The success of our early singles led to our first introduction to the word 'scheduling'; more simply put, 'getting the bloody album finished to coincide with the single, to coincide with the tour, to coincide with the promo, to coincide with the next bloody album'. We were now in the music biz and there was this other brand new word, big and scary, called 'DEADLINE'. To reflect it's importance such a word would forevermore need to be in capital letters.
I remember 'Box Frenzy' being a little rushed.... we had the basis for our new, drum machine inspired, 'long-player', songs like ‘Grebo Guru’, ‘There Is No Love Between Us Anymore’, Beaver Patrol’ and the inspired Robert Gordon remix of ‘Love Missile F1-11’, but other songs like ‘Ugly’, ‘Inside You’ and ‘Evelyn’ were complete but no longer in the style we wanted.
Robert Gordon, the 'in-house' producer for Fon records in Sheffield, had done a great job with the ‘F1-11’ remix, and the whole Fon set up was cool - we particularly liked the Age of Chance album, it's sound and it's artwork. Robert was perfect for the job. In retrospect, trying to update the sound and style on some of the songs overnight was a mistake, but using Robert's knowledge and skill with technology, new songs like Clint's 'U.B.L.U.D' and Graham's 'She's Surreal' were largely written and recorded 'right there and then'. Finally, Graham's gentle acoustic tune 'Intergalactic Love Mission' was saturated with samples, and for me has always been a hidden gem. 'Box Frenzy' was complete.
Around this time we had a further introduction. Hotels. Previously, our bed for the night had always been two single mattresses Graham used to sneak out of his parents’ spare room and chuck in the back of Stourbridge's finest 'Value Van Hire' transit van. I remember vividly cold mornings waking up in the back of that van, squashed in with the guys and all our equipment, and the condensation, with nicotine enriched residue, dripping on my forehead. We would hardly ever remember to bring sleeping bags and would fight over the orange blanket Graham wrapped his snare drum in. This is largely how we got our scruffy 'Grebo' tag, and can I just say, "Bloody well deserved". Anyway back to my point. Hotels....... or should that read guest houses.
At this point in 2011, I would like to point out, (in case you haven't realised), these sleeve notes are very much my personal memories of Pop Will Eat Itself. There is no real desire for them to be factual and exact, and they may include the odd error/exaggeration, and indeed speling mistake. This is my aim. I could phone any of the other guys and ask them if they remember this fact or that fact, but I want these notes to reflect how I remember those times myself. Anecdotes documenting what I remember of those times surrounding each album, rather than of their writing and recording. Things I witnessed as Adam Mole, the one with by far the least talent, and if in some way things aren't totally accurate..... who cares?!
Anyway, I can't remember the name of the place, but whilst recording 'Box Frenzy' our record company got us a good deal on a large guest house in a leafy street in Sheffield. It was £96 per week Monday to Friday, for the four of us, including tea and toast. Booked for 5 weeks!! We were greeted by a very colourful European gentleman, possibly in his 70's, who, judging by the old photos on the wall, obviously had a background on the stage. One black and white photo of him, possibly fifty years younger and in lederhosen, made up and with his hands gayly framing his face, I could NEVER forget! There was a strange smell to the place due to gas lighting common in caravans at the time, but the worst thing was the Izal toilet paper which was like tracing paper. Not only was it rough on your arse, it merely seemed to re-distribute your 'wares' around a bit. It did, however, have really comfy little beds with lots of old skool blankets and shiny satin eiderdowns that stacked up precariously on top of you. It was very homely in a way, and we had quite a liking for the place. There were, however, no locks on the bedroom door, and on our first morning we found out why.....' Quentin Crisp', as we named him, would every morning spring into our bedrooms without knocking, with a tray of tea. Predictably, four or five of the ten or so layers of bedding had slipped off my bed, and without hesitation he would pop his little tray of tea on the antique vanity table and pull all the fallen bedding back onto my bed and tuck me in, saying "Oh you boys were as quiet as mice coming in last night.... I am going to enjoy having you boys here". He took a particular shine to me, but Rich had to wait ‘til the fourth week for one of Quentin's 'tucking in' treatments. I wasn't jealous! He was great fun and we liked him a lot - I think he just liked to 'mother' people, and, after all, we all still lived with our moms and dads anyway, so it felt like home.
