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Travelling fans: “Food and drink wasn’t always a priority. I could live on a pack of Marlboro Reds, some coca cola and whatever passed for speed in that town.”

How far would you go for your favourite band?  Buying all their albums?  Maybe a tattoo? 

How about following them around the country and abroad when they tour, hitching between gigs and sleeping rough for a few weeks or even months? 

No?  Well back in the 80s/90s, this was what a few dedicated fans did, and nowhere was this more popular than Liverpool.

Common mostly within the early Goth scene, the dedication of fans was almost boundless.  Liverpool had a very healthy Goth scene in the early/mid 80s, centering around the infamous Planet X, although other clubs such as Steve Proctor’s System also played tracks by many of the bands emerging at the time. 

Before the scene was perhaps pigeonholed with the ‘Goth’ tag, it was not uncommon for the likes of The State and Macmillans to play tracks by Sisters of Mercy or The Cult before segueing into some of the latest electro or funk cuts. 

As happens at the best clubs, those meeting on the dancefloor formed lifelong friendships.  Groups of people came together and went to gigs and clubs all over the country, such as the Planet X coach trip to see The Cramps at the Hacienda.  Fans were devoted to this particular type of music, and this gave rise to groups of people following bands on whole tours. 

These travelling fans were even given their own gang name, so The Mission’s followers were The Eskimos, New Model Army had The Militia and Play Dead were followed all over Europe by the Stay Dead Crew

But what drove fans to up sticks and endure the hardships of life on the road?  The good folk of Getintothis have asked some of the Liverpool road warriors to tells us the whats and the whys.  This is their story.

So firstly, why put yourself through all this? 

Debbie Evans: “Aside from the love of live music, following bands meant freedom from the constraints of home at a young age and membership to an elite club, part of a gang, all with same goals…to secure a guest list place, drink until you could drink no more and membership to the mosh pit with guaranteed protection. 

I would only admit it now but as a teenager there was nothing better than walking to the front of the queue at the Astoria in London and saying “guest list”

Debbie also followed this up with what seems to be a common theme among those who embraced life on the fringes of society – belonging.  “In secondary school I always felt like an outsider.  Following New Model Army at 17, I finally fulfilled my desire to be a part of something that mattered.”

Scouse Ali: “I went to see The Mission at The State Ballroom in 86 and was totally hooked so went to a few more gigs and I that was it I was hooked with life on the road, hooking up with mates

David ‘Ramone’ Woolsey: “It was a social thing back when I was a teenager. Whole new genres of music were opening up to me via John Peel and through friends.

Bands would come to Liverpool but then you’d see that they were also playing Manchester, Stoke, Leeds, all relatively close by. So we’d go by car or National Express who used to run very early morning services that got you back home by 6am. 

To be honest , 80% of the fun of following a band was the experience of getting there and meeting up with people beforehand and not knowing where you were staying that night. The bands almost became secondary

So where did you sleep while travelling?

Debbie: “In the early, novice days the sleeping arrangements were primitive. We once slept on a platform at the top of a slide in a kid’s park.   One of us didn’t even have a sleeping bag just a scabby grey army blanket, he was bloody frozen! 

On the Claytown Troupe European tour we slept anywhere and everywhere, train stations, shopping precincts, doorways of apartment blocks, the homes of kind hearted German students who took pity on us and the occasional hostel. 

Some of us even slept in a bedroom that was being used as a cannabis farm – they wouldn’t let us switch the lamps off all night!

Martin Atherton: “Where did we sleep?  Car Parks, Train Stations, Subways.  After one gig, we decided that the photo booths in Victoria Station were our best chance, so my friends got in one booth and I got in another, sat on the cold floor with my knee’s up willing myself to get some rest

Ramone: “Everywhere, from multi-story car parks in Leeds and Zurich, a train in Dublin, Bus stations in Stoke, Arye ,Toilets in Rome, A museum in Glasgow , an empty double decker bus in Munich and, occasionally, the bands tour bus or hotel.”

