Looking back on 2019 – Baz’s blog

As the years roll ceaselessly by, it’s very easy to forget some of the things you’ve done, places you’ve been, and the flotsam and jetsam of just, well, life really. It amazed me looking back on just one single year, how many things I hadn’t exactly forgotten, but had just brushed to one side after the event, and moved onto the next thing. That’s just the way it is when you’re busy…doesn’t have to be a band, it can be anything…the days stretch out, and you just get on with it don’t you?

That’s why I enjoyed looking back on 2019 so much, and wished I’d done it every year like I promised myself I would when I joined the band almost 20 years ago. Two decades of stuff that’s come and gone, and countless things I’ve forgotten, swept under the carpet, or frankly, couldn’t have given a fuck about…there aren’t that many of those last ones actually, but there are one or two. I envy Dave his road diaries. He sits in the corner after every gig with a brandy, scribbling the finer points of the day…and on days off too, although I rarely see that. And Jet, with his mega-archives built up over 40+ years…tangible records in huge leather bound journals, of former glories, mishaps, and total fuck ups…all there to be seen and reminisced over, however you choose to do it…marvellous… If you’ve ever seen Jet’s archives, and I know a few of you have, you’ll know what an amazing collection it is. Bugger…wish I’d done that.

End of the show at Scone

We’re all asked a lot about how many gigs we do in a year, which obviously is never the same, and how many different places we’ve been to over the course of the previous 12 months, which is always different too. I’m reminded of the first time Jet and I discussed this, probably 15 or more years ago, when he said that no matter how many gigs you think you’ve done, and it’s very easy to exaggerate, you’ve never done as many as you think you have. So, stats fans, here we are…we played 59 shows in 11 countries in 2019. I was surprised and thought it was going to be in the 60’s or even low 70’s…but no…and I checked…more than once. Still, its roughly one show a week. And just for shits and giggles I totted up how many we’d done in 2018, another year where we felt we were busy, and we did 41. Of course, tie this in with all the other things we do, all the travelling, rehearsing and writing, and it makes for busy times. Sounds like I’m complaining…I can assure you I’m not. It’s great to still be so busy. On a personal level, I finished 2019 at 825 gigs since I joined the band. It might not mean anything to you, but it means a lot to me. Jet used to keep us all up to speed on the gig count until he stopped playing…was fastidious about it…now it’s Owen…thanks mate.

JANUARY started very much business as usual, with rehearsals. One week to blow the cobwebs away, and to run  through ideas for the forthcoming March tour.

The end of the month saw us in Guildford, for the unveiling of a PRS plaque at The Star pub, rumoured to be the first public gig the band ever played. Jet seemed to think it might be among the first, JJ couldn’t remember at all, and Dave wasn’t even in the band when it happened…we’re talking very early days. Whatever… we attended (where it was pointed out to me that I was 10 years old at the time) and it was great. The mayor was there, several dignitaries, plus the PRS folks, 3 news teams, and about 50 fans. JJ and I played 3 tunes at the end, and as is usual in the acoustic things we do from time to time, we were pretty rusty and not entirely serious…but it all adds to the charm. If you ever go there for a pint, have a glance up above the front door before you go in…

FEBRUARY too was as usual. We generally rehearse in January, formulate a set, go away for a couple of weeks to do homework, then get back together again mid Feb, and smooth it all out. There was just enough time to go home, pack, and put the milk bottles out, before I flew down to JJ’s on the 24th for 3 days of working through some new material for the album. Then we flew to Belfast together and the tour opened at the Ulster Hall on the 28th.

