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Saturday, December 14, 2013

Leatherface are Dormant, The Last Tour, and Chris 'Big Rock' Schaefer RIP


With the announcement that 'Big Ugly Fish' records have ceased operations, it confirmed what everybody already knew, Leatherface were finished. Leatherface bass player, Graeme Philliskirk, ran the label and it had released the final Leatherface album 'The Stormy Petrel'. It was no secret that the band were finished after a number of behind the scenes activities that have taken place over the years, and with no gigs since 2012, we knew deep down that there would be no more. Still we never gave up hope, and knowing the fact that the band had recorded a whole host of extra material during the Stormy Petrel Sessions, we thought at least we may get a final release, yet with the closing down of Big Ugly Fish, it is clear that a final nail has been placed in an already secured coffin. However, after their first split in 1992 and return in the early 2000’s, nobody ever thought that Stubbs & Hammond would reunite, and they did. So we still, as the last song on the last album states ‘Never Give Up Hope’. 

Here is a design I made to pay homage to that final line up of the second phase of the band:


This is a difficult one for me. I have never spoke about this incident publicly. It affected me in a way that the death of a family member has in the past. I only spent a couple of weeks of my life in and around the company of this man, which just goes to show how much of an impact he had, and furthermore, how close touring and travelling can bring people together.

For those who don’t know, Chris was the tour driver, merchandise man, and spiritual adviser for Leatherface for many years, who suddenly died in his flat in Prague from Carbon Monoxide poisoning. A sad and unexpected end to a life. Original story here: http://blogs.ocweekly.com/heardmentality/2013/01/adolescents_driver_and_tour_ma.php The only way I can sum up his life and how I felt, is to reproduce the post I made on his memorial page, shortly after his death.

“I knew Chris, aka Rock, from my time spent being a roadie on part of two Leatherface tours. Having spent time on many different tours, one I thing I can be for sure about Chris is that he was a master of his profession. His planning, organisation, and awareness were second to none. Not only that, he was also a caring, frank, and friendly individual. I'm so warmed to read other peoples testaments, and see how much of a positive impact
he has had on other peoples lives. I feel fortunate to have spent time in his company. One thing can be sure, is that Chris knew how to party just as hard as he liked to work - his inside knowledge of the circuit was fantastic, and he always had a great story to share. I met Chris as a stranger, and he welcomed me like a son. I always felt cared for in his company. I'll never forget the times I spent with him, and his passing is a great loss to our worldwide punk-rock family. Hopefully his legacy will continue to inspire future generations to come”.

                                                          Big Rock RIP


This article originally appeared in ‘Ont Road’ Fanzine, issue 18, in paper format, as an A5 booklet – for those that remember printed matter. I still have 50 copies left if you want a physical hard copy, send me £2 post paid to my paypal account: ska1ska@yahoo.com if you are interested. Email me at the same address if you want to order in bulk.

The article was written about the first leg of the final Leatherface tour in 2012, and represents a snap shot in time; providing a rich, insightful, and fanatical insight into one of the best punk-rock bands of all time. It is one of the pieces of work that I am most proud of, and I hope that this brings back happy memories of the band that are hidden in your unconscious. 

Leatherface - Tour of the USSR & Finland

“And I have many things, I have dreams. And I have many things, I have my place in the scheme of things”

Cast: Frankie Stubbs (Vocals), Skruff Owen (Drums), Graeme Philliskirk (Bass), Dickie Hammond (Guitar), Mick Jones (Guitar), Big Rock (Driver / Merchandise), Lukas Schwarzbrennen (Roadie)

I received a text message from my mate Tom, who was attending their first gig of the tour in Cambridge, saying that Frankie Stubbs was only doing vocals as he had his arm in a sling, and that they had a replacement guitarist with them. I wasn't sure whether it was a wind up or another twist in the ongoing Leatherface saga. Their three and a half week tour was set up around four shows that had been set up for them in Finland, taking in Germany, Poland; their first ever gigs in the Baltic States, and the rest of Scandinavia en route. The band is so committed to working with Rock that they paid him to drive from his home in Prague to Sunderland, so that they can do the whole tour with him. Having recently toured Australia, Germany, USA (last minute cancellation), and the UK, it was time for Leatherface to sail on through their 'Stormy Petrel' world tour.

Ucho - Gdynia, Poland

As is the case with most solo voyages, I was engulfed with a feeling of apprehension throughout my journey from Leeds-Bradford to the Lech Walesa airport in Gdansk. It had been a mild winter back home - barely touching zero - and stepping into the freezing February air of northern Poland was a brutal awakening of minus in double figures. The bus to the neighboring city of Gdynia was not due for a while, so I sat in the arrivals lounge watching the countdown clock to the Euro 2012 football championships. Prior to the commencement of building the new stadium for the event, there was such a labour shortage in the region that local businessmen had to make journeys to the UK, to cities such as Peterborough, to tempt Polish workers back home.

