Episode 10. Bad News Part II: Hammersmith Odeon

Thursday afternoon and my phone rings. ‘Hi Glenn, it’s Grom, how are you?’ I hadn’t heard from Grom for a while and it was nice to hear his voice so we spent a minute or two catching up, me telling him I was now with Girlschool (Grom and I knew each other from when I was a Girlschool fan and he was Tank’s sound engineer) and he told me that he was on tour in the UK with Paul Samson’s Empire, supporting Iron Maiden. He went on to say ‘The thing is Glenn, we want to fire our guitar tech but we have six shows at the Hammersmith Odeon next week, can you help us out?’ I said yes and then asked why they wanted to fire him. ‘Doesn’t matter; they’ve asked for you’ said Grom, ‘I’ll see you at the Hammersmith on Monday.’

 

I hung up and felt good as it was one of those moments where your life seems to come together. Aside from Grom, I already knew a lot of people on this tour including Paul who I had known since Bruce Dickinson was in his band Samson; Mick Brabbs was on drums from Tank, Kev Riddles from Angel Witch on bass and Dave ‘Bucket’ Colwell on second guitar. Dave had been on the scene for a few years and was one of the most respected musicians around of that era. The line-up was completed by Mick White on vocals, a new kid on the block as they say so I didn’t know him. I had also done a tour with Iron Maiden back in ‘83 as well when Rock Goddess supported them in Scandinavia so I was also looking forward to catching up with Bruce, Steve and the others and their crew. 

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Paul Samson’s Empire publicity photo. Left to Right: Kev, Bucket, Mick, Paul and Mark.

I arrived at the Hammersmith in the early afternoon, found Grom and he introduced me to their drum tech, Noel. I instantly liked him and he explained that the previous guitar roadie not only didn’t know anything about equipment but also couldn’t even tune a guitar. This put me at ease and as the guys started to arrive, there were smiles all round, more so after the soundcheck when Dave and I sat discussing the new Floyd Rose tremolo system that he had just been endorsed with, telling me it was nice to have somebody there who ‘…knows what the fuck they are doing.’ The first show was quite an easy gig with very little for me to do as were the next couple of nights. The band played well, went down well and there were no problems onstage whatsoever. Iron Maiden, of course, were brilliant.

 

The rest of the gigs ran like clockwork and I was setting up the guitar stacks on the afternoon of the fourth show when Noel casually mentioned that there was an extra band on Sunday which we would have to work around. I hadn’t heard anything about it so he went on to explain that the Sunday show was a charity event for the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (the NSPCC) and that the additional band was Bad News. Again I had one of those moments where my life seemed to come together and told Noel about me working with them previously, saying that I’d take care of the guitars onstage for Bad News – I think I also suggested that he do Peter Richardson’s drums for the gig.

Before one of the shows, photographer Ross Halfin came to the Hammersmith to take some new publicity shots and I sneaked a couple myself whilst he was setting up.

The day arrived without much fanfare. I was onstage at the Hammersmith for some forgotten reason when Adrian (Ade), Rik, Nige and Pete walked down the stairs in the auditorium and saw me. Innocently, they had come in through the front door rather than the backstage door and Ade greeted me with a cheery ‘Hello Glenn! What are you doing here?’ which was swiftly followed by warm smiles and handshakes all round. I quickly explained that I was working for Paul Samson’s band and that today I had volunteered to take care of their needs as well; this news was greeted by all with more smiles and nods. I suspect they felt I was welcome guide through what they were about to do; lest us forget, they were actors and not musicians. After a quick production meeting with Iron Maiden’s man Dickie Bell, we sound-checked and retired to the dressing room to catch up. All was well, no filming so no pressure and as Bad News headed off to the pub, I said I was staying behind as I still had Empire to take care of and told them they could leave anything there, that I would have the key and that everything would be safe. Bags were dropped, coats were hung on pegs but Ade was particularly fussy and hesitant about leaving his guitar there. In fact, every time I was in possession of it in the past couple of hours, he made me promise that I would take very special care of it which of course I did, as you do, as a roadie. After about the fifth time he asked me to take very special care of it, in that dressing room, I asked him why it was so precious to him and he told me this story…

 

When he was a child, his hero was Eric Clapton and Ade saved all of his pocket money every week because he wanted to buy a guitar like Eric’s. It took him a long time but eventually he saved enough money and he bought a black Fender Stratocaster, the same as Eric Clapton’s. He played it every day and every night and wanted to be a rock star but unfortunately, he was never good enough so when he finished school he went to University where as luck would have it, he graduated and joined the BBC and along with some of his friends, became famous as a comedian.

