Floating Anarchy -'No Wave' Guerrilla Memory Theatre
Unabridged version of a contribution for liner notes of the Here and Now, Gospel of Free retrospective CDs - only a tiny part of which made it into the booklet.
13/11/94 - Observer business section; regarding the imminent demise and ultimate break-up of the Courage brewing concern (paraphrased): 'Beer industry anticipating sales of only 33M barrels this year, compared with upwards of 41M in '79, when pints peaked.'
The root cause of this situation, so obviously overlooked, is that since 1979, the Here & Now band has toured neither regularly nor extensively.
We are prepared to entertain offers from interested sponsors in the brewing trade. (Serious enquiries only, please.)
Floating Anarchy '77 - Wombats over (fill in the blank). Department of 'Credit Where Credit is Due' Department: Thanks to Keith, Steffy, Grant, Jonny, Graham, daevid, Gilli, Tali, Nik, Harry, Michael, Steve Thandoy, my Muse, and all the other altered-egos who assisted in either implanting or extracting these painful memories from my tortured mind.
(Next time, administer the gas.)
7-7-77: Glastonbury Tor
A bath of sun and a lullaby breeze. Day-dreaming on the shore of a cosmically inland sea, rogue waves lapping at the bare feet of my freckled consciousness. Awakening to a vision in which I wander back to the festival site, among friends. Seven saucers fly this night, and we count them by the light of seven embers.
888, the Number of the Feast
Early Autumn. Arrive at Harry's place in Devon in Nik's we-trouble-you microbus, and set to work decking the stage. Around midnight, during Hawkwind's set, and long after the mushroom chili kicked-in, the cops show up and try to turn us down down down...
Later that same Autumn
Planet Gong are here to rehearse. For days the gennie drones away in the shed, amps cranked up in the common room. Tree, Harry's vegetarian (and very probably extraterrestrial) Alsatian mascot, has the unutterably fascinating habit of whistling. A pure, quite high, but very audible sinusoidal wave issuing directly from his skull. No moving parts. We still don't know how he did it….
October '77: Queen's Hall, Barnstaple; The Mirror Ball.
First ever Planet Gong concert is a one-off at the Queen's Hall, Barnstaple. Harry and I put together a geodesic wire-frame helmet for daevid, glazed in silvered perspex facets. "Always pick your nose before the curtain goes up." - Half-Human Martin (opening band drummer who chained his kick drum to his stool to keep it from creeping).Planet Gong set list:
Night of abandon. Enduring difficulties for Harry in the hamlet…
It wasn't so much the noise (I discovered months later) to which the villagers objected, or even the fact that a largish bunch of drunken hippies were looning about half the night on their doorstep after closing the pub. It wasn't Pink Floyd blaring out of the 8-track in Giles' blue Transit van. It wasn't the fact of our dancing, or even our style. That it took place in the graveyard was what really bothered them. It is perhaps understandable. Countless generations of Georgeham wakened from troubled sleep.
Last bus to London. Zhanghai-ed in ZedLand. Side trip to Surrey.
I catch a lift towards The City with the band. Somewhere along the way, daevid turns to me; "Do you think you can drive this thing…???"
Days later, en route to more rehearsals in Surrey. Evening come over all peckish, we pause at a rural Chinese chippy (my first introduction to a full-blown Here & Now feeding frenzy - not a pretty sight).
Back on the road. Don't look now; we're being followed. Stoke up the wood stove! Lay down a smoke screen! Har, that'll fix 'em! Sparks streaming from the chimney as we blaze down the road. "Alright, everybody out of the bus, turn out your pockets." daevid, "But I haven't got any pockets!" Which was true; at that time, daevid habitually wore a royal blue cotton terrycloth 'suit' consisting of a shapeless pullover and baggy drawstring trousers beneath a long belted robe - always looked as though he'd just stepped out of the bath. Remainder of our evening spent (rather unprofitably, for them) as guests of the Dorking Constabulary.
Bow-Saws and Turbo-Snooker; Odds-on Action in Anyone's Book.