I supped a beer on the bus, feeling smug that I had covered myself in so many layers of clothing. By the time the bus arrived in the center, I jumped off on a street that I recognised the name of, from my poor quality map that I had printed out from the internet. As I traversed the dark streets on a hopeful mission in search of the venue, I was feeling satisfied with my new pair of boots, the first I had bought for 10 years. Who'd a thought that a 15 pounds pair of boots bought from Leeds market would've lasted so long? My man-nav was spot on, and I arrived at the entrance to hear Leatherface kicking into 'Dead Industrial Atmosphere' - how fitting for the declining ship industries of neighboring Gdansk, which have been betrayed by the ruling party Solidarnosc, despite being the striking influence for the collapse of Soviet communism.

As soon as I stepped into the venue, I was greeted by an old acquaintance, and former migrant himself, named David, who had a famous catchphrase during his time in England, which he greeted me with instantly, "When I was your age", before handing me a mound of snuff and a drink of his beer. That was the warm welcome I have always been accustomed to from the Poles. 

I made my way through the crowd, and found a spot to the stage right. If appearance was the only judge, then you wouldn't have been scolded for thinking that Adam Ant was fronting the band, as Frankie Stubbs, strutting around the stage, was decked out in a tall black hat, funky colorful sunglasses, and an arm draped in a red & white sling, made from a Sunderland FC scarf. The rumors were true, and it turns out that the reason his collar bone was broken, is that after a night on the drink, he fell off a bicycle on the way home from Graeme’s house, five days before the one month tour of Europe was about to begin! Rather than cancel, Dickie Hammond managed to hunt down a friend of his, Mick Jones, who plays in Red Alert, and persuade him to stand in for the tour. Given the fact that he only had two practices before the tour, and this was only the 6th gig, he was doing a damn fine job as a stand in guitarist. In fact, it's probably the first time I have ever seen a member of Leatherface jump into the air whilst playing a song!

The penultimate song they played was 'Leningrad Vlad / Colorado Joe', which has the catchy, sing along chorus of "U.S.S.R., U.S.Aaaaaaaaaaaaaa", which again, was fitting, given the fact that the band were now playing gigs in the former Soviet Satellite Republics. There were plenty of people in the venue, and the pit was full of mosher kids, dancing around in their System of a Down & Rage Against the Machine hoodies. Whilst I was having a smoke break after the set, a young couple told me that the 'Ucho' is a legendary club in Gdynia, dating back to the 1980s, where legendary Polish punk bands, such as Deserter first started out.  

The first member of the band I bumped into was Frankie Stubbs and he said, "You know son, you are one of the strangest people I've met, you always seem to turn up in the oddest of places". I took that as a compliment. In other 'odd' moments: during a toilet break, there were a huge gang of young skinheads hanging out by the sinks, appearing to be holding a secret conference; and whilst watching over the merchandise stand, the young lad working the cloakroom was openly polishing a huge pocket knife - the threat of attack from fascist hooligans is still a major problem in Poland; so much so that their football hooligans are now regarded as the most fearsome in Europe. Welcome to Poland.  

During the loading of the van, Dickie kept us highly entertained by spar boxing, whilst simultaneously making seal noises. There wasn't any carry out alcohol from the gig, and given the length of the next day’s drive, it was straight back to the hostel, and straight to sleep. I was solely grateful for somewhere to crash, as beforehand, I wasn't absolutely certain whether I'd be able to stay with the band, or even travel round with them for the next few days.

Cafe Bix - Vilnius, Lithuania

Due to the fact that the drive was going to take 10 hours, we were out of the hostel by 8am, leaving us just enough time to brush our teeth before departure. Breakfast at the petrol station was the first order of the day, which provided a perfect opportunity to stock up on Polish vodka. As we were leaving the city, Rock had to do some sharp braking. Stubbs was lying down, and the force threw him into the back of the seats in front, causing him to scream in pain, and utilise every swear word in his vocabulary. The tour was already taking its toll. The distance meant it was a painful journey for all of us, and it was eased by the fact that we watched around 6 hours of David Attenborough documentaries. Dickie was sat up front, and he kept us amused by occasionally mimicking the noises that the animals made.

The gig was in the main room of a cafe bar, and the band set up their gear on a small stage tucked away in the corner of the room. This was going to be an intimate gig. Despite the fact that it was a free gig, and it being on a Saturday night, the attendance was not great. However, given the fact that this was the band’s first time in the Baltics, they were just happy to be playing.

The most heart-warming aspect was the two groups of Russians that had turned up. There were four people from St. Petersburg who had driven down to see all the Baltics shows, and two young girls from Moscow who had taken an 18-hour train journey, just to see this gig. These two spent most of the night in the court of Frankie Stubbs, who was clearly enjoying the fruits of his fame.

