On the road with the Transformer

“We done the European tour and we were coming back to England to do the Hammersmith Odeon, which is now the Apollo,” said Colin. “We were getting the ferry from Belgium to here, and a lot of Lou’s roadies were chopping up lines on the table, you know, it was all going on. Drinking and causing fucking mayhem.

“Anyway, the crew, what the crew had done, they spiked the food, we found out later, with bicarbonate of soda. So, a lot of the guys were ill, puking everywhere. It was really bad.

“But, when we got to Dover, there were about thirty customs guys waiting for us. They took every stitch of gear that we had. Everybody’s equipment, speaker cabinets, everything. Stripped them all, looking for dope. They put us into three different sections; us, Lou Reed’s band and the crew.

“So we all had different areas. They came up to us and goes, ‘Who’s Kim Beacon?’ and our singer answers. ‘Right, you sit there. Who’s Colin Fairley? You sit there.’ Then they started questioning us about drugs. ‘Have you got any drugs?’ We’re like ‘No, we don’t have any fucking drugs!’ We smoked a bit of weed every now and then but, ‘We don’t have any drugs. To come in here? We’d be stupid!’.

“The guy says ‘Lou Reed has loads of drugs, we know he has. We just need to find them’. So, we tell him that we’ve never seen any drugs. ‘What about on the boat? There was guys chopping up lines’, ‘Where? We never saw anything!’.

“Anyway, they did not find a fucking seed! Not one seed, not one package or powder, not one pill. We arrived at Dover at nine in the morning, and we arrived at the Odeon at seven o’clock at night. The doors were due to open at eight.

“So, we ALL had to pile in to help unload the gear and put everything up. Even Lou was involved! When the doors opened, we were still setting up, and we just had to start playing. Fucking hell, it was a nightmare. To this day I don’t know who stashed it, and where they stashed it all, but it was a party afterwards!”

October 27, 2018, marks the fifth year since the passing of the legendary musician, Lou Reed.

The King of New York was a force of nature. Ever since the early days with the Velvet Underground, he’s been considered to be one of the coolest and most alluring cats in Rock ‘n’ Roll history. During his five-decade long career, he kick-started the punk movement, inspired musicians like David Bowie, and became a giant cultural and underground icon for the decadent and depraved.

Members of The Velvet Underground

The Velvet Underground [Flickr:Il Fatto Quotidiano]

Just in time for All Saints’ Day, what better way is there to remember the Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal than through the stories of someone who toured with the man himself.

Colin Fairley was only 24 years-old when the band he drummed for, String Driven Thing, were invited to support Lou Reed on his 1975 Sally Can’t Dance tour. At the time, they were signed to Charisma Records, a prestige label which also had Genesis and Hawkwind under their belt. Someone from the William Morris Agency had come down to the Charisma offices and someone dragged him along to one of their gigs. “He said ‘They’re perfect for Lou Reed’ and that was that!’”

When asked whether he thought they were perfect for him, Colin said, “Some gigs yeah, some gigs maybe not.” The Scottish folk-rock band had a very distinctive sound thanks to Graham Smith’s electric violin, a unique similarity to The Velvet Underground. The odd lineup gave the band a left field tinge which cut across the whole genre, something that Lou Reed liked.

“The riot police came in cause they started a fire right at the back of the auditorium and it all spilled down, so the crowd come running on the stage. It was mayhem, fucking mayhem!”

While talking about the seventies music scene, Colin recalled how audiences reacted to seeing Lou. Touring the US for the first time, he remembers the vibe being incredible and playing sold out shows every night. Not knowing American audiences, they were surprised when the stage curtains opened and whole theatre rooms smelt of grass.

“The audiences were intense in America, but not as intense as European audiences. Scandinavia, Germany, Italy, Spain. Particularly Scandinavia. They went crazy for Reed. They couldn’t wait for him to play Heroin and get the tube on his arm, the whole drama of it all. Consequently, the gigs were much more intense and better.”

Everything about Lou reached his audience, who in turn wanted to see him pushing the whole nine yards to the limit. Which he did. “If you think of the Berlin period, it was really dark and bohemian. Lou Reed encapsulated all of that, it really was his thing. It was his era really, and he transferred that everywhere he went.

“So, the kinda people that he pulled in were these bohemian audiences, as well as students, there was a lot of students. But, there was a whole bohemian part of his audience every night. You could have been in Berlin every night in a lot of ways. You know, transvestites, dopers, everything went.”

So as expected, sometimes all hell broke loose.

“There was a lot of fascists in Italy at the time. They would set out to disrupt any public gatherings like football matches or rock concerts, to bring attention to their cause. When we got to Milan, we were in a circular stadium, so part of the audience was behind us.

“We saw this crowd of people all dressed in black, wearing black bandanas. Anyway, they started chucking stuff onto the stage, bottles and stones. I got my head cut open too, all that kind of thing. The riot police came in and there was a big fight, tear gas everywhere; we got hustled off the stage.

