Carl in London
Some of the cats 'n' kittens makin' the scene around here know me as the bass player for Classic Ruins, but truth be told,I have a deep dark secret which I can conceal no longer.
I am, in fact, also a Shotglass Killer.
That is to say, I'm the bass player and token American in the otherwise all-British punk ensemble Shotglass Killers. Kags (Karen to her mother) sings and writes the majority of the material, Pilly (husband of Kags) plays drums and writes the rest of the tunes, Ledge (brother of Kags) plays guitar. We don't get to play together often due to logistics (me being in Boston, them being in Brighton, UK) so it's always a special occasion when we have a recording or show scheduled.
The last time we did something together was in 2009, when we recorded an album in Brighton's Studio 284,with an exciting twist - the sessions were produced by a guy named Brian James. Yes, that Brian James, the guy from the Damned - the one who wrote "New Rose" and "Neat Neat Neat", and who later went on to form The Lords of The New Church with Stiv Bators (Dead Boys) and Dave Tregenna (Sham 69). The same Damned who played the Rat in 1977 and were featured in an interview for a local rag called The Boston Groupie News.
I didn't know what to expect out of Brian, but as it turns out he's a very
nice guy and not shy at all about talking about the "old days" of British punk
(this is great for me,as I can't get enough stories about that stuff) Our first
conversation on that subject:
Brian was good to work with in the studio - he was a stickler for tuning between each take, but otherwise went for energy and feel rather than having us play to perfection. He played on one of the songs, too, a ditty called "He's Got Style". In the end,the album came out pretty good, got positive reviews, and much airplay on the world's greatest radio station ,WMBR (WMFU was very generous,too).
If you're curious,you can hear tracks for free here: Shotglass Killers and can buy the album here.
Where was I? Oh yes... Fast forward to April,2012. I haven't been to the UK in over 2 years and am going over to visit Pilly and Kags and family, and celebrate my birthday. No real plans to play or record, just a little vacation. Just as the time arrived to head off to Merry Olde, I got word from Pilly that Brian and his former Damned crony, the infamous Rat Scabies were going to play the entire "Damned Damned Damned" album at the 100 Club in London in June and that Shotglass Killers had been offered a spot on the bill; 2nd slot, before the headliner in fact. How could we say no? We couldn't....so we didn't.
This would mean a second trip to old Blighty in a couple of weeks for yours truly, but the show must go on (especially one as big as this). I enjoyed a nice holiday week with my Limey pals (we even managed to squeeze in a rehearsal to dust off the cobwebs) then home for work and some Classic Ruins shows, before the return to London, departing June 2 (a Saturday night).
If I may sidetrack for a minute...The prospect of opening for Brian, Rat and band was in itself pretty exciting stuff - for a rock history buff like me. However, to play this show at the 100 Club was well beyond icing on the cake. For those that don't know about the 100 Club, it's been around for decades and has hosted shows by blues, jazz and rock greats over the years; Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters ,The Who, The Animals,The Stones,and The Kinks are but a few. In the summer of '76 they held their first (and last, thanks to Sid) Punk Rock Festival over 2 nights which launched the careers of The Sex Pistols, The Clash, The Damned and others, as punk rock took its rightful place in rock and roll. This is one of my favorite eras in rock, and I've read a lot about it - now I'm going to play there.
Back to the story...
Sun. June 3: I arrive at Heathrow at 7:30 in the a.m., safe and sound but absolutely exhausted. Very bumpy ride over, and in an effort to get some sleep I popped a Xanax. I managed to get a quick catnap in but I'm pretty sleep-deprived when I land AND now the Xanax is kicking in and I'm nodding off in the car Johnny Thunders-style. Thankfully, I'm not driving. We rehearse, which goes well and wakes me up, but I'm toast and sawing ZZZ's fairly early that night.
Mon. June 4: Pilly, Kags and I go over some brand new material that we'll record at 284 with Brian at the helm on Tuesday.
Tues. June 5: Brian has the flu and will not be joining us at Studio 284, but we record bass and drum tracks anyways (Austen Gayden on the mixing desk; Austen is also playing bass for Brian and Rat). Afterwards,we meet Ledge at the rehearsal studio for SKs practice that is red hot if I do say so myself.
Wed. June. 6: A double whammy. First, we've all come down with colds, then Pilly gets bad news via text message. Seems the guitarist he's hired to play 2nd guitar with us at the 100 Club has missed his the train (coming from Newcastle). This effectively eliminates him from the gig. (I won't mention his name,but he plays with a touring version of 70's punk rockers Penetration and is a former member of The Campus Tramps, and the Coyote Men). Annoying as this development is, Tuesday's practice was so good that at this point, we're just as happy going on as a quartet. So we rehearse for the last time before the show, hoping that the gods of rock will be kind to us tomorrow.
