Richey Manic, just sort of stood or sat on the stage looking cool and drank red stripe while the others played.
This month I’m going to release another chapter of my autobiography with MuZiK KluB 45. I’ve been serialising the book chapter by chapter across my MuZiK KluB releases. This month will be Chapter 8 and all about six by seven. Anyway, I’ve decided to publish chapter one on my blog! Unlike most autobiography’s, I didn’t want to start at the beginning of my life, I always find that a bit boring when I’m reading about other people’s lives, maybe I should be, but I’m not so interested in reading 3000 words about Neil Young’s primary school. Here you go… hope you like it.
1991 Nottingham Polytechnic.
Another New Start
The Manics Wanna Kill Me
After finishing Art College in Wakefield at the beginning of the summer of 1991, I headed off to take my place at Nottingham Polytechnic where I had gained a place on the BA Hons Degree course in Photography. I also was accepted for a place at London Polytechnic but decided not to go there. I liked the look of the course in Nottingham and the cheapness of living there as opposed to the great expense of London. Ironically they also had loads of great bands on a weekly basis at the Poly in Nottingham and that is what I wanted to do, build a portfolio of great band shots and then take them to London and get a job with the Melody Maker. I had already been photographing loads of bands in Wakefield and the very week I started at Nottingham I had my first picture published in the Melody Maker, a picture of singer Ihor from local Wakey band ‘Gentle Ihors Devotion.’
It was Ihor who drove me to Nottingham from Wakefield, he was the only guy I knew with a car. We packed my stuff up, an old army suitcase, some records, a ghetto blaster, camera, enlarger and chemicals and a bag full of clothes. That’s all I had to my name. I’d sorted a terraced house out a few months earlier in Forest Fields and Ihor dropped me off outside it in the pouring rain. My room was the one on the other side of the front door, the living room in a two up two down. As I said my goodbyes to Ihor, a blonde girl walked up the street, folded down her umbrella and made a move to walk in through the front door into my room. I said, “Ah, Hi, you must be one of the people I am sharing the house with?” “It fucking looks that way doesn’t it mate!” came the reply as she walked past us and into the house. “See you later” said Ihor smiling and eyebrows raised, “Have fun.”
That evening, after unpacking, I had one of the most miserable nights of my life. Once again I had uprooted and moved, once again I had to start all over, I seemed to be doing this all my life. I missed my girlfriend Liz who was still in Wakefield finishing her course at Bretton Hall. I missed all the friends I had made up there over the last few years. I felt so isolated and I couldn’t breathe any deep breaths because of my Asthma. I went out to speak to the girl I was sharing the house with but she couldn’t even look me in the eye, I thought she was going to twat me when I asked her where the nearest shop was. I found out later that she fancied me so much she would completely go to pieces when I approached her. In the weeks that followed, she would curse me, ignore me, or she would write me strange letters and make me Welsh Rarebit and leave it outside my door with a quick knock before escaping to her room. She moved out before the term was over, thank God. Another lad from Preston moved in, so there were three of us and we all called each other ‘charver’ and got on ok.
I always used to make a massive pot of curry once a week so I could heat a bowl full up when I got home at night and eat it with pitta bread. It’s all I lived off. They were always complaining when I made it, “Fucking hell charver, that stinks, you’re smoking the house out!” It was a vegetarian delight the Asian corner shop man in Wakefield taught me how to make and soon enough they were eating it too, living off it with pitta bread to be precise.
I had a tough start at College. I had a really bad chest and sometimes I couldn’t even make it up the hill towards the college. For some reason I couldn’t breathe deeply and the doctors couldn’t sort it. I was on all sorts of pills and antibiotics and I figured it would either kill me or go away. After three or four weeks it eventually went away and I could at last take a deep gulp of air and get up that fucking hill without having to stop and rest 3 times like an old man. After my first week in Nottingham, a couple of mates from Wakefield came up for the first weekend to ‘cheer me up.’ That consisted of drinking copious amounts of beer and smoking draw and driving around Nottingham pissed in a VW Beetle. Clever for the old Asthma.
