Basczax: Support tour with OMD, 1980.

Posted: April 25, 2011 in Uncategorized

So the jetpack future, with flying cars and moving pavements to save you walking had not arrived. 1980 sounded so futuristic when I was asked at school, as a 12 year old, to write a story on how the world might be in that then so far ahead date.
We got in 1980, of all things, a Mod revival. This was largely a result of the film ‘Quadrophenia’. Seeing some punks ditch their combats for parkas was a weird thing to see, but some did.
The Specials, Madness and that entire ilk were big in that year. Chrissie Hynde cooed her way to number one on The Pretenders’ ‘Brass in Pocket’. Guitars not yet eradicated, the electronic wave had not yet quite achieved youth cult domination. Synthesisers were used on new wave pop records such as The Cars ‘Just What I Needed’ as a kind of alternative to guitar solos.
The Human League was yet to have a big hit.
Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark, up to then, had had a big alternative hit with ‘Electricity’ in the previous year and were continuing their purist Kraftwerk influenced electro pop manifesto. They also had their debut album out, with a sleeve designed by Peter Saville – very 1980, with no band name, hollowed out grids with a lurid orange inner sleeve. It was actually an album that had been poorly produced and the band did not like most of it, wanting to re-record a lot of it. Re-record some of it they did, when a trickle of singles were released from the album throughout that year. Their single for this tour was ‘Red frame, white light’ – a love song to a telephone box. This was 1980 folks, and pop had taken on some strange Philip K. Dick and J.G.Ballard twists: two authors that I too, read, that year. Basczax even had a song about inanimate objects such as furniture and ironing boards turning nasty on suburbia. It was called ‘Metal Culture’, another Ballardian dystopia pop song. What was on my fevered mind in those times? Sci fi sex, definitely. I just couldn’t meet any compatible robots though.
Basczax then, were to tour with OMD, as support in February and early March of that year, pop AD 1980.
We got the tour through Fast Records Bob Last who had a connection to Rough Trade. We had sold our first run of independent single release ‘Madison Fallout’ and we also featured on the Fast Records’ ‘Earcom 2’ 12 inch.
Teesside had been great to us – it was our home turf stomping ground where we had built a pretty impressive following – enough to fill two coach loads of fans that travelled with us when we played the London Nashville rooms in July 1979.
We were ready for the next step up and were thrilled to get the tour.
Off in a rented van, leaving the industrial skyline of Teesside behind, was an exhilarating feeling: we were a proper on the road band at last. Munching on Mars bars and crisps (probably) we set off on that rock n roll horizon to who knows where and what? What was on the band playlist then? Bowie, Joy Division, Banshees, Magazine, some Jam, Blondie, Undertones. Roxy Music of course too.
I was wearing my tuxedo and jeans, with trainers. My stage attire for the whole tour was my skinny silver grey glam rock trousers, my checked ‘ska’ pants, assorted shirts and a flowing red fake silk scarf just to camp things up. Eye liner pencil liberated from those nasty capitalists at Boots, I was ready to take the stage. But I needed some sunglasses. At a service station, I found a suitable pair with a glam butterfly engraved on them.
A road diet is seldom a good one. A hasty sandwich, too much snacky junk food, too many fizzy drinks. Until you start to run out of money and then you maybe miss a few meals and eat later. Maybe chips and gravy. Must have money for booze and fags of course.
I was pretty good anyway at only eating when absolutely necessary in those days, hence my skinny Bowie aladdin sane physique.
We met OMD on our arrival to the first show in wherever it was – Leeds? Sheffield? Liverpool? They were setting up their equipment and we introduced ourselves. The first person I recall we spoke to was drummer Malcolm. He was nice and easy to talk to. The others were friendly too, but seemed preoccupied with the matters of lights and equipment and setting up monitors etc. Touring is a lot a waiting around for things to happen. We went elsewhere, seeking out something to kill the time.
We found it: Space Invaders game machines. Let’s waste what little money we had then…
During the ‘blip’ and ‘bloop’ of invaders being shot to pieces, one of OMD arrived. It was keyboard player Paul Humphreys. We smiled, trying to stay cool but more likely wanting to jump all over him and lick him like over excited puppies.
He spoke: ‘You’re Basczax then?’
He knew us. Wow!
He had heard the Earcom tracks and liked them.
‘Should be interesting to see you play’ or some such attempt at further breaking the ice.
Singer Andy McCluskey arrived, watching Jeff zap those nasty invaders. They chatted about I don’t know what. McCluskey had a drink in his hand – a plastic beaker with tea, I think.
They were nice blokes as it turned out but they had that ‘we are the headliners’ body space aura about them. Still, they were nice enough and certainly not people with an attitude.
The first night of our gigs with them was, I think, at Retford Porterhouse. We went down well, if the audience were a little cool towards us. We probably came across as being a bit tense, as this was a new experience for us. I remember coming off stage and talking to some young lad about Bill Nelson, who said my guitar playing reminded him of. I took it as a supreme compliment as I indeed did like Bill Nelson, having been a sometime fan of Bebop Deluxe, a fag end of glam prog-pop outfit. Bill was now solo and making some interesting electronic influenced music.
On the tour, we got a little silly of course.
