Saturday 29 March 2014

April 1979

Cats & dogs

In a packed Greenwich pub, I share a few pints with Chris Difford. I always seem to talk to members of Squeeze in packed pubs. And you know something? Neatneatneat. Dat’s Squeeze. Sweetsweetsweet. Dat’s Squeeze too.

They’re the doyens of cartoon-strip situation rock. Each song a two-inch-square excursion into the crazy caper world of big noses, dangling fags, words frozen in blurb balloons and painful domesticity.

Yet at the same time they’re as slick as a Sassoon quiff, as succinct as a silicon chip.

Squeeze are artifice with substance. Their dexterity is sometimes quite devastating, sometimes only partially successful due to an occasional lapse into Fantasy Land (a trap they have avoided on the new album Cool For Cats) and very rarely 24-carat oopseroonie.

But, then, a perfect Squeeze would be intolerable. Imperfection is half the fun.

A year ago the Deptford dickie-bow merchants clocked in with the hit single, ‘Take Me I’m Yours’ and clocked out with nothing more than a five o’clock shadow and a few strangled dreams.

A series of indifferent reviews followed, interspersed with downright venomous assaults on the band’s capabilities, too easily dismissed as lightweight and shallow. Then there was an album that made about as much impression as a hooker in an old people’s home.

‘You learn by your mistakes.’ Chris Difford, lyricist, singer and guitarist, grips his pint like Steve Austin and raises it above the sticky beer mat. ‘After the hit we decided, erroneously in retrospect, to try and break America.’

When Squeeze returned from their Stateside sojourn they found themselves back at cartoon strip square one. ‘The press seemed to resent the fact that we’d stayed in America for so long. But I guess the press have never really been on our side. They don’t regard us as being hip enough, a Human League or Gang of Four. That’s fine by me because we see ourselves in the same bracket as the Faces or the Stones. Just good time rock ’n’ roll. When we played Hammersmith with the Feelgoods we got an encore. That meant more to me than anything we’ve done so far. It was more important than a hundred rave reviews in the papers.

‘Christ, we’re doing seven nights at Hammersmith with the Tubes. If we get an encore every night I think I’ll retire.’

And so to the ‘cheeky, schoolboy humour’ (an Anne Nightingale Old Grey Whistle Test special) of ‘Cool For Cats’, which, by the way, was doctored by Top of the Pops.

‘A few minutes before we were due to appear they told us to substitute "blinkin’" for "bleedin."’ I was absolutely petrified because I really didn’t want to do it. But really the joke’s on them ’cos they haven’t sussed yet there are far worse lines in the song – like "Give the dog a bone", for example.’

Chris reckons he got the inspiration for the song while in a boozer, surprise, surprise. ‘In the course of an hour if you’re on your own having a drink your mind will wander over at least five or six different subjects. That’s all "Cats" is, five unrelated images linked by the same phrase.

‘We just get fed up with the acceptable structures for songs. Squeeze are influenced to some extent by Kraftwerk and there is a happy medium between the average rock sound and "Showroom Dummies".’

It’s arguable that they occasionally went overboard with the dummies on the first album, but Cool For Cats is more yer strictly roots beer foam Bensons 33.

‘It’s a London album. The next one will be European. After all, life is just a railway track – once you’ve been to Scotland you’ve got to come back.’

He never said a truer word, although I’d have gone for Newcastle.

The album is not exactly complimentary to the fairer sex. Chris’s songs are littered with earthy references, so women become ‘it’ or ‘dog’. ‘We call ’em trouts round here. My songs are simply observations and you find men often refer to women in such terms.’

One thing young Chris thinks about is his ever-increasing folio of songs – around two thousand at the last count. ‘I’ve sent some to lan Dury because I think he’s the best social writer around. I’d love to team up with him because I’m sure we could become the Gilbert and Sullivan of rock and write a new Threepenny Opera.’

Squeeze have got a new drive, a new bassist, a new series of cartoons, a new confidence. They’ve also got a first-class return ticket to Scotland. What more can you ask?

The Daily Record version of that meeting that I did leaves the Squeeze PR Versa Manos livid. ‘Chris is furious because his words were misconstrued and it shouldn’t have appeared like that.’ I do appear to be rubbing interviewees up the wrong way these days. One in particular hits very hard, causing a landslide that blocks the way to the biggest money-spinning opportunity of my life.

And all thanks to that Debbie Harry interview nine months ago…

(Difford and Tilbrook kept the Squeeze box going until 1999 when they both started to pursue solo careers. In 2007 the pair re-formed Squeeze − minus Jools Holland and drummer Gilson Lavis – and toured the US. Live At The Fillmore was issued on iTunes and as a limited-edition white vinyl double-LP in April, 2012. Last year, Glenn Tilbrook confirmed that Squeeze would be recording between January and March 2014. The songs would feature on an ITV 6 part series based on the autobiography of Going To Sea In A Sieve by Danny Baker. Two songs per week would be featured in each episode).