How could you afford it at that age? 

Debbie: “Guest lists were essential, so ligging on a massive scale had to be done! And if you could get some of the rider even better!  

I would save up my wages if a big tour was coming up.  For the European Claytown Troupe tour I sold the first All About Eve EP and the first Stone Roses 12″ to raise some funds. 

Food was never really a priority on tour – I came home from Europe weighing 6 ½ stone!”

Ali: “I worked every hour I could to get the money to follow The Mission, I even spent the driving lesson money I had on following them.  I still haven’t learned to drive and don’t regret at it one bit

Once, at The Mission’s end of tour party in Nottingham, the band gave the following £100 as a thank you. We spent it on crates of Stella and ciggies.  Very rock n roll!

Ali is still following her favourite band: “Last year was The Mission’s 30th Anniversary so I’ve been doing this for31 years this year.  I wouldn’t change a thing, life would have been pretty boring had I not decided to follow The Mission. Roll on the next tour in May!” 

Ramone: “The Majority of us were on the dole and I went everywhere with my Post Office savings book. I’d cash my giro and put it all in the account and then simply draw it out when needed.

But food and drink wasn’t always a priority back then. I could live on a pack of Marlboro Reds, some coca cola and whatever passed for speed in that town.

Did young girls ever feel they were in any danger on the road? 

Debbie: “I don’t recall ever feeling at risk, it was all just a big adventure. Although looking back we put ourselves in some very vulnerable situations, but we were always in a large group, travelling with people from all over the country and we all stuck together.”

Martin: “Girlfriends and female friends were all in our party, it wasn’t just a male preserve and we all looked out for each other.

Ramone sees this happening in the present day, as manager of Evil Blizzard.  “I see what it’s like from the other side of the looking glass. Being asked for guest list, times, gossip, news, money off merchandising, etc. We must have been real pain in the arse pests with tour managers and bands back in the day!

Martin Atherton also saw this from both sides, as a fan on the road and as guitarist in Liverpool’s Scorpio Rising

Did this influence the way he saw and treated his own fans?  Martin: “We did become friends with our followers with regards to Scorpio Rising. How could you not after having done it yourself, it was a proud feeling that people cared enough to make the effort and we in turn shared what we had, van space, rider and such like.”

Are you still in touch with your fellow road warriors? 

Ramone: “Oh yesEvil Blizzard not only contain friends from then but are also followed by some of the same people I used to go to gigs with back then
Ali: “Thanks to Facebook we’ve all near enough been reunited and a few Eskimos still follow The Mission

Would you do it nowadays if you were the same age as you were then? 

Ramone: “I’ve often thought about this scenario. Life is so different for this generation. Going to see the bands we followed was a lot more financially achievable.

Tickets were a maximum of £5 and we hitched everywhere. These days’ bands seem to be catapulted from small venues to the main room of the 02 in a heartbeat and the ticket price follows. Nowadays you book hotels, tickets, time off work, trains and a single show can run you up to close to £150 – £200, which was my entire budget for a whole month on the road in 1986 with the Mission. 

I don’t travel as much as I’d like to today, with work, mortgages and other financial commitments. Going to see bands is not as frequent as back then. We occasionally go and see bands out of sheer nostalgia.. The Mission, Spear of Destiny, Chameleons and even the Sisters of Mercy,who were awfu!

But it’s just not the same. – Must be an age thing.” 

Martin: “I still go and see a lot of live music, but these days I prefer small venues where I can see what the musicians are playing

The travelling fan seems to be a phenomenon very much of its time.  It is likely that this is because those brave enough to take it on were at the right time in their lives, with youth and resilience on their side and before bills, mortgages and jobs took precedence. 

And, perhaps more importantly, they were lucky enough to be at this stage of their lives as a brand new music scene was emerging in front of them.  If this is the case, they were lucky indeed to have wrung so much enjoyment and passion out of their youthful years. 

