A series of random columns from Mixmag, a dance magazine, from the 90s, beginning with this one about Irvine Welsh:
Irvine Welsh at the Blue Note Club
I was in London for the Irvine Welsh gig at the Blue Note Club in Islington. I was the warm-up act. It’s a new concept: literary readings at clubs. I’d already done two or three, which were mostly resounding failures. It had begun to seem to me as if readings at clubs were a contradiction in terms. Most people had looked at me with bemused expressions wondering where all the repetitive beats had gone. I was hoping that this one would be different.
I arrived about 8.30 and there were already people queuing. I tried to get in. I was made to stand to one side while some TV crew were debating with the door-man. There were problems with the guest list. I waited and waited while the TV people were trying to get some more names onto the list. Eventually one of the organisers came out. “This is CJ Stone,” he said. “He’s reading tonight.” That’s the trouble with fame. No one recognises me.
I was meant to be meeting my editor and my publicist from Faber & Faber, and I tried to leave a message at the door. “Are they on the guest-list?” I was asked. “Dunno,” I replied. “Well they can’t come in unless they are on the guest-list.” This guest-list thing was beginning to get on my nerves. I just wanted to leave them a message to tell them that I was inside. The door-person looked down the list and discovered that their names were, in fact, there. So that was all right then. The guest-list is a little like a Confessional. Once you’re in it, all sins are forgiven.
After that I spent about half an hour signing books. Someone was opening the books for me while I reeled off my signature. It was like a production-line. I was Signer-in-Chief at the literary factory. I might have been signing away my life, for all that I knew. Whoops, there goes another million dollars!
My friends from Faber & Faber arrived and we went to a pub. Julian is a shrewd, fey, polite man with a marked intelligence. Helen is apologetic. She says sorry a lot. I’m apologetic too. So conversations with Helen tend to go like this: “I’m sorry.” “I’m sorry too.” “I’m sorry that you’re sorry.” “And so am I sorry.”
We were supposed to be meeting someone from Radio 1 who was going to interview me. She wanted to ask me if I thought that Literature was the new Rock’n’Roll. Julian listed a few cross-over artists he thought I should mention. Frank Zappa, Captain Beefheart, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan. “But Bob Dylan’s crap,” I said. “I know,” said Julian, “but he did used to write poetry.”
Back at the club the same old shenanigans were going on at the door. The queue was even longer now. Someone else was trying to get in at the same time. I turned and recognised Irvine Welsh. “It’s Irvine Welsh,” I said, and everyone else turned to look at him. He had this look on his face, the one that famous people get when they know they are being recognised: vague, distant, far-away. It looked like he was in a bubble.
I went in and did the interview with Radio 1. I answered the first set of questions competently enough. The interviewer said, “when I ask a question, can you refer to the question in your answer? So when I ask ‘what audience are you addressing?’ you should say, ‘the audience I am addressing are…’ Like that, OK?” I did as I was told. Then she said, very pointedly, as if this was her secret weapon: “Is Literature the new Rock’n’Roll?” I reeled out the set of names I’d been given in my pep-talk. When I said “Leonard Cohen” she smiled knowingly. Obviously Leonard Cohen isn’t cool. But then I thought about it. Is Literature the new Rock’n’Roll? Well no. The process is so different. You need silence to write. It is a lonely occupation. I said, “there’s no music in Literature.” Afterwards I regretted the statement, because there is music in literature. It’s just that it is the music of silence, that’s all.
Later I was interviewed by Channel 1 TV. They asked the same question. “Is Literature the new Rock’n’Roll?” It’s obviously the new buzz-slogan in media circles. I was fed up with it. “Nope,” I said curtly. And that was the end of that interview.
I watched Hanif Kureishi do his bit. He read out a story about a lump of shit. It was full of graphic descriptions of the shape and smell of this monstrous turd that wouldn’t flush down the bog. The audience were going “ye-er” and “yeuch” at all of these pointedly precise observations. They loved it.
Later I met Irvine Welsh. I shook his hand and he asked who I was. “I’m CJ Stone,” I told him. He gave me a huge hug. “I’m just reading your book,” he said. “I love it.” On that basis, I love him too. And his Mom. And his dog, if he’s got one. Us writers are so vain. We do so love to be loved.
