The Rise of Thatcher and the Isle of Hellhounds - the Death of Industry in the UK.
EMI asked me to do some demos for them; simultaneously, the veteran producer Al Kooper was fixed up with the production job for the Hot Rods, and turned out a barren and soulless album, Fish n' Chips.
I was still quite unwell, but I had to consider earning a living. EMI were pressing for some new songs, and, although I didn't really feel up to scratch, I tried a collaboration with a guitarist from the Records (Will Birch's band after the Kursaals), Huw Gower. Back at Freerange , we banged out a couple of tunes that I threw together with the assistance of some lyrics by Giovanni Dadomo (who, sadly, has since become extinct), some drums by Alan Platt (who, also, seems to have departed this mortal coil), and various bass players. We actually played a couple of gigs - the Red Bats were quite competent but nothing new, and I was feeling underwhelmed by events. I've never been extremely confident about fronting a band and it showed. Fate, however, was to attempt to shuffle me off this mortal coil. At home one lunchtime, attempting to come up with some new songs, I slipped into a hypoglycaemic coma, caused by low blood sugar levels, and the recent history of not taking care of myself sufficiently well. St. Thomas' hospital managed to keep me alive while I was comatose. In retrospect, I don't remember seeing any Pearly Gates, any long tunnels, or any of the experiences noted by others who have undergone Near Death Experiences. All I do remember is opening my eyes to find myself in a hospital bed with drips from my arms. Apparently my first action was to rip these from my veins and attempt to run for it.
Regaining one's memory is always a complicated process, especially when you have limited recall of your name, and how to speak. read and eat (I was given some food on a plate, which I, apparently, pushed round and round with my hands, before a nurse showed me how to hold a spoon again). Eventually, I was persuaded that my name was Graeme Douglas, and I was a diabetic. It was as illuminating as being told that I was a Martian, and seemed to have about as much relevance. Over the next few days, various visitors convinced me that I was, indeed, Graeme Douglas, and I had been a guitarist and songwriter in a rock n' roll band. One slight handicap from that episode was that sensory areas in my brain responsible for feelings in the right hand and right foot became damaged, so that I have, to this day, some numbness in those areas of my body.
Many people helped me greatly over the next couple of years in the recovery of my memory. Not the least of these were my good friends Robert Harding, Martin Aubrey, and my family. I was also seeing a lot of my friend from LA, Charlene, who was living in London, working first at Billboard magazine, and then becoming a record company executive for Alien Records. The song "Kitchen of Knives" on G2 is a lyric had she contributed. To all of these people, and others, who I had, previously, hurt or offended, I offer my most humble apologies, and thank them for putting up with me.
I had a house in London, a mortgage, no real job, and an erratic memory. What to do? Oh yes, teach a bit to keep the wolf from the door. I needed an academic degree, as most teaching jobs seemed to pay better with a B.Sc. Signing on with the Open University, to remind me how to study, and working on short-term teaching contracts, I re-entered the world of Science. I became fascinated with Quantum Theory, especially the recent postulates, by Murray Gell-Mann and Stephen Weinberg about Quarks and Gluons in Quantum Chromodynamics. A couple of years with the O.U., then, taking advantage of ILEA's Mature Student Grant, I signed on to study Astronomy and Physics at Queen Mary College in Stepney Green. This was three years of immense fun, and I was heartened to be accepted by my younger classmates Martin, Andrew, Peter, Domenic, Gary and others. I hope that they have all found happy paths to travel since their graduations. I was also privileged to be taught Planetary Astronomy by Sir Patrick Moore - I had won a prize in Junior school, for which I had c hosen The Amateur Astronomer by the man himself - and, as you can tell from his T.V. program, he feels the subject in every cell of his being. A true pleasure indeed.
