John’s Adults in San Diego, USA: 11.06.1999
The jumbo jets swoop low over San Diego’s Casbah Club that night. As they do every night, of course, it is situated just underneath the main runway of San Diego’s international airport. But the evening of June 11, 1999, is notable for another reason. Just thirty two years after their first American hit, prototypical English psychedelic pop band John’s Children are making their debut US appearance. Guitarist Marc Bolan is unavoidably detained, but Andy Ellison and Chris Townson are, frankly, gagging for it. Accompanying them are me, standing in for my nemesis John Hewlett (who has been born again as a Christian and is thus unavailable) on bass, and Boz Boorer on guitar.
If anyone had suggested in 1975 to the various members of Jet that they would take the stage once more some twenty four years later, they (the suggesters) would have been told to piss off. And yet in 1999 in San Diego, California, it comes to pass that Chris Townson, Andy Ellison and myself, now appearing as a reincarnated John’s Children, or rather John’s Adults, belabour the JC back catalogue with as much enthusiasm as it had ever been belaboured.
The crowd go bonkers as the band cavort through their first stateside performance in fine style. Andy Ellison is somewhere in the audience underneath a large sheet with more than a few willing Anglophiles; Chris Townson, having quit his drum kit, clutches the knees of guitarist Boz Boorer as Boz assails his guitar with a mike stand. I try to compensate for this rhythm-free lacuna. Chris’s knee-grabbing turns into a frenzied assault upon Boorer’s footpedals, picking them each up in turn, and throwing them into the air. Then he seems to be examining them. It goes on and on. Then it goes on some more. Is it personal or just psychedelic? Chris crawls around the stage, apparently demented. Finally he makes his way back to the drums and lies down behind them, hidden from view. Time passes. Suddenly he reappears, and launches straight back into whichever tune the band is thrashing to death.
Post gig, I ask Chris about this rock’n’roll moment. Is it a case of metaphysical transportation induced by loud guitars? Apparently not. As Chris had hugged Boz Boorer’s knees, the guitarist accidentally caught him in the mouth with his guitar, knocking out Chris’s dental plate containing (one) false tooth. It fell somewhere around the front of the stage. John’s Children first had a Californian hit in 1967 (Smashed Blocked). Here in San Diego, June 11th 1999, thirty years of hard living and sociology have taken their toll. Chris has to sacrifice either his credibility or the eighty quid it cost him to get his false tooth made.
‘Sod it’, he not unreasonably thinks, after quickly subtracting the cost of a replacement from the gig fee, and he starts the dental hunt. Boz doesn’t make things easier, lurching backwards and forwards and generally behaving like an American teenager with a sugar overdose. But the errant tooth is spotted lurking underneath an original Fuzz Face foot pedal – Townson stuffs it down his trousers and crawls back to the kit. Rather than replace the plate in full view of the audience, he sinks to the floor behind the bass drum and attempts a spot of dental subterfuge. Surrounded by clouds of dry ice as he is, it takes a few moments. Unabashed and eighty pounds sterling better off, he emerges to resume the auto-destruction with full fervour, and with dignity evidently intact.
Propping up the bar after the gig, we are approached by a local record collector, the notorious Mono Jeff. He asks – no, insists – that I sign the cover of a John’s Children album. “I’m not on it”, I tell him. “It doesn’t matter”, he says. “Yes, but it’s nothing to do with me at all….” I say. “That’s OK, I just want you to sign it”, he says. “Well, can I write anything I want to?” I enquire. Yes, I can, he says and hands me a thick black felt-tip marker-pen. I write THIS MAN IS A C**T in big letters and draw an arrow pointing to John Hewlett’s face. I sign it as requested with a flourish and hand it back. He goes all quiet, not to mention rather pale. It is the priceless (well, formerly priceless, obviously) ‘Orgasm’ album.
Despite our efforts to draw a discreet veil over the whole Jet palaver, various enthusiasts turn up at the gig clutching moth-eaten copies of the original Jet album on 78 rpm shellac cylinders. A person dressed as Zsa Zsa Gabor in mid-nervous breakdown takes me on one side and raves about the record. “You know, man”, he shrieks quietly, “the best thing about this album is THE HAIR! And Peter Oxendale looks like A WOMAN!!” I am unable to disagree, or indeed do very much at all.
