# A B C D E F G H I J K L M N O P Q R S T U V W X Y Z

Flatmates - Part 9

  by Martin Whitehead

published: 13 / 1 / 2002

Flatmates - Part 9


Chapter 19: Spring 1988 Our tour with The Wedding Present took in 6 gigs. Birmingham Irish Centre, Newcastle Riverside, Nottingham Trent Poly, Bristol Bierkeller, London Town and Country Club and M

Chapter 19: Spring 1988 Our tour with The Wedding Present took in 6 gigs. Birmingham Irish Centre, Newcastle Riverside, Nottingham Trent Poly, Bristol Bierkeller, London Town and Country Club and Manchester University. The artwork and poster promoting the Wedding Present’s single ‘Nobody’s Twisting Your Arm’ prominently featured several balloons, and so each night, Simon Harris would turn up to the gig and blow up dozens of balloons. Invariably some of them would find their way onto stage during our set and be drop kicked into the audience by Deb. For some reason I can’t remember I got in a strop at the Nottingham gig and played the set with my back to the audience, and probably the rest of the band as well, and after all we’d said about Deb. In rehearsals with Tim we’d added our cover of Bob Dylan’s ‘If Not For You’ to our set. Having only previously played with us at the one recording session for ‘Shimmer’, Jeremy Woods joined us at the Manchester University gig and made a guest appearance playing his harmonica spot on ‘If Not For You’. The Wedding present tour was the start of a gruelling schedule of gigs played in the wake of the release of ‘Shimmer’. The promotion of the single was handled by Simon Harris, our manager’s assistant. We had a small advert in the corner of both Melody Maker and NME, but no video. We had no radio pluggers or strike force visiting retailers and topping up their stock, and no "2 for the price of 1" offers to dealers. Simon still managed to get the single onto Radio 1’s weekly celebrity review programme, ‘Singled Out’ where it was reviewed by Suggs from Madness and Matt Goss from Bros. Initial pressings of the 12" came with the flatsharing guide. This was the first of our manager Brian Hallin’s off the beam promotional ideas. The flatsharing guide featured a series of photographs taken around my house of various problems to be avoided when flatsharing. Fun, but in retrospect an obvious cheap promo gimmick. The first 1,000 7" came with a 1" metallic button badge, with ‘The Flatmates’ in wavy writing. This was our own idea and was naturally a lot cooler than the flatsharing guide. In the absence of the usual promotional techniques we promoted the single by playing every gig that came our way and racked up 44 gigs in 109 days. I know that many bands do far more gigs and keep the pace up for longer, but we were fitting these gigs into a band schedule that also included writing and rehearsing new material, every press and radio interview we could get, which often required us to arrive in town a couple of hours earlier than the get-in time for the gig, and several photosessions. In addition to the band I was also still involved in promoting gigs in Bristol and running the Subway Organization label. We were also carrying this schedule off travelling in a hired transit van, carrying 7 people in a 3 seater van, and sleeping on people’s floors. We picked the van up the day we set out for the gig and returned it when we got back, so even if we’d arrived in Bristol at 5a.m. a couple of us would have to get up a few hours later to take the van back the following morning. On 5th March 1988 we played at the Wellhead Inn at Wendover in Buckinghamshire. After the gig Joel, Tim and myself supped the rider while Deb and Sarah were surrounded by a flock of teenage boys, eager to hang out with the girls. From Wendover we headed south through London to Croydon’s Underground Club where we did a press interview which mostly centred on a debate as to whether The Flatmates were "camp" or not. In retrospect I can see what the interviewer was driving at, in the sense that Redd Kross, Kiss, Meatloaf, or I guess even Blondie are "camp", in that there’s a knowing aversion to the po-faced blokeisms of a Bryan Adams or Phil Collins. At the time we thought we were accused of being John Inman’s (mediocre British sitcom actor who applied the method to a limp wrist and mincing walk) favourite band. I think it was just another music journalist trying out a concept on the next poor interviewees that came along. Which brings us to another point; the generally low standard of British music journalism. It’s only with the benefit of wisdom that one acquires from reaching the mature perspective of say, 25, that you realise what a poor standard of journalism the music press has. Perhaps mistakenly I like to think that the author of an article has a knowledge of their subject, and by reading the article I can glean some of the expert’s knowledge. Perhaps because most music journalists have barely ceased having to lie about their age to get into licensed premises there is frequently very little historical perspective in their writing. I don’t expect journalists to have campaign medals from the punk wars, but a vaguely operational understanding of popular music’s major movements of the last 30 years and a basic grasp of the identities of the key figures is surely not too much to ask? And another thing, why do these people want to write? Most of them are sorely bereft of any interesting opinions that I may as well ask my mum what a record or gig is like. Their writing is frequently so top heavy with clumsy metaphors that you think pop