The gig itself was nothing spectacular, just a standard affair, and unfortunately the sound was hindered somewhat by the acoustics which weren't set up to accommodate amplified music. The merchandise stand was situated right by the stage, and I remember thinking before the set started that I should stand by it, in case anyone falls into it. Given the fact that there weren’t many people there, I decided it wasn't necessary. How wrong this call was to be. Shortly into the set, a daft hippy that was stood at the front clearly had enough of the music. Instead of walking back through the crowd like any sensible person would, he just hoisted himself up onto the tables, managing to walk across the first, before collapsing to the side, tipping the second table onto the floor, and covering the display items in beer. Rock dealt with it in his usual calm manner, and the hippy was never to be seen again.

After the gig we sat down for a free meal, and I was impressed with the meat-free scotch egg stuffed with vegetables. There was a disco taking place downstairs, which wasn't that great, and bizarrely enough there were loads of deaf people who were simultaneously dancing and communicating with sign language. Skruff and I started to hammer the vodkas, and we were enjoying the company of some enthusiastic locals. We were hoping that they were going to stay out and party with us, yet these two young artists, who were at the start of their careers, were briskly escorted away by their older protective siblings. Instead of painting the town red, they were resigned to stroking their pallets. 

The first drama of the tour took place after we had finished loading the van. Skruff and I were chatting to some random locals who were insistent on talking about football - such is the peril of being British. I was trying my best to deflect talk of Premier League football and educate them about the democratic structures of fan-owned football clubs, yet they didn't seem to care. I gave up the desperate act, and joined Graeme in the van.

A few minutes later, Skruff appeared and told us that a different football fan had just approached him, who reacted to Skruff's nonchalant attitude by lamping him one in the face. Graeme was straight out of the van, and he proceeded to deck this guy with three solid well-connected punches, which left him 20-feet away on the floor, clutching his bloody face. Instant karma, made even sweeter by the fact when it turned out that he was a Manchester United fan. One nil to the Sunderland!  

We had the whole top floor dormitory of the hostel to ourselves, which had enough beds for a Catholic family. Most people stayed up to drink a few cans, yet I was straight out cold, having consumed more than my fair share of alcohol. Such is life ont road.

Nakalab - Riga, Latvia

I awoke earlier than the others, and took advantage of the free shower. I didn't know what time we were leaving, yet I was aware it wasn't a long drive, so I decided to head out into the streets and dig as much of the place as I could. As soon as I stepped out of the door I recognised the old fort on the hill instantly - we were bang in the center. I took a brisk walk around the old town and then settled in a local restaurant and tucked in to a traditional Lithuanian breakfast - fried potatoes topped with herring and sour cream, washed down with a pint of dark beer. That topped me up nicely, and I was back at the hostel in time for the departure.

Everyone was still feeling fruity from the night before, and the booze ban was instantly broken by breakfast beers. That formed the basis for the first few hours of the journey. I had my first in-depth chat with Skruff, whom I am closest to in the band, probably due to the fact that he is a similar age to me, and enjoys the pop side of punk rock. Ask him to show you his NOFX tattoo. He told me a heartwarming story about his time with Leeds punk band Abrasive Wheels, which he drummed in before joining Leatherface. He told me that he joined them as a young punk-rocker, with no connections and very few friends in the scene. He told me how lead singer Shonna took him under his wing during his early days, letting him stay at his place when he had nowhere to go, and introducing him to a lot of people. I guess we've all had the experience of older punks looking after us in our early days - that's another thing that makes punk rock so special.

I asked about the booze ban, and Frankie happily shared the conditions of and the reasons behind it. The booze ban prohibits any member of the band from drinking before 6pm. The first reason is that by the time they get on the stage, nobody is going to be too drunk to play, and thus not letting down the fans. Frankie then opens up and tells me that it was originally enforced by Laney, the former drummer, as a means of controlling Frankie’s drinking habits, and now it has become a rule that has to be adhered to by all members of 'The Boat' - a colloquial term used by the band to describe themselves.

Frankie and Rock then call the start of the booze ban for the day, and decided that it has to be extended till 8pm due to the morning drinking. I decide to join in with the ban for the rest of the tour as a mark of respect, and to not tempt others to cast away onto the shore. Mick, being new to the band, pushes Frankie on the matter, and tries to argue that he'll be OK. Frankie lays down the law, fully explaining its logic, in a reasoned, wise, statesmen-esque manner - Mick reluctantly submits. Dickie tries being defiant, yet Rock manages to snatch the beer bottle out of his hand before he manages to open it. There is a reason that all the alcohol in the van is usually locked away in the back with the kit! During a stop at a petrol station, Dickie tries to coax me into opening a bottle of my Polish vodka so he can have a cheeky swig. I had to step up and do the right thing, sticking by the ban, and refusing his advances.

