Saturday, 31 January 2015

Fire in the Hole by Tony X Stanton

We were playing away rehearsing for a gig that would never happen when Wiggy the bass player started to smell smoke.  As Wiggy normally appeared to be stoned into orbit most times we ignored him and kept playing...badly.  When the dense smoke started to creep under the door of the old wooden hut we all started to take notice.  The little bastards outside had set fire to the hut we were in!  I remember us all being rather too laid back about the whole thing as this wasn't the 1st time the local teenagers had been a professional pain when we were rehearsing had done something stupid.

Not that I blame them trying to burn us alive to be honest, we were back then terrible with a side order of bad enough to make your ears bleed.  The whole thing interested me as it made little logical sense, back then the band had no name.  It was just Bob Douglas on drums (who was about 15 years older and had enough lighting gear to make iron maiden jealous), myself aged in my mid 20’s and ‘Wiggy’ who Bob worked with.  Myself and Bob could play...wiggy on the other hand couldn’t play and had the worst case of stage fright I’d ever seen.  After 6 months of the local kids trying to burn us alive while we played badly, John Mcardle joined as singer and we did our 1st and only gig with that line up.

For the 1st song there we all were standing on stage playing… by the end of the 1st song Wiggy had started to drift for the centre of the stage to the side of the stage with the look of a rabbit about to be made into a pie on his face.  By the end of the song he was playing while hiding in the wings at the side of the stage and never once set foot on the actual stage ever again.

Wiggy had to go, and in all fairness I think he actually wanted to go as he had to use a borrowed bass guitar (as he didn’t own on) an borrowed amp and while he loved rehearsing he hated the actual performing part.  plus there was the tiny detail that he couldn’t actually play bass.

As Bob was the defecto leader of this band, he decided to bring in a new bass player.  A guy who could actually play by the name of Clive.  Clive was a great guy and had a decent musical theory knowledge, wasn’t afraid of being in front of people.  He had a great sense of fun and was great to be around...most of the time.  Though he did have a strange habit of if you were discussing ‘band things’ and didn’t agree with him of going in a huff like a 5 year old little girl, complete with the slumped body language, lower lip sticking out and walking away and ignoring you.

John our singer I’d known through my dad for a few years anyway, but I’d never actually ‘known’ him. Spending time in a band with him fast made him one of my favorite people to be in a band with.  Jhn would give anything a bash and always give 100%.  He also had a great line in improvised crazy lyrics.  After the hut burning happening one too many times a decision was made to change rehearsal venues before we ended up a front page story about the ‘tragic fire that burnt a local band alive’.

We ended up practicing regularly at a pub called the rose and crown which had the distinction of not only being a listed building but also having 7 and a half rooms.  The place was run by a guy called Joe who always made sure the beer was flowing while we rehearsed.

Musically we were far better now that everyone could actually play their instruments although one rehearsal does stick out more than all the rest.  Bob had picked up a small smoke machine that operating by a footswitch, the decision was to let clive be in control of it as he had least to do for one of the songs.  So we played away then suddenly Clive put his foot on the switch...all was fine…. then he didn’t take his foot off!  Inside of 30 seconds the Rose and Crown was full of dense white smoke that was now pouring out of the doors of the place making it look like an inferno was taking place inside.  Clive swore blind that he HAD taken his foot off but it hadn’t released.  our theory was he was too busy thinking about his next pint.

At this point it’s important to take a slight division in our narrative to cover the enigma that was Bob Douglas.  All drummers are clinically insane, this much is far beyond all doubt and the evidence from the history of western music more than bares this out. So whether its Keith Moon from the Who, or John Bonham from Led Zeppelin, all of them were mad as a box of frogs in their own unique little ways...yes even Ringo Starr.  Bob however was the anomaly...he was normal in mostly but crazy in a rather unique way.  Bob liked to jerry rig his own gear, something he was rather good at, even though the gear he made looked like it would explode at any given moment.

Over the next year or two we did all sorts of small gigs, some to full rooms, some to half empty places.  It was never boring and always interesting and no matter what the audience may have felt, we always had a good time. But two gigs stick out very vividly.  The 1st being at a place called Blackhill club.  Now Blackhill club is an old working mans club that is way too large for the area it is built in.  Planned and built back when Consett still had a steel works it had one of the longest bars you’ll ever see, and was meant for all the steel workers coming in after a hard days graft.
But fate was not kind to Consett and Consett Steel works was closed by the conservative government in the early 80’s as an ‘experiment’ to see ‘what would happen if you ripped the industrial heart out of an industrial town’. I’ll tell you what happens… 80% unemployment fucking happens and stays that way for nearly 2 decades.  So it was that Blackhill club is a truly massive place but has far too few people to go there.