journalists all took poetry workshops when they were 14, and that was the last piece of instruction that any of them took with regard to their art. The glossy monthlies, for all their targetting of the "Dads in Rock" age group are mostly staffed by writers who can remember a time before The Spice Girls and have survived enough years to amass some knowledge and hone their skills. So there you have it, British music journalism. The weeklies are on the ball but hardly toilet trained. The monthlies, doddery but erudite old gits. "But what about the fanzines?" Don’t even get me started on the fanzines… After Croydon we had a couple of days off followed by another trip to The North, taking in Tynemouth, Lancaster, Hull and Manchester. Lancaster almost saw Deb end up as the sole remaining original Flatmate. Most of my huffs were as a result of Deb’s volatility, and after the show at Lancaster I packed up my guitar, piled my amp with the rest of the band’s equipment and walked out the venue and into Lancaster’s town centre. After checking my pocket for sufficient cash I finally located the bus station and consulted the time table for coaches back to Bristol. It was about midnight and the next bus left about 8 o’clock the next morning. I didn’t care what the rest of the band wanted to do. They had Tim to play guitar and could do the Hull gig if they wanted, and if not they could give the promoter whatever reason they wanted for not doing it. Right at that very moment I didn’t feel like wasting my time and effort flogging up and down the country, being away from home and friends and wasting time I could have been running the record label with, if the rest of the band wasn’t going to pull together in the same direction. It was possibly the rest of the band’s unwillingness to tackle Deb that was the object of my frustrations as much as Deb’s rollercoaster persona itself. Eight hours to wait for the next coach, then probably at least six hours travelling, and it was getting cold. It was after all early March in the north of England. The reason why you don’t see palm trees in most of Lancashire is that it gets too bloody cold for them to grow, and the reason you don’t see people waiting for coaches in the middle of the night is for a similar reason. I was more likely to die of exposure waiting on the streets of Lancashire than be home in Bristol in time for tea the following day. I walked back to the main road and back towards the venue. I’d walked a few yards up the street when the hire van appeared around the corner and pulled up next to me. "We wondered where you’d got to" said Deb. I got in, muttered a few words about fresh air and we continued the drive on towards Nottinghamshire were we’d got a floor for the night, followed by Hull and the next night’s gig. We’d already cancelled gigs in Hull twice. As a rule we weren’t ones for blowing gigs out. The first time we cancelled a gig in Hull the van had broken down. The second time was the day after we’d recorded ‘Shimmer’. We went into the studio at 9a.m. not realising that we had a 24 hour session booked. Having spent a sleepless 24 hours recording we were then faced with a 200 mile trip, playing a gig and sleeping Lord knows where. We just couldn’t physically do it, and if we had it would have been a lacklustre show. Simon Harris telephoned the Hull Adelphi and gave some story that one of us was too ill to travel. I was the driver on the journey back from London to Bristol. A 120 mile motorway trip with a bed waiting at the end. I managed to get us all home in one piece, but I’ve never experienced the sensation of lines rising off the road before. Twenty four hours of recording and a long drive was giving me hallucinations. It proved to be third time lucky for our visit to Hull. The promoter was glad to see us and naturally concerned about our state of health. As we’d twice blown the gig out we were playing that night for a fee that had been agreed 6 months previously, well before the success of ‘Shimmer’. Hull Adelphi is a house at the end of a terraced street. Punters enter by the front door. The bar is in the living room and the kitchen and dining room have tastefully been knocked into one and a stage located where one would expect to find the kitchen sink. The Adelphi was packed out for a great gig, for which the promoter was chuffed to bits. Despite cancelling twice we’d redeemed ourselves that night, so much so that the promoter happily paid us more than 3 times what he was contracted to. Sitting in the back of the van afterwards we counted up the wodge of dosh that we’d just received for the nights work. It was nearly all in fivers which in elation we threw up in the air watching it flutter down all about us. It was just what I needed to lift the gloom of the previous night. A good gig, a bonus payout and a boost to band morale. It was at Hull Adelphi that we first met Paul Roberts. His mate was celebrating his birthday and had dragged Paul out to our gig. As Paul was from Chester I don’t know how he came to be in Hull, but as we soon discovered, Paul had a knack for winding up anywhere. Paul worked for British Telecom in their stores in Chester, but along with many of his workmates was under a notice of redundancy, although whenever the date loomed, it would be put back by another few months. Consequently he spent a couple of years expecting to be out of a job in a few weeks. As you can imagine, this didn’t do much to encourage a 100% attendance record. One week BT were informed that Paul had been in a