THERE were occasional vague rumours about scary shotgun-punctuated feuds with supposedly officially-affiliated northern MCCs, but the bikers in Scunthorpe always seemed a fairly amiable bunch.
True, there was one unfortunate incident – just after the legendary second freewheeling but typically professional performance by the Shreddies at the Rock Open at The Baths Hall – when my very drunk girlfriend, who was sitting on my knee at the time, tactlessly told one young biker we had a passing acquaintance with that he was “full of shit”.
He actually did a double take. It would have been funny in other circumstances, I’m sure. He was an alright bloke but he was built like brick shit-house, as hard as nails, and had a reputation for being a bit volatile. Plus, he was drunk. And my girlfriend had just told him he was full of shit. He looked properly pissed off.
I got myself between him and the girlfriend just as his arm was going back to deliver a full on punch. Everything went into slow-motion. A couple of my mates jumped up, then a lot more of his mates jumped up, there was a bit of argy-bargy and it started looking like it was going to get quite ugly. Somehow we managed to avoid what would have been, no doubt, a severe pasting.
I’d like to think it was down to my sparkling (if drunkenly slurred and, as I began to appreciate the full enormity of the situation, increasingly desperate) and persuasive oratory, but it was probably because I was wearing glasses.
She went off home to her mum’s in a huff, I went after her, changed my mind and then some big smirking twat of a bouncer, who’d taken exception to me getting in for free, wouldn’t let me back into the venue – and he gave me a slap for my trouble too. Eventful night.
(The Shreddies didn’t win the competition, by the way. In fact, Fast Eddie from Motorhead, who was one of the judges that night, said that we were the worst band he’d ever seen in his life. I thought this was quite encouraging.)
But, apart from reading Hunter S Thompson’s superlative account of life on the road with Sonny Barger’s Oakland chapter, Hell’s Angels: The Strange And Terrible Saga Of The Outlaw Motorcycle Gangs, that was about it for me and Hell’s Angels.
Until, that is, I heard about Savage Pencil Presents Angel Dust: Music For Movie Bikers, a compilation of incidental music from low-budget biker-themed exploitation flicks which was released by an off-shoot of Blast First (the label responsible for licensing records by the unholy trinity of Sonic Youth, Big Black and Butthole Surfers to the UK).
By this time, I’d moved to Leeds and the very wonderful Pat Naylor at Blast First had finally stopped sending me free records, which was entirely reasonable since I’d stopped doing my old fanzine when I’d left Scunthorpe and only just started thinking about doing another.
I’d moved into a house in Burley that Doug shared with a completely miserable, terminally unemployed bearded hippy engineering degree drop-out from Birmingham and a lovely graduate girl who worked in some office, or something. I ended up borrowing her portable TV, sticking it in front of the gas fire, falling asleep and only waking up after one side of it had melted into some droopy Dali-esque grotesque.
After the girl left – nothing to do with me melting her telly, she was leaving anyway – this hilarious well-bred posh boy moved in.
He was possibly the poshest person I’d ever met. He earned a packet working at a recruitment agency, and spent his spare time pounding the beat as a special constable and, I shit you not, pretending to be a cavalier with the Sealed Knot society, who re-enact English civil war battles for bemused agricultural show attendees. He obviously had a bit of a dressing up thing going on, but he was a nice enough guy.
Funnily enough, despite the fact that he was weekend-and-a-couple-of-evenings-in-the-week Babylon, he was always going on at me to get him some acid from the unpleasant hippy-skank dealers who plied their largely piss-poor trade at the Royal Park just up the road. I never did, though I probably should have done for comedy value if nothing else. He’s probably something very big in the City now.
There was also a very beautiful and very loveable tortoise-shell kitten called Charlie, part of a litter named by some architecture students Doug had lived with, whose siblings were named Rennie and Macintosh.
It was all very different to Scunthorpe.
I pre-ordered Angel Dust from Jumbo – this was when it was still in the Merrion Centre – and remember being a little proud of the fact that the legendary Mike Stout behind the counter had never heard of it (you may not be entirely surprised to learn that I’d been single for quite a while – and was destined to be single for some time after that).
Fifteen quid, or however much the album cost, was a big investment for me in those days. But when it eventually arrived, it was worth it. Heck, it was worth it before you’d even applied needle to record.
The guy who put the whole thing together was an illustrator and music journalist, who was originally from Leeds, by the name of Edwin Pouncey. He also played bass for an early punk band called the Art Attacks and did a cartoon column for Sounds under the name of Savage Pencil, but I knew his stuff more from the designs he did for Blast First.
There was a limited edition thing Pat sent me, God bless her, that I particularly treasured, with Halloween on one side and one of Sav’s completely crazy stylised hell-creatures etched into the other. He also did the sleeve for Death Valley 69, if I remember rightly, but his design for Angel Dust upped the ante considerably.