The venue is situated right by the monument to celebrate freedom from the Russians, so I recall the tale from my previous trip to the rest of the band. It was back to usual gig standards, as we are treated to free food and free beer for the rest of the night. The gig was in a large room with a tall stage, and it was well attended for a Sunday night. Frankie was noticeably angry with the soundman during the first few songs, and during the third one, he started to menacingly stare directly at him, and he even changed some of the lyrics to curse him. Thankfully, the soundman managed to pull it together, and any potential drama is avoided for the rest of the set. Once again, they played 'Leningrad Vlad / Colorado Joe', which felt so great to sing along to in a former Soviet satellite state.

The group of Russians from St. Petersburg was in attendance again, and it was nice to spend some quality time conversing with them. I told them a story about when I was in St. Petersburg for the cities 300-year anniversary, and how they changed the name back to Leningrad for the day. One of them showed me a copy of their passport, and being born in the 1980's it had 'Leningrad' listed as their place of birth. How cool is that? We invited them backstage after the set, and I brought in a rack of shot glasses that I got from the bar, and opened up a nice bottle of mint vodka that I scored in Poland. We then proceeded to get drunken Russian style, polishing it off in the space of 10 minutes.   

In the smoking room, Skruff, Mick and I had a nice chat about getting into punk rock in our teenage years. Mick Jones (yes that is his full name!) told us a great story about going to see Joe Strummer & The Mescaleros as a teenager. He met him briefly before the gig, and Joe told him and his friends that he was busy and that he would bring them in backstage after the gig. Mick thought that he was just fobbing them off. After the show, and much to their surprise, he honored their word and brought them all backstage, feeding them with beers, and introducing them to everyone. Mick recalled how Strummer was a genuine good bloke during that encounter, and it was great to hear that a punk rocker, who has been a victim of such stardom, still remained true to his roots. 

After the show, we went back to the old town hostel, and nailed a few drinks in the bar, chatting yows to anyone who would listen. There were only 6 beds in the room, so I picked a nice spot on the floor and tried to go to sleep. Skruff wasn't having any of it, and persisted on making me get into one of the spare beds. Hammond and Jones were still up boozing.

Ulase Anarchist Social Centre -Tallinn, Estonia

I awoke in the morning to see Mick and Dickie curled up in a bed together, and I started to feel a little guilty, even though I found it impossible to decline the caring gratitude of Skruff the night before. It was early, and Mick was soon awake, making a laugh and a joke about finding it impossible to sleep next to a snoring Hammond. I decided to make amends for the situation, and take Mick out into the old town for a spot of 'breakfast'.

We found a kiosk at the top of the road. I made a token gesture at the fridge, by asking Mick 'alcoholic or non-alcoholic?'. He laughed and didn't need to say anymore. The best drink in Latvia is a mix of their local spirit Black Balsam, and blackcurrant juice. It tastes like alcoholic Vimto. We sat on the chairs by the window, and started supping; sharing life stories and putting the world to right. It was 9am on a Monday morning - all the locals coming in to pick up their convenience items must have thought we were insane.  

As usual, there was plenty of banter in the van, however, due to the booze ban enforcement, tensions started rising again. Mick brought up the subject again, and Dickie made his desires for the drink clear. Again, the ban had to be justified. Frankie was making fun of Mick again, and this time it got to the stage where he said 'Mick, I can't wait till we get back off this tour, because the first thing I'm going to do is sack you. I've never sacked anyone before, and I'm looking forward to getting back and telling you...you're sacked son'. I couldn't ascertain whether he was being serious or not. I felt bad and somewhat responsible for breaking the morning ban, yet it felt like the right thing to do at the time. By the time we arrived in Estonia things had calmed down, and our secret was safe.

In so many ways, this was the best gig of the tour. It took place in an Anarchist Social Centre, situated on the outskirts of the city center. It was located in a warehouse complex - a few rooms hidden away on the first floor. The place was full on - complete with anarcho-syndicalist flags, and a library. This is one of the first such places in the country, and subsequently hosted the first ever Baltic Anarchist Meeting during the NATO conference in Tallinn, in May 2012. 

It was warm and cozy inside, and the volunteers who worked there were super friendly. It was great to see so many young people being enthused by anarchism. As autonomous places tend to do, I felt a sense of freedom and liberation - an environment I usually find myself most comfortable in. So much so, that Skruff, Mick, and I jammed Linoleum by NOFX during the sound check.

There were no other bands scheduled to play, so I joked to Skruff that MC Positive Bastard could play. Thinking he would laugh it off, he actually started pushing for it. I checked the files on my computer and it turned out I still had the instrumental MP3s of my songs. Game on! I had to sit on my own for half an hour, doing my best to recall all the lyrics to 'Crazy in Punk'. I managed to remember seven of them, and created an impromptu verse for the missing one.

And there I was, stood on the stage, on my own, with a room full of young Estonians stood around, not knowing what to expect. It had been three years since my last gig, which took place in an old brewery in Berlin. Despite the absence of playing live, the alcohol and the adrenaline was enough to put me at ease. I started off by introducing myself, and by thanking all the volunteers, giving a special mention to the ones that do all the menial tasks, such as cleaning the toilets. I then told the crowd that it was great to finally play a concert in the USSR, which got a lot of laughs...and then it was go.  

