It was February of 1998 and I was touring the East Coast of America with Journalist and TV personality Garry Bushell’s punk band The Gonads. Just a few days in, and this was already an eventful trip. Dave (lead guitar) and I had already missed the flight from Heathrow and ended up flying to Newark instead of JFK, arriving half a day late, and our first night was spent in a flea-pit motel that rented rooms by the hour. It was like something out of “Psycho”! Unfortunate accommodation notwithstanding, we performed our first show on U.S. soil at The Pipeline Club in New Jersey. It might not have been a crack house, but I’m reluctant to give it the benefit of the doubt. Our “minder” for the night was a peculiar little South-American who we nicknamed Escobar. Given the neighbourhood we were in, being protected by someone who looked like he’d lose an argument with his trousers did little to fill us with confidence. That said, a noisy, intense sweat-filled gig had us on a high for the tour. The following day we were let loose on New York. We’d tried to factor in a little down-time with the promoter, so we could see some of the sights, but in reality, you need at least a week to even begin to take a bite out of The Big Apple. We managed to find Times Square, lose Clyde (guitarist and my producer) but somewhere along the line, I made it to Planet Hollywood, and their merchandise store within the restaurant, intent on doing the souvenir thing. Choosing a particularly understated black T-Shirt with Planet Hollywood-New York on it, I went to the counter to make my purchase.
The girl gave me the classic all-American service with a smile;
“How’s your day today sir, can I help you with anything else?”
The Americans are incredible at this. Transpose this scene to a shop in England, and your server will be an ignorant, illiterate, possibly comatose sullen teenager with twenty eight body piercings in places you can’t even think of. The Americans have perfected the art of good service, even if it occasionally spills over into an evangelical zeal that’s just the tiniest bit scary.
“Perhaps you’d like a souvenir mug?” she offered, gesturing to the row of merchandise behind her.
“Is it free?” I asked. “It’s my first time in the Big Apple, make me feel welcome!” I said, hopefully.
“Well, they’re actually eight dollars….” She began “but, oh well, if you’re buying the shirt, why not?”
She seemed giddy with the sheer anarchy of what she was doing. Within seconds, she’d wrapped the two items together expertly and handed them to me with an exaggerated flourish saying;
“Welcome to New York!”
That night we played a storming show at the Historic CBGB’s in New York, following in the footsteps of Talking Heads, Blondie and other such legends. Backstage I showed the guys my freebie from Planet Hollywood…Now, every time I look at this mug it reminds me of our fantastic tour and why I love America!