Chapter 3 – The Town & Country Club
Blur were headed for the ‘where are they now’ files. That was a certainty. The past may have been theirs but the future was ours. Their downfall was there for all to see at the NME Gimme Shelter Party at The Town & Country Club in Kentish Town. It was Thursday 23 July 1992. Blur were headliners with Suede in support, plus two other bands on the bill. The running order was as follows:
MEGA CITY FOUR
THREE AND HALF MINUTES
Until this moment Suede’s gigs had been sweaty affairs in tiny venues attended by chin-stroking music industry types. As I was to later find out, for the music industry, the actual music, whether good or bad, was a mere detail – bands were units to be shifted, like burgers. However, this gig was a chance for Suede to play on a bigger stage and on the same bill as Blur. The press had successfully concocted a rivalry between Blur and Suede, centred around the fact that both singers had dated ex-Suede guitarist Justine Frischmann. She had left Suede’s lead singer Brett Anderson for Blur’s lead singer Damon Albarn, but if this night was anything to go by she was probably about to regret both leaving Suede and her new choice of boyfriend.
I went to the gig with Pointy Bird’s bassist Marcus to check out the competition. We had both studied Politics at the City Of London Poly but I had lured him away from a healthy interest in campaigning for the disadvantaged in society, with the promise of the big time. Initially he was a bit skeptical but now things were happening – he had turned down the opportunity of studying for an M.A. in political research and got a job working the frozen foods counter at Sainsbury’s to pay the rent. It had also unleashed a latent desire within him to perform. He was a natural on stage, having acted in the past and narrowly missed being cast as Adrian Mole in the TV adaptation of the book. He had also perfected the art of winking at the crowd and playing bass at the same time. His well-honed wink combined with my inter-song banter, made us a potent force.
We got some drinks at the bar and surveyed the crowd. There was a palpable buzz in the air. Suede were due to come on stage. Marcus nudged me.
“This will be us soon.”
“What’s it going to be like?”
“When we’re famous. How big will we get?”
“Bigger than Everest.”
“Bring it on!”
Marcus started to dance to the music playing over the venue speakers. By chance, it was one of his favourite tracks ‘Buffalo Stance’ by Neneh Cherry. Fuelled by the happy serendipity of the DJ’s song choice and the excitement of the night ahead, he closed his eyes and sung along to the chorus, lost in music.
“‘No moneyman can win my love.
It’s sweetness that I’m thinking of’”
Marcus raised his arms to the ceiling euphorically taking it all in like the music was being transmitted through his body via his hands. This was to become his signature move.
‘Look, my hands are ears!”
I laughed. He was built for this. I had created a monster. As the song ended, the lights went down and the crowd grew quiet with anticipation. Smoke machines, silhouettes of guitar technicians dashing across the stage making last-minute adjustments, the stage in darkness apart from tiny green lights on the amps suggesting the imminent arrival of the band. The tease of being kept waiting. This is what it was all about. This big music hall, empty and smelly by day, was about to be transformed and host a magical communion between artist and audience, an alchemy of junk to gold. What was happening backstage? What would it be like to walk out on to this stage to perform your songs, hear them sung back at you? The applause, the adulation, the affirmation. I couldn’t wait to find out.
At last, Suede took the stage and for the next 30 minutes, we witnessed a masterclass in how to blow the roof off a venue. They had got their deal with Nude Records on the strength of their demo, but it was backed up by their live shows and they did not disappoint. But it wasn’t just the music, it was their attitude. They didn’t care if you liked them or not. And with their Oxfam chic, they had a look where grot met glamour, in contrast to the purposefully nondescript and rather grey grunge and shoe-gaze bands doing the rounds in the music press. Brett had obviously spent hours in front of the mirror with a hairbrush microphone (it took one to know one) and much of the set was spent swinging the mic above his head, avoiding serious injury to the rest of the band by inches. Or using it to spank his pert little bum. And in guitarist Bernard Butler they had the new Johnny Marr. His guitar playing was jam-packed full of ideas and played with a ferocious energy that gave an extra heft and excitement to their live set. They were the full package.
My only criticism was where were the gags? Brett’s inter-song banter left a lot to be desired. Perhaps this is why Justine left him. But as I watched them triumph in front of 2000 new fans, things were crystallising in my mind. No one else was combining music and comedy, and this was definitely a gap in the market. Also if we were to take things up a level, we needed some glamour too. We needed sparkly shirts and floppy fringes. I knew this decision was not going to go down well with certain members of the band but it was a fight worth having. Grunge was over. Our ponytails and cardigans needed to go.
Suede ended their set with the 3-minute pop perfection of their new single ‘Metal Mickey’ which told the story of a girl working in a butchers:
‘She sells heart. She sells beef.
Oh dad she’s driving me mad.’
Victorious, the band strutted off stage, leaving the amps and the crowds buzzing. Marcus and I needed to have a half-time team talk as the crowd got ready for Blur. We grabbed 2 pints and weaved our way through the crowd to a vantage point overlooking the gig. The audience was thinning out for Blur. You could sense a changing of the guard. It was strange the psychology of the crowds. The excitement that had greeted Suede replaced with a collective feeling of apprehension and sympathy for Blur who were clearly on their way out. Or maybe I was just projecting? But Marcus felt the same.
“I wouldn’t want to be following them. I feel sorry for Blur.”
I nodded my head in agreement before a sly grin crept across my face.
“Nah fuck em!”
We clinked glasses and surveyed the crowd. We didn’t want to spoil the night with talk of our day jobs. We wanted to live in the now. Two hours earlier Marcus had been wearing a brown Sainsbury’s uniform, a clip-on tie, and a name badge. As bad as my job was, at least I didn’t have to surrender my dignity by dressing in a silly costume. I decided not to ask about the frozen peas. Marcus spoke.