Next: Blondie bombshell
Adapted from the book Tell Me When by Barry Cain

© Barry Cain 2013

Check out Barry’s new novel, Wet Dreams Dry Lives that’s free to download for three days from 30 March to 1 April inclusive:




Friday 21 March 2014

March 1979

Quiet please – it’s a Sex Pistol

Hampstead in the rain smells like the countryside, but there’s not much green down Jones Street.

‘Yeah, come round to me gaff for a chat. I’ve moved up to posh ol’ Hampstead now.’

Steve Jones’ phone words, still ringing in my ears during the solemn umbrella trudge from the tube station at midday, provide little solace since they have to compete with an insidious shoe squelch due to one tiny sole slit.

His newly acquired flat is on the second floor of a large house. I ring the bell for ten minutes on the main front door. No reply. I ring other bells, hoping someone might deign to answer and let me in out of this interminable wet.

Eventually, a little old woman opens the door. ‘You’re looking for Mr Jones? To tell you the truth, I don’t think he’s in, but you can try.’ She leads me along a passage and up the kind of staircase you usually find in thirties musicals, full of lipsticky smiles and top hats. ‘That’s his door.’ I knock. No reply. ‘Yes, he’s definitely out. This happened the other day when a young girl came to see him. And in this weather too.’

I try the flat next door. Another elderly woman answers. ‘Mr Jones? No, I didn’t hear him leave. I’ve been asleep all morning. Besides, he’s such a nice quiet boy I wouldn’t hear him if I was awake.’

‘Yes, our Mr Jones is a quiet chap,’ says the other. ‘I live underneath him and the only sound you can sometimes hear is when he plays his records.’

I leave this distinctly unPistol-like situation cursing the Milky Bar kid but not before bringing in two pints of milk for the first woman. ‘If I see him I’ll tell him you came. But he’s so quiet you don’t hear him come in.’

Can I believe my ears?

When I get back to the office I ring him. ‘Sorry ’bout that. I had to rush out and there was no way of contacting you. Come round again. I’ll definitely be in.’

Take the motor this time. The hole in my shoe just got bigger.

Inside his flat, I take a close look at him. Steve Jones is beginning to look more and more like one of those photographs in the window of a flash barber shop. His hair is remarkably immaculate and enough to make Tom Jones reach for the curling tongs.

Two-tone too. His face is chiselled like Burt Lancaster’s and beneath the T-shirt he appears to have a Charles-Atlas-was-here physique.

All this, coupled with an indifferent attitude of almost swashbuckling proportions, and you have the Adonis-flavoured chewy pop star. He’s as straight as a Yorkie, as interesting as a Topic and as durable as a Kit Kat.

His flat is epic. The lounge is predominantly black with no furniture except a few large cushions and a portable colour TV in one corner. There’s even a stage, which maybe fulfils a certain need in those long gaps between his public appearances (although it was installed by the previous owner).

‘The flat cost me fourteen grand,’ says Steve, as he shows me the rest of the property, which includes a bedroom done out entirely in wickerwork that the handyman did himself. ‘And then it cost me another six grand to decorate. It’s all I’ve got in the world now. I ain’t got a penny in the bank. Whenever I need any money I just have to go and sell a guitar or something.’

The word ‘unfair’ immediately springs to mind. The Pistols sell as many records now as when Rotten and Vicious called the tune and teased the media. There seems little doubt that, had they survived intact, the band would have transcended reputation and gone on to become the biggest selling ever, in this country anyway.

The success of ‘Something Else’ and ‘Silly Thing’ (best routine Legs and Co. have done in years) reinforces the fact that there are still plenty of people around who refuse to forget.

Unless, of course, you don’t remember in the first place.

‘It’s really strange,’ ponders Steve, strumming a guitar he hasn’t sold yet. ‘There’s all these thirteen-year-old punk rockers wandering about who don’t even recognise me. They don’t know how it all started or why.

‘Everything’s really changed now. There’s no fun any more. People are too straight. All these punk bands are writing songs that mean nothing. The reason rock ’n’ roll lasted so long was because the songs were great. But what’s going down now is rubbish, so the bands don’t last five minutes. Some journalist asked me the other day if the Pistols would ever get back together again and I told him I’d never team up with those sods -- for a laugh, y’know. He printed it, and I tell you something, that was the only true punk thing I’d read in a paper for a long, long time.’

Fun is a key word in both Steve’s vocabulary and lifestyle. It’s fun to be a rock star. It’s fun to be dubbed a charismatic cockney Casanova. It’s fun to be young and curly and popular and twenty-three and to frequent bareback skaters’ haunts full of creamy women and write hit songs and appear in movies and---

In movies?