I remember doing various one-off shows during the mid-eighties, and also a few tracks for David Hatfield. He had enquired as to whether I fancied playing guitar any more, and, when I replied in the affirmative, set up a few Southend musicians to help out. John Pugh on saxophone and Bob Clouter (the best drummer known to man and beast) joined David and myself to record a few songs for David's label. The Engineers played extremely well, but, again, my voice just didn't cut it enough to be a serious vocalist. Nonetheless, we played a few shows, amongst which was a set, at Dingwalls Dance Hall, for a Lew Lewis benefit. Paul Gray and Steve Nicol guested with the band that evening - later that evening, I also played in a version of the Kursaal Flyers that had David Hatfield on bass, instead of Richie Bull. I just remember getting horribly drunk! Lew seemed quite grateful, though. When the Engineers couldn't find the work, David felt that he wanted to release a new album by the Kursaals. The budget was very tiny, and Will came up with some lyrics. I wrote some tunes and Tour de Force was recorded in an eight-track near to Westcliff Railway station. In spite of some dubious guitar tuning, the record turned out quite well, and the Kursaals did a few London pubs in honour of the occasion. There was even a fifteenth anniversary (?) concert at the Palace Theatre, Westcliff! Little seemed to come of it, apart from appearances at the Cambridge Folk Festival and the Fairport Convention's Cropredy festival, for which I was, fashionably, late. I had an excuse - my brothers were photographing Roger Penrose, the noted mathematician and theoretical physicist, and combining the two events on the one day was asking for trouble, especially as the country lanes surrounding the festival were gridlocked.
My brothers had become quite famous in the field of Photography as the Douglas Brothers. When Andrew had graduated, he had come to live in Golders Green with me, working as an assistant to Snowdon and Lichfield., as well as creating the cover art for Thriller. They both provided funds for me to set up a small basement recording studio in the autumn of '87. One of my first jobs was to learn the art of audio engineering, using an Atari 1040 computer and MIDI, as it had just become possible to produce good results from cheapish multi-track recorders with MIDI and SMPTE to sync synths and samplers. Robert Harding was working at John Henry's, and they supplied me with a modest studio set-up. I listened to tracks that I had rescued from the Freerange demo sessions and realised that they were reasonably good. Although the Hot Rods had folded after the Fish n' Chips album, with Paul going on to the Damned / UFO and Barrie helping out the Inmates while Bill Hurley recovered from his problems, there was still a small market for the band. I mastered up the Freerange sessions, and a Southend guy, Steve Hooker, persuaded me that he would like to release the album, the Curse of the Hot Rods. Because of this. we decided to do a few more gigs. One happened to be as support to a band called Hanoi Rocks, (although they didn't in the slightest!). It went pretty well, although Dave's heart wasn't really in it and he declined any further involvement.
It was Steve's idea that we should tour Ireland. Apparently, he had been offered a tour by the proprietors of a Northern Ireland porno magazine. and thought we could earn a few shillings. We were doing the occasional pub gig in London and the SE while rehearsing at Wood Wharf in Greenwich. Barrie had introduced us to his mate Ross McGeeney, a rhythm guitar whose previous band had been Starry-eyed and laughing, and he took over the rhythm guitar slot. Now Barrie refused the tour, and I'm not sure whether this was in retaliation for an earlier contretemps with Steve. We had signed to play a show at the Derby Warehouse club on Grand National Day, 1988. Both Paul and Steve had thrown a wobbler and refused to play - it seems because of a dispute that involved Barrie and some “golden brown”. This was a bit much, especially as the Hot Rods were quite famous for the consumption of Columbia's main export!. Barrie, Ross and I, with help from the rhythm section of the Quireboys, put on a good facsimile of a show. In retrospect, this all sounds like spoiled children squabbling. Steve was desperate for the tour to go ahead so Jim Miller was recruited, a session singer with a good ear and good memory. With one rehearsal, we drove to Stranraer to catch the ferry across to Northern Island. After a good lunch in the local bar, we caught the small, fishing-smack-type ferry and crossed in a force 7 gale. That good lunch fed the fishes as we pulled into Larne, feeling like the inside of each stomach was the outside.
