Attention Young Americans! Hopping aboard Pop Will Eat Itself's all night partying tour bus in Haight-Ashbury, we find its tetchy, beered-up and curry-obsessed inhabitants dreaming of the boring life back in Stourbridge.
"I don't care about the ID, but I'm not paying two dollars to see some guy wanging his wanger on television!"
Richard Poppie turns on his Fila-cushioned heel and bounces off down Haight Street, having decided that the genital-zooming gay porno videos in a San Francisco cruising bar are not his cup of spunk.
Stourbridge pub-sense is telling The poppies that it's time to get the scoops in, the beers down and the energy levels up for the night's gig, but on the gay biker and acid-casualty clogged main drag of San Francisco's hippy detrius area, Haight-Ashbury, this is proving to be a problem.
Haight Street should be renamed Scumball Alley. In the daytime, the worst cliched hippies you could imagine parade up and down in their tie-die and headbands, most of them too old or too fried to remember that they had done. The shops are full of Jim Morrison books, Grateful Dead bootlegs and dope smoke paraphernalia. The doorways are stocked with drunks. At night it gets worse.
Butch female cops lean out of their patrol car windows, shouting abuse at the sidewalk bums. Barefoot mothers have epileptic fits outside liquor stores. And one blank-eyed weirdo keeps grabbing people by the arm asking them, "Hey! Have you seen my ex-wife? What have you done with my ex-wife?"
The Poppies look rather stylish, strolling through the Haight Street creepshow in their rock-rap-rasta-sports gear. And none of them pays the least bit of attention to the neon shuffle going on around them. In the first place, they are hunting for a decent bar, which requires maximum concentration.
Secondly, this is the fourth week of a zig-zagging, coast to coast American tour, which came right after a month on the road in Australia, ad the daily diet of town hopping, drinking and chaos has given them a high level of resistance to strangeness. Mental things happen, but the PWEI beat machine keeps perfect time.
"There was a fight at the gig in Cincinnati," recalls Clint. "That was a good one. The bouncers were stopping the kids getting on stage, and we were telling them to let 'em on. There was a big brawl during the encore. One of the bouncers had got this kid by the neck, and Gra' leaped on top of the bouncer."
"Suddenly there's a massive stage invasion. We were stuck in one corner, but the backing tape was still going, and at the end there's these samples going `Hey man! What's wrong? We've got to learn to live together!` Meanwhile there's this huge fight going on. So that was pretty amusing."
On the 300 mile drive from Seattle to Vancouver they kept an impromptu Acid House coach party going on all night, flashing the lights on and off to give that authentic strobe effect. Passing through Baltimore, in the middle of the night, their T shirt man forced them to stop the coach and walked off into the darkness, after an over-enthusiastic celebration of his 30th birthday. In Palo Alto, the night before they arrived in San Francisco, someone had been dragged out of the crowd with a suspected broken neck. A back-flipping stage diver had landed on top of them.
The hotel party afterwards had nearly come to a nasty end too. An obstreperous Brummie "well-wisher" had tugged on tough-nut Aussie tour manager Howard's chest hairs once too often, so Howard had punched his lights out.
"Well, that's nice isn't it," commented the Hotel manager, who happened to be standing at the door. Somehow though, the party had gone on, and on.
"It's been a good laugh for the most part," says Clint, trying to push his memory back through the fug of last night's merrymaking. The Poppies' trawl along Haight Street has settled on a god awful fake Victorian pub for the getting in of the pre-gig beers, and Clint ought to be in a good mood. Despite the fact that he mistimed his Jim Morrison impersonation badly.
"I got it very wrong with the leather trousers. Fifteen years too late for the real thing, and four years too early for the revival." He is being approached by young American girls, who want `us guys` to `sit down` with them. Clint, however declines. He is, you see, `pissed off`.
Clint is pissed off. Firstly, because he has a bad `vibe` about the gig which The Poppies are to play in the medium-small I-Beam club, over the road. Secondly, he's pissed off because the sores inflicted by the NME over the `PWEI Lose Their Sense of Humour` allegations of last year have not entirely healed up.
"It's difficult to know what to do," says Clint. "You have a few beers and a good time with someone and you're made to look bad, but if you try to be serious you're told you've lost your sense of humour." Clearly, by this stage of the Poppies' tour, it's getting hard to keep things in proportion. Tonight was the night they fell of a ley line.
