Beat Instrumental September, 1977
BOXER, CRAWLER, MOON
Heat on the streets, they said…
Anybody fancy going on the road with Boxer, Crawler and Moon?" The question’s naive innocence was all but swamped by the furious barrage of excuses that mercilessly battered my defenceless lugs. Aunts suddenly needed visiting in Manchester, grandfathers began pushing up the daisies at an alarming rate of knots from Land’s End to John o’ Groats, stamp collectors’ conventions appeared on the immediate horizon, pet donkeys went missing, and there were a good few skid marks on the carpet to boot. Surprising really, because the idea of sending one of Beat’s investigative genii out on the road had been flying around the office for many a month, and Crawler especially have just put out an album on which the mustard is firmly cleaved down the middle.
Still, there I was, mouth hanging open, hand over the telephone receiver, as the troops beat a relatively disorderly retreat to the local hostelry, so I decided to put the conviction where the courage should have been and accepted the offer.
The Boxer, Crawler, Moon package tour, courtesy CBS the well-known travel agents, had set out from Southend back at the beginning of July, and toured in a semi-anti-clockwise manner around the country taking in such holiday resorts as Portsmouth, Hastings, Torquay, Glasgow and Newcastle. I reckoned it would be more interesting to pick the roadshow up right at the end of its snaking journey.
DIARY OF A LIGGER…
One of the hassles about hitting the road for a couple of lengthy days is worrying about how many T-shirts are going to get soaked by a continuous stream of Tequila Sunrises hurled by the bands on discovering a journalist has infiltrated the camp. Wandering down Tottenham Court road and into Oxford Street on the first leg of the journey I hit a leather jacket shop with a rubber cheque for £15 reckoning it might update the aging hippy appearance (John Peel’s got nothing to worry about…Asst. ed.) only to be met by an armful of tour jackets heavily embossed with the bands’ names. ‘Ho hum’ methinks, ‘beginning to look like a walking Marks and Spencers before a mile has passed.’
Miles, by the way, passed rather rapidly as CBS’ Jonathon Morrish stood heavily on the right hand pedal of a hired Morris Marina pointed resolutely northwards up the M1. So rapidly in fact that the speedo made a valiant effort to pass the 90 mark, and died in the attempt. Still, 56 miles to Leicester and back is a pretty sight if you’re hiring a car by mileage!
The Holiday-build-’em-all-the-same Inn was the overnight port of call and a couple of hours were spent shoveling large strawberry pancakes past a couple of large gins. Now I’m not really an experienced ligger at all — Beat’s colleagues on the weeklies have a lot more experience — but at this point it looked like the old adage You Only Lig Twice hadn’t a chance of being realised.
The bands were playing the de Montford Hall in the city that night — and for those of you who have never seen the de Montford Hall here follows a brief description. Large, acoustically appalling, one of the longest bars in the Midlands, and distinctly unattractive despite a vague attempt at Corinthian exteriors. Jonathon ‘got-to-get-back-to-London-tonight’ Morrish did precisely that and left me in the warm clutches (?) of Tim Knight, Moon’s enthusiastic manager. Moon were playing as we pushed and shoved our way through the hordes of Leicester hippies at the bar, screaming for pints of swill that were luke warm but reasonably satistying. Moon are the least known of the three bands on the tour, and perhaps the strangest act to pick to use ostensibly as a warm-up for the bigger names that came along afterwards. Moon worked damned hard that night, and I’d like to tip their singer Noel McCalla for something bigger than his present position in the rock social strata. "I suppose it’s a good break for them" Tim shouted over the noise. We know that a lot of the punters are here to listen to Boxer and Crawler, and therefore a lot of them are hardly likely to be Moon music freaks. Equally, the tour’s giving them a lot of exposure and a lot of kids are hearing them for the first time — and shit, at £1 a night it’s pretty good value."
After the set the boys are undoubtedly knackered, reaching fast and hard for cans of lager and downing them before the burps have a chance to rise to the surface. The general atmosphere in the dressing room is a bit of a downer — typical opening band feeling. They’ve worked their arses off and a semi interested audience has clapped them off, and hurtled for the bar. Not bitterness that they’re on the tour so much as infuriation of a sort with the punter for not listening. Speaking of the bar Beat’s somewhat deafened editor was now engaged in conversation with Moon’s roadie, an affable Scotsman named George who by the end of the tour was setting me up with a whisky cocktail called a Rusty Nail. "It’s been OK" I heard over the chinking of glasses. "There’s always a problem like, if you’re trying to put three bands on the same stage in the same evening — can get fucking ridiculous at times."
Boxer had now hit the boards. Boxer in their present form are potentially the most explosive outfit on the tour. The perennial Mike Patto heads the band, Eddie Tuduri one time Beach Boys drummer sits behind the skins, Chris Stainton, Joe Cocker’s quiet keyboard man handles the ivories, Tim Bogert, one time superstar with Vanilla Fudge and Beck, Bogert and Appice, keeps the bass strings ringing, and Adrian Fisher handles the lead guitar. Now, if you put that sort of mix together and shake it around a bit the chances are that you should get a band that’ll rock, steam and roll around the country like the legendary blue arsed fly.
