Five shows in seven days and my memories are not of loud rock and roll in sweaty clubs, but of laughter, food, drink and a strength of friendship only known by people with a common bond, sharing a common experience.
Within half an hour of arriving at a pub garden for the opening show in Milton Keynes Phil was spraying Anita with puff pastry and Simon was taking surreal pictures of anything with a vague BOC connection. No, Simon was taking vague pictures of anything with a surreal BOC connection. Having spent twenty odd years at shows not knowing if anyone else in the country knew BOC it is great to now turn up at venues to be met by old friends and to meet so many new ones.
Blue Oyster Cult have always been a little bit special and I am pleased to report that so too are their fans. BOC may be on tour forever, but they can only do it if the fans are there too. One thing that came out of the Monster Island tour 2003 was that the band know how important their fan base is and have a genuine regard for the many people that continue to follow them around the world.
Their last visit to the UK twelve months earlier had been an opportunity for fans to get closer to the band than ever before. The venues were smaller and the band were happy to meet people and chat. One criticism from those who attended multiple shows, however, was that the band were slow to vary set lists. The first show where they really tore up the rule book was Bilston, and that produced one of the best set lists of all time. Anyone who was there will never forget how wonderful that night was.
And so it was with high hopes that we welcomed them to the stage at The Stables for a good opening set marred only by travel exhaustion. First night was never going to be a classic, especially when you consider they only arrived from the states the day before. Clearly tired, the set was peppered with pearls, Tattoo Vampire and I Love the Night. Any errors by Buck simply highlighted what high quality we can expect most of the time. Jet-lagged, but back in the UK, with enough there to suggest we could be about to have some fun in the June sunshine.
With two more shows under their belt the signs were that they were really letting loose on the setlists (and on Paul's guitar, which Buck had offered to break in at Leeds). A summer's evening in Gil Blanco County beckoned. Southampton is where it all started for me. My home city and where in 1976 I first got hold of an LP called Agents of Fortune. It really did change my life. But I haven't lived there for about twenty years and so the short detour en-route to the pub via a supermarket car park should not have caused quite so much mirth.
The pre-gig drink at The Cowherds will be a memory I keep and cherish for-ever. A lovely sunny evening outside familiar surroundings with Sue, Paul, Anita, Doug, Phil, Simon and Georg eating big food and consuming big beer. It was here that we made our first adoption of the tour. A young man in his twentys was intrigued by our arrival and was intent in making our acquaintance. On discovering that we were not touring bikers he delved further to discover that we were there to watch BOC and that one of us sported a cool US accent. His surprise that we should travel to Southampton for anything, let alone a rock and roll show, would have sounded blasphemy to the local tourist board, but was wonder I recognised from my own youth in the city. His love of Doug's accent resulted in a new answer message being recorded for his mobile phone just as soon as Doug had finished his second dish of tartar sauce- 'My mates won't believe this. This is amazing.' Doug took it all in his stride lest he should upset some long standing southern custom (Just as we had with his penchant for tartar sauce).
The Brook is plain and simply a pub. There is no point in saying it otherwise. It is a square room with bar down one side, a stage on another and the remaining area left as open standing. Upstairs replicated the downstairs footprint and was fronted by a balcony overlooking the samll, but high stage. This was the smallest venue on the tour. Anita's lucky omen ticket told us that we were of only 262 privileged to share the venue with the band. The stage was so small that flight cases had been built out to support the monitors. The band had about five feet between their monitor and Bobby's bass drum. Despite the restriction the band rocked. Two Buck zones were established this night. One at the usual stage front, whilst the more travelled of our party, Bob, Anita, Doug and Miller took their place front of balcony with Phil and Andrew. A line of elder statesmen inspecting their country's finest.
The set was littered with additional gems like Harvester, Career of Evil and the sublime Subhuman. But it was during Shooting Shark when the band reached new heights. There was a moment in there when the band were going full tilt when they just clicked and were so tight it was staggering. After Bobby's drum interlude Eric leant across and said something that surprised the drummer. Bobby mouthed 'What now?' and started unscrewing the tambourine on his stand and launched into Dominance and Submission, ahead of the customary Reaper. The band were living on the seat of the pants and mixing it up just like they always should. By the time we hit Joan Crawford Allan was having such a ball that he wasn't going to finish the song without a little flourish on the keys, bringing a wry smile to Bloom's bearded face.