 

Then one day in 1985, Ade and the rest of the Comic Strip were doing a charity show in the UK. On the bill were many of England’s famous comedians as well as Bob Geldolf, lead singer in the Boomtown Rats and during one of the sketches, Ade had to play the guitar while Bob sang. Ade decided that he would play his own Stratocaster and during the show, Bob – who didn’t know it was Adrian’s guitar and thought it was a prop - decided to improvise. He took Ade’s guitar from him and smashed it to pieces on stage, right in front of him. The audience howled with laughter but Ade was devastated. However, being a true professional, he finished the show as scripted and walked off the stage.

 

Ade sat in his dressing room and cried. The show was a great success but his beloved guitar from his childhood was in pieces, irreparable and there was nothing he could do. Bob Geldolf, innocently walked into Ade’s dressing room, saw him crying and thought that he was upset about the show. He asked him what the matter was and Adrian told him that the guitar he smashed was not a prop but his own personal guitar. He also told Bob the story about why and how he bought that guitar. Bob was stunned and felt terrible. He left the dressing room and ran to a friend of his in another dressing room who was also on the show. Bob’s friend said ‘Don’t worry – let’s go and see Adrian.’ A few minutes later Bob and his friend walked into Adrian’s dressing room and Bob’s friend gave Adrian his own guitar. It was a Fender Stratocaster. Ade went from the depths of despair to the heights of ecstasy as his hands reached out and took the gift from his hero – Eric Clapton.

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My laminate for the Somewhere In Time Tour. Although I only did the last six shows, I have a rather special memory of them. Read on…

Now I understood and told Ade not to worry.  I patted the case and promised him it would not lose my sight and also said I would change the strings for him which he thanked me for. They left me in the dressing room on my own, I changed the strings and must say, although I had played Ade’s guitar before, this time, because I knew where the guitar came from, I played Lay Down Sally and Layla on it to work the strings in. Now Bad News also had a couple of special surprise guests for this show, Brian May from Queen and Jimmy Page from Led Zeppelin and after about half an hour there was a knock on the door. It was Jimmy Page’s roadie and he wanted to leave Jimmy’s guitar and effects pedals with me for a while. I said yes, promising they would be safe and when he had gone, flipped the latches on the case to see his guitar. I couldn’t resist the temptation to play and after tuning it up, ripped into Rock And Roll and Livin’ Lovin’ Maid. It wasn’t long after I had put his guitar back in its case that there was another knock on the door and it was Brian May’s guitar for the night being delivered for me to look after. My heart skipped when I looked inside and one of the world’s most famous guitars was staring at me. I gently took it out, quickly riffed through Tie Your Mother Down and Hammer To Fall, placing it back in the case after only a couple of minutes. I sat back, lit a cigarette, opened a beer and smiled to myself.

 

That night, Bad News played their show and when Jimmy made his appearance, there was quiet disbelief in the audience followed by a sonorous roar. This was at a time when Jimmy very rarely made public appearances and although his guitar mysteriously cut out a couple of times that just added to the fun. Then when Brian made his entrance, the Hammersmith erupted again. Nicko, Bruce and Steve stood behind me and belly-laughed as Rik fell over and lost his wig. I’m not sure where Noel was but I could hear him laughing somewhere. It was all over in thirty minutes and I made sure the guitars were all safely back in the dressing room with their rightful owners and said my goodbyes before catching the bus home. The last night of any tour is always a special one and this certainly was for me. Looking into the night through the rain streaked window of the double-decker as the sodium street lamps flicked by, I wondered if anyone else had ever played Brian May’s, Jimmy Page’s and Eric Clapton’s guitars, all in one afternoon. To this day, I am pretty sure that no one else has.

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Jimmy and Brian on stage together.

*Noel Wyatt went on to become a cameraman and director working with Paul McCartney, Kiss, Sammy Hagar and a load of other megastars and is still a friend to this day. Dave Colwell went on to join Bad Company in the 1990s.

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