We spent the afternoon before this charity gig putting the gear up on a proper stage.  Now Bob had quite clearly gone batshit insane and had brought every bit of gear he owned.  There were enough lights for an iron maiden gig, a fucking drum riser, amps...cables everywhere.  The gig itself went well and video still survives of it.  About half way through one of the sets (I can't  exactly remember which, but pretty sure it was the first one) I was in the middle of a guitar solo when I heard a bang and the lighting rig about a foot and a half away from my face exploded glass everywhere.

Amazingly I didn't drop a note, and was rather peeved that my ‘beautiful guitar solo’ had been ruined by an exploding light rig, it not even registering that if I had been looking in a different direction I would have been left blind and badly injured.  Trying to play and push the tiny mountains of glass off my guitar effects pedal board I played on.  John the singer during the break to the next song immediately asked me if I was ok…  So did clive, bob looked sheepish.  This was the last time we used his lighting rigs while I was a member of the band.

The 2nd gig I remember is the last one I played with One Track Mind before I left the band.  The managed to blow the fuses at a party for some of Bobs relatives, most of pensionable age and not really into loud 60’s and 70’s rock music it would seem.  I always got the impression that they hadn't asked Bob if we could perform, but seemed to be more a case of bob making fucking sure we were playing whether the bastards wanted us to or not. It was not a good omen.

We blew the fuses about 3 or 4 times due to Bobs gear overloading the electrics, it was the 1st gig my cousin Nigel played piano with us for as member of the band, we were way too loud for the old folks and I remember I played badly and the band didn't ‘zing’ like it usually did.  I found out a few days later that 2 old people had died during the night after they got home from listening to us play.  So no matter how bad you may weren’t in a band that played so badly it killed two old folks.  ..and that was the end of my gigging days for a while.

Monday, 26 January 2015

Decisions in Vegas

I was sitting alone at 3am on a weeknight in the Bourbon Bar in Las Vegas. Well, not technically alone.  I was sitting with 3 off duty dancers / strippers, a guy dressed as a bad 80’s heavy metal cliche from one of the shows and a great many, many bottles of strange and unusual beers and drinks.  I’d flew into vegas that day, I’d been awake 26 hours straight, but somehow  couldn't sleep due jet lag and was in the middle of a crisis.  After years working away from home I needed someone to ‘talk at’ to try and make sense of things.  There was the feeling that these dancers and heavy metal guy were sort of used to people like me in the middle of whatever existential crisis we felt an urgent need to talk about to strangers.

So I talked to these semi naked woman and the long haired guy who looked like Axel Roses uglier stunt double after a horrific accident involving a mallet and I’m not sure how much sense I was making though.  I’d been drinking beers non stop for hours now, but no matter how I tried I ccouldn'tget drunk.  The Venetian Hotel, like all the casinos in Las Vegas pumped oxygen filled air into the casino floors to keep you sober enough to keep spending money. It was like the ultimate alcoholic prick tease, enough to keep you carelessly tipsy, but not enough to get drunk.   But damnit!  There was no way that I was going to admit defeat, I was a member of a somewhat notorious group nicknamed the ‘Mansons’ God damnit, and we didn't admit defeat!  

So the drink continually flowed as I mawkishly rattled on and on about how after working away on and off for years that I’d changed so much I had no idea who my wife was as a person anymore, and she didn’t know who the hell I was by this point.. I opened my heart to a bunch of strippers and Axel roses ugly stunt double in The Bourbon Bar at the Venetian in las vegas...and it helped.

Years upon years, working away from home in the weird extremist world of visual effects had changed me.  That and whenever I was home I was always in my office preparing for the next job, or the next lecture I had to give..or any one of a million other things that seemed oh so important at that time.

It may surprise you to learn that some of the dancers, strippers and people who work in vegas seem to be actually pretty bright people.  One dancer, a pretty girl with bright eyes, long black hair and over inflated tits like gravity defying barrage balloons pointed out something that somehow I had missed.  “Why dont you talk to your wife about it?  If you’ve changed so much maybe she has too and you guys need to talk about that.”  It seemed to make sense when the girl said it in a way it never had when I had thought it to myself.  Although this may be as she was punctuating each word with a tap on her leg of a black bull whip that was part of her costume.

I was in Vegas to give a couple of lectures at an industry convention covering my day job in TV and Film visual FX.  To me trips like these were sort of free holidays with a side order of piss ups with an after hours trip to the take away that was meeting new friends.   I’ve always found lectures very easy to give and I’ve always thankfully had the ability to talk and keep people amused without a script. Of course it is entirely possible that this is all a self delusion and I am really a sad little man with an over inflated sense of his own importance boring the crap out of everyone.  But I prefer to think of it as bringing knowledge to those that need it most… pissed up visual effects artists.

I’d came to Vegas on the back of living in Dublin for a long time working on a film and a couple of TV shows.  So I’d spent a lot of time in Dublin town over the preceding years, and it was like a second home to me.  Some places ‘just fit’ with you and it was just such a place.  Although it was also very bad for me as I often ended up spending most of my time in one of Dublin’s many bars or nightclubs. But the last trip there hadn’t been as good as the previous ones. Most of the people I knew over there had moved on, which seemed to suck the soul and joy right out of me being there. Including most of the other members of the group of party heads I was a member of nicknamed ‘The Mansons’.  (Named as such as we were a bunch of crazy bastards with more stories in our lives than most.)

