'Great Rock'n'Roll Shows... And Lots Of Facial Hair
...That's life on the road in Germany with a resurgent SUPERGRASS. But we discover that all is not entirely well...
E'RE f***ing brilliant!" cackles Supergrass' Gaz Coombes, shaking his bones and skipping about like a boxer before the bell. "This is so
what it's all about," he grins, passing by the concrete passageway his band have christened the "Lesbian Tunnel" for the evening, eyes darting right to check if there's any repeat action of what was going on there a few minutes ago. "Meeting people, playing a sweet show..."
And ogling lesbians?
"Well, obviously," he purrs, taking his place stage-left as the lights fade and the DJ gives up competing with the audience's scream, "But it's not just the lesbians, you know. You see those kids out there? They're all
about to have a f***ing brilliant time!"
There's darkness on stage and then there's Supergrass onstage. And then there's a riot.
VERYTHING in its place, that's the German way. Return your beer glass to the bar and you'll get half your money back with thanks. If you've got bouncing to do, make sure your bounces run absolutely in sync with the music, matching the beat with (Vorsprung durch
) technical precision. And why spread yourselves out across the room when every last one of you can cram down the front like the big bang in reverse! The universe is expanding said Einstein, but he's obviously not here to see Supergrass play Sturtgart's Rohre Club tonight. If he were, he'd be watching the universe contracting into one, big, sweaty mass of blond-topped flesh. He'd be seeing this. And this is amazing.
Which is exactly why we're here. Because Supergrass - far more than your Suedes, Casts, Skunk Anansies, Underworlds, Blurs and Charlatans - have had a phenomenal comeback this year. After accusations that they'd sold out their Chopper-bike-riding, clean-teethed, happy-go-lucky early ways with their worryingly grown-up last album, "In It For The Money", they've returned this year as big, 12-foot muppets, screaming the loudest dirtiest rock'n'roll this side of Hades' house band; replacing wackiness with absolute confidence and a filthily driven sass.
They're fun again, only now they're fun without being daft. They're fun as in "Wow!", they're fun as in "F*** me!", they're fun as in "Pumping On Your Stereo", as in "Moving" and, this week, as in their spikily eerie new single, "Mary". Supergrass might not be selling as many records as Steps right now, but they're a damn sight more vital; the long-awaited saviours, if you like, of rock'n'roll as you (and we) bloody well love it.
And so, tonight, does Germany. Germany loves the glitter-in-the-gutter glamour of "Out Of The Blue". Germany loves the howling grace of "Late In The Day", the mega-Foo mania of "Richard III", the explosive sparkle of what looks like being Supergrass' next single, "Faraway". Germany loves Gaz's mile-wide roar, bassist Mickey Quinn's mop-topped aggression, drummer Danny Goffey's half-naked blur of nipples, limbs and sweat. And, consequently, Germany screams its guttural throat to shreds from the first strums of the surging "Moving" to the final, strobe-lit flashes of the closing "Caught By The Fuzz".
Little wonder then that, seconds after Gaz flops exhaustedly offstage to make a beeline for the one backstage shower, he is stopped by Germany's equivalent of Bill & Ted and "We're not worthy"'d to within an inch of his inherently humble life. "Ve farkeen luff you!" wails Bill (whose real name, it turns out, is Thorsten). "I haff ze same wah-wah pedal as you!" coos Ted (real name Daniel). Then they sing "Mansize Rooster". Very loud. Right in Gaz's impossibly embarrassed face. "Whart eez yur name?" asks Thorsten, rolling a sacrificial joint for his god. "Chas?"
"Yeah," frowns Gaz, desperate to flee his own dressing room without appearing ungracious, "It's Chas. Um, look, I've gotta think about something for a second. Gotta get my shit together."
"Your drummer?" continues Daniel, oblivious. "Eee eez goot freynd off Liam Gallagher, yays?"
"Er, yeah," shrugs Gaz "I don't know how close, though. Not very. Erm..."
"You are wun off ze bayst bands vrom Eengland effer," adds Daniel, slyly. "But not as goot as Oasis, I um theenking. Yays? Do you haff any bier?"
Gaz thinks about this one for a second. To give beer to the person causing him enormous amounts of embarrassment, or not to give beer to the person causing him enormous amounts of embarrassment? It's no question at all, really. He goes to the fridge, chucks two cans of Beck's over at Bill & Ted and flees for the shower while they're grappling with the ring-pulls. Everyone`s a winner. Or so it seems...