The following day I have a severe hangover. I can’t quite work out why, as I didn’t drink so much. Chris eventually tells me that he told the barman to give me quadruple measures whenever I asked for a Scotch. Chris returned in the morning specifically to settle up. Apparently the entertainment was worth it, he tells me. Later, feeling in less than optimal form, I sit in the sun for five hours with a charming female journalist who beguiles me into talking about Sparks episodes from twenty-six years ago. I get sunstroke and lose most of my epidermis….
John’s Adults in Unkel, Germany: 03.06.2001
I arrived directly from Istanbul. The gig was for the benefit of a number of mods, who turned up on Lambrettas, Isettas, JCBs, oxen and the like. As I had been away in Istanbul for some months, we adopted the rather unlikely approach of not rehearsing at all for the gig, with the expected result. However it must be said that the tiny stage, the large pillar in the middle of it, the ghastly sound, the rats in the bedrooms, the cold and the rain did not help matters at all.
We were all supposed to share the same bed but pointed out that, given our combined ages, it probably wasn’t such a good idea. The medical bills alone would have been enormous. Boz, who rightly turned his nose up at the first substitute accommodation proposal (a rotting caravan full of mattresses, dead dogs and old food tins), was awarded the consolation prize of a worker’s room filled with pornography.
The club itself was tiny and full of Dutchmen of our acquaintance. We made a brief pre-gig excursion to a nearby bar from whence we were ejected because, of all the baseless reasons, we were singing ‘Springtime For Hitler’. They started it, after all. I can’t remember what we played, probably the same as at all the other gigs.
John’s Adults in Gijon, Spain: 05.08.2001
Gijon, in the heart of the Basque country on the northern coast of Spain, revealed itself to be home to many charming customs, most of which we indulged in during our brief effort to bring JC culture to the Spanish masses. Perhaps the most fascinating was the consumption of the local delicacy of ferret scrotums (should it be scrota?) marinaded in cider, which we ate with relish at least once. The cider must be poured from a bottle held above the head into a glass held at knee height. If you don’t do this, the cider doesn’t go all over the floor and won’t taste half as nice. (This is the theory, at least). Anyway, we practise a lot and eventually learn how to leave it to the waiter.
Back at the hotel later on, an amorous couple who are somehow connected to the band are keeping us awake with their frantic panting and squeaking in the next room as they decapitate ferrets and spray the room with bodily fluids. The artistically-inclined Chris Townson draws an official-looking Spanish sign and tapes it to their door. ‘Shagfest Prohibidados‘ it says, with an appropriately crossed-out erect member inside a circle. It has no effect. The squeaking carries on into the night. Oh! oh!! What an enormous mouse!!
We’ve arrived early so that we can do a spot of rehearsal. As normally happens, the arrangements change and no rehearsal time is available. We accept the inevitable with a good grace and a cheery smile on our collective face, except for those who don’t and who erupt into torrents of expletives and hurled drumsticks. Some gentle tourism fills the gap and we climb up into the old part of town to witness the famous farting kites of Gijon, which fly close to one’s head while emitting farting noises. Boz Boorer notes the trick for later use. Andy Ellison demonstrates the zooming power of his new video camera by focussing on an apartment seven miles away across the bay. He zooms in though a window, goes through the living room into the toilet, down the pan and out through the overflow.
We decide upon a refreshing glass of local cider and we return to a bar spotted earlier. It’s pleasant, situated off the street and is already quite full. Various guests are already sitting in the garden knitting and playing Ludo. They seem preternaturally calm, but we put this down to the soporific heat. A gaggle of waiters watch us curiously as we make ourselves comfortable, but they make no attempt to offer any service. After an interminable waiting period, I summon one over, and give him a serious dressing down for his clearly Mediterranean attitude. With surprising self-control, he explains to us that this is in fact not a bar but a old peoples home. We make our way shamefacedly out, leaving the senior citizens to a night of light debauchery and digestive biscuits.
At the soundcheck, ‘Wrong Knob Bob’ Boorer complains that his amp won’t turn up, until a German efficiently points out that you must being turning not up the ‘Treble’ knob but up the ‘Volume’ knob. And they say that Germans have no sense of humour.