’S right. Steve plays a diligent dick in The Great Rock ’n’ Roll Swindle. You’ve heard the soundtrack, now wait for the movie when you can …

. . . GASP as Sid jumps out of bed in his underpants.

. . . SCREAM as he rides a motorbike down the high street − ‘It was a three-wheeler ’cos Sid couldn’t ride a bike.’

. . . MOAN as Steve hops into bed with sex queen Mary Millington.

. . . LAUGH as Steve is then pursued by Mary’s screen husband, piano man Russ Conway.

. . . THRILL to Steve as a detective on the trail of Malcolm McLaren.

. . . CRY as they all die.

‘It’s gonna be really funny although I think Malc is trying to make it all too political. He’s rapidly getting away from the point of what he originally set out to do -- have a bit of fun and make a few bob.

‘Rotten’s in a few scenes, like the early days of our gigs, but he didn’t want to know about anything else. Irene Handl is also in the film and so’s that Shaft-like DJ who does that ad for K-Tel records on the telly. I hear the distributors are queuing up for it. I only hope none of this legal wrangling will prevent the film from being released.’

Steve is convinced that people want to know what it was really like in the good old days of the Pistols. ‘They just want to have a laugh, that’s all.’

The movie should also reflect that Steve was, and still is, the original punk beast.

‘It was me who used to get up to all the bother most of the time. Rotten was always pretty quiet. Funny, I knew he’d slag me off when the band split. Same with Matlock. If he got chucked out, everyone was to blame.’

I’ve no doubt that Steve could, if guided in that particular direction, hurl abuse at Rotten all day quite happily. But Pistols’ in-fighting has become rather monotonous, vapid and documented, to tedious length, in other publications. Let’s just say that Steve preferred Sid.

‘He was better than Rotten. I really liked ol' Sid. Naturally I felt sad when he topped himself. It’s not every day one of your mates dies. At least he was one rock star who lived up to the "hope I die before I get old" thing.

‘Paul and me were gonna go over and do an album with him after he got nicked to raise some money for lawyers’ fees. But the day before we were due to fly out we got the news that he was dead. I was looking forward to working with him again.

‘I always knew he wouldn’t last. He couldn’t help but be in bother all the time. Always up to stupid things like fights and getting cut up when he started getting too flash. And what with the drugs … You could never imagine Sid at forty.’

Can you imagine Steve Jones at forty?

‘I suppose I’ll live to be a hundred. I look after myself,’ he says, while chewing into a chocolate bar taken from a bowl of sweets he keeps in the lounge. ‘I don’t go around beating people up. I don’t take any lethal drugs.’

It’s true, he does look the picture of health. He’s lost weight over the last months, leaving a pound or two of sunburned fat on Californian beaches.

‘I had a great time over there. One night I went to a big party where the Runaways were playing and ended up mingling with loads of film stars like Gregory Peck and Zsa Zsa Gabor.’

Didn’t I read that he pulled Miss Gabor? ‘Nah -- she’s too old. I’d like to live in America for a while. They treat rock ’n’ roll totally different over there. It’s much more of a big deal, while here nobody gives a toss. When you play at gigs everything runs so smoothly. Here you always get problems. Like when you travel up north you’re never seen again. All that crap you hear about "friendly" northerners. They hate Londoners. Northerners are so thick . . .’

When he’s not slagging off northerners, Steve is producing records for ex-Runaway Joan Jett.

‘I’ve just done her new single, "You Don’t Own Me", and there’s a chance I might go to the States and do an album with her. It would be great to get away. I hate it here. It’s all so depressing at times.’

Maybe a spot of, er, permanent female company might help.

‘I don’t want to live with a bird yet. I enjoy myself too much.’

Fitting enough finale, I s’pose. I think if I’d ever been a rock star, I’d be a bit like Steve Jones.

And old ladies would love me for my silence.

(Steve has gone on to perform with such luminaries as Bob Dylan, Megadeth, Iggy Pop and Adam Ant. He lives in LA − as does John Lydon − where he was a radio DJ for a while, and has played at all the Pistols’ comeback shows)

Next: A tight Squeeze

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

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





Friday 14 March 2014

March 1979

Giving Head

Tim and I decide we should use the Stranglers in Japan story as the main feature of our first syndicated column along with record and concert reviews. We do a mass mail-out to every local paper in the country with a covering letter saying they have permission to use this free of charge, then pay twenty-five pounds for each subsequent weekly column.

Lots of papers use the column, but only two agree to pay for a regular supply. Tight bastards. The road to riches is closed for extensive works and won’t be opened again for a year. It’s back to the bread-and-butter stuff of phoners and phonies.

