ROCK / We were really big in Germany . . .: Before becoming a journalist, Giles Smith was a pop star. Sort of. In this article in the new 'Mojo', he tells it like it was

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The Independent Culture
WE WERE just going into our penultimate number when I noticed the skinhead. He was near the front, a giant in a tiny singlet, bouncing about like an angered gibbon. A gap had opened up for him in the audience, as it tends to around the crazy, and I could make out through the lights and the smoke that each of his shoulders was the size of his head all over again. Also, that he was pressing further and further forward. Also, that some parts of his arms were not tattooed. And also, that any minute now, he was going to come up and join us.

There are two things you can do if you're in mid-performance and a huge man with a shaved head invades the stage. You can drop your guitar and fling yourself into the audience, or you can sprint off via the wings and lock yourself in a toilet. Alternatively, you can do what I did and root yourself to the spot in terror. Through wide eyes and in a kind of slow motion, I watched the intruder lever his bulk over the lip of the stage, watched him lumber towards me, past the bassist, felt his heavy arm fall across my shoulders and finally felt the smack of his lips as he kissed me hotly on the cheek. And with that, he danced away.

The skinhead in Dortmund aside, there was little out-and-out adulation for the Cleaners from Venus on our 1988 German tour. I observed on day one in Berlin a distinct absence of girls screaming under the hotel window, and nothing had changed by the time we reached Munich a fortnight later. A woman did present me with a small sprig of dried flowers after a show near Hamburg but it occurs to me that this might have been some kind of gypsy curse.

The Cleaners from Venus was Martin Newell's idea. I joined in 1986, aged 24. We played twangy, tuneful Sixties pop - like the Beatles, only, we liked to think, a touch more commercial. You couldn't give us away in Britain, but RCA Germany signed us to a three-album deal. Martin wrote the songs and played guitar and did the singing. I'm still not really sure what I did, except brood long and hard on the possibility that sooner or later I would be buying a Miami beach house as a fully paid-up member of rock's aristocracy, on first-name terms with George Michael and Elton John and Sting. (Come to think of it, everyone is on first-name terms with Sting, but you know what I mean.) Older and wiser, Martin referred to us as pop's first father-and-son duo. How much wiser was Martin? Well, he didn't come on the tour, that's how wise he was. The thing was, he had a gardening round to keep up. And he'd always hated travel. And wasn't there a noble precedent in the shape of Brian Wilson who stayed at home while the Beach Boys toured?

So off we went without him, me and a bunch of hired hands. And I knew that he had done the right thing when our white tour bus, travelling along the old corridor that used to connect West Germany with West Berlin, somehow managed to turn off, burying us deep in East Berlin without a visa. The police picked us up attempting to rejoin the road further on and only the roll of notes proffered by our manager stopped them from taking us to Potsdam for further questioning. I had come to rock Germany, but here I was, about to be made a prisoner of the communist East. And they hadn't even heard the new album.

There were golden moments, in which I glimpsed, just briefly, the absurd pandering which must accompany real rock stars all the time. I remember requesting an orange juice and the person from RCA returning from the bar with two. Generally, the rhythm of touring, the tight package of pre-ordained travel and hotels, reminded me of a stay I once had in hospital. I was elaborately cared for, strictly routined, freed from all need to think. This was my small insight into what it must be like to be Phil Collins. It would be like being in hospital.

RCA ditched us after our second album failed to sell more than our first. I now realise that Sting will not be a guest at my wedding. Annie Lennox's daughter will not be a bridesmaid. Confetti will not be thrown by an elegantly morning-suited and broadly smiling David Bowie. But I'm getting used to this, chastened by a recurring nightmare in which I am on stage in a converted railway shed in Dortmund, being snogged by a skinhead.

Emap Metro. Giles Smith is now rock editor and a roving writer on the 'Independent'. Martin Newell writes the paper's 'Lyric Sheets' column, spoofing other people's songs; he still gardens, and recently resumed his journey to stardom by making a solo LP, 'The Greatest Living Englishman' (Humbug Records), produced by Andy Partridge of XTC in his outhouse in Swindon.

(Photograph omitted)

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