Funny thing was, there were never any other guests, The only other person was his mother, who we never saw. I would always pay for the week on the Friday morning as we left for Fon before returning home for the weekend, which would get me into part of the house never ventured into by the others, and on the very last day I did see in the dim light a figure in Victorian dress, sat in a rocking chair. She didn't speak, but Quentin was telling her his boys were leaving now. I witnessed a slight rocking movement in the chair, but I reckon Quentin had put his toe under the chair a bit. I'll leave that thought with you.... but that’s all true... for sure.
'Box Frenzy' was our first proper album release, which led to an increase in press, radio and TV exposure. Touring and gigs were now becoming a large part of our life, and we met many characters along the way, and as we did bigger gigs for more cash we could stretch to some hired help. No longer would I have to drive to and from every gig..... Sal could do it. And the sound. And tour manage. And babysit. And protect. And put us to bed!
'Sal' was a rosy-cheeked, burly Yorkshireman with a purposeful walk. He liked Tetley tea and Tetley bitter and all things Yorkshire. He used to say Yorkshire even had the best jails because some of the worst people were kept in Wakefield prison. He really did love Yorkshire. When we first met, and in fact every day until the arrival of Oscar and the freebie PWEI merchandise stash, Sal wore bright red "adidas" pantaloon style trackie bottoms, you know the Yorkshire market stall limited edition ones with the two stripes, not three. He always wore high top Doc Marten cherry red bovver boots, and one of three t-shirts acquired on previous tours: Men They Couldn't Hang, Redskins, and our personal fave - a festival seemingly headlined by two bands, firstly, 'The Jesus and Mary' and secondly 'Chain'. The shirt was of such bad design it couldn't fit the whole band name on one line… This was all topped off with a Harrington jacket or a tour jacket, always too small for him, which we called ‘Sal's bra’. He was staunch Labour and his heroes were Tony Benn, Arthur Scargill and Johnny Giles (Leeds and Eire). In his defense he could probably point to our fashion sense at the time and maybe produce photographic evidence, but not here he can't.
Sal was an amazing guy and we all really loved him. He would often be the butt of our black country humour, but we had the utmost respect for him and he was the best company in the world. Great credit should go to Sal for helping four sometimes moody, bored, skint, pissed off musicians get 'up' for gigs and turn in a performance. He must have learnt his motivational skills from his other hero, the late great Don Revie, or to Sal, simply 'the Don'.
Alex McCartan had only recently acquired his own identity - before this he was just Charlie's brother. He lived in the same street, and was a mate of, the Wonder Stuff’s Bass Thing, and always dressed like a mod.... and still does. He was, however, like us into the punk scene. He had a guitar and knew how to change strings. He wanted to be an actor... tough business. He started out helping the Wonder Stuff as their roadie, but after they played ULU in London a guitar was lost and Alex took the blame. A few weeks later, when we played ULU, we all got drunk, had a great time and broke into the college swimming pool and swam naked with girls..... there goes my memory again… actually we swam in our pants and no girls were present, but it was more fun than losing guitars so Alex was now our roadie, and for many years Sal and Al were inseparable... and never once lost a guitar.
After the first week of touring we would get pretty bored, but Sal and Al helped keep spirits high and once a tour finished we really looked forward to the next time we got together. Our journeys were like naughty schoolboy trips spent sitting on the back seat of the bus, lighting farts, reading the Furry Freak Brothers and acting out Viz like adventures. We had great camaraderie and equality between band and crew, but nothing could prepare us for what happened next.
