"Why you selling your ticket dickwad?"
I'm looking at an email from The Beater, the Macc Lads guitarist. To say this is a bolt from the blue would be an understatement. I haven't spoken to him in about 10 years and haven't seen him for nearly 20.
That's the entire message. With the Macc Lads reforming this year I'd written and pubished a memoir of my time following them around back in the late 80s and early 90s. Beer, Sweat & Blood: On Tour With The Macc Lads has been selling very well and got a lot of 5-star reviews on Amazon. I'd also bought a ticket for a November 2018 gig at Rock City in Nottingham. However...as I live in Rome and it was near to Christmas I had decided not to go and had the ticket on Facebook for sale, after telling the Lads' manager Bammy that I wanted to get rid of it. Now the curmudgeonly guitarist has got back in touch after a decade. Well I never.
I reply that I need the money what with Xmas coming up and all. A day later he replies that either he or one of the others could put me on the guest list. Now that's a turn up!
Back in the day I was, at best, an irritation to the band with Bammy even telling me that lead singer/ songwriter/ bass player/ original manager/ founder Muttley McLad had suggested that my book should be called 'Memoirs of an Annoying Cunt'. Now the Beater is offering to get me in for free. How times have changed.
I had already been invited to spend Xmas with friends in the north of England and the Macc Lads had a gig booked at Manchester 02 Academy on the 23rd of December. They'd already played there in November but the gig selling out had convinced them that their long awaited reunion wasn't such a bad idea after all and they'd added the extra concert as a "Christmas party".
For years Muttley wouldn't reform the band, wanting to remember things "as they used to be" and not wishing to become like Bucks Fizz or the Nolans, i.e. sad bastards playing Butlins holiday camps. Then in early 2018, four ex members, Chorley, Muttley, the Beater and Stez Styx got together with Bammy on vocals and performed as FILF, a punk covers group playing pubs and clubs. The response was phenomenal and after a few gigs they began closing the sets with Macc Lads material. The audience went mental. Then they performed as both FILF and the Macc Lads at the Rebellion 2018 festival. Cue massive fan reaction.
Later in the year they did the Usual Subjects tour with most gigs selling out in a few days.
I got in touch with both Bammy and the Beater asking for guest list for the Xmas party and asked if I could sell the memoir at the gig, offering them 50% of the profits. Bammy replied that provided I manned the merchandise stall myself I could keep all the money. I initially took this to mean that I'd be next to the main stall but a comment on Facebook had Bammy replying "No Lance you are ON the merchandise stall".
Me and a mate drove to the Academy mid afternoon and as we walked from the car park to the venue we passed a pub with what looked like a dozen or so Macc Lads fans in band T-shirts getting drunk. It was obvious they were well on the way to being shitfaced by the singing and lurching around. It was good to see so many fans, many of which looked to be in their 50s and even 60s now, having a good time. The Lads' last UK tour had been in 1994 and while I knew how much a lot of us had missed them I hadn't realised just how many people were thrilled to welcome them back.
Arriving at the venue and another thing that struck me was the difference in venue security. Back in the early 90s you would rarely see a female bouncer and certainly not at a Macc Lads gig, due to the expected levels of violence. On the stage door was a slightly built, morose looking female, with an SIA ID badge. I gave her my name and she came back with one of the guys doing the merch. I had half expected the whole thing to be an elaborate wind up, as per their jokes back in the day but the bloke says "You Lance? Bammy said you were coming".
We move into the main area, my mate mooching off to get something to eat and a pint. As I walk into the main hall the nostalgia kicks in. The Lads are doing a sound check with Muttley his usual irreverent self on the mic as the sound engineer tries to get the mixes sorted.
"Why is it these days that you have to call an actress an actor?" Muttley asks, his voice echoing in the virtually empty hall. "Why do we have to be so fucking politically correct".
