MYTHOLMROYD | ‘Simon was always being very modest about it and never even brought it up’, former bass player Phil King remembers, ‘but William used to complain that The Mary Chain had been on Top of the Pops only once, while their tour manager had been on it four times!’ It is hard to get a hold of the former drummer of The Wedding Present, well hidden away in the flood-plagued Calderdale. But I managed to pin him down for an arm-wrestle and twelve pints of Guinness in the back room at a local dog-fight. Covid-safe, obviously.
Hester Aalberts | Pictures by the courtesy of Jack Straker, Simon Smith & Phil King
How have you been since the pandemic infiltrated our lives?
Well, I feel like the bloke wearing flares since Altamont who finally gave up and bought smart trousers the week the Happy Mondays album came out.
I was working at home all hours of the day putting the finishing touches to the March tour, having long chats with David McBride (JAMC manager), then carefully canceling all the travel arrangements as our world began to shrink.
After the tour came down completely, I got asked by the Hebden Bridge & District Old People’s Welfare Committee to pick up some medicine from the village pharmacy for a lady who was no longer allowed out of her house for fear of government advised death. That turned into a five day a week volunteering job, out of the house all day driving around and meeting loads of people during lockdown. The opposite of what most people were doing at that time. But it gets me out of bed in the morning.
Few people know that you used to be the drummer of The Wedding Present! How did you end up behind a drum kit in the first place?
At the age of fifteen, on my last day of compulsory education and just having finished my final exam, I got involved in a proper fight with my mate Barrie in a dispute over my coat. I don’t think we were very good at fighting as we just took turns to punching each other hard in the head for ages until we both had lumps everywhere and a passer-by called the police.
Barrie and I ran away in different directions and next met -not having spoken for ages- to start a punk band. I had to play drums because Barrie had a guitar and Edward’s brother had a bass that he’d lend us on Wednesdays. That band was called Stashinasky (I think), but there’s not much evidence of it on the internet because there wasn’t even electricity back then.
I do remember playing two songs during the school end-of-year theatrical performance with a guest vocalist under the name MISS CARRIAGE AND THE AFTER-BIRTHS (of which I’m not especially proud). The singer got expelled for encouraging the other children to stand up during “White Riot”.
After moving to Leeds I joined The Chorus (with Peter Solowka who was already in The Wedding Present) and put out the first 7” of my life. There were more guitarists than drummers, so I ended up in lots of other bands at the same time:
- The Sinister Cleaners (now called Follow The Moths)
- Andrew Beaujon & Women in Rock (what a name!)
- Cha Cha Cohen (reviewed in Elle Magazine and played on some very odd TV shows)
- Beachbuggy (two drummers and an album at Steve Albini’s studio)
Somewhere in and amongst that, The Wedding Present found themselves in need of someone who could drive a van and play 4/4 time very fast, so I did that for almost ten years.
Please tell about your appearances with TWP in Top Of The Pops!
Well, actually TOTP was a big letdown every time. Twenty-five people in the audience with no clue what The Wedding Present was, but had been told to clap and sing along inappropriately by the BBC. And we knew all our friends and family would be watching carefully to see if we’d gone weird or started taking drugs yet.
The Wedding Present – California | Top of the Pops 1992
I enjoyed some bits though. Two of Status Quo once knocked politely on our dressing room door between rehearsals and filming. They came in and said something along the lines of ‘That was hilarious. You blokes really don’t give a FUCK, do you?’ I don’t recall whether it was Keith, Paul or David who answered the door at that stressful time, looked and said ‘It’s Status Quo … Shall I let them in?’
Also, I had Sting in my dressing room once. I’m pretty sure it was Sting, but there’s a tiny bit of my little brain that sometimes wants to say it was David Bowie. That can’t be true, but I’m just putting it on the record in case the lawyers for David Bowie’s estate ring you later and say it was definitely Bowie and it’s clearly recorded in his soon-to-be-published diaries from the early 2000’s: ‘Chapter 19 -The Day I Met Simon Smith’.
Why did you leave The Wedding Present?
I didn’t really leave, as I recall. David wanted time out to concentrate on his new band, Cinerama during which I got asked to tour manage Mogwai (because Cha Cha Cohen were on the same label). That was a baptism of fire! I suddenly realized how sensible and un-rock and roll things were with The Wedding Present. I soon realized that tour managing could be more fun as you still got to travel and meet weird and wonderful people all over the world, but without being constantly frantic with nerves in case your bass drum pedal broke or the new record flopped and you’d have to get a proper job next week. So it was a good thing in the long run. And I really enjoy the fact that I can still play music for fun now, but without any of the worry.