Ridge Farm rehearsals: I don't know what kind of delinquent deal daevid cut with these scoundrels. Several of us are pressed into service as journeyman carpenters, until Tony figures that we've done enough damage to his house, and banishes us to the barn. Months later I will return with Mac 'Hold the Onions' and a few lads to exact retribution, commandeering Tony's workshop day and night knocking out bits for the interior of our new coach. He will plead, but there will be no mercy. He will beg, but we will give no quarter. He will bribe, and we will take the foldback cabinets and roar off leaving him sobbing pitifully in the withering dark.
Opium for the People: The A Side.
daevid, Jonathan, Gavin, Kif-Kif and myself tooling around London in Jen-Luc's Renault (the one with the L-shaped shift rod poking through a hole in the dash), spray-painting "Opium for the People" on any thing that will stand still long enough, including the Hammersmith roundabout, and the back of a loaded double-decker bus. We later understand there to be some confusion as to the origin and meaning in all this graffiti, many taking it to be part of an underground campaign to promote the legalisation of heroine.
Stuck outside of Oxford, with the Luton Blues again.
The baby blue Luton van has been overheating. All afternoon sagacious shade-tree mechanicos gather around its open bonnet, murmuring in tongues. The decision is made to go ahead; loaded with about 18 people and a mountain of gear, it seizes up in a persistent rain at a roundabout near High Wycombe on the way to a one-off show in Oxford. Blown head gasket. A hitchhiker is dispatched to His Prominence, the Emoter. "Fetch transport, or all is lost." So we wait, napping on bass bins, crouching on cabinets, or struggling to keep a roll-up dry and alight. And we wait….
Tour, the First
The Silver Slug is a soulful ex-police bus, a Bedford with a 250 cubic inch 4 cylinder petrol engine in a doghouse up front, and a multi-dementianal personality. Loses all power climbing a grade on the dual carriageway en route to Chelmsford on the first day of the tour. We send scouts ahead, who arrange for a couple of vehicles to collect the band and the backline, leaving myself and the non-performing women (and the dog) to deal with the bus. daevid casts a cloak of invisibility that miraculously leaves us camped two solid days in a lay-by without one single hassle from the cops. The mechanical fuel pump has packed it in. Fitting an electric transplant, we high-tail it to London to catch up with the band on Guy Fawkes' Night at the London School of Economics, inching the bus through the crowd choking the drive, to cheers from the marooned bandmembers.
Son of Flotsam
Who says Kif-Kif's drums sound like "a load of old dustbins"?!? (It was Grant, actually.)
Punks coming up to us, outside gigs or anywhere, "Hey man, got any hash?"
The Barn, Norwich University (old campus). On a bill with Thandoy, and The Tibetan-Ukrainian Mountain Troupe. Massive feed at Premises, a well known veggie restaurant.
Trissy (7 years young) wails, and Honey (the super-collie) barks (both on cue) whenever police attempt to board and search the bus (almost a daily occurrence). Completely unhinges the poor bastards. It is an oft-repeated pageant of which any parent would be proud.
Newcastle Brine and McEwan's Extort on the rider. Brutal behaviour backstage.
Kif-Kif's 'Wind-up Game': Win Prestige Points and impress your friends!
A group of us gathering at the offices of the International Times late into one night, pasting up a big page of miniscule blurbs to pass out at gigs.
The Stunt DriverAnother day, another interminable shift behind the wheel of the Silver Slug, negociating a wavering truce with the tarmac, over northern hills beneath a grey sky. Zen bus, at its finest. Keith, as usual, is seeing to it that I am well provided with roll-ups, and tea.
Traffic is light. I am straightening out the corners, smoothing out the ride, using all the road, one hand on the wheel, sipping a fresh mug of rosy. Oops. Deceptive bend. Gravitic anomaly. Suddenly the bus is up on two wheels. Then back down. A great weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth curls up from the rear of the bus. Rest assured, everything is under control. Not a drop of tea has been spilt.
(Some minutes later… ) Sweeping down a long, sinuous grade. Slow lorry ahead. Brake check. Oops. Brake check?!? The lorry looms in the windscreen. Captain! Iceberg dead ahead! Ever so slowly, the gap narrows. Ever so gently, the bus kisses the back doors of the lorry. I can read the heads of the bolts on their hinges.
