Curtis E. Johnson once said to me about the JBC: "You're not a band. You're
a crack team of international restaurant critics." Guilty as charged.
Stevie G and I were talking about it just the other day. All over the world
you can meet people, who, in a desperate attempt to let you know that
they're bang up to date with what's going on out there, will tell you:
"There's no such thing as a free lunch"; whereas to us musicians the free
lunch is a central shaft of our cosmology.
Next time some patronising time-server feels like letting you in on the Big
Secret and tells you "there's no such thing as a free lunch", buy him one.
Take him to a restaurant, sit him down, wine him and dine him. Then send
him on his way with the Star of India's finest dhansak in his belly and a
flea in his ear. Who knows? You might just have tweaked his worldview a
point or two towards the sunnier side of the street. You'll certainly have
shown him that he didn't know what he was talking about.
There is the remote possibility that, once the espressos have been drained
and it's time for you to shell out, your new companion might try to go for
his wallet. "No, no, I couldn't possibly let you pay the bill," he
declaims. Waving of hands may be involved. Here is a man in particular need
of your immediate and practical help. Here you are, trying to pay for his
lunch, but his personal Weltanschauung won't permit it. How far up himself?
All the way, I'm afraid, season ticket holder, sits on the board of the
Consumers' Action Council, organises the knees-up every Christmas, salt-of-
Oh, I'm sorry. Remain firm. Pay the bill for both of you.
Alan McGee, in his foreword to Jackie Young's book "Backward Glances"
(Creation 1995), wrote that whenever one of his deluded pop singers phoned
up from abroad to moan about life on the road, he'd remind them that they
could always try working down a mine. Right on the money once again, Mister
A lot of the stuff you read about little rock bands touring the globe is
foolish myth. The expected tales of wild excess, for example, perpetuated
by writers who could barely handle the lifestyle for more than a couple of
days at some cushy location carefully selected by the record company, which
is paying their fare and their minibar bill. Then we have to wrestle with
the myths of Dreadful Squalor. These tend to be perpetuated by a certain
kind of musician, who can't handle the lifestyle either, God bless, but who
has sublimated this beneath a preening self-importance which renders
perfectly good gigs, hotels, vehicles and restaurants into an unending
slough of Things Which Are Not Good Enough For Him. (Or Her, Miss Carey.)
For example, has anybody ever read "Nico; Songs They Never Play On The
Radio" without having, ever so fleetingly, the feeling that something is
up? If things are truly as vile and debased as the author likes to make
out, doesn't that make him just a bit of mug for being a part of it? Or is
he taking a hypocritical pot-shot at his old touring companions?
He does, it must be said, paint a glorious picture of The Great Paolo
Paolo Bedini is one of the truly wonderful things about touring what the
ignorant, the ungrateful and the chemically-dependent like to describe as
"the toilets". A chess prodigy, he was thwarted when his mother wouldn't
permit him to go to an important championship in the Soviet Union, so
somehow he became a music promoter. Paolo stirs two teaspoonfuls of sugar
into a small glass of orange juice. For some time the windscreen of his car
was held on by gaffa tape.
When you work for Paolo you enter a zone of un-knowingness, where matters
like time and space are seen from a completely different, serenely detached
viewpoint high in the foothills of modern Italian consciousness. If you
persist on trying to follow your normal, sadly materialist agenda, you will
find yourself growing ever more confused and frustrated, as you try to
Where you are now;
The relationship between where you are now and where you are, in fact,
supposed to be now;
Where you are supposed to be later on;
When that might be;
What you should be doing to ensure that it might be so.
It is hot in Italy and if you think this way you will go mad. Your brain
will shrivel to the size of a walnut and you will die alone and insane in a
sanatorium just outside of Guildford as the crows on the plane tree outside
your window say vile things about your evil, useless life.
