CBGBS, MAXS, ERICS, ROXY, VORTEX, RED COW, HOPE N ANCHOR, MARQUEE, BARBARELLAS , LAFF, CEDAR ROOMS, ELECTRIC CIRCUS
Jam play Wolves laff Junes 22nd 77and Civic Hall Dec 3rd 77
October 1st We play the last night of the Electric Circus, with Steel Pulse the only non-Manchester bands on the bill which included Warsaw (shortly to become Joy Division), The Worst, The Fall, The Negatives, Magazine, the legendary John the Postman, John Cooper Clarke, and the Buzzcocks
September 17th Wolverhampton Little Civic with The Penetrators
September 19th Birmingham Old Railway with Death by Uterus and Gorgeous
March 10th Huddersfield Polytechnic, supporting Wire and with temporary drummer Stephanie. Joe Crow's first gig with the band.
17th November, 2000
Three days in the Czech Republic supporting the UK Subs - a first for me on both counts. Up until yesterday morning I wasn't even sure I was going - flight tickets had been promised, none had arrived. Then a panicky phone call to UK Subs guitarist Simon let me know that all our tickets had been sent to him. Early morning flight from Stansted airport, three hours from my home in West London.
So I'm huddled up against the cold on a platform at Liverpool Street Station before dawn, my baggage scattered around me, my hands warming around a paper cup of cappuccino, when Subs bass player Alvin walks up. Haven't seen him for about twenty years so we have a good natter on the train up to the airport. In a very un-punk rock display of discipline all the Subs are there already, on time and ready to go. Nice to see singer Charlie again, always running into him at gigs around London, he's a real diamond and a true punk rock survivor - now into his fifties and still doing it.
A small triumph in managing to get a vegetarian meal on the flight without having pre-booked it. It's a little salad of finely diced cucumber and onion garnished with cucumber, with a side salad of sliced cucumber. It would be a real hit if you were a cucumber fan.
Charlie gets recognised, and before long has promised half the passengers and most of the stewardesses that he will put them on the guest list for tonight's gig.
The plane bumps and I look out of the window to see we've landed. The beautiful city of Prague I've heard so much about is shrouded in thick fog, there's absolutely nothing to see. Promoter Petr drives us to the hotel in his minibus and we see the dreaded sign "Pension" above it. Two tiny rooms for the five of us. Charlie has to drag his suitcase out of his room because inside there's no room to open it. Alvin attempts to brush his teeth, but then he also has to come out of the room because, a) he's banging his elbows on the walls, and b) there's no sink. Or toilet. Or mirror. Or towel.
I wouldn't say the room is narrow but I keep on expecting someone to stick their head round the door and say, "Tickets please!"
But the elderly eccentric lady who runs the place is gushing all over us, delighted to have us staying in her Pension, and intent on practising her English on us all, so it's difficult to hold a grudge that the place is so horrible. And at least it's only a two minute walk to the venue.
A chance to get something to eat at last in a bar a couple of doors away. Simon is also vegetarian, so we're both pleased to see there's a special vegetarian section in the menu. Rather disappointed though to find out, when the English version of the menu comes round, that all the vegetarian dishes have ham in them. Also decide to pass on the "Soup with Yellow Eye."
Nice looking venue, an old theatre with a shallow balcony running round it, all beautifully renovated. Small enough not to be impersonal but big enough to have the full rock'n'roll stage, lights and P.A. Soundcheck takes me about two minutes, everything sounds wonderful - now all I have to worry about is whether the hardcore Czech punk fans are going to like a solo T.V.Smith show.
I open the evening, and I can tell straight away they're into it. I'm only playing for forty minutes - a stroll in the park compared to some of the marathons I've been playing lately - so I go off like a rocket and do hardly any talking between the songs (not least because I haven't learned a single word of Czech, shame on me.) I do try the Punk Rock Poem, but immediately decide to abandon it for the next two nights as I look down into the audience and see a couple of hundred puzzled faces looking up at me.
Strangely early, tonight's gig. I'm offstage by about 9.00 and now there's nothing to do except watch local band Plexis play, then the Subs, who are in good form. Just before they go on I hang around the foyer where some of the local punks have produced some hairspray and are giving their mohicans the finishing touches.