Unfortunately, this doesn’t happen — except for two numbers at the end of the set when the rocks start to be got off. Adrian plays a mean blues based Clapton influenced lead that riffs at great length and smokes occasionally. Eddie holds it all down, while Tim flies along some of the best bass passages I’ve ever heard, legs bent, biting into the guitar with all fingers flailing; Chris seems to stay in the background occasionally delivering a funky two hander, while Mike Patto’s voice is still superb. But, the mix isn’t quite right, and the audience seemed to sense it on that Thursday night.
Now Crawler — there’s a different kettle of fish altogether. Crawler are among the very few bands I’ve seen recently whose roots are unashamedly of the BOF variety, and yet who can really pull it together and get the headbangers banging and the shakers shaking…but more of them later. The set ends, the audience limps home to the terraces openly brain damaged, the roadies swear the gear into the huge pantechnicon, and Tim Knight and I head for the bright spots. Bright Spots???? In Leicester??
Scamps disco is the next port of call, time to rush down scampi and chips, and get caught in conversation with a couple of people out of a band called Breaker…still can’t work out where they came in…and as the early hours approached we hit the streets where a crowd of fifty or so mods appeared to be lying in wait for anything remotely resembling a BOF. Now, as you’ll have gathered, I look distinctly like a BOF and the seven or so of us were soon beating (what else?) an extremely hasty retreat down the road to Breaker’s van which subsequently came mighty damn close to spreading one of the horrors like a strawberry jam sandwich half way up the London Road!
Back to the hotel where some idiot discovers that amongst all the middle class watery soda pop at the bar the Holiday Inn have had the good taste to stuff a barrel of Ruddles down in the cellar. The serious part of the evening begins…pint after pint disappears down the gullet and I find myself embroiled in discussion with Ron Lawrence, Moon’s bass player who spent some time working with Ben E. King before joining up with Moon in 1974. The tour has been somewhat of a revelation for him too.
"We’ve played some pretty important tours in the past," he spluttered as the next pint of Ruddles slapped down on the table. "We supported Sutherland Brothers and Quiver and War and had a gas of an appearance at the Reading Festival last year. But this number of people involved in one tour sure makes for some amazing times…We stopped at a pub on the way down from Newcastle to Stafford and Rabbit (Bundrick) started playing some of the best blues piano I’ve heard ever — just right there in the bar…amazing. The locals just had no idea of what they were being treated to…" Looking around the bar there was a distinct laid back whacked out totally knackered sea of faces lounging at various angles ranging from the horizontal to the very horizontal — all suffering from having worked damned hard. Now that must be one of the most misunderstood phrases in rock.
The guys loon about, drink like fishes and ingest all sorts of nasty little things en route to and from every gig, and yet for forty five minutes a night put as much effort, sweat, skill, heat and dare one say it care as yer Mr. Average burns in a couple of weeks at his desk bound dead-end job. Terry Wilson-Slessor, Crawler’s lead singer, virtually slept through a conversation apparently with his parents who had dropped in to catch the gig, and as the evening wore on and the tell-tale signs caught up with them people tottered off to bed in little bloodshot groups holding each other up.
Holiday Inn, Leicester.
The Inn, to coin a phrase, is not a pretty sight. Standing in the middle of a roundabout with a view of urban Leicester stretching away into the distance, air conditioning repair men working on the propellers seven or so giddy floors down below the double glazing. By the way, why couldn’t the damned hotel just keep still for a minute while I looked for the toothbrush? Back on the tarmac, the executive coach pulled up alongside and a steady stream of superstars gushed through the doors to the obvious disdain of some of the hotel’s more establishment guests. Travelling in style is what the coach was about. Facing seats, tables, air conditioning, eight track, television, coffee bar, and a game of seven card stud in which Beat’s editorial expenses had no part to play whatsoever.
The motorway into Birmingham dropped us at yet another Holiday Inn, and the tour managers went through the rigmarole of signing the boys in, guaranteeing to pay any damage done to the rooms during the short stay (and if rumours are to be believed a certain lettuce-munching rodent had indeed blitzed his way through a couple of hotel rooms) and inquiring about the roadies’ activities the night before.
The afternoon is soundcheck time —and although the Birmingham Town Hall is only 500 yards away from the hotel in a straight line, the city of the motor car makes it impossible to walk anywhere in a straight line. Cars seem to have the right of way, cutting directly across any sensible pedestrian route. And if the de Montford Hall was difficult the Birmingham venue is even more unplayable. A monstrous pipe organ stretches to the ceiling at one end and rumour has it that the city autocrats once refused Keith Emerson permission to play their beloved organ. What he told them to do with it is unrecorded! The stage is miniscule, a few square feet of well trodden boards, now heavily loaded with all the gear — sagging at the middle with a dangerous looking eight foot drop onto the front rows — not a venue where you stick out your hand to the punters! The soundchecks seemed to go OK although everyone was pissed off at the cavernous space needing to be filled.