After the gig Georg and I were enjoying a beer when we were approached by a man and a woman 'flying' on a subtle blend of international intoxicants. The long and the short of it was that the woman was convinced that Georg was Danny. 'You're not the original bass player are you' she slurred. This was true and Georg is a literal man and confirmed this. Although she continued to gaze longingly at him, she failed to realise that neither was he the current one! Georg was able to take the strange ways of British people in his stride and ordered another pint.
Meanwhile the real bass player was visible upstairs with Eric and Buck chatting with anyone who recognised them. Buck looked exhausted as he carried his bags toward the bus. But he never seems too tired to shake a hand. I asked if he had ever played somewhere so tight before. He surprisingly said that the venue reminded him of a venue in Washington DC where they had enjoyed playing in the past.
Friday morning in London was pretty dreary after the balmy evening before. Simon took his giant's boots and left for work after breakfast wearing what is possibly the most informal office shirt I have seen. Paul and Sue took the opportunity to use this as a day of rest. They had already clocked up about 800 miles and the toll earnt them a day on my computer catching up with other onliners. Phil was out in the wilds of Somerset showing Anita and Doug some of the stone arrangements left by our forefathers. Doug, it seems, has the ability to maintain 900,000 images on his camera. Having seen him stack a pile of coins from our beer kitty in Southampton just to get a textural shot, I knew that Doug was a man who took his photography seriously. Phil kept us posted throughout the day of their current state of play ,with their estimated time of arrival shifting drastically from mid afternoon to not at all. We would meet at the venue.
Sue was spotted closing her eyes after our pub lunch so we took immediate action, put her on a train and headed for the Astoria to rock and roll some more. The pub on Charing Cross Road was as big as Latvia and as hard to obtain alcohol as the United Arab Emirates. The beer proved to be remarkably cheap and the people of this small Baltic nation appeared friendly. It was here we met up with some friendly Scots and a man who can only be described as Dom's double. The Greek's have a word for him, they call him Makis. Armed to the teeth with enough electrical photographic technology to open an Athenian Dixons, Makis was not going to let this trip pass without getting a bloody good photograph of it.
A few pints in and it became apparent that we had stumbled on our next 'character' of note. I really do not understand why it happens to me. God knows I have explored every avenue, all to no avail. For some reason something about me says, 'Nutter Magnet - You can talk to me if you are pissed, depressed or a combination of the two.' And so it was that a woman of a certain age leant across and slurred in my ear asking who BOC were. 'Sing me something by them that I might know' she slurred. How frustrating it is at these times to forget the second verse of Wings Wetted Down. She wasn't going to let go (Let Go...geddit?) and kept asking me to name or sing songs by BOC. No amount of alcohol will get me to sing to such a stranger, however low her blouse may plunge. It is on just these occasions that you wish the ground would open up and transport you somewhere warm and dark. As this was not happening and Paul seemed unable to offer any words of support, I am eternally grateful to have been able to call on the romantic disposition of a Greek daytripper. Makis, it turned out, could sing Burning For You in tune.
It was with some relief I eventually got inside The Astoria. This took longer than expected as the woman collecting tickets on the door was not impressed when I handed her my Tube ticket. The beer had been better than I had imagined. The Buck Zone reverted to the position we established twelve months earlier, on the front of the balcony (near the toilets). After The Brook the Astoria seemed like a big impersonal hell hole. However, it is a pretty good venue for rock and roll. Miller also made use of the venue for a little bit of stage-side hair preening during Divine Wind. Once brushed he and his hair moved stage right where he was last seen posing for photos with a bunch of fans.
On stage the band were really up for making this one a night to remember. This was one of their best London shows for many a year - the sound was even good in the toilets. Astronomy and Black Blade raised their beautiful heads and rocked us to the sweaty subterrania of Leicester Square tube station. Ho-hum. The joy of the Astoria for me is an early bed-time. Well, not quite. The show finishes early as the venue becomes a disco at 11. We were home by midnight but I had forgotten that I had bought a bottle of whisky yesterday just in case Paul and Sue fancied a night cap!
Saturday morning in Teddington and my head is thankfully still in one piece. As the kids get off to various commitments I prepare a big breakfast for Paul, Sue Jo and I before our 4hr drive to Swansea. Tiredness kicked in during the warm drive down the M4 and despite our very best efforts there were times when recollections of incidents of recent days took us over in fits of uncontrolled giggling.