Like attracts like, and so it was that the ‘Triumvirate’ of the Manson’s were born.That time is indelibly etched on my mind with a guinness coloured laser.  Had we been in Dublin together another 6 months I have no doubt there would have been casualties.  Some people that walk into your life are complementary in a good way, a nice, calm way. Others are an explosive combination akin to putting semtex together with a fuse and encourage each others wilder natures.  That was us, the subconscious need to find other people like ourselves brought us together and the sum was greater than its parts, and we loved each other for it.  We had the duality of being both very good for each other as friends, but also pushing the envelope on a regular basis until it split spilling paper everywhere.

When I first started living and working in Dublin a couple of years previously I started behaving like I was a single guy again, as my wife was back in england in my home town with my 2 kids.  But suddenly after not going out to bar for nearly a decade I was off the leash.  I should point out that my ‘wife’ at the time and I never married as we never saw the need for a bit of paper. She did however know me well enough to realise that the words ‘bar’ and ‘relationship’ where I was concerned were not good bedfellows.  But I digress...

So after suffering the daily nosebleeds of Vegas, spending huge amounts of money on food and a great many pointless things.  Walking up and down the strip with a homelessness infestation seemingly rampant, I was reminded of how glad I was that my own days of living on the streets were long behind me.  I was tempted to go into a few bars, to sample them for ‘purely research purposes’ of course.  It may have been 1pm in vegas but back in my home town it would be 7pm, which is ‘beer o’ clock’ in any language which ever way you slice it. (Although preferably with a twist of lemon.)

Las Vegas is not a place to be when you are all on your own,  when your life is in the process of falling to bits.   Somehow I felt that while there that it was somehow linked in some strange twisted way to how I felt.  Seeing artificial people wandering around an adult plastic silicone filled disney land made me feel like even more of an outsider.  The gap between the rich and poor was never so obvious as on the strip on an afternoon or early evening.  I had been there nearly a week by the time anyone I knew got there, so by then I was very eager to get back home.  But there was still 5 more days of vegas!

With the daily nosebleeds now approaching ‘exorcist’ levels, I didnt dare leave my suite without at least 3 white cotton hankies each the size of a hand towel.   I finally had my job to do and people I knew to talk about.  But while I may have been walking and talking and able to do give my lectures as usual like some crazy autopilot with geordie accent and psychological problems, part of my brain was still ‘processing’.  So each day I’d find time alone in various little bars hidden away at the Venetian Hotel to think.  Was I doing the right thing?  Was I about to make a massive mistake? What if my ‘wife’ took serious umbridge with the whole splitting up idea and didn’t let me see my kids? Jesus god almighty!  That hadn’t crossed my mind, I was a pitiful spaghetti knot of a man at that moment.  Drink helped, it seemed my friend, although the whole ‘unable to get drunk due the extra oxygen’ thing was starting to grate on me a wee bit. I needed to get home.

The flight out of Vegas to London Heathrow Terminal 5 was like the 7th level of hell as the plane had no less than 5 screaming babies (whom I felt like sacrificing to the plane gods after the 8 hour flight was over).  I’d not been able to sleep on the plane, I felt terrible and the world seemed entirely made out of some tron like system of flashing orbs that floated in my vision. I knew the worst thing I could do was close my eyes. I stayed awake…. by the time I got my flight into newcastle the lights became a tron like disco, then by the time I was on my 30 min ride home I didn’t have any idea who I was, why I was or where I had been. (although by that point a very large portion of me didn’t care to any question that didn’t contain ‘would you like a cup of coffee and several packets of cigarettes?’)  I was a caffeine tragedy zombie simply existing to put one foot in front of another. My thoughts dominated by the talk I must have with my wife, but also trying to remember that although I may be a bastard, I am not a total cunt.  So I wouldn’t say anything until after christmas. Yeah that was the plan, say nothing until my kids have had their xmas and the whole god damn year was out of the way. A new year and a whole new start.

This was a fine plan. But it had one critical fatal flaw… my ‘wife’ had lived with me for 11 years and knew me VERY well.  She was a singular woman who had to put up with me and my constant stream of work, rants,crazy ideas and constant need to life life at the edges.  This woman knew crazy very well as she’d been sleeping with it for 11 years and crazy had provided her with two wonderful children. So it came to pass that while putting the presents out for the kids ‘from santa’ she had already worked out most of it.  That was not a fun conversation. Splitting up in the early hours of xmas day is funnily enough not on anyones ‘bucket list’.  There were tears, the usual recriminations (that neither of us meant, because a split is more painful than putting you knob in a mincing machine, its never fun...not even a little bit.)

