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A Long Alone in London

A Long Ryder Writes... | Long Ryders

Article from Making Music, August 1987

The Long Ryders bring it to you straight from the horse's mouth, as it were. Guitarist and singer Sid Griffin personally pens the band's experiences in the UK.

The Long Ryders in the United Kingdom, the mind boggles. At least mine does, I'm in the band. The Great American Rockers in Great Britain during election time. I didn't say that, the UK pop music press did. The Long Ryders spearheaded 1985's American Roots Rock movement and they and their mates Green On Red are the two main survivors of that assault. I didn't say that either, I read it in a press release.

Yet 1987 brings us another Thatcher victory, another Long Ryder's LP in "Two Fisted Tales" ("clearly the best effort yet by this ever-stretching band" — NY Times) and an eight date tour of England with Scotland, Wales and Ireland cruelly and thoughtlessly left out by virtue of a crowded schedule and a lack of maps. Much to the band's chagrin.

People who attend Long Ryders shows repeatedly have a tendency to become family. Of course you don't believe that but it's true. Ask Steve White, sixteen and unemployed, a Northerner who's not down yet. He was everywhere on this tour; at soundcheck, at the gigs, backstage drinking my lager for me. "Hey Steve, you got a ticket?" "No." "Hey Steve, you got any money for one?" "No." "Steve, where did you spend last night?" "In the train station." "Steve, you want a beer?" "Sure." "Hey Steve, you need something to eat, take it, we hate this backstage crap." "Thanks, fellas." "Hey, how you getting to the next gig?" "I don't know."

I get on an elevator in a posh London hotel. Note: it was not one I was staying in nor was it one the Long Ryders could afford to stay in. A veddy British upper class woman with Fortnum and Mason written all over her is already on the elevator. I'm wearing Air Jordan (that's a person in the National Basketball Association, not an airline) high top sneakers, pants which in reality are University of Kentucky basketball uniform warm-ups (the real UK), a Milwaukee Braves t-shirt with a dress cotton shirt around it which I failed to button that morning, a Levi's Western-styled denim jacket with a Flying Burrito Bros. "Sin City" patch on it and my head is crowned with a Virginia Beach, Virginia, Fraternal Order of Police baseball cap.

This veddy British upper class woman turns to me after hearing me call out to my companion, "see 'ya later, dude," and asks with great interest "are you an American?"

I mean really. Really. Am I a what? Is she kidding? I turn to reply and notice she is looking at my attire the way garbagemen confront the garbage dump, with great regret but a knowledge they must put up with it. I remember something once said by a memorable character named Fred Sanford on the American TV series Sanford & Son, a show based on Steptoe & Son though our version was set in the ghetto of Watts. "No, baby, I'm Greek Orthodox."

The upper class woman recoiled in horror and for half a minute I was a Beastie Boy. Then she reached her floor and got out.

According to bassist Tom Stevens his three most frequently asked questions are why doesn't Sid leap offstage anymore, why doesn't Stephen McCarthy play lap steel this tour and how much are your t-shirts? Since the first is my department I'll deal with it here. Several times on our recent swing of colleges in the northeastern corner of the USA I badly misjudged the density of the crowd down front and leapt offstage only to find, as it were, the Red Sea had parted and the floor was seemingly rising quite rapidly to meet my face. In Chicago I found the punk spirit once more speeding within me and I jumped into the punters (as you call 'em) only to be greeted by a kiss from the floor. I couldn't even get my hands up in time.

In New York City a rather masterful backflip off a monitor would've met with great disaster and weeks of hospital food had not one heroic male in a football jersey caught my arm before I completely landed for what would have easily been the last stage dive of my all-too-brief career. For this I thank him on behalf of myself and Chris Blackwell.

And yet let it be said I rose to and even met the challenge in Bristol and at London's fabulous Town & Country venue, executing an offstage dive or two at each gig. Kudos are in order for the girl who held up a sign with the numeral eight on it after the dive in London. Thank you, judges. Very funny.

Speaking of London the band quickly noticed there was a replacement receptionist at Island Records, our dear sweet label; one week and we prey on her like circling buzzards. She doesn't know who we are. Hell, nobody else does either! Daily meetings are called for this and that as drummer Greg Sowders and myself have the band announced as "Sid Griffin and the Wailers", "the My Boy Lollipops", "Tom Waits For No One", "Sonny Bono from U2", "Stevie Driftwood from Traffic" and other knee-slappers culminating in the fateful day we had ourselves announced to the label's managing director as Glenn Miller, here at Island to pick up our royalties. No reaction from her either, "Mr Miller, you can go in now" she smiles as we are ushered upstairs.

And the Long Ryders are nothing if not huge fans and record collectors, especially Tom and myself. Although Prince Charles told me never to name drop I must admit to knowing Eric Burdon of Animals fame. Many times he told me over and over about the early days and of his love of Ray Charles and Charles Brown and all the R&B greats.

In Newcastle I rush out of the hotel shortly after checking in for a walk around and I head for the river, the mighty Tyne. Following Burdon's description and a crude map I end up in a warehouse district where the passing trains rattle the walls all around. I find the venue where the Animals got their start in '62-'63, when they were still the Alan Price Combo, the Downbeat Club, and I stare at the spot where it must've been and I image how it must've been with the walls damp with sweat and dance floor packed and the band wailing away and the trains rolling by rattling the walls and the smell of sweat and beer and I think, yeah... yeah, that's alright.

And I've stood in similar places for Them in Belfast, the Fabs in Liverpool, the Pistols in London and other groups elsewhere and I think Christ, am I ever gonna grow up? I get no money for what I do (the band barely breaks even after four years of being professional and sometimes doesn't even manage to do that), I haven't slept properly in days, the food I'm eating isn't fit for a dog and someone swiped my Walkman backstage the night before.

So there I stand staring at the Tyne and at what was once the Downbeat Club when I remember I got friends who will never go to New York much less England and I remember the folks like Steve White and I remember the walls damp with sweat and the dance floor packed for the Long Ryders, the goddamn Long Ryders and I think, hey, I'm in England! So I simply turn and walk towards the nearest pub, reminding myself, yeah... yeah, this is alright.

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Publisher: Making Music - Track Record Publishing Ltd, Nexus Media Ltd.

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Making Music - Aug 1987




Long Ryders



Feature by Sid Griffin

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