Thurs. June 7: Brighton to central London is a 45 minute drive..IF there are absolutely no other cars on the road. Otherwise, it can take anywhere from 3 hours or more, slowing down to a crawl once you've entered the London city limits. (Bostonians: think traffic to the Cape any Friday night over the summer combined with the evening rush hour during the first snow storm of the winter, and you may get the idea) It took 3 hours to get to the London border, and another hour to get to the club (a 5 mile journey tops) but because we planned for a grueling drive, we arrive on time, park, and go to check in at the club.
In the lobby is Texas Terri Bomb, who'll be singing with Brian and Co. I recognize her from a photo on the Facebook site that is plugging the show. I introduce myself, dropping the name of a mutual acquaintance (the famous Eric Law, president of Lawless Records) and we then head downstairs to see the inside of the club. There are a handful of people at the club, mostly setting things up around the stage, and lo and behold, one of them is the legendary Rat Scabies, who walks over and shakes hands with all of us. He looks a little different then he did back in '76.......then again, who doesn't?
Our soundcheck isn't for a while ,so we chit chat with Texas Terri, while admiring the hundreds of astounding photos all over the walls of the club that show past performers (Rotten, Strummer, Mick 'n' Keith,Clapton et al ) in action on the very stage that we'll be playing on not too long from now! We sneak off for a quick dinner and return to the club ,where we hear Brian, Rat, Texas Terri and Austen Flatpig soundchecking...and it sounds good...really good. After we do our sound check (superb stage sound courtesy of house sound ace Raye Calouri) good ol' Brian comes by to say hello - great to see him. He feels like hell too, so we're in good company. Nothing to do now but tune up, change clothes, and check out the first band before our 8:45 set.
First band, The Gasoline Queens, go on at 7:45,playing to a fairly empty house that is almost full by the time they finish (running over their allotted 45 minutes, grrrr!!!). At 8:45 sharp (professionals that we are) we are onstage and into our first number, going immediately into the second, and then into the third before we take a quick pause between songs. And what do you know, we're receiving very hearty applause and it dawns on us that we're going over really well. Our 30 minutes onstage fly by (in what seems like 5 minutes) and we are done. We're completely drenched, the audience is happy, as are we. A well-received set at a dream gig - what's not to be happy about?
While cooling off outside on Oxford, noted artist and friend Sophie Lo comes by and takes my arm, telling me there is someone I have to meet. It's her friend Gaye Black, better known to punk fans as Gaye Advert. She's quiet and nice and friendly and still a looker and I'm thrilled to meet her. Back inside, and the main event is ready to begin. Brian, Rat, Texas Terri and Austen are on stage, Texas Terri lets out a piercing shriek and they launch right into "Neat Neat Neat" and don't let up for the next hour. (see for yourself on You Tube).
We weren't sure how this set was going to go. Brian and Rat don't play out all that much these days; Rat lives in Wales and is involved in more scholarly pursuits, while Brian plays occasionally, interested in more acoustic-based music (think Dylan,Tom Waits,country blues). Truth be told,we were asking ourselves, could these guys pull off playing "Damned Damned Damned" (and the better songs from "Music For Pleasure") without tarnishing their legend? Thankfully, they could.
Brian was particularly impressive (not bad for a guy with the flu) and Rat was a treat to watch play (I'd never seen him before); meanwhile Austen on bass was energetic while holding down the fort. The surprise of the night, though, was Texas Terri Bomb on vocals. She is fearless onstage with a rough and tumble voice that was perfect for the material. She crowd surfed, she threw roses to the crowd, she gave props to Brian and Rat but also added her special something to the mix - I'm not sure a "bloke" of Rat's or Brian's or (gulp!) MY age would've had the same impact as she did this night. They played all the good ones from the Brian era ( esp. my fave "Born To Kill") and while Dave Vanian and Captain Sensible playing "Damned Damned Damned" at the Middle East last fall was pretty great, this show was even better.
Hanging around after the show was a trip. Shot the breeze with Brian, Rat, Terri, and Austen AND got to meet TV Smith of the Adverts, and Dave Tregenna of Sham 69. (This name dropping is exhausting.) The ride home was yet another adventure (detours all over London) but we eventually got back to Brighton (staying up til 4, reviewing this incredible evening).
It was a helluva night for this classically ruined Shotglass Killer, and another great adventure in the land of rock!
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