3 nights 4 days of full-English breakfasts and cheap accommodation in the North-West.
First thing, it’s not the Y.M.C.A, it’s the Youth Hostel Association ok? I thought it important to mention that before you get a vision of Andrew Winters and I, gyrating to some 70’s disco anthem dressed up as a cowboy or a traffic cop. However, if you DO want to see what that looks like, we lost a ton of money taking this brief story-telling adventure between these (tale of) two cities, so send me some cash and I’ll see if it can be arranged.
The Kings Arms, Salford Manchester, 11th November.
I feel tired already having expended way too much mental energy worrying during the drive north. This is not due to any potential navigational errors, (Andrew has PRINTED a map!) but more so, the perceived difficulties I may have explaining away the contents of the boot of my car, should we come under the scrutiny of the motorway police at any point. I should point out that I have not been subject to any sort of police attention for a very long time and therefore my anxieties, as is usually the case, are perceived, not real. Truth is, I think I’d actually enjoy attempting to explain to any over-zealous ‘plod that the £1000 of fake money, 200 pills and packets of white and brown powder are just props for the show. Were they to check my criminal record though, I’m guessing we’d have a problem, anyways it’s all good and we arrive safe and sound.
The first thing I see as we pull up outside tonight’s venue is an Orthodox Jew strolling along Bloom Street; Seeing as I currently reside in Stamford Hill, it momentarily feels like I’m on home turf, an illusion quickly dispelled by a furtive glance at the bar pricelist, we’re clearly not in Kansas anymore Toto. Back in my drinking/drugging days, I once spent a weekend getting trolleyed in Wigan, concluding it was cheaper to buy a first-class train ticket and a night in a decent hotel up North and get ‘on it’ all weekend than it was to remain in the capital and do the same thing in my, then, local pub. I once paid £35 for a quick pint in The Westbourne in Ladbroke Grove, although that had more to do with me not noticing they’d covered the cistern of the toilet with Vaseline to prevent idiots like me from chopping out a few lines in bog, than the actual price of the larger. I digress…
We unload the car then retire to the comfort of our YHA accommodation for a few hours before we’re required back at the venue for a brief tech run-through prior to the show. Andrew tells me he’s gonna pop out to drop some flyers off at a local recovery café,
“Don’t get lost” says I as he departs, walking into the backstage toilets rather than the exit.
“I already am.” He replies, we laugh, my nerves retreat, all will be well.
Ah, the show! My show! It’s all about me, of course it’s all about me, except it isn’t is it? For those of you who have already seen it, you’ll understand that it’s more;
‘This is me, but it could have been/ may yet still be about, you too. Or someone you actually do know, once knew, or may yet still get to know.
For those of you who were busy washing your hair/watching X-factor for all of the 35 performances so far, well, you’ll have to take my word for it won’t you?
That last sentence was written by my ego, while I briefly left my laptop unattended and left the room to make a cup of tea.
Was the theatre full? Nope! Half full? Nope! Did those who were there come and tell me afterwards that they found the show, moving, shocking, funny, informative and ultimately inspiring? YES! Job’s a good ‘un then right?
Let’s tick a few more boxes too shall we?
Do I love what I’m trying to do with the life I’m fortunate to have?
Was performing the scene where I describe the events on the night of my dad’s death 36 years ago, on the anniversary of that saddest of days, difficult?
While performing the show, does confronting the effect my behaviour as a junkie had on those that loved me, help those who’s loved ones are still lost in that awful existence?
So I am told…Tick.
Did wearing a T-shirt displaying Liverpool FC’s 5 European Cups for the entire 2nd half of the show in Manchester make me giggle?
Tick, tick, tick, tick, tick. (5)
So the first night was a success, I’d go as far as to say, every night we do the show is a success, whether it’s in front of a sell-out crowd, or on a night where people are busy washing their hair or watching X-factor.
We are out and about in Salford, first stop obviously the pilgrimage (If you’re a Smiths fan) to the lads club for quick photo opportunity. Andrew had printed off another map which is both thoughtful and useful, were it not for the fact it has become apparent that neither of us can read maps. We find Salford lads club, I pretend to be in The Smiths (not for the first or last time) then we head over to the University to try and persuade some students that they might enjoy a night at the theatre later on. We walk past a sign outside the Old Pint-pot pub which declares,
“According to chemistry, alcohol is a SOLUTION’’
It neglects to say what alcohol is a solution for though, so I attempt to ask a couple of passing students their thoughts on that statement. Sadly, me, handing out flyers of, ‘er.. me, is not sufficient to convince many of them to remove their headphones and make conversation. Those who do stop seem completely incapable of assisting us locate the university’s media faculty, let alone consider what alcohol may, or may not be a solution too. Maybe they’re just too hungover/stoned to care?
