I know a promoter who owes pretty much his complete oeuvre to inheritance and theft. I imagine being in the same town as this magpie is like drinking in a pub where despite knowing everybody you can’t put your pint down for fear of it being stolen and held aloft, barefaced, by someone claiming it as their own purchase and evidence of good taste.
I was in his city last week and over a beer I asked him about his latest shameless piece of nicking the fruits of somebody else’s enterprise and he just said, “That’s business”. What a cloak of cowardice that phrase is. Tossed off by the mediocre and malevolent alike, it’s been used to mask double-dealing, theft and greed by snake oil and Doctor Good salesmen everywhere. It’s like having your homework copied and I bloody hate it. Although I expect it from banks, building societies, insurance companies and pubcos.
Y’see, businesses are about people. I get mails all the time from would-be Harvey Goldsmiths wanting to start a venue, "It's my dream, I've always wanted to put on bands". Oh dear. I tell them you can install as much brass and swag as you want in those four walls. You can bark long and loud on Facebook and Bebo and Tumblr and all those other social networking sites that sound like Tellytubby characters. But if your doormen are dicks and your bar staff think they’re in a Guns N’ Roses tribute band; and your toilets are wiped less than the arses they serve and nobody but nobody can be bothered to smile, you may as well flyer the ‘out’ with your own ten pound notes. People make the difference. Always.
But I’ve got it very wrong myself at times. The safe was emptied in the middle of the night without the alarm going off (hmmmm ...); and when we had a pub by the river a manager put £10000 banking on the bar whilst he ran to the toilet, “I was desperate to go, I was only a minute". And someone who walked in for a pint ran out with the deposit for a house.
In swift succession I hired German and Japanese students, neither of whom could speak a word of English. One new barman on his first shift, mid-pulling a pint, went straight to the front of the stage to listen to the band playing his favourite song. And from there I put him out of the back door.
The cleaner arrived one morning to find a night manager fast asleep on the floor after robbing the fruit machine and drinking the proceeds.
The red leather settee saw more bare bottoms than a sumo sandpit, the barmaids got more customer propositions than usual from their own sex when Mel C appeared (nice person, by the way); one manager in another of our outlets didn’t usually surface until the pub bloody well closed whereupon he’d sit all night draining Jack Daniels and snorting lines with his mates until disturbed, as dawn broke, by bed and breakfast guests. Looking around for, but not finding, evidence of the advertised Full English and welcoming pot of tea, they would lift mine host's head from the bar to find out if he was dead. Of course, you find all this out after the fact.
But by and large, standing alone like a beacon, Fibbers was made by the staff working and smiling through clouds of cigarette smoke, a wall of heat, the thick smell of sweat and a carpet of broken glass and fag ends. Several would toil through a sixteen hour day, serving drinks and food, dealing with bands, sweeping floors, cashing up tills until the early hours and still be back at 9am ready to go again. One day, I’ll get every surviving member of staff back in the same room and have a huge party. And then they will all kill me.
Now, where was I – 1994? We tried a bit of comedy in this year. Hattie Hayridge, Richard Morton, Frank Sidebottom, John Cooper Clarke and many others would all perch precariously on a home-made plinth (temporary stage would be too grand a phrase) outside the kitchen. The Salford Stick Insect would bowl through the door ten minutes before he was due on and an hour in to my seizure. Comedy is cruel, though. I know several promoters who have had entire runs wrecked because of one bad night. Unlike live music when folks accept the occasional duff show, people just abandoned the poor chap because one night they didn’t go home with a sore tummy. A moment’s dullness and it was almost as if they thought they would never laugh again.
Flickernoise appeared around this time. Years ahead of Prodigy and Pendulum, an early incarnation featured Thom Yorke and they had a mighty mix of beats and furious guitars. Posters for one of their events were plastered around town, one of them outside my daughters’ school. The text was quite close together and ripe for post-detention intervention. Thus 'FLICKERNOISE' became 'FUCKNOSE' …
I booked acid-jazzers Corduroy solely on the basis of finding a 12” left behind by a band the previous night. I’d never heard of them but played it when I got home. And on a whim tracked down the agent (no internet in those days!) and he blithely asked me for £1000. And I blithely agreed. And it blithely sold out. Trust your instincts …
Dr Didg (didgeridoo and dance tracks) sold the place out and he broke his leg afterwards tripping over the parking chain; Labi Siffre had the voice of an angel and the attitude of a parking attendant; the Inspirals were drowned out by moo-ing although I can’t recall if their soon-to-be-very-famous roadie Noel came along; and Champion Franny Eubanks played their last at Fibbers as very soon afterwards they split up following a fracas at a Manchester gig between the singer (a boxer) and the drummer (blind). Possibly an unfair match.
Michelle never got nearly enough credit but far from being ‘the little woman’ being locked away in the kitchen dreaming up ostrich and saffron sandwiches, she played a huge part in the development and bookings and shaped Fibbers far more than she will ever be given credit for. Indeed, it’s a wonder we ever got Everything But The Girl to Fibbers seeing as they kept ringing the bar phone only for Michelle to tell them to get lost – didn’t they know she was busy cooking and would whomever this is please stop taking the piss as you’re not really Everything But The Girl, anyway! Are you? Michelle also thought that Eddi Reader was a gay biker but that’s another story.
The Damned have since mellowed but back then they had the tour manager from hell who made the PA engineer quite literally weep (“We’re not ****ing playing through this”) and was such an arse in general that the aforementioned intrepid Irish bird marched on the stage next to drummer Rat Scabies and proceeded to try and get the amps off stage. But she couldn’t lift them …
Labi Siffre told her she was a racist because we didn’t have ‘a black man’s toilet’ and the following week she escorted one Harrogate performer out of the back door after he laid flat on the stage mid-set still wearing his guitar, announcing he was so stoned he couldn’t possibly carry on. The following week, our fearless Madame had to use her considerable mediating skills when, after receiving terrible abuse from China Crisis about the monitors, the PA engineer promptly turned them off and marched on the stage swinging punches. She did such a good job that night that the band asked the engineer concerned to travel with them for the rest of the tour.
And Fibbers was closed for just ONE night (a Monday in the January) in the whole of 1994. A trend that would continue …
Coming up: the beginnings of noise issues and how one person can rule thousands; Fibbers starts to win national awards; and on to 1995 where I start to get an eerie sense of déjà vu looking through the calendar seeing names that are still around now … Richard Hawley (then in Longpigs), Australian Pink Floyd, Dodgy, Toby Jepson, Seth Lakeman (then in The Equation), Attila The Stockbroker, Bert Jansch (who sadly died only last week), Steve Phillips, Captain Sensible (who met his wife-to-be in the venue that afternoon over coffee), John Otway, Tom Robinson, Kirk Brandon, Wishbone Ash, Geno Washington, Zodiac Mindwarp, Half Man Half Biscuit, Nick Harper, Hugh Cornwell, Wilko Johnson, The Real People, Tom Russell and Albert Lee. They must be doing something right.