It’s a never-ending story of love, hate and redemption. An orgy of celebrity that demands cynicism. The boy can’t help it and it leaks out during a speed-fuelled meeting with Motorhead in their manager’s London office …

Well, first of all there’s Lemmy – a couple of protuberances on his face (de rigueur for a heavy metal beast), Quo coiffeur (that’s long, no-nonsense greasy), hirsute top lip (curling Zapata moustache currently fashionable among London taxi drivers), mean look (very effective behind a mike), hairy chest with medallion (the Greek pose) and leather jacket. Bassist.

Then there’s Phil ‘Philthy Animal’ Taylor – thin eyebrows (sign of a psychopath), narrow, piercing eyes (sign of a psychopath), Sid Vicious barnet (sign of a psychopath), two days’ facial growth (sign of lazy psychopath), not so tall as other members of the band (sign of short psychopath) and leather jacket. Drummer.

And, of course, there’s Eddie Clarke – er, no painfully obvious physical characteristics (is this man really a member of Motorhead?) and leather jacket. Guitarist.

These men actually appeared on Top of the Pops.  
And they are probably the most slagged band of our time. Just a few years ago they were voted the Best Worst Band. They’ve been ridiculed, accused of having no musical talent and even disliked a bit too. And because of that they now have a single and an album in the charts. Nobody could accuse them of being insidious.

‘We’re resigned to the fact that we’ll never be accepted on a musical level by the critics,’ says Lemmy, lounging on the lino of his manager’s office in West London. ‘All they ever review is our stance. Okay, at the beginning it’s a laugh, but after a while it becomes both boring and annoying.’

That attitude has recently escalated with the release of their aptly titled second album
Overkill. Record Mirror’s lithe, libidinous Chris Westwood has just been awarded the coveted Motorhead Intellectual Nerd of the Year Trophy. His album review really got to their dandruff.

‘He said I should grow up,’ Lemmy complains. ‘Christ, if I grew any bigger I’d be out of reach! He wasn’t constructive at all. It was just one big bitch. Fancy some speed?’

I acquiesce. Hot stuff. In fact, I’m sitting here eating my heart out, baby …

‘Yet when we met him he was really nice – drinking our drinks, smoking our fags. Maybe we didn’t give him enough.’

‘People like that are really beginning to get to me. I seriously think they regard us as three geezers wandering around in leather jackets and gun belts causing mayhem. Well, I regard them as pseudo-intellectuals who lock the world out when they sit behind their little typewriters. I’ve got a really good wall for them to bang their heads against.’

So we’re confronted by two opposing Motorhead schools: (1) the pupils who think the traumatic trio are just another bunch of metal gurus; (2) the pupils who like Motorhead quite a lot.

‘Rock ’n’ roll refused to die and now heavy metal is refusing to die,’ says Lemmy, white speck in a nostril hair, white heat in a brain cell.

‘I hate that term "heavy metal",’ interrupts Phil. ‘It immediately conjures up visions of heeled boots, Spandex trousers and demented fools.’

‘Right,’ says Lemmy. ‘I think we’re more a molten-metal band.’

A molten-metal band that was just a solid mass four years ago when Lemmy first formed it after leaving Hawkwind. You remember them − unidentified flying objects in Lurex strides. Motorhead number one recorded an album that was never released. Lemmy drafted in two new musicians – Taylor and Clarke – and they’ve never looked back.

Mind you, they’ve never looked forward either.

Their first album sold around 50,000 and a single, ‘Louie Louie’, actually showed in the charts. Grown men were seen to break down and cry when they saw the record at number sixty. And now the new success, which has jettisoned Motorhead into the £45-a-week bracket -- each!

But things weren’t always rosy. ‘We looked like splitting at one point,’ says Phil. ‘One night, just before a gig, I punched our tour manager on the head and broke my hand. It was over a chick …’

Lemmy’s eyes light up. Not sure if it’s a chemical or spiritual reaction. ‘Never take chicks with you on the road -- they’re bad news. Hawkwind were destroyed by chicks.’

‘Now we’ve got a good manager and a great lawyer,’ says Lemmy. ‘With a combination like that we’re impregnable.

‘That’s the thing about punk. They were all such a bunch of kids. If you don’t get yourself organised in this business, people will walk all over you. People had been walking all over us for a long time. What do you do when people hate you? You just keep going. You fight back. You survive. That’s why punk was destroyed – it never fought back. Mind you, heroin also helped it along the path to destruction.’

Lemmy and Eddie continue to slag off the use of heroin.

Lemmy: ‘Smack has killed three musical movements – first acid rock, then pub rock and now punk. Okay, I admit I’m a bit of a speed freak – and I’m afraid I’m influencing the rest of this band – but I’d never touch smack. People who like smack also like Lou Reed and that can’t be anything in its favour.’

