Thursday, 1 June 2017

The Worst Gig Ever' #2: The Breedon Bar

The late, lamented Breedon bar. Oh the memories...

I’ve played in a lot of bands. I’m serious…a LOT of bands. Most of these were pretty groovy – nice chaps, good tunes, some enjoyable roadtrips and a hatful of good memories. Obviously, no riches or enormous fame or I’d have one of my uniformed minions type this for me whilst I snacked on a Swans Neck Kebab, but some good times. With the good, with depressing inevitability, must come the bad. Hot on the heels of my last ‘Rushbo’s Guide’ post, here’s part two…just when you thought it couldn’t get any worse, along comes…The Bikers Wake.

It’s very rare that any of my Pop Combos are in the right place at the right time, but it did happen once. It’s the early 90s and everyone is tearing holes in their jeans, buying Fuzzboxes and generally ‘Rocking Out’. And so was I. This time around I was the Bassist in the delightfully named ‘Diabolo Go’. Our speciality…Pearl Jam meets the Manic Street Preachers, topped with some pseudo Jim Morrison-esque lyrics. We ticked all the right boxes and the only thing that held us back was the fact that we hailed from Birmingham – then about as hip as Pat Boone. But we rehearsed our butts off and we were a decent little Rockin’ band.

Ah rehearsals…we shared a local rehearsal space with a local (and very successful) Prog Rock band called Ark. Very big in Italy they were, apparently. The facility was run by an affable chap called Fin, notable for being the Bassist in a Metal band called The Handsome Beasts. Never has a band been LESS aptly named. Now this is where the story starts…

It was a Tuesday night and probably drizzling outside. Not that we would have known as our lock-up was untroubled by natural light…or ventilation. But we liked it that way. We were halfway through one of our thinly veiled excuses for a Wah-wah freakout, when in runs Fin in a state of high excitement, waving his arms for us to stop. ‘Lads, lads…I’ve got a gig for you! No money, but a massive Rock audience. Get in the Transit van, we’ve only got an hour to get there!’  No money. There was never any money. Excited by the opportunity to play in front of something other than Arks intimidating and expensive Italian funded equipment, we loaded our gear into the back of Fin’s van and set off. Uncharacteristically, I blagged the shotgun seat and started to get a few details about this mysterious, impromptu gig. Apparently, the organisers had been let down by a band at the last minute and the venue owner turned them on to Fin. ‘Sounds plausible’, thought I. He was a bit more reticent about the remaining arrangements, but I was prepared to let that go. After all, it was a gig in front of a ‘big Rock audience’.

The gig turned out to be at The Breedon bar. A great venue – I’d seen a ton of bands there and some of my heroes (American Music Club! Green On Red!) had graced the stage. So far so good. We pulled into the car park which was FULL of expensive and opulently chromed motorbikes. Proper motorbikes. ‘Easy Rider’ motorbikes. Oh jeez…it’s a bikers gig. Now for some reason, I’ve never really got on with the biking fraternity…I am sure they’re all lovely people who spend freely at the bar and do tons of charity work, but I just feel incredibly uncomfortable in their presence. And there were about 200 of ‘em in pretty small space, right here. We unloaded the van and my apprehension was shared by the rest of the guys in the band. No one seemed to be having a lot of fun – in fact there was a really sombre air in the place. Wait a minute…why are all these guys wearing black armbands? Yep. It was a wake. Fin had tricked us into playing a wake. No wonder the other band had pulled out.