OMETHING'S strange tonight. We noticed it earlier today, when we hooked up with the band for a quiet drink at their hotel. We noticed if before tonight's show, as they each pootled about their own business with a surprising degree of separation from one another. And we're definitely noticing if now that Bill & Ted have buggered off in order to plan their forthcoming rock-world dominance with their band The Madchesters (or the Pretty Wacants, depending on which one of them you ask).
What's so strange? Well, Danny's not drinking, that's what. He's on the wagon. Officially. Which would be fine, but this is Danny Goffey
we're talking about, Supergrass' notorious (shake your bon) bon viveur
, the band's resident goofball nutter. You know, the one who's supposed to be mates with Liam and Patsy and Jude and Sadie and Kate and stuff. So, we ask, testing the water, how are your showbiz chums these days, Danny?
"Um, I dunno," he mutters. "I don't know anyone any more! That's all gone now - I'm a strict family man now, and I don't really want To talk about all that. It's other people, innit?"
Of course it is, and that's fair enough. But we learn something even more alarming than Danny's recent conversion to abstinence when one of the band's crew sidles up to us with a beer and says: "Of course, this is Danny's first night on the tour, you know." No, we certainly didn't
know. But we soon discover that Danny has missed the first eight dates of Supergrass' European tour, bowing out when the band set off to play Utrecht in the Netherlands 10 days ago. Why? Best ask Danny, eh?
"Nothing`s up," he mumbles, cautiously. "I just had to go and sort my head out for a bit I got a bit knackered, tired, disheartened. I didn`t know who I was. It`s the first time I've ever missed a gig in my life and I know eight gigs is a lot to miss, but it's not a big deal - I've got a good mate of mine, Vinnie, who knows the songs and he did a brilliant job filling in on drums."
But what on earth made you skip so many dates, Danny?
"Hey," says Gaz, flying over to protect his friend. "Forget about it."
"lt's personal," shouts Danny, losing his temper "Why should I want to tell you anyway? For f***'s sake! I don't even know you! You can't just creep in here and pretend you're my best mate."
It's a disarmingly violent response, something we'd already experienced earlier. When Mickey waved our camera away from the most innocuous of photo-ops with a sneering "No you bloody don't!" Truth be told, there's an alarming amount of tension in the Supergrass camp - despite this year's remarkable success - and we reckon people probably deserve to know why. In all honesty, since The Maker`s only ever seen bands behave like this days before they split up, it's scaring us and some answers really are required.
"Maybe we're just going through a phase. eh?" deflects Danny, as Gaz settles into a rather more useful explanation. "We've just been touring really hectically," he sighs. "We're knackered. So we're not gonna be the same 'up and at 'em' characters that we were at the start of the tour. That's the way it always works and it doesn't mean that anything serious is happening, it's fine, mate. Totally fine. Obviously, it scared the shit out of me when Danny didn't come along, but things happen in your life. Away from the band."
"People," he says, cautiously. "Sometimes it`s very important to sort those things out, away from the band. Things that involve the people you love. We respect Danny's life and he needs to sort that out."
"Ringo missed loads of gigs in Australia!" chips in Danny trying to make light of the situation.
"Yeah, but he was ill." corrects Gaz, "and that's different. Well, actually, it`s the same sort of thing being ill and needing to sort stuff out. But nothing's wrong. You don't really need to know what Danny`s problems are, mate. It's nothing to do with the band."
That's fine, as long as it is a family situation. But it's nor fine if it's a drug problem and he`s been detoxing at The Priory for the last month or something. That's when it does become relevant to our readers.
"No," insists Danny. "it's not that! I haven't been in a clinic and I haven't turned into Richey or anything. I just don't want to go into it, that's all."
"It's not a drug problem," says Gaz blankly, as the band depart the backstage area and retreat on to their bus. "And, really, all you need to know is that everything's fine now. I promise."
HE next day, in Cologne, everyone's spirits seem to be higher. Maybe it's just that things are rather more out in the open now. Maybe it's the fact that Cologne is far less grimly industrial than Stuttgart. Or maybe it's just too bollock-freezingly cold to sulk and a good laugh might warm everyone up. Or even a good wank, it seems.
"Ooooh, I dunno though," grins Danny, responding to Gaz's suggestion as they pose for pics by the city's famous cathedral. "I'm not sure I could even get it up in this weather!"