MARCH 1st saw us play the wonderful old Olympia in Dublin, then back to England for one show in Scunthorpe, before going up to do the Scots ones, Aberdeen, Dunfermline and Glasgow. We followed on to; Nottingham, Reading, Newcastle, Leeds, Birmingham, Guildford, Southend, London, Cambridge, Bournemouth, Brighton, Bristol and Manchester. In between Brighton and Bristol we had a day off, and went to the Vive Le Rock awards at the O2 in Islington to receive the band of the year award, presented to us by Segs and Ruffy from The Ruts. A nice evening as it happens, and we very much appreciated them picking us…it was unexpected, and we had no idea. JJ received the award, and said he was honoured to accept ‘The Grecian 2000 Just for Men Award’ on our behalf, owing to the bewildering amounts of extremely unconvincing hair dye on a lot of the blokes backstage…that blackish auburn colour we all know so well. He mentioned to me beforehand that he might say it, I foolishly not believing him…I should know better. Laughing out loud for what seemed like an eternity, I only just managed to get myself together for our short set. What a wag.

Back On The Tracks, Manchester Apollo

APRIL had us in the recording studio from the 8th to the 11th recording backing tracks for 5 new songs. We’d played 4 of them on the road during March, alternating them each night, and ironing out any wrinkles for recording, and felt ready to put them down. Jim, JJ and I all set up together in a room facing each other, and played them live, just like the old days, with mic bleed, old coffee cups, buzzing amps and sweaty armpits…pizza boxes and beer bottles everywhere and sandwich runs to the garage at 1 in the morning…proper. There were also an amazing amount of vintage guitars, all belonging to Ride, the Oxfordshire band whose studio it is. While I remember, my thanks to Mark Gardener for letting me use anything I wanted…a new pal and a top man…and we’ll be seeing him again soon.

We drove to London on the 12th, for a preview screening of the new documentary in Brixton with the producer, director and 400 or so fans. Our mate Andy Kershaw was there too, who came along to ask us some questions in front of the audience. It was a lovely experience and the people there were warm and appreciative, and it touched us hugely. It was nice to see Jet again too after Guildford in January…him remarking that he hadn’t seen any of us in a couple of years, then twice in 4 months!

And for those who want to know, the movie is nearing completion and should be with us very soon, whichever way it goes.

MAY was interesting as it had us going to the U.S. again for the first time in 6 years. Dave, JJ, Gary Knighton and I all visited the U.S. Embassy on the 1st of the month. The building itself, like a lot of things to do with America, is ridiculous, and the paranoia that exists in abundance is startling…from the hyper twitchy marshalls and stewards outside in the street, to the surveillance and comms gubbins on the side of the building itself. Once inside, the all-pervading feeling you get is that you should be grateful and privileged to have been admitted inside in the first place…and we especially liked the name they gave us…Internationally Recognised Aliens…they don’t exactly make you feel welcome…but then, what do you expect. I will say though, that the guy who saw me and JJ was very funny, respectful and polite, and got us sorted in a heartbeat. We just had to wade through several levels of shite to get to him…

After 3 days of rehearsals down on the farm, we flew to Las Vegas on the 25th for the first show, Punk Rock Bowling. The first mistake we noticed is that although our hotel was extremely close to the gig, so close in fact that we could walk there, it was rammed with punk rock fans…the American kind that all wear the same uniform of daft long shorts with white socks and sneakers, so you can see their tattooed legs, and baseball caps of varying sizes and angles. I always thought that the whole idea was to be an individual…but what do I know. They were mostly cool though and the only trouble we saw was when 3 of them set about another one who was wearing a Trump t shirt. He was drunk and objectionable, and they were drunk and angry…it didn’t end well for him…shame.

As a brief aside, a nice one, I met a pal who I hadn’t seen for 44 years. I won’t go into it too much, but as a kid our whole family emigrated to Vancouver in Canada in late 1974. We stayed barely 2 years as things didn’t work out with my dad’s job and we came back to the UK in late 1976. Me and my 3 brothers were only bairns, and we’d embraced the lifestyle hook, line and sinker by then, and it was heart breaking to leave behind all the friends we’d made, one of whom was a mate of mine called Dave Coccia. He played football (the proper kind), taught me how to play street hockey, and his brother had an electric guitar, that I could play at will when I went to his house…the house he still lives in today. He was a cool kid with long curly hair that used to stick out from under a bush hat, a big grin, and he was my best friend. Three years ago he got in touch with me through the band web site…I’ll never do social media…and I flipped. He said he’d thought of me down through the years, as I had him, and had started to look around to see if he could find me. One night he chanced on something that kept leading him to a band that he’d vaguely heard of. He clicked on a page, and there was a French guy and a bald guy doing an interview somewhere in Europe in 2006. The bald guy laughed, and that was it…he knew he’d found me…recognised the smile. We started to write, which led to calls, which led to him flying to Las Vegas from Vancouver on the 26th, which led to me and him meeting in the lobby of the Golden Nugget hotel that afternoon, which led to us both crying like goons with our arms around each other. I hadn’t seen him in nearly half a century. I’m not ashamed to say it, it was fantastic…we were just waiting for both of us to be on the same continent. We got pissed that first afternoon, then he came to dinner with us all the next evening, and even my usually quite stoic band mates were very taken by the story. Lovely… But I digress.