"It just needs cleaning..."
We unloaded the gear. ‘Led Zeppelin IV’ played over the PA and no-one smiled. Occasionally a glass smashed and voices were raised, followed by an uneasy détente. This was not going to be a good night for anyone, especially us. I dutifully set up my trusty Bass, taking care to put it into dropped D tuning for our first, epic number. Satisfied, I left the stage and hid in the toilet for about 20 minutes. It was in there that I heard the sound of music…not ‘Led Zeppelin IV’ which had been playing on a loop since our arrival, but a Bluesy jam. I left the safety of the urinal, only to find three bikers had ‘borrowed’ our gear and were jamming away in the key of A. All apart from the guy on the Bass – sorry, MY Bass, who was looking bemused. I jumped on stage and told him the Bass was in a weird tuning and maybe I should carry on from here. He grunted and thrust the Bass back at me. I strapped it on and ploughed through ten minutes of lack-lustre 12 bar strummage. After that, we had a few minutes before showtime, so I raced to the bar to get something to take the mania off the whole sorry affair. It was there I met the erstwhile Bassist who told me the back story to the gig. Apparently, the wake was for a biker in a local chapter who had come off his bike in ‘dubious circumstances’. ‘See them?’ he pointed at a group in the corner. ‘They reckon he was killed by them’. He pointed to an equally dour looking bunch. ‘But they…’ he pointed to a third group ‘reckon it was them’. He pointed to a fourth. ‘So why aren’t they beating each other up?’ I asked, nervously. ‘Truce’ he replied. ‘Until midnight tonight’. I checked my watch. 10.50pm. Shit. I quickly shared this information with my bandmates and we ran on stage to get this over with. We waited patiently for ‘Stairway To Heaven’ to finish as we thought we’d be beaten up if we interrupted that… Finally, we caught our breath and lurched into song number one. And so it began….

The first song had a great ‘car crash’ ending where we all played the final chord over and over, finishing off with a highly choreographed KA-BLAMM! accompanied by a heroic, Iggy-esque leap into the air. One person clapped. It was Fin on the sound desk. We raced through an hours worth of material in 50 minutes. It was at this gig we realised that almost all of our songs had the words ‘Death’, ‘Ghost’ or ‘Murder’ in the lyrics, which were hastily changed on the fly by our quick thinking and terrified lead vocalist. After a few songs, even Fin stopped clapping and the only noises we heard between songs were the gritting of teeth, glasses breaking and the odd scuffle…and the occasional muted sob from our drummer.

'The good news is there's a big crowd out there.
The bad news is they're all carrying machetes and
baying for your blood...'
At 11.45, we finished. As the last chord rang around the room, we started yanking out jack leads and tossing equipment into the back of the van. ‘No time to put it into cases boys, just get it outta here!’ As we were frenziedly throwing stuff off the stage, a large biker collared Chrissie, our drummer. He gesticulated sharply to the aged Piano to the right of the stage. ‘Ay mate, d’yow play Pianner?’ Relieved that it wasn’t a death threat, Chrissie smiled and shook his head. ‘Y’ow can’t play the fuckin’ Drums either’ came the less than friendly retort. I have to admit that even under the shadow of doom, that made me laugh…under my breath, of course.

By 11.58, we were all in the van, bloodied but unbowed. Fin put his foot to the floor and we raced out of the car park. It was a while before anyone could speak, so the usual post gig autopsy would have to wait until another, less stressful night. About two miles down the road, we passed a fleet of Police cars racing in the opposite direction, blue lights flashing. I checked my watch. The time was 12.04

1 comment:

  1. I played bass in a rockabilly outfit in San Francisco '82-'83. Clubs like the Mabuhay Gardens. We got a gig at a club in San Carlos, down the Peninsula. Some place where they named the club after the address, like "The 1142 Club. Four nights a week for four weeks. Pulled up in front of the joint and it's a line of choppers, one of which was sporting a custom built red gas with big white circles on each side with a Nazi swastika. I turned to the sax player and said, "we're going to die, aren't we?" Nothing bad happened, we kept our heads down and churned out the music. The biggest challenge was when a Very Large Man named "Dirty Dick" insisted we play "Johnny B. Goode," which we didn't know. But we're blocked out an arrangement during a break and our vocalist mush-mouthed his way through fake lyrics, and we lived to play another day. I found myself in San Carlos a few years back with my wife (from Seattle) and couldn't find the's proximity to Silicon Valley had gentrified everything; when everyone has a $1,000,000 home, the dodgy clubs are replaced with cute boutiques and Starbucks.