After the gig, the band are in a state of catatonia, all still jet-lagged from a six week tour of America. They go back to the hotel to get some sleep. I meet up with my friend from Switzerland, Mariann, who's staying over here with her best friend and using it as an excuse to see another T.V.Smith gig, as if all the Swiss tour a couple of months ago wasn't enough. We go and try to find somewhere to have a quiet drink, but the centre of town is miles away and everywhere is shut except a dingy little cellar bar where a couple of people sit on stools disconsolately pumping money into gaming machines, one of the great freedoms available since the revolution.
Seems I have the day free. The venue in Olomouc where we were supposed to play tonight, many hours drive away, has burned down and Petr has had to book us into a nearer venue as "special guests" to another band. We'll basically be playing for food and beer. But I'm pleased to get some free time, would hated to have missed the opportunity to see Prague.
Before I go out, I get caught by the woman running the reception desk at the hotel, intent on trying out her English again. The Subs have checked out and left all their equipment in reception to pick up later, as I'm about to do, and the lady tells me she has to "control the rooms" because it's a legal requirement. She comes back brandishing half a bar of chocolate left in its wrapper, brought back by one of the Subs from the dressing room. "I found this," she says, "you must take it, it's your property." She looks worried, as if the secret police might suddenly appear and accuse her of having stolen it. She tells me a little bit about life before the revolution and how she was a teacher back then. After the revolution she got cancer and would have died as health care became so expensive, but some of her former pupils who had become doctors pulled some favours and she got treatment. She recovered, but no longer had her job, and as she had no money had to start working in the Pension.
"Before the revolution there was oppression," she admits, "but now...tell me - honestly - is it a revolution to be poor?"
The sights of Prague don't disappoint, apart from the endless McDonalds and the swarms of tourists and the souvenir stands. All you have to do is look up.
Unclear where tonight's gig is. "Plzen" says Petr, who doesn't speak a lot of English, but we've now driven for more than an hour past Plzen and we're hurrying down deserted country roads. Night has fallen. The first jokes about being dragged out into the forest and murdered start going around the minibus.
But no, a building appears out of nowhere, and we troop in to find about thirty people sitting at long benches lined up on either side of a large hall. Before long Brutus, the band whose gig we've crashed, arrive and start setting up their P.A. The place starts to fill up with people. Where do they come from? The band seem to be soundchecking. People seem to be dancing. Turns out this band don't soundcheck - the gig has started. It now becomes clear they're going to do a set, then I'll play for twenty minutes, then the Subs, then Brutus will go on again. Well, you just have to go with the flow.
Simon comes up to me as I watch the band go through their first few songs and start to get myself psyched up for my performance. "Have you seen this"? he asks, waving a sheet of paper. It's the Brutus set list, comprising 65 songs.
So there's a bit of a wait. I wander over to Charlie, manning the merchandising stand at the back of the hall. There's a lot of broken glass around. Charlie explains: "This guy comes up and looks at the sleeve of one of our records and sees there's a cover of a Toten Hosen song on it. He's so impressed he staggers backwards and falls straight through the plate glass window."
In two weeks I go to Germany to make a record with Die Toten Hosen. Send for more glass.
So two hours later I finally hit the stage and blast it out. These people have never heard of me before but love it. At one point I nearly say, "It's great to be here in..." Then I realise: I don't know where we are.
I watch from the back while the Subs play. It's funny, here in the middle of the Czech countryside, it's like punk rock happening for the first time. After Brutus, the UK Subs seem dangerous. Unfortunately punk rock and the vast amounts of alcohol being consumed result in some macho posturing in the crowd, and as the Subs reach their last couple of numbers multiple fights break out on the dance floor. One skinhead is squaring up ready to take on the world, and people back away from him in a large circle as he punches out at random. I see a couple of guys lurching towards me in a drunken wrestle; out-of-balance, one of their heads is moving straight towards the jagged glass left in the broken window. I stick my hand out to shove him out of the way and his full weight pinions my fingers to the aluminium frame before he collapses out into the hallway, oblivious to the fact I've just stopped his head being torn open. I think I may have broken a finger.
Next, another two hours of Brutus. Backstage the drink is flowing. As it's the only fee, it's churlish to refuse, but if you accept a glass of the potent spirits that the venue organisers insist on handing round, with much toasting and clinking of glasses, no sooner have you drunk it than another trayful comes along. To stand any chance of not being pitifully pissed you have to find an excuse to leave the area. I go and eat the only vegetarian food available - sauerkraut with some slices of white bread.
Brutus play on.
Get talking to a journalist and we have some lengthy difficulties understanding each other until we realise we can both speak German. Suddenly, where before we were struggling, we're communicating effortlessly.
