I hit the road Friday afternoon bound for Leicester and immediately hit rush hour traffic. Luckily, being the organised sort of chap I am I’d left plenty of time for the journey so I wasn’t unduly worried. Of course, anyone who knows the band fairly well will know that even though “time is an illusion. Lunchtime doubly so” ‘Bad Manners time’ defies all known natural laws and exists purely as an abstract concept (mainly in the mind of promoters). I was stuck in a particularly slow moving queue when the dashboard of the car lit up like a Christmas tree and warning buzzers started going off like a bad 90’s techno band. The engine was overheating so I pulled over. Strangely within seconds the temperature had dropped to normal so I’m assumed it to be a minor electrical blip and continued on, keeping a wary eye on the gauge and vowing to check the coolant level as soon as I got the chance.
I eventually arrived safely at my hotel, checked in, bought some wine (for a nightcap later) and got myself ready to head onto the venue.
Coolant level topped up (yes, it was very low) and gig bag packed ready I headed off to the venue where I found the tour bus with the rest of the guys had recently arrived. As per usual, Tom was religiously changing the strings on his guitar, Mark was fretting about whether to use his drum kit or borrow the support bands, we were a keyboard player down, Pippy (Buster’s dog) had gone walkabouts again and was being chased down the street by the bus driver and Buster was holding court on the back seat – nothing appeared to have changed since my last time out with the boys.
I was greeted by Lee with “Stiggy – I thought you were dead!” so I explained what had happened (for the first, but not the last time that night), being taken into hospital, my stomach op and subsequent weight loss, and that reports of my death as a consequence were grossly exaggerated.
I said my hellos to everyone and settled down with a beer for the long wait until we went on stage.
The support band came and went with alarming punctuality and our stage time loomed on the horizon. We set our gear up, did a line check (I don’t think I’ve ever done an actual sound check with this band, in fact even doing a line check is a luxury).
On the stroke of 10.00, like a well-oiled machine, the band thinking and acting as one – did absolutely nothing! The security staff looked nervous. Just then, with perfect timing, the pre-gig food turned up (much to Pippy dog’s delight) so we ate, we drank a few more beers and Buster started posing for photos with some fans back stage. The security staff still looked nervous and by now the crowd was getting restless.
The crowd were calling for Buster with the usual chant of ‘You Fat Bastard’ – Buster took this as a cue to get back on the bus for a bit.
There was a time when I’d get edgy when things didn’t go smoothly or to time, not just at gigs but anywhere. One thing being in this band has given me though is a far more relaxed attitude. If you started to get uptight every time this band were running late for anything you’d drive yourselves mad!
We eventually hit the stage around 11.15 and launched into the opening instrumental “Echo 4 – 2” followed by Buster’s triumphant entrance on stage and the clarion call of “For those of you who don’t know! THIS IS SKA!!!!”
The challenge of a Bad Manners gig is that despite the fact that the set remains largely unchanged from show to show (and even year to year) and that ‘Red River Ska’ follows ‘King Ska-Fa’ as surely as night follows day Buster will often change the order of some parts of the set around as he feels fit at the time (the more ‘relaxed’ Buster is, the more he is liable to throw in a curve ball and tonight he was as relaxed as a newt) – you have to just be ready as he never announces songs or tells the band what is coming next, he just launches into the start and expects you to be there with him – there is no such thing in this world as a Bad Manners set list!
The other challenge for the horns tonight was that there were only two of us, myself and Ade on sax. So not only did we have to be energetic enough to cover the entire stage we also had to cover all of the trombone solos. Given my recent illness and Ade’s artificial hip we did pretty well I thought! In fact I was very pleased with the show. My chops were holding up well (no chance of proper posture and breathing techniques when you’re on this gig) and I was managing to run around the stage without any problems. I nailed the opening solo section of ‘Red River Ska’ and was managing to put most of the riffs up into the top octave. Ades played a blinder and the section sounded very tight.
The last number came and went and the band left the stage to regroup ready for the encores.
‘Don’t Knock the Baldheads’ is a great number and a joy for a horn player and Ades solo at the end was a real ripper. Then ‘Lip Up Fatty’ (always a crowd favourite) and finally ‘The Can-Can’. Not as Offenbach intended it, this is a 100 mile per hour ska rip up instrumental, made famous when Buster cartwheeled across the Top of the Pops stage wearing a dress and Doc Martens! Sadly, the years have taken their toll and Buster isn’t quite as fit now as he was then so the cartwheels have gone but the high kicks are still there and while Buster himself may be a little more static the rest of the band are expected to make up for it.
As the horn section linked arms and can-canned across the stage the audience decided they would join in with the fun too! First a single skinhead, then another and then another. By the second chorus we had been stage invaded by around thirty sweaty, drunken, pogoing, can-canning skinheads (of various genders) and it was chaos as usual, (I mentioned security staff earlier – they had now moved from being nervous to being invisible – probably quite wisely).
We left the stage at the end of the gig (making sure to take anything breakable with us as the entire audience was now attempting to get up there) and I hastily grabbed my stuff from the dressing room before it filled up with fans wanting their photo taken with the big man. I decided to hit the road still in my stage gear as my hotel was only 10 minutes away. So I bade a fond farewell to the guys (who were heading back to London) until we met up at the 80’s ‘Chilfest’ in Tring for the following days gig and headed for my hotel, a shower, a large glass of red wine and a decent bed!
In part 2 – the gig at Chilfest, Sonia, ABC and doing the ‘Can-Can’ with Keith Chegwin!