Talkin' New York City (a memoir of our first time State side 2000)
Early on in the year 2000 we had heard through the grapevine that a Psychobilly festival was happening in over New York and thought we needed to get on knowing it could be a chance of a life time. So when we played The Charlotte in Leicester that January we knew Stephanie Chapman of Spindrift Records was going to be there and thought let's make our gig count. So we went all out to put on our best performance so by the time I introduced myself to her and mentioned us coming she happily agreed to let us be part of the lineup. Boom!
So the flights and hotel were booked. New York City [sic] here we go. (Note to reader that the festival was actually in New Jersey) Myself, bass player Bob Corner, our latest edition drummer Wally P Parkinson and my mate Rossi who came along for the ride boarded connecting flight from Manchester to London to Newark, New Jersey International in late October 2000 to play the ‘New York Rumble’
Stephanie told me to be very wary when coming into the states and not to bring any instruments, guitar picks or even look like we were in band or they would just simply deport us back home immediately. She knew of bands coming through without the correct documentation and attempting to go under the radar without paying any tax and not only sent home, but excluded from ever entering the US again. We hid a small box of our Happy Pillz E.P wrapped up tight and that was it. Arriving at Newark airport New Jersey we gingerly went through customs trying to look as less rock n roll as possible even though we were all a little giddy with excitement. The twin towers of the world trade centre dominated the Manhattan skyline in near distance, to think in just less than a year they would no longer be there you could never imagine.
Dozens of fake taxi drivers kept coming up outside trying to get us in but we were wise jumping in an official cab to get us to the Hilton hotel, East Brunswick NJ without being ripped off. Now everyone attending the festival was staying at the Hilton even if they lived locally. I remember meeting recently sans Misfits lead singer Michael Graves there in the lobby and was a New Jersey resident but was attending this festival. It was all happening there. We got in to this extravagant looking reception all awash with international Psychobillies and checked in before going to obtain our weekend passes in one room. Stephanie greeted and endorsed us with some food and drink tokens. "Don't give them all away to your friends!" She called out. "WE HAVEN'T GOT ANY FRIENDS!!" Wally and I replied back bang on simultaneously. That was probably one of the few occasions myself and he were in time in any known format.
Some Londoners we had gotten acquainted with over the last year were there too. There was Peter and Georgia Jagusch, Astroboy and Agent Pisshead (Adrian), Welsh John, North East Psychos The Hangmen, The Caravans & the chaps from Demented are go. We knew we were in good company.
I said to Rossi just as we were leaving the hotel room to head down to the bar 'knowing our luck, we're going to be on the same floor as Sparky (lead singer of Demented are go). Words I could have swallowed when he appeared in the corridor swigging a large bottle of vodka. I thought 'Oh shit, he's here', 'Have any of you lot seen my bourbon?' he asked. 'No sorry' one of us replied. "Well I know where I can find you now" he churped. Rossi wondered what the hell he'd gotten himself in for coming all this way to a Psychobilly festival across the pond and just WHO were these people? I had encountered Sparky a good few times over the years and was somewhat familiar. Although unhinged and was aware of many crazy, bizarre stories about him he was always came across as quite pleasant.
That evening and still all very jet lagged we all got on a coach under the guide of local psychobilly Mike Decay and he led us through the enormous subway over to the east village of Manhattan to Americas answer to Great Britain's Cavern club....CBGB's, a haven for some of our favourite bands over the last three decades. Ramones, Dead boys, Blondie ect. We were enthralled just being there, buying rounds and wise cracking with the locals. Wally ran out of tobacco and asked one bloke if he could 'bum a fag off him'. The guy did a double take and gradually backed away with a traumatised look on his face, bearing in mind Wally stood up a good 6 foot 5 and if you didn't know him he could appear quite intimidating.
It was as much a dive as it had been described back in the day and not to mention the toilets...Jesus Christ. No cubical doors were fixed on because of the local junkies coming in to shoot up was still an on going problem. We had all lived sheltered lives it appeared after seeing this. If any of us needed to go for a sit down we just cancelled it until later on back at the hotel. Not Sparky though, who happily dropped his drawers in full view of everyone and parked himself down on the seat less pot to relieve himself. We left him to it walking out giggling.
We watched a couple of good bands followed by The Caravans headlining. My mate Rossi by now was having a bad panic attack combined with jetlag and really wanted to get out. We ended up the four of us just ordering a cab back to New Jersey.