We were due to play Belfast that evening. Belfast was still very partisan, and the first thing anyone wants to know is “Are you a Catholic or a Proddy”? Jim, being Scottish, came in for a great deal of rude behaviour from the bigots of the Orange community, but handled himself with great calmness and credit. We managed to avoid getting lynched because we had turned up without our proper singer, and Steve was safe. Over the next couple of weeks, we played some good shows and some poor shows, including one wedding reception for the agent, or agent's buddy. This was the previously-mentioned encounter with Henry McCullogh. The last night of the tour, a Saturday night at the Boxing Club, Drogheda, Eire, was to leave a lasting, and expensive, memory for us all. Apparently, it was their tradition that the guys all sat round the perimeter of the hall, while the girls showed their dancing skills. This included the edge of the stage. Paul was so incensed that the guys at the front of the stage had their backs to him that he decided to kick one in the head. The next thing we knew, the stage was awash with punters seeking retribution, and we had to flee to the dressing room, protected by the bouncers. Frustrated in their desire for vengeance, the audience decided to wreak havoc on our poor, defenceless van. The repairs to the van ate up all the profit from the tour.
The final nail in the Coffin
The next adventure was a trip to France. Steve had decided to forgive Barrie, and an offer came in to do a few shows in France. The offer was from Jean-Marc Castrec, a promoter who had worked with Barrie previously. We did a couple of preliminary shows in Normandy, and a festival with Stiffed Little Fat-arses, then trekked round France. Because the previous van had been trashed,Steve managed to find us an old VW van, nicknamed Vera, whose one problem was an inordinate consumption of petrol. Again, the first we knew of this was when we were cruising down to Calais for the ferry, only to realise that, instead of miles per gallon, we were getting gallons per mile! Once off the boat, Barrie managed to adjust the carburettor so that we could achieve a modest 10mpg. The tour was quite a good earner - we all enjoyed ourselves, apart from Steve. It seemed that, when we returned to England, he became very judgemental about the golden-brown problem, and insisted that he was no longer prepared to play in the same band as Ross. Barrie, by this time, had lost his partner, Polly, to an overdose. I went to the funeral, as Polly was a good person, just unfortunate in her choice of recreational chemicals.
In retrospect, it was strange that Steve was so against Ross playing in the band because to quote “he was a junkie” when, previously, he had gloried in playing with Johnny Thunders and Barrie was still entangled. I've never managed to work out that twisted piece of logic.
Incidental to this, I was asked to play on a cover of “Do anything you wanna do” by die Totenhosen who were trying to break the UK market by releasing an album of Punk Classics. Although they didn't really appreciate that the Hot Rods hadn't been a punk band, they thought the song was strong enough to overlook minor details like accuracy! They also didn't appreciate that the effect of the droning guitar sound, which was one of the key elements of the song, was achieved by layering many guitar tracks with slight discrepancies in tuning. They thought I was joking and decided to use the tuners religiously! Ah well! At least it was a few shekels in the sky rocket!
It seemed that the Hot Rods were to play no more, until Steve said that he had been offered a tour of Spain for the Hot Rods, and was I interested. He assured me that his mate, Ian Nix, was perfect for the job. We agreed it would be pleasant to travel down to Spain by rail, maybe fitting in one or two shows in the parts of France that we hadn't played, on the way. The Spanish promoter was to supply, at his expense, full back line, travel and hotels. I wasn't convinced, but both Barrie and Paul were keen. I gave my agreement, dependent on how Ian fitted in with the band in rehearsal. There was a quick gig at the Amersham Arms, which, because of the acoustics, wasn't of sufficient quality to assess the state of play of the band.
We played a broom-closet in Toulouse on the way down to Spain. It was clear that Ian Nix wasn't a rhythm guitarist at all. He was a good player, but our styles clashed horribly. I suspect all guitarists that use FX pedals, or talent boosters as Wilko and Lee used to call them, care little for tone and even less for spaciousness and dynamics in the sound. It was bad. It got worse the more we played together......