The merchandise stall is big with several people behind it. Also there is someone I haven't seen in 27 years, Slippery Git. He was always in charge of the stock at the gigs and was legendary for his ability to rip people off. The best urban myth was a guy who said he REALLY wanted a T-shirt but needed the tenner for his train home. Slippery asked him where he lived. "Croydon? Christ you'll never believe it that's where I'm going. Tell you what I'll give you a lift!?" After the gig he not only left the guy behind but also drove past him and waved.
He shakes my hand, grinning. "Been a while", he muses.
"Yeah, a big while" I reply. He's with 2 other guys and unlike the old days, where you'd get maybe a few CDs and cassettes thrown in with the T-shirts, there is a huge amount of stuff. T-shirts in sizes ranging from M to XXXL, tour posters, CDS, DVDs as well as my book. I start putting up posters and then notice that the support group The Ramonas are also selling merchandise next to us.
Back in the day there was a double booking at a Manchester gig for both the Ramones and the Macc Lads. Initally Muttley had hoped that they could support the Ramones but due to fan numbers one had to go and the Lads played the following night. As Joey and co had heavily influenced the band's sound and image this was something the Beater had described as a "fucking shame" adding that "it would have made the whole thing worthwhile if we'd done that". With all four of the original line up now dead, and the Ramones last gig being in 1996, the next best thing was the all female tribute act the Ramonas. I'd seen some of their stuff online and they were fucking good, also releasing original material with the song 'Speak Up' being the sole reason I'd always hoped to see them live. I approach the bloke selling their gear and offer to trade a signed book for a T-shirt, he agrees and I get one with a nice, gold logo (that for months would have strangers asking me if the T-shirt was a misprint).
As we finish setting up the stall the Lads finish the soundcheck. Muttley mooches off backstage but the Beater, Chorley and Stez all walk over to say hi. Stez smiles as he shakes my hand. "I remember you. Northampton 1994. They left you behind". He turns to Chorley. "We never saw him again" then turns back to me. "I did tell them it was a bit tight but they ignored me".
I chuckle. "Really, Stez Styx spoke up for me. I am flattered".
I give him a signed copy of the book. Chorley takes his copy and frowns, saying "Apparently I'm not in it".
In May I had forwarded Bammy a pdf file of the book before I published it which he had then sent on to the band members.
"It's a truthful account of my time following the band around. I only saw you play live once in 1989 and we met for coffee twice in the early 2000s, so no you're not in it much".
Beater is actually smiling as he shakes my hand, which is a genuine shock as he was legendary in the 80s as one of the most miserable people you were ever likely to meet.
"So what lies have you invented? Have to say I was surprised when I read that email copy that you haven't dished any dirt".
"I don't actually know that much. Here I brought you this as well".
Beater's job after leaving the band for the umpteenth and final time back in 1991 was a postman, a job I did for 4 years including a few months as an acting manager. I had written a memoir of that rather wretched experience called Cutting Off: Life as a Postman and I hand Beater both books. I ask him "You still a postie?"
"Nah, retired around the same time we started doing this again".
Just then two of the Ramonas arrive with their manager. I approach them with a free book, asking for a photo opportunity. The lead singer has a rather loud Xmas jumper on, which detracts a little bit from hanging out with rock and roll, badass babes.
We head off backstage and pass the various dressing rooms. The Lads one is at the back and there is a generously stocked fridge. Beater opens it and says "You can help yourself. Anything except beer".
"Good job I don't drink any more then".
As they drift off I realise the dressing room is split into two sides, with a wall separating it along the middle that becomes a passageway near the far wall. I step round it and see Muttley sat there quietly, on his own. He always had a ritual back in the day of not going outside the venue, or into the main area of it, after the soundcheck until it was time to go on stage. He told me that this was "so you get the effect of seeing the venue empty and then seeing it full when you come out again".
I can feel the adolescent version of myself struggling with this. I'm in my late 40s, talking to one of the biggest idols of my life, who's in his late 50s and the dynamic is EXACTLY as it was 24 years ago.
"I remember you like good coffee so I brought you some coffee". I hand him a vaccum brick of Italian gold. I live in Rome so quality espresso is cheap. He looks at it and goes "Jolly good".
"Here I got you a book too. I'll just sign it".