And that was the only time before or since any of us ever went to Manhattan at night to an iconic venue, which shut its doors 6 years later. It's now some fashion boutique and none of staff probably know what it was sadly.
Friday being the first day of the festival we spent the day hanging out at the local mall. Before coming back and heading out to The Birch Hill Complex. It was a funny opener to the event. They had some compare who was a former wrestler called Hillbilly Werewolf or something who came on in between bands dressed as a zombie. An Elvis impersonator everyone lapped up. 'Has Psychobilly in the US gone cabaret?' I wondered. The Hangmen Caravans and Batmobile played while we watched, drank and made friends with some American Psychobilly's and taught them how to talk northern English slang. The following evening we were greeted by a "Toreet mucker, how’s thee doing me old cock fettler?" in a US cum Lancashun drawl. How we all howled with laughter.
Throughout the night back in the hotel room drifting in and out of consciousness due to Bob's "Death Metal" snoring and fuck me, it was loud. It wasn't Sparky who managed to menace us while we eventually slumbered but another mighty force within the genre. Roughly between 3 and 4am our room's phone went off. I went to answer it while everyone else grumbled. 'Yes?' I says. 'ello' said a voice on the other end. 'Is this The Hyperjax? 'Yes' I replied. 'This is Kim and we having a party in room number such and such and we would love for you to come and join us' 'Kim from Nekromantix' I said. 'That's right' he chuckled. 'OK then' I said thought. I put the offer to the rest of them to go up and they all couldn't be arsed and just grumbled. So I put my pants on and up I went a couple of floors and down to room number they gave me. It wasn't every day I got an offer like this. I knocked on the door and Peter Jagusch answered, 'Come in' he says, his partner Georgia was sat on the settee next to the man himself Kim Nekroman. Agent Pisshead shouts 'Wazzap!' We exchanged handshakes and down a couple vodka and coke's. I got more acquainted with Peter and Georgia who are still friends to this day. When I recounted this story years later to them they said yes we invited you but didn't expect you to come we were just ringing up random hotel rooms as well.
Saturday the day we were scheduled to play we were wondering what to do with ourselves before hand. Wally started moaning that his feet had swollen up. The lazy moron didn't bother to walk up and down the plane just for some circulation and just sat there the entire time two days earlier. Someone told us Sparky had set some of the woods on fire outside the hotel and had the department come put it out. Coupled with Rossi being sleep deprived and troubled by Bob's snoring wanted to get some sleep and Wally whinging that he wanted to go home because his feet were killing. I ended up getting a bus by myself to the local mall and going off on one of my aimless wanders where time runs away with itself and realised that this was the day we play and I have to get back or get to the hotel to board a bus to get to the venue. Only now it was to late. I rang the hotel from a pay phone and asked to be put through to the room number and said I'll meet them there just bring my shorts and pumps to play on stage with. I flagged a cab and got the driver to get me there fast with a nice tip at the end. I made it before the chaps arrived well they brought my shorts but forgot my converse but no time to worry about that.
Well they arrived with only my stage so I ended up going barefoot throughout the performance (I should have just stayed in my fucking jean's!). Our stage time soon came and we borrowed instrumentals from some of the other bands. The sound man lent me his guitar. We got introduced by the compare hit the first chord and nothing. We had no sound whatsoever coming out. Roars of "Come on, play something" off the crowd came at us all at once as if it was our fault. Finally we got something of a sound coming out of the monitors and we kicked off. I kept getting electrocuted off some bad circuit from the mic. Bob ranted over his 'This is a fucking abortion' and 'sort the sound out. Its shit, shit, shit!' And it REALLY was. Second song Wally snapped a drumstick and to carry on the rest of the set with just one and half a stick. Third song my amp cut AGAIN. Wally shouted 'Kick it!' So I did and knocked it over, hurt my bare foot and then the amp came back on again. I must say out of all our gigs that year. That had to be the most shambolic we had done, it was a real car crash the way we saw it. I thought us, the sound and everything was just awful. Yet I was taken aback how many people told us how good we were afterwards. 'You must be drunk' I was thinking or were they just being polite. I knew we were better than that. Our luck just wasn’t there and then. I read mixed reviews of our performance in different languages and for the not so good ones I couldn't honestly blame them.