The truth is that there is learning, enlightenment and many free lunches to
be had from a Bedini Special. In September 1985 the JBC were flattered to
land a show in the ancient Greek ampthitheatre in Syracusa in Sicily. (Call
that a toilet, if you dare.) The PA caught fire and the show ended in
enthusiastic pointless shouting and the singer getting a visit from Jesus.
The following morning all the members of the JBC and their hangovers were
told that they could not fly home on the appointed aeroplane, something of
a nuisance, which the bass player darkly intimated to be work of the Mafia.
"So, if they don't like us.why do they want to keep us here on their
manor?" reasoned the marginally more logical players. We sat and drank
coffee in the airport while Bedini was sent for.
We knew that Paolo would have a scheme. On this occasion it turned out that
the first step was to book the entire band onto a flight to Milan. This was
achieved without too much difficulty. Arrived at Milan, we watched open-
mouthed as a van was rented. We then drove through the gathering twilight
across hill roads to Genoa. A plane would take us home from Genoa airport:
this was the not-entirely-convincing official line from our promoter. Of
course, we arrived to find Genoa's tiny airport closed up for the night. It
must have been at least eight thirty in the evening.
Entirely unphazed, Paolo had us drive on into Genoa where he booked the
whole crew into a downtown hotel before taking us out to dinner. We could
not believe our luck. He was acting as though it was the most normal thing
in the world.
Over dinner, which, being Italian, was exceptionally fine, Plan B was
revealed to a shell-shocked and disbelieving band. Pretty self-evidently,
all this piling around Italy in various forms of transport had taken
something of a toll on the finances, and Paolo explained that it would be a
lot easier and cheaper for him to send the band home in separate groups of
two or three by train. One or two could go tomorrow, the others a day or
two later when Paolo had sorted out the necessary wedge. It was decided
that Max and Owen would be the first to set off, the following morning. The
rest of us got to stay in the hotel for two or three days, milling around
Genoa (which is lovely) and meeting up regularly with Paolo for endless
free lunches and dinners. I still can't believe my luck.
Later, back in the UK, I found out that the reason that Paolo acted so
calmly, as though everything was normal, was that - as far as he was
concerned - it was. My pal Rolo had had an almost identical experience with
Il Gran Bedini only a few months before. Days of free lunches! What a
gentleman! The JBC loved him so much that we named an Award after him,
specifically the Award for local promoter of the year, which from 1985 on
became known as The Golden Bedini.
And while I'm talking about Italy, a big shout must go out to our friends
and supporters, Giancarlo Susanna and Leo Mansueto, without whom all our
Italian adventures would probably never have come to pass, and I would
never have met Paolo Bedini.
We love you!
The great truth of all this is that life on the road is positively
luxurious in comparison to the lives that most musicians live when they are
not working. You get to stay in hotels, eat out in restaurants, learn
languages, history and politics. You get to show off, you drink stupid
quantities of free liquor, you get into nightclubs for free. You get to DJ
on foreign radio stations (Once, in Wisconsin, they even let me read the
news), the gas stations sell beer, cigarettes are cheap and the drugs are
free. Let's face it, the only people you ever meet are the ones that either
like your music or have to pretend to as part of their job. (Well, them and
The Authorities.) All you have to worry about is where you are supposed to
be at six o'clock tomorrow evening.
All right: strictly, the touring musician adventurer tends to enjoy a lot
more free dinners than lunches, when kindly local promoters try to feed you
up in readiness for el gran espectacolo del rock. I once knew a German tour
promoter who thought it was a very dubious idea for the drummer to be a
vegetarian. And, yes, it's probably true that these luxurious dinners out
are accounted for in some contingency fund among the promoter's expertly
and cautiously calculated expenses; but it's not as though you, the
musician, will ever see any of that paperwork. No, from where you're
sitting, that is near enough to a free lunch for jazz. And over the years,
the JBC have enjoyed some very good ones.
