That was the week

So, yeah, no blog, nothing to gnaw on, but that doesn’t mean I’ve been drumming my fingers staring out the window counting sheep. With the kids still off school – sorry if this upsets you teachers but your seven week annual holiday is A FUCKING LIBERTY – and us getting ready to move house I haven’t had time to scratch my arse let alone make with the bon mots here.

On top of which I’ve been working. Starting with the Saturday before last when me and Harry Paterson rocked up at Blackwell’s in Oxford for my little reading and talk around GETCHA ROCKS OFF. I was imagining it being like that scene from Spinal Tap where no one turns up at their record store appearance but lo and behold there were actually people there. Good people with good questions and good laughter and even some good applause at the end. Even Harry as MC was well-behaved and professional (though he couldn’t help himself going into a rant afterwards about The Beatles, who Harry loves, to James Orton the superb b.o.s.s. at Blackwell’s). Harry and I then ‘went on the razz’ for the rest of the evening, putting in an appearance at the Sweet Tomato in Yonder Village before going forth and multiplying with wife at the Dil Raj, and then home again to settle with three bottles of whisky until about 4.30am when said wife put in an appearance and showed us both the red card.

Two days later I was on my way to Birmingham, still hurting, but full of wonder, as Sam ‘Just One More’ Coley met me at the station where he informed me I would not just be a guest on the radio show he is producing but the actual presenter and anchor. Okaaayyyy… Several hours and even more takes later we had what I feel will actually be the best radio documentary I will have ever made – to be broadcast on Absolute Radio in a few weeks, and on Led Zeppelin. (And other related things.)

The following night was the real killer-diller though. On stage with Mark Ellen and David Hepworth at The Islington in, uh, Islington, norf London, where for an hour I managed to entertain the crowd with yet more stories of glories passed and pissed over from GETCHA ROCKS OFF. Now this you can actually hear in the Podcast they have made of it and just released today. I will try and paste a link here but best you probably go to my official FB page or twitter feed for the direct doodah.

I’d love to say more but really it’s all there. Trust me, as Harry says as he tries too persuade you to gargle more Laphroiag.

http://wordpodcast.co.uk/2015/08/30/word-podcast-238-with-mick-wall/

 

Ahead of tomorrow at Blackwell’s

Here are a few questions a regular reader of my website blog named Andy sent in. Stuff that he’d ask if he was coming to Blackwell’s tomorrow afternoon. I apologise that the answers are so brief, but they were written quickly, though they are no less heartfelt.

ANDY: I’ve got a question or two. What advice would you give someone who is a writer on how to make a living being a writer? This might be a little off-topic but I am sure many would appreciate insights coming your way…

Would you realistically need to find alternative sources of income eg speaking, consulting, TV work etc. Especially when you consider things like taxes, percentages paid to Amazon etc.

When writing do you (as I think you previously said) “bash that shit out” before sculpting the mass of clay you are left with – or do you agonize over each paragraph? Do you start off with chapter 1 and expand on that, or have chapter 1-10 clear in your head?

How long would you say it takes to become a really good writer? 10 years? Or Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hour rule? Kurt Vonnegut started writing in 1945 when he returned from the war, didn’t have financial success with writing until about 1970 and even in 1968 his books were out of print.

Do you need to read a lot to become a good writer?

Do you formulate a set of questions and then set about researching them?

How do you deal with people that hate what you say?

I’ll shut up for now…

ME: Thanks Andy, I doubt I’ll be asked any of those at Blackwell’s on Saturday so here are my very brief answers, seeing as you’ve been kind enough to ask.

Becoming a published writer has always been the same. You write something then send it to magazines, newspapers, online, book publishers, anyone you relate to as a reader, or see yourself being published by. If they like what they see they WILL be in touch.

I am the only writer I know personally who makes a living solely out of writing. There are others of course but they are not rock writers. It also means I get to write about a lot of shit I couldn’t give a fuck about. Cos I need the dough. Nothing in life is without compromise, shit eating, arse kissing etc. Writing is no different.

I do not agonise over anything but I used to. Like being a musician, you agonise over learning to play, then learning to play well, then learning to play so well you can make a living out of it, then a good living, and so on. I am nearly four decades, 20 books, and a million articles in, I have written books I never once even looked back and read finished chapters of. But that’s where I am now not where I started or spent most of my life.

I start out with as much research as I can then start at chapter one. I only have a vague idea where it’s going after that. Important with biography, living history, as you have to let the story tell itself to you, not have some plan before you start. That’s where most rock biogs go wrong, they start out with the idea the band is great and work backwards. I start out with nothing and wait to see what happens.

How long to become good? It never ends.

Yes you must read. Good writers come from great readers. 

I research then formulate questions.

I couldn’t give a rat’s arse what people say, and nor should you if you want to be a half decent writer. I’ve had brilliant reviews which got it all wrong. I’ve had terrible reviews that got it all wrong. So you take it with a shrug and move on. If your shit is any good the right people will find it. If you really are a writer it won’t make any difference how long it takes or who says what, it’s just something you have to do.

Really looking forward to seeing and meeting you all at Blackwell’s book shop in Broad Street, Oxford tomorrow Saturday August 22 at 5pm

Blackwell’s Talk – Help!

So on Saturday I’m gonna be sat there in the philosophy section at Blackwell’s in Oxford – which is like the Tardis, small and olde world quaint from the outside, totally out there and arena-sized enormous on the inside – where I’m supposed to be giving a reading or two from Getcha Rocks Off, and I’m wondering… but what?

If anyone has any suggestions for which bits from the book might make for an entertaining five minutes before a doubtless largely bewildered and weary audience, I would be very grateful to know. Otherwise I’m just tempted to launch into off the cuff stories about whatever Harry Paterson decides to prompt me on and as he is the most ornery, cantankerous bastard I know that could mean anything from the evils of 80s conservatism to the joys of church-burning black metal. Neither of which frankly I think are much mentioned in the book. Not that that will stop Harry from somehow working them in there.

So help me. Please. If you are there – and you bloody better be as I’ll be taking names and kicking ass, as my other only friend Joe Daly says – what would you fancy me having a bit of a witter about then? And don’t say ‘music’, you know I know nothing bout that. Nor sex, which to be honest I know as much about as I do music. I mean, yes, they are both subjects that crop up with alarming frequency in the book, but don’t expect me to talk out loud about them. Not unless I wear an eyeless leather face mask of course but let’s not go there

Meanwhile, BBC Radio Oxford, possibly the most insightful, entertaining, intelligent and discerning station within a few miles of where I live, will be interviewing me tomorrow on their afternoon show – “About five past three,” said Jason the producer just now on the phone, which probably means more like half three but we’ll see – about this historic ‘forthcoming event’.

I hope they don’t ask how many people we’re expecting as the last time I heard from James at Blackwell’s he was mumbling something about the students all having buggered off on their holidays. Still, there will be beer, at some point, I’m fairly certain. And perhaps we will all be horrifically surprised and there will be dozens of eager faces all there to hear about the time Ozzy cooked me Sunday lunch or Steve Nicks showed me her knickers, or Axl wrote me that love letter.