We learn, much to our dismay, that despite having one the of most modern studio facilities in the country, Salford University radio station has nobody to run it this year due to a complete lack of interest amongst the student body. Perhaps this is a result of the use of other social media platforms, rather than the fact there are no decent underground/warehouse/free parties requiring radio promotion essential to their existence, like back in the day? It’s a moot point although I suspect it’s the former, at least I hope so, remember Frontline FM or Sunset (808 state) anyone?
Andrew and I find the media/performing arts building, storm the canteen, (in a middle–aged bloke kinda way) deposit flyers and leave in the hope we’ve convinced a few kids to come to the show later. We then head over to the Creation café on Chapel Street, a ‘recovery’ hub of sorts, similar to the marvellous Brink on Parr St Liverpool.
Showtime sees a bigger audience than Wednesday, there are tears, much laughter and a standing ovation as tonight’s show is dedicated to the memory of the Busby Babes as well as the 96, after all, football is never really more important than life or death is it? Post show drinks downstairs in the pub with friends old and new where My Bill Shankly t-shirt comes under a bit of light-hearted scrutiny, then back to the hostel, our work here is done.
Liverpool Bridewell, Friday 13th.
Martin Johnston and I discuss the theme, ‘Can music save your life?’ in front of a few close friends in Paul Fitzgerald’s fantastic bar. The horrific events unfolding in Paris which I only become aware of afterwards, make writing anything about our cosy discussion; seem ridiculous, so I won’t.
Andrew and I return to our third and final night at a YHA, where the mood amongst the guests is, as it must surely have been elsewhere, one of incomprehension, sadness and anger. I’m a proud atheist; I find the whole notion of god, ridiculous, so killing in the name of god? Just fuck off you despicable, cowardly bastards and take your twisted medieval lunacy with you ok?
Saturday 14th November, Palace Hotel Manchester.
Martin Johnston and I have been invited to bring our discussion to the Louder than Words music literary festival, curated by John Robb and Jill Adam. There are some pretty heavyweight writers and guest speakers here and I’d be lying if I said that, by comparison, I don’t feel a bit of a fraud.
I’m far better at ‘avoidance’ than I am at writing. I need to distract myself from the mental cavalry-charge in my head, whose bugles play a medley of ‘Loser’ by Beck and a terrace-style chant of “You’re shit and you know you are”.
An impromptu selfie with the drummer from The Jam and Paolo Hewitt cheers me up and bizarrely gives me the bottle to engage in a discussion arguing the various merits of the Liverpool/Manchester music/club scene with Dave Haslam, Richard Boon and CP Lee. Jayne Casey was supposed to be fighting the corner for Merseyside but sadly is a no-show, so Martin and I, take it upon ourselves to bring some sort of balance to the discussion. The Manc mafia (Haslam is actually from the midlands so my own woolyback credentials seem irrelevant too) clearly want to uphold their end of the East-Lancs rd as the epicentre of all that has ever been good in the North West. MJ rightly feels that their mention of the refusal of Mancunian mill-workers to handle confederate cotton, unloaded on Merseyside during the American civil war, alludes to some sort of ‘scouse racism and a purer ‘Manc socialist ideal. Martin’s brain is much bigger than mine, due to the fact that while I was battering my brain cells with drugs, he was assaulting his own with literature. He points out that in Friedrich Engels book, The Condition of the English Working classes, Manchester comes in for a bit of a kicking too if we’re talking the treatment of disenfranchised people and perceived socialist one-upmanship. I am reminded as to why he was my hero at school. Martin Johnston that is, not Engels, we’re not that old! I somehow manage to make a comment that seems to perhaps win the day when I quote from Paul Du Noyer’s (fab) book on the Liverpool music/club scene.
“Um, yeah, so in his book, Liverpool, Wondrous Place, Du Noyer says that Scouse bands have always had the ability to ‘turn rage into beauty’…what is Manchester’s riposte to this?”
They don’t have a response, nor do they have 5 European cups..We win.
MJ and I do our gig later, it’s well received and with only a few less in attendance than were sitting listening to a bloke who was in The Jam. I have to pinch myself; I’m also getting paid to talk about The Jam, as well as The Smiths, The Stone Roses, Shack and a bit about drugs too.
Before Andrew and I head south down the M6, we get the absolute pleasure of sitting in on an interview with John McCullagh. I’ve spent much of the past few days discussing/performing themes from the past, McCullagh is very much an artist for the future, it seems the perfect way to end the trip.