The gig that night was better, Moon playing a good one and then hitting the train to Euston and their old ladies before re-assembling the following night for the finale of the expedition — a prestigious gig at the Rainbow. Boxer too seemed more together that night, but again only during the last two numbers did any of their undeniably enormous potential show any sign of getting any further in to the audience than the edge of the stage. They managed to whip up a bit of enthusiasm on the penultimate number, lashed into the finale, grabbing the crowd by their collective goolies, and walking off into the night leaving only the houselights and a twenty minute gap before Crawler arrived on the scene.
Crawler have finally killed the ghost of Paul Kossoff. Geoff Whitehorn makes no effort to sound like Paul, and all to his credit, because the band sound tighter than the original Back Street Crawler — of whom only Terry Wilson-Slessor and Rabbit Bundrick remain and Rabbit was only with Paul for the last few months of their existence. What we have now is potentially the next big export to the States, and a damn good one at that. Rabbit seems uninterested in taking a major keyboard role in the band and occasionally I found the continual breaks a little monotonous despite Geoff’s undoubted abilities (see Player of the Month Feature) and I wished for the Hammond to start snorting and smoking from time to time.
Tony Braunagel looks after the drums and works closely and accurately with Terry Wilson on bass a fine combination that keeps the band tight and together. Looking across to the Boxer line-up there’s a distinct problem in the mating of Tuduri and Bogert who independently are brilliant but together seem to fight unnecessarily for the major role. Crawler are then faced with the problem of an audience who have nearly got going but have been let down, and it took time to build up the enthusiasm again. By the end of the encore, however, there’s no doubt they’ve played a real killer of a set.
The evening developed, back at the bar (and where else?) of the Holiday Inn where the inevitable Tequila Sunrises are disappearing down gullets faster than the man can coat the rims with sugar. City Boy, a Birmingham based outfit drop by to offer congratulations and get in on the lig, til someone suggests a bit of punk bashing. Now, contrary to popular opinion, the only punk bashing I get involved in nowadays is verbal but there we all were en route for Barbarellas and a gig by the Saints who (fortunately) by the time we arrived had long since pogoed on to obscurity. Barabellas that night was filled to the brim with the lads, and the sight of Geoff Whitehorn pogoing frantically to the Sex Pistols single will never, ever be forgotten — yo-ho the Whitehorn, so to speak!
After Barbs has asked us politely to leave — only because closing time had hit us somewhere around the 3.30 mark, Geoff and I hit an Indian restaurant for a very silly late night Tandoori before it was time once more to grab some sleep.
The drive to London with Crawler’s manager, Vic, didn’t take a long time — and I popped off to the homestead (it was Saturday, after all) to prepare for the final night.
Hassles trying to get into the Rainbow are sorted out by Boxers’ boss, and once inside it becomes obvious that the whole point of the tour was this one Rainbow night. The place is a sell-out, standing room only, not an awful lot of that to boot, and all three bands rock and smoke like never before, Moon turning in a fabulous set with Noel at his incredible best, and even Boxer looking a little better — perhaps because they were playing to the sort of house they were once used to in other bands. Crawler were magnificent, and I wouldn’t like to add anything to that. Backstage the bar is packed again, and Rusty Nails slid down as easy as water…though several hundred times the price. Backs got slapped, and smiles of relief were spotted on faces which only an hour before had looked green and depressed.
The official lig is held in the monstrous St. Georges Theatre in Tufnell Park…as all official ligs tend to bore the pants off me I said my goodbyes and wandered off to Surrey, duckponds and a spot of peace and quiet.
OK…the tour’s over and what’s the feeling? The weekly press tended to be very unsympathetic to the bands’ predicament. CBS have been slammed for actually admitting to sponsoring a tour — the figures that were reliably circulating read like a London telephone number minus a figure perhaps — and accusations of peddling the whole tour just to sell albums have also been flying about.
The facts, however, remain that for £1 audiences were treated to free samplers, three bands that worked, and a lot of fun. Ostensibly the record company lost a lot of money, but of course they get it back from somewhere else — big business doesn’t lose money.
The overall atmosphere on the road appeared to be jovial, although there were undoubtedly frictions between bands underlying the surface, and frictions within bands themselves.
How much of the lunacy was put on for press image? I’m not sure. There seemed to be a tired angle to the continual living-it-up image of rock stars on the road. The necessity to knock back the last Mandy, or fill up the eighteenth gin, or smash the hundredth glass. Keith Moons in miniature one could say, but on the other hand so what?
I dug it, they appeared to, several thousand punters around the
country got off on it, and the slaggers too have done their work and
twisted the knife in. Provided only a little blood oozes from the
wounds, Crawler will be "superstars" and the tour, at least
for them, will have been a useful 21 night rehearsal for the bigger
dates that are bound to come their way. I wish the others success. CBS
obviously do. And out of all the many motives behind the tour, it keeps
good music on the road which, I suppose, is what it’s really all
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