JJ & Baz in Dead Loss Angeles

The Las Vegas gig was great, we were very well received. The next day the 4 of us (Warne/Burnel/Greenfield/Knighton) drove across the Mojave Desert to Los Angeles for the show the following day. I have to admit I usually loathe L.A. There’s a lot there to marvel at, but it has a certain desperate quality to it that’s never quite sat right with me, right back to my first visit in 1984 with the Toy Dolls when I was 19…it’s a weird city, and I’m pretty sure I’ll get some stick for saying that, but there you are. This time, however, was great! I hooked up with my old pal Pete from The Adicts which was fun, and even found time to go with JJ to see the Laurel and Hardy steps in Silverlake, where they grappled with the piano in the film The Music Box in 1932…I always wanted to go, and they really are still there. The gig at the Regent in downtown had been sold out for many months. We breezed in, played a blinder, and flew home the next day, absolutely knackered. We all agreed that although we don’t go there much, (and apart from some early tours way back in the old days, Marks 1 and 2 didn’t really either, and Mark 3 never did, although we did play Canada) we’d love to get back and do a few more shows in the U.S., and Canada too.

JUNE saw us starting the festival season at the Wychwood Festival at Cheltenham Racecourse. We’d only been back in the U.K. from America for one day, so I fell asleep on the way to the hotel, had some dinner, went to bed and didn’t surface again until an hour before we were due to leave for the gig…everybody else doing the same. I knew we’d done this gig before but just couldn’t picture it in my head until we came over the brow of the hill into the racecourse itself and got the full view. This happens a lot, to all of us. I think I remember reading somewhere someone saying that you only ever remember the great gigs and the truly awful ones…the last time we played here must have just been ok because it had gone out of my head. That’s not to be disrespectful to the organisers or crowd, or anything else…some gigs are just better than others.

Kelvingrove Bandstand in Glasgow

The rest of the month was fairly quiet, and I spent it making demos for the new album and recording at home, something I’ve consistently done throughout the year. We didn’t play again until the 29th when we played Kelvingrove Bandstand in Glasgow with The Ruts. A great turn out in the pissing rain, and both bands played well.

JULY’s first gig was on the 5th at Caerphilly Castle in Wales, again with The Ruts, and what a venue. We played at one end of the castle keep on a beautifully manicured lawn, that became a sea of people by the time we got back to play. We heard the end of The Ruts, and as usual, they were superb…how only 3 of them make such a fucking noise is beyond me. We went on just as it was beginning to get dark, a magical setting. The next day was a long drive up to my hometown for the Kubix Festival in Sunderland, a great chance for me to see my kids, family and mates. Set right underneath the Penshaw Monument which can be seen for miles, Kubix is a fairly new festival which is growing every year, and there were around 10,000 there we were told…the best so far. We bumped into the Bunnymen again who we’ve played with a lot in recent times, and they went down very well too. Nice one.