As Martin Atherton put it “I’m so glad that we made all that effort and put up with the freezing, sleepless nights, because we made the most of those times. Which was just as well, because they were the best times to be young

Banjo

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Meeting Rowland S Howard: A rambling tale of ambition, meeting your heroes and vodka & lime

First a bit of background information.

Being a Birthday Party fan was never easy. Or, more accurately, it was seldom a group activity.

I had friends who liked all kinds of noisy, out there music made by people who inhabited the fringes of society and convention, but none of my immediate social circle were Birthday Party fans.

On the other hand, I loved them! I loved them with an intensity that set them above other bands I followed. Liking the Birthday Party became a badge of honour, a way of identifying like minded souls.

It seems strange in these Internet-enriched times, but finding fellow fans was not easy. At the time, I was writing to a girl who had placed an ad in the classified pages of the NME, wanting contact with fellow Birthday party fanatics, and we were in touch for many years. However, we only met at Birthday Party gigs.

I had one other friend who I dragged to see a Birthday Party show at Liverpool Warehouse – he didn’t say he hated it, but he never came to see them again.

I saw them three times and, at last, here was a band who were a truly unpredictable proposition. You never knew if you were going to get a conventional show or a violent confrontation, a kiss or a kick.

The second time I saw the Birthday party Nick baited the crowd a little, but definitely led from the front. The next time he drank a whole bottle of Jack Daniels whilst performing, in less than an hour and finished the night collapsed at the back of the stage crying.

Moving forward to post-Birthday Party times, Nick definitely had the public’s attention. His shows were getting bigger, the critical reception was generally very good and the spotlight was firmly pointed at him.

Rowland on the other hand seemed to have been critically neglected and his stock was much lower. This was obviously wrong and obviously a shame.

By now I was no longer in touch with my pen pal and finding fellow believers in the cause was even harder. I did manage to drag a friend along to see Crime and the City Solution in Manchester, but no-one I knew liked or would listen to These Immortal Souls.

Moving forward again. I had a job in Our Price records – remember them?

I thought this would be my ideal job – there were after all questions on the application form asking me who my favourite bands were and what kinds of music I preferred. I remember thinking that all application forms should ask these questions if they were expected to reveal anything worthwhile about a person.

It actually turned out to be more concerned with shifting units and marketing the big sellers, but that’s another story.

Again, this may seem strange in these download days, but it was tricky finding records and CDs by some bands, so customers would place an order and we would try to find it for them and then call them to let them know if we were successful.

One day it was my job to phone customers and tell them we had their orders ready to collect. Part way through I came across a CD of Get Lost (Don’t Lie).

I was amazed; I didn’t know one other person who had this! So when I phoned the guy up to tell him his order was in, I couldn’t help myself. I went against company protocol and asked him about it and generally struck up a conversation.

When he came to pick his CD up, we spoke again and arranged to go for a drink a few days later. Fans of These Immortal Souls had to take company where they could find it, and as I mentioned earlier, this was a way of finding people who were on the same page as you. We occasionally went for drinks and swapped tapes and tales.

Anyway, this is all background.

Shortly after this, I saw in the NME that These Immortal Souls were on tour. This was quite an infrequent occurrence so I had to be there.

I contacted my new friend and we got tickets for their Liverpool gig. Bearing in mind that Nick Cave was by now playing some fairly big venues I found it a little sad that Rowland and TIS were playing at the tiny Planet X venue in Liverpool.

I had headlined this venue myself (well, with my band) so I thought they should be playing somewhere much more prestigious. But even this venue seemed to be out of their reach as it was far from sold out, I’d played to bigger crowds there myself!

Hindsight has led me to see this as an unexplainable and shameful neglect of a truly great and individual talent, but there we go, life’s like that sometimes.

Now, occasionally when I went to a gig I had an ambition to do a certain something.

For example when I saw Hanoi Rocks I wanted to have my photograph taken giving Michael Monro a hug, or when I saw the Au Pairs I wanted to share a spliff with Lesley Woods. I’m not sure why these ideas even came up, but both of these ambitions were fulfilled.