bad car crash at the weekend and so with his employer’s best wishes for a speedy recovery spent the next week and a half acting as our T-Shirt salesman and trainee drum and guitar technician. During the period he was with us he partially assumed Rocker’s old roll as diffuser of tension. Paul became the on the road comedian and would frequently end up in gentle arguments with Joel about the merits of the north and south which ended with them doing loose impersonations of the other’s "scouse" or "cockney" accent. Neither Paul nor Joel had a scouse or cockney accent but these arguments would go round in ever decreasing circles of abuse until falling down the hole in the middle in an exchange of "apple and pears geezer" "awright awright". During the pre-Madchester rumblings of baggy Paul assured us that flares were going to make a massive revival. When we made a stop for a tea break Paul spotted a tatty charity shop and emerged having bought the widest flares I’ve ever seen a human being wear for the princely sum of 20p. He wore them all the way to the gig and all evening. Chapter 20: The Belgians At the end of March we set out for the joys of Europe once again. We were to play one gig in Belgium and nine in Germany. In the minibus were the 5 piece Flatmates, Deb’s boyfriend Howard, who was also our driver, Andrew from The Groove Farm and a fan by the name of Mark who had regularly followed us since the Wedding Present dates. On our first date in Germany we were also to pick up a tour manager provided by the German promoter, a girl by the name of Martina. This time we set sail from the port of Hull. On the way to Hull, itself probably a greater distance from Bristol than the entire drive across Holland, the van broke down. Having got it fixed by the AA we sped upwards and eastwards in what was now a frenzied dash for Hull docks. We followed the signs to the ferry terminal in Hull and arrived at the quayside to find no cars waiting to be loaded and a ferry with the front door still raised. We drove into the customs shed where we had our carnet stamped and shouted at the ferry not to go without us. The moment we drove on the ferry the door lowered and we were off. All things considered we weren’t too late arriving at Sfinks Club in Boechout near Antwerp. The club itself was a grand old house, a bit like Hull Adelphi I suppose, but on the other hand nothing at all like it. Where the Adelphi was a knock through on the end of a terraced street, Sfinks boasted a sweeping staircase into the ballroom. Our dressing room was at the top of the staircase, the stage at the bottom. Unfortunately we were also sleeping in the club as well. We’d been travelling since the previous day, although this time we had cabins on the ferry. We would still have appreciated a good nights sleep though. It was then we found that the club carried on until 5 or 6 in the morning and I can certify that there was nothing lacking in their PA system. I think I finally fell asleep about 4 o'clock, only to be woken again by Deb having a screaming fit through sheer frustration at 4.15. We finally got to sleep about 5.30. Breakfast was served at 9.30, with plenty of coffee. We loaded the minibus and struck out in the direction of Germany and the first venue, Oldenburg. Like before we had filled in our carnet, listing every piece of equipment we had with us. We showed it to the English customs on leaving and to the Belgians on arrival. We showed it to the Belgians on leaving and to the Germans on arrival who said "Fine. You have one copy of your carnet, where is ze uzzer one?" (Okay okay, so I’m descending to national stereotypes, but have you ever met a German, even a fluent English speaker who doesn’t pronounce "th" as "z"? Hmm? No, I zought zo, of course not.) "What uzzer, sorry, other one is that?" "You need a carnet, for every country you visit - you have no valid carnet?" "So what do we do?" He leant forwards towards the glass, smiled a satisfied smile, and said enigmatically. "Iz a problem." The problem was, that without bureaucratic proof that we hadn’t bought our guitars outside Germany with the intention of selling them in Germany and pocketing all the proceeds, we had to pay German sales tax there and then. Do not pass customs, do not play Oldenburg, do not collect 1000DM. We each had a bit of spending money with us, but not enough to scrape together the tax on all our equipment. We telephoned the German promoter who agreed to forward us half the money for the whole tour which would be telegraphically transferred to the post office in the last village in Belgium before the border. We waited for hours, and the money finally arrived 10 minutes before the post office was to close. We headed back to the customs post, only to find that the post office had taken commission for the transfer and left us a fistful of Deutsch Marks short. The customs officer punched away at his calculator, looked at the pile of cash, leant forward and shook his head enigmatically. "Iz a problem". I was contemplating breaking the news that either we sold a guitar to raise the extra cash or one of the girls would have to wave down a German trucker when the customs guard noticed it was near the end of his shift. "But iz not a big problem". We were let through owing the Bundesbank the spare Deutsch Marks and having already been paid for the first 5 gigs. Our driver, Howard, made haste and we sped in the direction of Oldenburg and what looked like a German school hall.

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