Monday morning 9:00pm: I should read my e-mails more often. Sometimes you just can’t be arsed with it. Deleting all the spam for manhood enlargement, debt consolidation, pleas of “Help me, I need somewhere to deposit my $3,000,000 and I’ve chosen you”, the relentless requests of someone who badly needs a warm-up act for the Levellers. I lose patience with it.
Hang on a minute? Warm-up act for the Levellers?
OK, this email was sent on Saturday. “Last year’s tour you did with the Super Furry Animals was great, and I’d like you to do the opening slots for the Levellers starting on Friday at Sheffield Octagon, and then 2 or 3 dates thereafter”. Hmm. It’s probably a bit late now. Send him my phone number anyway. Wednesday 7:00pm: I get a phone call from the Levellers tour manage, Phil. “Yeah, we’ll put you on this Friday and see how it goes. Be there and ready for soundcheck at 6.” Now I’m bricking it. I’d retired Stumpy indefinitely and so the thought of going out to large numbers of people in packed clubs again - on my own was, shall we say, a little daunting. All the tracks I used to do are getting a bit old hat, and so I had to do some new stuff. Hang on a minute, what do Levellers fans listen to other than the Levellers? The Wonderstuff maybe? EMF? Maybe not. Panic. PANIC. I’ll do my classics. Who cares if Ace of Spades has become passe, this is Stumpy! New stuff.? Hives? Strokes? Stripes? Genesis? Maybe not.
Friday - The Octagon 4:00pm: The suit looks a bit worse for wear. The velvet jacket tainted by the fusty smell of cigarette smoke? The elbows wearing away with the duties of rock n’ roll excess? Not really. More likely I put it in me wardrobe in a plastic bag and forgot about it. Not to worry. 6:15pm: Arrived at the Octagon (a bit late in my home town - very professional). Took my stuff on stage, set up, soundchecked, lovely, done. I actually got my own dressing room (well classroom - this is a uni you know). A few free beers, and a tour laminate. I was well chuffed. 7:00pm: People start wandering in. My fingernails begin to dissipate. 7:50pm: I’m on stage. I hadn’t planned for the intro tape, and so had to walk on stage and switch it on. I glanced upwards and froze. 1600 people looking at me with a completely blank look on their faces as if to say “Who the F**k is this guy?” I improvised. I stood perfectly still through the intro (1 minute, ten seconds of 2001: A Space Odyssey) with my arms in the air. Scanning the audience I realised this gig wasn’t going to be easy. Students, hippies, rockers, indie kids, I had no idea what songs to do. “Ace of Spades” and “Creep” went down a treat as usual. Not sure if “Hotel Yorba” as a Charleston was a wise choice. At the end of the set they made lots of noise. Can’t have been too bad then! Came off stage and met up with Phil (the tour manager). “Hi, meet Phil. He’s the bands manager”. This was a bit weird. He looked a bit like Russell Watson, y’know, black suit with slightly more black t-shirt. Slicked back black hair. Not the sort of guy you expect to see managing a group of scruffy looking Brighton lads. Halfway through this conversation, I was interrupted by a tap on the back, turned round to find someone who, despite his dishevelled grubbiness oozed a bizarre charisma. “Excellent set, fantastic! Sorry, I’m Mark”. A few minutes later it occurred to me he was the Levellers frontman. If you had the impression that the Levellers were a bit naff, you’d be wrong. I thought they were great. They’ve got some great songs and they know how to get people jumping up and down. Anyway, onwards. Next stop Nottingham.