It was surreal and heartwarming to have Frankie Stubbs stood right at the front, heckling and staring at me throughout the song. The crowd warmed into it quickly, and was singing along to 'Crazy in Tallinn right now' during the first chorus. By the time I got to the improvised verse, it was time for some crowd participation, and this is how it panned out: 'when I say punk, you say rock. Punk rock, Punk rock. When I say Leather, you say face. Leather face, leather face. When I say Nazi, you say bastard. Nazi bastard, Nazi bastard. When I say Communism, you say shit. Communism shit, communism shit'. The crowd was hot on that part. The song ended and that was that. I walked off to a good reception, and felt great, as is usually the case after playing a show. I had a lot of people coming up and talking to me, which always seems to happen with a far higher frequency when I'm performing at a show. 

The gig area was a dark room, with the band playing on the floor, lit up by a single dimmed light. There was a lot of space for standing, and couches covering a sidewall, and around to the back. It was almost akin to a house show in a large living room. Frankie was in a right state by the time they took to the stage. Even though he had adhered to the booze ban, the pre-gig beers in the absence of any food that day, was the reason for his state. After easing in with the tour opener 'Never Say Goodbye', during the second song, Frankie stumbled past the drum kit and knocked over a drum and a snare. No big deal, a member of the crowd rushed up and fixed it and there was no need to stop the song. I had the feeling that this was going to get better.

Then they played the classic 'springtime', and it was obvious that Frankie had spent some time drinking wine. Once again, he stumbled across the room towards the drum kit, and leant over to try and give Skruff a kiss on the cheek. He didn't get anywhere near, and collapsed akin to a felled tree, slow movements becoming a thunderous crash. He had fallen right into the middle of the kit, wiping it all out, causing the song to be stopped. Hilarious! Cue mild panic, and members of the crowd rushing in to help him to his feet. Thankfully it didn't make his collar bone any worse. He made a joke about it to the crowd, the song was abandoned, and they launched into the next number.

By the time they had got to 'I want the moon' they were in fine form. Frankie was sounding and acting angrier than ever. He reminded me of a good hardcore singer; someone who the crowd fears will snap at any moment and kick off. The mosh pit was insane throughout, loads of kids going for it and losing their shit, even though it appeared they didn't know any of their songs. I suppose that they were just happy to have a touring band playing loud, heavy, and fast music. Circle Pits, Walls of Death, Pogos, and Hi-fives - it had it all. After every song the crowd were cheering, clapping and screaming like mad, right up until the next song kicked in.

It gets better. One of the volunteers had left a heater on during the set, which caused a power cut during 'Diego Garcia'. Skruff carried on playing, and the crowd was doing some mad form of clapping, which is a specific cultural tradition for Russian and ex-Soviet state people. Moments later the power came back on, just as the song kicks back in after the breakdown. It was poetry in motion as Dickie repeatedly sang the harmonies of 'there's a little bit of light, there's a little bit of hope'. The whole set had the feeling of anarchy in action - it was pure pleasure to witness. They finished off by doing springtime again, and left the stage to an ovation louder than war.    

I met an absolutely amazing person that night. Kristina originally came up to me after the show, and was telling me about how much she enjoyed it. We then talked about the venue and anarchism in Estonia. After the gig, I set up my computer, so I could DJ. Whilst I was playing the Lady Gaga / Judas remix, she came up to me and asked 'Have you got any other Lady Gaga songs you could play?', 'I have everything, what do you want to hear?' was my reply. 'I don't know many of them, how about Government Hooker?' she responded. 'I'd love to play that, but I'll only do it if you dance to it with me' was my cheeky comeback. And then we were up with the dance floor all to ourselves, bopping away and singing along. I fell in love there and then.

After returning from a smoke break, some of the kids had taken over the DJ duties, and were blasting out old-school punk-rock anthems to an appreciative crowd. They knew best, so I just left them to it for the rest of the night. Much of my time was spent cuddling Kristina, talking about how beautiful and somewhat isolating the anarchist movement is; the chat was on another level. This was occasionally interrupted by the kids playing classic songs from the likes of Lagwagon and Pennywise - so our chat kept on being interrupted by the need to get up and join the kids for a mosh on the dance floor. Skruff, Mick, and I were in our element, as we are all purveyors of pop punk. Kristina had to go, so I said goodbye, and arranged to meet her the next day. I was actually going to have some female company on Valentine’s Day, which happened to be on our day off in Tallinn. The final memory I have of the night was the crowd going crazy for 'Lori Meyers' by NOFX, so much so that it was played three times in a row!

Unfortunately we had to leave to go check-in to the hotel. Thankfully though, Skruff once again proved his legendary status, by arranging for some of the locals to come back with us in the van, and take us to a bar where many other people from the gig were going for some late night drinking action. As soon as we dropped off our bags, Skruff, Rock and I were straight out into the old town, and our new Estonian friends took us to bar number one.