Perhaps.

Getcha Blackwell’s Tickets

This Saturday afternoon, at 5pm, I’m gong to be making one of my ‘appearances’ at Blackwell’s in Oxford. (I’ll stick some links up.) There to read a little from, discuss and answer any tricky questions about my current fuck-filled memoir, Getcha Rocks Off.

This is the book that serves both as symbolic ‘follow-up’ to Paranoid – stylistically, at least – but also covers much the same period of my life, with the emphasis this time though on the various star attractions that had the privilege to find me working with them throughout: Ozzy, Pagey, Axl, Lemmy, Lynott, the Leppards, Tallica, and so on and so forth. For the over-sensitive it should also be noted it contains stories – shock, horror – containing direct references to drugs, sex, death, drugs and more sex and more death. From London to LA, via Ealing Common, Krusher Joule, Sharon Osbourne and Mr Jack Daniels. To name merely a very few.

But that’s just the book. Really this will be the launchpad to tell some of the stories I positively absolutely could not tell in the book, for fear of either legal or personal reasons. (Mainly legal.) But you ask and I’m gonna tell. And show. And tell some more. So for christ’s sake come before I get locked up.

Helping me out onstage asking a few questions and jogging the old and rapidly getting older noggeroon, will be Harry Paterson, rock writer, political junkie, and, most fearfully, Scotsman. Harry knew me long before we had ever met, through what I shall henceforth refer to as ‘my work’. Then became a good friend over the past decade as the both of us have pursued our various ‘esoteric pursuits’ together and alone. And what might they be?

Come along and we’ll tell you. Promise. Oh and there will be alcohol. Oh dear me yes…

How To Be A Writer

I was a writer a long time before I was a published writer. Then even though I became a published writer young – 19 – it still took me years to understand the difference between what it took to be a writer and what you had to be able to do to be a published writer. It seemed to me – and it was true, at least for me – that being a published writer actually diminished my ability to write in a free and interesting way. I’m not saying original, I’m saying something that meant something, outside the usual rock writer cliches.

But to become a published writer at 19 in Sounds magazine – October 1977 – I had to resort to all the rules and cliches: floorboard bass, kamikaze guitar, rock solid drums and, of course, charismatic lead vocals. Well, shit, yeah, but it carried me for a while.

Occasionally I would manage something much more true to who I really was – until one day the Reviews Editor, Geoff Barton, asked me: “Do you write with a dictionary by your side?”

How the hell did he know that?

Tra la la…

I kind of got the hang of it over the next three years, off and on, mainly, though, when I wasn’t writing at all, that’s when I seemed to make little moves forward, I would notice the difference the next time I sat down to write something for money, maybe months later.

The big turning point for me as an actual pro doing it full-time for a living though was sharing a flat with Sandy Robertson. Sandy was the real deal. Was on the staff at Sounds, was a little older than me, and really knew his shit when it came to music. When it came to writing features though, he would laugh at me watching as I tippy-tap-toed out a 1500-word feature, agonising over it. Then turn to go back to his room where he sat crouched on the floor, the typer in front of him, and, as he put it, “just bashed the shite out.”

I copied him. Or tried to. Just bashing the shite out. And dear god almighty but it worked. It seemed working in the same space as someone much further up the road doing the same thing somehow conveyed the magic onto you, even if it was only a little at a time. Thanks to watching Sandy work, I also began to work. There was no trick, no ‘in’, no nothing, Just learn from the master – by simply hanging out and copying. Thanks Sandy, I still owe you.

There were other crossroads of course – and they keep coming. You never really know what in hell you’re doing, the thing is just to keeping doing it, keep driving all night your hands wet on the wheel, listening to that voice in your head that drives your heel.

So when they mail me at this site, or message me on FB or tweet or whatever way round they manage to do it and ask me how it’s done, what the secret is, how can they also get published, write about rock bands, cos they love my work, have always read me, even as far back as Kerrang and doodle woodle ding dong doo, I only really have one message: just bash the shite out. There are no rules. Make up your own. Oh, and stay away from phrases like ‘invaded these shores’, ‘to these ears’ and, most wince-inducing for me, ‘undoubtedly’.

The Crack

It would be around 2.00am and my mother would shake me awake and tell me: “Your father wants you downstairs, quick now!”

I was five, maybe six, and she’d help me get dressed then take me to the ‘living room’, as they called it, where my father would be sitting with the rest of his band: Johnny Lynch, Dave Harrigan, Little Joe, Northern Ireland Jimmy, Taffy Jack and Big Joe, the Jock. Every nationality of Ireland and the British Isles, except the English. Who my father hated, yet had lived amongst far longer than he ever did the Irish-Scots family he was born into.

They would have been out to a gig some place, the Pack Horse in Chiswick High Road or McGhee’s Club in Ealing. Dad on the accordion, singing, drinking, smoking, Johnny on the brushes, Taffy the little squeeze box, Jimmy the whistle, so on, so on… They would swap instruments and they would all take turns singing. There must have been summer nights this would happen but in my memory it is always a cold night in winter and the big open fire is going strong.

There would be food, what he called “a mixed grill” which meant everything in the larder, meat, vegetables, eggs, bread, whatever, into a huge frying pan, then cooked on the hearth. Endless beer of course, and a river of whiskey.

“The first born!” my father would bellow at first sight of me. That was my name to him: “the first born!” I loved him then for it and later hated him for the same. But my mother was still young then and the world still seemingly new to all of them. He would force me to drink. A lemonade shandy, light on the lemonade. Later my next brother down would be there too and he would drink straight beer, aged five, “a proper man,” as he became known. Johnny Lynch would also give me his cigarette to have a puff on but it made me dizzy. Taffy offered me his pipe instead and Christ that was even worse.

I feared these occasions but I grew to love them too. The best part would come around 4.00am when the instruments would get a rest and the men would sit around telling stories. And laughing. You never heard such loud and hearty laughter. And that’s where it started for me, not so much the music, which I really couldn’t stand that much, except for a couple like Black And Tan Band and a couple of their IRA rebel songs. But the stories – I couldn’t get them out of my head. Even though I didn’t  get great big parts of them I had to laugh too.

They were such obvious rogues, chancers, on the run from whatever so-called normal life was meant to be about. They all had big thick accents the English could never understand and would only take the piss out of. I had the same heavy accent – until I got to school and the playground knocked it out of me. But it stayed with me whenever I was home, and is still there now whenever I am yelling at my own kids, or telling them a joke, a story. Having “the crack”.

It’s the stories though. That’s where all of it came from. The love of the story and the great way it could be told. Not just once, but retold again and again, aiming for greater heights of madness each time.

Out To Lunch

I’m sitting here waiting for Andrew Watt to call me. I’m helping him out with a little promo material ahead of the release of his first solo EP. Don’t ask me for more, I can’t say, except that the first single is a massive hit in the making. You remember this kid, the flash of lightning in California Breed? Woah yeah, baby, he’s back and bouncing and sounding like he no longer needs anybody else to help him on his way.