We both behaved like sensible adults and remain friends to this day, we’ve never needed lawyers and didn't want things to be left to get so toxic that we could only communicate through them while living in different time zones while inside concrete bunkers. Basically for one day… we both grew up.  Everything was put aside until after the xmas and new year period so as to not ruin it for my two young kids.

I found it interesting that although Emily was only 4 years old, when we sat her down to gently explain to her that ‘mammy and daddy are going to split up and live apart, and we both still love the both of you’ talk, she in fact had already worked out that we were going to split up and surprisingly was fine with it, in fact she told me she had been waiting for ‘mammy and daddy to work it out’.  Kane my son, who was 8 at the time took it a bit harder.  

But then splitting with a long term partner is never pleasant, even when it is the most obvious and right thing to do.  The day I moved out of the family home and into my parents place for the next month wasn't a good time. I was in a dark place and that darkness surrounded me and suffocated me 24 hours a day.  It was like a huge black dog had decided to take a massive shit all over my life.  The trouble was in many ways the big black dog taking a shit...was me.  My guilt over doing the right thing hung over me like a large hangy over thing.  What if I had never worked away, would that have helped? How about if I had gave up the one thing I was fucking good at and try to be normal for god damn once?  Maybe not needing to be the centre of attention would have been a good thing to try just a single time? 2013 as a result ended up in an inverse fashion to it had started. while the ‘dong’ of midnight on new years eve 2012 leading into 2013 was full of hope and promise, the ‘dong’ of midnight on new years eve 2013 leading into 2014 sounded more and more like the tolling of a very big and ominous bell.  

But never in my wildest imaginings could I have foresaw the absolute batshit insanity that 2014 had in store for me.  If your life is written down in some book in a mystical place, then I was about to set fire to it multiple times in the most spectacular fashion, then tape C4 explosive to it before attacking its remains with an axe.  This is the only logical explanation for what I fully hold my subconsciousness responsible for. But thats a tale for another article.

Guns, dealers and breaking in.

See that title got yer attention didn't it! I was never a big drug taker, even though I was surrounded by mates who were smoking and taking everything they could lay their hands on. But lets get this straight I was no plaster saint, far from it. My trick was I knew when it was time to put away childish things and grow up before I went down the paths I've seen so many mates go.

Disclaimer: Remember this was 25 years ago, safe to say I was a bit of a serious dickhead back then so bear this in mind as you read it. I have changed..honest.

Back in the day I had a lot of mates and only half knew each other, this often meant my days were filled with wall to wall excess. I'd pop to see a mate in the afternoon, come back have some dinner then be off out doing more crazy stuff with different people an hour later. But our craziness wasn't confined to the hours of darkness...oh no!

Lets take a typical week day when I was about 17 years old....

Morning was always spent with my mam and dad, usually recovering from the excess of the previous night and getting some right old ear ache about it. Once the clock hit midday it was party time.... Usually if my mate Rob was skiving off university I'd walk to his and we'd sit doing crazy stuff till it was time for dinner. Rob always had drugs.... he wasn't a dealer and wasn't a person at the bottom of life, just the opposite. But he was a mate I'd known since I was about 6 and the stuff we got up to has until now remained 'withheld' lol.

So one afternoon in mid December robs dad who owned a few shops had left some fireworks for him as he had them left over at his Consett shop. I always had a lot of time for his dad Don as he'd known my dad for years (this also meant being very careful as if we were caught doing insane stuff it would get back to my dad adn he would not be a happy little bunny). After a few joints and the usual craziness, one of us (I can't remember which) came up with a great idea. The convo went something like this:

'We've got to let these fireworks off mate'

'yeah but its daylight we'll not see shit'

'Well rockets are just simple missiles anyways..lets fire them at the old people's home across the road'

So for the next 25 minutes rob and I stood 20 feet inside his house with the door open wearing a pair of woolly gloves laughing our backs off shouting 'WAKEY WAKEY YER FUCKERS!' and various other things that make me shuder when I remember them.
How we didn't get arrested I'll never know. How the old people didn't all have coronaries is still a mystery....maybe as they were used to the various crazy stuff that went on at robs house when his parents were out.

So stoned off our boxes the rockets finally ran out and I tried to walk took a while. To this day every time I see a firework rocket I think of that afternoon.

After dinner I had a pop over to see my mate Alan, I've known Alan longer than any human alive outside of my family. Now him and me were a toxic combination, as when we got together anything could happen...and usually did. After an afternoon talking complete bollocks to each other and smoking enough dope and drinking enough to make the whole of Jamaica float away on a cloud. We went for a walk to blackhill.

Consett used to have a massive steel works complex until it was shut down in 1980 by the Tory government as an experiment to see what would happen if you ripped the heart out of an industrial area. I'll tell you what one had a fucking job or any money that's what happened. While most of the old steel works complex was knocked down, a few remained for years afterwards.

ok back to the story....