"You don't need to sign it".
"Well the irony hadn't escaped me. Bammy said you already read it anyway".
He shakes his head. "I didn't read it".
"That pdf file I sent Bammy, he said you read that".
He half smiles. "Oh yes". He takes the book and turns it over to look at the back cover.
"Anyway, see you later" I say, moving back towards the door.
I can feel my heart hammering in my chest, which is fairly embarrassing as I'm only 12 years away from eligibility for a free bus pass. I guess some things never change.
As I head back the Ramonas are in the middle of their sound check. Once they're done I manage to get a photo with all 4 of them. "Been wanting to see you guys live for a while" I tell them. "You going to perform 'Speak Up'?"
"Not tonight" the singer replies. "Mainly covers".
I mooch back to Slippery Git and offer him a book. He asks if I want a T-shirt and we swap, again posing for photos. About 5 minutes later Bammy walks past and says "Don't go giving away any free merchandise. Have you given any yet?"
Slippery nods his head in my direction. "He got one".
Bammy's eyes narrow. "He's getting in for free, Don't give any more".
One of the other guys helping on the stall pipes up. "The drummer of the Ramonas said she wanted a 'Merry Clitoris' T-shirt, said she'll wear it when they're on stage".
"Fair enough but no more after that".
I realise I need to head out soon but don't have any means of getting back in once all the side doors get shut. "Bammy, you got a triple A?"
He takes me to a small office upstairs near the Lads' dressing room and I get give what was once a much sought after item. A backstage, Access All Areas pass for the Macc Lads. It's also gold coloured which makes it even more awesome. I can feel my 21 year old self going mental with fanboy hysteria. I peel the back off and stick it to my T-shirt and Bammy raises his eyebrows. "They have sticky backs? Hmm...didn't know that".
I go downstairs and see a guy in a biker's jacket encrusted with steel points and with various Macc Lads logos painted on it is being ushered towards the backstage area along with his mate. I nudge one of the guys near to me. "Where's he going?"
"Meet and greet. They flew in from Norway. Were supposed to do it at the Newcastle gig but couldn't get to the venue in time. Cost them a fucking fortune from what I heard".
Once everything is set up I head off to meet my mate at the boozer round the corner. The place is now packed with Macc Lads fans, a lot of which appear to be shitfaced drunk. My mate is sat at the bar and I take him over to a group I'd arranged to meet via the fans' Facebook group. One guy is so pissed he can barely speak but enthusiastically hugs me. A lady fan asks to buy a book and I sign it for her. A group of guys start singing 'Barrel's Round' at the top of their voices which gets funny looks from what appears to be the bar manager but he doesn't say anything. The really drunk guy starts enthusing to me about how cool it is that the Lads are back together again and he never thought he'd live to see it. He also tells me he thinks that the book is awesome, mainly because no one in the band has ever written one. I stay for a while until the singing gets louder and leave my mate with the group, asking the shitfaced bloke to look after him, which he solemnly promises to do.
As I get back there's a queue at the Academy. 20 or 30 people, mainly middle aged or older. I bump into Stez Styx as I get there.
"Alright! Been out for a pint?"
"No" he replies. "Just went for a walk".
I knock on the glass panel in the front door see about 15 security guys in yellow hi-viz waistcoats. One of them glares at me silently until I move back my jacket to show the AAA. He opens the door and looks at Stez who takes his out of his pocket like police ID. We both get ushered in and the door shuts behind us with a thud. The security supervisor is briefing his 'team', in the lobby. The main thing I note is that only a couple of them, including the main bloke, actually look like the bouncers from the last time I saw the Lads play live. About one third are women and a few are quite short. Also a mixture of races in there, unlike the early 90s when it was predominantly white, serious faced, hulking blokes who did that job.
In the venue it's virtually empty as the fans are still locked out. I move to the merchandise stall and Slippery says that all payment for merchandise for the Lads I can give to him, but they will hand me the tenner per copy for my books when people buy them.