The following weekend my cousin Joerg came over from Germany to ‘keep me company’. He confided in me that he was a smack addict and would be coming down over the next few days. I had already guessed as much but this was the first time he admitted it to me. He started drinking white wine at 9 in the morning and swallowing valium and other pills to keep the cold turkey and shakes at bay. This guy was like my brother, I had grown up with him almost every holiday and it broke my heart to see him in such a state but there is nothing you can do to help when someone is an addict and doesn’t want to change. He had been in a terrible motorcycle crash a year before that ripped his arm off, took his finger off and smashed his jaw to pieces. They sewed his arm back on but it just hung there quite limp and he has perpetual pins and needles in it. He got some large insurance payouts as the accident happened on the way to work and I guess he figured the best way to spend his money was to inject his fucked arm with heroin. Joerg I love you but that was a terrible thing you did to us, to those that loved you and to yourself. I vowed never to take Heroin. It steals your soul and leaves you empty, like a shell, it steals your character and all you do is sleep or withdraw. Boring.
We spent the weekend visiting all the Robin Hood sites in Nottingham. People jousting up at the castle, a Robin Hood film at The Broadway Cinema and sitting in these weird contraptions that took us around ‘The Tales Of Robin Hood’ a living experience of the times the legendary thief lived in. It sure was, we sat there in the dark drinking whisky out of miniature bottles and throwing the empties at the plastic Merry Men and the Sheriff.
I got through my first term at college by generally keeping myself to myself. I didn’t want to make too many friends because I knew I’d spend the rest of my time trying to fuck them off. The first thing I was going to do was find out who was responsible for booking all the bands. I took my portfolio of pictures to the Student Union Entertainments Secretary, Bill Redhead, an avid Arsenal Fan. He liked my pictures and could see I was keen and he agreed to give me a free Access All Areas pass for every show as long as I gave him one colour and one black and white 10” x 8” photograph of each show.
My girlfriend Liz came up to see me a couple of times from Wakefield during my first term but we quickly fell apart from the distance between us. She seemed more interested in free Tori Amos passes than hanging out with me anyway. To be honest, I was more interested in having a laugh, I didn’t want a girlfriend, just wanted to keep myself to myself and fuck about and do what I wanted. I actually managed to fail my first term on a technicality because I forgot to hand something in, a scrapbook of collected magazine articles. It was a project we had to do to prove we were reading all the leading Art and Photography Journals. I felt I was above it all, it was a crock of shit because I had been reading all these journals anyway, why should I be treated like a kid and have to prove it? Anyway, I came down off my high horse and quickly made the scrapbook and handed it to the authorities to pass the first term. For me so far the course was very uninspiring and boring and not a lot happened, it was too slow and I was really just interested in photographing bands.
The Student Union club was called Gigs And Things and I got to know a lot of people in it who were really in it for the music. A lot of those guys are now front of house and monitor engineers for the likes of Jools Holland, Gomez, The Cure and Arctic Monkeys amongst others. They were all really dedicated people who used the Society to get into the music business and Bill Redhead gave them all an opportunity to learn hands on.
Because of my involvement in Gigs And Things, I pretty soon got myself a job in the Student Union Bar as a door security guy. This meant I had to check everyone’s student union cards and if they didn’t have one they had to be signed in by me or refused entry. I got £10 a night for sitting on my arse drinking pints of beer at £1 each and letting all and sundry in. One night, I even sat there tripping my nut off on acid. It was great, I would do other peoples shifts too and most weeks I was on the door 6 nights and in between running down to the photographers pit to photograph Suede or whoever. It was great, free beer and some extra dosh and film for my camera.
The first band I photographed at the Poly was John Martyn. I had been a fan of his for years and had already seen him a few times in Canterbury, once in London and also a couple of times in Leeds. I went down early to watch the guys build the stage and get a feel for what went on to make a gig happen at the poly. There was a fuck up with the PA that night and it never turned up. John Martyn did though and when he found out he promptly went down the pub until it got sorted. The guys from the Student Union were professional as ever, calmly and without panicking they made a few phone calls and sorted a PA. They made the gig happen even though they could have all by rights just fucked off home. Someone went down to the pub opposite the poly and managed to haul John Martyn out and I saw him come into the downstairs bar of the Byron building, absolutely steaming. Soon enough he was at the bar holding his Martin Dreadnought guitar screaming at the young girl behind the bar “MICE, MICE!!!” She was absolutely petrified and didn’t know what he meant. I grabbed my chance and went over and said, “He means ice, he wants ice in that drink!”