We then had a strange run where we did 4 gigs in just under 2 weeks, but didn’t travel home. This business being what it is, you still need to balance things to make it cost effective, and come in on, or preferably, under budget. That’s the story of all businesses. Just makes sense. This trip was a rare one where it was more cost effective for us to stay out, due to the locations of the shows. So on the 21st we played the Rewind Festival at Scone Palace just outside of Perth in Scotland…( it’s pronounced ‘scoon’…call it the same as the teatime treat and watch Scots faces start to darken), and 4 days later we played on Corsica, in a wooded grove up above a bay just over the hills from Bastia, and what a setting. We had a show in Portugal 5 days later, and as it would have taken a day to get home, then a day to get back out again, we decided to have a little break on Corsica for 3 days. If you’ve never been before I urge you to go, especially if you’re a biker. The roads are sublime, and bikers are encouraged and very well looked after. It’s on my list. JJ had been there before and was always saying we should do it. He got his wish, and I could see where he was coming from…it’s stunning…and very wild. Coming over the hills at night from the airport to the hotel, we were surprised to see a huge boar foraging by the side of the road…it was massive, the first one I’ve ever seen in the wild, and I thought it was a dog at first until we caught it in the full glare of the lights and saw it’s long snout.

The ‘Shining’ Hotel, Portugal

Portugal was next on the 30th, where we stayed in the most amazing old ‘Shining’ style hotel, and played at some kind of agricultural festival, which was massive. Then it was back to the U.K. to do Rebellion in Blackpool on AUGUST 2nd. Over the years there have been some famously hot gigs…gigs where you can’t breathe, your clothes are just a wet hindrance, and you can see people in front of you literally passing out by the minute. York Fibbers springs to mind, and Liverpool O2…saunas and sweatboxes both. And you generally consider the smaller halls to be the hottest, proximities being the factor. But the main hall at the Winter Gardens in Blackpool takes some beating, and it’s a huge room, with a 4000 capacity. I didn’t expect to be fighting for breath after 15 minutes in such a big place, but we were. An unbelievably hot gig, but a great one…and we were wringing our shirts out and literally tipping puddles out of our boots back in the dressing room.

Two weeks later saw 3 shows in a row, starting with one in Belgium, where we played with the Bunnymen again, in a huge indoor market building, packed to the rafters…really good. We all then jumped on the bus and travelled overnight to Devon, where we did the Beautiful Days festival, which as I’m sure you know, is curated and run by The Levellers. We’ve done it once before, in 2004 I think…it was Mark 3 anyway.

The next day was a truly bizarre show at Hurtwood Park Polo Club in Surrey. It was billed as a tribute to Brian Jones of Rolling Stones fame, and frankly, it was a fucking fiasco. I’ve no doubt it was organised with the very best of intentions, and with good causes in the spotlight, which was one of the main reasons we agreed to do it. But on arrival it very quickly became apparent that it was organised by people who still thought it was the 60’s. Now I like a peaceful, laid back relaxed vibe as much as the next man (or should that be maaaan), but the term, ‘the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing’ very much applied to these ‘cats and chicks’. I seriously didn’t know that people like this were still around. They were lovely and all, but the whole thing was falling apart right in front of their eyes. We ended up playing for 35 minutes instead of the planned hour, and even then under the watchful eyes of the, ahem ‘stage crew’, with a clock on the floor in front of me so I could tell the lads how much time we had left. Not that it made any difference to anything…at all. All participants had been asked to learn a Stones cover for the event which we duly did… By the time we included ‘Round And Around’ (video here) in the shortened set, we only had about 30 minutes for our own material! We later found out that there were a few reasons why it had all gone pear shaped. One of the main organisers was Kenney Jones, of Small Faces/Faces/Who fame, and probably the highlight of the gig was meeting him on our bus just before we went on…tiny little man, powerhouse drummer. His wife came up to us, and with a very straight face said that a horse had had to be shot after the charity polo game, after it had gone lame. No emotion, just all Penelope Keith tones and matter of fact poshness…you know the type…super. I was told to close my mouth as my jaw had dropped. Then our stage time was delayed further when the ‘star’ of the show went on…some dude who had been with Brian Jones in 1967 when he was busted for something or other (I bet he hasn’t lived off that much during his life…ha)…in other words, a hanger on. And there he was in his kaftan, beads and long grey ponytail, playing some kind of sitar sounding instrument, for 20 minutes, with no tune, and no breaks. Even the organisers looked on in despair. And apparently Donovan, that well known eco warrior, helicoptered in , ran to the stage, couldn’t get his guitar to work, so ran back across the field, jumped back in the helicopter, and fucked off home…carbon footprinting all the way…what a guy. The plethora of red men’s trousers in the audience told us all we needed to know.