It was only when we made our first pit stop just inside Wales, that I realised that I had left all my cash at home. Like any good friend Sue identified my anxiety and insisted on reminding us regularly that 'Jack won't be happy until we find a cash-point.' Paul seemed unconcerned about my hot flushes and near jibbering state in the rear of the car (an Alpha not a Saab Simon) and sailed into Swansea laughing heartily at every opportunity for me to pull more money out of the wall. And so it was, penniless, that we catch up with BOCFANBOB strolling around the outside of Patti Pavilion, a truly surreal venue. We had beaten the band to the venue, an extensively glazed Edwardian looking seaside pavillion set in a recreation ground. Swansea elders played bowls or watched cricket on manicured lawns, whilst across the road the sea glistened in the afternoon sun. The outside walls of the pavilion bore notices reading 'Quiet, examinations in progress'. Could Buck boogie here?
We were delighted to learn on arrival at our hotel that Sunday would see the whole area cordoned off for a tri-athlon. Consequently we couldn't park at the hotel. I had the immense pleasure of transporting Bob's luggage from the road to the hotel, along with my own and much of the washing the Sue spilled out onto Oystermouth Road, whilst Bob followed Paul to find a parking space.
In the lobby, reeling from the shock of inspecting my room I was pleased to see Andrew and Karen (see what i mean, it really is a family out there). Then Doug and Anita turned up and we had a quorum to party. To rendevous with the Irish boys. James, Mike and Seamus can sniff a good pint from across an ocean and had discovered Baye View on Oystermouth Road long before their Seacat jetted them across from Ireland that morning. It was good to see them again. They could enjoy a BOC show even if the band played Kraftwerk songs on the mouth organ. However tired you are these boys make you feel like partying. With more puff pastry on the pub menu, Anita took sensible avoidance action and sat behind the big TV screen showing Rugby League. Paul became quite animated at one stage as Castleford had a foul try allowed. Brains SA was on offer at the bar. A first for me. It has made me re-appraise Wales entirely.
I will remember the Swansea show for the adoption by the Men in Black of a BOC novice, deep in the Eric zone. Every night Rob and Tom would be at the venue door with Georg, waiting to save their spot at front of stage. In truth, if either had turned up at any time during the show and asked for your place you would probably give it up if you didn't know them. They could stop traffic if so minded, but they are two more of the gentle giants have had the pleasure of getting to know.
Karen had spotted a young lad of about 11 wearing a BOC shirt trying to see the support act on the low stage. She had ushered him in between Rob and Tom. I stood behind the trio and during the course of the show Louis shook hands with every member of the band, got a pick from Buck, and had a copy of the set list signed by Bobby and Buck. All in all he had one hell of a first show. That was thanks to the generous nature of fans who, almost to man, seem happy to ensure that others enjoy the show as much as possible. His parents were really grateful when they collected him and were already considering requests from Louis to skip lunch at grandma's and head north for Bilston the next day.
Swansea was to be Miller's 250th show. Quite a feat and Georg had bought him a card in recognition, which all the onliners signed. On stage Eric Bloom remarked on how many faces ('Mad f##ks' I think he said actually) kept appearing in the front row. He gave special mention to all from the US and particulalry Miller. When Bloom introduced Godzilla he did the usual 'Well who the f##k is it' spiel and then handed the microphone over to Rob, who responded with 'Bob Miller!!', bringing a huge cheer from the onliners and a big grin from Buck and Eric. Karen, however, was too busy chatting and missed her anniversary congraulations from the stage (some people!)
Before The Kiss, ME262 were welcome additions to tonight's set, but I hadn't expected to be so thrilled to hear Veteran as I had never considered it as a favourite. I knew they had soundchecked it at Milton Keynes and so expected it to turn up sometime. I guess any tune not heard for a while is a thrill, but this was a stellar rendition.
Lights up, I needed a drink. The bar was open and I took orders, but I never quite got back to deliver them as I had once again been collared. This time it was another male. He was fairly drunk and had enjoyed the show but was anxious to know ('I hope you don't mind me asking this' - in welsh accent) why the band had failed to play ETI. Of all the songs to miss he chose this one and for some reason seemed to think that I would know the answer to this question. During our chat I was introduced to his wife and learnt much of his mother-in-law's bungalow just half an hour down the coast. Thank you Anita for saving me that night, I'm only sorry that the wine I got you had last been used to de-grease the piston rings on the Titanic.