So we for whatever reason had always noticed what we referred to as the CIC building that was about the size of 4 aircraft hangers and largely left untouched as it had when they had locked the doors for the last time. So Alan and I went through a hole in the fence and decided to have a look. Not for nefarious reasons...just out of curiosity. Alan had the wonderful idea of breaking in. Now as at this time I was still working as an escape artist I was given the job of breaking into it. I achieved this by the rather high tech way of kicking the window in.

So in we crawled and the sight that met our eyes was like manna from heaven for a couple of teenage lads. All the machinery had been auctioned long ago leaving the biggest god damned room I have ever seen in my life (and I've seen a fair few!) So off we walked with torches and explored the place, expecting 2 feet tall rats or something to come running at us. It was pretty damn clean, cleaner than most nightclubs in Consett to be honest. This gave us the idea of putting an illegal party on, the idea of a band quickly died when we realized obviously it had no electricity.

This did not stop us. So invites to a select group of people of both sexes was thrown out and as the film says 'build it and they shall come'...and they did. I won't go into all the details but let's just say it was like Sodom and Gomorra for that 1 night. There was every type of drug available to us (bar heroin which no one would touch in our circle, crack hadn't appeared over here and E's hadn't been invented as far as I know.... simpler, less dangerous times) You had people tripping on acid and any hallucinogen they could find, people with joints so large Bob Marley would have been jealous and an infamous 'mmix'.... that was something unique of my own that I came up with. No one ever bought it, you had to 'earn it' and most refused to ever have it was nasty stuff. Nothing in it was illegal but kicked like 17 mules, so technically I wasn't breaking the law.

Some people, not saying it was me mind...did end up in the offices leading off the main 'hall' and did end up shagging on the desk that had been used by the bloke who ran Consett Steel works day to day. The lucky part was the ghetto blaster we'd brought echoed around the place and made it sound like you were at the fucking monsters of rock festival. We were all having a great time....then it came..the moment I always dreaded.
Alan said his usual 'I got to see a man about a dog mate...I've ran out', which was his lame code for one of his many trusted dealers. Alan never had any money, and what little I had i wasn't giving him...Alan was already completely off his tits and chances of him remembering anything past about 9pm were slim at best, let alone me lending him money. So I didn't.

But Alan, ever resourceful decided to go to a dealer who was a 'mate of a mate' and his mate owed him money. How the hell this all worked I'll never know, but about 40 mins later there we are sitting in what these days would be considered a crack den. Me sobering up very fast surrounded by people I didn't know who did not seem very happy to have 2 loud mouthed teenagers there.

I could tell the atmosphere was getting a bit heavy, but Alan stoned off his little titties totally ignored this. Eventually Alan quietened down after getting passed a join that was going around. Now I passed it as I wanted to be as sober as possible till I got the hell out of here...wherever 'here' was.

Now I remember the two blokes coming in....I remember them sitting opposite us, I remember that they were sweating and carrying a sports bag. What i remember very well was them pulling two saw off shotguns out and placing them on the table. (This makes no sense to me to this day.....why??? only an idiot would do that!) Now Alan was gibbering on like a lunatic obviously trying not to look scared. I was nearly shitting myself as I was now in a dealers house with 2 angry looking guys with yorkshire accents with sawn off shotguns.

There is a bit of a blank bit at this point.....I'm not sure what occurred or who said what to who but next thing I know Alan and me have two shotguns pointed at our faces by two VERY angry geezers.Alan seemed to be rooted to the spot and have came to the conclusion (surprisingly for him) that to say fuck all was a real good move at this point. Now I have one big failing as a human being....well one of several but this one is pertinent. I fear no one, I never have. So I went from 'Clark Kent / won't hurt a fly Wayne' to full on Jack Regan Sweeney mode.

'get that fucking gun out of my face now you fuckhead!'
why I said that against all sanity and terror I'll never know. I've had decades to mull it over and came to the conclusion that it was a 'fight or flight' response and there was simply no way I wanted to die in a drug house with shotgun to the head. Something snapped...I think I didn't want my parents to have that as the last thing in my life. I didn't want to let them down.

There was shouting and threats from both sides (not wise when someone's angry and pointing a gun at you) and I batted the shotgun pointing at me away, I remember it hitting the table and worrying it'd go off and blow Alan's kneecaps off. As all hell was breaking lose, Alan said the wisest words he had ever said in his life....'RUN!!!!'
So we did...and didn't stop till we were outside his parents house....after two hours of panicking and paranoia we calmed down. I went home and never set foot in a dealers house again and made a rule to not go near buying drugs. (I used to let others do that lol.... mind you I've not taken anything for over a decade and a half, just to clear that up). It scared the hell out of me and I don't mind admitting I very nearly shit myself when the gun was in my face. The guys weren't local that was the funny thing....the accents they had were Leeds accents.
overall it was a crazy day and not the only one I had.... next time 'trouble at the ballet'.

'Trouble at the ballet'

Back in the day, as well as working all over the world as a escape artist (must hunt out some pics / cuttings some day) I also joined the actors union 'Equity'. Being an Equity member was useful for one sole purpose.... extra work and bit parts. For every cool thing I got to be in, I was in 4 embaressing things such as the video below...(see if you can'spot the Wayne').