In January 2020, at Rockaway Beach, The Wedding Present was on the bill as well. You were there as JAMC’s tour manager. Did David and you meet?
No, but if we had, I’m sure we’d have had a nice chat and a bit of a laugh.
In 1998 you started out as a tour manager. What does Tour Management involve?
Stuart Braithwaite of Mogwai once called me ‘the overpaid bloke with the torch’, which highlights his sense of humour. David Gedge used a similar job description: ‘The bloke who gets paid too much for booking hotel rooms’. But in reality, it’s far more complicated – you have to maintain a trusty torch whilst keeping a close eye on the towels AND the cheese sandwiches.
What traits of character does one need to be a good tour manager?
Being the boring one, concentrating on lines of numbers on a spreadsheet rather than lines on a mirror.
The Mary Chain was not the first band you tour managed …
No. I drove the van for Unrest during time off from The Wedding Present, then got asked to tour manage Mogwai. And before I knew it I was getting Sting mixed up with David Bowie.
Cha Cha Cohen live at The Royal Park Cellar Bar, Leeds
Those Mogwai kids sure knew how to party, which was good to watch but also made it clear that, in order to enjoy being a tour manager, you have to maintain a modicum of control.
Barry Burns of Mogwai called you ‘an angry Napoleon’! He said you were dead hard:[Laughs]. That’s brilliant! Barry’s creative writing at its best! Luckily for me, Mogwai were almost always great company, no matter how many party supplies appeared on the bus. I am indeed sometimes told that I used to be a bit angry at times – not with the band as Barry claims, but occasionally with the people at venues or the bus driver. But I think I’m better now – better at presenting a reasonable argument rather than yelling.
[Editorial postscript: A current member of The Jesus and Mary Chain who -for fear of retaliation by the angry Napoleon himself- wants to stay anonymous, reflected on the above as follows: “Simon has a great sense of humour. I found his comment about having learned not to yell at people particularly amusing. God knows what he must have been like before! He can be quite intimidating when he’s fuming at an airline representative about a missing piece of kit for example.”]
Besides Mogwai, I have also tour managed Burning Brides, Groop Dogdrill, Cornelius, Fugazi, Emiliana Torrini, Scott Matthews, Slint, Lush, Tindersticks, Yann Tiersen, 65 Days of Static, Magazine, Dirty Pretty Things … (I’m not boasting – I just don’t want offend anyone – you know what they’re like).
All very different and always full of surprises.
I didn’t expect to find myself sitting next to Howard Devoto, at the front of the stage at Benicàssim, politely asking him to stop playing NOW as the stage was going to blow way in the wind. Or enjoying hilarious daily ‘crap café’ breakfasts with Fugazi, analyzing the best way to eat peas. Or literally ‘holding the baby’ with Yann Tiersen. Or listening to Slint play my favourite album ever, over and over for a week while I sat in the corner, emailing venues about towels and cheese.
Can you take me through a regular night of a JAMC-concert?
That would be a really boring story, I’m afraid! On a good day, just watching talented people doing their thing and occasionally stepping in when it might go wrong. As with all bands, as long as you remember the way to the stage at 9.30 pm, you’re half way there. On a bad day you might be trying to replace everything the band owns at eight hours’ notice when the airline have sent it all to the wrong country.
Are tour busses and their drivers really such a nightmare?
Well, traveling for weeks, squeezed into a big caravan with fourteen people you might not know, can have its moments. Especially in the past, when bus drivers –often former truck drivers– had diametrically opposed views on everything. They would be asleep when the band was partying and vacuuming loudly when everyone else was asleep. Some of them didn’t get the difference between touring and moving crates of yoghurt, so that needed ‘explaining’.
On tour. Filmed by past JAMC-member Phil King
But on the plus side, the bus is like a magical time capsule: after a gig you go to sleep and when you wake up you’re parked up outside the next venue without consciously experiencing any travel. Marvelous! The Wedding Present didn’t have tour busses so we would drive our van to a cheap hotel after the show, sleep for six hours, get up early and drive all day to arrive late and exhausted at the next town.
What is the one thing a tour manager cannot do without?
Gaffa tape! That’s tour manager porn.