I’d like to extend my sincere thanks to the following..
The late Phil Fox, for his encouragement and ongoing ‘presence’ in my endeavours. The Outside Edge theatre company that he set up and with whom my show continues its journey at all times, Siva and Susie, I thank you.
Andrew Winters for taking on the role of manager in all this, Lindesay Irving for helping with the costs.
Martin Johnston, Paul Fitzgerald, and all the (double) good people of Manchester and Liverpool for their continued support.
More live shows coming soon, meanwhile, thanks to @NothingvilleM on twitter for this review of recent Liverpool shows..
Simon Mason – Too high, too far, too soon – Lantern Theatre – 16/3/15
Anyone seen The Cat In The Hat?
So went the backstage shout, at many of the mid-late 90s most high profile gigs and festivals. It’s hard to imagine that the champions and pioneers of Brit Pop were actually enquiring as to whether the assembled throng of turned on, tuned in and messed up peers had enjoyed the recent film adaptation of the Dr Seuss classic. Oh no.
No. They were almost certainly seeking the whereabouts of Simon Mason. And wherever they were, so was he. He was there, alright.
And tonight, he’s here, with us, at the Lantern Theatre, to act out his story. And what a story. It’s catalogued, from its awkward and awful beginnings in a Catholic boarding school of the late 1970s, to its horrific ending on a syringe strewn Camberwell stairwell 20 years later, in his 2013 book, Too High, Too Far, Too Soon.
Simon Mason was THE man that the likes of Oasis went to back in the day to help with their, erm, chemical requirements. And then some. Alan McGee called him ‘The Rock n Roll Doctor’. He was a chemical friend to most, and an actual friend to few. Most people wanted his number, but for business purposes only. His mistake was believing they meant it. But he made the two worst mistakes. He believed his own hype, and he got high on his own supply. Fatal mistakes. Well, very nearly in this case.
What follows is a 20 year descent into the bowels of rock n roll hell, which, though we may have heard similar from others before, is difficult to find quite as entertaining, as funny, as sad, as utterly horrific as Mason’s story. He’s not one of them. He’s very much one of us. A chancer with a funny hat, a bumbag full of product, some lucky breaks, and more than a few unlucky experiences.
The chemicals feature large here, obviously. Boy, don’t they. From the very moment he’s brought home, at 11 years old, from boarding school, emergency style, at the death of his father, and is subsequently sedated to calm his hysteria, his pupils dilate, his mood is altered, and his fate his sealed. A substance is given to him to change his mood, and the rollercoaster trundles off. The soundtrack, featuring such class as The Jam, The Stone Roses, Happy Mondays, The Smiths, The Cure, The Psychedelic Furs, Primal Scream and of course, Oasis, or The Manchester City Frisbee Club as he introduced them at T in the Park in 1996, is only topped by the inclusion of our own Shack’s classic Streets Of Kenny, a tune which resonates with Mason’s story in every way.
The journey from the bland misery of a 1980s youth in Weston-Super-Mare, via an abusive time at boarding school, to a penniless teenage Soho escape, the massive highs of hanging with the world’s biggest band, to the filthy loneliness of council estate overdose, when his life was saved by his best friend, Scouse Paul, who himself died two days later, and then, most importantly, to his subsequent recovery from his many addictions, some 9 years ago, and him finding himself at last, as a worthy human, the story of this crazed ex hat wearing friend of Liverpool, and supplier to the stars, speaks more of healing the wounds than it does of all the hurt he caused himself and others. Too High, Too Far, Too Soon. He saw the whole of the moon. Often.
A great night. And a great book.
A week of two halves on Merseyside, (Isn’t it always?)
Crosby Beach, Liverpool.
I’m out on manoeuvres with the rest of the Hightown Pirates, sauntering along the beach, having a chat with El Capitano, aka Mick Head. Aside from Anthony Gormley’s Iron men, the beach is deserted. It’s just us and them (and after all we’re all just ordinary men?)
The Hightown Pirates you say? Never heard of ‘em! Hardly surprising considering the current membership comprises just two and Mick doesn’t even know he’s been surreptitiously press-ganged into service. Actually, there’s four of us, sailing under this particular flag if you include Tabitha,6 (nearly 7 daddy!!) and my dog Jessica, should she pass muster by becoming slightly less cute, a bit more salty AND she stops eating my furniture!
Today however, it’s just he and me as the mouth of the Mersey sparkles in early-spring sunlight, like a silver sword laid flat and a solitary ship glides out to sea. There is romanticism here; I should really call the ship a tramp-steamer? It would add more to the narrative, if you know what I mean?