Eddie: ‘I knew a guy who was into needles so much he once stuck an eye dropper into the veins of his wrist and bled to death in a public toilet.’

Lemmy is thirty-three, nurtured on Johnny Kidd and the Pirates, Gene Vincent and those other two tasty trios, Cream and the Jimi Hendrix Experience. He once worked as a roadie for Hendrix. He’s a man who lives very much in that Middle Earth world of Trafalgar Square hippies and kimonos. ‘I play the kind of music that I’d like to go and watch. There ain’t a band in the world that enjoys doing what they do more than us. We’re so happy doing what we’re being.’

(The indomitable Lemmy has ensured that Motorhead – minus Taylor and Clarke − have continued to record and perform to the present day. They have become something of an institution and even picked up a Grammy in 2005 for Best Metal Performance. They released the their 21st studio album, Aftershock, in 2013).

Apparently, Lemmy, who I actually think is a pretty groovy guy, isn’t terribly enamoured with the intro to the article (unsurprisingly) and tells a colleague that he’ll beat the shit out of me if ever our paths cross. I thought he’d laugh at what I considered to be an obvious joke but, in the cold light of print, it may not have come across that way. So it’s official − I’ve turned into a cunt.

But not where Steve Jones is concerned. He’s always good for a laugh…

Next: Nice, quiet, Steve Jones

Adapted from the book Tell Me When by Barry Cain
© Barry Cain 2013
Check out Barry’s new novel, Wet Dreams Dry Lives:


Sunday 9 March 2014

February 1979

The night I became a proper ochinko

The foyer had been full of girls when I returned to the hotel with some of the band and their entourage after touring Tokyo’s hot spots straight after the gig and meeting some real, live Yakuza in a club full of semi-naked women and malt whisky.

Many of the fans are actually staying at the hotel after booking double rooms months in advance and sneaking in some of their friends to keep costs down without the management’s knowledge.

We went to the bar where the girls giggled at tables in corners. At around three a.m. we decided to call it a night and strolled to the elevator followed by a bunch of around eight girls, and we all squeezed in together.

I’d been drinking solidly since 6pm and I was pissed. Really pissed – a gallon of sake, beers, brandy.

And that’s why, as the elevator stopped at my floor, I shouted, for a laugh and for the first time in my life, ‘Right, who’s coming back to my room, then?’

‘Yes, please.’ Softness is a thing called comfort. Her voice sounded miles away. And then, there she was, suddenly, magically, standing next to me in the corridor as the elevator door closed to the sound of applause from the roadies.



‘What’s your name?’


She wore shiny red boots with high heels, a shiny red mac over a shiny red mini skirt. Her shiny black Stranglers t shirt was as shiny as her shiny black lipstick.

Her eyes stretched into infinity and beyond, I was pissed. When she smiled my heart skipped a beat, I was pissed. She was gorgeous, I was pissed.

And now here I am, outside my door, fumbling for the key. I may be pissed but I’m as nervous as hell. What if she thinks I’m Jet Black? (After all, we are the only two people with beards in this travelling show, maybe in this entire country). Do I play along?

When we get inside I don’t quite know what to do. Does she expect sex or is she just being polite?

Then she starts to cough.

Shit, it’s a nasty one. And it’s persistent. And it’s a bit wet. Knowing my luck, the only time this happens to me I get someone with some weird oriental flu for which there’s no known cure for westerners. Why isn’t she wearing a surgical mask like everyone else?

I convince myself she’s okay. The gallon of sake has distorted my judgement.

‘Bad cough,’ I say, pointing to my throat, like a fucking jerk.

‘Sorry. Very sorry.’

‘That’s okay.’ I tell her I’m feeling tired and indicate by closing my eyes and resting the side of my face on my clasped hands, like a fucking jerk. I point to the bed and start to undress. Like a fucking jerk.

‘Would you like to sleep here?’ I ask. Like a fucking jerk.

‘Yes, please.’ She removes her clothes and we both get into bed, my pants still firmly intact. We kiss. She coughs. We kiss again. She coughs again. I feel like Benny Hill.

‘Sorry. Very sorry.’

‘That’s okay.’ I tentatively touch one of her breasts – and immediately feel a lump. She coughs. No! Japanese flu and fucking cancer? Maybe you get the cancer as a result of contracting the flu. Oh my God! Infectious cancer! You’ve got to be kidding me.

Then she starts to cough again. I convince myself she’s at death’s door and whatever she’s got, I’ve probably got now. I’ve just signed my own death warrant, and all I did was kiss a Japanese girl in the dark.

I have to get her out of here.

‘Are you staying in the hotel?’

‘Yes, with some friends.’

‘Look, let me take you back to your room. You’ll feel more comfortable.’

‘Yes, please.’

