Monday, 14 May 2012

The Dogshit Pub, a rambling discourse

In my last post I alluded to that dreadful place where Harold Shipman came from. Now I feel I should explain. The dreadful place is a town called Hyde. We were booked to play there at a club in the upstairs room of a pub. I started writing this piece soon after the event but never got round to finishing or posting it.

We've done them all - played in clubs, pubs, concert halls, village halls, town halls, record shops, pool halls, sandwich bars, bowling alleys, cinemas, shopping centres, open fields, and even the occasional living room. I'm fine with all of them but I've realised there's category of venue that may well be dying out, one which I'd been aware of but never consciously defined. I now call these venues dogshit pubs.
I called the promoter on the morning of the show. He told me there was a doubt whether or not it would go ahead because the pub had been broken into during the night. Amy's face lit up when I told her - she quite liked the idea of a cancellation because we'd been announced on their website as A Punk Legend. We've pretty well decided to not even entertain the idea of playing in a place that announces punk legends. Another barometer is Eddie & The Hot Rods. We've got nothing against Eddie & The Hot Rods but experience has shown us time and time again that venues that book Eddie & The Hot Rods don't work for us.
And when Eddie & The Hot Rods is combined on a yellow poster with a photo from my first album and A Punk Legend with two exclamation marks it generally means the venue is going to be a dogshit pub.

We'd driven down from Glasgow in the rain. It was still raining when we arrived. Rain suited the place. Hyde has two claims to fame: Moors Murderers Ian Brady and Myra Hindley who killed children in the sixties, and Dr Harold Shipman who euthanised somewhere in the region of two hundred elderly female patients in Hyde in the nineteen eighties. A hairdresser friend, a Mancunian who lives in South West France, opened his first salon there. He cut Harold Shipman's wife's hair and indeed lost a couple of clients to the good/bad doctor. He tried to warn us, he told us - Hyde is a dump.
We didn't get to see much of Hyde so I can't really comment, but the pub was sour and the audience beery, mouthy and seriously depleted. When we arrived a seedy looking man in an anorak came out of a side entrance. He told us, grim-faced, that we'd have to load in through the beer garden.
Beer garden: a couple of those integrated wooden bench and picnic table outings scattered around on dusty astro turf. The astro turf had seen a few years wear, the green worn to gritty greyness and dotted with large piles of rain-soaked dog shit.
The serious crime squad were in occupation, dusting the interior for fingerprints while teams of feral men dragged smashed and broken fruit machines out on to a concrete expanse at the back of the pub.
Carefully avoiding the dog shit - which was difficult because I didn't want to look at it - we loaded the equipment in to the venue via a wet, narrow, metal fire escape into the inevitable upstairs Concert Room. The stage was covered in tatty off-cuts of astro turf. I saw the arse end of a doberman disappear through a door marked Private. Please I thought, please, the doberman isn't allowed on the stage... please!!
There might not be any dog shit on the stage in a dogshit pub, though I have unfortunately come across it in the past, but you can always sense it - it's been there and now it's gone, leaving behind microscopic traces of disease and disgust, lurking in the hairy depths of a mushy carpet or in this case, raggy astro turf.
I wanted to go home, but we were here now and the organisers were nicer than at other classic dog shit pubs, notably the Spider's Web in Grimsby where the support act got paid more than I did and the dressing room was the emergency exit to the car park.

It's hard to exactly define the dogshit pub - the jazz club in Louth, Lincolnshire where we played last November looked for all the world like it was going to be a dogshit pub, but in spite of a framed photo of the Queen on the wall at the back of the stage, and the stench of disinfectant, stale beer and fifty years of cigarette smoke and meat pie dinners it just didn't make it. The fact that it was across the road from Robert Wyatt's house might have helped, and the clientele was all wrong - an audience of Lincolnshire post-hippy hippies and people who've merely ended up in a remote corner of a remote county - they just weren't dogshit pub people. A dogshit pub needs an undertow, a subtle suggestion at the least of a potential for the kind of violence that leads to hospitalisation.
And it helps if the landlord lives on the premises - there's so much more scope for squalor. And the landlord should look like a sea monster, and underneath the barnacled exterior there should beat a heart of either solid gold or solid shit, no half measures. Short measure in the optics quite possibly, but no half measures.
If you're lucky enough to be shown upstairs in a dogshit pub - possibly because as a punk legend (though he's probably never actually heard of you) the landlord feels you deserve a private place to change into your stage garb - in the bathroom, on a shelf above a grubby sink you'll find a bottle of Listerine, a tube of Anusol and a large can of highly scented deodorant which the staff are encouraged to use on their persons to mask the smell of fried food. The floor around the toilet will be littered with old VAT returns and well-thumbed books of what I believe is known as toilet humour.
This is a sweeping generalisation and I'm sure it's causing deep offence to members of the licensed victuallers trade but I don't really care because, believe me, I've suffered for my art and all that tosh.