JJ in Croatia

That was all swiftly forgotten at the next show though, which was at the incredible St Michael’s Fortress in Sibenik, Croatia, 4 days later. To be honest I can’t really do it justice here in words. Go and have a look at it online and you’ll get the idea. Mind blowing location, 1500 people, and a great gig.

We had our doubts in the afternoon when we went to sound check, and the wind was up and blowing the drum stands and cymbals over…it didn’t look good…but by the time we got back for the show it had all calmed down, and was one of the gigs of the year, if only for the stunning views…although we did play well.

Nothing much happens in SEPTEMBER in Stranglyland if we can help it. It’s always been our re-charge month. Sorry.

OCTOBER however, was a different ball of wax. I was only home for 11 days that month!

We started off with 3 days rehearsals on the 1st 2nd and 3rd, then headed straight up to Manchester to start 7 shows with Alice Cooper. I must admit that when we all saw this on paper way back at the beginning of the year, we were all a bit non plussed, I know I was. Alice Cooper? Will that work? Is that a good match? Hmmm. We needn’t have worried. It was great. It started well for our precious road crew when AC’s crew turned out to be sweethearts, and nothing was too much trouble. They’ve been with him for decades in some cases and have seen it all, and gave our guys nothing but help and were accommodating in every way, which is not something you can say about most American road crews, who usually pathetically think they’re in the fucking band. We went on at 8pm every night, perfect time, had 50 minutes each night, perfect length, the full stage, perfect space, and full P.A. and lights. Plus anywhere between 8 and 15,000 people each night to play to…couldn’t have been better…and standing ovations every night from someone else’s fans. MC50 smashed it every night too, and Wayne Kramer was a lovely fella, as were his band, who numbered in their ranks Billy Gould, the bass player from Faith no More, and Kim Thayil from Soundgarden. We got on very well with them all, and had a ball when Alice Cooper invited everyone, and I mean everyone, for dinner at a very cool London restaurant in Knightsbridge called Pomodoro…a place with more celeb photos on the wall than anywhere I’ve ever been…the owner is a real character, and the food is basic but delicious…try the lentil soup if you go there.

The MeninBlack with Ol’ Black Eyes

We did Manchester/ Aberdeen/Leeds/Brighton/London/Birmingham and Cardiff on the tour, stopping off at Skegness on our night off between Aberdeen and Leeds to do the Great British Alternative Music Festival on Oct 6th.

I then had a week at home before flying down to Nice again to write for a few days, getting home on the 25th. Then it was Japan, a whirlwind tour if ever there was one, and our first visit back in 9 years. We flew out on the Thursday, got there on Friday NOVEMBER 1st, had Saturday off, during which time JJ went to the rugby world cup final, played on the Sunday, Monday and Tuesday, all in Tokyo, and flew home on the Wednesday…did the whole thing in 7 days. I’d forgotten how knackering the Japanese trips can be if you can’t adjust to the time difference…flying as far east as it’s possible to get without coming back around the other side of the planet, yet still staying in the northern hemisphere…and they’re 9 hours ahead. I had a dreadful time sleeping (or rather, not sleeping) while we were there, and tried all the usual things…melatonin and strong Japanese beer being my staples…but nothing worked. Dave and Gary had the same trouble to differing degrees, but JJ had been out for a few days before us, he goes there quite often, and had it beaten. The upside was that when we got home just over a week later, I slept for 11 hours on the first night, without moving, and was fine after that. Everyone is different. After years of flying around the world, you think you have it licked, then you go to Japan. Of course, we’d have all adjusted had we not only been there for a week, but it’s still famed in the music business for being the most tiring trip of all.