When I went to the These Immortal Souls the idea had formed that I wanted to buy Rowland a drink. I wasn’t sure how possible this would be but, for some reason, the ambition was there.

At the gig, the crowd was sparse and the band were just hanging around. Seeing my chance, I went to speak to Rowland.

He was a surprisingly slight figure, but I always thought that when he was in the Birthday Party. It always amazed me that this thin, almost geeky looking individual was responsible for the whirlwind of noise that was emanating from his guitar amp.

Even though he was quite a weedy looking kind of guy, he had an air of something about him. Not violence exactly, but perhaps the potential for violence.

 Not arrogance exactly, but perhaps the potential for an aggressive tirade. He looked like the kind of person you didn’t want to argue with, not for fear of a physical attack, but because you imagine he could cut your argument dead with a well chosen barb or two.

Anyway, he looked a lot more approachable this time around.

I asked him to sign a few things for me. The Honeymoon in Red album, Some Velvet Morning 12”, a CD or two.

We chatted while he was signing. When he was signing Some Velvet Morning I asked him what Lydia Lunch was really like. He replied “when she was good she was very, very good, but when she was bas she was horrid”, which struck me as a great answer. Partly because it sounded true!

I seized my moment and asked if I could buy him a drink. He asked for a vodka and lime which struck me as immeasurably cool, partly because it was so un-rock ‘n’ roll, i.e. because it was about as far away from a Jack Daniels or a pint of lager as you could get, but partly because it gave me a flash back to one of my earliest experiences with the demon drink.

This was when I was about 13 or 14 and my mum asked me to drop some Christmas cards off at next door’s house. The lady of the house invited me in and was obviously a bit tipsy by this point.

She asked me if I wanted a drink and wouldn’t hear of me having a glass of orange, so she gave me a vodka and lime! I don’t know why, I can only assume that they were big spirits drinkers. I

 thought it tasted nice enough, a bit strong on the lime cordial front because I was more used to having it diluted with a glass of water. I don’t remember the vodka tasting of much, but it doesn’t really does it?

It also tasted a little like the Lime Barrel from a box of Terry’s All Gold chocolates, which I also loved. She must have given me three vodka and limes, quite a lot for so young a chap, and I was at least a little drunk by the time I got back home.

So I bought Rowland his drink, and I got one for myself too. I was so enormously pleased to be buying him a drink, and fulfilling my latest gig ambition.

I remember being at the bar asking for two vodka and limes and wanting to shout out “I’m buying a drink for Rowland S Howard!” but thankfully I managed to resist these urges.

I gave Rowland his drink and we chinked glasses.

We chatted a bit more; he seemed to be quite an intense sort, his answers seemed very thought through; possibly because he’d been asked them all before, but possibly because he genuinely gave a lot of thought to what came out of his mouth.

It was, is and always will be such a shame that he didn’t become more famous, because he suited being a star. He had the charisma, the talent and the bearing of someone who was born to be feted, to have his picture on a million teenage bedroom walls, to be admired from afar.

Maybe there’s an alternate universe somewhere where Rowland S Howard is a name synonymous with an almost superhuman level of fame and worship. I hope so.

I was a bit concerned about looking like a bit of a fanboy by this stage, so I went off to chat to the other members of the band.

Genevieve was as lovely as I’d imagined, all elfin and smiley. I didn’t talk much to Harry, but I had a brief chat with Epic about the Swell Maps.

I always thought it odd that two people from this underachieving tinny punk band would go on to become these respected figures, working with some of the greatest musicians I had ever seen.

A friend of mine used to run away from home to stay with the Swell Maps, I asked if he remembered him. He didn’t.

During the gig, the friend I was with kept shouting out for Black Milk. When this song was about to be played, Rowland dedicated it to his ‘friend’ at the front.

After the gig I never saw either of them again.

Banjo