I’d been given some free drinks tickets and I was just debating whether to have another one and risk losing my license when I bumped into an old friend. He’s working class and Scottish. We used to call him Ronnie Rumbelow after the chain of electrical shops. That was his stage-name. He had a band, called Breakfast Oilrig. BO for short. I gave him my free drinks tickets and asked how he was enjoying the club. “It’s full of pretentious literary wankers,” he said. Ronnie’s an inverted snob. “Irvine Welsh is here,” I said, “he’s not a literary wanker.” “He’s the biggest wanker of the lot,” said Ronnie.
These Scots love slagging each other off. But if wanting to write books makes you a wanker, then so be it. I’m a wanker too.
2. Castlemilk Writer’s Festival
It starts with a whiskey. Well it would do, wouldn’t it, this being Glasgow. And not a single whiskey: doubles at half the normal price.
There’s me and Kodan and Daniel interlocking arms and saying, “here’s to the Celts” and then chucking back these monstrous double-doubles (a Scottish single being an English double) and following these with lager chasers. Whoosh. Like fire in your belly, and then an eruption in your chest, and then a mini nuclear explosion in your brain, a kind of psychic mushroom cloud radiating with a hiss and a splutter through your brain cells. So I’m an honorary Celtic supporter for the night, and an honorary Scot too, being a poet and a revolutionary and a bum and an all-round bull-shitting philosopher like the rest of them. And after two or three or more of these nuclear brain-holocausts (I lose count) well we were just talking gibberish of course. I forget what. Revolutionary clap-trap, no doubt. Or maybe nuclear physics, cookery and transcendental meditation. Or macramé. Or knitting. It didn’t matter. Nothing mattered. By this time our brains had mutated into some kind of amoebic slime. They should make whiskey illegal. It’s too good.
I was up here for the Castlemilk Writer’s Festival. Castlemilk is a huge council estate somewhere in Glasgow. It consists of x thousand people, one shop, one pub and a library. I have no idea why they want to hold a writer’s festival here, especially as no one from Castlemilk actually turned up. There were the library staff, and the organisers of the festival, and my friends: Kodan, Danny, Carol-Anne and Woody. And that’s it.
I didn’t recognise Woody at first. I’d written about him in my book. I’d described him as “the very picture of the furtive pornography addict, with eyes that slopped round like wet oysters behind his thick glasses.” Danny told me: “Woody says he’s going to nut you one when he sees you.” Apparently everyone liked the “wet oysters” description so much they were now calling him “oyster eyes”. When I finally did recognise him I was worried. I was waiting for him to nut me one. But he didn’t. He said, “oh hi. I didn’t recognise you at first. It must be these oyster eyes of mine.”
In the end Danny tottered off. I mean: he stumbled off. He was rolling like an ocean liner in a tumbling gale, the sea-sick captain. The Earth itself had turned to liquid. He couldn’t even see straight any more. I have no idea what happened to Woody. He probably transmuted into an oyster. And me and Kodan and Carol-Anne – who’s been far more intelligent than the rest of us, drinking normal sized drinks at a normal pace – well we were heading off for the clubs. They’ve got this curfew in Glasgow, so we’d got barely ten minutes to make it indoors before we were nicked. And the bouncer at the first club took exception to Kodan. “You’re drunk,” he said.
“Of course we’re drunk. What do you expect? We’ve been drinking. Which is why we want to come in here.”
“No, sorry. You’re not allowed in if you’re drunk.”
So that was that. The only half-decent club within a five-mile radius, and they wouldn’t let us in because Kodan looked drunk. On top of that, we were a motley crew. Me with my Harris Tweed jacket and grey hair, looking like an anthropologist (which is what I am really). Carol-Anne looking like a Librarian. And Kodan with his hip-hop hat with “No Fear” written across the front, and his trousers around his hips showing his boxer shorts, looking like Nothing on Earth. It’s no wonder they wouldn’t let us in really. I wouldn’t have let us in either.
So we jumped into another taxi and headed off for another club, the seconds ticking by, that terrible curfew bearing down on us relentlessly like some dark fate, like a Divine Punishment inflicted upon us by an unmerciful God for the sin, merely, of being in Scotland. I’m not used to this. I’m not used to the idea of having to be somewhere at a certain time, especially when I’m drunk. I mean: what if we didn’t make it? What would happen to us then? Would it be like Cinderella at the Ball? Were we all going to turn into pumpkins?
