13th September 2007 – Taunton Café Mamba
Or “Don’t worry Simon. I only want to put your cock in my mouth”
My eyes are shut. I have just woken up but I am feigning sleep as I can hear an unfamiliar male voice from down the hall and I am not yet sure whether it belongs to friend or foe. I have no idea where I am yet.
Every time, the same word said the same way, coming closer every time.
The door opens and the speaker enters the room. I keep my eyes closed but I can sense him as he creeps around the room, repeating the same word over and again, scanning each sleeping body for signs of Callumness. At last, a familiar voice responds:
“That’s not Callum, that’s Simon. He’s our guitarist.”
“Oh God,” he replies. “You’re not the band, are you?”
586’s first full tour of the UK began – as all good adventures should – with a great big cock-up. The hired Transit van that was to be our transport and home for the next six weeks was due to leave our adopted base, The George Tavern in Stepney, at midday. I was running late, so at 11.55am I was still at home packing clothes and essentials (hair dryer, hair straighteners, moulding wax, shampoo AND conditioner etc) when the phone rang. It was Beckie, our booking agent. Tonight’s show was off. She had just received a panicked telephone call from the promoter: he booked a local support band, not realising that we were coming. Due to time constraints, his club could only accommodate two bands.
“It will do them a favour if you don’t play the show,” she said, “plus they’ll pay the fee anyway.” I was disappointed, but thought that – as they had offered to pay anyway – this was fairly reasonable. I called the rest of the band to explain the situation and we decided to have some last minute rehearsals instead. In all honesty we were mildly relieved,; we didn’t have anywhere to stay in Taunton so were fully expecting to have to sleep in the van, and none of us was particularly up for that. We knew we would have to eventually, but the longer we could put it off, the better. As soon as I hung up the phone to the last band member, it rang again. This time, it was Malcolm, our manager.
“This show is not fucking off. We’re not throwing all that fucking advertising money down the fucking drain, so get in the fucking van and get down to fucking Taunton. I’m coming down to make sure it all runs smoothly and have it out with the promoter, so I’ll see you there.”
Malcolm McKenzie is hilarious in the best possible way when he gets assertive. I would hate to be on the receiving end, but when he’s refusing to back down on your behalf he’s truly a sight to behold. A big old brute of a man who looks like a bigger, scarier Phil Mitchell, Malcolm is, I’m reliably informed, a very ‘old-school’ manager. Some find him gruff and insensitive, but that’s two of the things I liked about him. He didn’t half piss off a lot of people on our behalf, though. He once told Deborah and I that the music business was like the Wild West. Months later, still curious as to what he meant (at the time we’d just smiled and carried on talking), I asked him what he meant by this.
“I don’t remember,” he said. “Sounds like bullshit.”(1)
Having received our orders I jumped on the train to Stepney, we loaded the van, and finally, two hours late, we got on the road to Taunton. Thankfully the journey was – once we escaped London’s congestion – quite brief, and fantastic fun as we were all excited to be out on our first proper tour. We sped down motorways and English country lanes singing along to Simon’s old Prince tapes, the non-drivers amongst us getting started on the wine and all of us inventing people and creatures based on the bizarre place names that we passed; Tobbins were little furry beasts that roamed the land, and Creech Castle was the ostentatious abode of our manager, but most fully developed of all was Hatch Beauchamp. Hatch was Malcolm’s fictional assistant, his man on the ground, the public face. A smooth talking ladies’ man, he had the looks and moustache of a young Tom Selleck and piloted Malcolm’s hot air balloon around the country to keep an eye on us.
We arrived at the venue an hour late to find SohoDolls still setting up for soundcheck. Soundchecks are pretty simple. You get to the venue, set up your equipment and play a song or two while the sound man makes sure all the instruments are at the correct level and the vocals can be heard. They then make sure you can hear everything you need to play effectively, adjust onstage levels to fit your taste and bingo – job done. We would learn over the rest of the tour that this simple activity would often take SohoDolls upwards of two hours due to their borderline insane perfectionist streak – as a consequence we often wouldn’t get a soundcheck. Over the length of this tour we grew accustomed to having to line check due to lack of time. A line check is where, five minutes before your set is due to start, you make sure everything is making a sound and that the microphones are picking up that sound, and then you start your set and the engineer works out the balance while you play. It’s not ideal, as your first song almost always sounds like crap, but we were so used to it by the end that we’d rarely bother to turn up for soundcheck after the tour.
We made tentative small-talk with the Dolls, ate junk food, got cracking on the rider and bitched the whole way through the local band’s set until stage time finally arrived. We played our set to a sweaty, hot, rammed room, the audience dancing and cheering throughout. It was an amazing start to the tour. After we packed our equipment away we grabbed some beers from backstage, bitched our way through SohoDolls’ set and fanned out into the club, talking to everyone and anyone in the hope of bagging ourselves a place to sleep, getting quite trashed as we did so. Towards the very end of the night Simon and I got talking to two goth chicks who had enjoyed the show and told us that they would have to check that their boyfriends didn’t mind, but were sure it would be OK for us to all sleep at theirs. A couple of phone calls later and we’d secured ourselves a place to sleep. One spare bed, two sofas, right opposite the venue and the kettle was already boiling. This was going to be perfect. Simon disappeared to round the others up while I stood around talking to our soon-to-be hosts. 15 minutes later and I was still standing there, running out of small talk with no sign of the others.
“Hold up,” I said. “I’ll just go check how they’re getting on.” I disappeared into the back of the venue and eventually found Deb, Grant and Simon talking to what looked like half the cast of Skins. One of them, a short, scrawny kid with shaggy brown hair was holding court, firing out words at over-excited breakneck speed.
“Come back to ours,” he said. “It’ll be wicked! My dad’ll love it. He’ll cook everyone breakfast in the morning! Do you like steak? He’ll make a massive steak. Honestly, he’ll be totally up for it! He loves guests.” This, it transpired, was Callum. He and his excitable friends George, Mally and Jade had been at the show and were all up for continuing the fun into the night. The rest of the band seemed very keen on this, seduced by the promises of rum and Cally’s father’s cooking, so we thanked the goth girls, declined their kind offer and jumped in the van to get to Callum’s. Within 10 minutes, we were in the back of the massive garden of a massive house, sipping rum whilst listening to The Smiths and minimal techno through tinny mobile phone speakers. We talked absolute nonsense under the stars while one of the kids used Grant’s phone to call every dealer in Taunton in a failed attempt to acquire himself some drugs, and Jade persistently tried to get off with Deborah. We tip-toed back to the house at 4am to pillow fight, play acoustic guitars and sleep, content in the knowledge that not only had we avoided sleeping in the van on our first night out of London, but we also had a good breakfast and a shower to look forward to in the morning.
(1) My all-time favourite Malcolmism came when he was trying to get us a refund from van hire company Sixt. I don’t know what they said, but his features contorted as he told the poor sod at the end of the phone “Don’t piss on my back and tell me it’s raining.”