October 1977 and my own group, the Kursaal Flyers, are midway through a UK tour with loveable punk rockers The Cortinas in support. It is a turbulent period – ‘Punk Rock’, as in ‘God Save The Queen’, has invaded the TV living room and is a top ticket on the gig circuit, but truth be told the punk phenomenon has already peaked in Britain.
Alongside this teenage social upheaval is rock music of a milder, more tuneful strain, exemplified by the ragbag assortment of pop artists on the Stiff Records label. A Stiff tour – ‘Stiffs Greatest Stiffs Live’ – is in progress, and tonight, the 21 October, it hits Manchester – the Ardwick Apollo to be precise. The Apollo, on the Stockport Road, is a Part Deco lump that aspires to reflect pre-war Hollywood glory but is in danger of surrendering to the 1970s bingo boom. Superstars have appeared here, including Bruce Springsteen, but tonight it plays host to Ian Dury, Elvis Costello, Nick Lowe, Larry Wallis, and, if he can make it, Wreckless Eric.
The Kursaals tour is currently between Leeds Polytechnic (20 October) and Bangor University on the 22nd, but because tonight’s appearance at Scarborough Penthouse has been cancelled, we are holed up in Manchester at the Poste House Hotel, coincidentally a home from home for the Stiff caravan. What else is there to do but go see the show?
I invite myself onto the Stiff bus for the short journey to the Apollo, on which I observe Costello being mummied by Farrah Fawcett-Minor, who is wearing a nurse’s outfit, and Dave Edmunds in a snappy drape jacket with bright pink yoke. At the venue, local celebrities including members of the Buzzcocks and John Cooper-Clarke mill around the bar. Tonight’s programme omits an out-of-action Wreckless Eric, so Elvis Costello performs Eric’s ‘Go The Whole Wide World’ in his honour.
Throughout the tour, tension has been building between Nick Lowe and Dave Edmunds, whose principal role is to play drums in Lowe’s outfit, ‘Last Chicken in the Shop’. Dave is a prominent member of ‘The 24 Hour Club’, whose members seek to entertain themselves by seeing just how far their weekly allowance of £50 will stretch if thrown in the general direction of a bar. But the normally thirsty Lowe is keeping his head down, and it’s winding Dave up. The biggest wind-up on the outing, however, is tour manager Dez Brown, who has become unpopular simply because his key function is to get everyone out of bed and onto the coach each morning.
Returning to the Poste House, The 24 Hour Club gets into full swing, with Edmunds telling anyone who will listen how great it is to be a part of the Stiff scene. It’s now 1am. Dave is still drinking enthusiastically with Larry Wallis and Pete Thomas, when he suddenly recalls that he’s left some valuables in the care of Dez Brown, who has retired early as usual. Feeling a sudden urge to obtain said valuables, Dave goes to the house phone and asks to be put through to Brown’s room. Unfortunately, ‘Mr Brown is not to be disturbed’. Meanwhile, Larry Wallis, desperate for a glass of health-giving milk, has summoned the night porter. As Edmunds returns to the bar to announce that Dez is not receiving visitors, Larry is taking delivery of a pint mug of milk and some chocolate biscuits.
‘I know,’ says Edmunds. ‘Let’s take this up to Dez … milk and cookies … he can’t argue with that.’ Bearing the midnight feast, several musicians make for the elevator. On reaching the tour manager’s room, they knock and continue knocking until eventually a naked Dez Brown opens the door. The details of What Happens Next are not for disclosure, other than to say that the horseplay gets out of hand and Dez Brown is left ‘covered in blood and chocolate’. Amazingly, Nick Lowe, who is sharing the room with Brown, sleeps through it all. When he awakes the following morning, Brown is in hospital and there is a note at Lowe’s bedside that reads: ‘Basher – you missed the sound of breaking glass, make sure you have your boots on when you get out of bed.’
Further reading: No Sleep Till Canvey Island – The Great Pub Rock Revolution