Yep that was me in camera at the bar..and also if you look very carefully dancing as a teddy boy. not my finest hour I'll admit. But hey it got to number 1 in the charts (thus proving how sad music was back then) and meant it was shown on top of the pops over here lol.

I always tried to behave myself and be professional whenever I was doing extra or bit part work. Although that didn't stop odd things from happening. one day I got a call from my equity rep asking if I would want to be an extra in the royal festival ballets performance of swan lake. As it paid £500 a day I said yes rather fast. But it had a catch...

All we had to do was to wear a monks habit on stage and then after 40 mins standing stock still walk to the front and wave our arms about. What they did NOT tell us was the 'monks habits 'were made from an old horse hair blanket and under the lights you would lose about 1kg each time....I was already thin as a rake back then soI didn't need to lose weight. (But now I'd be begging to lose that much a day lol).

So we had the excellent idea of not wearing any clothes under our habits as it was simply too warm. plus if you were really careful and moved slowly enough you could have a bottle of water under the habit and move your arm out from the sleeve and bring it up to your mouth for a sly dry to rehydrate. It was all going swimmingly every night until the last night's performance....

I must back track at this point and explain that one of the other 'monks' was an actor we nicknamed 'ringpiece'. He was given this nickname due to having a massive ring piercing through the end of his knob. he wasn't exactly shy with showing it off either and was always getting into trouble slapping it out to show the ballet dancers. Sadly for him most were from lesbania.

So the last performance...we all go walking forward to do our 'waving arms about like a lunatic' bit and ringpeice slips flat onto his back, the monks habit up around his waist showing the entire theatre royal his pierced knob. He got sacked for that...although bit pointless as was the last night. It would not be my last encounter with 'ring piece'.

I next encountered 'Ringpiece' when filming as an extra on the above video for Robson and Jerome's single 'Saturday night at the movies'. While they both portrayed being big mates in interviews was obvious to anyone who saw them that they fucking hated being near each other. Imagine the oasis Gallagher brothers but with less violence lol. Robson Green was a great guy though and would come in each morning early to stand and act as teas maid for the extras and crew. He seemed a very nice guy from the times we were talking to him, obsessed with football and Newcastle united.

So on day one while we were filming the bar scene cowboy part it become time for us to break for dinner and that was setup to being a nice posh bar down on Newcastle's quayside. Right next door to the crown court and lots of barristers and lawyers went there for their Din-dins.

So as we're sitting eating a very nice buffet put on for us, one of the woman asks if its right that Ringpeice has a reverse prince Albert piercing on his knob. Now what he should have done was said 'yes', what he did was to drop his trousers in the middle of the bar full of posh business types and show the whole bar. It took a nice 'cash donation' from Robson and Jerome's production company for them not to call the police (as they were big names in England at the time it would have been eaten up by the papers). The rest of the shoot didn't go well as day two we all had food poisoning from day ones buffet! No wonder the two poor buggers never used extras in a video again lol.

There was another phone call the next year for yet more extra work with the ballet, again swan lake but a totally different production. This time there were 4 of us playing large medieval guards and me and another guy were each side of a thrown. Nothing untoward occurred on stage (apart from the last night when we felt the need to draw various moustaches on ourselves..didn't go down well that lol.)

no...the big problem was we were carrying 8 feet tall razor sharp pikes. They were heavy as fuck and when the stage lights went out it was as black as the black hole of Calcutta. The only way off stage on this particular set was through a small opening the size of a single house interior door. So we had to point our pikes forward and hope to fuck no one was in the way. all but one performance somehow we managed it, but on the 3rd performance I fucked up. There was a dwarf actor playing some part or other and I manage to stab him up the arse, which is no mean feat when your arse is less than 2 feet off the ground!

Its not big ...and its not clever!

I was very apologetic and made sure I bought the guy a drink afterwards as a small way of saying 'sorry I impaled you up the arse with a razor sharp pike'. Every time I went up or down in the lift to and from the stage the very same bit of music from swan lake was still sends a shudder down my spine whenever I hear it well over a decade and a half later.

Hunting for Bungle & Zippy with Doctor Who & James Bond

That's a helluva confused title for a blog post I'm sure you agree, but if you can come up with a better one after reading this then be my guest. To wind up the 'entertainment' things for a while and move onto more serious stuff I'm going to cover two separate things in my life that I did for TV as both are interesting for different reasons.
Back when I was 15 years old I was all over newspapers and TV as an escape artist, maybe the one thing I have fond memories of was when I was asked to do the old ITV primetime show 'what's my line'. It turned out to be the 2nd from last episode that Eamon Andrews ever did before he died. That name won't mean a helluva lot to many younger readers, but back in the day the guy was one of the big names of TV.