We had a system, invented by John Hodgson, of scoring ‘rock n roll points’. You got a point for getting stoned (unlikely, none of us went near dope in those days, a bit of speed maybe) you got a point for wrecking your hotel room (how you wreck the back of a van I do not know, as this was our ‘hotel room’ most nights) and so on. Going with a groupie of course was a top scorer. This rock n roll points scoring – it kept us amused anyway.
We didn’t have much money between us. Mick Todd became Mr.Handouts as I seem to recall he handled a kitty of money and gave us some ‘pocket money’ from time to time. He reminded us all of a football manager in his thick over coat: he was organised and took it all suitably seriously.
Sleeping in the back of the van at first feels like fun but soon starts to become a feeling of dread when the time comes to sleep. After three days, we were all absolutely knackered and the van smelt like the inside of a monkey cage. You feel your humanity slipping away from you, your sense of dignity being stripped away. It becomes not funny anymore.
We managed some nights to sleep on people’s floors. A welcome luxury from the harsh in the van environment. But sleeping on a floor means you constantly wake and have to turn over as your side aches like hell from the hard surface. In such moments, we would often amuse each other before going to sleep. One night, when about three people were asleep, Mick and I made a tape of people snoring with running commentary. We called it ‘Snoring Olympics’ – a Pythonesque mock sport report.
The sleep deprivation became too much.
One night, at a gig, at I think, Leeds F club, I actually leaned back on my amp and closed my eyes. I fell asleep for about half a minute, stumbled up to the mic stand and got to my vocal line right on cue. Somebody down the front noticed this Keith Richards moment and laughed, applauding. I think I got three rock n roll points for that.
On the tour, at Doncaster I think, we met a character that we christened Bik-Bok. His real name was Russell and he lived in Huddersfield.  He was a strange young man, a fan of OMD and also…the Nolan Sisters. Playing along with his prattish taste, I asked him who his favourite one was:
‘Oh, Bernie…she can really sing’…
Sure, Bik Bok. She might be my favourite too.
Bik Bok became something of a band mascot. He let us sleep at his parents’ house one night, for which we were grateful. At that time, the Yorkshire ripper was still at large and the paranoia in Yorkshire was almost something you could touch in the air. We spooked ourselves in case Bik Bik or his Dad was the Yorkshire ripper. I personally didn’t sleep much that night. Silly, but it preyed on my exhausted and now manic mind.
The Yorkshire ripper made us some breakfast and suddenly didn’t seem like a mass murderer at all. He even made my eggs perfectly cooked but still runny, as I like them to this day, folks.
It was the best breakfast I had ever had: I was half starved.
The tour grinded on but we manfully soldiered through the trenches of rock n roll, now seasoned journey men on the root to becoming famous. Well, getting to number 20 in the charts would have suited us fine.
Liverpool University was a memorable gig for me. The audience went mad for us, I camped it up and twirled my scarf, imagining I was Bryan Ferry’s more camp younger brother. After the gig, one of the audience slightly deflated me by saying although he thought I was a good singer, I would get better with age when my voice deepened more, like Iggy Pop’s. Er…cheers, I might have said.
We gained a lot of fan support on that tour: Mick Todd got a steady flow of fan letters for quite a while after. For some now obscure and forgotten reason, we called our fans ‘zoo boys and girls’. Yes, I know – daft isn’t it? But we had our own clandestine band way of inventing things and alternative realities.
OMD at that time had not had their first proper hit. They had a song in their set that was so obviously boppy and catchy as hell: Enola Gay, the electro pop elegy to the plane that nuked Hiroshima. How new wave is that?
Incredibly, they did not really want to release it as a single. I remember McCluskey saying ‘nah, it’s too obvious’. They were seeking the most obscure path to success, trying to keep with the Joy Division vibe of not being visible. They were all huge fans of Joy Division by the way.
Maybe they did listen to us, because they did release it later in the year – a re-recorded version that gave them a big top five hit.
What a funny lot they were, I remember thinking. They had commercial songs but seemed to prefer the more ‘difficult’ aspects of their music. Their manager was not happy I recall when they chose to perform a quirky instrumental for their Old Grey Whistle Test appearance. I think they were torn between pop star dreams and alternative credibility back then. They obviously got over it!
One weird thing I remember is when we played Middlesbrough Rock Garden with them. Or did we play that gig? I can’t remember. Was it someone else like Nash the Slash?
They were all very excited about Middlesbrough being an industrial town and they wanted to see ICI by night. I think Mick Todd took them to sit on Eston Hills and watch the glow of the flare stacks light up the sky. Watch it they did, and the experience seemed close to religious awe for them.
We said our goodbyes to OMD and just after the tour, they had a hit with ‘Messages’. I remember seeing them on Top of the Pops and feeling proud for them. I do admit to a little feeling of envy too: how amazing it would have been to be on that edition with them, with maybe ‘Hollywood Strut’, a song that people kept telling me should be a single, including the drummer from OMD.
We never got to make that single.
The OMD tour had, however, been a great time for us and there was a sense of local pride when we returned to the familiar green, green grass of home.
No, the Tom Jones song was not in my head at the time.
I remember thinking ‘what next?’…
The adventure still had a way to go.