It was a classic East European style cellar bar in which smoking was tolerated in the upstairs area. Skruff was in fine form, letting off some steam about things that had been pissing him off. I was feeling over-emotional from the events of the night, so out came the Gin & Tonics. We chatted to some of the locals who were at the gig, and also met some sound people from the Isle of Wight. Rock was enjoying the fact that he didn't have to drive the next day, so he was having a skin full and holding court with the locals. 

By the time the bar had closed, we'd only managed to have a couple of drinks, so we insisted that they took us to bar number two, which turned out to be one of the only 24 hour bars in the city, and was a fair stomp away. It was tacky inside, and the decor of the place made it feel like we were drinking in the waiting room of a funeral shop. Still, they were serving veggie pasties and gin long drinks, so I was all set. Overall, it had been a great night, and we decided to leave it that way and take a taxi back to the hotel, making sure we were back before the big hand hit 5am.

Day off - Tallinn, Estonia

Rock and I managed to get up on time to take advantage of the free buffet breakfast. I spent brunch in Dickie and Micks room, drinking Lonkero, which is a Finnish creation, and is a Gin based long drink – the perfect hair of the dog. Micks’ feet absolutely stank. In fact they smelt so bad that even the great unwashed Hammond was loudly complaining. It wasn’t even mid-day and the Jagermeister from the mini-bar had already been cracked open. Living the rock n roll dream. Later on in the day Mick passed out, and Dickie, being so appalled, actually washed Micks feet for him. And then came the bad news.

Rock informed us that the van had been broken into during the night. A wallet, a carton of cigarettes and an mp3 player had been stolen; yet when I think about all the gear and the rest of the stuff in the van, we actually got away quite lightly – I can only assume it must have been done by some chancers. By early afternoon Dickie and Mick were wasted, and Frankie had wisely decided to spend a day off the drink. I spent the rest of the afternoon on a tobacco purchasing mission, and then took a short nap.

I was supposed to be meeting up with Kristina, but she sent me a text to say that she had to cancel. Gutted! No date on Valentine’s Day. I was vexed, so I went out and about looking for some late night adult entertainment, and I couldn’t even manage that. Epic fail! What’s worse is that I couldn’t even get in touch with Skruff or Graeme, who were out and about having good craic in the bars.

I eventually made it out for a late night mission with Dickie, Mick, and an Estonian guy who knew Dickie. The first bar was a bit dull, a place which catered for tourists that had no atmosphere. A local drunk was annoying Mick with his slurring words, and Mick started to get a little aggressive with him. So Dickie and I started to wind him up, telling him that the other guy was harder than him, in order to goad him into a fight. Thankfully Mick didn’t bite and fall victim to our childish antics.

It was getting late so we had to settle for a generic Irish bar for some late night drinking. Mick was passed out before he had even got half way down his pint, so Dickie and I went to the other side of the bar and chatted to some locals. We then noticed that Mick had disappeared. 10 minutes later he returned to inform us that he had left and had no idea where the hotel was, so he came back in hope we were still there. It turned out that the hotel was only over the other side of the square. Back at the hotel, Skruff and Rock came into my hotel room just as I was about to hit the sack, and I stayed up a while with them, whilst they let off some steam. It was so intense that I had to down a couple of Lonkeros just to get to sleep. Hardly what I’d call a productive day off.

Klubi - Tampere, Finland

After five days of heavy boozing, the hops and barley had finally poisoned me. I was hanging, and I struggled to get food in my belly at the breakfast buffet. It was a short ride to the ferry port, and before boarding, Rock pulled up at a petrol station to fill up on cheap fuel. The post-meal smoke was a bad idea, and I had to sneak off round the corner to throw up. Everyone was looking visibly sick, even Frankie, despite having had a day off. We all sprawl out on the chairs and try to catch up on sleep. I decided to buy a case of Lonkero, 4 bottles of Salmiaki, and a carton of cigarettes, remembering how expensive Finland is.

It's then that I realise I've lost my bank card, and I start to have a flashback. The day before I remember getting some money out from a cash machine, and thinking it was weird that the machine gave you money before returning your card. I must have took the cash and automatically thought I'd taken my card. I had to call the bank to get it cancelled.

The crossing took about two hours, and it was great to look out of the window and see the boat sailing through broken ice.

We're back at the van, waiting to depart, and Dickie still hasn't turned up yet. We make predictions about how long it's going to take him to get back, when Skruff proclaims, "He's probably out on the ice, dancing and parading like a seal". It's then that Frankie starts to tell us a classic Leatherface story.

During a previous tour, they did a ferry crossing, and the band found themselves in a similar predicament. The boat had arrived and every other vehicle had left, however the band were still on board, sat in the van, as Laney (a previous member of the band) was missing. They ended up waiting an hour before one of the workers called for a search party to go find him. Another hour later, and they had finally managed to find him, passed out drunk behind a fruit machine, with his head resting in a pool of sick. A classic boat story! 

