Belfast.....I said. Who want's me to go to Belfast?
I had just received a phone call from a publicist, who thought it would be a good idea to invite me to Northern Ireland for a few days, to do some radio & magazine interviews about the internet in general, and in particular, The Jam website. Not one to miss an opportunity for publicity I agreed that it seemed a good plan, especially when they told me they could coincide the trip with the two dates tributers The Jamm were playing over there.
I love watching that band play. Being the romantic old fool I am, it always takes me right back to when I was 15, blagging into Jam gigs. Bunking school & bunking trains from Woking station to London so we could be at a venue in time for the sound check. Invariably Paul, Bruce & Rick would invite anyone outside, in for the afternoon. This became progressively more difficult for them as the band got bigger, and there would be 2000 kids and a couple of truancy inspectors lingering around outside. Mind you the teachers were trying to get in as well. Invariably though, one of the band would spot us in the crowd and in we went.
The publicist on the end of the phone told me it should be fun, and the Hotel would have an all night bar, that swung it. OK, I said, I will come to Belfast. Oh by the way, do you think Paul, Rick or Bruce might come with you……. The main man himself was away writing the new album, Heliocentric, and he never does that sort of thing anyway and I knew Bruce was away on tour with Stiff Little Fingers.
"Hi Rick, it's Graham" They've invited us over to Belfast to do some radio & media interviews about the Internet and The Jam web site, all expenses paid… fancy it?
"I've never been to Belfast" he replied, "that could be fun, where are you staying" I decided on the best form of persuasion "In a hotel with an all night bar" That should swing it! "Yeah why not" he replied "I've always quite wanted to go to Belfast".
He went on to explain that the band had never got over there, even though they made plans to several times. It seemed that everytime they were about to go something happened and the record company changed their minds. That always disappointed Paul, Rick & Bruce as they knew they had a big following in Northern Ireland.
The night before the flight Rick decided it would be better to stay at my place, as it was nearer Heathrow than his. That suited me and we slipped down the road to my local, The Kings Head in Fulham, which is one of London's most famous live music venues. I know the promoter in there, Chris, quite well and the guvnor John McKibbin is a Belfast boy himself so we had a few Guinness' with them to get some practice in. Rehearsals Rick called it.
British Midland had kindly laid on executive passes for us to use their lounge facilities, and all we had to do was be at the airport an hour and a half before take off, which was 9.10am! Now a night out with Rick Buckler, let me tell you, is not the best way to prepare for an early morning. Were we on time? Like hell. They waved us straight through check in at ten to nine and we legged it down to the gate, just in time to be the last on board. Felt like royalty I did.
And so we made our way to our seats, "Hey Rick, that's Atomic Kitten over there" I ventured. "Who" he replied. Wait until your daughter is nine like mine is, I thought, and then you will know all that. I bumped into the Kittens at Belfast International Airport when we landed, and found them grumpy and disinterested. Ok it was early, but they hadn't been out with Buckler the night before so they should have been in better shape than me. I felt like telling them they should be enjoying all this, but I didn't want to sound like an old git.
Somebody at Sony once told me that the more talented, and the more famous the person, the nicer, and easier to deal with they are. How true I thought, as I turned to find Rick had driven the airport buggy into the fountain, and was trashing the hospitality suite. No I didn't, I just made that up!!
Seamus was waiting outside, and was agitated that we were late. It was hardly our fucking fault was it. We might have been too late for breakfast but the plane still took off on time. Seamus had our itinerary set out, which we didn't know, and that included a slot on the Johnny Hero breakfast show, in about 10 minutes time. How far is it I asked, about half hour away he replied…. I was with Rick the other day when he did an interview for an Italian magazine, and he was asked what the most dangerous thing he had ever done was. Getting a lift from Seamus, he replied.
I have to agree with him. My whole life seemed sad and insignificant as it looked like coming to a premature end on the Belfast by Pass. By pure chance, and I don't know how because I was furiously scribbling my memoires, we were delivered to the Radio Station 15 minutes later. Rick had spent the last 10 minutes of it dictating his goodbye's into his home answering machine.
The radio show was fun, and Johnny Hero told us he had had Atomic Kitten booked in, but put them off so he could meet Rick and interview him live on his show. Sorry about that girls! Johnny used to be in a band and told Rick that the drummer could never get the start of All around the World right, so they used to leave it off. Then we discussed recording techniques and Rick explained that all Jam records were recorded with a live drum track.
That is they played the song together, for his benefit, and they would record the drum part totally live. Then the guitars & vocals would be recorded and dubbed, but the drum track always remained live and nothing was ever spun in later. Now that is quite something! Go back and listen to some of the songs, the end of In The Crowd springs to mind when it seems to me he was hitting his kit with both hands, and feet, in different patterns. In fact, I swear, at times there are 5 beats going on.