The lorry driver could not have noted our approach. Our cloaking devices were up. He could not even have been certain that he felt anything out of the ordinary. The shields held. But the mood in the bus is different. We stop, and this time I am forced to relinquish the helm in favour of a coveted spot on an upper rear berth. Later, I awaken. The bus is in a garage having the binders seen to.
Leeds Fforde Greene
The hired gun who pilots his white Mercedes 409 crew cab van crammed with our gear wears the handle of a Sterling silver teaspoon twisted up into a finger-ring. He is a maniac, and flaunts his speed advantage, pasting his vehicle down the motorway at horrible speeds, slamming it into the curves in a fully-loaded four-wheel drift, terrorizing the roadies who must ride with him into wide-eyed, white-knuckled paralysis. One night, he spots me admiring the ring. "It's the last piece of a set, and the only one I kept of the lot, as a remembrance. It's been in the family for, oh, five years, with time off for good behaviour."
It is the Winter of our Malcontents…
351 Latimer Road: Man cannot live by Date Bars alone. There must be Tea.
The squat at night. Freight trains in the garden and rats in the scuppers. Suz puts the kettle on. K-K puts a record on. If it's worth playing, it's worth playing loud.
The squat in the morning. Kif-Kif at the kitchen sink, snorting water up his nose, and then blowing it out again. This is a daily ritual of a personal and deeply moving nature, like biting your nails. Like biting someone elses nails. Like biting someone elses toe nails. In a restaurant. The process is repeated several times. As an act of faith, it is trancendentally repulsive, and I still practice it to this day. Thanks K-K.
Late morning commute. Dodging fares on the tube. Charly Records (the old digs upstairs on Beadon Road, Hammersmith.) Cartons of vinyl stacked on the steps and in the corridor. Grant, Gavin, Kif-Kif, Jonathan and meself trying our best to hash out a second tour without giving the secretaries fits.
The War Room. Phones, wall map, chalkboard, calendar. Everyone (primarily Kif-Kif) insisting I should be the one to ring up the Royal Albert Hall (which I did) and ask them to donate the venue for a free concert (which they did not). We did, nonetheless, later play the Albert Hall (in Bolton), and had a devil of a time lugging all the gear up those steps, so perhaps it's just as well.
Lunch break. Fried egg, cheese, and tomato sandwiches from the shop down the street. Difficulty convincing them we actually wanted not only more-than-one-ingredient-on-a-sandwich, but in fact, all-three-ingredients-on-each-sandwich. With mustard.
Family evenings on the town. Kif-Kif, Suz, J.B. and I blagging the door at a Slits gig. The Pogo, and slam-dancing in the grotto of this red brick church. (Beaucoup Prestige points awarded if you can name the film in which The Slits appeared knocking the stuffing out of a parked car.) Meeting a royally pissed Johnny Rotten in the audience of a multiple-act bill at the Music Machine featuring Siouxsie and The Banshees. (A show three of us spectacularly, if unceremoniously, enter by ascending an historically old, semi (soon to be more fully)-detached leaden drainpipe to an unshuttered first story dressing room window overlooking the alley (kids, don't try this at home!) The first (and only) occasion that I see someone with an actual safety-pin struck through their cheek. The fellow is frightfully uncomfortable, and rather self-conscious.
Weekend at the squat. Sunday mornings aiding and abetting Kif-Kif in his "clean-up" shift at Ceres Bakery. Afternoons lazing around Jonathan's room upstairs, reading Harold the Duck comics.
Coin-operated gas meter in the hallway takes 50p pieces. One day, the coin box is found inexplicably shattered. Thereafter, the same coin sits atop the meter, making the rounds as required.
The Lie Direct
daevid's poetry reading in London, Whereat he bumps into Robert Calvert in the foyer of the theatre, prompting Robert to take Hawkish offense, and furthermore to Question the Validity of daevid's Hair; Whereupon a Verbal Ribaldry ensues…
("As you Like It", Act V, Scene iv)
(Shakespearean Source text: Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, Avenel, New York '78)
The Leyland Leopard; Would YOU buy a used bus from this man?