John Martyn sozzled… (actually pissed as a fart but still able to play and sound amazing)
I politely asked him if I could take his picture and he agreed. I pointed over to the corner of the room and he followed me over and sat down on a chair in front of me. I had an old Rolleicord Camera from the 60’s and you have to look down into the viewfinder to take the picture. He loved it and started to relax. For years I had tried to learn to play his song ‘May You Never’ on the guitar and I couldn’t let this opportunity go begging so I asked him if he could play it for me. He immediately launched into it and started singing very quietly. He played it in standard tuning in the key of D. ‘Wow, so that’s how you play it, I thought it was open tuning, I can show you three different ways to play that song John” I said. He laughed at me and started playing some old blues stuff and mumbling about Big Bill Broonzy. At my request he also started to play Easy Blues off Solid Air. He had fingers like sausages and the strength of his grip on the guitar was immense yet he floated across the fret board with grace, a truly amazing guitar player. Then suddenly he stood up and shouted, “BOYS BOYS!! I gotta go, I gotta play. Sound check! My son, he’s doing front of house you know!!” and off he went, swaying from side to side like an old MFI wardrobe, guitar in hand and onto the stage for sound check.
During my first year at College I photographed many bands, every single one that came through. The ones that stand out are Curve, because me and my mate hassled the singer so much to let us go on tour with them that we got thrown out of the dressing room. Gong, because we stole their rider and they nearly came back to stay at my house. The Australian Doors, because they did come back to stay at my house. Daisy Chainsaw because the lighting rig fell over and hit me on the head and knocked me out. The Manic Street Preachers, because they were going to kill me. They were promoting the single You Love Us and I was at my station between the stage and the barrier waiting for the band to come on when Bill Redhead crawled in and said, “You need to get out of here Chris, I just spoke to the band, they said if you take a single picture of them they are gonna jump off the stage and kill you.”
“What? Why? You’re joking?” I said. “Nope, they mean it, you need to get out of here.” I got out of there, the atmosphere was hostile anyway, I’d already had little oiks shouting and spitting at me while I was in the pit and I thought it would kick off as soon as the band came on. If the little designer punk fans didn’t give me a black eye, now it turns out the band would. I went to the balcony and observed from a distance as the Manics came on and launched into You Love Us. I’d never seen them before and to be honest I thought it was a joke, they looked like fancy dress Clash and they were posing and posturing around the stage all gushing angst and poodle metal disguised as punk rock. The kids at the front loved it. I wandered off down into the pit and stood in front of Richey Edwards who spent most of his time on the floor drinking cans of Red Stripe and not playing at all but I realised it didn’t matter. It was all blood and thunder and the band knew exactly what they were doing. I shot off three rolls of film without them even noticing and for the final frame I lifted my camera so high it was practically under the singers nose. When he saw me he became furious and pointed at me and shouted and mouthed the words ‘I’m fucking gonna kill you.’ I wasn’t going to hang around, I didn’t think he would but I ducked under the barrier and off to the side of the hall. He was still pointing at me and shouting as I gave him the two fingered salute and made my way up to Rock City to see if there was anything decent on.
YOU LOVE US TOUR Manic Street Preachers : No pictures or we will kill you. I remember thinking: ‘This is all style over substance and didn’t the Clash already do this?’