But we made it to the next club anyway, with barely seconds to spare. And Kodan tripped over getting out of the taxi. Carol-Anne and I were about to go in, when the door man said to Kodan, “you can’t come in here, you’re drunk.”
Oh no, not again! Just what was going on here? It made no sense. What else are Friday night’s for, if not to get drunk and go to clubs? And anyway, everyone else was drunk, or off their heads on some concoction or another. So what was it about us lot? What did we have to do to gain entry to these places?
Well we did what he had to do. Shamelessly casting our dignity to the wind, we begged, we pleaded, we implored, we beseeched, we entreated.
“Please let us in, please please. Look, he’s not really drunk. He tripped falling out of the taxi, that’s all. He just looks drunk. He always looks like that. It’s genetic. Show him Kodan, walk up and down. There, see, he’s dead sober. Tell him Kodan, you’re sober aren’t you?”
“Yeah man, honest, ah’m s-s-soberrr,” said Kodan, straining every fibre not to slur his words.
And under this torrent of disgraceful sycophancy, the bouncer relented. “Oh go on then,” he said, waving us in wearily: “anything to shut you up.”
It wasn’t worth all the bother. It was a handbag club: by which I mean the women all danced around their handbags, and all the men pretended to be handbags so they could look up the women’s skirts. And the music was all this chinzy pop stuff, vapid, slushy top-twenty tunes that all sounded the same. Hair-net music. Doily music. Music to put your tea cup on. We had one drink and left.
So that’s Glasgae fer ye. Me and Kodan caught a taxi back to his Mom’s. As for Carol-Anne, I’m not sure. I think she turned into a pumpkin.
"For revels, dances, masks, and merry hours, Forerun fair Love, strewing her way with flowers." Shakespeare: Love's Labour's Lost.
3. Disco of my Mind
An earlier column had me stuck in the crummy 1970s disco-of-my-mind. This column finds me stuck in an actual 1970s disco. It was the Starsky and Hutch night at the Bunker bar in Bagleys near Kings Cross.
Well it was a puzzle for me. I mean: the 1970s was my era. I was 18 in 1971 – 27 in 1980 – so the whole era is so entangled for me with my own sense of confused growing up that I have difficulty in getting a focus on it. Not that I remember very much about Starsky and Hutch. I was a cool, dope-smoking geek at the time, immersed in my own sense of self-importance. I never watched TV. The only things I vaguely remember are as follows:-
2. The dark curly-haired one used to wear these chunky big cardigans with toggles instead of buttons.
3. That they drove round in an unmarked police car, but that when they were chasing villains one of them would get a red flashing light from under the dashboard and stick it on the roof.
4. That David Soul was a heart-throb at the time, and had some single in the charts, though I have no idea what it was called.
5. That they made being cops a sexy young thing to be.
And that’s it. I don’t even remember which one was Starsky and which one was Hutch. But I do remember one Xmas being round Tom and Elaine’s place. They were cool dope-smoking friends of mine. Elaine had bought Tom a brand-new chunky big cardigan with toggles instead of buttons. She said, “for heaven’s sake don’t mention Starsky and Hutch when you see Tom.”
“Hi Tom,” I said, when he came in, wearing this hairy-ape thing with a floppy collar. “I like the cardigan,” I said. “It’s just like the ones that Starsky and Hutch wear.”
He gave me this terrible dark look as if I’d just wounded his soul.
So how did it happen? How did I step out of the crummy 1970s disco-of-the-mind into this actual 1970s disco taking place right here in 1997?
I was due to meet Gilly and her friends at the Cross bar in Kings Cross. Well I was imagining all sorts of things about the Cross Bar before I got there. I thought it must be a pub with a bicycle theme. I pictured a “Pannier-room”, maybe, with bicycle panniers from around the world all over the walls; and a “Saddle-lounge”, where all the seats were bicycle saddles (Ouch!) I thought perhaps you’d get your drinks in those plastic containers like baby’s bottles that Tour-de-France cyclists use. But I was wrong. It was this stark, metallic, high-roofed bar with gloomy corners selling Guinness at £2.50 a pint. It’s only called the Cross Bar because it’s in Kings Cross.