Except he was supposed to call 45 minutes ago and I’m sitting here wasted from a long day in London. Well, a long lunch in London, with two of my favourite people in the  world, Malcolm Edwards, El Presidente of my publishers Orion, and his beautiful talented publishing director rising star Anna Valentine. They took me to the Ivy. Not the downstairs can’t get-an-appointment-at-a-good-table-for-months spot, but the upstairs private members club that no one except Malcolm and his brethren even know about. Can I just say the roasted in herb salmon was to die for. As for the Spanish red wine whose name escapes me it was so old, well, adios amigo to the dull days and hola to the muy bueno!

At some point I believe we even talked about some of the books I might write in the future. But not until dessert was over obviously. What am I – a philistine?

Let’s just say you know you’ve had an enjoyable lunch when it lasts longer than four hours yet feels like it was only two. Just think, kids, back in the day when record companies still had artists that sold in the millions lunches like this were an almost daily occurrence. Well, not anymore. Not even in publishing that much, actually. It’s just that for whatever crazed reason, Malcolm has always spoiled me and Anna is just I-don’t-know-why unbelievably kind and generous to me.

Wait… that’s Andrew on the line, throwing shapes, gotta run run  run…

Time Travel

Wella, wella, and excuse meeeee pleeeeze… been having a little break. Or rather, a long one. Been about six weeks now and apart from the absolutely essential and often not even that I have been off the leash and exploring this old world I haven’t had much chance to wander around for, what, maybe 10 years now. Finished my Foo Fighters book, sat and watched as Getcha Rocks Off got great reviews on Amazon (I truly thank thee) and provoked some very odd facial expressions amongst those who review things elsewhere. Mainly good but it is truly arse-twisting what some people have to say about it. Apparently, according to one person, I can’t write, do not tell enough stories about rock stars in the book, and simply bore people with sordid (real life) tales of sex and drugs. Er… did they read the title of the book?

So anyway fuck that. As Salvador Dali always used to say: don’t read the reviews, weigh them. Who gives a shit what they say as long as they say it enough times, right Sal? And anyway, I’ve been laying around thinking of other things. We sold the house the same day we celebrated my birthday, then I wandered off to London for what turned out to be quite a while, came back and it was the kids’ summer school hols and that took over from everything else.

I keep telling my wife I have retired. For the time being. And she laughs and says she doesn’t care. Hang loose mother goose. So that’s what I’ve been doing. Finally got my ass back to the gym, too, got me some new running shoes and have so far lost 9lbs from the poor excuse for jogging that is all I am capable of these days. Well, it’s a start, considering I put on seven pounds during the last few weeks of the Foos when all that was left of me was the part still writing the book.

Now suddenly I am back at my office. Not entirely sure where to start. Knowing exactly what I want to do and slowly slowly getting to it, like you eventually have to. Still holding tight to that good feeling though. There was a TV crew here last week from ITV, something about a Jim Morrison documentary ready to go out in the US in time for the American pub of my Doors book, and fuck you all for not buying that by the way, know nothing metal freaks and dreamy rock chicks. No respect that crowd for their much older family ruffians. No he didn’t die in the bathtub, Johnny Depp, he checked out long before that.

Next week I’m off back to London to do one for Channel Five, this time for a series about great rock conspiracies or some such. Want to talk to me about Jimmy and the Occult, Jim and the damn mythical bathtub scene again, and how the brethren at the Beeb actively plotted to keep God Save The Queen from No.1 way back in 1977 when the world was still somehow young if already terribly dull.

Between times, me and the fam are off this weekend for a few days at the beach, lord knows we need it. Sun please shine. Sea please not too cold. Kids for fuck’s sake allow me just five minutes a day and we’ll get through it without bloodshed. Have warned wife I’ll be bringing my blue tablets. She said, “I thought you’d retired?” I told her: “I’m making my comeback, baby. You better be ready!”

Die Soft

They keep dying. Chris Squire not even the latest though one of the greatest. It’s just our time. Should we fear it? No. But we do. If you’re under 50 you really won’t get it, but once you pass the magic marker of a half century two things occur: one, you cannot believe how it happened. It’s like you were watching TV or staring out the window one day in your early-30s, got up to make a cup of tea, came back and suddenly you are 50. Like, it’s not even fair. It feels wrong. There you were imagining you’d have changed somehow, grown into something more comprehending by the time you got to that late stage of the game. But you haven’t. Nor will. You just get used to the repeat prescriptions, the funerals, the aches and pains of just moving around, the weird way in which young girls no longer check you out. You think rock stars or any different? You really aren’t old enough yet then.

The other thing that occurs is the imminent arrival of your own death. It’s the secret of life, of course, the special sauce that turns merely existing into actual living. No sun without the moon. No life without death. But for most of your life you haven’t felt you would have to deal with it directly, on a one to one level. Until now. Just knowing that knock on the door could come any time at all. Now even. Or maybe yesterday, you just haven’t picked up on the signs yet.

What does it mean for rock? Nothing. Rock gave up the ghost 20 years ago, with the grunge scene. How many life-changingly great rock albums released since then? None. How many so called new bands doing anything – anything – in the rock sphere you haven’t seen and heard a zillion times before? None. Not a one.

Even the album is dead. Oh, you can make and you can download them or stream them but no one with half a brain gives a shit. I must have ‘bought’ maybe three ‘new’ albums in as many years. All by either Miles Davis or Bob Dylan. And the week before last I sold the lot to a market stall dealer I happened to meet selling some of my books in Oxford Market. I now no longer possess a single CD or vinyl record. Phew, what a relief. And Neil Young is still groaning on about bandwidth and quality. It’s like fishing or riding motorcycles. Really great if you’re into it but don’t try and make it the law. Not for me or my kind. I do not give a fuck. Love music, hate old bores.

Instead, I walk slow these days and drink plenty of water. I still lose my cool – hey, I’ve got a wife and three kids, it’s amazing I have any cool left at all. But not like the days of blood and thunder. I walk towards my own death only pausing to note the deaths of Squire and others with a short and steady gaze. I actually look forward to the death of certain rock stars. It’s the only thing they’ve got left to keep us entertained or interested.

Dirty Old Town

Been spending the past few days in London, one way or another. Was there at the weekend with my wife and kids. Not staying at the Bucket Of Blood this thine though, but at an even worse dive called the Teddy Bear, in Paddington. We had booked a ‘four-bed suite’. What we got was two rooms on top of each other, both with two beds in – and no room for anything else. The curtains by the windows were both burned from being too near the night lights, and the windows looked out over grey roofs and walls – and the smell of some cunt smoking nearby. Smoke if you must but when I book a non-smoking room I don’t expect you to do it outside my window. They didn’t even do a cooked breakfast. For that, we walked over to the Bucket where their traditional menu of burnt toast, rubber eggs and old socks sausage looked entirely edible for once.

The rest of the time was good though, much walking round Camden Market on a hot Saturday afternoon, buying an array of incense-soused tat that pleased wife and kids no end, and helped relieve me of that bundle of cash I had been squeezing so lovingly in my pocket. In the evening we went to Mele e Pere in Brewer Street where they took such care of my boy, making him an off-menu spag-bol he scoffed, I vowed never to eat anywhere else again. Then we went to wander around Covent Garden until the Sat Nite crazies started coming out and we taxied back to beddy at the Teddy.