Years later the Manic Street Preachers asked us to go on tour around Europe with them during their all white ‘Teletubbies’ period, don’t ask me what album, the single was ‘If You Tolerate This Then Your Children Will Be Next.’ We got the call from our record label whilst we were on tour with The Delgado’s in the UK. We were having a good time and people were coming to the shows, I didn’t want to do The Manics Tour but the management and label wanted us to go so we voted on it and it was 4-1 against me. On the first night of the tour in Stockholm I remember meeting the singer James Dean Bradfield at the after show at a bar in a club. I reminded him of the fact that the last time he saw me he wanted to kill me. He just shook his head and denied it saying “We were never like that mate.” At that time I didn’t have much respect for the Manics, I didn’t particularly like what they did and they weren’t very friendly towards us, I never even spoke to Nicky Wire or the drummer in three weeks of touring. They asked us on tour and just weren’t interested. By the end of the tour though I did have an understanding of why they just wanted to keep themselves to themselves. Just by being the singer in the support band I got fed up of being asked where Richey Edwards was by their obsessive fans. One fan even tricked me into doing an interview with her and then risked her life climbing out of a four-storey window to try to get to their dressing room before I hauled her back in screaming. They performed consistently great every night and were just being professional. We got on with their crew who were all mad Millwall supporters with baseball bats in their flight cases. I had to keep my mouth shut about supporting West Ham. I think we were probably quite a troublesome support act for them.
Towards the end of my first year I was broke. I was living off my homemade curries and Carlsberg Special Brew and pints of Lowenbrau whilst at ‘work’ in the student Union. The photography course was a real drain financially. The cost of film and paper was much more than any other students had to bear and I was doing course work as well as firing off 10 rolls of film each week on bands. I had managed to stay at my Auntie’s in Blackpool over Christmas and she fed me and I spent most of my time in a room reading books for college. I used to dread the holidays. Things were ok when I got my grant at the beginning of term and then they brought in the student loans system so I managed on that. Trouble was, it was difficult getting a job for just 3 weeks at Easter and everyone else went home to his or her parents. My first Easter break involved me going over to Germany to see my cousin Joerg. I thought I may as well be broke in Germany as in England and the trains were cheap. When I got to Germany Joerg was in a terrible state. He tried to hide the heroin habit from me but I couldn’t help but see how his life was changing and all the druggies that he was now surrounded by were the scum of the earth. At least he had fallen into it with some kind of romantic Bukowski kind of notion, he was a good person gone wrong because the drugs had really taken hold of him, but the others were creeps and freeloaders. I told him we should get out of Dorsten, the town where he lived and get on the train to Berlin. We went down the station and just jumped on the next train and headed for Berlin.
My recollection of what we did and how we got there is hazy. Somehow we ended up on another train to Warsaw. I think it was so we had somewhere we could sleep. I kept waking up and looking out of the window of the train and seeing fields with horses and ploughs like it was 1940. When we got to Warsaw we were going to buy tickets to Moscow but first we set about going into Poland’s capital city. We’d barely got out of the station when Joergs legs couldn’t carry him anymore so we got on a bus with absolutely no idea of where it was going. The bus was a boneshaker that hit every pothole in Poland on it’s way into the hinterland between Warsaw and the Russian border. We were on it for hours and went through dense forests and past villages that no tourist would ever see, it was total poverty and I couldn’t believe I was still in Europe. The Berlin Wall had only been down a couple of years but this part of the world hardly looked like it had noticed. When we stopped at the end of the line the bus driver asked us where we were going. Joerg was asleep on the backseat. I told him we needed to get back to Warsaw but we shared no common language. He laughed at us and shook his head. A few hours later we were back in Warsaw and it was getting dark and Joerg had woken up. We tried to get some beer and some food but everything was just shit. We thought about Moscow but quickly decided to get back to Western Civilisation, we’d had enough of the East after only twelve hours or so. We got back to Berlin and the first thing we did was stuff our faces with cake and coffee at the station.