“The tramp steamer, in contrast to the liner, operates without a schedule, going wherever required to deliver its cargoes”
The captain of HMS Fable, continues..
“I’ve been in a band since I was 16 and last night was one of the greatest shows I’ve ever seen mate, blew me fuckin mind mate, seriously.”
“Thanks Mick, I should imagine that takes some doing eh?”
He shakes his head,
“I’m serious mate, you fuckin’ had me there and our Joanne, she was in bits mate, in a good way, blew us away.”
The Mersey sparkles again as the sun gets the better of the low-slung clouds and my ship heads out into the Irish Sea. The Iron men are saying nothing and everything at the same time; I guess that’s what they do? They stand still at the mouth of a river that has been the beginning of countless journeys for hundreds of years. The iron men of Crosby Beach and The Hightown Pirates, tramp steamers and a sun-kissed, springtime, silver tide, what’s not to like? The next chapter of a journey can begin anytime you want it to; you just have to remember you’re not trapped right?
“When I was a kid, growing up here, we had a house up on St Domingo’s road, you could see the river when I was walking to school, I always knew there was a way out if I wanted it mate, those lads in Croxteth and Norris Green? They’re fucked mate, killing each other over a fiver ‘cos they’re fuckin land-locked mate, they can’t see it, it’s sad, know what I mean?
I do know what he means, I think that’s one of the reasons we get along so well, The Hightown Pirates are never trapped anywhere, not these days anyway.
So, last night’s show at a sold out Lantern Theatre was one of ‘those’ moments in my life when I know, without the slightest doubt, that what I’m attempting to do these days is valid. Worthy? Yeah that too. Add frightening, exhilarating, joyous, moving, funny and not just a little bit exhausting and there is a recipe for a life worth nurturing. It’s another little journey within the greater one, a path I sometimes stagger, sometimes swagger along.
Here’s the thing: It’s about connecting with others, whereas in years past, it was about trying to hide. Hide from myself and the rest of the world. The pursuit of this deluded idea became nothing more than endless, ever decreasing circles of loneliness and dis-association, an economy of negativity and despair. It’s different now, the ‘connect’ like the aforementioned potential adventure; can start anytime I want it to.
Circumstances dictated that the 60 minutes prior to show time, would see me sat backstage, alone. But I have friends who ‘understand’ that particular situation and are happy to come and say hello. Malcolm and Rachael, thank you for Monday and Tuesday respectively. A more soothing combination of wisdom and glamour, I would struggle to find, both equally effective in their ability to make that difficult hour pass without the need for me to listen to the voice in my head, screaming.
“You’re a fucking idiot, what the hell do you think you’re doing? Nobody is going to turn up and if they do, they’ll be disappointed.”
It’s not gone away, it seems to have something akin to what we once called squatters rights, in my head.
The final 20 minutes prior to walking onstage need to be spent alone though, that’s when the internal committee of pessimism sends for the fucking cavalry.
I should imagine I am not the only ‘performer’ afflicted with this pre-show barrage of self-doubt and rancour, nor indeed am I the sole trader in allowing it to overstay its (not very) welcome.
I walk onstage, completely and utterly alone, not because it’s a one-man show, but because fear catapults me to that ‘place’ every time. Like a besieging trebuchet overloaded with a combination of rotting carcasses, emotional pestilence and the boiling tar of self-doubt….it’s a fucker and it never goes away.
But I go onstage, whatcha gonna do? We’re done with hiding right?
Two hours later, the theatre erupts and the standing ovation I just about manage to come back out and take a bow to, reminds me that when you tell the truth, you are never alone.
The shabby, medieval and foul-smelling army of self-doubt, dirty secrets and ensuing isolation, has again been routed, sometimes you do indeed need to get off the battlefield to win the war, at other times though, you have to stand your fucking ground and fight. I guess the trick in my journey, is to learn where and when those particular decisions need to be made?
So a week of two halves on Merseyside? The second night of the show was also a sell out and I think it’s fair to say, went the same way as the first.
You can’t win ‘em all though and much to my dismay, the FIVE TIMES champions of Europe, were beaten by Utd at home on Sunday, fuck me! It was a long drive home.
More shows to be announced soon, ironically enough, next stop is Manchester.
See ya soon.
Justice for the 96.
Youtube clip of me reading from my last book.
Bad decisions make good stories.
Living, life, recovery.
Bang Yer Own Drum
unlock your mind
Mind, Body and Soul Upgrade
This New Kingdom
make of it what you will
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