Episode 22. 1981: Gigs, festivals and a change of life
This was the year it all came together for me. Whilst the first half was dominated by gigs, the second half was dominated by festivals and a decision that literally did change my life but let us not get ahead of ourselves, there was plenty in the first six months to enjoy.
Having said that, I didn’t go to one single gig in January – just one of those months I suppose so my first of 1981 was Roy Wood’s Helicopters at Leicester University. It was a bit of a full circle moment as my first gig was Wizzard in 1973. Back then I was a 12-year-old school kid; now I was in the last throws of my teenage years with a couple of hundred gigs under my belt and a steady job and a growing autograph collection. This was added to this night when I tour down the tour poster from the entrance and asked the band to sign it backstage. Roy did as did the others who included ex-Renaissance bassist Jon Camp and David Byron Band guitarist Robin George. A couple of weeks later I went to Derby to see Iron Maiden on their Killer World Tour. The support band was the French band Trust whose drummer was Nicko McBrain.
March came and went without a gig (this was my last month without a gig until March 2020 when the pandemic started) but then April rolled around and Girlschool announced their tour to support the Hit And Run album. The venues were now theatres as opposed to big clubs, the size of their road crew had doubled and the original dozen BGA met people from all over the country who claimed to be members. Some of us felt a bit highjacked but it was good to see the girls achieve the success they deserved and they always welcomed us and put us on the guest list. It all made me want to see as many shows as possible so from the first night of the tour, the 14th, I saw nine shows in April with a further nine throughout May, top to bottom of the UK. April 28th was a great night on that tour as they played at DeMontfort Hall in Leicester and it happened to be Enid’s birthday. We bought her a bunch of roses and I was elected to present them to her onstage at the encore and it was during this tour where my job became irrelevant and I couldn’t care less about Marconi Radar. The seeds had been sown for my future.
Flyer for Girlschool’s gig in my hometown. (Click images to open in pop-up)
Girlschool were supported by AIIZ consisting of brothers Gary and Dave Owens, Tony Backhouse and future AC/DC and Dio drummer Simon Wright. I liked these guys and they were good. I shared a room with Gary in London when he was in Tytan but lost touch with him soon after; I’m still in touch with Simon. The Girlschool tour was punctuated by my first time to see The Kinks supported by The AK Band (a band who disappeared pretty much after the tour ended) and Whitesnake supported by Billy Squire.
In June I saw Judie Tzuke, Pink Floyd, Kraftwerk (they had built robots of themselves that played the encore while the members stood at the back pretending to be robots), The Tubes, The Teardrop Explodes and Bob Dylan. These bands either had no support act or are not worth mentioning apart from Judie who had ex-Barclay James Harvest keyboard player Woolly Wolstenholms Mæstoso warming up the Leicester audience. I thought they were good but I was in the minority and band became a footnote in BJH’s history very quickly. July I went to the Rainbow in London to see More, a band my fellow BGA member Ken and I had become friends with when they first started out (Ken and I also went to a riot of a birthday party of theirs the same month), Def Leppard supported by Lionheart and More and Rainbow whose special guests were Rose Tattoo. Rainbow was the Joe Lynn Turner/Don Airey line-up, they played three encores including Smoke On The Water and Ritchie trashed a guitar during one of them. That was a night to remember.
July in Leicester was also the annual holiday and it was during this that I started to ask around about the possibilities of me working as a roadie. I tried a few bands but it was always to no avail or ‘yeah maybe…’ until I was offered the chance to be a rigger on the PA crew at the Heavy Metal Holocaust at Port Vale stadium on the 1st August. I was offered transport, accommodation and catering and if I did ok, would be considered by the PA company Audiolease to be taken on full time. Motorhead, Ozzy, Triumph, Mahogany Rush, Riot and Vardis was the line-up and I wanted to be a part of it so I took a couple of days off work and headed off to Port Vale on the Thursday morning. The stage was already built and the lighting rig was up. Eighteen 40’ trucks were lined up backstage and after a ten-minute briefing we started to unload the PA. I was teamed up with Mark Napier who I knew from the previous Girlschool tour and along with twenty others spent all morning building what would become the biggest PA ever assembled. We had every Midas Martin bass bin in the country and stacked them eight high by six wide on both sides of the stage. A five-way system, low-mids mids, high-mids and tops were added and for maximum effect we built PA in front at stage level as well. We worked into the night patching up the seemingly endless array of power amps with what must have been miles of speaker cables and once we got the all-clear that it was all working, retired to the hotel for a few well-earned beers. The next day was PA tuning, soundchecks* and me being a gofer (go for this…go for that…) and a word from the Stage Manager that my job tomorrow was to clear the stage of any drinks after each band and sweep any litter off – oh the glory! Back at the hotel in the bar, the Guinness Book of World Records turned up and confirmed it was the biggest and loudest PA ever built; Steve Sutherland, the owner of Audiolease put his credit card behind the bar for us.