Tuesday - Nottingham Rock City 4:00pm: Myself and the posse sets off for sunny Nottingham, legendary home of my namesake, and, umm, other stuff. I need to be there for 6:00pm, and don’t want to be too late, so set off around four to make sure I’m there in plenty of time. The map says 38 miles, so should have time to stop off for some food at some point, or so I thought. 7:45pm: We finally get into Nottingham. However, Nottingham is a place where the roads seem to defy not only logic, but the basic elements of the laws of Physics. Whilst being a small town, it is infinitely improbable you will end up anywhere near where you are trying to get to. After much asking, guesswork, and chewing of fingernails, we accidentally found ourselves parked outside the venue at the time of ....... 8:30pm: OK, I’m on in ten minutes, I need a cup of tea, I’ve run out of cigarettes, and I haven’t had a soundcheck. I changed into my suit in seconds, and rushed upstairs to the stage. Luckily, my friend Richard is setting up my equipment onstage and doing a quick soundcheck for me, giving me just enough time to chill before I dive on. Now, Rock City is a big venue. The first time I went was when I saw Megadeth, and the second when I saw Incubus, and those times I knew how big a venue it was. This had temporarily escaped my memory until now. 8:40pm: I walk onstage. I’ve seen it from the audience side on two occasions. Having a soundcheck you have time to get used to the size of the venue. On this occasion, there was no soundcheck, so the fear hit me all at once, and boy did it hurt. I started playing the first song - “Bohemian Like You” by The Dandy Warhols. I saw a lot of smiling faces, and a few people cheering, and when I finished the song there was a loud and quite unsettling applause. I thought it would be a great idea to play a great rawwk song, to pay tribute to a great rawwk venue, so my next song was “Jump” by Van Halen. As soon as I’d finished the song all I could hear was “Off, Off, Off”, “Get off the stage you talentless cunt” and words to that effect. Somehow I don’t think they got the joke.
Nonetheless, I moved on to doing “Ace of Spades” on the ukulele. At this point I started to see half full beer glasses hurtling towards me. A cold, painful chill began to set in my stomach. A small, yet affable swarm of security persons came to my rescue by standing in front of the disgruntled onlookers who chose to show their appreciation by a similar medium to that of Greek Caterers as an age old adage would suggest. I digress, I cut my set down by about 7 minutes, and ended with the Levellers classic “Beautiful Day,” and ran off stage tail-between-legs, glad that one was over. On the way out, I was greeted by a man asking me if I was really from Michigan. I said yes, before admitting that I was really from Sheffield. He went on to tell me that he was a businessman from Maine who owned eleven companies. He went on to say in his former days he had been a roadie fot Barnsley Metal giants “Saxon,” and that I ought to send him an email as he thought my version of Ace of Spades was “killer.” He could get me a place on one of his festivals he said. I didn’t know whether he was kosher, but I thought it was worth a try. All I could think about was being on that stage in front of thousands of disapproving fans. I went home and wept. Norwich next.
Saturday: Or not as the case may be. Couldn’t get a lift there, and the trains back to Sheffield only run until 5:30 in the afternoon. Useless. I had to cancel, which left me feeling extremely unreliable as well as talentless. Which left me with London (Sheperd’s Bush Empire) as my last chance to save any shred of dignity or self-esteem.
Thursday 12:00pm: We travelled in style this time. Borrowed my cousin’s people carrier and set off down to the big smoke laden with all manner of sandwiches. This time I was organised - this time it would be great - this time would be my finest hour. Ahem. 5:30pm: Finally arriving early, I had time for me and my chums to grab a coffee and chill for a while before doing the soundcheck. I thought Rock City was big, but this was a bit bigger. The Shepherd’s Bush Empire is a bit like Sheffield City Hall. It’s big and has balconies as well. I was hoping it wouldn’t be full when it came to my 30 mins. 8:00pm: The place was packed. All of a sudden, the disturbing memories of Nottingham came back to me. I wasn’t awful keen on it happening again, but threw caution to the wind and decided “F**k this, I’m going to have a good time even if no one else does!”This time I was pleased to hear only the one stray heckler. To ease my mind I did a bit of the old banter.
“Is everybody having a good time?” I yelled in old fashioned rock style tone. There was a kind of “Well I’m really not too sure” about the response. “Ok, lets hear the ones who are...” and the response was quite loud, “and the ones who are not” and one bloke at the back shouted “You talentless c**t” That made the whole thing easier. One amongst several thousand is pretty good odds I think.
Dummy Head Stereo's butler, Stumpy Ovation's, been tidying up for The Levellers. Robin Firth got his diary.