"We've been sitting in the coach all afternoon looking at you people, thinking you're more entertaining than American TV," shouts Graham at the Frisco crowd. "Now look at you, you're being f-ing normal!" And Graham was in a good mood that night. Clint prefers a more direct approach. "Are you people brain dead, or what?" he asks the sluggish audience. There is no reply. This was an odd night.
The Poppies' current live show is a display of hard-hitting, non-stop strobe dancing, pure energy. With backing tapes keeping the cyberhouse beat regular, Adam triggers samples and slams out wedges of metal guitar, Richard leans back and locks into trance bass lines, and the straggly Clint and the solid Graham dance the mad bastard whilst dextrously shuffling their future-fear rhymes.
From `Def Con One` to `X, Y and Zee`, the show is one big highlight of brawny, abrasive dance pop moments. The San Franciscans seemed curiously bored by it.
Clint sits on the drum riser for a good part of the show, staring at the crowd as if they've just torched his comix collection. Not even the RCA promotions man leaping about incongruously at the front of the crowd can lighten the `bad vibe` mood.
What finally does it, briefly is Adam dropping his trousers and peeling off a huge plaster to present his brand new, and still bloody tattoo to the crowd. Seemingly touched, Clint launches into a speech along the lines of "I want to apologise to everyone for my shit attitude throughout the show `cos I've been an absolute wanker". For the two songs left, it all goes rather well.
There are one or two questions prompted by witnessing The Poppies performance in San Francisco. Like what the bloody hell they're doing in America? And who forced them to go?
"Emotionally, it all just collapsed," says Clint of the San Francisco show. "I just lost it, and I couldn't get it back. I suppose it's just like a three-week threshold in touring, and once you get there you can hit a massive depression. I suppose you just get tires. You're emotionally and physically wrecked."
Does your record company force you into playing lengthy American tours?
Clint: "No, not really. I mean obviously we want the band to do well, and we're not really going to get an adult or commercial radio with the type of sound we've got. So there'd be no moving forward if we didn't do tours like this."
Adam: "I mean, four weeks in America is not a great deal to ask of a band like us. If it got to eight weeks, that's when we'd feel we were getting pushed into it."
Are there attempts made to market you differently over here?
Clint: "Not exactly. They sort of do things we don't know about, like tour jackets, and putting posters out with our pictures on, which we wouldn't allow in England. A few things without our knowledge."
Adam: "Like the PWEI corn-on-the-cob promotional package."
Adam: Exactly. That's what we said. It was a little bag with a PWEI stamp on it and some corn-on-the-cob in it. Some guy had to sit in his office and think of that! Then last time we were here for `Can U Dig It?` and we had these sets of miniature gardening tools. We've had packets of poppy seeds too. They weren't so bad though. My mum's got a load of them planted in her garden."
Clint: "I couldn't really give a f-- about all that. I've got other things to worry about rather than some guy creating a PWEI gardening set, because anybody who sees it must piss themselves laughing."
Adam: "We’re less concerned about what happens to us in America. If you're not, you end up running around like a blue-assed fly, phoning people saying `Don't do that! Don't do this!`"
"You can't get enough exposure over here to allow anything more than the music to do the talking for you. I mean, apart from Rolling Stone magazine there's no national paper. So it's hard to get much over. We're more faceless over here, I'd say".
Do you make an effort to be more `well-behaved` these days?
Adam: "Stuff like the trouser-dropping incidents have just totally disappeared, partly just through getting bored with being like that. But we still have a good laff, though."
Brilliant fucking pizza! This is the best pizza I've ever tasted!" shouts Graham, hopping about the tour bus with a dripping slice in one hand and a can of Heineken in the other. "The guy next to the venue gave it to us for free!"
"Really," replies Clint, eyeing his cheese-spattered colleague disapprovingly. "Well he obviously didn't go to the show then, did he?"
After the San Francisco show, there is a short-lived but valiant attempt made by Gra', to get a party atmosphere going. Mostly this involves instructing anyone within grabbing distance in the art of getting `scooped up` - a newly coined PWEI tour phrase meaning 'pissed'. But by the time the PWEI tour bus rolls out of the eerily deserted three am streets of San Francisco, The Poppies have collapsed into their bunks more pooped than scooped.
The sadistic sunshine of a perfect Californian morning zaps in through the skylight of The Poppies coach, waking the crumpled NME team of Jarvis and Morton at an unthinkable hour. As the monotonous scrubland outside Los Angeles slips back from the tinted windows, there’s time for a bit of ‘nosey bastard’ investigation of the pile of tour clutter that we’ve been sleeping on at the back of the bus.