Image of Lou Reed during an interview in 1974

Lou Reed during a 1974 interview [YouTube]

“Two hours later, when it cleared up and Lou came on, the same thing happened. So, they wrecked the concert. We got on the bus to go to the hotel and we arrive at this posh hotel in the centre of Milan, and Lou cause he was pissed off, kicked the main glass door, this six metre entrance door and the whole thing shattered. Of course, we got thrown out.

“We had to find somewhere in the middle of the bloody night, but that was Lou. We had the same problems in Rome, where the riot police came in cause they started a fire right at the back of the auditorium and it all spilled down, so the crowd come running on the stage. It was mayhem, fucking mayhem!”

Despite occasional nuisances, nothing could stop the Transformer from driving his fans wild. Building his whole image around transsexuality, heroin use and violence, the man had a reputation that preceded him by miles.

“Amongst artists, junkies and queers he was a king; a spokesman for the wicked. However, despite the depressing nature of everything he represented, his undeniable cool could make being strung out look desirable.

At the time in 1975, he had a transvestite girlfriend called Rachel Humphreys, who was immortalised on the back cover of the Sally Can’t Dance album.

“I’ll never forget when we were doing our first European gig, and we were at the stadium doing a soundcheck, and this girl comes walking up to us. Me and the guitar player are looking at her and I say ‘Andy, look at this chick, she’s cool’. Then she got closer and closer and I said ‘Andy, it’s a guy, man. It’s a guy!’. She had a seven o’clock shadow and tits. Afterwards, we got introduced to her and we got on really well. She used to cut our hair and everything. She was great.”

“I mean, nobody had ever taken a rubber tube, put it round their arm, pump up the blood up, get a needle and jam it in. But he did.”

Reed spent half of his life looking at everything through dark shades, instilling the heroin-chic look that has been imitated ever since. From sporting a bleached blonde buzz cut to wearing black nail polish and tight leather, he created the self-proclaimed Rock ‘n’ Roll Animal persona. Coupled with the NYC tough guy attitude and the unforgiving street talk, he became archetype punk icon.

“He’s a character, no two ways about it. And he’s a great character. He wasn’t your normal geezer at all. He was very New York for a start, so it was always, ‘Hey, motherfucker!’, you know, it was pretty full on. He pushed me in a swimming pool once. I was fully clothed on my way to the gig.

“He was a good guy but, he was out-there, definitely out-there. And you had to talk on a certain level. Doesn’t suffer fools gladly, you know? You talked hit, he’d tell you you talk shit. That’s the main thing that comes across with him, he’s very cool. Nothing bothered him. He’d do his thing, and he was good at it.

The amazing fallacy about Lou Reed is that everybody assumed that he was totally smacked out when he went on stage. Well on that tour, I never saw him out of it once. Not once. He’d be standing at the side of the stage watching us and when we’d come off he’d go ‘Great show, man’ etc, etc.

Lou Reed pretending to inject himself on stage

Lou Reed performing his infamous stage antic [YouTube]

“Minutes after he would be ready to go on with his assistants and they’d lead him onto the stage as though he needed help, you know? I mean, I’d be talking to him five minutes before and he was totally sober. He used to really play up to it, he’d really drive the crowd mad and he’d tease them and tease them. So, there was all that side to Lou Reed.

“What he had done though, is take it to another level. A lot of guys were using at the time but he kinda brought it to the fore. I mean, nobody had ever taken a rubber tube, put it round their arm, pump up the blood up, get a needle and jam it in. But he did.

“It was pretend but, it was severe watching it live. Pretty full on. And what you would get is the audience baiting him when he had the needle by his arm. They’d shout ‘do it, do it, do it’, with all seriousness. He really knew how to hold a crowd. An expert at it.”

Touring with Lou Reed was one of the highlights of Colin’s career. To play sold out shows with someone who’s up there with the likes of Dylan and Burroughs was an unmissable opportunity. After leaving String Driven Thing, he became a record producer and worked with the likes of Elvis Costello and Nick Lowe. His observation as a record producer was that Reed had made a stamp on nearly every rock musician that came after him. Whether that was musically, lyrically or with his raw and stripped down recording approach.

Attempting to sum up Reed’s influence or legacy is not the goal. He’s had an enormous effect on every aspect of contemporary culture, whether that be music, poetry, art, fashion or even drug culture. That’s a fact. What stories like Colin’s can do, is help us get closer to our idols, especially the ones as elusive as Lou. If there is anything worth to be learnt from the man, it’s to always stay true to ourselves and to never take shit from anyone. Metal Machine Music style.

“The legacy he left is Perfect Day. ‘Cause that’s how he used to live, every day was a perfect day for Lou Reed.”

Thank you Colin for sharing your memories from the tour and thanks Uncle Lou for being the man.

 

 

 


Featured image via YouTube