Are you a fan of The Mary Chain and if so, what is your favourite song?
Yes, I was a fan back in the eighties and I still am. Probably more so now, because while at work, most nights I get to enjoy a brilliant band. My favorite song changes from time to time. That’s the benefit of hearing them over and over again. Always good when they put different songs on the setlist, as there are loads that I haven’t heard for years.
‘Some songs are a trigger for me’.
Also, some songs take on other meanings. You, Hester, once told me Just Like Honey is one of your favorites. For me, the intro to that song means I have to find my torch, get some towels, check the cheese and meet Bernadette [Denning] to make sure she gets onstage without tripping over guitar leads, lights and monitors on a dark, smoky, strobe-ridden stage. Several songs have a similar Pavlov’s dog effect on me.
Can you share a juicy anecdote about the Reids that otherwise would not see the light of day?
Short answer: Nope. I get paid to not share …
Long answer: On a dark night in the rain, walking under the right street light and if dressed somewhat similar, I sometimes look enough like Jim to be asked for a photo while we walk back to the hotel. To be fair, I point out the mistake to people and Jim never takes the opportunity to sneak off so they always get his picture and a chat. This has happened a non-zero number of times.
They can both be hilarious, which isn’t what some people expect. Here’s a brilliant William joke: ‘We have to go back to the hotel’.
That’s the first line. Delightful. Maybe you had to be there to get it. Driving an SUV full of us from the hotel to the venue in traffic to really get it. Maybe you’d have to have done a long detour and a dangerous U-turn to head back to the hotel in stony silence before hearing the punch-line ‘I’m just saying …, after the gig, we have to go back to the hotel. Same as always, yeah?’ I found it very, very funny once we’d got back on the highway in the right direction.
The crew hasn’t had any income since January. What do you think of the current initiatives to gather some money for them?
All greatly appreciated! Good to know people care. David, the manager, did loads of work for it. Also, the merch company donated generously, which was really nice. And lots of other tremendous people gave us money.
The Disciples of Mary – Sidewalking
We love The Disciples of Mary, the crew-coverband! You drummed on the cover of Sidewalking …
That’s right! Our sound-engineer Michael Brennan organized everything to do with The Disciples of Mary and gave us, crew members, the instructions what to do, which turned out pretty great.
We’re recording two JAMC songs for a double A side
We will record it remotely …
Gonna do it next week…
You’re doing Sidewalking (98.2 bpm)
I also need a backing vocal from y’all.
Drop all stems into drop box please. Easy.
I got told when and where to go and Michael then made me sound clever and mighty. Can’t argue with that. I did in fact hit those drums in that order, but not necessarily that hard and not with all those exact gaps between hits. The whole project turned out to be extremely good fun.
Practicing my part was tricky though. I had to wait for my neighbor to start knocking cement off his wall before I could practice without the noise annoying anyone.
Do you still sometimes get behind a drum kit?
Absolutely! It is one of the things that keeps me sane in these rather isolated COVID-times. I am active in Sunny Smiles Three with John Parkes again (ex-Chorus, singing about death) and Alaric Lewis (of Disciples Of Mary fame) playing stylish bass guitar. And I also play in Follows The Moths (ex Sinister Cleaners).
Goldeneye by Follow the Moths
I’m also in a band with a name so good I’d have to kill you if I told you it. It’s been a long-term project. We’ve half-written thirty songs over the last five years, built a concrete bunker to rehearse in and recently started recording the triple album on Jack’s laptop. I’m not sure if the world’s ready for this yet.
Is there anything else you’d like to share with us?
Yes! Where is the picture of the dog I sent to you earlier? You took it out and I want it back in!
[Note from the author: I am getting pretty scared now, because the angry Napoleon is clearly surfacing again.]
I took this picture in the middle of nowhere in the Appalachians at a disused festival site. This dog, that I ‘d never seen before in my life, followed me for miles.
Do you have anything to say to the disappointed ticketholders?
Be patient. You’ll be back at a festival lining up to piss in a bucket before you know it …
Note from the author:
The crew members of The Jesus and Mary Chain are devoid of any income. The 2020 Darklands Tour would last over a hundred days, but due to COVID the band only performed once. There are three ways in which fans are able to help out a bit:
Order the online EP by the crew band DISCIPLES OF MARY
with an ever growing number of brilliant Jesus and Mary Chain covers!
Make a donation!
100% of the income goes directly to the JAMC Touring Crew. Thank you all!