My first crew laminate.
Show day was a blur but I do remember watching every band from the side of the stage if not the entire sets. A few random memories are Ozzy playing with his son, Phil Taylor giving me a beer, Steve Zodiac from Vardis filling his hair with talcum powder and Lemmy standing on the stage on his own before the doors opened, surveying the land like a Roman General about to conquer it. I occasionally wandered out-front as well to see how loud it was - bloody loud! - and one time bumped into a few friends from Leicester who didn’t know I was working there; that was a good moment. Half an hour after Motorhead finished, we started to dismantle the PA which took until nearly 5am. After saying my goodbyes, tired and weary, I headed back to Leicester on an early train, my mind made up that this is now what I wanted to do. All I needed was for somebody to say yes.
Motorhead soundcheck. A partial shot of the record breaking PA.
Note the PA across the front of the stage.
It took a while. I heard that I had done ok at Port Vale and that Steve Sutherland may be willing to employ me but the phone didn’t ring all week. Saturday arrived and I had already bought a ticket along with friends Ian Rawlings and Bruce Pegg to go to the Rock at the Bowl Festival in Milton Keynes. Ian and Bruce were in a local band called Manitou who I used to carry guitars in and out of the odd pub for and the festival was headlined by Thin Lizzy. It’s hard to imagine what the promoter was thinking now as it is probably the most eclectic collection of acts to ever feature at a UK Rock festival with The Ian Hunter Band, Judie Tzuke, Q-Tips and Trimmer & Jenkins. It wasn’t a great day, chilly and a bit of drizzle, Scott Gorham later told me it was one of the worst shows they ever did. One thing did happen to brighten up the night was that in between Hunter and Lizzy, the roadies (we presumed at the time) came onstage and mimed to Judas Priest’s Exciter, frantically running around the stage dressed in stripy pants with fake guitars and rainbow coloured drum kit, we never did figure out who it was or why they did it.
Two weeks later and still no call. Bruce and I go the second Monsters of Rock Festival at Donnington. I didn’t go to the first and had regretted it ever since so I wasn’t going to miss this one. My mates More opened the show followed by Blackfoot, Slade, Blue Oyster Cult, Whitesnake and AC/DC. Tickets were £8.50 (¥1,700) and we had to pay £4.50 for the coach there and back. There was more rain at this one than Milton Keynes and there were sound problems, most notably for Blue Oyster Cult who was hit with a double-whammy, firstly of their drummer Albert Bouchard being sacked and flying back to the USA the day before and their roadie Rick Downey having to play the entire set and secondly, we could hardly hear them due to the appalling low volume and mix; a problem that seemed to have been rectified as soon as Whitesnake came on.
The following weekend was the three-day Reading Festival and by now I was a festival expert. I went down on the first train on the Friday morning, arriving in Reading around 10am. The BGA had arranged to meet in the campsite and John – who had designed the Girlschool winged logo – had promised he would do have a flag outside his tent so we could easily find him and we would use his tent as a rendezvous. Unfortunately, various factions of the ever-growing Girlschool army had had the same idea and it was about the fourth tent that I peered into when a familiar voice shouted ‘Glenn’s here!’ Over the day, pretty much all the original BGA arrived and we sat and smoked and drank, wandering in and out of the gig site to see whoever we wanted to see. I saw Telephone, Saga, Budgie and Steve Hackett and naturally, we all regrouped to see the headliner. I felt great pride in seeing the Girls up there, 25,000 or so Metal fans there to watch my friends play. The next day, a few BGA members left and a few more came, there was much merriment, drinking and smoking and we even ate something at some point. I also had a swim in the Thames. Gillan was superb and commanded the audience, Atomic Rooster filled in for Alex Harvey who had to cancel at the last minute and I saw every band on the Saturday but Sunday was a different story. Almost everyone I knew had gone home so after .38 Special I did the same. I arrived in Leicester about 7pm, had a bath and then Dad said ‘A bloke called Steve called you on Friday…’
The line -up for Reading Festival 1981. The price of a three-day ticket was £14.50 or around ¥3,000.
I called Audiolease the next day. Steve wasn’t there but his brother, Tim, confirmed they’d like me to work at a festival in Leeds on the last weekend of September. My mind was made up, and I went into Marconi that day with a big smile on my face.
*We received a complaint from a woman about the noise who lived a mile and a half away (2.5km).