Then it was back into town for a couple of magazine interviews and photo's. But we never got to see what they wrote because no one ever sends us anything, and finally back to the Hotel on the Omeragh Road. Nice one.
The Jamm were on stage at The Grave Diggers on the Falls Road at around 10pm, so that gave us a little time to have a look around Belfast in the evening, or experience some of the local culture, as Rick put it. Here we go, I thought, as the first two Guinness' were poured. I have to say, to the good people of Belfast, I have been cast a bet, by someone who will remain nameless, to say, at this point, that the Guinness is better in London. But I had better not had I. And so the pattern for the evening was set. We met young Katie and her sisters, who were celebrating her birthday. They had a few drinks out of us and before we knew it Rick was being recognised and Jam songs were slipping onto the Juke box. That was a bit of a surprise. Not least to the lad who was hoping to pull Katie and found himself not the centre of her attention. Time to go, we thought, and legged it to The Grave Diggers for about 11pm.
It was a great gig, and Hi to everyone we met down there. Rick held court at the bar and duly signed a wide variety of items and body parts, in fact the drink and chat flowed so freely that we didn't even see the band. Rick, at one point, had 8 Guinness' lined up on the bar. Of course, no-one gave a toss about me so as the line got bigger I helped myself without being noticed, or at least I thought I had until Rick shouted above the noise, into my ear, to leave his bloody beer alone! In the end though the line was getting so big neither of us could deal with it and Rick ended up giving them away to anyone who didn't have one.
And we stayed going at that pace until we turned in at 3am. Great, I thought. I was quite pleased with myself, having just survived 2 nights out with Rick Buckler and I could have a lay in. We used to do this in The Robin Hood in Woking, around 1980/82, and I used to be able to stay with him. But I was younger then, and foolhardy. Casting caution to the wind, I used to down everything in front of me but not anymore, not now I have read the label.
My long and savoured lie in, was ended abruptly by a banging on the door at 9am. "Piss off" I shouted. "Get up you lightweight come on" Rick called. "We'll have a walk into Belfast for breakfast, it'll clear your head" So there it is folks, that's what years of rock & roll does for you. It makes you immune to everything. Only six hours ago he looked like I felt!
Belfast is a fantastic place, and for those who haven't been, go. The atmosphere, not unsurprisingly, is relaxed and good natured. There is loads going on in the town, bands playing, kid's hanging out, bars and restaurants full, and I am sure it will just get better and better. The place has missed out on so much and now it is going to all start happening, which they deserve because the people are cool. Another good thing was I found a CD copy of Dig the New Breed, which you can't get in London for any price.
Saturday night we thought we would get a good look at The Jamm, and politely tried to tell everyone that Rick would sign any autographs, and do any photo's at the end of the night. Let's face it, having been at every live Jam show, Rick still hasn't seen the band once. So a tribute gig is a good place to do that, and sample the atmosphere. But, naturally, half the audience want to say hi, and chat, so he is bound to end up huddled in a group trying to shout above the music, which is a shame. But he handles it superbly every time and right there is a lesson to the young semi famous bands of today.
In the end though, sadly, it was just getting too much and we were being backed further and further into a corner, by more and more people, so the management came and rescued us and we were whisked off to a quiet bar upstairs. Sincere apologies to all those who didn't get their autograph, but if you send me your address, and something to sign, I promise that next time I see Rick I will take them round. I am sure he will autograph them for you, he usually does. That includes the couple by the table we were next to who looked after Rick's jacket during the melee ( and we got it back! ) Finally we were joined upstairs by John, Toby and Rob of The Jamm and we had a few more beers while it all quietened down, then we returned to the room and in one of those fantastic Spinal Tap moments Rick actually helped Rob take his drum kit down to the van. I bet he dines out on the story of how Rick Buckler roadied for him in Belfast. I know I would! But there again, that's the man all over and he doesn't see that as unusual in the slightest
As the evening drew to a close, or rather morning drew nearer, we were reliably informed that Seamus would be back at 11am, on the dot, to take us back to the Airport. Rick and I looked at each other and I booked a cab for 10.45!!
My overall feeling of Belfast. Once I had got over the surprise of seeing red white and blue pavements, and all the other murals and wall paintings marking out each area of town, ( I found that even added, in some strange way, to the atmosphere ) then I learned that Belfast is nothing like the image I had of it, via TV and news programmes. Belfast is a fantastic city, and the people we met, wherever they lived, were great, every one of them.
We are having an International Jam Festival called Jam 2000 day down in Woking in August and anyone from Belfast, who wants to come over, will be guaranteed a ticket if you let us know you are coming by the end of April. OK.. that's a promise. We look forward to seeing you. Stay cool.. and thanks for looking after us.
Graham Willmott - December 1999