Oddly, and I did not plan it this way, but I had to be back in London first thing Monday for some work-type… work. Meetings, don’t you know. Greetings. Everyone talking at once. Big open plan offices and small dark corners elsewhere. Then in the evening, forward to Soho and yonder public house.

Then yesterday, the same thing all over again. Except this time I ended up in Joe Allen’s with a certain editor very close to my wallet. Got there early, left there late. I believe there was food involved at some point. But mainly it was the drink. Pitchers of beer and frosted-glasses of Vodka Martinis (with a twist). I always know when I’ve probably gone a little too far the night before when I wake up the next day with my head on the floor beside the bed next to me. And I reach down for it and can’t quite get it back on the right way round.

All most acceptable most days when all I have to look presentable for is myself me and I in my little office all alone and lonesome. But not this one as I was back in someone else’s office doing the do for much of the day. Still, I will be leaving shortly so thought before I do I would bring you up to date. Admit it, you only miss it when I don’t.

I Bet You Have Some Crazy Stories…

Yeah, I do. The craziest though are not the ones that involve rock stars. The stories that I still think about the most are the ones that run much deeper, that involve real blood, not the fake Hollyweird kind, the real-life tales I often recall through the barely parted fingers of my hands as I hide my face in shame. The times when I would hang around Joe and Bareen knowing they were going out to eat – there was a greasy spoon stayed open late in Acton Vale, sold proper grub dinners for like £3. I wouldn’t have had hot food for several days, had zero spondoolicks, just knew if I hung on long enough and pretended to not know better they would just let me tag along, then at the end when it was time to pay the Greek at the counter I would feign shock at that missing fiver, sure I had one in my pocket when I came out, and Joe would look at me sideways about to say something but Bareen would squeeze his arm and Joe’s better nature would take over. Man, I think I would have died if it hadn’t been for Joe. Then years later when things were going good for me (though bad really) brushing him off because… I don’t know… because I was a cunt, basically. Then all those years since then regretting it, shuddering, still thinking about it.

The times in my life and career when I have let far lesser mortals walk over me. Back and forth, back and forth, until what was left of my so-called soul was squelched into nothingness. Hating them for it but hating myself more for allowing it to happen. Then seeing that same truck come steaming down the street towards me again, and allowing it to hit – again.

Ah, shit, so what? Lately, I feel like I am turning a corner. We – wife and I – are selling our house and using the proceeds to pay off all our (enormous) debts. We should have enough left over plus our usual income to live something like the good life. (Definition of the good life: a plate of something good and a glass of something better to go with it each night and many days of doing something I actually enjoy for a living, rather than anything I can get my hands on just to keep that rotten death trip wolf from the broken door.)

Hey, we might even have a holiday. A proper holiday. No more half-arsed trips to Norfolk (hi six!) or sending wife and kids away to Dorset while I stay behind to work, work, work. Somewhere hot and fabulous and fine where life feels like it’s forever. Haven’t had one of those for nearly 20 years. Ridiculous. Pitiful. Wrong.

Time to make it right. So this next year is going to see me doing stuff I actually want to do. So that if I die the day after tomorrow I will do so no longer a prisoner to someone else’s idea of money and the hell we most of us have to go through to get it, only to give it straight back again. Starting with a nice new tailor-made dude suit from my mainman Nino. Hey, baby!

One Nervous Cat

This extract from Getcha Rocks Off concerns the chapter on Steve Clark of Def Leppard, and how he was falling apart on the road.

Steve had a sideways kind of way of talking, skipping certain words, leaving you to fill in the blanks. But I knew what he was talking about, all right… getting up just as the sun goes down, fumbling blindly for the Tylenol, searching for your head among the ruins of your room, trying to put it all back together and failing… ah, God, the pain, the sickness, the regret… the overpowering stench of your own mortality clogging up the room. Then staggering to the bathroom, cowering in the shower… gagging as you brush your teeth… anything to try to clear away the poisonous shad-ows that hover over everything like a cloud of flies. Collapsing exhausted back on the bed, staring at the silver room-service tray… swamped by thoughts of death, thoughts of home, thoughts of fakery… thoughts of all the things you didn’t do yesterday that deep down inside you know you won’t be doing again today.

Deep down inside… what a terrible place to wake up to each day on the road. It was bad enough for officially sanctioned freeloaders like me, there just for a few days at a time to write a story or shoot a TV clip. But for Steve, there not only for the long haul but also as a principle member of the team, the pain and the guilt must have been overwhelming. And the worse he felt, the more quickly he moved to kill the pain with vodka and cocaine and anything else he could get his shaky hands on. Which just fed the guilt more. What a rotten wheel to be trapped on. What a death trip. I couldn’t figure it. Why didn’t he just stop? Even just for a little while, until he had it together again? Or just slow down? What was his fucking hurry anyway?

But whenever I suggested it, even just casually, he’d shake his long, blond tresses impatiently. ‘I do… do that… but then… I dunno. I mean… What else is there?’

He had me there. ‘I never really… drink. Never… anything… before I go on,’ he lied. ‘I always try to do the gig straight.’ That part I did believe. ‘It’s just… after. What’s the… I mean… few drinks… whatever… What’s wrong with that?’

He made it sound so reasonable. If only the reality had been as straightforward. By the time I got to know Steve well enough for him to talk to me about this stuff – the first time, as I recall, after a Leppard gig in Milan, in the spring of ’88, when some chick from the Italian record company slipped a couple of grams in his hand – he was, it transpired, already on a round- the-clock regime of vodka, schnapps, beer, cocaine, painkillers, antidepressants, sleeping tablets and various other party-favour tranquillisers. A strong, fit man would have buckled under the weight of that medicine chest. Steve was neither a strong nor a fit man and the wonder was that he was still able to get up on that stage each night and run around like he did. Even without the added extras, he was smoking maybe forty cigarettes a day, would go limp at the very mention of the word ‘exercise’, and hardly ever hit the sack before daybreak.

In retrospect then, you might say he was an accident waiting to happen; that somebody should have done something to stop him before it was too late. As one of those possible somebodies, I would say this: the Steve Clark I knew looked and talked like a man for whom the tragedy had already occurred. That maybe it was already too late to help him.

Maybe.

Getcha Rocks Off Extract – Mr Big

This is an extract from my new book Getcha Rocks Off, a snippet from the chapter concerning my time working with the Godfather of Rock – Don Arden.

Determined to do something for her ailing father, Sharon Osbourne encouraged Don to finish his memoirs, a project he had been working on sporadically for five years. But he needed a writer to work with. Sharon recommended me.

We would meet a couple of times a week at the luxury Park Lane apartment he was renting while he was in London working with me on the book. Don was old, and he could be painfully funny, and I certainly enjoyed my time with him. It wasn’t every day, after all, that one got to hang out with a genuine mafiosi-connected throwback to the time when the music biz really did resemble the Wild West.