I went back to England to start my third term at college at the beginning of May. When the summer came I went to stay at my Auntie Madge’s in Blackpool. I searched for work. She said I would easily get a short-term job in the summer months in Blackpool and I immediately started applying for jobs in the local paper. I got more and more desperate wandering from pub to pub asking for bar jobs, anything. I went down to the pleasure beach every day, but no jobs were available. It was the worst holiday season in Blackpool’s history apparently. I applied for a job at the Sea Life Centre on the Golden Mile as a living ‘monster’ who interacted with the public, scaring them on a ghost train ride. I went through two days of auditions only to be told, ‘You’d make a great Frankenstein but we don’t need one right now’. I was becoming increasingly more desperate and even applied for a job as a nude model and a snake holder. In the end my Auntie gave me a job. She owned a big rest home called The Beeches at the top of the prom and had me building en suite toilets with my Uncle Bob and cousin Terry. We had a great time, they got me to do all the shitty tiling and artexing jobs and I soon became an ‘expert’. I caked the artex on so thick that it’s still there to this day, you need a jack hammer to get it off. I had my own Black and Decker workmate which one of the residents, an ex tramp called Bobby, used to piss all over when I was out of the room. We worked hard from 8 till 6 everyday and my Auntie gave me £120 a week and a room and great food. After a few weeks I had enough money to buy a Metz flashgun, the holy grail of flashguns was mine! Life was great. One night the phone went and my Auntie said, “It’s for you, it’s your Dad.” He said to me, “Son are you sitting down? I have some news which might shock you.” I thought ‘Shit, it’s Joerg, he’s fucking killed himself with the smack.’ I yelled at my Dad, ‘What’s wrong, who is dead?!!” “Oh! On the contrary” he said, “you have a one year old sister Chris, I had a daughter with my mistress that I never told you about, but I’m telling you now because your Mum has found out and I don’t want you to hear it from her first.” “Oh right” I said, “thanks for that, what am I supposed to say?” “How about congratulations?” came the reply.
At the end of the summer my Auntie Madge and Uncle Bob gave me a lift back to Nottingham in their camper van as they were due for a trip down to Leicester to see the family (most of my English side of the family are based in Leicester and Rugby). They dropped me off at my new digs in Sherwood and came in to have a look. I had moved into a shared house with four other girls from the photography course and had just dumped my stuff off in the room before heading off to Blackpool at the end of the last term. It looked a bit scummy and they weren’t too impressed. “Good grief, is this where you are going to live?” asked my Auntie, “You haven’t even got a telly!” She went straight down and ripped the telly out of the camper van and gave it to me. “Here, I can’t possibly leave you here without a telly!” she said. Bless her, they were so great to me and still to this day I know there are two people out there that I could turn to in a time of crisis. Everyone needs that.
My second year at college was much better than the first. I had a couple of good mates and my music portfolio was beginning to take shape and now I was no longer a ‘first year’ and could laugh at the next lot of newbies coming in. The course became easier and I started settling in and loved the new house I was living in with the girls. The only problem was that the old student union had been gutted to make way for a new era. Gone was the old red fabric airport 70’s lounge workingmen’s club and in came the new steel and girder hacienda look. My job became a nightmare as they told us we had to now actually check everyone’s Student Union cards. Shit! I pushed it as far as I could, letting people in and not really doing my job but it wasn’t much fun, more like real work. The £1 a pint Lowenbrau had also been replaced by Carling and Fosters, everything was turning corporate. I carried on, I needed the money but worked less hours. There were still great bands coming through the college, even better than in the last term. Bill somehow managed to negotiate a gig with Shakespeare’s Sister and they played the poly the week they were number one with the massive hit ‘Stay.’ David Icke came in to give the inaugural Lecture and Bill could hardly keep a straight face when he introduced him, asking people to be respectful to the ‘Son of God’ and to “please let him talk without interruption.” They crucified him as soon as he walked on and he spent the first five minutes shouting: “Empty Vessels make the most noise!!!!”
There were also a lot of new comedians coming through the college circuit at this time; Mark Lamarr, Sean Hughes, Eddie Izzard and Bill Hicks was back a second time. I’d already photographed him a few months earlier when he did an amazing performance in the Student Union. To be honest I didn’t really know who he was at that first gig and I only went down to take some quick pictures on a Friday night before heading off to a party I’d been invited to. I stayed for the whole gig because he was so funny. This time around I asked Bill Redhead if I could go down to his dressing room before the gig and meet him and take some proper portraits. He agreed I could and I practiced a week before hand on fellow students with my Rollei and Metz attached to it so I would get the lighting right. I was also trying to take pictures through a magnifying glass with a 35mm camera.