Shamefully, and regrettably now for me, travel was not really a passion for any of us. Sightseeing and experiencing what other places had to offer held very little interest, and a six week trip to Europe, including three weeks in Scandinavia, held even less. We hired a van off Les Johnson, who worked with the Wonder Stuff. It had no oil in it and it just about made it round the island by Clint's mom and dad's house before the engine seized. Another transit van with six seats in the front and space for equipment in the back was quickly hired. It was like a cross between a biscuit tin and a shed, and we set off for Harwich ferry, a journey that seemed never-ending. It would have been quicker to row the Atlantic in a shopping trolley, and of course we were late. For some strange reason a 'warm-up' gig in Varberg Sweden was scheduled for the Friday night before the tour 'proper' on the Sunday, but Friday night instead was spent on the overnight ferry, drinking beer and dancing. We even got Sal on the dancefloor to M/A/R/R/S and ‘Pump Up The Volume’, but he had to spoil it by singing "We are Leeds, we are Leeds, we are Leeds" at the top of his voice, and nearly getting into a fight over something or other. I got him safely to bed, and over many years Sal would repay this gesture a hundred fold. I don’t think I ever saw him so drunk again.... and that's saying summat!!!
Somehow the local promoter had re-arranged the Friday gig for the Saturday night, so Varberg it was after all. As we set off on the drive, Sal delighted us with one of his new purchases..... two little speakers that he gaffa taped to the dashboard to enhance the sound from the array of tapes we travelled with. Run DMC, Beastie Boys and Public Enemy were our fave raves, though we still occasionally played the Woodentops and the Mission for Sal. We never allowed him to go much further down his musical preferences than that, and after about a day the speakers never came out of his bag again. They kept falling off the dashboard every time he braked anyway, and were basically shit.
Something else basically shit that would rarely see the light of day from Sal's bag was one of the few endearing memories I have of this Scandinavian tour, and number five in the countdown - the arrival of email. Two little rubber cups that were put over the mouth and earpiece of a telephone, connected to a little printer and, when connected to Sal's mate Stuart in Yorkshire, would, in the style of Grandstand's teleprinter, reel off the football scores on a Saturday..... well that was the theory anyhow! For hours Sal would attempt to connect it up, and in fairness we occasionally got some scores through, but generally these were restricted to Doncaster v Scunthorpe or Luton v Chester, never the Wolves, Leeds, Birmingham and Spurs results we desperately craved. Forever more, whenever anything didn't work, the van broke down, Sal couldn't get the reverb to work on the mixing desk or the kettle didn't work in the dressing room, one of us would walk past him and whisper "email, John?' to his eternal displeasure. Funnily enough, the use of Sal's real name (John) was largely reserved for this expression. Little did we know then that email would later take the world by storm. Nice one John!
At number four, we have the arrival of PDs, or ‘per diems’, something that would make us very happy for years to come. PDs are a daily expense given to band and crew for food, fags and beer in an attempt to swell one's meagre income. They were magical moments, but unfortunately PDs were only £10, and in Sweden, even in the late 80s, a bottle of lager beer in a bar or club was £7. We were not expecting to be too drunk in Scandinavia.
At number three, out of Sal's seemingly endless bag came ‘Totopoly’, a board game based around the build up and running of a big horse race. Many a night with no beer in shabby hotel rooms we amused ourselves with non rock and roll type ventures.
At number two was the arrival of CJ, Oscar and a large box. CJ was our manager, who’d signed us to his own Chapter 22 record label in response to our own release of 'Poppies say Grrr!'. He was very much in the Goth envelope, and signed Balaam and the Angel and The Mission. Like us, he was an old punk rocker and music mad. He always showed total belief in us and a commitment to making it happen, and was another cog in the wheel with an unfaltering love of music, footie, and booze. Unlike us guys he was always smartly dressed - he loved new trainers, Stussy clothing and, when in Nuremberg, leather shorts and braces. As managers do, he only flew in for the glory gigs, which tended to be in the best places and with a record company budget, so he was always most welcome and we generally had the best nights when CJ was around. Tonight was Stockholm.