We both dress and before we leave the room I give her a signed copy of the band’s
X-Cert live album. She starts to cry. ‘Thank you so much. Sorry. Very sorry.’

My heart breaks.

Her friends welcome her, and me, with open arms, and Haroko sniffs, and coughs, as she proudly flashes the signed album and they all go, ‘Oooh!’

None of them has a cough.

I’ll never ask anyone back to my room again, and even think twice about asking myself.

‘It’s amazing,’’ says the normally diffident Jet Black the following day, on the bullet train to Tokyo. ‘The girls are everywhere. We get off the train and they’re there. We go to the hotel and they’re there. We go to our rooms and they’re waiting outside. Sure, that happens in England – but there it’s not girls, it’s the fucking police!’

I know what he means – not the police, the girls. It’s like being an eighteenth century European sailor in the South Seas greeted by a bevy of lei-bearing beauties with Bali Hai’s to die for.

Jet admits he’d rather think than talk. ‘I leave all that to Jean and Hugh. If I wasn’t an introvert we’d probably be fighting all the time. I’m in the classic drummer mould. When bands try putting the drummer up as a front man they fail.’

Dave Clark Five, Genesis, 10cc?

‘The only thing that gets me annoyed is incompetence when we tour. I’ve come across people who can’t organise a bunk-up in a brothel.’

About the disparity. ‘We have all the ingredients for failure. But the pressures, all that we’ve gone through, have given us a mutual respect for each other. We’re all very strong individuals. That’s why we’ve got so much more to offer than anyone else.

‘We’ve been managing ourselves for the last six months, although things on that front are improving. I tell you something – show me a good manager and I’ll show you a Martian.’

It’s raining in Tokyo. The coruscating skyscrapers are wet yet still they gleam, still the cars are meticulously polished, still there are no stains on the pavements, still the women out walking their dogs bend down to sweep the steaming damp turds into polythene bags to deposit in nearby litter bins, still the victims of flu wander around in surgical masks to prevent spreading their kamikaze germs.

Tokyo is straight out of The Shape of Things to Come. It’s more advanced and consequently more civilised than London or New York or any other major city on earth.
Wells envisaged the vertical aspects perfectly. He just didn’t latch onto the horizontal aspects of the inhabitants.

The magnificent metropolis of the east is dripping and glistening in the glare of a billion neon lights while the Stranglers prepare for the show. They’re pretty pissed when they find out it’s an all-seater tonight at the Korakuen Hall.

‘You two keep playing,’ Jean says to Jet and Dave in the dressing room, like someone planning to break out of Colditz, ‘while Hugh and I jump into the audience and start wrenching up the fucking chairs. If that doesn’t get them going, nothing will.’

They did. And they did. Result – the most immaculate Stranglers’ show this side of the Nashville.

When you see them perform it live, you realise just how underrated
Black and White is. No More Heroes was merely a stepping-stone, a transition between the singalongastranglers of Rattus and the psychopathic delusions that course through the veins of B&W. There’s death and night and blood in Toytown tonight.

In the band’s dressing room after the gig I start talking to the very glamorous Kato, who insists she’s not a groupie. She’s bright and sassy and twenty-one with a bullet and no bra. She taught me oppai (tits), shakuhachi (blow-job), senzuri (wank), omeko (‘girl’s one’), ochinko (‘boy’s one’) and omekoshiyo (fuck). That’s all you really need to know to get by in any language.  ‘Before they came, Japanese girls thought the Stranglers would rape them,’ she tells me. ‘See, English bands often make fun of Japanese girls, but this band seem more friendly than most.

‘Also, in general, English men have bigger ochinkos than Japanese men. It frightens the girls, y’know. They had to make a slightly smaller condom especially for the Japanese market.  
‘There’s no doubt we are hampered by our lack of English. Usually the only thing a Japanese girl can say to a guy in a band is, "Can I come to your room?" That doesn’t give you much of a start! And the girls then get very sad because they know the guy will leave shortly, Barry.’

When you get right down to it, rock stars are just singing sailors. It’s all in the game and many a tear has to fall.

I love hearing Kato pronounce my name -- not only is it sexier than a French accent, it also makes me feel kinda important. Kinda big and crisp and tall.

I find Haroko sitting outside my hotel-room door when I get back from the gig. She’s followed me to Tokyo. I can’t believe it.

Then I start to worry that she’s some kind of mad stalker. That she’ll stab me repeatedly, mercilessly and tomorrow in the Tokyo Daily Bugle under the headline

‘Coughing Killer Strikes Again’, they’ll report that Jet Black was found stabbed to death in his hotel room.

Fate has decreed that Dina is my last, my everything.

So I tell Haroko she can keep a-knockin, but she can’t come in.

