Episode 9. Bad News Part 1: Donington 1986
The summer of 1986 has very mixed emotions for me. I was working for Girlschool and living at 20 Poynders Road in Clapham which at that time was the family home of the Duforts. It was a Guest House and Denise and Dave’s marvelous parents, Kate and Roy, graciously let me use a small room downstairs away from the contractors and workmen that booked in and out from Monday to Friday and often rolled back after the pubs had closed, somewhat rowdily but in good spirits having filled their bellies with more than a few pints in the local tavern. Dave had his own place a leisurely half an hour’s walk away whilst Denise was living with her boyfriend, Tim –Girlschool’s sound engineer – a ten minute taxi ride from Poynders Road in Clapham Junction. There was so much to look forward to year but the Dufort family couldn’t enjoy much having learned in late Spring that Roy was terminally ill and to make matters worse, only given three months to live. Even now as I write, I can recall the awful day that they were told the news and they relayed it to me that evening. Stunned and disbelieving, I went to my room and quietly sobbed.
All Girlschool’s plans were put on hold and I set about supporting the family as best I could but also to look for other work as I needed an income plus it would get me out of the house and give the family some privacy. My first port of call was the Ritz (see article 5) and they had me doing a few driving jobs around London plus a few other friends came to my aid, most notably Rock photographer Tony Mottram who took me up to Milton Keynes to see the Marillion Garden Party. A day of sunshine in the company of my favourite band at the time and a wealth of backstage mates was a tonic beyond compare and well needed adding in the fact that England had been knocked out of the World Cup by the hand of Diego Maradonna just six days before; a cheat I still have never forgiven him for. The day out was just a temporary reprieve from the inevitable though; Roy left us soon after on July 10th.
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A view from the hill of the ‘Welcome To The Garden Party’ festival headlined by Marillion. The other acts were Jethro Tull, Gary Moore, Magnum and Mama’s Boys.
August 1st was a balmy morning in South London I hadn’t had anything planned for the day so I wandered over to the Ritz. Girlschool would resume touring in early October so I still had a few weeks to fill and with the UK’s top Rock festivals Reading and Donnington coming up, there may be a band or two who need extra crew and the Ritz often received calls around this time asking if they knew if anyone was available. There wasn’t much going on though and by the early afternoon I was hanging around outside the loading bay enjoying the sun whilst working my way through a packet of Rothmans International cigarettes, thinking about heading home when Peter came out and asked me if I wanted to do a TV show the following week. Thinking it was Top Of The Pops or The Tube or any other regular TV Pop show, I said yes and asked him which one. “The Comic Strip” he replied and added that it would be a few days work spread over a couple of weeks. I remember repeating ‘The Comic Strip’ back to him in a questionable way and he said yes. He didn’t know much about it, just that they were some actors who would be doing some filming around the UK and Donnington.
Well I certainly knew The Comic Strip even if Peter didn’t as I was a fan of the show from a few years before and as they were booked into the Ritz that evening, thought it was best if I stayed on and met the guys when they arrived. Doubt began to set in though in the early evening as the stars of The Comic Strip were the most popular British comedians at the time, namely Rik Mayall and Ade Edmondson who along with Nigel Planer and Peter Richardson had created The Young Ones, one of the most iconic sitcoms of the early eighties so could it really be them? The answer arrived just after 7pm when a familiar face apprehensively stepped through the door, looked at me and said “Hi, I’m Rik.” I wanted to come out with a joke but I couldn’t think of anything and besides, there was no way it was going to be as funny as anything he could say. A few minutes later, Peter arrived followed closely by Ade and Nige.
Having set up their instruments and shown them into the rehearsal room, I asked what it was all about and they told me they were doing a follow up to their show ‘Bad News’ which was the story of a fictional struggling Heavy Metal band in the UK. The follow-up was about when they sign a record deal and then get to play at Donnington; the climax of the show, a performance at Donnington itself. I stood a bit stunned and asked them if they actually knew what Donnington was and they said ‘Not really’. I explained it was the showcase of Metal in the UK and they mumbled something along the lines of they knew that but not much else. I started to have concerns, augmented by Rik when he picked up the bass and put it on. ‘You’re left handed’ I said, ‘that’s a right handed bass’ to which he replied in all innocence ‘Is there a difference?’ It turns out that both Rik and Peter on drums had never played before and were learning for the gig – which was less than three weeks away. I offered Rik a left-handed bass but he decided to stick with a right-handed one as he had started to learn it that way. I felt a little more comfortable when Ade and Nigel started playing Würm from Starship Trooper by Yes, Ade taking the solo and doing a pretty good job of it. I left them to it with a copy of the script they gave me in my hand and closed the door thinking ‘Well at least half the band can play…’
My shooting script for ‘More Bad News’. In hindsight, I wish I had asked them all to sign it.
The next week was taken up with rehearsals, sorting equipment and getting to know them a bit. I bought some garish guitars for them to use during the filming and watched them put their set together. I watched in astonishment as Ade scribbled out some lyrics to a tune he had written and said ‘That’ll do’; witnessed Nigel improvise some parts that threw them and me into fits of laughter and was most impressed with Rik and Peter who put in extra hours every evening they were there in a bid to improve their skills - this after filming all day - and the improvement was noticeable every day. As the days ticked by, it started to come together but I still felt uneasy about what they were up against. Donnington could be a hostile crowd and Bad News, now announced as being on the bill in the media, didn’t really grasp the gravitas of what they were entering into.
