They came, they saw, they got wrecked and the police were called. Last week, Andrew Smith travelled to Reykjavík with both bands and witnessed scenes of mirth and mayhem as Gerald, Shaun Ryder and a posse of ravers from London’s Brain Club introduced Iceland to the wonders of warehouse parties.
DOZENS OF people – some Icelandic, but the majority British – are slipping and sliding along the icy, moonlit pavement. They’re chatting and laughing. Sometimes, they fall over. Their mission is dead serious, though. A party has been stopped by the Reykjavík police. But, the local authorities didn’t bargain for Tommy’s gritty determination in these situations. Remember Dunkirk, they say, or at least Captain Kirk.
Now, the ravers are congregating outside Casablanca, Reykjavík’s main rival to the Moon Club, from whence we’ve just come. Some are lugging bits of sound system and record boxes, others carrying precious bottles of beer. (A Guy Called) Gerald Simpson is the only one not shivering with the cold. He’s wearing his regulation Siberian leather duffle coat and bomber hat, the ever-present Walkman headphones doubling as earmuffs. This is a man who knows his Zen.
There’s a warehouse underneath the Casablanca Club, and it’s been decided that this would be an ideal or, at least, possibly accessible venue for the continuation of festivities. People loiter as an Icelandic fellow hurls himself against the thick wooden door. He doesn’t seem to be having much luck, Viking blood or no Viking blood, so Brain Club DJ Sean McCluskey decides to take the bull by the horns and sends his record box crashing through a window. Everyone scrambles through the frame and over the broken glass while, somewhere on the other side of town, a little light flashes on a police console.
Once inside, the system refuses to work. In the meantime, those present make their own music, banging bottles and shoes on tables. Someone notices a huge pile of boxed, steel-toed Doc Martens boots in a corner and it’s promptly pillaged. Things are swinging, you could say, until gradually, in the distance, a siren is heard wailing. Then two. Then three, four, five. Shit.
Thorog Jokull, the man who brought Happy Mondays to Iceland in the first place, negotiates. The club owner is called; at which point the revellers expect to be sent packing, if not arrested. “You break my window, enter my club illegally and steal my shoes,” he says. “That’s okay.” No one can believe it. The party goes on till 10 am, and there’s talk amongst the locals present of doing it again. Iceland, we give you the warehouse party. A gift from England.
I’M sitting in the smoker’s section at the rear end of an Icelandair B-52 with Happy Monday’s drummer Gary Whelan. These seats are much sought after because there are many more smokers than the meagre allocation can handle. Fag packets are flying back and forth overhead like bottles of piss at a metal festival.
A stewardess with the patience of an angel is politely explaining to Bez that if he wants to smoke, he must sit down. Trouble is there aren’t any seats. He keeps repeating, “No, look. What I’m trying to say is …” She understands perfectly well what he’s trying to say, but the answer is still no. The current issue of Modern Iceland has as its cover story an article entitled “The Icelandic Horse: The Most Useful Servant”.
SOME TIME later, we’re standing shivering on the tundra outside Keflavik Airport. An MN crew is on the loose, and all they have to do is point a camera and suddenly three dozen people are there, smiling and throwing snowballs. Monday’s singer, Shaun Ryder, looks as though he’s about to collapse with exhaustion, or some other thing. A grinning Gerald Simpson escapes unpelted. Surprising, with so much white on the horizon, he presents an easy target.
Soon, we are in a pair of coaches en route to the first class hotel promised on the agenda. As it looms into view, the response from the assembled Brits is as one: “God, it looks just like my old school/borstal/ factory where I used to work.” Hello Iceland!
FRIDAY EVENING. Tonight it’s the Moon Club, where A Guy Called Gerald, Audio One and London band If are all scheduled to play short sets. We arrive at about 8.30 to find the musos in a state of panic. The equipment on offer, not all that great to start with, has been set up all wrong. We resolve to head for the bar round the corner.
Then, the first bombshell drops. We order a round of drinks, consisting of several beers. The alarm bells start ringing when a local lad next to us pays for two halves of Lowenbrau with a Visa card. Beer was illegal until last year. Two pints can cost you over £14. For a load of Brits who haven’t yet mastered the Viking art of making a bottle of beer last for three hours, this is a serious, nay calamitous, realisation. From here on in, the subject is never far from the heart of any conversation.
By 10pm, the Moon Club is buzzing. What looked like requiring a touch of the Dunkirk spirit has turned into VE day. The Heathrow crowd is here, of course, but a thronging mass of Reykjavik’s bright and beautiful have turned up to check out the visitors. And, rest assured, Iceland’s beautiful are very beautiful indeed. Centuries of in-breeding have ensured that this is without a doubt the handsomest race in Europe.
