So there I was with Martin in The Mean Fiddler, Harlesden, waiting for Green On Red to come on stage. It was a small venue, with a capacity of 600, and, as they say, the crowd were getting restless. A few impatient punters were slow hand clapping and there were shouts of “Come On!” and “Come On Dan!” Dan Stuart was the lead singer of Green On Red. Then someone shouted “Come on Dan, you fat c***”. Dan was a little overweight (but not as much as me). A minute or so later the group arrived with Dan arriving last; he went up to the mic and shouted “All right. Which one of you bastards called me a fat c***?” His Arizonan drawl meant that the word “bastard” had five syllables. “IT’S MISTER FAT C*** TO YOU” and then the band started playing and Dan started singing and we all roared with laughter and went wild and it was brilliant. It was really really brilliant. One of the best gigs ever. Standing in a small crowded venue having a few beers and listening to loud rock music. What could be better?
The way I have attended live gigs since 1968 has changed over time. Watching The Edgar Broughton Band at The Assembly Rooms in Tunbridge wells, I sat in a seat. When I saw Caravan at Cameron Hall of Residence in 1975 I sat cross legged on the floor. For Talk Talk (the poppy version before they became moody and introspective) at Friars in Aylesbury in 1982 I was jumping up and down on the spot because everyone else was. Pogoing. Embarrassing to think I ever did that. Mahlathini and Mahotella Queens at The Astoria, Charing Cross Road in 1989 actually got me dancing properly. Well, not “properly” by anyone else’s standards but not pogoing and not swaying gently: moving arms and legs in an unsynchronised fashion. After that, it’s been a mixture of standing still (Lankum in November 2019), sitting in a specified seat (Lucinda Williams in July 2019) or finding an unreserved seat (Chris Wood on March 15th this year). All of these make me very uncomfortable these days. Lankum in the main space at The Komedia were brilliant but the effort of standing up was too much for my back and for the last three songs I had to go to the back and sit on a chair which meant I couldn’t see anything. The reserved seat at The Dome for Lucinda Williams gave a brilliant view but there was no leg room and my knee became very stiff. There were only about 40 people at the Komedia Studio bar to see Chris Wood and so it was a very “intimate” atmosphere but the seats were very hard and my backside was very painful. I fear this means that I may not go to many more live gigs again. In which case I shall be very sad.
Back to The Mean Fiddler in 1986. Green On Red had released “Gas Food Lodging”, their album the previous year and the first with the great Chuck Prophet on lead guitar. The album is full of references to American culture which I didn’t understand at the time. What is a “Key West”? What is “Tabasco sauce”? I never really understood what “Gas Food Lodging” meant until Paddy or Pete and I drove across the country. I felt a real sense of excitement when I saw a road sign offering Gas and Food at the next exit, or Food and Lodging but imagine the euphoria I felt when I saw a sign with Gas, Food and Lodging. You would think I might have paid more attention to the album cover.
The music on this album is great. Chuck Prophet’s guitar gives the band a real kick and they sound not too far removed from classic Crazy Horse. There was a great interview with Neil Young on “The Old Grey Whistle Test” about this time where Andy Kershaw asks Neil Young if he listens to much new music. After a non-committal reply, Andy Kershaw plays Neil Young a bit of “The Drifter” (the third track on side 2). Neil Young looks a bit bored but then when he hears that slightly strange guitar hook between the verses he picks up the cassette player and switches up the volume; after another thirty seconds he says “I think I’ve heard that before.” I never really understood whether this was a compliment (I like to think so) or a complaint (which, knowing Neil Young’s reputation as a curmudgeon, it might well be).
I went on a cricket tour to Derbyshire with Tye Green in 1986. One evening, after a hard day’s exercise fielding at first slip and getting out first ball, I celebrated hard and joined everybody else in the Indian restaurant. As we went in I heard “Black River” (Side 1 track 2) being played on the speakers inside. It was a very confusing moment made more so by the amount of beer I had consumed. Why would an Indian restaurant in Derbyshire be playing Green On Red? No reason why the fact we were in Derbyshire should make it more confusing but I couldn’t compute. As we were tucking into the pappadums and Bombay Duck, I heard Andy Kershaw’s voice and I understood. The restaurant was playing Radio 1. “Black River” is a great song “Old black river with the yellow lines/I wonder what city I’ll wake up in this time.” A song about life on the road which is perfect to listen to on a cross country trip. “Jackson, Mississippi; now it’s San Antone.” The mysterious sound of the names of American towns. I don’t think “Glossop, Derbyshire; now it’s Bakewell” would have sounded as good.
The first song on side 1 is “That’s What Dreams Were Made For” starts with the great lines “It seems that no one has any faith anymore/Well isn’t that what we invented heroes for?” Brilliant. I’m not sure what it means but in terms of impressionistic lyrics it’s unsurpassed. What is faith anyway? Do we invent heroes or do they exist? What is a hero? Can heroes inspire faith? These are questions that need a lot of people and plenty of beer to reach an answer. Which brings me back to The Mean Fiddler in 1986. A lot of people, plenty of beer and great live music. I wonder if I’ll ever get to experience any one of those again, let alone all three at the same time. Oh well.