‘I wouldn’t
change it for the world. Touring is the lifeblood of rock ’n’ roll. All those endless hours of finding places to eat and not sleeping, it’s all part of it. If I took all those things seriously I’d lose my bite. I’m into brass-knuckles music. I want to woo the public.’

The next day I interview the Barron Knights, not really renowned for brass-knuckles music but, hey, it’s Christmas.

Next: Village People, The Clash, Dr Feelgood

Adapted from the book Tell Me When by Barry Cain

© Barry Cain 2013

Check out Barry’s new novel, Wet Dreams Dry Lives:



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