The Charming Smiths, Sting the Teacher & Outrageous Ozzy: Rock & Roll War Stories – Part II
Part One of our interview with music journalist Allan Jones gave us some great tales from his time spent around music royalty including the incident when Lou Reed let fists fly at David Bowie in a Knightsbridge restaurant. In Rock & Roll War Stories part two, the ex-Editor of Melody Maker recounts a a Punk Rock tour to the South of France on a coach trip from hell, sitting next to an angst-ridden Sting, helping to make The Smiths and recalling his part in the famous incident when Ozzy Osbourne decided to relieve himself on the Alamo Fort in Texas, which as readers might recall didn’t go down too well.
TM: First to Punk Rock, it opened the doors to so many New Wave bands in the late 70’s and one that went on the become the biggest in the world at the time was The Police.
Allan Jones: In the summer of 1977 I went on a trip in a coach to a festival in the South of France. Originally, everyone was going to fly out: Dr Feelgood who were headlining, The Clash, The Damned, The Jam and also The Police. Then suddenly only the headline acts could fly and rest of us had to go by coach. It was such a clapped out thing, when we got on it looked like it wouldn’t get us to the end of the street.
Anyway, I ran into Andy Summers, the guitarist. I’d known Andy for a couple of years as he’d been in other bands and I’d interviewed him a couple of times for The Melody Maker. In fact, he’d featured in a section on session musicians who had played on more than two records.
When I saw him he had his hair all dyed blonde and had this punky cut and said he’d just joined this group called The Police. He introduced me to the bass player, Sting and he sat next to me on the coach from London to Paris he did nothing but complain all the way.
TM: About what?
AJ: Oh you know, his life. Whether he’d made the right decision to leave the teaching job in Newcastle. He’d given up all that job security to come down and launch this career as a pop musician, which he thought might be a bit beneath him. Oh, and he went on and on and on and, I just couldn’t believe it!
A lot of stuff was floating around on the coach, booze and all the rest, but Sting didn’t partake in any of it. Anyway, The Police played on the first night of the festival and they were dreadful, and I think they were still a four-piece then with Henry Padovani, but it was all over the place.
But that night I remember wandering round the town having a few drinks afterwards with Joe Strummer, Rat Scabies and a few others and at every intersection we saw someone walking around with what looked like a long black cape, with a book clutched to his chest, just wandering about on his own lost in thought, and we soon realised it was Sting.
He’d been so distraught by the reception they’d had that afternoon at the festival, I mean they’d bombed basically, that he was wandering round wrestling with his conscience and I thought, ‘Oh for Christ’s sake!’
Anyway, the next day we had to get up early to get the coach back. Everyone was hungover of course, except for Sting, and he sat down next to me and went on and on about this decision he had to make, and in the end, I said, ‘For f**ks sake, just go back to f***ing Newcastle. You could be in a comprehensive school by Christmas’. And he said, ‘Hmm, I’ll have to give that some real good thought.’ Anyway, the next time I met him he was a multi-millionaire and The Police were on their way to becoming the biggest band in the world.
TM: Without a doubt the biggest band in the world, and with huge amounts of talent. What was he like then?
AJ: Well, in the beginning, like I mentioned it was reasonably bearable. Then, in about 1980 I was asked by Miles Copeland to go with The Police on their Far East tour to Japan, Australia and New Zealand, coming back through Bangkok, Bombay and Cairo. I couldn’t do the whole tour as it was six weeks, so I agreed to go out and join them in Bombay, and I agreed to do Bombay, Cairo, Athens and Milan.
So, I went out there, great! I got on really well with Andy Summers, he was a terrific bloke and I got on reasonably well with Stuart Copeland, but Sting was really very arrogant. I mean in the main you’d expect your pop and rock stars to be so, but unfortunately, he just became more and more pompous. It wasn’t the full-blown Sting of the 1980’s and the Amazonian rain forest thing when he used to dress up like an Amazonian rain forest native, to everyone’s embarrassment, but he was already there!
TM: What were the gigs like?
AJ: I remember one where they played this grand old hall in Cairo and anyway, it was something of a big deal. Sting seemed to be put out that the majority of the audience seemed to be American Executives, you know, young loud Americans whooping it up. It could have been in the States or something. Sting wasn’t happy with this, and the only Egyptians there looked kind of affluent. It certainly wasn’t Cairo’s rock n roll crowd, if such a thing even existed.
So, he pointed this out towards the end of the show and gave a speech about how he thought he’d be playing to a much more mixed crowd and then he said, ‘Stop everything. Open the doors and let Cairo in!’ As if some kind of splendid multitude was going to fly in off the streets like something out of an Eisenstein film, like storming a palace. Then these huge creaking doors were duly opened like something out of Game of Thrones and about four kids, these little beggars that we’d seen outside before, came wandering in barefoot, took a quick look around, thought this isn’t for us and f**ked off, leaving Sting lost for words on stage.
TM: That’s funny. Only a few years after The Police broke up, another Indie band claimed the throne in the UK, and that was The Smiths. What are your first memories?
AJ: I’d been in the States for about four weeks and I was completely out of touch with music. I turned on John Peel and heard him playing tracks from The Smiths first album and he played Reel Around the Fountain, and I thought it was wonderful. So, we reviewed the album and I think I was one of the few people to give it a good review, weirdly enough. I just thought it was really important and I knew The Smiths played really well to Melody Maker’s readership.
I remember when I was assistant Editor we were forever putting bands like Wham, Human League, Kajagoogoo on the cover, you know all terrible and it was pretty stagnant. Then the Editor went on holiday and I covered for him, and he said the next two covers have to be Wham or Kajagoogoo and I said, ‘Sure.’
