Glastonbury 2000. On the Pyramid Stage, Travis have just finished their triumphant set. In the Dance Stage, Fatboy Slim has also finally shut up. Me, I’ve just had one of the most thrilling experiences of my life in the form of a transcendental performance by Oklahoma’s Flaming Lips on the New Stage.
Suddenly, all is not well. The three crowds have met in a narrow channel between two of the arenas and a frightening crush has developed. I begin to feel physical pressure from all sides and a few people are starting to panic. The odd scream goes up and it appears for several minutes that we are teetering on the edge of an actual disaster along the lines of Hillsborough.
This, I realised the next day, was a silly fear, because the wide-open spaces of Glastonbury meant that it turned out to be possible to relieve the pressure by gently opening a few barriers and allowing us to overflow into the car park. But it was with some horror that I looked back on my thought at that time. It was “At least I’ll die happy”. Some people will do anything for rock and roll. I could write a book about it. In fact, I have.
The rock and roll adventures described in all their horrors in my book “Volume” contain several visits to the Bristol area. In fact, having grown up in Gloucester, my earliest experiences of having my brains blown apart by loud noises took place in the unlikely environment of Cheltenham. My first ever live gig was a concert by the youthful Hollies at Cheltenham Town Hall in 1964. We sat around the edge of the dance floor, not daring to ask anyone to dance and marvelling at the fact that Graham Nash’s acoustic guitar wasn’t plugged in.
When I finally became a Bristol resident in 1972, it was in the fraught circumstances of attempting to pass a teacher training course. Every day, I would ride my scooter out to Hengrove School, shaking so much from terror of what lay before me that I could hardly steer it. I had found a tiny and, let’s face it, squalid bedsitter in Somerset Street, Cotham, overlooking the city from behind the hospital. This room (always freezing owing to my lack of wherewithal to feed the gas meter) had the advantage of a bay window which provided an ideal stage for trouser (and ear) splitting impersonations of the stage antics of my hero of the time, Free’s Paul Rodgers. I had encountered Free at the very beginning of their career, and so it was a depressing experience when I found myself attending their concert at the Colston Hall that same year. Guitarist Paul Kossoff, another musician I hugely admired, was on his last legs through drug abuse. He collapsed twice on stage and the gig had to be curtailed. It was horrible.
My girlfriend was a primary teacher in Chew Magna, so it wasn’t easy to go out to gigs, but we did see Rory Gallagher at the Colston Hall, as well as, bizarrely, John Entwistle’s Ox at the University and the Spencer Davis Group at the plastic palm tree-bedecked Locarno. The doubtful highlight of the year was Stackridge at the Victoria Rooms. It seems unlikely today (Stackridge still stagger on) that they were once thought of as fashionable, but going to hear Mutter Slater playing “Purple Spaceships Over Yatton” was as hip as going to see the coolest indie band. Every now and then, I would get outrageously drunk in the Dugout club, which served, I remember, corn on the cob. During the Eighties, long after I had left the city, this became an underground venue of some repute and I felt a warm glow of nostalgia every time I read a review of someone in the NME.
In the late Seventies, I managed a Winchester band called Thieves Like Us, which played frequently in Bristol. For some reason, we kept coming back to a pub called Crockers. As this was a folk venue, it was odd that the audience rook a real liking to the flamboyant punk rock served up by Thieves. Odd features of this place were the fact that you had to play two nights on the trot (sleeping in the van, of course) and that you had to collect the pitiful fee from the landlord, who kept several ferocious, slavering alsations in his attic office. As he counted out the small number of notes, it was possible to see that the safe was crammed with mountains of cash.
We had to suffer these indignities because the Rainbow Agency ran some bigger venues in the city and demanded evidence that the band could pull a crowd. Although we proved that over and over, we were never allowed to graduate. There was some excitement, however, in the form of a rumour that a journalist from Sounds was going to review a Crockers gig. When the article appeared, it was complete demolition job and directly responsible for the total collapse of credibility in the industry the band suffered. And he was annoyed by me sticking a decal on his jacket. This person went by the pen name of RAB. I bet he still lives in Bristol, the sod.
My best Bristol adventures came courtesy of a fascinating band called Automatic Dlamini, which I followed for years. Their leader, John Parish, had been the drummer in Thieves Like Us, and Dlamini survived for close on a decade, first in a series of freezing cottages near Yeovil, then in another series of even more freezing flats in Bristol. John still lives in the city (thankfully with central heating) and Automatic Dlamini’s baffling number of line-ups, dodgy record deals and fantastic music is remembered by the slogan “The D Is For Drum” which is still to be seen adorning a gateway near the harbour.
For this band, I was willing to attempt (and fail) to mix the sound at an unenviable venue called the Bristol Bridge Inn (which resulted in a TV appearance for them on the show RPM) and also to run out of petrol in the middle of Salisbury plain (not to be recommended), trying to get back from a gig at Bath’s Moles Club. I was also able to survive the Moonflowers while roadie-ing for Dlamini at the Ashton Court Festival and to experience the PJ Harvey phenomenon at its height when Dlamini supported her at a sweat-drenched Bier Keller, as I tried desperately to plug their album “From A Diva To A Diver”.
The last time I visited Bristol, we had driven all the way from Winchester to see PJ Harvey’s show at the Colston Hall. As we emerged from the Broadmead multi-storey, someone threw a bottle at us from a passing bus. Well, cheers, Bristol, I love you too. I do actually, and your music. Bristol is famous for Portishead and, er, Portishead, but the nearly-made-its have been even better: K-Passa (Simon Edwards is brilliant); Strangelove (Patrick Duff is even more brilliant); and the Blue Aeroplanes (Gerard Langley is even more even more brilliant).
Now, about that scam we used to pull to get over the Suspension Bridge for free…
From: Western Daily Press, Sept 2000