Soundcheck dispensed with, we settle down to a spot of serious drinking and, by the time that God signals the beginning of the gig, spirits are high. The onstage sound is great and we kick off with But She’s Mine, as we have done for a century and a half. It fairly soon dawns on Andy that his long guitar lead has been replaced by a short one. Like the true professional he is, he puts his guitar down and goes off to look for it while we cycle aimlessly round the verse for several hours. Eventually we get on with the rest of the set, albeit with a certain alcohol-fuelled panache. This includes my attempt to converse with the audience in the local language. “Ole!”, I say. “Hasta Manana!”. “Ariba! Andale! Salami! Cervesa!” I exhaust my Hispanic intercourse with “Seve Ballasteroth!” and admit defeat. But I feel that the audience appreciates my intercultural intentions, at least slightly.
Another lacuna comes during Cosmic Dancer. Ellison’s guitar is now completely out of tune and, after four attempts to get the song going, he swaps the guitar with Wrong Knob Bob, who tunes it up and makes appropriate Ellison-style noises with it. During this debacle, and rather appropriately, the backdrop falls down.
We stagger through It’s Been A Long Time as an encore. Boz gets out his theremin, wobbles around holding his head and does a human fly impression, which goes down a treat. After the show, rabid JC fans (or criminals) show their appreciation by coming backstage to congratulate us and/or to steal two of our mobile phones. When we discover this the following day, we issues curses and hope they come down with the same virulent fungus that has infected the other members of the entourage, the feared Groupus Bailid. Pausing only to buy naughty sailing souvenirs at the Articulos Nauticos shop, we head off back to the airport with yet another legendary performance under our collective thong.
John’s Adults in Cattolica, Italy: September 2000
Part I: 28.09.2000 London
Today is the first (and last, it transpires) full rehearsal with all members present. We’re joined by new boy Ron Macleod from Radio Stars, who complements Boz’s manic guitar strummings (“those are nice manic guitar strummings”, Ron says). We can remember most of the set and so we experiment with alternative versions of some of the songs. The rockabilly version of Desdemona doesn’t survive the moment, not does the country version of Mustang Ford, but a half-time rendition of Scare Me To Death is earmarked for future development. I discover that the Radio Stars version of this Bolan tune (re-titled Horrible Breath) used all the wrong chords, much to the horror of our resident authenticity expert Boz. After rehearsals it’s all back to Boz’s studio, where he gets his kit out and then reveals his exotic array of audio toys, some of which we commandeer for the Italian gig; I acquire a 1965 Fender Precision bass and Andy commandeers a guitar synth. The world holds its breath.
Later still at Chris Townson’s, we watch the sad tale of the life and death of Keith Moon on video, and persuade Chris to spill the beans about his time with the Who as Moon’s replacement. He remembers that Pete Townsend sent him the entire recorded Who collection to learn; he kept it stored in a trunk which Simon Napier-Bell threw away without telling him.
Part II: 29.09.2000 London
No Boz today, as he’s off gigging in Baffin Island with the Polecats. We do our best to struggle on without him, however, and re-arrange all the tunes so that he won’t recognise them. Especially successful is Midsummer Night’s Scene, which now begins somewhat along the lines of Gimme Some Lovin‘ (or I’m A Man, nobody knows which). It works a treat. Scare Me To Death is also finalised – Little Feat meet T. Rex.
Ron has (temporarily, he assures us) lost his passport, so we all offer helpful suggestions as to where it might be. He goes off home to have a look for it while we go to the pub and swap memories of last year’s San Diego gig – we remember with great respect the Japanese tourist who seemed to have wandered in to the club by accident (or maybe he was overwhelmed by the majesty of the event) – he spent the evening asking where he should go on holiday, while the woo-woo gesture was performed behind him.
Part III: 01.10.2000 Cattolica
The flight to Rimini is apparently piloted by a WWII bomber captain who demonstrates his sideslip skills every few minutes. Despite this we manage to arrive moderately pissed. Boz is not with us, being off in Patagonia with the Virgin Fugs. Before we board, a nice lady asks whether any passengers have ‘special requirements’. ‘Psychiatrists and wheelchairs’ shouts an anonymous John’s Child, already feeling the strain.