A lovingly – and lavishly – produced package was made up of a gatefold sleeve, with cadaverous, cartoon one-percenters and Angels insignia draped over digitally enhanced stills of righteous, chopped-up hogs, and a picture disc of similarly stylised technicolour freakery split into AFFA (Angels Forever, Forever Angels) and DFFL (Dope Forever, Forever Loaded) sides.
It came with some great sleeve-notes by Big Black mouth-almighty Steve Albini, “son of a motorcycle racer, brother of a motorcycle racer, veteran of two motorcycle accidents, with injuries, one with lawsuit”, doing his very best Dr Gonzo impersonation.
“Speed is the great persuader. It turns up the volume and color and makes all this half-assed dimwit low-brow bullshit come true, in some throbbing, resonant way,” he enthuses. “Washed out cheap color footage turns fluorescent, idiot mumbling and full-tilt cliché jive spew suddenly sounds like Scary Real Brother Lingo …”
But, he cautioned: “If you do mental gymnastics trying to sift some social or historical significance out of a patently empty genre like Angel/biker-movie incidental music, then you, bud, are deep in some shit. Stankety-ass shit. Spread it on a cracker and shoot up.
“Say Yo! to drugs.”
But despite the fact that this was ersatz music for ersatz movies, played by bearded session musicians who were probably, as Albini generously points out, sitting down, Angel Dust just rocked the freaking sky.
From the plaintive, raw emotion of Satan (Theme), Paul Wibier’s gut-wrenching ballad about a kid who never stood a chance (“I was born mean, by the time I was two, they were calling me, calling me Satan ..”) and the brass-heavy voodoo stomp of East West Pipeline’s Angels Die Hard, to the Scooby Doo wah-wah wonkiness of Randy Sparks and Jim Helms‘ By Force and the simply mental backwards drug-nonsense of Mind Transferral by Davie Allen And The Arrows, Angel Dust is, as our Hell’s Angel friends would have it, one twisted muthafucker of a trip.
Unfortunately, I brought a lot old bad habits with me when I moved to Leeds – and even developed some new ones. We used to sit around the front room with the Purple Eternal (a bunch of psychedelically enhanced local youngsters Doug’s band Nerve Rack had played a few gigs with), get stoned and listen to Jah Shaka and the Butthole Surfers, Ofra Haza and Renegade Soundwave, the Shamen, Basement 5, the Mondays, lots of On-U Sound – and Angel Dust, over and over again.
I was signing on, skint, sitting around most days, smoking as much poor quality pot as I could afford, listening to the Butthole Surfers more than was healthy, probably, and generally being a bit crap and directionless. I remember it as a time of hot-knives and jolly green giros, magic mushrooms and spinach pizzas. And hardly ever getting laid.
I somehow managed to get motivated enough to become involved in the anti-poll tax group in Hyde Park and one memorable sunny Sunday, sacked off an afternoon of canvassing and knocking on doors to go up to Woodhouse Ridge to do some acid with Garbageman, hug trees and watch the valley beneath us wash backwards and forwards like the sea at Scarborough.
When we returned to the maze of two up, two down back-to-backs that make up much of Hyde Park, still a little tripped out and giggly, every time we walked down a street we’d see another group of my fellow refuseniks in the distance and have to veer off down a side street to avoid the shame of meeting them – and having to explain why I thought doing acid was more important than fighting the poll tax – only to find yet another group of anti-poll tax campaigners blocking our way.
It took us an hour to get home. We were in a right state by the time we did.
It was one of the Purple Eternal’s mates who had the album off me. Idiotically, I’d lent it to this rich-kid mate of theirs who promptly went off to university and I never saw him again. My own fault really. Dunno what I was thinking of. So that was that. I probably had it in my possession for just over a year. And I’ve been looking for a replacement ever since.
I found it on eil.com (“The world’s premier on-line record store!!” – their exclamation marks) last year, for £20 plus £2.30 postage. And, lucky sod that I am, the lady in my life is not only funny, sweet, clever and very beautiful, she also buys me records too – and records that I‘ve been after for years at that. She is, in many ways, perfect.
Not quite perfect enough to actually appreciate half the shit I play, but it would be boring if we all liked the same things, wouldn’t it? And, unfortunately, the overblown, dirty fuzz-pedal psychedelia that makes up much of Angel Dust just doesn’t cut the mustard in GF-land.
She’s more into Roisin Murphy, Delays and the Gossip at the moment – though she did make favourable noises about Wire’s Pink Flag the other day. But that’s another story.
Listening to Angel Dust 20 years after it came out, it sounds brilliant. It’s just that I can’t play it when the missus is around. It wouldn’t be fair, what with the decks being in the living room. But that’s okay.
I guess I just don’t have the kind of temperament to be a rough, tough one-percenter who wears the cuts and the colours, and the leathers and the “big boots with ass-kicker toes”, who shows his old lady who’s boss and takes shit from no one.
But, you know what? That’s okay too.