Oscar had started out selling our merchandise at gigs but had also started to flash a few lights here and there. He was a Wolves fan, had lovely hair, was really dry humoured and fitted our posse a treat. He gravitated over time to be our full time lighting guy and, like nearly all of our crew, would stick with us for years, such was the love both band and crew felt for each other. If one of Sal, Al or Oscar couldn't do a tour it just wasn't the same.
Oh yeah, the 'big box', the arrival of our first sampler- the Akai X7000. The following day we gazed in amazement, and I think it was Rich who found this little brass riff to sample off a 70s disco tune. It reminded us of something the Beastie Boys would sample, and would make us our fortune..... actually it never got used, but on many occasion, stuck for an idea or b-side, this little riff would be wheeled out. That sampler was in and out the box more times than Gary Lineker (Spurs and England), alas to much less success. In fact, apart from looping that funky little disco sample, I don't remember anything useful being done. Writing songs 'on the road' would never be a PWEI thing... there were just too many distractions! Now, in 2011 and driving a van for a living for the past ten years, I do have some regrets, and some tiny part of me somewhere in my lower fabric feels that sample is going to come back into my life, make me a fortune and save the day... hurrah! Or maybe not.
Technology was moving so fast that rack mounted Akai keyboards with far superior memory and processing speed soon made our new chum obsolete, and it would never have the impact on us as our friend 'Porty'. We never even gave the Akai X7000 a name, so the writing was on the wall. It did, however, boost our love of sampling, and embryonic versions of songs that made up 'This Is This' were built from this keyboard. Yet another chapter for the 'Incredible PWEI'.
At number one in the countdown of endearing Scandinavian memories was Ulf's bird. Ulf was the promoter who booked us for the warm up show, and his bird was absolutely lovely. Sadly, having missed the original Friday date, and with the rapid rearranging to the Saturday night, there were less than thirty people there. Ulf said many more would have been there on the Friday, but comparing the numbers to subsequent gigs around the fjords of Scandinavia I have my doubts. The Poppies were not a great pull in Europe.... But, on the plus side, the gig was great and Graham and Clint were developing a real interaction, and becoming great performers to boot. After the encore, we were in the dressing room and could hear the crowd still shouting for more and chucking chairs around. In response, and to apologise for being late, we played the whole set, and encore, again. Unfortunately for Ulf, he lost a lot of money and was going to have to sell his VW Campervan to pay for the gig. To make matters worse, years later we heard his bird had left him, presumably for someone with his own transport. I guess that's rock n roll. But she was lovely, and to this day many PWEI band and crew members can be heard in various parts of the West Midlands, Yorkshire, Kent and Los Angeles exclaiming the words "Ulf's bird" in a kind of 'Ooh ouch' expression when caught accidently in the cobblers or on the shin.... in fact I said it just yesterday when I caught my shin on the back step of my van. Happy memories!
Although Ulf couldn't keep his bird, he did get to keep his own name. The rest of the Scandinavian tour was promoted by a large national company who provided us with a tour rep. His name was Frank. Three weeks later, when we got to Germany, their tour rep was also called Frank. This led to great hilarity for some reason, and for the next ten years anybody at all, male or female, connected to promoting PWEI in Europe we called Frank. That is, everybody except Ulf. Perhaps due to his bird's loveliness, perhaps due to the popularity and ease of 'Ulf's bird' as a blaspheming remark, Ulf, and indeed his bird, remain legends in PWEI folklore.