Next: Motorhead bite back
Adapted from the book Tell Me When by Barry Cain
© Barry Cain 2013
Check out Barry’s new novel, Wet Dreams Dry Lives:


Saturday 8 March 2014

February 1979

Outside Tokyo

So the self-styled Queen of Pop, Nina Myskow, and I board a plane for Tokyo.

She’s in first, I’m in economy. She works for the Sun, I work for myself. She wears red, I wear black. She’s a sweetheart and so am I.
The same can’t be said of the Stranglers …

And I tell you what – it’s definitely not true what they say about Japanese girls

Unless, of course, you happen to be cross-eyed.

So tell me more . . . They wait, these Nipponese nymphs, on bullet train stations, in airports, in hotel lounges, in the shadows of afternoon corridors, in vain, in rain, armed with heart-shaped chocolates, flowers, love letters, sugar-sweet smiles, bird-wing eyes, all things feminine, for… the Stranglers. It could’ve been any other band, any other full-cream hard-ons in Brylcreemed trousers, any other bunch of matinĂ©e idols with false bollocks and painted smiles.

But the Stranglers?

As the band alight from the bullet train onto the platform at Osaka station, they’re immediately surrounded by a mob of girls, all manicured giggles and stiletto-heeled admiration, looking as incongruous as dogs on hot tin roofs.

‘They don’t think of us as idols,’ says Jean in the cab on the way to the hotel where another gang of honeydew peaches is waiting to pounce. ‘They’re really into what the band says. They understand.’

To back up his statement he flashes some letters written in over-formal, shaky English. They’d been thrust into his hand at various points of his journey across Japan by girls anxious to identify with his admiration of the writer Yukio Mishima and to provide a few enlightening anecdotes on the subject of his decapitation after committing suicide or seppuku (sounds like a word game)

Not exactly love letters in the sand. Japanese girls are like that.

Osaka is around two hundred miles from Tokyo. It’s like a brass rubbing of Birmingham but more curvaceous and sparkly. It’s the second concert into The Stranglers’ Japanese tour. The previous night in Fukuoka – many Japanese words sound vaguely obscene − they apparently went down so well they were banned from ever playing there ever again due to audience overreaction.

Tonight the barriers again didn’t prevent the fans tumbling down to the front in desperation to celebrate the appearance of sour-faced Jet, doe-eyed Dave, lecher Hugh and jumping Jacques flash.

After years of heavy-metal conditioning in the shape of clapped-out, podgy, monolithic dross kings from far beyond the seas, it’s not surprising they find the Stranglers something to write home about. These normally placid, peek-a-boo people from the valley of the dolls are even starting to spit! What other race would go berserk for an hour, kick stewards in the bollocks, mob the band and then politely bow to each other afterwards as they file out of the hall?

I expected order. I expected rules. I expected the Stranglers to be regarded as a novelty act whose only redeeming factor was Jean’s romantic attachment to their country and his cutie-pie smile. But with kind of indomitable elegance, the fans accept the moribund meat the band relish chewing before their very eyes.

They seem to get it.

Back in the Osaka hotel basement bar, Jean intimates, in no uncertain terms but with a snappy smile, that he wants a fight. And he wants a fight with Judas Priest, who’d just played a concert of their own and sit like Madame Tussaud rejects in the corner being ogled by a dozen leopard-skinned groupies.

Jean scrawls, ‘Judas Priest R Fucking Women.’ on the back of a menu and places it on a silver platter held by an unsuspecting waiter who proceeds to deliver the message to the Birmingham metalheads.

No takers.

Jean departs, disappointed but still smiling. Judas Priest may not have even heard of the Stranglers.

The evening culminates in manager Ian Grant insulting a concrete-arsed groupie, tour manager Tom playing tunes loudly on a silver tray and Ian banging nails into the ceiling.

None of the band participate in such on-the-road antics. They’re parsimonious with their off-stage energy. Apart from Jean’s occasional muscle flexing (he does tend to tread on your toes a great deal: I put that down to him being French an’ all), they’re more inclined to exercise the larynx than the inebriated soul.

I guess that’s part of their attraction.

The following day we coach it to Kyoto, the ancient capital awash with Buddhist temples all made entirely of wood and without the merest hint of a nail. Despite the overbearing symbolism that pervades the ornamental parks in which these wonderful edifices are set, it’s difficult not to snigger when confronted by ‘Get your souvenir Buddhas here’ signs.

The band pose for the Sun’s Queen of Pop outside one temple. Nina’s probably still feeling a little freaked out after seeing Jean’s balls swinging like church bells in the dressing room the night before when he emerged stark naked from the shower. Still, he didn’t seem to mind.

The venue tonight is Kyoto University. There’s holes in the ceiling, holes in the walls, holes in the hearts, holes in the holes. This black hole of Kyoto is tailor made for the band. No police are allowed on the campus. No chairs are allowed in the main hall. No holds barred.