Don, however, was still quite frightening when he wanted to be. He no longer actively hung people out of windows or placed a loaded gun against their heads. (‘Sometimes I would just lay it on the table at meetings,’ he told me. ‘It had a wonderful way of focusing everybody’s minds.’) But he was always quick to suggest he still knew people who did.

How much of this was simple bravado and how much real, I couldn’t gauge. I sensed it was probably the former, but not enough to put it to the test. Not when he was continually telling me stories of all the different people he had ‘sorted out’ over the sixty years he had been in the business – like the stage manager he’d beaten up and ‘rolled down the stairs like a bundle of rags’ in his days as a young song-and-dance man, whose crime was, ‘Fucking up the lights during my act, then not even apologising!’

Then there were the bootleggers and drug pushers he’d broken the arms and legs of during his days as a tour promoter – ‘The scum of the earth, I’d leave them unconscious in the gutter’. And the rival managers he’d ‘given a kick up the arse to’ like Robert Stigwood and, less famously but even more brutally, Clifford Davis, who’d had the misfortune to challenge Don over management of sixties’ hit makers The Move.

Don recounted with typical relish the day he turned up unannounced at Clifford’s office: ‘He had a big cigar in his mouth and he said, “I know where you live, Don.” I said, “Take that fucking cigar out of your mouth, I can’t hear what you’re saying.”’

At which point, according to Don, he held the unfortunate Clifford in a headlock then ground the lit end of the cigar into his face, ‘Right between the eyes.’

What did Clifford do? I asked, in shock.

‘Oh, he cried out and all that. He struggled at first then his body went all limp. I felt so good afterwards I dismissed my driver and walked home…’

Other times, he’d tell me old music hall jokes and sing me funny little Yiddisher songs ‘from the old days’ when he was a variety star, headlining the London Palladium or appearing on TV in the 1950s as one of the original Black and White Minstrels.

One day, I turned around and he was wearing my jacket. It was a worn old thing purchased from a charity shop on a whim, because it looked vaguely foppish, I thought, in a post-modern kind of not-bad-for-a-fiver sort of way.

‘What the fuck is this?’ he roared, prancing around the room in it. ‘If you’re gonna be hanging round with me we’re gonna have to get you to my tailor!’ I smiled weakly. ‘We don’t want people thinking I associate with a fucking tramp!’

Partay…

Finished writing the Foo Fighters book on a Friday afternoon while standing at my desk. Had to hurry up and send as I had to run and pick up my handsome boy from school. I don’t know what happened to the next few days, I think I was running around with my wife trying to get the house fixed up ready to sell. Anyway, the following Thursday Getcha Rocks Off was published. I really like the cover. You have to hold the hardback in your hands to really appreciate it. I started reading it that night, something I never do with my books usually, but this one of course is different. It’s not about some big old band, it’s about big old me. Or a version of me anyway, don’t for a minute think it carries nothing but the truth. I would not have allowed it to be that dull.

Meanwhile, the For Sale sign went up outside the house a week later, two days after that we got an offer – and took it. In about a month from now we will be on our way. People keep asking: where you going? We laugh and say: We don’t know!

Then last Tuesday it was my birthday. 57. How in fuck did that happen? I just shrugged as I wrote that. Who knows? Who cares? Fuck. It.

Had kind of an impromptu bday do at the Sweet Tomato in Yonder Village, me and wife and a few of the ‘boys’ and their wives. Bucket after bucket of good white wine and lovely French finger food. Then the next night I was out again at a dinner in another town, lotta guys in suits. Then the night after that another dinner, this time in London with the famous Maureen Rice. Who as usual told me how it really is. Even though I am older than both of us, she still knows more about the past and the future. Cant wait to read her book when she eventually writes it.

Then Friday wife and I were out again, I can’t remember doing what, then the night after that I was out again, back at Yonder Pub in Sweet Village. Then Sunday I was back in London hosting this event about Back In Black and signing copies of my AC/DC book and hanging with Tony Platt at Strongroom Studios, of all places, a joint I was a frequent visitor to back when it was being built in the 80s, a permanent midnight guest of its owner, Richard Boote. Christ but we had smoke coming out of ears in those days.

Then Monday night my beautiful wife and I were out again, this time at the v.fuckingcool Indian in Abingdon, the Dil Raj. Had us a time and laughed and talked dirty all the way home. Then last night, after an afternoon sweating in my office because the internet in the building is down and deader than dead I went out again, wife joining me later, to, yep, The Village Tomato in Sweet Land. More buckets of good, good wine. More laughs with various elders and of course my good friend Stefan. Then when I woke up this morning I had a bit of a headache and couldn’t think why. Boy was I hot.

Oh, by the way, do me a big favour PLEASE and review Getcha Rocks Off on Amazon. Please. It’s a very naughty book that needs a little help from its friends. Thanks, kids.

Getcha Rocks Off Extract – King Lizzy

This short extract is from my new memoir Getcha Rocks Off.

An odd thing about becoming involved in the rock biz is how few of my former rock heroes I have actually gotten to work with over the years. I meet people these days in their twenties and thirties and they talk about Iron Maiden and Def Leppard, Guns N’ Roses and Metallica the same way I once might have talked about David Bowie or Roxy Music. Yet for me the Maidens and Leppards, Roses and Tallicas meant nothing, as a fan. For a start I was older than all of them, or about the same age in the case of Iron Maiden. I’d even been in the business longer. There was no thrill in meeting them the way there was when I met Jimmy Page, or Ozzy Osbourne. Or, finally, David Bowie and Bryan Ferry.

Even then, by the time I got to meet those people I’d been around long enough to downplay it in my mind. It didn’t trip me out. Not like the way it did when I got to know Phil Lynott and Thin Lizzy.

There had been the time with Pete Makowksi, when I was just eighteen and stood shyly behind him as he rapped with Phil, and was appalled when Johnny Rotten, whom I’d never heard of, came over and started moaning about being bored. I could not have guessed that a couple of years later I’d actually be working with some of these people.

‘My friends call me Philip,’ he had told me the first time we met, and of course I was deeply flattered that he might think of me in that way – though I never did hear anyone else call him Philip, not that I recall anyway.

We met because Philip was always coming to Wild Horses gigs. Guitarist Brian Robertson had still been in Lizzy when I’d first met him, now he was co-fronting Horses with Jimmy Bain, who were managed by the same Lizzy team.

Robbo was only a couple of years older than me and he was always delighted with my constant pestering for Thin Lizzy stories. It gave him a chance to relive recent glories. How Robbo had come up with the riff to ‘Don’t Believe A Word’ but Phil had not credited him for it. How the Mafia ran the band’s record company in America. How Phil had hit him in the face so hard one time he thought he’d never talk again – ‘Fingers like fucking bananas!’ Times he must have known that, even then, would probably never come round for him again.

As the band’s PR, it would be my job to make sure Phil was made a fuss of whenever he showed up at the shows. But Phil could take care of himself. At least, he could back then. As the years passed though things changed.