The tour was generally gruelling, distances were long, funds very tight and punters hard to come by. Apart from Varberg, we did have highlights, generally in Holland, which felt more like home. Sneek was a small town in the north and we had the hotel to ourselves. Consequently, during the gig, Clint asked the whole crowd back to the hotel. Mayhem ensued, rubber plants were thrown and breakfast menus were altered to cater for the 'Full English'. Every word ever underlined in any English sixth form library dictionary was included, 'fuck', 'dick', 'wank' etc. Classy or what? Early next morning we were chased out of town by a chef with a meat cleaver shouting "dirty rotten English bastards". He may well have had a point.
Finally, El Classico, a bit like Barcelona v Real Madrid. Of course, CJ was in town and the venue was Amsterdam Paradiso. Legend records this gig in many ways. It has Rich riding naked on a bicycle during the headliners set, stripping CJ naked by literally ripping off his clothes, then doing an encore singing 'There once was a windmill in old Amsterdam..... a little mouse with clogs on' etc whilst slapping Graham’s bare backside in time to our drunken finale. Beers were cheap in Amsterdam and CJ was in town. Pretty normal behaviour in my book. The exaggerated sighting of an elephant on stage, I think, was too much to hope for, but the PWEI circus was certainly in town, along with James Brown, 'Sounds' magazine’s feature editor. Our first national front cover feature was in the can and James had just experienced the blueprint for his very successful 'Loaded' magazine. He always said "that night" in Amsterdam was the thinking behind his visionary trash mag. Pity we didn't have shares in it. Understandably annoying for Rich was that our first national front cover photograph featured only three PWEI merry pranksters, plus Oscar (yes him with the lovely hair). Rich had gone to bed. Unlucky. Night night.
Other mention must go to nights in Munich. Memories of note include the 55 Beer Bar, Graham not having the courage, or finance, to throw his TV out of the hotel window, instead sending it down to reception in the lift, the massive bierkeller where large German ladies could carry three massive jugs of lager beer in each hand (amazing) and the suspected sighting of Tom Bosley, the dad in 'Happy Days', playing tuba in the bierkeller band. He was the spitting image and every time we returned to Munich we would seek Tom out.
And then there was Zurich, or was it Geneva? The gig was instantly forgettable, but we stayed overnight at the promoter’s house. He had a Brazilian friend who came over to party, and did we party... all night long.... this evening gave birth to a new chapter in PWEI behaviour....... and boy did we feel bad the next day... someone must have put something in our tea..... but it was OK ‘cos we had convinced ourselves we were gonna be MASSIVE. So that was alright then. Next day at customs, we sailed through... sort of.
As we left Europe for the sobriety of home, one thing always bugged me, and still does to this day. How did our press officers' glasses end up on a stuffed moose's head fifteen feet up a wall in a Dutch hotel lobby? Dave Harper and his glasses.... stuff of legend.... priceless!
And then there was Russia.
Russia was largely shut back then, George Michael had been and also Elton John but that was about it. A Russian promoter had been sent to the UK to find the most suitable band to headline a large one off gig in the province of Lithuania. He chose Pop Will Eat Itself, having spotted us playing a low key gig at London’s Limelight Club, a converted church we had started to hang out in when we were in town. It had a VIP room upstairs and sometimes CJ would get us free beer tokens, so we played there a few times to help encourage such a fantastic relationship. The VIP room was always full of the 'temporarily rich and famous'. Models, rock stars, film stars, footballers and TV actors. Oh yes, and us! We generally didn't mingle much, we probably looked at a few models and thought "She's alright!", and they probably looked at us and thought "What are the bin men doing in tonight?". Strangely enough, Rich met the bin men early one morning when he had to break out, having fallen asleep under a table. Or was that Graham? Sounds more like Gra... no offence mate! Anyway, we were picked to represent the UK in Russia.
It was the first time I had flown, and it was on Russian airlines - Aeroflot. Flights would become a regular irritant for me over the next ten years after my first landing at Moscow airport was greeted by the sight of a crashed passenger jet at the side of the runway. Now, I know airports aren't renowned for their cleanliness, but you would think they may have tidied it up a bit.