But without the barriers and red-jacketed stewards, the element of anarchy is dispelled. Unfortunately it becomes just another gig – unusual in Japan, maybe, but I’ve seen more exciting nights at the Palladium.

‘No, I don’t mind Jean getting all the attention at the moment. After all, he makes a prettier cover than me.’ Hugh, wearing the tongue-in-cheek sincere look he cultivates so well, pours another beer in his hotel room at the Nagoya Miyako Grand the next day. Initially, he was the Strangler who grabbed the attention but in recent months he’s taken a back seat‘Last year I got pissed off with being pushed into situations. We’ve had a very depressing time on the business side but things are looking up. I haven’t got time for the pain.’

There’s a knock on the door and the tour manager wanders in with a leather-jacketed boy who looks around eighteen and a slightly older girl. ‘You said you wanted to talk to some fans,’ he says to me. ‘Here’s one.’ Hugh leaves us to it.

Aya is a student and has saved up for months just to accompany the band on every gig and he’s taken a week off work to do this. Why?

‘Because the Stranglers are unique,’ he says. ‘They sing about all our lives and I understand and identify with what they think. Other rock bands sing about love between men and women, they sing about the government. People are afraid to sing about the government, but they’re not.’

Ayako Shimizo is twenty-three, works for a bank and lives in the dormitory her company provides for its employees. She has a record player in her room, a boyfriend in LA and a thing about Jean. Or she did have.

‘He was my favourite. I liked his playing. I liked his philosophy. I think he is very strong and very manly. More manly than Japanese men. But I was disappointed when a friend told me he had gone to bed with a Japanese girl while he was here, I was surprised. I didn’t think he would be just another rock star.’

She leaves. Hugh returns and I mention the conversation.

‘She’s just like anybody else,’ he says ‘She can’t cope with reality. She hasn’t sussed out yet that there are no more heroes. You’d have thought the Zen way would have taught them to think otherwise.’

Nagoya lies sixty-seven miles outside Kyoto and is the fourth most populous city in the country. It’s a little like Osaka but with a shade more character.

Before going to the sound-check, I corner Jean and tell him what Ayako had said. He’s obviously upset. ‘It’s frustrating. What her friend told her just isn’t true.’

This is becoming a soap opera.

What her friend told her just isn’t true. No. We don’t behave like rock bands with their idiotic on the road antics. I don’t want this band to be like any other. The Stranglers are all I’ve got. No. Shit, man, that’s a drag. I didn’t expect to hear something like that, something so palpably untrue.’

I mention the conversation I had with Hugh as he puts his Dr Martens on.

‘At the beginning I felt Hugh had a lot more going for him than me. He’s got a regular place to live. He can concentrate on higher things. I’ve never had security, just the Stranglers.’

The show in Nagoya is a triumph. The stewards, up until now fairly tame by Japanese standards, are coming on strong. So strong, in fact, that the band stop playing to point an accusing finger at one particularly venomous steward who is subsequently hounded out of the hall in a blaze of vitriol.

Backstage I meet up with Marl Takahashi, a bespectacled twenty-year-old, and the president of the Japanese Stranglers’ Information Service. She, too, has been travelling with the band for the duration of the tour.

‘At the moment there are seventy members,’ she says, ‘but I expect that to really increase after all this. The average age is eighteen but we have a few thirty-two-year-olds. We also have a fanzine.

‘For me The Stranglers are so different from other bands. They have opinions and they point out all the wrong things in England. Other bands just sing and wear pretty clothes and I’m tired of all that. I know the band look so wild, but after meeting them I know they are gentle. But all the girls that come to the hotel don’t understand them. They just want to go to bed with them. I don’t. I just want to be their friend. If I went to bed with Jean I wouldn’t be his friend anymore.’

Why do I get the feeling that I’m turning into a News Of The World reporter?

And you thought The Stranglers were a boys’ band.

I’ve been going out with Dina pretty solidly for nearly two and a half years. I love her madly but I know she’s unsure about me, about the kind of job I do, about the way I live my life. She could hardly be described as a rock chick. She hates receptions, doesn’t matter how glitzy, she doesn’t care much for most of the music and she definitely never bothers with people she hates. It’s part of the attraction.

Despite the obvious temptations, I never fool around at home or away. I sussed out a while back that sex without love was intensely unsatisfactory and not worth the hassle. Hey, but if you’re a rock star it’s part of the nine to five.

I love Dina and want her so much to be my bride. It’s the most important thing in my life: why fuck it up?

So what am I doing walking down this endless corridor to my room at the Nagoya Miyako Grand holding the hand of a girl called Haroko with oriental sex on my mind…?

Next: The Stranglers in Japan Part 2

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