And while I’m here, our thanks must go to the 50 or so British fans who made the trip out to see us too. You know who you are, and your dedication and loyalty (as well as your drinking capacity!) is to be applauded. It was lovely to look down and see familiar faces in the crowd from so far away, and as far as I’m aware, every one of them had a fantastic time…as they would…Japan is like nowhere else on the planet…and I’ve only seen the cities…the countryside, I’m told, is something to behold. Having said that, if cities and madness are your thing, visit Tokyo…there’ll only be another 14,000,000 people there with you.

Tokyo nightlife with fans

We had around 2 weeks to recover before heading out again on the European tour which started in Le Mans on the 22nd. Five more French dates followed in Penmarch / Herouville / Lille / Paris and Strasbourg. There were a lot of bugs and viral stuff going on around that time too…we all got it to some degree, but I got it the worst, and there’s nothing worse than an ill man. Touring in the winter can be like that. You’re all in close proximity for days on end, and if someone gets a bug, chances are you’ll all get it at some point. I’m still sniffling nearly 6 weeks later. I’d actually like to say here and now that if it hadn’t been for good old fashioned Vicks vapourub, I probably wouldn’t have made it at all…as well as all the lotions, potions and pills I had, I went through 2 tubs of the stuff.

After the French gigs we managed a day off before crossing into Italy for 3 shows, which took us into DECEMBER. It’s never been the best of territories for the band, stretching right back to the very early days, and we don’t go too often. It’s not really a rock n roll country, and not too many bands still go, but that just serves to make us all the more determined when we visit. The first show was in Bologna, which was rocking…great audience. Rome and Turin were good in their own way, and we played well, but lack of any weighty promotion rendered them fairly sparsely attended. That said, we still enjoyed our time there.

Paris BOTT Euro tour

We then had a couple of days off to make it to Amsterdam for a gig at the Melkweg (Milky Way) on the 5th. We hadn’t played the ‘Dam for a few years, and it had sold out many months before. Great gig. It was then into Germany for 3 shows…Hamburg/ Worpswede / Berlin. Again, we hadn’t played in Germany for 3/4 years, and all 3 gigs were great. The Fabrik in Hamburg has its own story to tell, and is always amazing to play, the crowd literally right on top of you. Worpswede is a kind of hippy vibe municipal town, just outside of Bremen, and attracts poets, musicians, writers, painters and all manner of artists from across the world. The whole community chips in and amazingly it works very well. They’re very close knit, those folks…in fact so much so that when they were cooking us all dinner, they closed the pub across the street so the barmaid could come over and help…all hands on deck style. And again, the photos on the wall in the dressing room area were a testament to the regard the place is held in…a lot of major stars playing a place in the heart of the countryside that barely held 750 folk…a surreal, but lovely gig. The backstage toilet there deserves a special mention too…extremely pornographic paintings on the wall, and a big dildo in a glass case set into the floor…just in case…

Berlin Huxleys is a huge old barn of a room in contrast, nearly 3 times the capacity, and was full to the gunnels the following night. The last time we were in Berlin was, I believe, to do a gig and promo for the Giants album in 2012. The roar that came up when we took the stage ensured that unless we played like dummies, we couldn’t fail. Great gig.

The final gig of the tour, and of the year, was at The Fuzz Club in Athens on the 13th. We got there to torrential rain, and the most amazing lightning I think I’ve ever seen, putting the power in the hotel out twice. We, however didn’t pay it too much mind as tiredness really had crept up on us all by this point, and having a couple of days off before the gig, we all retired to our rooms, and I didn’t see much of the others for a day or so. The day of the show came swiftly though, and walking into the club was like coming home in a way…we’ve played there quite a few times over the years. It was absolutely packed, and knowing it was the last show of the year, we kind of relaxed into it, and played one of the best gigs of the tour.

To be truthful, any band that plays as much as we do, and there are quite a few, should never play badly…it’s what you do and why you’re there…that’s not arrogance, it’s just true…and it’s the same with any professional in any walk of life…or it should be.

So there it is/was…a busy year…bring on the next one…

Baz/Jan 2020