Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Size Matters

So... where were we..? Ah yes, I'm heading off to Scotland to meet up with the first band on my touring list - Inner Circle.

They'd already been around the block a few times having originally signed to Trojan in the early-seventies and the original line-up had included Stephen 'Cat' Core and Michael 'Ibo' Cooper who would go on to form Third World. Thus, the band that signed to Island during 1977 or so were really the three originators - Roger and Ian Lewis and Jacob Miller.

And these guys were... hmmm... how does one say this politely... impossible. Ok, they were absolutely massive - each a man-mountain in his own right. Who ate all the pies? Inner Circle did.

The album has the same title as the single - Everything Is Great and both are already making waves; the press reviews have been favourable and the single's being played to death on the radio. It is, as they say in pick-of-the-pops terms, bubbling under. So far, so OK.

And, the guys - with slim Joe Ortiz, session guitar whizz with impeccable credentials and slimmer Bernard 'Touter' Harvey, one of Marley's legion of keyboard players - among their numbers are out on tour with one of Scotland's finest, The Average White Band. First stop - probably the most hostile audience known to mankind; the Glasgow Apollo - if they don't like you, you're dead meat. No questions asked - this lot lead with their fists first and ask 'how ya doin' Jimmy' as you lie on the floor. Why do Scots' call everyone they don't know Jimmy? I've not a clue but... they do.

So, since we're a bunch of Jimmy's, it seems to me we need to make a bit of an impression. I've done my bit by gathering all of the local Scottish movers and shakers down to the venue, showtime's not too far off and, from seeing them play before (that must've been in London though I have no clear memory of that show) I know they can deliver live. But, still... there's something gnawing at me, this is the AWB's home audience... we've gotta do... something special.

Bing... brainwave. Scotsmen wear kilts. Half an hour from showtime and how the hell do I acquire a kilt; size in this instance doesn't matter as one-size fits all... in a wrap-around sort of manner. Enter Stewart 'Ding-Dong' Bell, Island's local bloke in Scotland. He knows someone who knows someone else who'll procure the article in question. Huge sighs of relief all round. Now, to convince Jacob that it'd be a bit of a beezer wheeze for him to march on for their encore - Gawd, I was confident that they'd get one - wearing... a kilt. Expect the unexpected as they say.

Jacob's up for it but Ben Foot, who was tour-managing this little lot wasn't quite so sure. His concern being, what if it doesn't work - have we got a fast enough car to make good our escape? Eventually Ben relented - his father I think was Sir Hugh Foot and Governor General of Jamaica at some time... but, I digress.

Their opening act goes really well and the crowd are baying for more. Now's the moment... and, as the opening bars to Everything Is Great wash out from the PA, enter stage right... Jacob Miller, a conservative 18-stones in weight, topless, stage-sweat glistening over his overly large torso, dreadlocks cascading down his back, with his bare belly bulging out and over... a... kilt.

The crowd stood as one and simply went mental. The first in a series of nights when everything really was great.

A few days later and we've wound up in Leeds. Which means that the show must've been at Leeds Uni. One of the more legendary venues on the touring circuit where - does one even need to mention this - The Who Live at Leeds was recorded; possibly one of the finest live albums ever. We have the afternoon off and some bright spark mentions that Leeds United are playing at home.

And, since every Jamaican is soccer-mad, its necessary to find a way of acquiring tickets for everyone. Enter Tony The Greek. Its more or less his home turf and sure enough he knows someone at United and tickets are ours. So far, so OK. The bus is outside the hotel we all hop on and off we go - we've just got enough time to see the game before heading off to sound-check, the guys are in buoyant mood... this is English First Division Football and something of a much-anticipated treat for them.

Well, it was until we got to the ground and encountered the turn-stiles.

We all queue up in amongst a stack of Leeds' faithful, slowly edging forward toward the entrance and all goes just fine until Roger Lewis gets completely stuck in the turnstile. It won't move forward, nor will it move back. The game is but five minutes from kick-off and there are dozens of fans waiting to get in. We hear the roar of the crowd as the teams run onto the pitch while Roger struggles with the turnstile. It won't budge and the fans behind us are, at best, becoming restless.

Eventually, turnstile operative-bloke unlocks the device that has trapped our over-sized bass player and we're in and heading for our seats. Leeds are playing Norwich and... Norwich score early on. And, we're in amongst the hard-core of Leeds fans.

Not much of a problem in itself - other than the Norwich player who scored was black and Leeds fans - in that day and age - weren't used to having massively dreadlocked Jamaican's in their midst.

A Jamaican scores (for the opposition) and what do fellow-Jamaicans do..? They celebrate. Not exactly the wisest thing to do in amongst the home team's supporters.

Racial abuse was, sadly, rife at that point and so... since a couple of the guys were wearing their yellow satin tour-jackets with everything is great emblazoned across their backs, the Leeds faithful equated us all to Norwich supporters - yellow being their primary kit-colour.

Black and dreadlocked, wearing the wrong team-colours and celebrating the opposition scoring - a clear-cut recipe for disaster. It was until both Tony and I quickly dished out a few tickets for the evening's show to pacify the blokes behind us who'd taken to suggesting in no uncertain manner the sort of boat that Jacob and his cohorts ought to take back to the West Indies.

We wound our way around Britain - the football match against the AWB guys after soundcheck at in the main hall of Lancaster University another memorable highlight - and ended up playing dates in France and Belgium where, so far as I was concerned, my days out on the road with these guys ended - I had to get back to the UK and head off with the Hot Rods. After that last show in Belgium, they gave me a little gift... a show-poster, signed by all of them. Jacob's inscription said simply; For Neil, a brother from the heart. It hangs in the dungeon (office) at Merle, a memento for when everything was great.

Sadly, the big-fella died in a car crash in March 1980. Jacob and I last met shortly before that, in New York, the night Marley played his first ever show at the Apollo Theatre in Harlem. But that, as they say, is another... story.

1 comment:

Fifi Dessein said...

God you're funny. Love the tales you tell and the pictures your make. Fifi xoxox