I went down to the dressing room and was a bit nervous to be honest. Bill Hicks could be quite incendiary on stage and I don’t think he suffered fools gladly. I knocked on the door and it went flying open and Bill Hicks was standing behind a small table in the middle of the room, his driver had opened the door, they both said nothing. “Hi, I’m Chris, I’m the photographer for the Student Union and I photograph all the bands and comedians that come to play and perform in the Byron building here at Nottingham Polytechnic.” Nothing… just silence and staring. Then Bill Hicks spat his chewing gum out on the table, leaned over it and pointed at it as if it were a tiny insect and said, “Well film that then Motherfucker!”
I thought, ‘Shit, he’s a dickhead, oh no!’ I didn’t quite know what to do, I was shocked. Then he suddenly jumped up and came over to me and said “Come on in Chris, just foolin’ around with yer there son!” I spent the next hour photographing him and talking to him about life, music and comedy. He was very obliging and was proud to have stopped smoking. I asked him how he had managed it. He told me he used Nicotine patches, sort of band-aids with cigarettes in them! What? You have to remember this was 1992 and long before Nicorette patches were heard of here. He got his driver to go upstairs to the car and get them to show me. He jumped around the room doing Dracula impressions with his coat, he was pissed off that all his friends in America had already seen the new Gary Oldman Dracula film and he was stuck on tour in a country where it wouldn’t be released for a few more weeks. I noticed that he kept fluctuating between being quiet full on and jumping around and making jokes to suddenly going very quiet and sitting down, looking really tired. He was probably knackered out from all the touring but when his driver returned from the car with a suitcase full of pharmaceutical drugs I thought he might be ill.
His driver opened the suitcase to get the patches out to show me and it was like a mini drug store in there. I asked him why he had given up smoking and he said, “I can’t do this job and smoke too, no way, not anymore.” He then wrote his address in LA down on a small piece of paper and asked me to send him the pictures. “Send them here quick” he said, “before I move to the relative safety of New York, these drive by shootings in Los Angeles are becoming worrying.” He put his hand in his pocket and gave me all his change to cover the postage, no one had ever done this before. I showed him some of the pictures I had taken of him during the previous show at the poly and he chuckled to himself as he looked at them. He kept some and signed two of them for myself and Bill Redhead. A week or so later I sent him the pictures and a card with a picture of an American thirties style cop, shooting the heads off some flowers in a vase standing on a table with a caption underneath, “Tex’s Tulip threshold was low that day”. To my amazement, a few weeks later I received a letter from him thanking me for making him look like Randy Bachman and he loved the magnifying glass shots too. I still have that letter, it’s hilarious and one of my prized possessions.
Last year I got a phone call from a guy in New York who worked for the record label Ryko Disc who put Bill Hicks stuff out. The A&R man at the label had tracked me down because they were working on an anthology 4 DVD box set and they wanted to use some of my pictures. It turns out Bill Hicks kept everything and my pictures had my name and address stamped on the back. I told him I also had eight other unseen and unpublished shots of Bill from that session and he was really eager to see them. I dug the old negatives out and scanned them and emailed him the pictures. He was on the phone pretty sharpish after getting the attachments saying he would send a contract through for me to sign as they wanted to use the pictures desperately.
Me and my wife Karen were excited and thought we might make a bit of much needed cash. When the contract came through it was with Universal, not Ryko Disc, and they wanted the rights to use all of my pictures in perpetuity across the territory of ‘the known universe.’ There was also a list of what they wanted to use them for including everything from simple key rings to giant Billboards and everything in between. The list read like an Argos catalogue, they had left nothing out, not even car mats. The fee they were offering was $ 0.00. I phoned the guy up in New York and was told a sob story about how everybody was working on this project as a labour of love and even John Cleese was writing the sleeve notes for nothing. I tried to negotiate but he wasn’t having it. I said they could use a picture for total exploitation if they gave $1000 to pancreatic cancer research. He said that they couldn’t even do that as they had no budget. He added, “These pictures will make you famous.” No they won’t! I asked him if he would be getting any wages who exactly was paying for his office on Broadway, the phone bill and chair he was sitting on?’
I told him I would think about it and send him an email. I put the phone down and sent him an email saying:
“IF YOU ARE IN MARKETING KILL YOURSELF”