The New Untouchables crew, who are promoting this affair, are waiting for us with a selection of mod transport and convey us to our splendid hotel overlooking the fishing port of Cattolica. We walk down to the club, following New Untouchable Paul’s instructions to ‘turn left at the three nude birds holding up a sort of plate opposite McDonald’s’, which turns out to be a rococo depiction of nymphs frolicking wetly in the town square.
The club is zip-burstingly full of mods, mod-ettes and train drivers, one of whom insists that (1) I am Andy Ellison, despite all evidence to the contrary (notably the presence of Andy Ellison next to me), and that (2) I played the role of the teacher in that landmark of British TV, the Seventies sitcom ‘Mind Your Language’. I fail to convince him that he is wrong on both counts.
At about 5.00 a.m. we wander home along the beach, taking the opportunity to insult some jellyfish treacherously concealing themselves in the harbour. Andy was recently stung by one and so, in a bravura display of solidarity, we shout ‘You bastards’ and other such jellyfish-enraging epithets. We obviously strike a nerve, as the next day the spineless creatures are nowhere to be seen.
Part IV: 02.10.2000 Cattolica
A relaxed lunch followed by an even more relaxed sound check. Boz, having performed last night in Tierra del Fuego with the Shadows of Knight, still hasn’t arrived and the sound check carries on without him. What we really need is lots of fat people (‘back-to-fronters’ in Boz speak, although he can talk) lying around soaking up bottom, because the bass end is flapping around the empty club like Rita Tushingham’s discarded underwear. From the front, it sounds like a herd of hippos dancing the can-can, but things can only get better.
Apparently we have to play standing behind a metal fence and a row of comfy sofas. And we do – when we take the stage, accompanied by a hot-off-the-plane Boz, the audience stay respectfully behind the row of sofas. There are no lights on the stage and, perhaps unable to see us at all, the audience remain subdued until encouraged by Andy to fully express themselves. This they do with enthusiasm, and mayhem breaks out. People take their clothes off and begin nude wrestling, others hurl bouncy sofas around and onto the stage, and New Untouchables stalwart (and onetime Quant-person) François joins us on percussion. He is playing a saucepan jammed onto someone’s head – when the kitchenware falls off in the melee, he continues drumming on the unfortunate geezer’s head, and on anyone else’s that he chooses to. No one seems to mind. Nude Wrestler runs madly from one side of the stage to the other, and attempts to steal the Union Jack blow-up cushion liberated from San Diego.
Andy waggles his bum at the throng, takes his clothes off and jumps up onto the PA. Boz uses the metal fence to play his guitar with. Following the traditional spontaneous encore, we retire exhausted, emerging only to address more train driver’s questions. This time the subject is mulberry bushes, and the waters are further muddied by the driver’s stoker, who also has a few requests. The stoking issue is left to (the real) Andy to sort out. Nude wrestler Claudio is later presented with a John’s Children drum key in a ceremony hosted by yer own, yer very own MC Chris Townson, who congratulates Claudio on his splendid physique. The second John’s Children gig of the new millennium comes to an end. It was Persian-free, although not for want of trying. Another splendid New Untouchables production, brought to you by Rob, Paul et al (who he?).
Part V: 03.10.2000 Cattolica
I awake late, to find that I am unable to get out of my hotel room. The door is firmly locked from the outside. Feeling the urgent need to pee, and noting the lack of bathroom facilities anywhere at all inside my room, I am forced to relieve myself out of the window into the high street. Next I turn to the matter of the locked door. When twenty minutes of shouting produces no response from the inert staff, I smash a hole in the door with a variety of local cultural artifacts and manage to clamber through it.
I find the rest of the band sitting happily in a bar. “Oh, hello Martin” they say, “you’re late…” and look rather shifty. I detail the morning’s events, to the apparent bafflement/amusement of most. After lunch, Chris and I have to leave for an early return flight, and a torrential downpour has just started.
Chris reveals, on the way back to the hotel, that the locked door was the result of a joint Ellison-Boorer action. I insist upon retaliation and he helps me as I drag Andy and Boz’s beds out onto the terraced roof of the hotel and carefully extract all their possessions from cupboards and wardrobes. I painstakingly place all their stuff on top of their respective beds in the pouring rain. The torrential downpour continues as we head to the airport. I allow myself a smile, but do not drive into a wall.