About 15 minutes later and the fans drift in. One guy immediately lurches up to where we are. One thing I like is that the merchandise is on a raised, semi-enclosed area at the very back of the hall. There is about a 6 inch height difference meaning no one under about 6 feet 10 inches can lean over or try and nick anything. He buys a couple of T-shirts and a DVD and then asks for a book.
"What's your name?".
"Any particular dedication?"
"Yeah....err..To Billy, you fucking cunt...please".
I sign it with that and he goes "Where's my 'beer proof' bag then?"
Anticipating that the fans would probably be as messy as the good old days, I had put a sign up saying "Signed, and with free beer proof bag" next to me. I take a roll of Tesco sandwich bags and peel one off the top, then slide the book into it. "There you go, have fun".
He grins and walks off.
*Photo by Michael Steff
More and more people start coming in. Most head for the bar, where it's 5 quid a pint and others start perusing the souvenirs. I shift quite a few books, including 2 lads from the USA who had flown over for the show. The gig is now heaving, roughly 2000 people in a seething mass. Various chants are going on, 90% Macc Lads lyrics along with repeated cries of "You fat bastard!" and "Beer, beer we want more beer!"
After a while the first support act Boggy Formby comes on stage, to a mixture of cheering, booing, cries of "YOU FAT BASTARD!!!" and both beer and bodily fluids being hurled in his direction. He does some banjo based stuff for about half an hour and is actually pretty good. When he leaves the stage, he's piss-wet through.
A Scottish woman thuds noisily into the souvenir stall and wants a book. She's completely twatted and I can barely hear what she's saying above the crowd noise.
" 'ow much?"
She takes off her boot and bangs it on the counter, until some change falls out and then blearily counts out a fiver in coins.
"There you go".
"I said a tenner, that's not enough"
She grimaces, sweeps up the change and goes "Fuck you you fuckin' tight bastard!!!" and then staggers off into the crowd.
When the Ramonas come on the crowd are unfathomably well behaved and don't throw anything at them. They are as good as I'd hoped they'd be, playing some belting Ramones classics plus one or two original songs. The lead singer has a great voice and I was seriously glad that I got to see them live.
Slippery Git nudges me to say that someone wants a book. I see a short woman and her hulking great, tattooed husband. She asks me to sign it "To Bob, the ugliest cunt I ever met" and I ask him if he's Bob. He chuckles and says "Nope, that's her brother".
Another woman is buying some stuff from Slippery. He owes her a fiver change but instead of giving her it he hands her about three posters along with her stuff. She looks at him nonplussed.
"Where's me change?"
"I gave you some posters" he replies with a straight face.
She pauses, then goes "Oh, yeah you did" and then walks off. I can't help smiling and say "I see you haven't lost your edge" and he grins.
We quickly sold out of nearly all sizes except XXXL with the Mediums going in about 20 minutes. The Macc Lads never used to sell these, assuming all their fans were big, flabby fuckers and I'd pointed out to Bammy in the past that some of the loyal following were skinny people, like me.
The lights go down again and some intro music plays. There's a roar from the crowd and the Macc Lads walk on stage. The requisite pints of ale and piss are vigorously hurled at them and they launch into 'Ben Nevis'. Being at the very back of the gig is a blessing in many ways as I can see just how sodden everything is further up. I initially think that the fans are hurling beer but then remember it's five quid a pint and realise that they are most likely chucking piss. This was confirmed by Bammy a few days later.
The crowd are lurching around and it's good to see that the energy from nearly 25 years ago is still there. Some people had brought grown up sons and daughters with them to the show and several had on T-shirts from the 80s and 90s tours, including a mint condition 'Stez Is Back: Spring Offensive- 1990'.
After a few songs they pause and Muttley introduces the band. Back in the day, there were only 3 guys in the group: Muttley on bass and vocals; a drummer; and a guitarist. Now there's 4 (and had, briefly been 5 when Bammy was on vocals at the first few gigs plus with FILF). Both the Beater and Stez Styx are on the axe and something I didn't realise until this gig is that it wasn't a lead and a rhythm guitarist but both alternating as lead. This made for an awesome sound, especially on the guitar heavy numbers like 'Sweaty Betty' or 'Boddies'.