Having been asked to be on the show and having just finished my exams (the old 'O' levels), I had to travel down all expenses paid with my mam acting as chaperone (which may sound dull, but my mam is anything but a dull person). They really pulled the stops out , probably as it was just before my 16th birthday and it was business class all the way, chauffer driven limo and 5 star hotel. these were the days when TV companies had a shit load more money than they do now. When variety was king and 'reality TV' hadn't reared its ugly head and wiped out all before the altar of Simon Cowell.

The limo drive from kings cross was amazing for a young lad who had never been to London before(which was ironic as I'd been us about everywhere else lol). So on entering Thames Television it was crazy to see the other shows on the board being filmed in other studios. What caught my eye was the kids TV show Rainbow (this is back in the Zippy and George days before Bungle changed his voice). It's a show I've always had a soft spot for and I made the decision to try and get to see that studio if possible.

So I asked the assistant director who seemed to follow my mam and me around like a lost lamb if I could..the answer was a most emphatic NO!!!! The reason being that as the 'stars' couldn't be allowed to see the people on the show in advance in case they worked out what each person did it was not allowed. I was gutted. Back then they took this sort of thing very seriously not like today.

During the 1st rehearsal (minus 'stars') to check the angles they'd need for my escape there was a rather funny (to me) conversation. I was used to people assuming coz I wasn't an adult that somehow it'd be something 'easy' or that I'd be escaping using a key or something behind a big screen. (This was how 99% of escape artists did things back then...the screen I mean.) I have to admit that I had a bit of fun with that wound people up mercilessly many times. But not on this occasion as it was important.

Director: So Wayne do you need a screen or something to hide behind while you escape?
Me: no in the middle of the floor in front of the desks will be just fine.
Director: but wont people see you using a key?> cameras can zoom in quite close you know, its not like a stage.
Me: Honestly don't worry about it, I'll be picking the locks in front of people so they can see what I'll be doing (this was sort of my trademark back then)
Director: You can't show people how to pick a lock! We'll get taken of the air!
Me: I seriously doubt it as it's not like eating a biscuit ya know!
Directior: can you show me then and if I can copy it you'll have to use a screen.
(so after 5 mins of getting 3 extra pairs of hand cuffs from my bag back we are again both locked in 3 pairs of police regulation handcuffs and a long thick chain locked with 4 lever Hiatt padlock......)
Director: Do you have a spare lock pick for me then? (laughing and starting to take the piss a bit)
Me: no as I'm not using lock picks...
Director: but you said....
Me: I'm going to use a hair pin instead. (Americans: a bobby pin)
Now at this point Mr. Director bloke looked a big stressed as I'm guessing he thought I'd fuck it up lol.
Me: just say go when your ready...

on the word 'Go' from one of the floor crew I stuck the hair pin in my mouth and picked all 4 locks in about 10 seconds. Needless to say the director was stuck and I was allowed to do it in full view (which was a 1st for british TV by the way). he did ask one thing...if I could slow down a bit as 10 seconds was too fast. This is the 1st time I've admitted this but I slowed it down to the 30 seconds seen on the program. Although people thought that was amazingly fast next to the 3 mins other escape artists were taking.

Just before the show we all had to go to Eammon Andrews dressing room and have a chat 9adn sit in his rather nifty dentists chair). Turns out he was shit at putting handcuffs on and managed to trap the skin on my wrist badly on the show. (Which was why I covered my wrist with one hand afterwards, as the blood would have been a bit obvious otherwise lol.)

All day my mam and me had been talking to this nice secretarial type woman. imagine our show when as we were watching in the green room them finish what would be Eammon Andres last show when it turned out she was a stripper and stripped down to a Basque and panties! now I was your normal red blooded male and from that moment I never left her side lol. Funnily enough my mother was fine about all that as she knows what I was like back then.

So me and this woman(who for the life of me name I can't remember) decided to go AWOL and try and find Zippy and George and the Rainbow set. After creeping out we went roud corridors getting lost and maybe would have found it eventually if it had not been for literally bumping into Ernie Wise coming out of a lift on his way to the green room to meet the other people who had been on what's my line (he was on the panel..and no he didn't wear a wig...I asked and he let me pull on his hair to prove it lol). So we never did find them.... although Ernie wise was a fascinating man and spent a good 2 hours talking to my mother and me, when I never forgot. He took time to talk to people, real old school.

So me and this stripper who was still in the Basque she stripped down to on the show, sat till about midnight in the hotel bar chatting. Now I didn't have a chance, I was only 15 after all, but I thought all my birthdays had come at once!. But it didn't stop me absconding once my other was asleep and going on a taxi drive and walk about in the early hours with her. No nothing happened before you ask, but you could say she did manage to colour my views of women for a decade or so lol. (We'll go more into that at a later date.) Not many 15 year old lads get to have those experiences. Magic times......