  1. Alan Cornforth says:

    Interesting reflections on this tour. The only ones I have a connection with are the Enola Gay memory and Bik Bok as the Ripper!!

    We didn’t support OMD in our home town, not sure why, it was disappointing – it would have been a good homecoming for our mini tour.

    I do recall the custard pie fight on the last gig of the tour at Liverpool – they got us in mid-performance and, in return, we got them during theirs! There was also a power failure during our set!

    Dudley JBs was scary with the road crew borrowing the weights off my cymbal arms because they felt threatened when they had to load up the van at the end!

    I remember a football match in the YMCA in London with us against OMD and also the plaintiff wails from the dressing room next door as Andy McCluskey went into some kind of breakdown before they performed!! he seemed ill at ease with being the frontman at the time!

    • Great details added there Alan. I’m sure everybody’s memories are different. I struggle to remember a lot of things from those days. I have to really sit and think for a long time. However, once I started to type up my memories, I was surprised at how much came back to me.

    • Maybe OMD didn’t want us to play with them on our home turf? I do suspect that behind the geniality of McCluskey, there was a giant ego monster. He just kept it well hidden. I remember his hissy fit at the YMCA and thinking at the time ‘he’s acting like a stroppy pop star already’…

  2. Alan Cornforth says:

    I remember when I first moved to London in 1986 I was working in HiFi Care on Tottenham Court Road and Paul Humphries and his American partner came in to the shop. I served him with some video camera accessories and at the end of the transaction I asked him if he recognised me. He looked puzzled at first until I gave him a clue and then he started to recall lots of memories from that tour without me having to prompt him further.

    Oh, the snoring Olympics was me and you commenting on Mick and Dave Charlton (?) (the driver) who were keeping us awake with progressively louder snorts throughout the night. I recorded it on the portable cassette machine I recorded our gigs on. The recordings still exist at the end of one gig – I think it may have been Shrewsbury!

  3. Yes, Mick Todd has a tape of those ‘snoring olympics’. I heard them a few years back. Daft but in a way, kind of inspired!

  4. Basczax slept on my floor in Leeds (well half of the band on my floor and half on the floor of my friends room) after the concert in Leeds. I was in my first year at university and was living at Lupton Flats in Headingley. I had seen the band a lot of times at the Rock Garden in Middlesbrough, the Teessider in Thornaby and …

    I did not even remember it was OMD who were headlining, but I do remember going to an all night cafe near the bus station after the concert and the chip butty being good 🙂

  5. Steve Carter says:

    You guys borrowed my bass amp for those gigs with OMD if I recall correctly…..

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