The day after Marcs TV show, we headlined the Chelmsford "City Rocks" Festival. It was a monumental cock-up, minimal advertising leading to a minimal audience, many bands gave up, drank the minimal rider and went home. During our set, the crew decided to start stripping down the minimal PA as they hadn't been paid. We'd never pulled a gig in our life and weren't about to start now. The fact that Rob Tyner was present may have had something to do with it. He'd been the singer in the MC5, one of the most awesome bands ever and a huge influence on the Rods, and he was over here as a journalist writing about the punk scene for a Detroit mag. He came onstage and jammed with us - "Back in the USA" and "Gloria" I think. He'd put on a few pounds but jeez, what a voice! As the monitors blew up and the PA disappeared he could still be heard soaring above our backline. We decided to collaborate and on September 20 were back in Regent Sound to record two of his tracks, "Till the Night is Gone" and "Lets Rock". Although not the best songs ever written the tracks sounded good. Steve and I had developed into, and I quote from the NME, "a rhythm section with blind understanding and maximum power". We could second guess what each other were going to play next and instinctively slot in (this would remarkably happen with Rat Scabies a few years later too). Graeme's guitar playing was at its peak and no one could argue with That Voice. It didn't sell but we didn't care, we'd met and recorded with a hero.
A brief whizz round the UK for yet more dates - days off were boring! - was followed by our first visit to North America where we managed to play 57 gigs in 52 days (see previous page for selected diary extracts). God knows how we managed, altho' the old beakfood was a growing fallback. Unusually, we flew between most cities, hiring cars for the shorter drives, and bribing the feds when we were pulled over for speeding, which we frequently were. We returned, tired and frazzled on December 22. We had established ourselves both sides of the Atlantic, but at what cost? We were doing what we loved, living our lives well and truly on the line, but the cracks were beginning to show. The very next day we were offered a US tour with Elvis Costello commencing January and were given just 2 days to decide. It was our first chance to have a month off since mid '75, and it was the first major rift within the band. Whilst most of us wanted to do it as it would have given us a chance to build our following more, but Dave especially was growing tired of the constant touring and particularly disliked America. He refused to go.
of us had forgotten how to rest. Steve and I, faced with the prospect
of an inactive month, started hanging out at places like the Speakeasy,
a late night drinking den for musicians. (The first time I went there
was with Lemmy after we'd played Dingwalls one night. "You
get the cab and the drinks and I'll get us in" he had said. Fair
deal, I thought. On arrival we pushed to the front of the queue, Lemmy
winked at the girl on the till and we were ushered in without paying.
"Am I still getting the drinks?" I asked. "Damn right"
spake my hero, "I'll have a triple Jack and a Special Brew".
Cleaned me right out...)
On 15 February
we embarked upon our "Life on the Line" tour, our biggest
yet, with Radio Stars and Squeeze supporting. It was a fantastic
tour, and for nearly 3 months bands and crew became one big happy family
partying the length and breadth of Britain.
The gigs were
sold out, there was a huge buzz around and we got excellent reviews. Our
theme music was "Land of Hope and Glory", and I can still remember
the tension building before we hit the stage, band and punters alike,
and for a while we could do no wrong. Our audiences were young, predominantly
Our relationship with manager Ed Hollis was starting to deteriorate. He was an essential part of our success, but from being the major driving force behind the band we started to loose faith. For a band that had constantly toured and sold tons of records we had little to show for it, and later we realised that we were effectively broke. Tax etc had been deducted from our wages - at the height of our success I can't remember earning much more than £75 a week - but had not actually reached the Inland Revenue. He was also spending more time on other projects, with some Very Dodgy People, and had succumbed to the excesses of practically everything. Enter one Robert Harding (Meaty to his friends), all round good bloke and long term road manager to us and the Kursaals. Rashly, he offered to manage us, but inherited something of a nightmare financially. Island Records were demanding a follow up album, they wanted a name producer, and later in the year we checked in to Abbey Road Studios with Motors producer Peter Ker. It was our experimental album, chock full of great songs but with classy production values, and it was called "Thriller". Various guests dropped in to add their bit including Jools Holland, Lee Brilleaux and Linda McCartney. Her old man (some geezer called Paul - used to be in the some combo called The Beatles?) used to pop is head around the door every so often and give us the famous "thumbs up", also I suspect to check up on his missus who spent large amounts of time partying with us. We even got her stoned enough to sing backing vocals on some tracks! Lovely girl and all that, but she probably didn't get the gig in Wings on her vocal prowess!