A more specious form of transport is sought. 36 feet of fire-breathing air-braked madness, with a massive Diesel powerplant pancaked under the floor amidships. No power steering (eliciting many vile threats to commandeer a piece of large earth-moving equipment for midnight raids on traffic islands and 'Keep Left' bollards), no clutch assist, and a gearshift lever with all the response of a hundredweight sack of coal. The beast wouldn't clock 60 m.p.h. if you shoved it off a cliff. Keeping it rolling at all meant jamming the heel of my boot on the toe of the throttle, and the toe of my boot up under the dashboard (lending entirely new significance to the concept of "heel and toe" work). Driving the thing is such an ordeal that I frequently arrive at gigs too knackered to help set up.
L.S.E., Take Two. Lost in the one-way system of the Wild West End. Can't make the turn, nothing for it. Oh well, who's going to notice a faded red ex- London Country Bus full of freaks sailing through the Buses Only Lane? Gear up, around we go. Back into the holding pattern. Whew, that was close.
Second approach. Oh, bother. Same exact slot. We are seriously pressing our luck. Red Alert! Battle stations! Damage Control? Stand by; we're going in again...
As he has on hundreds of other occasions, the Bus Inspector glances up from his notebook long enough to spot the bus coming. In a pre-programmed response, he steps into our path and gestures absently for the driver to stop. Little does he know. This is no ordinary bus, and they'll never take us alive.
I put my foot deeper into the throttle. Disbelief clouds his countenance as we gather speed. You can almost hear the synapses frying. Glaring dumbstruck straight at us, he does a complete double-take, leaping back onto the pavement as we thunder by.
Power Corrodes, and Absolute Power Corrodes Absolutely
The batteries on this behemoth are a major liability. The auto club gets wise to Gavin's frantic and increasingly frequent emergency road-service calls, and we're forced to fall back on bump-starting it. Late one night after a north country gig where the vehicles are left parked in a vacant outlying dirt lot, I'm obliged to lash it to the equipment truck with several feet of line. "Richard," I says, "I'll sound the horn when you can ease off, but whatever you do, Don't Stop! I need a minute to build air pressure for the brakes." Fine.
The engine lights up. Toot-toot!. Deja Blues. The lorry looms in the windscreen. Ever so slowly, the gap narrows. Ever so gently, the bus kisses the back doors of the stationary lorry. But the Shields are down. One of the hinges snicks the driver's side windscreen, and in violently perfect stop-motion it explodes, shrouding me head to foot in shards of safety glass.
I remain seated at the wheel, in motionless shock. Richard hops out of the truck and strikes up a casual conversation as he struggles obliviously with the knotted rope. Only then does he realize that we're not having to shout at one another to be heard….
Son of Jetsam
The windows are steamed from a night's heavy breathing by a busload of zombies, but the knock at the window is all too familiar. It's Old Bill, and if all he wants is us off his beat, then life is good. Time to wake up, stretch, see where we actually are, try to remember how on earth we got there, and do it all over again. So it goes.
Stuck outside of Oxford, with them Low Down Harley Davidson Blues (again).
Oxford. Outdoor gig on a sunny Saturday afternoon. Turn up, set up, pop off for a swift pint while waiting our turn at the stage. Play a quick set, pass the hat, pack up, fire the motor. Set to head out.
I'm standing in the step well when one of the Hell's Angels that had been keeping a high profile around the garden of the pub all afternoon staggers up to the open door of the bus, displaying a beery grasp of reality, a menacing distaste for hippies and brandishing a massive glass mug, apparently come to make quite certain we have no difficulty finding our way off the site. With this malice aforethought, he attempts to christen the bus by bringing the bottom of his empty vessel down heavily on the rubberized edge of the lower step. Again. No use. Disappears around the front of the bus. I tail him. He's squinting for something a bit firmer to strike, lining up on the rounded corner of the nose panel. "Wouldn't bother if I was you," I say, "it's fiberglass." Leaving that to sink in, I hop in the bus, the air door sighs shut, and we steam off over the field, leaving the bewildered Knight clutching his Grail.
"Too bad he didn't catch our set," I remark casually, "he would have enjoyed it."