POP / On the Road: How late it was: Luggage disasters, heavy metal hell and spooky goings on as Squeeze travel America. And what's that Labour MP doing in the audience?

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The Independent Online
The last thing I did before leaving the Bucket o' Suds was to secure a bottle of Lucifer's Elixyr for home enjoyment. We checked out of our hotel at 2am and piled on to the bus for our drive to New Haven - a journey sufficiently long for me to finish James Kelman's How Late it Was, How Late. We finally arrived at 9pm and when I got up to my room I discovered that the contents of the aforementioned bottle had spread throughout my suitbag. I instantaneously sprang into action - zipping it up so I didn't have to deal with it just yet.

Martyn Lewis would be pleased to know that the next day's gig, at Toads Place, was nothing but good news. A cheering, sold-out crowd loved everything we did, but - and here's the rub - it's not very interesting to report. So we'll skip that and travel a further 24 hours, not to Tulsa but to Baltimore.

The routing of this tour would have been particularly hilarious if we hadn't been obliged to travel it ourselves. We talked about changing our agent a while ago and perhaps we were thinking on the right lines. The last couple of times we were in Baltimore we played at the Senator, a beautiful art deco cinema where John Walters had previewed his last three films. Fantastic gigs, a very special atmosphere. So where better to play this time around with Squeeze and Aimee Mann doing an acoustic show, than in Hammerjacks - Baltimore's premier heavy metal club.

I had read a magazine called something like Metal Muthers which had been lying around in the bus and came across an interview with Rob Halford from Judas Priest and his new hard- rockin' band. When they had played at Hammerjacks the crowd had been open- mouthed, eager to catch the droplets of sweat coming from Rob. As I sweat so much that if pushed I could probably refine enough salt to supply several Third World countries, I was looking forward to emulating this fine piece of performance art. I jest, of course. You either do that or get sad. We did have a good show but not one enhanced by the environment.

The Labour MP Tony Banks happens to be a huge Aimee Mann fan. As he was over on business anyway he'd come to see us, and joined us for drinks afterwards. Conversation turned to freebies and the taking of them, and Aimee, Spider (Aimee's road person, percussionist and pal) and Tony were dead set against the idea. Tony had paid for his own flight out here and would never consider doing it any other way. Aimee, rather more curiously, would rather buy the record of an act she liked than get it free. Fine principles, but in an industry where best selling acts get only 19 or 20 per cent of the selling price of a record, I am inclined to claw back however small the opportunity.

From Hammerjacks things could only get better. Unfortunately we were booked to play the Stone Pony in Asbury Park, so we had only a fighting chance. When we arrived I saw the worst economic bombshell I'd ever seen. Asbury Park had once been a thriving coastal holiday destination for many Americans, but it has become a black ghetto and all the money, and most of the whites, had moved out. The beach was deserted although it was a swelteringly hot day, industrial and sewage pollution having long rendered it obsolete. Peeling facades of long- closed down amusement arcades and restaurants gave the place a Twilight Zone feel.

Then we checked into the hotel. The Berkeley Cateret is worth a stay if you are a fan of The Shining. In a huge reception area we could find only one person, after a time. It used to be a hospital for injured soldiers in the Second World War. Chris was going up to New York after the show and so didn't book a room. Bunny, our most hospitable sound guy, was going to be at the gig all afternoon and so let Chris use his room to hang out in for a few hours until after soundcheck. When we got on the bus to go to the gig at showtime, Bunny had a very strange tale to tell. He'd gone back to his room after Chris had vacated, and there was a chair leant up behind the door. He thought that Chris had played a joke on him and thought nothing of it, putting the chair back underneath the table where the phone was. After using the phone he went to have a shower and when he came out the chair was leant up against the table where the phone was, on top of the phone cord] We skedaddled. In a unanimous vote before the gig, we vowed never to return.

(Photograph omitted)

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