"We could always grab a passing Fraulein or two," smirks Gaz, wrapping his bassist and drummer in his enormous coat to warm them up "I'm joking of course," he says in our direction, before Danny adds, "We've all got lovely ladies back home" Fair enough, but if you don`t shag around like filthy beasts on tour, what do
you do to keep yourselves occupied?
"Ooooh," ponders Mickey "Crosswords, watch videos, go sightseeing, drink, have a nice meal. Or go back to bed!"
"lt's nice having a bit of time to kill," nods Gaz, "being able to save up your energy during the days. Cos, when we do go onstage, we do go f***ing mental for an hour or so. And we do feel wicked afterwards. Apart from the whole Danny thing, this tour's gone really well; Switzerland was literally cuckoo and the whole thing's been really interesting. Nothing crazy or ridiculous, though - it's just all been a big haze."
Ah, the haze thing. You're rather fond of a smoke, aren't you, Gaz? Do you have a dealer in every European city, then?
TRANSPORT BY THE FUZZ|
SUPERGRASS ON TOURING
GAZ: "Touring means getting really sweaty, having lots of drinks, wearing crinkly clothes and getting a little bit of a beer belly. Eating too much amazing Italian food. Not getting enough sleep."
DANNY: "Doing lots of great rock'n'roll shows. Meeting great people, having weird chats with people you can't quite understand. And lots of facial hair, hair all over the place."
GAZ: "l'm very into shaving at the moment. I try and shave at least every other day!"
"Erm," he panics. "l`m not prepared to tell you that, actually!"
"Let's just say it's not a problem," smiles Danny conspiratorially.
"We're resourceful," blushes Gaz. "We don't have some yes-man hanging around sorting it or anything though - you have to do things on your own. But, if you wanna sort it out, you usually can. It's nice to have a little smoke every now and again, but I don't throw a rock'n'roll eppy or anything if I can't."
Ever had a nightmare at customs?
"God, yeah," groans Danny "but not because of that. The best one was when me and Gaz walked straight into this Swedish strip-searching room, thinking it was the airport exit! We just put our bags down and they made us take all our clothes off!"
Ever been in fear of your life while in a foreign city?
"Well." he admits. "we did have a bad experience in Spain once, when I drove the minibus on the wrong side of the road and crashed into a lorry! That was a bit hairy! And, another time, I got dared to shout out, "Where are the white women?' in Detroit - which was just f***ing stupid, really!"
"That was a really weird place," shudders Gaz. "Dead industrial, and the audience were just really hard! I was thinking: 'F***! If they don't like this we're dead!' It's like this time in Texas, when these two blokes came on to our bus sweating massively, really wide-eyed and off their heads on drugs. Apparently, they were two escaped convicts who'd legged it over the border from Mexico!"
"All I know is they stole all our drugs!" sniggers Danny.
"You've always got that added edge in America, though," frowns Mickey, "where anyone could have a gun. It's dead creepy. Some guy in the audience might not like a song, jump up and blow your 'ead off!"
HICH would be a crying shame, considering the form that this band are in right now. Problems or no problems, this has been a great year for Supergrass and they must feel like they're back on the up.
"We never felt like we were on the down!" says Gaz, glancing up at the cathedral which looks like a huge, craggy stalagmite surging up from hell in search of God. "There 's never been a low point for us, it's just been this constant progression. but it is really cool that this thing we've been doing since we were kids is actually happening now. It's a gift. We're happy characters, and we're really happy with the band right now. It's rocking. It's just rocking!"
"You only have to go on the Tube or look around and see people unhappy in their work to realise how lucky you are," adds Danny. "We're just really happy to be alive! I'm ecstatic! After what I've been through! My traumas! I might start doing yoga, actually."
"I might start doing karate," hums Gaz, contemplatively.
"Ooooh," nods Danny, "that's good. Or Tai-Kwondo."
"Nah," scoffs Gaz, "just karate. None of that f***ing poofter stuff! But we've got a hard crew to beat people up for us anyway, so I don't exactly need
to learn it."
"Having said that," giggles Danny, "I did give one of them two black eyes once. I beat him up with a vacuum cleaner! I was far too pissed to remember it, but I must've been trying to suck his eyeballs out!"
How very Nicky Wire of you, Danny. Speaking of which, your comeback has been a bit like the Manics' recent rejuvenation, hasn't it? The way you've moved from being all mature and serious back to being bloody exciting again.
