Thin Lizzy and Scottish Roadies
The boys are back in town…
Dave and Jake had exciting news for us. We were going to be opening for Thin Lizzy for thirty dates. We knew Thin Lizzy from their big hit, The Boys Are Back in Town. Wild. I remembered hearing that song the summer before and thinking how cool it was. It had been one of those prescient moments we all experience: I knew there was something about that song and that band. Funny how that works sometimes. We’d be starting in Oxford.
We’d just done a mini-tour with a black jazz-soul singer named Linda Lewis. We’d opened in Aberystwyth, Wales and played a handful of small college dates, very tame and polite. Nick Lowe rode in the van with us, helping us to navigate both the confusing roads and the frequently awkward world of English bed and breakfast accommodations. Since we didn’t have any money the band was split up in pairs and put up in tiny B&Bs. These weren’t tricked-out tourist places but families which rented out a room or two in their house, with few amenities or nods to the tourist trade. No bottles of water or fancy soaps on your pillow. There might be a small TV in the living room, on which you watched sheep dog trials with the family. (Those dogs are awesome!) Breakfast was a piece of undercooked, thick bacon with a bit of bone in it, a triangle of fried bread, and two invariably bubbly fried eggs, eaten with the mister and missus of the house. It was a bit hard to face the folks in the morning when one was hung-over, like finding yourself in a movie dream sequence featuring elderly gnomes. But we were rolling on the cheap. We prided ourselves that we were doing it the way the old bands did, the Beatles and the Stones, back when they too were nobodies.
We weren’t earning any money yet. Opening acts, called simply Support weren’t paid anything. We, the proud members of that ubiquitous poster-fame band Support, were driving in a mini-van, eating pork-pies or fish and chips, lucky to have fifty pence in our pockets. It was a shoestring operation, and would be for a while. We were game. We were happy to be there, getting a shot. I loved seeing the rolling countryside of England and the hills of Wales, with ruined castles, Bronze Age hill forts and Neolithic standing stones, tidy little villages and big, ugly industrial midland cities. I drank it all in.
Between the Linda Lewis and Lizzy tours, we got a night at the Roundhouse, in London Camden Town. It was an old railroad roundhouse that had been converted to a rock venue, a very happening place right then. It wasn’t as prestigious as the Hammersmith Odeon or the Rainbow, but it was a gig that would draw a good crowd, a lot of punters, and media attention, which is what the U.K. is all about. It’s been redone over the years and is an important venue once again. McCartney recently did a TV special there.
Fans in the U.K. were called “punters,” which I gathered was an old horse racetrack term. British slang was a whole new language. One wasn’t drunk, one was “pissed” or “legless.” You didn’t pick up chicks, you “pulled” them, and they weren’t chicks, they were “boilers.” You didn’t pee, you “had a slash.” Male homosexuals were “poofters.” Assholes were “cunts.” This took a self-proclaimed women’s libber like me a bit of getting used to (like, five minutes), but I managed somehow. “You fucking cunt!” Some of my favorite slang was terms for masturbation: “wanking” (which gives rise to the useful term, applied to those despised or envied for real or imaginary reasons, “wankers”), “doing a blue vein solo,” with or without the prepositional “on your beef bayonet,” or my personal fave, “galloping your maggot.” Jeez, them Brits have some language skills, don’t they? Then there was the whole world of rhyming cockney slang. Bristol City = titty (“nice set of Bristols on that one”); skyrocket = pocket; wicks = dicks, etc. I couldn’t possibly follow it all, though Huey was good at picking it up. Huey is a whiz at learning complicated slang systems and also at remembering people’s names. It’s part of his orderly mind, I guess. He can meet someone at two in the morning after having six scotches and remember him three years later. Amazing. I was often left nodding and saying “uh huh, uh huh,” when talking to a real cockney, who might have been speaking Swahili for all I comprehended.
The Roundhouse was packed with new-wavers, punk-rockers, hard-rockers, and old pomped-haired mods in their long, leather coats, because the bill was a mixed bag of different kinds of bands. It was our official coming out party for London, and for the music press.
The rock press was vital. It’s a small island. Everyone read the weekly music rags: the New Musical Express (NME), Sounds, and the Melody Maker. A good review could make your band; a bad one could sink it. Jake and Dave were masters of this press game, as time would show. They’d been hyping us a bit, but not over the top, setting us up as eventual headliners without portraying us as the second coming.
Jake powered into the dressing room rubbing his hands and grinning. He was a very intense, brilliant, dark-haired guy, a former boxer, who is a genius of promotion and a great lover of competition. His eyes kind of bugged out, either from the pressure of the moment, which he usually created, or from the stimulants he’d probably taken to stay on top of his game. Or both. He and Dave both got a twinkle in their eye and a wide grin on their face at the prospect of winning. It’s what it’s all about.
I’d picked up a black leather, tasseled, gunslinger-style vest from the trendy Kensington Market, where you could get real rock leather stuff. We were all crowded in the back room, holding our guitars—nervous, psyched—waiting to go on.
Jake said to me, “You look like a gambler in that. I want you to go out there and gamble tonight.”
I answered, “We’re going to be dynamite.”
He said, “You’re very fucking expensive dynamite, you’d fucking better go off!”