I have a treasured memory of a pub in Brighton in the mid-nineties. In some ways it was the ultimate dogshit pub (but for a total lack of Punk Legend, Eddie & The Hot Rods, undercurrents of violence, or a sea monster landlord). A tiny building, originally part of Tamplins Brewery - one bar with a legal capacity of forty people, a ladies lavatory, a room with a trough in it where men could piss on their work boots, and upstairs a one bedroomed flat with a view over an adjacent council estate. The brewery had been demolished and all that was left was this solitary pub where old men came to mutter into half pints of mild ale and council estate residents congregated on Saturday afternoons to smoke cigarettes, swill lager and yell at the racing on the ancient TV set held aloft on a bracketed plywood shelf.
A friend of mine ended up running the place for a red-faced Irish builder who was redeveloping the site. The pub had to ostensibly stay open so that it wouldn't lose its license, so my friend endured many a grim evening with the aforementioned mild ale mutterers, and beery Saturday afternoons with the racing crowd.
At this time I believe his life was truly squalid. He lived in the flat over the pub with a chain-smoking girlfriend who was quite plainly mad and not a little vicious. The lack of custom drove him to opening the place in the evening to any band that needed a place to rehearse, and eventually the pub was voted Small Venue Of The Year by the NME or the Melody Maker in nineteen ninety something - I forget exactly when.
My friend's other job - his day job - was manning a cafe for the builders. The cafe was a semi-derelict room, the old brewery wages office, furnished with a deep fat fryer and a large tea urn. He deep-fried everything, apart from the tea. If someone ordered fried bread or fried tomatoes he just dropped them whole into the oil and dealt with the consequences after he'd fished them out, oil-sodden but cooked to perfection. The same with fried eggs - he'd crack them on the side of the fryer and drop them straight into the boiling oil.
The place was very popular with mud encrusted builders taking a break from demolishing things and digging foundations for the thirty-something low rent houses that were going to be erected, or clustered around, a bijou dogshit pub on the site of the old brewery.
One Saturday night I found myself sitting on a dubious three-seater sofa in the upstairs living room of my friend's pub, my mother on one side of me, my daughter Luci on the other, while downstairs the bar filled up with an expectant audience of round about twice the legal limit, all come to see me play. (This was in the days before I moved back to Brighton and became one of the mundane fixtures and fittings.) We were surrounded by discarded takeaway packaging, the coffee table on front of us was cluttered with empty beer and cider bottles, punctuated at intervals by three large pub ashtrays, each one overflowing with an avalanche of ash and cigarette butts. Dating Game contestants silently mouthed on a large greasy-screened TV beyond the coffee table and a blue Pearl Export drum kit skulked in the corner on a litter of broken drum sticks. My mother looked around the room, an incredulous look on her face, and quietly asked no one in particular how can people live like this?

I don't know how, I just know they do. One night fifteen or so years later Amy's daughter Hazel took us to her boyfriend's apartment in Chicago . He shared it with several other hip young guys and whatever slacker didn't happen to have an apartment of their own that month. Four thousand miles away, the other side of an ocean, and there was the same coffee table, beer bottles with blackening half-smoked cigarettes slowly rotting in their rancid dregs, the overflowing ashtrays, the same dubious sofa.
A drunken fratboy friend dropped by. He addressed me as dude and managed to pour half a bottle of some disgustingly sticky alcopops beverage over me whilst attempting to engage me in a ritualistic rock 'n' roll handshake. I was cool about it - actually I quite enjoyed his embarrassment, his grovelling apologies. But I had to tell him that nobody, and I mean nobody, calls me dude. Hazel said, 'What can you expect - he had a neck tattoo.'

This thing seems to be taking an anthropological turn. Haven't had one of those since I played in Oldham back in 2005. I think I'll go with it:

Imagine how Thor Heyerdahl would have felt if all he'd found at the end of the Kon-Tiki Expedition, having crossed an ocean on a ramshackle raft, was a coffee table covered in beer bottles and cigarette ash. And a guy with a neck tattoo had spilled a drink over him. Not that I'm saying I'm disappointed, just pointing out that things don't change much. Civilisations move slowly, though I think ours accelerated into a nose dive in the early eighties.
The nineteen eighties: the heyday of dogshit pubs - the days of drunken driving and smoking indoors. People liked to improve things and to that end they would fit pine-effect melamine around varnished Victorian woodwork and make it look neat with a tube of Kitchen & Bathroom Silicone and their thumb. Public bars and saloon bars were knocked into one and filled with sub-tropical pot plants and sofas. Deludedly envisaged as places where people with jobs could come and relax after a day at the office.
The sofas suffered the stains and cigarette burns of clumsy and incontinent beer drinkers. The sub-tropical pot plants wilted and died, suffocated by secondary smoke. Big men indulged in fist fights in the beer garden. Freelance pea-treaders were employed to come in on Saturdays and painstakingly grind processed peas into the carpets. Everything had to be perfect for mal-guided pre-internet travellers who might stumble across and into the place under the mistaken impression that the Carvery Fayre was going to be home-cooked and nutritious, if not delicious.
Things went rapidly downhill - they always did. From Grand Opening to Disturbance At The Showboat Public House - it only took a couple of months. We weren't as good at sophistication as we thought we were. Soon shitting alsations patrolled the staircase and the front door was manned by burly men armed with walkie-talkies.
Karaoke Nite
Happy Hour
Giant Screen TV
All Major Sporting Events duly celebrated...
A slow, inevitable decline: meat raffles, quiz nights, drinks promotions, a half-hearted attempt at a tribute band venue - if you closed your eyes you would've sworn it was John and Paul sitting in the corner strumming through a few numbers on their acoustic guitars...
Plywood nailed over the doors and windows.
Weeds growing through the tarmac in the car park.
The End.

I really don't know where that leaves us but I hope I've amused rather than depressed.