It takes about three hours to drive to Tampere, and there' snow everywhere. It's proper winter. Mick has obviously caned it too much recently, and he starts to resemble a faded negative of an image he used to be. He then decided to take a day off the drink after Frankie’s wise words of "You need to take proper care of yourself son". And that's the beauty of Frankie, he can be sat quietly for a long time, taking in what’s going on around him, and then out of nowhere, chuck in a pearl of wisdom, similar to the wise owl in George Orwell’s 'Animal Farm'. 

The venue is huge and amazing; with one of the most professional setups I've ever seen/experienced. We are treated to coffee and a hot vegan meal upon arrival. It's during the load in when I start to get familiar Dickie's magical disappearing act. He'll always be there at the start, and he'll carry one or two things inside as a token gesture that he is helping out. It's then when he disappears and he'll somehow turn up after the load in, and explain how he desperately needed to take a long shit. I share my thoughts with Graeme, and he explains that everyone knows his act, and it's actually a long running joke within the band.

The sound check is thorough, and it sounds incredible - the venue even has two sound engineers, one at the back of the room, and one on stage.

I duck out for a while, and meet my friend Jukka, whom I have toured with his band Sotatila. He takes me to a total Finnish redneck bar, where the beer is cheap, and a week previously someone had been shot. I can't even manage to finish my beer, as the fatigue starts to kick in, so I had to go back to the venue and have a short nap before the bands started to play.

The backstage was huge, and there was so much free food and beer. I met the lads from Cigarette Crossfire, who were supporting Leatherface for all the Finnish dates, and had booked all the tour themselves. In fact it was this leg of the tour that was booked first, and gigs were booked around it to turn it into a full European tour.

Having previously lived in Finland, throughout the night I ended up bumping into loads of people I knew. The opening act was Atom Notes, which featured members of Endstand & Manifesto Jukebox, who played garage punk akin to Hot Snakes. I also managed to catch a few songs of Cigarette Crossfire, who were also melodic, yet had more of a straight up punk-rock sound. There’s not much left I can say about Leatherface’s live performances, they were on top form as usual, and given the quality of the venue, it sounded as good as it does when I blast it loudly in my bedroom. Earlier that day I had told Skruff that I thought ‘Disgrace’ was an odd choice of song to play live, as I thought it was one of the more emo album tracks on the Stormy Petrel. He must have remembered this conversation, as he slyly dedicated the song to me through his backing vocals, before they started playing it. 
After packing and moving the equipment into the lock up, a load of our friends joined us backstage for a drinking party and the start of annihilation time. Another great thing about this venue is that it had a large sauna in the backstage! Graeme and I ‘went native’ and joined the Finns for some naked action, drinking some wine and sharing wisdom.

The booze had ran out, so I had to charm the bar manager to let us have another crate. The venue was holding a disco after the gig, so Skruff, Dickie, and I decided to stay out and party. The DJ was playing a good mix of British Indie and International punk-rock. Skruff was approached early on, so he was on his merry way. I met some great people, who all offered me a place to stay for the night. I should have taken them up on the offer, as in the back of my mind that staying right until the end of the night would turn out to be a bad idea.

The next thing I remember is Dickie, two lads from Cigarette Crossfire and I being woken up, having passed out in the backstage. One of the lads was found in the sauna – thankfully it hadn’t been left on. And then the nightmare began. The bouncers were adamant that we weren’t allowed to stay at the venue.

Dickie started off by convincing us that the band had not given him the security codes for the hotel room. Thankfully the bouncers told us where we were staying, so we managed to actually get there. After waiting 20 minutes in the freezing cold, and trying to call the 24 hour helpdesk (remember that the reason this hotel chain is cheap is that there are never any staff on site), we eventually get lucky as some other people are coming back to their room, so we manage to get into the lobby. This is after one of the lads has called and woken up everyone he knows to try and get us a place to stay.

The next problem is that there is a security code required for the hallway too. I borrow the lads’ phone, and manage to get through to the help desk – despite jokingly pretending to be Frankie Stubbs they wouldn't give me the code without a Date of Birth. To give an air of legitimacy, I said that I had too many drinks, and that I would call them when I had sobered up and remembered my birthdate.

I asked Dickie if he knew it, and he couldn't remember it. And then I remembered that I had a photo of it on my phone (I needed proof that one of his given names is Warsaw), so in hope, I rang the helpline back and gave them the date of birth, yet the robot on the other end kept saying 'that does not match our records', and after repeating requests just to give us it anyway, came out with 'I cannot give you this information'. I hung up.

Whilst deciding what to do next, someone from the venue called, who has obviously been informed by the hotel company of our dilemma, as it was the venue who had originally booked us the rooms. They give us the key code number, and we were over the moon to get into the hallway. We were still stuck because first of all we didn’t comprehend that the hall code would be the same as the room code, and secondly Dickie informed us that he and Frankie had fallen out that night and there was no way he was going into his room to face the wrath.