We did the Red Square thing and took some pictures, but generally felt uneasy about the whole place and a regime that prevented it's own people savouring what the west had to offer, all the while driving around in big cars, drinking coca cola and squirrelling away the cash. Could PWEI redress the balance?..... not really, no, but we did have fun. Alcohol was plentiful, and on the first night we went out on the town to this really raving underground bar. The place was packed with Russians banging their bottles on the tables and making a terrific racket. I still, to this day, have never seen a place so full, so drunk, so amazing. We were centre of attention, and as musicians were almost frog marched onto the small stage to play. There were two guitars, a bass, a microphone and some drums…. How do you tell such a room full of people that we play music without live drums and didn't have our stuff with us? We did, however, have an ex-drummer, and decided maybe we could remember some old skool Poppies tunes. We were very politely asked to be very careful with the instruments as they were extremely hard to come by and could not be replaced - even getting guitar strings and drum skins was a major expense and operation. We played very badly, and Gra, forgetting (maybe?) about the drums, did that little thing he always did at the end of our set back in the day - jump through the drum kit.... Oh dear. Much of this chaos was again witnessed by James Brown, now working for the NME and doing another cover piece. Photographs were taken by Jack Barron, but don't bother searching for snaps of this evening, he was so drunk he was trying to take them with his walkman.
Next day we flew out to Vilnius to perform to the masses. After all the planning, time and expense to put on such a show, it very nearly didn't happen. When Alex inspected the hire equipment, he was relatively pleased with the amps and the keyboards, but where was the 4-track reel to reel we had requested? A very pleasant local stage hand responded "Don't worry, it is here" and produced two little tape recorders. "Here, see, two track and two track...... four track". It's a pity I can't do this story justice by doing the accent, but I'm sure for that brief moment in time the world stopped spinning.
How were we gonna play a 10" spool of 1/4" tape through two little cassette players? Step in Alex McCartan, roadie to the stars. He had somehow envisioned such a situation and done a safety copy of the backing track on cassette. The gig was saved and we went down a storm, maybe the locals would savour a little bit of western culture after all. Celebratory drinks were had.
Later that night, Alex nodded off for a moment and was thanked for his sterling work by having his trousers removed, obscenities scrawled on his body and a lit fag put between his bum cheeks. Graham was in mischievous mood, and as Al slept he was shuffled into a small fridge to the words "Night night Al". Alex didn't have to wait many months ‘til he got his own back and, in almost identical circumstances, returned the favour, the only difference being the words "Night night Gra". When we returned home the NME piece was not that complimentary about Russia, and I regret the tone of it. We should really have concentrated our criticism more on the regime rather than the actual trip. Funnily enough I don't remember being asked back.
'Box Frenzy' had worked well for us, but now we were ready for more. The press attention led to larger audiences at our UK gigs, we signed a publishing deal with BMG publishing and major record companies were sniffing around. We wanted to hone our sound more to our new style and were excited about going back into the studio. Graham had always written the majority of the songs, but now Clint was beginning to be on a par, and having our own sampler helped make the tunes more like finished articles, so less reliance would be put on Robert Gordon to deal with the technology.
A single was required to help forge the way for our next album, and two songs were brought to the table. Graham revealed ‘Radio PWEI’, Clint ‘Def Con One’. From memory, I think ‘Radio PWEI’ was the frontrunner, and was almost complete apart from the studio process. ‘Def Con One’ was at an earlier stage, and may have been seen as the b-side. We booked into Fon and ‘Radio PWEI’ went like clockwork, so much so that for once we had more time in a studio than we actually needed, so we set about building ‘Def Con One’. It became pretty apparent this would be the single.
This was our last time at Fon - the single would be a goodbye to Chapter 22 and a hello to RCA. ‘Def Con One’ went down a storm live, and after a few 'goodbye for a bit' gigs, including a sell-out at London's Astoria, we prepared ourselves to make my personal favourite PWEI record 'This Is The Day, This Is The Hour, This Is This'.