Some friendly and rather large welshmen suggested we leave the pavilion shortly after this. And so it was into the pouring summer rain and back to Doug and Anita's room at Bates Hotel. There we were treated to a fine selection from Doug's ruck sack (this is not a euphemism it is a fact). Belgian beer and wine were the order of the day and the combination was enough to inspire me to do a few things of note. The first was to use their toilet. For some reason this decision was very funny to all others in the room, but for the life of me I do not know why. I do know though that after that task I was able to offer a little of my DIY expertise and mend one of the louvres on their bathroom door - no charge. The third thing of note that I did was have a really good time. I am only sorry Bob that things didn't quite work out in Swansea as you might have liked. You are a good and generous man and you made me sad that night with your openness about life on the road.
Having found my own room and slept surprisingly well, in lieu of the impending tri-athlon, I awoke to something of a surprise - the shower worked. My room is hard to describe, other than to say it was basic. The en-suite wc had been installed on the principle that when people are really pissed they tend to get up in the middle of the night and piss in the wardrobe under the illusion that they are in the bathroom. My toilet was behind a louvered door that measured the same as the distance from my middle finger to my elbow. Anyone wider than me would not have been able to use my toilet unless they were blessed in Shire Horse proportions. The shower lacked any device resembling a controller, but I discovered that by turning the shaving light on and then tuning the TV to Sky Sports I was able to maintain a warm trickle down my leg (No, you know what I mean).
With the smell of damp corridors still wedged in my nose I was pleased not to meet anyone else, lest they identified me with the noise from Doug and Anita's room some hours earlier. In the dining room I was pleased to see two groups of familiar looking faces. All seemed to have enjoyed hearty seaside breakfasts and sounded remarkably like they didn't have hangovers. Doug and Anita had apparently been very un-English an asked for their food to arrive in a manner that would suggest that the person cooking it knew what they were doing. De-caff in Swansea Pleeeease!!!!
My Chinese attendant served a fine array of food that would have brought on an instant coronary to any of the tri-athletes currently running past the dining room window had they cared to look my way. After several pints of tea I felt ready to face the day. Phil, it seems had breakfasted early and headed eastward back to Dover.
It was sad to say goodbye to Doug and Anita as we left Bates Hotel. They were dipping out for a few days sightseeing and would pick up again when the band hit Manchester. The rest of us had to make a mad dash for our car park, carrying luggage and monitoring the progress of Bob's suitcase as it's small wheels came to terms with Welsh road surfaces, as we discovered that we had been locked in to facilitate the aforementioned race.
Thankfully, with us travelling in convoy, Paul was able to negotiate the series of closed roads and lack of signposting to lead us swiftly to the motorway...... via a supermarket, a tatooist that doubled as a pie shop, the main shopping street and quite a few residential roads. Thanks Paul it was fun and I had faith. We stopped at the motorway services for some strong coffee and to recap - 'what were we doing and where were we going?'
Passing Bob on the motorway was a real thrill for Simon, Paul, Sue and I. In fact we were so hysterical that we debated tuning into the Sunday Service on Radio 4 to calm us down. Six days of driving in the UK had clearly been a revelation for Bob. Without knowing it he had become British and was now staring frontward, oblivious of anything passing his car on either side. He was a man who knew where he was going and nothing was going to stop him. He was wearing his Sunday socks and the next stop was Bilston. All he required was some leather and mesh driving gloves and I do believe he could have made progress in the Wales (South) heat of new driver of the year. Despite seeing Miller's Merc at all the gigs I had not yet seen him make it move. I had seen him climb all over the inside of it trying to find a map of London and of course I had seen what he had done with the tippex all over the back windscreen. I also knew that he had had a blow-out on day two, but I had never seen him drive it. It remains one of life's mysteries.