The last time I actually spoke to him was at the end of 1985, and our situations were different. I had been clean, if not particularly serene, for over two years, but he was still deep down in the devil’s hole. You could see it a mile off. Not just the permanent night sweats and heavy sniffles, but now something else, the thickening of the jowls, the stoop no longer faked but deadening. The eyes forlorn and full of the pain of trying to hide it all away somewhere not so secret any more.

As well as writing, I was now appearing on the Monsters show. Phil was our guest that week and the two of us sat in make-up together watching the monitors, waiting for our turn to go on.

I don’t know why, it must have been his sombre mood, but I began to babble about regrets. I wince when I recall the conversation now. How thoughtless and insensitive, how plain rude. It must have been something to do with the low centre of gravity he now had. The pull towards the depths was simply inescapable.

‘Do you regret Lizzy never really making it in America?’ I asked him, out of the blue.

He turned his sad face towards me and smiled. ‘Yer, but dat’s like saying you regret not fookin’ Kate Bush . . .’

I nodded. Fair point.

When I heard of his death just a few weeks later, I was amazed. I knew he was still fucked up, still on the gear, the same death trip he’d been on for years. And yet… cats like Phil Lynott didn’t die just like that, did they? Unless it was an OD. But the papers said it wasn’t an OD, that it was multiple organ failure, brought on by years of bad living. I thought of my bad living through some of those years and still didn’t get it. Could it be that Phil had lived a life even badder than the baddest of us?

Apparently it could. And that’s when it dawned on me that I’d never really known Lynott at all. That perhaps none of us had. I wanted to find out more yet knew this was not the time. That those who knew the real Philip would be unwilling to share that information. Maybe one day, but not right now…

Getcha Rocks Off – LA Extract

This extract from my new book Getcha Rocks Off is a snapshot of my time in the 1980s basically living at the Sunset Marquis Hotel in Los Angeles.

I loved waking up at the Sunset Marquis to smoggy sunshine, eating a late breakfast by the pool, sitting in my shorts and shades, taking it all in. Watching Michael Bolton sitting over there eating breakfast with the phone permanently glued to his ear, same as he did every day. Loved it that at the adjoining table was Bruce Springsteen in deep conversation with Steve Van Zandt, even though Steve hadn’t played with Bruce for years. You noticed it, wondered for a moment what was afoot, then forgot about it as your own breakfast arrived and the sun took over your mind.

I loved taking a stroll up Alta Loma to Sunset Boulevard and Tower Records, just to load up on vibe, then across the street to Book Soup, where the ditzy chick behind the counter always had a gossip about who’d been in lately: ‘Oh, Mick Fleetwood was here Monday. I mean, he was high but he was cool about it also, you know?’

‘Yeah?’

‘But guess who came by the same afternoon? Stevie Nicks! Like, wow, coincidence, right?’

‘I don’t believe in coincidence.’

‘Me either!’

‘Was she high too?’

‘Who?’

‘Stevie.’

‘I couldn’t tell. She had her hat on.’

Unlike London or New York, where you had to run around town for interviews, in LA in the eighties they just came to you. I imagined my room at the Sunset as like a salon for passing rock stars and their old ladies. But it wasn’t like that. The hotel was simply one of those places those kinds of people were just born in.

You had to watch it, though. You could walk into the tiny corner bar by the entrance and not stagger out again until the next day. Time would run over you, leave you for dead in the road. If the party then moved on to your room it was over. Like this time with Warren from Ratt. I had a bag of weed and some coke in my room and he had his shiny new CD, so we made straight for there. As Ozzy always said, ‘You’re never alone with a bag of coke.’ Sure enough, as the afternoon collapsed into evening more and more people seemed to arrive out of nowhere. A couple of the guys from Cinderella and their roadies, Lars from Metallica, and a pet fan, Slash from Guns N’ Roses, on his own as usual, at least at first. He walked in through the poolside doors, no hat or shades, though you still couldn’t see his face behind all that hair, saw what was going on, had some, then tried walking out again but was cut off at the pass by two chicks in teeny-weeny bikinis and fuck-me kitten-heels.

‘Hey, Slash, can we get autographs?’ said the blonde one. ‘Sure, baby. Where do you want me to sign?’
He stood there lighting a new cigarette with the butt of the old one as they ran around trying to find a waiter to borrow his pen. The rest of us looked on, vaguely interested. Did they have any friends?
Then the girls were back. They both had pens but no paper.

‘Here,’ said the other blonde one, thrusting out her chest. The first did the same. They giggled again, that warm, Tinker Bell sound all blonde chicks made in LA when they wanted something. Were they twins?

Slash patiently applied his signature to their proffered breasts then added little drawings of a bad man in a top hat smoking a cigarette. They both shrieked with delight.

‘We love you, Slash!’ one blonde cried.
‘I love you too, baby,’ he said back.
‘Hey, what about me?’ the other one blonde pouted. ‘I love you even more,’ said Slash, grinning. ‘Can we come in, Slash? Pleeeeease?

‘Sure, baby.’

In they came. Then more girls in bikinis and whatnots began trickling in from the pool area, attracted by the music and the buzz.

Time passed. Everyone was talking very fast. I ordered a tray of stuff from room service and what seemed like a second later it arrived. Bottles of beer, bottles of Jack, bottles of vodka, wine, cola, cranberry juice, buckets of ice…

The room-service guy sniffed and smiled. ‘Hey, smells like somethin’ good’s cooking.’

Getcha Rocks Off – GN’R Extract

This latest clip from my new book, Getcha Rocks Off, comes from the lengthy chapter about Guns N’ Roses.

I first heard about ‘Get In The Ring’ when Duff – who wrote the original version – told me about it excitedly at a Christmas party in LA in  1989. Originally called ‘Why Do You Look At Me When You Hate Me?’, it was the Sid Vicious-worshipping, Seattle punk, Duff, who was to have sung it. He gave me a drunken verse or two and it sounded like a bad impression of Sid doing ‘My Way’. When, a year later, Axl’s bonnet was buzzing with so many bees he co-opted the song for his own purposes and re-titled it ‘Get In The Ring’, I’m told Duff was not exactly thrilled; his big solo moment gone.

Because my book, The Most Dangerous Band in the World, was published around the same time as Use Your Illusion II, it has always been assumed that the song was in direct response to it. Not so. It was all about that ill-starred interview he’d given me 18 months before about how he was going to ‘kill’ Vince Neil of Mötley Crü. The one he said I made up.

But then, as so many others and I were to discover, push the right buttons and Axl was ready to ‘kill’ anyone: me, Vince, his wife Erin (who quickly divorced him), eventually even his own band, all of whom would be gone within the next four years, leaving Axl to soldier on with an endless parade of trumped-up session men, maintaining the Guns N’ Roses legend in name only. Or, as the man said, printing lies, starting controversy . . .

As the years zipped by, and everybody cleaned up their acts, I became reacquainted with all the other members of Guns N’ Roses, most especially Slash, who remains a pal and someone I work with from time to time, to this day. But Slash gave up talking much about Axl, having been asked to explain the unexplainable too many times, referring only to ‘the old band’ when he had to. It is no secret that they would all happily reunite with Axl behind a reformed ‘classic’ line-up of Guns N’ Roses, but only on condition that Axl come down from his ivory tower long enough to actually turn up on time and do the work – which practically guarantees it will never happen.