It’s a peculiarly Anglo- American mound of tour junk. A soccer ball, sundry pairs of Fila and Travel Fox trainers, horror videos, a copy of Bret Easton Ellis’ American Psycho, and a tape selection that takes in The Orb, Frankie Bones, Ministry, 808 State and Madonna.
The transatlantic cultural exchange has seen The Poppies loading up their music with Americanisms from Public Enemy to The Beastie Boys, from Dirty Harry to Jimmy Swaggart. In Britain, the chart dividends have paid off. In America though, the other half of the bargain, and the bit where the US falls in love with The Poppies’ cheeky pop-thug thievery, has yet to be fulfilled.
The Poppies may have crept to Number Five in the Rolling Stone dance charts with ‘X, Y And Zee’, but for the most part they are regarded as hardcore dance types, lumped in with the likes of Nine Inch Nails, Skinny Puppy and Waxtrax. Meanwhile, the more sugary, MTV-friendly Jesus Jones are doing big business in the States. The Poppies do not, however, seem over-anxious to compete.
"I think you get to the point where you just want to please yourselves," says Graham. "We did used to sound like the Buzzcocks, and we did used to sound like The Beastie Boys, but now we've developed something which is our own, and I think that's more important than being accessible or being marketed."
Adam: "There are a few more bands now doing the kind of stuff we did on This Is The Day', and you've got to sort of keep ahead of them, even if it means getting rid of the melody of the song."
Is that a reaction to people like Jesus Jones?
Adam: "Not particularly, more just that music in the last two years has moved more to our sort of stuff, and we don't want to y'know, `get in there`. They wanted us to re-release `No Love` in America, but it just seemed like a backwards step".
Graham: "There's not much point in making a shit load of money if you're going to hate yourself. If you just copped out."
In Los Angeles, The Poppies give a thoroughly convincing impersonation of people not wanting to make a shit load of money. They arrive at the Holiday Inn. Howard the Tour Manager throws up, rather elegantly in the flowerbeds, Everyone goes to bed for the day. The fact that this means blowing out a series of pre-arranged record store signings, is, of course, of minor importance when you have a hangover to nurse.
By five o'clock in the afternoon The Poppies (except for Richard who's gone missing) are up and about, sitting the hotel lobby looking shit By 5.15, the breakfast margaritas have arrived, and suddenly Clint, Adam and Graham are looking like men with a purpose in life. Could it be to get scooped-up, get the bastard tour over, and then get back down the pub in Stourbridge before Wolves play the last game of the season?
"I've never been an ambitious guy, or wanted to travel," says Adam. "I've never wanted to see the world or anything. I don't think any of us have."
Clint: "It's weird, because I don't really go on holiday, although that's partly because of being away a lot with the band. But I've never been particularly interested in anywhere else."
Adam: " I remember when we went abroad to France with Malc (Stuffie) and Alex once. This was when we were about 17. We hated it so much we had to come home and go to Torquay." Clint: "We've been to some f-in' great places now though.
I mean Australia, to me, is like the best place in the world. But I'd never have thought of going then for myself. I'd have probably thought 'Australia? It's a bit bloody far'."
If you stayed here long enough would you turn into LA rock star types?
Graham: "I hate the place."
Adam: "I hate it. There's nowhere to go. Last time I went to Venice Beach, but it took about a hour to get there."
Clint: " I prefer the smaller towns in America. Maybe that sort of reflects where I'm from. I like small towns. I still like Stourbridge because I know pretty much everybody I want to know there. I've got a lot of friends and I know what's going on."
Adam: "Bugger all, you mean?
Clint: "Yeah, true, even though bugger all goes on."
So you're not likely to be found overdosed in Billy Idol's spare bedroom while you're in LA?
Graham: "Well I'd give it a go! I'm not averse to that."
Adam: "If Billy Idol was at the show tonight and said 'Come round to my Beverly Hills home, I'm having a party after', we'd all be there like a shot, wouldn't we? No problem."
Do you think The Poppies would make it as LA sex symbols?
Adam: "I don't think we'd really fit in. When we were in Perth (Australia) we went to the beach on a Sunday, and it was absolutely packed with beautiful women and beautiful men. And you can only say it like that because the men were like bronzed, with blonde hair and skimpy orange shorts, looking really great.