"Yeah," nods Gaz, "but I've got a real problem with all this 'mature' crap. Can't people see it's just developing? You have to expect a band to develop. that's what human beings do!"
"It'd be pretty unnatural if we we're maturing," agrees Mickey. "If we were getting younger. Cos then we would just end up like a parody of 'I Should Coco'"
"And I've had three kids since f***ing 'I Should Coco'," adds Danny referring to Supergrass' platinum-selling debut album. "So of course I've grown up. Don't I ever do daft things any more? Of course I do! We were playing bus rugby after we left last night, for Christ's sake!"
"Yeah," laughs Gaz. "It involves grabbing the nearest person and throwing them down the other end of the bus as hard and as fast as you can. We all just end up getting pissed off and going to bed!"
"And we played Russian roulette with air pistols as well," adds Danny. "Just with little plastic bullets, mind - they don't hurt much
, but they do hurt a bit!"
"People have different techniques as well," explains Gaz. "Some go straight in the mouth. Some go for the temple. Me? I'm an up-beneath-the-throat man, myself, actually."
"I'm an up-the-jacksie man," concludes Danny. "I like to ram the gun up there... even if it's not loaded!" Then off he strolls, headed into town to buy some CDs for the journey back to England tomorrow. "Not that I can afford it," he smiles as he saunters away. "I haven't got any money any more. I've blown it. On pets. Cars. Orgies. Extensions. babies. Booze. Drugs."
"Your massive cocaine habit," teases Gaz, skipping over with Mickey to catch him up.
"Yeah," frowns Danny, serious again, "but you've gotta grow out of that at some point, don't you? Drugs and stuff. Every time you get off your head, it wears off and you're stuck with being 'you' again. So you might as well get used to being you, rather than being off your face all the time."
"And I like
me!" yells Gaz, as they disappear into Cologne's chilly sunset.
"Yeah," laughs Danny. "I think I'm a good guy!"
And their voices fade out, leaving us with the cathedral and another show to gear ourselves up for...
T'S quite a show: angry, fast, passionate and loud. Very, very loud, Danny practically leaping out of his seat when "Richard III" crashes in, jolted, jagged and furious; Gaz dripping and weaving his head throughout a manic "Sun Hits The Sky" like a cocky private striding casually through a minefield. And, if Stuttgart's Rohre Club was sweaty, Cologne's Kantine Club practically sizzles under Supergrass' even more fired-up attack.
Admittedly, our perspective might be tainted by what we know, but it seems like Danny's recent problems have actually helped Supergrass far more than they've hurt the band. Suddenly, they have something they've never had before: a sense of danger in place of their customarily light-hearted swagger. It's something we put to the band after the show, in the bleak, office-like room that passes for backstage.
SUPERGRASS ON THEIR NEW SINGLE
GAZ: "It started out as this really fast, tight, Police-ish riff. Then we slowed it down to a growl and started singing the biggest insults we could come out with over the top. It's basically about trying to have a go at someone who's analysing you, trying to freak them out even more than they're freaking you out. Them was a lot more blue language before - 'I'll f***ing kick yer head in' and stuff - but we toned it down. And we changed 'I like to f*** her on a basis daily' to 'shock her'."
MICKEY: "But it sounds like 'shag her', anyway!"
"We just don't see ourselves fitting into that whole rock star lineage," says Gaz, terrified by our suggestion that they are becoming the same kind of enigmatic rock stars as their idols. John Lennon, Jimi Hendrix and Elvis Presley... Gaz Coombes, Danny Goffey and Mickey Quinn...
"It's really hard to see yourself from the outside," nods Danny. "Anyway, I'm not the best person to ask right now."
Understood. But if I shouted, "You're amazing!" at you, would you ever agree or just hide in the corner and whimper?
"Yeah," shrugs Gaz, gathering his things before another night on the road and, no doubt, another game of bus rugby. "Well... um. We'd say thanks."
Thanks? Sheesh but off he slopes, doubtless to hide in the corner of the tour bus until he reaches his Brighton home. And he'll hide in the corner again and again, until someone somewhere gets it through his skull that Supergrass are one of the best - and most fascinating - bands we have right now. you see, we came to Germany expecting to find a band riding a high, but what we found was a band that's 50 times more intriguing than we'd ever anticipated. This Supergrass is infinitely more interesting than the one who once rode Choppers and kept their teeth nice and clean. This
THE SINGLE 'MARY' IS OUT NOW ON PARLOPHONE
Robin Bresnark, Melody Maker - 07 December 1999