‘At some point,’ Slash told me, ‘I just lost Axl. Everything was so out of control, then suddenly we came home and everything just kinda… stopped.’

It would be fifteen years before Axl finally came back with a Guns N’ Roses album all of his own – minus any of the other original members – during which time the story of Guns N’ Roses had gone from being about one of the finest bands of their generation to a weird tale of an angry guy living like a recluse at the bottom of a well somewhere, issuing instructions to loyal minions, some of whom now privately questioned his sanity.

Talking to Izzy, a decade after he’d been the first to bail out in 1991, I asked for his take on why things panned out the way they did. As the one who had known Axl since school, and had been his only real friend in the band during those crazy years, surely Izzy would be able to offer some insight?

He shrugged, smiled wearily. By the end of his time in Guns N’ Roses, he said, the band had ‘become like the Jerry Springer show. Everything was so magnified. Drug addictions, personalities, just the craziness that was already there anyway.’

The reason he left, he said, was because ‘I couldn’t relate to Axl any more’. Post-world domination, post-heroin, post- everything, Axl had been transformed from the awkward, ‘embarrassed’, small-town hick with an ‘authority problem’ who Izzy had befriended in their teens, into an increasingly blinkered megalomaniac, issuing contracts for journalists and photographers to sign. He even started to thrust bits of paper in front of his own band.

‘This is right before I left,’ Izzy told me. ‘Demoting me to some lower position [and] cutting my royalties down. I was like, “Fuck you! I’m not signing that. I helped start this band.”’

The key to Axl’s mania, Izzy thought, lay back in Lafayette, with a kid who ‘got nothing but shit’ and ‘never got no pussy at school’. Now he had ‘the chicks lined up, [he’d] got money, people . . . and the power went to this guy’s head. He became a fuckin’ monster! The control issues just got worse and worse!’

As for my own failed relationship with Axl, it has become the most bizarre of my professional life. Any rock writer from the days when rock journalism still carried real heft ran the risk of offending the musicians they wrote about. Anyone who didn’t wasn’t really doing their job. And I have had ‘run-ins’ with a great many, but almost always we have patched up our differences to fight an- other day. (Axl wasn’t even the first to put my name in a song, that dubious honour went to Gary Numan, in the title track to his 1979 album, Replicas, after I’d given a bad review to his previous album.)

With Axl, though, the situation has remained surprisingly toxic. When he arrived to tour the UK in the summer of 2006, I was warned by a still friendly face working for him that Axl had issued a list of names to security to watch out for every night of the tour, with my name top of it.

‘So if I show up at the London show, for instance, and some eagle-eyed security guy “spots” me, what are they supposed to do?’ I asked, mildly amused.

‘Throw you out,’ they said. ‘I suppose…’
‘You suppose?’
‘Well, I assume that’s all they would do. I suppose Axl might have given them different instructions.’
‘Such as?’
‘Well, you know…’
The irony is that I doubt Axl would even recognise me today.

The further irony is that you couldn’t drag me to a so-called Guns N’ Roses concert these days. I admired the Chinese Democracy album ‘they’ finally released in 2008 – or the first Axl solo album, as it might more accurately be described – but not enough to want to see Axl faking his way around the stage with a bunch of hired hands. If Mick Jagger formed a group tomorrow with a bunch of session men and put it out as the Rolling Stones, would anyone buy into it?

An Axl Rose solo show – now that would really be something to see. He has the talent, he has the story, he has the personality. He really doesn’t need to hide behind the sunglasses and big production any more. He should come out, show his audience what it really means to be bad-ass and brave, to be honest and human. To still be better than the rest.

If you’re reading this, Axl – and I know you read almost everything written about you – what would really work too would be if we got together and did a Frost–Nixon and spent a few days filming a proper ‘Get In The Ring’-style interview. Not in any real combative sense, though there would be that about it too, if you insisted. But something for the people to really enjoy and think about it. Something like an actual conversation between old friends/foes now old enough to supposedly know better. Come on, we’ve both lost our hair, we just have different ways of dealing with it.

Right, Axl?

Getcha Rocks Off – Led Zeppelin Extract

This is an extract from the chapter of my new book Getcha Rocks Off titled The Magus. It concerns the first time I worked with Jimmy Page: on a promotional project, tied around his solo 1988 album Outrider.

Jimmy seemed remarkably at ease with the new wave of Zep-lite impersonators who had scrambled to fill the Zeppelin-shaped hole the eighties was left with. But then Jimmy had hardly been slow at ‘borrowing’ from his own influences in Zeppelin. Maybe that was it. Or maybe Jimmy just didn’t give a fuck.

He’d lived his life ‘so far over the rainbow’ these past twenty years it was almost impossible to guess where his head was at. By the mid-eighties, outside of rock and metal circles, Zeppelin were as unfashionable as it was possible to get. Dismissed by ‘serious’ critics in their heyday, demonised in the wake of punk, openly laughed at in the aftermath of their grisly demise, the idea that one day Led Zeppelin would be considered one of the coolest rock bands of all time could simply not have been conceived of.

None of which seemed to bother Jimmy one bit. What bothered Jimmy was the sense that he was missing out. Like that hermit on the cover of the fourth Zeppelin album with the bundle of sticks on his back, Jimmy had been treading his own fearful path for so long he appeared to have run out of road.

‘I go and see Eric [Clapton] play when he does his yearly thing at the Albert Hall,’ he had told me when I asked if he ever went out much on his own these days. He was only forty-four when we met yet he seemed to have not gone past Go for a very long time. Smack will do that to you, though. Time doesn’t stand still, but you do. And when you finally unfreeze, as Jimmy finally had just a few years before, it was hard to find your way on to the right timeline.

Having been there myself, I felt for him. But it was still not a conversation he was willing to have in full just yet. At one point during process of the project we were working on, a major exec from Geffen’s LA offices had flown in to do some handholding. She casually mentioned how she’d been strung out on gear herself in the past. I had nodded along, making it clear I was no third-party virgin either. Jimmy got the message but clammed up when it was his turn. He really didn’t want to talk about it, acknowledge it even.

I tried another tack and asked him about his regrets. He told me he didn’t have any. ‘No, I don’t regret anything, really.’ The coke and the smack, the booze and the dabbling with darkness, ‘that was what fuelled us, you know?’ He hadn’t gone looking for trouble, he insisted. ‘Perhaps it was the other way round and the darkness found me.’

I found it hard to swallow. If drug addiction had shown me anything, it was that it was nobody’s fault but mine, as the Zep song went. Jimmy didn’t see it like that. ‘If John hadn’t died we’d still be going today. We’d probably have gone on to even bigger and better things. We were ready again for a new chapter. We’d turned a corner and things were looking good again.’

For someone who had once carved sonic sculptures with his music, who was able to move the immovable with such ease, such daring, he seemed painfully full of self-deception.