“Ever feel like you were destined?”
I knew immediately what Marcus meant but played dumb.
“What do you mean?”
“You know…do you think that we are destined to be famous?”
The answer was yes, yes and thrice yes. Of course, we were destined to be famous. I was being pulled like a magnet, there was no choice. The stage was my home. The camera on me and mic in my hand would be pure oxygen. There was no need to drill into why I had this needy desire for fame – it was simple- I would be good at it, and it would be fun. It was time for my 3 hurdles speech
“In life, there are 3 hurdles you have to jump..…”
Marcus had heard this sales pitch before, but I felt he needed to hear it again. Like an investor being reassured by a positive monthly report. Beer was spilling from my plastic pint and my words were starting to slur and increase in volume, but the more I went on, the more Marcus nodded and the more he nodded, the more I went on, until he was powerless to my advances. To my certainty about my certainty. The logic underpinning my 3 hurdles theory was impossible to deny. That if you wanted something enough it was only a matter of time. And in that sense, it was destiny.
“So you really think it’s going to happen?”
“It’s not a question of if, Marcus. It’s when.”
I rested my case. Marcus was won over. His nodding could now be reserved for the music.
“We are so lucky,” he said. “You know. Just to experience all this.”
I smiled in admiration at Marcus’s wisdom. He was from the concrete jungle of Coventry and in the words of Morrissey, his eyes had seen the glory of a disused railway line. Life could be hard, it could be terrible and we were the lucky ones. Not just to be in a band but to be having a laugh. To be alive. This seemed enough for him. Why wasn’t that enough for me?
The lights went down. It was time for Blur. Out bounced Damon the lead singer, pogoing like there was no tomorrow. He was really going for it, like superman, (or Cher), trying to turn back time on the clock of destiny. His tactic to win over the crowd seemed to be to jump up and down as much as possible. It was ill-conceived and the crowd weren’t buying it. Making matters worse, it soon became apparent he and the rest of the band were very drunk. Sensing defeat, Damon doubled down during a, tuneless drunken dirge and climbed up on to the lighting rig, wobbling perilously 20 feet above the rest of the band. The death of their careers was one thing but would there be an actual death? Miraculously, the talentless pretty boy made it down but he probably wished he fell. By the end of the spectacle, the band and audience both knew that this was a slow, painful, embarrassing end to their careers as musicians.
Post-gig we snuck our way into the after-show party and sat at the bar. This was our new world – free drinks and celebs mates. I nudged Marcus. Slumped in the corner of the bar was a hapless looking Damon Albarn, all alone, Billy-no-mates. We laughed and shook our heads. What would become of him? Probably end up working in a shoe shop or something.
The rest of Blur were fairing little better. On the floor of the toilets in one of the urinals was their bassist, Alex James, clutching the porcelain in a puddle of piss. His lanky limbs and foppish hair soaked in urine. He didn’t look so foppish now. He was hogging the entire toilet floor of the only free cubicle. Still, I was bursting and he didn’t seem concerned by the spray. Outside, as we paid for our kebab, we had to step over Blur’s guitarist Graham Coxon. He had collapsed on the pavement and someone had propped him up against the wall. He was slumped over and blocking the doorway. I offered him a vinegar-soaked chip out of pity and it hung impotently in front of his nose. He sniffed it and then looked away like a sick puppy, so I scoffed it and moved on.
Outside, the streets of Kentish Town were empty. It was going to be a long wait for a taxi to take us to our flat in Golders Green. Marcus was dancing in the street with his hands raised to the sky.
“Look my hands are ears. Woo hoo!”
He didn’t look too steady on his feet. Most of his kebab had made it on to his frilly shirt. He looked pale and a bit green around the gills. There were no cabs in sight.
“Come on, let’s start walking,” I said.
“Pointy Birds are so much better than Blur. They’re rubbish.”
I smiled. He was a believer.
“It’s really going to happen isn’t it?”
“What’s it going to be like again?” Marcus hiccupped. “Will we play on Top of the Pops?”
“And will we be on the cover of the NME?”
“ON the cover?”
“And play Wembley?”
I laughed. Marcus’s voice petered out and he made a strange gurgling sound. He stopped and looked at me with a pained expression on his face like terrible news breaking. It was. His eyelids drooped and he wiped his mouth. He was a tree about to felled. The inevitable vomit was imminent. A few moments later I was patting him on the back as he chundered into the bin. I looked up at the sky. It was rare to see stars in London but they were out in all their glory tonight. This world of fame and success had been shrouded in secrecy for so many years but stars were aligning, events were conspiring. I knew it was only a matter of time before we would get our chance to shine. Blur were in the gutter and we were looking at the stars. The irony was not lost on me. I could feel a rhyming couplet coming on.
The Pointy Birds
EXCLUSIVE SONG GIVEAWAY!
Pointy Birds songs are not available anywhere in the world. You won’t find them on Spotify, YouTube or Apple Music and they never made it on to vinyl or CD in the racks of Selectadisc or Tower Records. Their only existence is on a couple of fading cassette tapes, but now 25 years on to coincide with the book launch of Anoint My Head, some of these rare creature are daring to show their face. Lovingly restored and digitised, the first track to see the light of day is called ‘Benefit Office’. Three minutes of pure indie-pop pleasure. Enjoy!
ANOINT MY HEAD – How I failed to make it as a Britpop indie-rockstar will be available to pre-order soon. In meantime please sign up to the email newsletter to get news and updates….