Brutus play on.
I can see the Subs taking refuge from the drinking behind the merchandising tables by the sound mixing desk. Brutus have gone into some standards, right now it's "Barbaranne," and the Subs are taking the piss, boogying together with intent expressions on their faces. Alvin sashays down the hall past me towards backstage in his elegantly distressed leather jacket - "thirty years of punk, mate!" - and twists his way through the crowd, bending at the hips. Have to admit it, he's a pretty good dancer.
Brutus play on.
Brutus play on.
We're driving forever through the backroads to the outskirts of Teplice, where we have a hotel booked right next to tomorrow's venue so we can sleep all day if we want to. Good job, as we reach Teplice at six in the morning, so tired we don't care that it's another Pension. When you're asleep, it's all the same.
But first we have to drag the double beds apart, because we're good mates, but not that good. The place has a toilet and shower in the room, but no soap and no toilet paper.
Have you ever tried miming "toilet paper" to a hotel receptionist who speaks no English?
10 A.M. Just outside the window someone is cutting up a metal pipe with an angle grinder. His assistant is hammering flagstones with a sledgehammer. The walls are shaking. Crawl out of bed and fetch my earplugs.
Finger is a bit bruised, but OK.
Around midday the Subs and I meet up and head over the road to the only place open, a small bar/restaurant we are praying will be able to provide some sort of breakfast, we're all feeling a bit delicate after last night's alcohol excesses. It's soon clear that the woman running the bar doesn't speak a word of English and we have to communicate in sign language that we are desperate for food and coffee. We sit down at a table and after a long wait she arrives with a tray of foaming beer. A huge groan goes up.
Confused, the woman takes the beer away and finally realises that we want to eat. She returns with a large jar of what seems to be pickled sausages, but could well be something from the local hospital. The sound of stomachs turning. In the end, she serves up some iffy-looking bean soup which Charlie pronounces excellent. I don't risk it. Fellow vegetarian Simon is so hungry he tries a bowl, then stops when he finds "something suspicious."
I go over to a row of shops to look for something to eat, but all except one are closed because it's Sunday. The open shop is a sort of delicatessen, who tell me they have nothing vegetarian. But I spot a small cold omelette on a slice of bread in the display and buy that. Mmmmm.
Have a look round the venue, it's Petr's own club, run by him and his wife. Large black room with the floor dropping in steps to a wide stage. Upstairs there's a couple of comfortable band rooms with some beds. I move my gear over from the Pension and settle myself in there instead. Not that there'll be much sleep tonight, we have to leave for Prague airport at 5.00 the next morning.
The Subs go back to the Pension, and Petr goes to a football match. I take a long walk into town in the late afternoon dusk and send a couple of postcards. Don't know what post boxes look like here. May have posted them in a litter bin.
I'd heard that Teplice was a rather grim industrial town, but the centre is pretty, lots of grand and eccentric sixteenth and seventeenth century buildings, decked out in a broad palette of deep pastels. As I wander around, I notice that I have been absentmindedly swiping away a loose hair from my face for a while now. I stop and investigate. There is a spider living on my head.
The evening comes in cold, and I walk back to the club. Pass a bus with the destination, "2 Anger."
Ten thousand people at the football, but only about fifty in the club as the first band takes the stage to no applause. It's not much better for the second band, and after every song there is a deathly silence. I'm getting a bit concerned, but by the time I start at about 11.00 there's a couple of hundred in and after I've explained that it would be perfectly OK with me if anyone wanted to clap after the songs if they liked them, everything goes great. I'm really impressed with the enthusiasm of the Czech audiences, even if sometimes - like tonight - they need a bit of a push.
When the Subs come on the whole crowd goes instantly punk rock berserk, slamming themselves all over the dance floor.
We hang around the dressing room for a while then move to the upstairs room to escape an extremely drunk man who will only speak in Russian, and is clearly making no sense in any language. The stairs are so steep he can't follow us up.
Now we have the problem: a couple of hours sleep, or go through? After spending a while in the club bar, where things are getting increasingly raucous as everyone sings along to Czech records blasting through the sound system, I go back upstairs at 4.30 and have a half hour doze on the bed, fully-clothed, until the call comes for us to leave.
Even though it's early, we're still late, speeding through the rain to Prague airport, arriving just in time to dash through the concourse and catch the flight. Before we leave, Petr suggests I come back in the Spring for a bigger tour. Would I say no?