I've heard and read terrible stories about British bands going abroad and
complaining incessantly about the absence of good old Kwiksave favourites
like Captain Birdseye or canned beans. There are the tales, almost too sad
to be told, of allegedly creative people dragging a massive tea urn around
with them wherever they play. Just about everybody in the JBC was happy to
make do and mend with whatever came along in the way of food and drink,
and, having gazed thereupon, I'm not surprised.
Years after the event, certain dinners stand out every bit as strongly as
certain shows. It is time to give credit where it has been due.
Taberna Bar Bajamar, Calle Gorbea, Gasteiz - Spring 88
Simple, unpretentious, endless dining delight, served by a telepath.
A legendary dining experience, universally agreed by all who were there to
be the finest meal that this band has ever been served.
Restaurant Kalash, Clermont-Ferrand - Spring 94
A Pakistani restaurant of staggering sophistication in a back street in
France's answer to Sheffield. An unexpected oasis of calm and civilisation,
to be sure, but the food was so delicate, so delicious, so plentiful that
it remains unforgettable.
The Opera Nutter, Reggio nell' Emilia - December 1986
Somewhere in the countryside the Red Bus pulled up at a barn. A barn with
flashing disco lights and opera playing at brain-crushing volume. In these
unlikely surroundings we were served endless courses of transcendentally
good Italian peasant cooking by a dangerous maniac. I can hardly believe it
God-Fearing Erie, Pa. - Spring 2000
In a guerilla-booking operation, a pack of JBC lovers invited us to play
their local pub, using their flat as a base camp. Here they installed their
pal, who just happened to the head chef at the best restaurant in town.
Roasted elephant garlic with brie and custom-made quesadillas, all
accompanied by beers of the highest quality, Polish vodka and jazz
cheroots, while watching Premiership football on TV - in America! Superb!
Vereinhaus, Dornbirn - Mar 88
When the JBC first stumbled upon this fine Austrian dining room at Easter
1985 we discovered that they did a rather wonderful thing with deep-fried
mushrooms. We have been going back there ever since. Of course, these days
"breaded mushrooms" have come to the pubs and restaurants of the UK. But
what a nasty little mess of microwaved cack they truly are when compared
with the Real Thing. Available only at the Vereinhaus, a JBC classic!
Honorary mentions must surely also go to:
The Star of India, NN1
Indian Veg, Chapel Market, Islington (the two great originals for us lot)
Scholars Inn, Bloomington, Indiana (well classy)
Himalaya, Madrid (our base over three mental days in 1991)
Seoul Restaurant, Druselplatz 2, Kassel (surprise fruit a speciality)
Weinstein, Aachen (snakes on the piss!)
Scenic India, San Francisco (featuring Flying Horse beer)
Mr. Jones' & Fraulein Nudow's Kitchen, Hamburg (too right!)
Restaurant Tibet, Hamburg (wear clean socks)
Elmer's Diner, Portland Oregon (chilli relleno omelette of the millennium)
Black Bear Diner, Eureka, California ("I could handle a logger right now.")
Joseph's,Yucca & Ivar, LA, California (breakfasts of genius)
Citrouille, Morlaix, Brittany, France (it's all about the pumpkins)
Hotel Regina, Vienna (imperial breakfasts)
Thank you all. You have made us truly happy and often we did not even pay.
We love you!
The next time that I find myself called upon to provide sleeve notes for
yet another instalment of the ongoing JBC Pointless Compilation Library, I
shall feel myself compelled to relate the story of what happened in the
Empire Diner in October 1990. Record companies (especially Chrysalis), BBC
employees and former members of the Blue Aeroplanes band should approach
their legal representatives now. Not that it will do them any good. The
Red Bus sped on long ago.
Paul Mulreany and Laurence O'Keefe riot, The Star of India NN1, September
Empire Diner? I was there!
- Long Island, NY
4Feb2004 7:34 AM
(10 years 180 days ago)
I remember having five dollars in my pocket and hoping
it would be enough for gas for the trip back from NYC to
Newport Rhode Island. Thanks for the free dinner, of
course if I knew the suits were picking up the bill, I
would have had that extra hamburger. -xotomox