Being the guy in charge of the equipment, I had to be on location the following week for filming and we started at Sarm West Studios in London. The scene involved Vim (Ade) and Den (Nige) arguing over which one of them will use the only Marshall stack available for a recording session; the other amp being a 30 Watt no-name, old piece of junk that sounded awful. The amps were plugged in to record the natural sound of their guitars and there were a few beers placed around the studio which were both for the enjoyment of Ade and Nige and also part of the set as they were supposedly given 100 cans of beer from the record company as a celebration of the start of the recording of their debut album. Innocently, Ade opened one and sat it on top of the Marshall stack. They rehearsed the scene and everything was fine but once the cameras rolled, Ade and Nige really got into it, Nige pushing Ade into the Marshall stack, the guitars crashing together and the can of beer tottering dangerously. Horrified, knowing that if it went over and into the amp, Ade could be electrocuted, I frantically awaited the word ‘Cut!’ from the director which seemed to take an eternity. When it did come, I ran onto the set and pulled the power plug out just as the beer went over into the back of the Marshall. Ade just looked at me with that wonderful smile of his and said ‘Ah!’ A bit later, Nige, obviously inspired, asked me if we could improvise a scene with him pouring beer into the Marshall whilst Ade is recording a solo. I explained why it wouldn’t be a good idea and then with a wicked grin said he still thought it was a good idea.
The festival was on August 16th but we did filming there on the 13th and a soundcheck on the 15th. We were all accommodated at the Yellow Lodge Hotel in Kegworth from the 12th and I have marvelous memories of spending time with them there including one afternoon where Rik and I sat and chatted for a couple of hours about anything that came to mind. I got an extraordinary insight into him that afternoon and he went from being a comic hero of mine to someone that I respected intellectually as well. When he started talking about Margret Thatcher and I mentioned I wasn’t particularly interested in politics, he went to great lengths to explain to me why I should be and I started taking an interest almost immediately; that is something that has stayed with me to this day. On other occasions, he would slip into one of his previous characters and have whoever was around laughing so hard our stomachs hurt. On the day of the soundcheck, that is when the enormity of the gig dawned on them. Standing on the stage looking out over the field flanked by a quarter of a million watts of P.A. and ceilinged with hundreds of Par64 1000 watt lights, Nige, Ade and Peter looked nervous but as Rik walked up the ramp from the back of the stage, he went into his Young Ones character and within seconds, had broken the ice not just with the band but all the crew hanging around.
Even at the soundcheck, Rik, ever the professional, rehearsed his moves and facial expressions for the gig.
I wish I could say I enjoyed the gig but I didn’t. In fact it was a nightmare for me and one of my biggest personal failures as a roadie. Everything was fine in the morning as I double-checked all the equipment and I was handed a set list with cues for when Ade, Nige and Rik were to do their monologues. They had been given a thirty minute slot and it was all timed to the minute because of course it was actually a television script. Half an hour before show time I went to the dressing room and there were a few nerves but the mood was buoyant so I left and returned twenty-five minutes later and led them to the stage. The first number went well but somewhere in the second or third number, Ade’s guitar stopped working. I swapped it for the spare but that didn’t work so I swapped the guitar lead, that didn’t work either. I checked the amp and that seemed to be ok so somewhat confused I gave Ade his original guitar back and for some strange reason, it began to work. By now we had lost a minute which Ade had improvised over calling me a wanker and asking the crowd to call me one as well. I cringed as 35,000 Heavy Metal fans shouted “Wanker!”...and it was all on film. I meekly left the stage only to have Rik tell me his bass had stopped working. I pulled the jack plug out of it and touched the end – no sound from the amp and rushed over to it I noticed the speaker lead had come out. Plugging it back in fixed the problem but by now we were longer behind schedule and guess what…Ade’s guitar stopped again. This time he improvised by smashing it to pieces which the crowd loved and I winced at. I gave him the spare again and thankfully it worked and continued to work until the end of the set. As they left the stage, I had a horrible sinking feeling that the footage would be unusable but after packing up and making my way to the dressing room to apologize, I was greeted by a cheery Ade who spoke first: ‘Sorry about slagging you off onstage’ he said rather sheepishly. I then apologized for the gear but he said it should be ok and not to worry about it.
I heard a rumour later that someone sabotaged the equipment but I’d like to think that’s not true and thinking back on it now, maybe it wasn’t as bad as I thought all those years ago. Certainly the resulting film ‘More Bad News’ always brings a smile to my face whenever I watch it and maybe one day they will release a special edition of the film with the complete gig and I can re-evaluate it but on the other hand, maybe it’s something I’d rather not live through again. Either way, I’m just glad I was there.
A spontaneous moment from Rik in character as Ade, oblivious to what is happening behind him, directs the cameraman. I have bad memories of the gig but moments like this overshadow it.