When he gets to Chorley he says "That's Chorley the Hord, just in case you thought someone had shat on the drum stool!" and the audience laughs. He then theatrically opens a Christmas cracker and takes out the 'joke' from the middle. "These crackers are from Macclesfield so all the jokes are very rude". He unfolds the paper and says "How do you know when your sister has started her period?" then looks at the crowd and waves his hand at them saying "We don't know Muttley, how do you know when your sister's started her periods?" and some of them shout along with him. "Answer, because you can taste it on your dad's dick".
There's laughter from the crowd and they play 'Failure With Girls' with Stez doing the part of the inept failure and Muttley taking over for the transformation verse. Back in the day this was done by Muttley and Sandbach, the Lads' most legendary and stupid roadie.
One thing I've noticed at this gig is that there is no violence, or at least none that I can see. My first ever Macc Lads gig back in 1989 at the Birmingham Hummingbird went down in their history books as the second most violent show they ever played, with both Muttley and then-guitarist Phil McCavity getting their heads split open by thrown ashtrays and thousands of pounds of damage being caused. While bodily fluids and the occasional lager are getting hoyed with gleeful abandon, there is zero fighting and also no one attempting to invade the stage and scrap with the security.
The band pause again and Muttley says "Some puff offered me an alcohol free beer yesterday. You know, alcohol free beer is like going down on your own mother. Not. Quite. Right".
The T-shirts are now almost completely sold out and only a few DVDs and CDs are left. People seem to have run out of money. The Ramonas have joined us in the dry, drunk free, merchandise zone and I notice one of them is reading Beer, Sweat and Blood avidly, completely ignoring the concert. This made my decade and I got a photo too.
Finally the gig ends and when the Lads come on for the encore they unfurl a long banner saying "Merry Clitoris" and then go into their yuletide number 'Jingle Bells' before Muttley throws a handful of badges saying "Merry Clitoris" into the crowd. Finally the concert ends and the fans drift off. I find my mate Rob who is being politely ushered towards the exit by a bouncer.
"He's with me and he's my ride home so please don't throw him out...yet".
"Ah, OK but get him to stand behind the merchandise stall because we're sweeping everyone out now".
The fans drift out and the house lights go up. The floor is soaking in fluids and covered in crushed, plastic pint glasses.
We pack up the gear and I excuse myself from not being able to load the van up with them. Slippery shakes my hand. "Good to see you again".
"Yeah" I reply. "Let's not wait another 27 years before we do it again".
I see Bammy near the stage and say "OK to say goodbye to the band?"
In their dressing room they are all soaking wet and drying themselves off with towels. I approach Chorley who thanks me for the book and then see Beater and Stez. Beater asks me "So...what did you think now?"
"What do you mean?"
"The music. Better or worse than before?"
"Different energy but the music is much better, especially with both of you on guitar".
He smiles and shakes my hand as does Stez. Muttley is sat on the sofa talking to someone. I go to walk past him on the way out and say "Muttley, thanks".
He half glances in my direction and goes "Yeah, go on. Fuck off!" and carries on talking. I make my way out and see Bammy.
"Got any of those 'Merry Clitoris' badges left?"
He reaches into his pocket and pulls out two then hands them to me.
"Thanks for this, it's been good. By the way, Muttley just told me to fuck off".
He smiles "That's about normal isn't it?"
I find Rob. He's now in his 30s but was a little kid when I used to follow the Macc Lads around. I met his mother at university and used to babysit him and his sister. Feels surreal that he's now driving me home.
We take the remainder of my books to the car and head off.
Saw the Lads again. Made about 400 quid and saw a quartet of fit women belting out classic Ramones tunes.
A few days later I sent the Beater an email thanking him. The once most curmudgeonly man in Christendom replied: "You’re welcome in 2019, & happy new year".
Welcome back Lads.
Beer Sweat and Blood: On Tour With The Macc Lads is available in paperback and on Kindle. 'king buy eet!