Thankfully there was a stack of bed linen on a trolley, so we resigned ourselves to taking a few sheets and curling up on the hallway floor. There were no external toilets, and Dickie was desperate, so he just threw a pile of them into a corner and urinated all over them. A couple of hours later we’re awoken by a big tall security guard, who forced us to leave the hotel right there and then. I was somewhat hoping we were going to get thrown into a cell, just to make the story better.   

The bars weren’t open for another hour, so we took refuge in a coffee shop and made polite conversation. At five minutes before 9 we were first in the queue for the bar, by one minute after 9 we were tapping on the windows to get the bartender to let us in, by ten minutes past 9 the bar was a third full, and by twenty past 9 the barman tried to kick me out for trying to get some sleep on the floor of the smoking room. This is Finland! Thankfully the lads talked him round, and we were able to pass a couple of hours with a few pints.   

Back at the venue, we managed to get an extra hour sleep before the rest of the band arrived. We loaded out, had a buffet lunch, and shared laughs about the previous night’s escapades. I told Rock about what had happened with the hotel codes, and he told me that after dropping the rest of the band off at the hotel, he actually came back to the venue to try and get Dickie to come back too. Even though that was unsuccessful, Rock still left the codes with him. Dickie must have been either in a state of delusion, drunk, or both; as he was convinced the band had just left him there - which they didn't. The next day I found out from the other Cigarette Crossfire guys that they had seen Rock give Dickie the paper with the codes on. Bizarre.

Bar Loose - Helsinki, Finland

After load out we’re back Ont Road, heading towards the capital. Realising this will be my last trip in the van I delve a little deeper and ask the band to share some more stories. I talk to Dickie about their groundbreaking, legendary and most popular album ‘Mush’ – mainly due to the recent influx of bootleg records on the market.

He told me that the bassist and drummer managed to do all their recordings in one day, which took place at The Greenhouse in London. The following day, Dickie and Frankie had nailed the guitar and vocals. He then told me that he was in utter shock at the poetic brilliance of Frankie’s lyrics, something many fans still resonate with today. Apparently they started the recordings with Dead Industrial Atmosphere, and pretty much worked backwards through the album in which we know it today.  

Following a discussion about Republicanism in Ireland, which was a popular subject on tour, Frankie & Dickie shared their experiences of playing at the Union Hall in (London)Derry in 1992. Frankie recalls looking out of the window and seeing RUC vehicles driving slowly down the street, deliberately antagonising the Catholic community. He went on to say that the Irish men stormed out of the bars and started lobbing rocks at the vans. Dickie then said that it was one of the most violent crowds he’d seen in the entire bands career, and then went on to claim that Adam Clayton from U2 was in the audience.  

The band was staying in a similar style hotel to the previous night, which fortunately for them was located just around the corner from the venue. Before the band went it to their rooms they were all given a piece of paper with their codes on. After a half hour chill, we reconvened at the entrance; and on the walk to the venue, Mick questioned Dickie about the piece of paper, and already had no idea where it was. Here we go again. 

The gig had been sold out for weeks, and thankfully there were a few spaces left on the guestlist so that I could get some of my friends in. I made a vain attempt to go back and get some sleep before it started, which failed, so I had to get some energy drinks down my neck to power through the night. And the night panned out in similar fashion to the previous one, most of it involving hanging out with Finnish friends, and in similar fashion to the Baltics, with people having turned up from Russia.    

The band sounded great as per usual, and after sharing my analysis of the crowd with my friend Lasse who is a punk-rock veteran of the Helsinki scene, he said “if any band can manage to get dancing and loud sing-alongs during their last six songs, on a weeknight in Helsinki, then they have pretty much cracked it”. And this was the first night on the tour that I was actually needed to do something during the set, other than fetching beer – I had the pleasure of fixing up a new microphone stand for Dickie, after Frankie had destroyed it during the first three songs. I seem to recall Frankie destroying a microphone stand most nights of the tour.  

It was then the common theme of the night before, everyone drinking backstage after the gig with the ‘fans’, having good craic, and then eventually Frankie, Graeme, and Rock going back to the hotel, and Skruff, Dickie, and I sticking around for the after disco. It was a great party to end my part of the tour, not only being with the band, but also all with my HKI Punx friends. There was no defining moment or any Hollywood style ending to the tour for me. The experiences and shared joy was enough. It was nothing more than exchanges of gratitude, a hug from Skruff after the nightclub had closed, and Frankie earlier in the night telling me “I don’t do goodbyes, I prefer to just to slide away”. To which I couldn’t help but reply with “Don’t you ever say goodbye”. And that seems like the perfect end to a tour with Leatherface.

“The hardest part, is walking away”

© Lukas Schwarzbrennen

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