While the most boring extra work I'd ever done, 'Our Friends in the North' was the most interesting in one way...the cast most of who were unknowns at the time. So I have happy memories of having a cuppa with a pre Doctor who (by a good few years)Christopher Ecclestone (quiet bloke didn't say much), a pre james bond Daniel Craig ( an even quieter bloke who insisted on remaining in character at all times on set) and the one big 'star' Malcolm MacDowell. That guy spent more time than he should have with the extras as I quote 'The crew and cast don't talk much and were boring to be around.' I wish I could remember more of what he talked to us all about, but my brain sort of stuck at the stuff he talked about Clockwork Orange. He explained the story behind it being pulled (like most people I'd believed it had been banned, not pulled as it actually had due to copy cat crimes.) What it was like to go into that part and the public reaction afterwards and the odd things people had said to him if they saw him in the street. One thing I can say is he has the same shoe size as me as there were no more left in costume in my size so they put his on me as he wasn't in the scenes I was.

Rebel Without a Clue

You may have noticed a bit of a dichotomy appearing in these posts, that although I was often travelling all over the place as a young man working as an escape artist, I was also acting like a total lunatic. This does have a back-story and while maybe not as 'funny' as previous posts it may help to explain the split.
back when I was at school (back in the stone age for those of you under 25, the wheel had just been invented, everyone lived in a rather garish version of colour and acted like Gene Hunt ), As I was living in my home town where there was mass unemployment due to the steel works being closed and no one had a fucking bean. The idea of a lad starting at aged 11 yrs old was earning more for a 10 minute act than most people did in a month did not go downwell.
Not even a little bit! fact that's putting it rather mildly.

It made me unpopular with the other kids as being on TV, radio and papers what seemed to them like all the time doesn't make you Mr Popular at that age. (Even less so when it doesn't stop after a few weeks but goes on till the age of 17). So being bullied at school was the norm for me, and I had just about every type of bullying you can imagine.
'High Points' include :
  • Being dangled out of a 3rd story school window by my feet
  • Slashed with razor blades more times than I care to count (a few scars still show)
  • Having my arm set fire to (although later I'd do this for shits and giggles at parties lol)
  • A sharpened metal rod shoved somewhere you REALLY don't want it to be....ever... in a metal work class. (yes it did leave a fucking scar before you ask)
  • Being beaten up by a mob of over 150 kids as I'd recently been on TV the night before.
  • beaten in the eye with a wooden pole leaving me blind in one eye for 48 hours. (the eye I curently have problems with unsurprisingly enough)
I could go on but chances are you're having a problem beliving the stuff I've put above let alone adding the other things. So suffice it to say that I had a rough time at school. It was made a bit easier as at 3.30pm I could go home and I was earning a lot of money. I didn't spend it on much apart from an ever increasing collection of antique handcuffs and some very expensive locks. The money built up and up. My parents weren't pushy showbiz types, far from it. In fact I know the whole idea of me working on stage at that age did worry them, but they were supportive and I have no complaints about them. They never touched a penny and it was still there when I left school.
Now this is probably where both they and I did make a rather huge fucking mistake. The day I left school was one of the happiest days of my life, I went into the garden and burned every book, uniform, fact any fucking thing that reminded me of school in any way. The idea of going onto college or uni was not going to happen as I was not going to jump out of the frying pan and into the fire. (Which I do regret a bit to be honest).
So I embarked on what can only be called the world longest party, fueled by the money I'd earned over the years. (What I didn't party was eaten up in private medical bills years later). I started the day I left school and didn't stop until I was about 26. I grew to resent that after a serious health problem I could no longer be an escape artist as it could cost me the ability to walk and pushed all that away like it was poison.
I've never 'fit in' my whole life and the one thing I wanted at that point more than anything was 'to be normal'. I wasn't quite sure what 'normal' was but I decided to have a damn good bash at finding out.Although I had no real idea what 'rebelling' was, I was pretty sure I was doing it right. You name it and I've probably done it back in the crazy decade of my life. Every day was a party and there was only one rule:
"Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the law".
(A bonus point if you can name who said that quote.....)
I drove my parents nuts once I'd left school as I'm one of life's extremists. other people for example would listen to a song and buy the album, I would buy all the albums, every bootleg and track down every video tape. This repeated in whatever I was interested in. other people partied for a couple of years then settled down to 'working for the man'. Back in the day my mates and I all made a pact to 'keep the faith'. Meaning to live the lifestyle we enjoyed and not to bow 'to the man'. Silly as it sounds I'm proud I'm the only one who never broke that. I may not party every day anymore but I am still prone to the occasional regressive craziness.
An example of recent craziness back before my wife and I had kids was we were walking back in the early hours from a jam session I'd had with my cousins. I was hungry and the only place open was the MacDonald's drive through. So my wife and I joined the queue with the cars and when I got to the window to give my order (to some very strange looks from the staff I may add) I deadpanned the whole thing pretending to drive an invisible car. So yes I do still have those occasional crazy moment although thankfully for my wife's sanity not very often these days. Although every time I mention 'the MacDonald's walk through' my wife still cracks up.