Then there's us sitting there with hankies on our heads. I've got a photo of it. We're all there. We've got the football, the ghetto blaster and this guy comes up to us going, "Is this English music?", and would we like to play cricket with him?
It would not be a work of genius for a private eye to track down Pop Will Eat Itself in Hollywood. In the most glamorous part of tinsel town, with its star-studded, haute cuisine restaurants, its trompe l'oeil swimming pools, and its valet-parking hotels, The Poppies are, of course, in a sodding Tandoori Indian restaurant having a curry.
It's not up to Brum standards, mind. The chicken tikka is bland, there is a cockroach crawling up the wall, and the beer is some foreign muck. But it is still a curry, and a couple of hours before they go on stage at LA'S The Palace (like the Camden Palace, but smaller) The Poppies are in cheery mood.
While the curry sauce coagulates, conversation flows freely. The one about the Wolverhampton Indian that got in the papers for reportedly having "three types of human sperm in its curries" is probably the best. But the lengthy discussion about whether Jayne Mansfield would have experienced much pain after her head had been ripped from her body comes a close second. How can anyone say that they've lost their sense of humour?
"I think that live, we're pretty humorous," says Clint
"Sometimes, when there's all four of us running around and really getting into it and there's loads of people leaping around, I start thinking, 'Hang on a minute. . . what the hell are you doing?' I think it's really funny."
In a way you seem like highly unlikely candidates for all this physical expression and non-stop dancing the night away.
Adam: " We've always been show-offs on the dancefloor though, even when we were doing the Buzzcocks type stuff. If there was an indie disco after, we'd get up there and jump about, the roadies, CJ the manager.. just showing off basically."
Clint: "New Romantics were probably a big impression on us. That whole Duran Duran period. We all used to go and dance at this place four miles from Stourbridge on a Wednesday night."
That wasn't dancing though, that was posing.
Clint: "It wasn't when we were doing it. We'd try that for about three or four beers and then it'd all fall apart. Basically, we liked to be drunk when we were dancing, we liked to be drunk when we were doing the Buzzcocks stuff, and we like to be drunk when we're doing what we're doing now. "
Do I see a pattern here? Do you like to be drunk for sex?
Clint: Well it can help. You've got to have the perfect measure though, if you get it right, you can be having a great time. if you go a bit too far, it could be all over. "
Graham: "The first time I had sex in the afternoon I nearly panicked. I was thinking 'F-! I've never done this sober!'
"Couldn't believe it! I very nearly lost it for a while, but I pulled through in the end."
ON THE West Coast of America, The Poppies nearly lost it for a while, but they pulled through in the end. After the half-cocked and surly San Francisco show, the LA gig is a cracker. Their raucous dance imperative gets through even to the over made-up shoulder-pads-and-handbag girls who appear to have taken the wrong turn on the way to get their nails buffed. A stage-diving, sequinned, LA bimbette, trailing her handbag as she whomps off the stage is, indeed a sight to see.
"I don't think we quite cut it in the rock 'n' roll stakes," shouts Gra' at the crowd. But after the Poppies form a sweating, pelvic thrusting shag-line for `92F` the Californian girls and boys decide that PWEI are quite rock 'n' roll enough, thank you. Curry stains on your sneakers will be de rigeur soon in Beverley Hills.
"I reckon we're back on a ley line," comments Clint, backstage at The Palace, Billy Idol hasn't turned up. The invites for the 'Last episode Of Dallas' party haven't arrived, so there'll be no "hob-nobbing with Sue Ellen" for The Poppies tonight. And there is a total absence of LA Rock Chicks to fraternise with. None of this matters, however, the 'bad-vibe' has been banished, the beers are flowing, and there are now only a few more dates in Mexico, a swift visit to Ireland, and a week in Japan left on The Poppies' itinerary. And the beautiful truth of that is that it probably means less than 14- hangovers 'til Stourbridge.
"if you carried on like this you'd drop dead," says Clint. "You need to sit down for a bit. I suppose that's why I like Stourbridge, because there really isn't anything to do after the pub. And to a certain extent I really don't want to do anything."
"The amazing thing is, that never mind how legless you get, you tend to end up in your bed," says Adam. "I reckon there's some Fairy Godmother of Drunkenness that transports you from Stourbridge Town Centre, up Vicarage Road, and into your bed."
That must be some wand, to stretch all the way out to California.