Of course, I changed it and put The Smiths on the cover, waiting for hell to be duly paid when he returned, until he saw the sales figures for that edition and it was the biggest seller for a year. This was exactly when This Charming Man was about to come out and I thought something was happening and it duly did.
The Smiths and Rough Trade liked the review and I went down to Reading to interview Morrissey and he was brilliant, really enjoyed talking to him and he was very, very funny in that way of his. You know its sad the way things have turned out with him; he’s become totally objectionable. But at the time it was just great and I got a good interview and he didn’t evade a single question and in fact he was more fulsome on his replies that I could have hoped for. We went off to see the show, which was great.
Then, we all went back to the little Holiday Inn where we were staying, Morrissey retired reasonably early and I found myself at the bar chatting to Johnny Marr, and he was unbelievably easy to chat to… and then after about ten or fifteen minutes he said, ‘Are you interviewing me?’ and I said, ‘Oh, f**k I am!’ And I’d automatically turned on my tape recorder and he said, ‘Oh, that’s great!’ So, I then had an interview with him too. But Johnny was great, there wasn’t any kind of music he didn’t have an opinion on, so we got on really well.
The MALESTROM: Allan can you tell us about a certain rock star you witnessed who revelled in excess, Ozzy Osbourne. And one of the most famous rock & roll incidents of all time?
AJ: Ha, ha yeah! Ozzy was on an American tour in 1982 and I just thought it would be someone funny to write about. I think it was his Diary of a Madman tour. The record company said, ‘Yes’, I could go out on tour with a photographer called Tom Sheehan who I regularly worked with in those days and we went out to San Antonio in Texas.
Tom and I arrived and we were near Ozzy’s hotel so we thought we’d go and look him up and we saw him coming out of the bar of the hotel looking plastered already. We went over and introduced ourselves and he kind of remembered me from an incident years before when he was on a Black Sabbath tour and I’d ended up being beaten up by Tony Iommi, and he remembered me flying over the bonnet of a car covered in blood.
Anyway we started chatting to him and he wasn’t supposed to be drinking and he wasn’t supposed to be let out of his room in fact. Sharon Arden (Sharon Osbourne) had issued the instructions and he should have had a minder with him. I think he’d been on an all night bender and just been fished out of one of the local canals that he’d fallen into. We chatted at the bar for about two hours or so knocking back a few drinks, but I didn’t have my tape recorder with me and Sheehan thought we ought to get a picture before we were all too f**ked drunk to move.
Ozzy was up for it and said we should go to The Alamo, and The Alamo if you don’t know is the shrine of Texas freedom. Its an old mission and during the war of independence from Mexico, it was a fortress and Davy Crockett, Jim Bowie and all these 180 volunteers died there, defending it against this overwhelming force of Mexicans. It’s a shrine for Americans, generally. Anyway, Sheehan thought this would be perfect and we got down there and there weren’t a lot of people around, and after about ten minutes or so Ozzy decided he really needed a pee.
So, I was looking for somewhere he might go and I turned around and he was p***ed up the f*Ucking front of the Alamo! Sheehan was snapping away and it was hilarious, but the few people who were there were screaming away about the desecration of this landmark and the Texas Rangers and the San Antonio police were even less amused when they turned up. At least two of them had their hands on their pistols and they promptly arrested Ozzy and carted him off.
TM: What was Ozzy doing? Was he protesting?
AJ: He couldn’t understand what all the fuss was about and as one of the police officers said, ‘You p**s on The Alamo, you p**s on the State of Texas’. The funny thing was one of the Rangers asked if he would have done that at Buckingham Palace? To which Ozzy said, ‘I already did!’ And the Ranger said, ‘What happened then?’ And Ozzy goes, ‘I was arrested.’ And he said, ‘Oh man, we’re taking you in!’
TM: That is so funny! You couldn’t make it up. You were certainly lucky enough to see it all. Is there any one backstage party or one outrageous incident that really sticks in your mind?
AJ: I’d only ever be able to answer that question if I’d been on the road with Queen. The kind of groups I covered didn’t have huge lavish parties or anything like that, so I wasn’t witness to any vast scenes of orgy excess that resembled the last days of the Roman Empire. It was mainly sharing dressing rooms in godforsaken places with bands that would have loved all that, but sadly were never subject to it.
TM: Hanging out with Lou Reed and his transvestite lover was pretty quirky?
AJ: Well, they were perfectly normal. They were like any other loving couple, you know, with real affection between them. Rachel was an incredibly nice person, Lou was the funniest guy I had ever met, I’d just be in tears and I was such a fan as well, and to be that close to him at the time as well.
TM: Having met so many great bands and artists though, what are your thoughts on the music of today?
AJ: I don’t make a huge effort to keep up but there’s just lots of good music still around. I still do a few reviews and I’ve just reviewed an album by an American artist called Ian Felice, who was the lead singer for years of a group called The Felice Brothers and I think its absolutely brilliant. And then the new Peter Perret. You know its great. I’d hardly describe Peter as a new artist but he sounds fantastic.
TM: Good to hear you think there’s still good music around?
AJ: Oh yeah. There’s tonnes of it. A surprising amount not just catches my attention, but holds it. I mean the new Waxahatchee, Out in the Storm is very good I think.
After leaving Melody Maker Allan Jones went on to become the editor of Uncut and win a number of awards for his new incarnation of the magazine. To hear a whole host of other brilliant stories from his life inside the music business make sure you pre-order your copy of his fantastic new book Can’t Stand Up For Falling Down: Rock’n’Roll War Stories HERE. Out on 10th August 2017.
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