And what if Bonham had died after the second Zep album, just as they were starting to climb their stairway to heaven, would they have quit then? ‘Yes, it would have been the same thing,’ he said. Zeppelin, he said, ‘comprised these four elements, and once one of them was gone, the whole thing was gone.’

At which point, it dawned on me this was not about finding a common ground to explore the truth, this was about being let into Miss Havisham’s ruined mansion, all the clocks stopped at 23 September 1980 – the day Bonzo checked out in one of Jimmy’s plush guest bedrooms – and being expected to keep up with the narrative that had been running inside the old lady’s head all these years, the explanation she gave herself for the tragedy that had befallen her. In this case, not the actual death of John Bonham, but the much earlier expiration of Led Zeppelin, dead from the waist up since the day Jimmy lost control of his many addictions, and Bonzo then Peter Grant followed.

I actually felt a little sorry for him. Him in his Grade II listed eighteenth-century country mansion; me in my one-bedroom London loft with the slanted ceilings. Mostly, I could feel his neediness – to get back in the game, to be back on the cross, to get back to where he still believed he needed to be. But Robert was never going to agree to that. Robert, who would spend the rest of his life trying to live down Led Zeppelin, even after they became fashionable again all those years later. Robert, who would never quite forgive Jimmy for… well, everything.

Getcha Rocks Off – Daddy’s Day Extract

The following is from Getcha Rocks Off, my new book, just out this week. If you know a bad daddy and want to make him feel good. Show it to him. This bit comes from 1984, about six months after I’d started writing for Kerrang!, and recalls how I came to review Powerslave by Iron Maiden.

I was given the weekend to turn the review around. I knew I’d never get away with playing the record at Maria’s place, so I camped out at the flat of Kerrang!’s in-house designer in Rotherhithe. His name was Steve but everyone called him ‘Krusher’. Another devout follower of the left-hand path, Krusher would become my spiritual guide in all matters metal for the next few years, beginning with this new Maiden album.

‘You can’t just give it a good review,’ he said.
‘What? Why not?’
‘You have to give it a fucking good review.’ He looked at me, his raggedy Jesus-beard rippling.
I gave him the album to put on his record player. He lined it up with the care of a matron handling a newborn baby. Before we could begin, though, we had to prepare properly, he said. ‘We must first anoint ourselves,’ he declared. I looked again. No sign of mirth.

Krusher shuffled off to his bedroom. We were in his Southwark Park council flat, on the seventeenth floor of a tower block he told me the locals referred to as Terror Tower. He was joking, though. Wasn’t he?

He returned clutching several items. One was a jolly green giant bong, another a plastic carrier bag full of weed. Weed was harder to get back then than old-fashioned dope. I was suitably impressed. He told me to ‘load her up’ while he went into the kitchen for something else. He came back with two bottles, one of Old Granddad bourbon, the other of Mescal tequila.

‘First,’ he said, ‘we have to do some of this,’ pointing to the bong. ‘Then some of that,’ nodding towards the bottles. ‘We’ll also need some of this…’

He pulled out a couple of tiny pills from his jeans pocket. ‘Acid,’ he said. ‘Not the weak-as-shit kind. The good stuff.’

‘Wait,’ I said, nervous suddenly. ‘I haven’t done acid for years.’

‘Well, it’s a good time to get back into it, then, isn’t it?’

I looked at him again, wondering. His glowing eyes looked back at me. ‘What’s the matter?’ he said. ‘Afraid to play with the big boys?’

Fuck it. I took one of the pills and washed it down with a glug from the whiskey bottle. He followed me. Then we settled down to smoke the bong.

For the first hour or so we simply sat there stoking up the green giant and pouring the Granddad down our necks. It went down like Lucozade. I had never tasted whiskey so sweet and thirst quenching. Then it was gone and we were on to the Mescal. Krusher showed me the worm floating at the bottom of the bottle. The acid was now kicking in and the worm appeared to wink at me.

‘We share the worm,’ he explained patiently. ‘But to get to it we’ll have to drink the bottle first.’

Seemed reasonable. I ignored the giant worm that was now in the room, writhing on the floor – I wasn’t that easily fooled – and urged him to put the fucking record on.

Finally, at what now felt like some distant point in space and time, he did so. The needle found the groove and the world suddenly tilted on its axis and began to fall away.

HOLY JESUS CHRIST!! SHIT!!!

I reached out to try to stop myself from sliding off the edge of the cliff but it was too late. I was already on my way. The abyss below opened its jaws and swallowed me whole. Me and Krusher both.

The next thing I knew he was standing on the couch holding a tennis racket in his hands, playing it like a guitar. He leaned over towards the lounge windows, the view of London below spectacular.

‘LONDON!’ he screamed. ‘For one night only! We present you! THE NEW IRON MAIDEN ALBUM!’ He began riffing with a vengeance on the tennis racket.

The music was so loud I wondered vaguely where the cops were, who would stop us, how it would end. Then I didn’t care any more and jumped up on the coffee table. I stared down at the minions below, thousands of miles below, and I began to wave my arms and scream too.

‘LONDON! LONDON!! FUCK!!! LONDON!!!!’

What happened after that would only come back to me, in flashes, the next day. We must have done the whole gig then done it again and possibly again. Each time to bigger and bigger crowds. Each time to greater and greater acclaim. Each time falling off a mountain only to land on the backs of giant eagles that whisked us straight back to the top of the mountain. Finally, after about four hours, we sat down and started thinking things through. We looked at the album cover, which was all Egyptian sphinxes and ancient symbols, all now dancing in 3D before our whirring eyes. After that… more and… nothing… and…

It was a turning point for me, in ways that went beyond any trip I’d ever been on. When, late on the Sunday evening, the smoke still trickling from my ears, I sat down to type the review, I made sure what I wrote wasn’t just a good review but, as Krusher had wisely advised, a fucking good review.

It began, ‘We are now flying at 28,000 feet…’

But it wasn’t just the new Iron Maiden album I was reviewing, splendid though that was. It is clear to me now I was writing up my own make-believe future. I knew it even as my shaky hands tapped out the words. The only really good rock writers who had ever written seriously about Iron Maiden had been the snotty cunts on the NME. And all they’d done was take the piss. Obviously. Those were the rules. At the same time, the only writers who had ever given Maiden sincerely great reviews were the kind of well-meaning metal maniacs who wrote for Sounds and now Kerrang!. Genuine fans at heart, all about the music. But what good was that to me?

I would lavish something on Maiden they’d never had before, I decided. Praise from on high. Top-drawer material, not taking the piss, nor fawning at their feet, but something that flew as high as they did when they were tripping out in the studio on those blood-rushing rhythms and gurgling solos. Something that gave them a reason to hold their heads high and take themselves even more seriously.

That’s what I told myself anyway as I sat there drained of blood and spunk, pecking away at the typewriter in Krusher’s tiny council-flat kitchen as he slept on the floor, the album still spinning away in the background, more quietly now but no less haughtily.

I would write my review and they would read it and want to meet me, and that would be it: I would be in with the biggest heavy metal band in the world and so the adventure would begin.

I really did think like that. More ridiculous still, as I found out, they did too.