The Kings of Nuthin’ played an amazing set, we have never heard of them before and they brought the house down brass and piano going full pelt. 'Punk Rock Rhythm and Blues' they described themselves. The saxophone player had fire coming out of it. We learned later on that week he had passed and wondered if that had anything to do with it. It looked great but it couldn't have been good for him. Poor kid. Years later we would play with them in Manchester and I properly met their lead singer Torr Skoog who was one of the greatest songwriters I'd ever known and is sadly no longer with us.
I was backstage at one point for something or other and next thing you know I'm face to face with one of my favourite bands who are The Quakes. I stood in awe for moment before I finally got round to speaking to him (Paul Roman). 'I said I've always wanted to see you guys' he said 'Well it may be your last time' 'Erm ok' I replied. Paul Roman is renowned for being just as cynical as his lyrics suggest I figured. They played a good set, but I'm bias. I loved The Quakes and still do.
There was an unsettling atmosphere going on despite some good bands playing. We discovered that Sparky had gotten himself arrested over at the mall. The last we saw of him was coming down the escalator wearing pink skirt and cowboy boots. Earlier on he managed to set some of the woods alight outside the hotel and had the fire services come out. He must have been in the mall at the same time as myself.
We heard he spanked or pinched a bottom of a girl and was pounced on immediately by security. It didn't help that she was only 16 and he was wearing a pink skirt and pink cowboy boots. I'm still convinced he was only mucking around being daft, only the New Jersey authorities didn't see it that way and off to jail he went...in a pink skirt and pink cowboy boots. We didn't envy him there and someone tried but couldn't get the bail money to him in time. At the venue they were worried that a riot so we all departed back to the hotel early.
Sunday came and we once again attended the venue. I remember Tim Polecats Jet Black Machine playing. He did some kind of a strip tease tearing off his rubber vest while enduring a swarm of empty plastic glasses hurled his way. I can't remember who else played that day other than the closing act, the one band that sounded better than everyone else that weekend 'Nekromantix' they really took the roof off the place. Wally was something of a fan and Bob had the fist album but I was somewhat unfamiliar, however I felt like I already knew all the songs after that evening. 'Who killed the cheerleader', 'Nice day for a resurrection' within the next 18 months they brought out an album on perhaps the biggest Punk/Psychobilly crossover label at the time 'Hellcat records' and blew up into a real splendour stateside. Something we could only have dreamed of happening to us at the time.
It was our last night so we continued to socialise and make the most of our trip.
I saw Bob making conversation with a heavily tattooed lady with short, cropped hair. Next thing she’s whacking him repeatedly, stops and starts again until she’s had enough. I asked him 'what was all that about? 'Oh I just asked her if she was a lesbian and she didn't take it too well' 'Obviously not' I thought.
Wally had cleared off early still complaining about his feet. The night came to an end myself and Bob followed.
After something of a slumber back at the hotel room we we're over at Newark Airport the following morning. Plans for us to go stay somewhere in Brooklyn had gone awry and we had a slot to play in the basement at CBGBs with Tim Polecat. I was all up for checking in somewhere me being me and still doing the gig go exploring. But the majority of our party didn't want to for reasons Bob couldn't afford to fork out any more on accommodation Wally was moaning about his feet even more and Rossi didn’t want any more anxiety attacks.
Without any kind of secure plan all everyone could think of was home. Bob was the first to flag down a cab and say 'take me to the airport' so the decision was made. I remember feeling gutted we couldn't just go to Manhattan for a couple of days and mooch about and what not. We boarded the plane and talked about going over again and it going better for us on stage. We heard the promoters would carry on with the same festival every Halloween weekend each year. Sadly that wasn’t to be. 9/11 changed that and the rules got even stricter for foreign bands coming in without performers visas over the next decade. (we would have to pay literally thousands annually to go by the book these days) So we were part of something as a complete one off which felt special in a way. It got us heard of over there, so some Americans were familiar with us by the time we came over to the west coast 4 years later (a story for another time) The whole weekend was made into a film called 'American Rumble' by 'Raven films' which you may be able to find on DVD somewhere. We had our cameo in it with one song and they somehow managed to make us sound better than what we actually were. Wally and Bob went down to London to watch the premier at some place.
Although our performance didn’t go as well as we wanted to, the experience and the effort set us up as something of a named band for the foreseeable. We found ourselves playing European festivals the following year and we would head over to the west coast in California there after (stories for another time)
Should myself Wally, Bob and Rossi all happen to bump into each in the near or distant future, preferably in a pub, I hope we can be laughing, drinking, Reminiscing, thinking, talkin New York City.