After I completed the Johnny Thunders album it was over to Europe with the Rods, with France, Holland, Germany and Switzerland on the agenda. However, although Meaty tried his best we started to lose direction and the old "artistic differences" started to make themselves evident.To add to the problem Island and seemed unsure as to how to promote us. "Power and the Glory", actually a bloody great pop song, was duly released as a single and got into the lower reaches of the charts but the critical backlash had started. The album got pretty good reviews but wasn't the big money maker band and label alike were hoping for.
In the spring of 1979 we set off on yet another long UK tour supported by The Members. They were actually getting more airplay than us for their single "Offshore Banking Business". Where we were starting to sound tired and, dare I say it, jaded, they were fresh and enthusiastic. Looking back on it now we were knackered, we'd been worked to the bone, and there was no fooling the punters. We were drinking loads - a bottle of Jim Beam for me, Southern Comfort for Bazza, Vodka for Dave - it would all be gone before we left the dressing room, and on top of that we were almost singlehandedly supporting thr Colombian economy! What had once been a great adventure had ceased to be fun and, although we wouldn't have admitted it we were going thru' the motions. A few dates before the tour finished The Members' bassist partook of some exceptionally hallucogenic mushrooms. As they pulled into the Watford Gap services that night he legged it across the forecourt, jumped over the fence and disappeared across the fields into the distance. This posed something of a problem to them as they were about to embark upon their own headline tour straight after - enter yours truly! It was back to little clubs and I really enjoyed it, even the heckles of "get yer hair cut yer bleedin' hippy" and - gulp - playing reggae!
It was at
this time we parted company with Island Records. In the past they
had been great but both them and us had changed. We booked Freerange
Studios in Covent Garden and demo'd an albums worth of tracks to shop
around (these would eventually appear as "Curse of the Hot Rods").
A new manager was also appointed, much against my wishes, a guy called
Harry Maloney who also managed Manfred Mann. I had him down
as a slimebag from the start - later I was proved right. We signed to
EMI who immediately tried to reinvent us as an r'n'b band again,
and Harry booked us a low budget tour of college and club gigs. It was
then back to America (see panel opposite), but it was to be very
different than before. Far too much time had elapsed since our first triumphant
tour, and we had effectively had to start over again. This time however
there was no record company support and it was very much done on a budget,
and often we had to phone up the agent in New York to find out where we
were meant to be playing that evening. The drives were horrendous, sometimes
800 kms a day, we had no money, and things got so bad that we ended up
going home after a month when we heard that the California gigs had been
pulled. "Just think" Barrie said when we finally arrived back
home "we could be on the West Coast and instead we're in flamin'
Not long after, at The Lyceum, scene of so many Hotrods triumphs in the past, Graeme finally lost the plot. Well, someone had to. Halfway thru' the show he handed his guitar to the puzzled photographers in the pit at the front and started crawling about the stage on all fours, up on the drum riser and tried to bite Steves ankles. The memory of Steve valiantly trying to keep time whilst simultaneously bashing Graeme on the head with his sticks is one that will live with me forever. That very night he was sacked. We limped on for a few more gigs without him but I had lost heart. The fun had gone, we had no dosh and I had no faith in the manager or the direction EMI wanted us to go.
I had a descision to make. For a while I had been recieving telegrams from Captain Sensible and Rat Scabies from The Damned. "Join our band you bastard! The Rods are finished! We'll double your wages!" they read.
Well, what would you have done!
Diary extracts, US Tour, 1979
*thanks to Keith Coton for using his tour diary to fill in the blanks!
but priceless clippings are from a 1979 Daily Mail article in entitled
"Does a rock group like a girl in a frock?" whilst I was filling
in on bass for The Members, featuring L-R: Nigel Bennet, Nicky Tesco,
Adrian Lillywhite, me and JC.
I know, I know, but it got me free strings for 10 years!