During the lengthy wait for A Guy Called Gerald, the London party dance, mingle and get to know each other very quickly. The lovin’ Brain vibe has survived the 1000-mile haul wholly intact, and people are happy. Heroic tales of the trip to London from around the country abound. There’s Mike from Cumbria, who travelled down with his mate Euan of Edinburgh, only to find that he’d forgotten his passport. The Post Office refused to hand over a temporary one without the necessary documentation, so the two scampered all over London collecting new copies of birth certificates etc, finally making the flight with minutes to spare.
A Guy Called Gerald finally takes the stage at about two. He’s accompanied by keyboardist Rohan Heath and the soulful voice of Viv Dixon, but the threesome are up against it from the start. They try hard, but the noise that emerges is thin and insubstantial. Only ‘Voodoo Ray’ has any real spark to it, but by then it’s too late. It’s a shame, but they have another chance tomorrow.
SATURDAY FINDS the assorted revellers gathering bleary-eyed in the hotel lobby, nursing several shades of hangover and waiting for the coach to take them to the Blue Lagoon. Energy levels are low, as the night before lasted well into this morning.
Earlier, Gerald and company decided to “do” Reykjavík, which turned out to be a peculiar experience for all concerned. The three musicians in his band are probably the only black people in Iceland this weekend and the locals can’t hide their curiosity and bemusement. They stare. “Can’t you tell them to stop looking at me?” Gerald asks his press officer, but there’s nothing she can do. Most of these people have never seen anyone who looks like Gerald before, other than on MTV.
Happy Mondays decide to give tourism a miss, opting instead to hit the town for a “shopping” spree. This turns out to be a liberating experience. They get through assorted tee-shirts and trousers. They “buy” five pairs of expensive trainers (even taking one pair back to exchange for a more desirable model). They walk away with a watch worth £9,000. At these prices, who could refuse? This evening, Mozzer, the Ryder brothers’ personal manager, will turn up to the gig in a completely new outfit.
By the time the Brit contingent arrive at the Mondays’ 1000 capacity venue at l0pm, the band’s soundcheck has taken a total of 11 hours due to technical difficulties. These include the Icelandic road crew getting too drunk to stand up. Things are running seriously late and, to make matters worse, the venue we find ourselves in is a school. There’s no drinking or smoking. The Brits, however, have smuggled their duty frees into the hall on a scale not seen since Prohibition, but the whole situation seems uncomfortably at odds with the Mondays ethic.
Everyone’s expecting the set to be executed in a spirit of grumpiness at best, nonchalance at worst, but when Happy Mondays shamble on and fling themselves headlong at ‘Rave On’, they sound like a Mancunian Sly And The Family Stone, lurching and leering, funky and big. They work their way through the predictable favourites: ‘Tart Tart’, ‘Kuff Dam’, ‘Performance’, gloriously chattering versions of ‘Hallelujah’ and the new single, ‘He’s Gonna Step On You’, finally closing with a deliriously rocking ‘Mad Cyril’. ‘W.F.L.’, offered up as an encore, lasts for somewhere between 10 and 15 minutes, and is mesmeric. Afterwards, the band reckon this to be one of the best gigs they’ve ever done.
THE MOON Club is in a different universe tonight. There’s an unpleasant aggressiveness abroad and the place is too full. Apparently there’s a phrase in the Icelandic tongue for “Excuse me”, but they never use it. You’re more likely to find an elbow in your back. The club bouncers are working flat out and visitors’ nerves are fraying rapidly. Bez is spotter looking rather fraught. It’s the first time any of the band have shown up here.
Nevertheless, A Guy Called Gerald are a 100 times better tonight. Their sound engineer has re-built the PA, and what we hear is rich and full, drum machines kicking and sequencers popping, Viv’s lush voice spiralling off the stage and onto the dancefloor like a melodic tornado. Of the seven songs, five are from the new, soon-to-be-released LP, including the title track, ‘Automanikk’, a furiously bubbling electro workout in the classic European mould. By the time ‘Voodoo Ray’ comes along, the Moon Club is jumping.
At 3.30am it’s time to go. Only it isn’t: a private party has been arranged for us downstairs in the assessment bar. There’s a ruck outside as resident punters struggle to get in, pushing and shoving as though their lives depend upon getting through the door, but eventually it’s sorted and the madness begins. People are flinging themselves in all directions and dancing on the tables with their eyes wide, their pupils dilated and bright. Chaos is not the word.
Then the police come. A man behind the bar hurls two beer glasses at an officer in uniform. Miraculously, nothing happens, although shortly afterwards a crate of beer, which must be worth the gross national product of many an African state, is seen to change hands. Someone mentions a warehouse down the road. “Hey, yeah!” says someone else and suddenly the sound system is being lugged out of the door. The rest, of course, is history.
ON THE way back, tempers are short through lack of sleep. Gerald’s people stand at the airport shouting at each other about a cassette that someone has supposed to be stolen from Viv. On the plane, some pillock of a video director is bothering Shaun, so Mozzer obligingly nuts him, setting off a chain reaction that ends with a woman in the first class section being sick and threatening to sue. The perfect end to the perfect weekend? Probably.
© Andrew Smith, Melody Maker, 30 March 1990