I was wearing my police trench-coat with the collar up. I looked exactly like an undercover cop from a Starsky and Hutch episode. I was sidling round the bar looking into the dark corners to find my friends. They weren’t there. People were giving me funny looks. Obviously my “street-bum” image wasn’t working. They could see I was on a case. I left. After that I was wandering around Kings Cross trying to find Bagleys. There was a guy outside the station shouting about Jesus through a megaphone. The megaphone was so distorted (and his voice was so harsh from all of that shouting) that I didn’t understand a word he said. All I managed to pick up was the oft-repeated name “Je-sus” (like that, in broken syllables) like the mangled cry of some desolate marsh-creature. In the distance I could hear the wail of a police siren. You could imagine Starsky and Hutch themselves coming screeching round the corner any second and then leaping out to engage in some lethal fire-fight. Kings Cross is like that. It’s permanently stuck in a 1970s gothic cop-movie.
Well I never found Bagleys. Not till later, that is. I went in a pub. It said “Dancers” in big letters outside. Now what did that mean? When I got in I found out. The place was full of half-naked women. “Dancers” means “strippers”. But the guy behind the bar was so engrossed with something else (I can’t imagine what) that he forgot to charge me for my pint, so I was quite happy really. After that I went back to the Cross Bar and met Gilly and her friends.
Gilly said, “We’ll go early to avoid the queue. I know it’s not the cool thing to do, but I hate queuing up. Anyway, we might even get a table.”
But when we got there there was already a queue. Gilly said, “it’s the new thing, this queuing policy. They create a queue so it looks like this is the place to be. You have to ring clubs up beforehand to find out what their queuing policy is.”
Well I hate queuing too. I’d rather go to the place not to be, than be bothered with hanging round in a line just for the appearance of it. I mean: I don’t mind queuing if it’s necessary (in the Post Office, for instance, to collect my Family Allowance) but when the management create a false queue on purpose, holding people up and only letting them in four at a time, just as a promotional technique, then this simply seems rude and unnecessary. I decided to blag my way in on the back of Mixmag. I spoke to the bouncers and they introduced me to one of the organisers, and he agreed to let me and Gilly in. “VIPs,” the bouncers called out as they let us through the gate.
“VIPs! Did you hear that Gilly? They called us VIPs!” It was the first time I’d ever been called a VIP in my life. I still haven’t got over it. I’m thinking of changing my name. No more CJ Stone. You can call me VIP Stone from now on.
Once I was inside I started thinking about this queuing policy thing. You see, it’s in the nature of capitalism to turn wants into needs. We didn’t need cars and washing machines and CD players at first; we wanted them, that’s all. But if you create a lack, then wants do turn into needs. These days the world is all covered in motorways, so we do need our cars to get out into the country. And we need our washing machines to give us time and our CD players, maybe, to give us mental space. But who on earth could ever have imagined that we’d one day need Starsky and Hutch theme nights? I sometimes wonder if it’s me who’s going mad, or if it’s just the whole damn world.
Anyway – whether I actually needed it or not – I have to say that I had a bloody good time in there. For once I actually recognised all of the songs. And the atmosphere was so tacky it was almost sublime. Guys with wigs and stick-on side-burns. Women with wibbly-wobbly bubbly patterns all over their jeans, with feather boas around their necks (that was Gilly). Nobody gave a damn. There were latter-day Starskys and late twentieth century Hutches running in little conga-lines all over the place.
I tried to chat someone up. I said, “I’ve seen you in my dreams.”
Arrrggghhh! It came out just like that, the cheesiest chat up line you can imagine. I was running away before she had time to answer.
So I was definitely stuck in a Starsky and Hutch script now. There were Starsky and Hutch lines coming out of my mouth, Starsky and Hutch thoughts bubbling about my mind, a Starsky and Hutch look of charismatic charm straddled across my face. I looked down and I was wearing this chunky big cardigan with toggles instead of buttons. I’d stepped into the TV time-vortex and now there was no way out…. The disco-of-the-mind goes on forever!
4. Broad Oak Valley
Broad Oak Valley, near Canterbury in Kent. Anne and I arrived just as the setting Sun was breaking from behind a cloud, spangling the sky in a wild burst of reds and golds: the greatest light show on Earth. Anne is 39, the mother of three kids. She’d got a baby-sitter in for the night. Right now she was wearing a little velvet number and a pair of shiny patent leather Docs. Dressed up to party. She had the window open as we puttered through the quiet Kent countryside: listening for Nightingales. But it’s typical of her optimism. She didn’t hear a Nightingale. Instead she said, “that means that they’ve all found mates.” The most beautiful songs come from the loneliest birds she told me.