Onward to The Midlands (I must make special mention to Paul and Sue for going out of their way to deposit me in Lichfield - beyond the call of duty). Bilston had been such a great gig last year that everyone wanted to be at this year's show and anticipation was running high. The pessimist in me was telling me to be thankful for the great shows at Soton and Swansea and just enjoy this one for what it was - my last of the tour. I hated that fact. I was loving this moveable party. The Robin 2 is just a great venue. Very unassuming, but a good venue for music and drinking. I love the fact that downstairs is Noddy's Bar and there are some great pictures of Slade at their height. Back in the Buck zone where 12 months earlier Buck had taken our picture after a blistering show, but this year I was dog tired and my legs weighed me like a stone.
Tonight I met for the first time a man I first corresponded with in 1977, about the time Spectres was due out. Ralph had run a fanzine and I had written to him on and off for a few years thereafter. It was through Ralph all those years ago that I got hold of the St Cecilia tapes and first heard of Gil Blanco. This was the only other person I knew of in the UK who knew of BOC - and he had interviewed Joe Bouchard. It had been rumoured that Ralph was 'a bit like a Scouse Jack'. This I took to mean was that Ralph was one happy go lucky guy, who always looked on the bright side....Not!
The Ringo-esque 'Are you Jack' I heard outside the venue should have alerted me that this was my man. Twenty five years on and we got to meet outside Noddy's Bar. Like meeting all BOC fans the last thing I seem to talk about is BOC, so we discussed the severe impact the Euro was having on the Irish property market and the merits of taking chocolates from the bottom layer of a box before the top layer is finished.
Ralph is man for detail and inside the venue was quick to ascertain the name of the support band. After their first (terminable) song (I'm sorry James, but they did not do it for me) he could be heard shouting 'Who are you mate?' and then jotted something down in a rather seedy looking notebook. For some reason Ralph sported headphones throughout the gig. He was either wired to the mixing desk or doesn't really like BOC and was listening to a good play on Radio 4.
Bilston seemed to have a bigger stage this year. Perhaps after The Brook and Patti Pavilion (didn't she sing with Johnny Thunders in the 70s?) anything would. It is strange, that for BOC onliners Bilston has assumed a significance way beyond it's geographical size - you try booking a cab for Bilston from Lichfield 15 miles away 'Yow what mate...Belson yow say. Where am yer?' My good friend Sut agreed to take matters in hand and warmed up the Volvo. He wacked on a tape of last year's show to get us in the mood.
With expectation high and the prog rocking support off the stage it was time to say hello and goodbye for my last show. Three songs in and Eric Bloom says to hell with the set list and I knew then that Bilston 2003 was going to be the new ......well, Bilston. My legs just about held out, fuelled by adreneline through The Vigil, the truly tearful Last Days, Golden Age, Take me Away (!!) and an encore version of Subhuman. They played like a human jukebox on flame at Bilston and it was a privilege to see it unfold from such close quarters. Shooting Shark had become something of a favourite and rocked again tonight. Ralph took copious notes and presumably enjoyed the final act of the play.
I have never been tempted to run away to Aberdeen before, or in fact anywhere in Scotland. But after this show I was. It was going to be a long haul for everyone, but it seemed to be worth the offer of travelling in the trunk of Paul and Sue's car if the party was going to continue and the shows were going to be this good. My journey back to Lichfield was punctuated by the feeling that if I were never to see BOC again I would have been blessed with having witnessed five great shows in a week in the company of good friends.
The next day I caught the train back to London and settled back into work. During the following four days I spent much time on the mobile to Paul and Sue to keep abreast of their journeys and of the band's setlists. From these (often shouted) conversations it was clear that the band continued to be energised by the dedication of the Monster Island All Eleven club and were paying them back with interest and playing some great shows.
In Manchester, not content with his daily hug from Sue, Buck had a second bash at liberating Paul's other prized love, his Harpers Guitar. You can't knock his determination.
Eric Bloom, on the other hand, seemed more concerned about the quality of cuisine that Sue, Paul and Georg were able to enjoy on the road. In Glasgow he and Danny took the drastic action of ambushing the trio by night to undertake random roadside sampling of the local pizza content - concluding that they were damned if they were going to pay the extra 25p for capers, even if the money did help prevent Venice sinking. You have to respect that life on the road can be tough.
To Sue, Paul, Simon, Phil, Georg, Anita, Doug, Rob, Tom, Karen, Andrew, Bob, James, Seamus, Ralph and all those other great BOC people I met during the Monster Island tour I say thanks for a great time, let's do it again.
....in New York???????
[ June 2003 ]