We’re on our way to a free party, put on by tVC of Kent and Rogue of Lincoln. The tVC/Rogue Mutual Admiration Society. The usual things happen. I miss the turning and get lost down some dusty lane. I turn around and I’m just about to give up when another car comes roaring in. And luckily they know where the party is. We clatter over a bank of rubble and into the garden of a boarded-up house. Everyone’s busy, setting up the marquee, hanging from the canvas to pull the guy-ropes tight. Someone is lighting a fire. Piles of equipment lie scattered around in disarray. Everyone’s running about, having a laugh, giddily anticipating the Night’s promise.
Well, Broad Oak has a history. It was compulsorily purchased some thirty years ago to make way for a reservoir. Only they never did build the reservoir. And since the late ’60s it’s been the scene of countless parties. How many of you remember Kevin Ayres or the Soft Machine? These were the hippest people back then. Kevin Ayres dyed his hair purple. He had a deep, sonorous voice, and his lyrics sounded dead cool when you were tripping. They were responsible for a number of the parties. Later – in 1976 – someone else tried to hold a free festival here. It was the People’s Free Festival, unfortunate offspring of the earlier Windsor festivals, now banned. The police did what they usually do: they fenced off great swathes of the countryside and mounted a 24-hour cordon for several days. Local people said that they’d rather have put up with the hippies. The festival ended up on the muddy wastes of Seasalter marsh about seven miles away. Lots of people took their clothes off to protest at harassment by the drug squad. They made the front page of the local paper. Some of my friends still talk about the event. It was the most memorable thing in their lives.
Well nothing changes does it? We still try to hold parties, the police still try to stop us, and we still move on when we have to.
Unfortunately this is precisely what I had to do right now as I’d agreed to take Anne to another party in sleepy old Faversham. As we were passing through Canterbury the car broke down. It’s a 1963 Morris Minor. I was fuming with frustration. Anne said, “go with the flow,” but that only pissed me off even more. I have a pathological aversion to clichés. We ended up sitting in some posh hotel waiting for the AA to turn up, listening to two old men trying to chat up the waitresses. Luckily it wasn’t too long before the AA man arrived. I drank up my pint and went out to meet him.
I love AA men. I love AA men because they all love Morris Minors. They go into a sort of ecstatic trance every time they are called out to fix one. What it is: they look under the bonnet and see a real engine ticking away under there. They can read the engine like a newspaper. So this AA man clucks and gurgles his appreciation and fixes the car in 30 seconds flat.
“Thank you,” I say.
“No, thank you!”
After that we headed off to the other party. This one was indoors. It was a “fetish party”, which only seemed to mean that the women got the chance to show off their legs, and there were X-rated movies in the basement. I got bored. I went for a walk. I walked along Stone Street, merely because of the name. It’s not often that I see my name on a plaque on a wall. Eventually I ended up at the Catholic Shrine of St. Jude’s, which is set in a quiet garden. Well, it was time for me to contemplate my place in the Universe wasn’t it? What am I? According to some scriptures, I am an eternal jewel of consciousness in a Universe of constant change. Instead of which I just felt like a bobble on the cardigan of the Lord. It’s about time He changed His brand of washing powder, that’s all I can say.
I went back to the party to look for Anne. The party had swallowed her up. She was gone. Sucked into a fuming void. She was probably holed up in some room by now giggling her way through a spliff. Well I was chemical-free this evening – barring the occasional, crafty lager – so I decided once more to move on. And it was back to Broad Oak.
By the time I arrived there the party was in full swing. I could hear the bass-line thudding for miles, like the distant boom of artillery in some vast psychic war, and the lights shattering the still sky. It looked like a scene from Apocalypse Now! I parked the car and Nikki from tVC came up to me.
“Chris!” she exclaimed enthusiastically. “You’ve come back!” She gave me a hug. This meant she was on E. She never hugs me otherwise. “I was going to write to Mixmag,” she told me. “I was going to tell them that you’re not really a free party person, cos you never come to any of our parties.”
Well I agreed with her. I’m not really a free party person, I just write about them. But then again, as I thought later, no one expects Ruth Rendell to be a murderer just because she writes about murder all the time, do they?
Well do they?