The world dom­i­na­tion of Guns N’ Roses be­gan not in LA , but with three chaotic weeks in Lon­don in June 1987. Ham­mer vet­eran Paul El­liott re­mem­bers a fierce en­counter

Metal Hammer (UK) - - News - WORDS: PAUL EL­LIOTT


xl Rose was pissed off. Not for the first time, or the last, the Guns N’ Roses singer was spoil­ing for a fight. The guy he wanted to punch out was a writer for UK mu­sic mag

Sounds, and Axl had gone look­ing for him, to the Sounds of­fice in north Lon­don, near Cam­den Town.

It was early af­ter­noon on June 24, 1987. Five days ear­lier, Guns N’ Roses, on their first trip out­side Los Angeles, had played their de­but UK gig at the fa­mous Mar­quee club in Soho. Play­ing songs from their as-yet-un­re­leased de­but al­bum, Ap­petite For De­struc­tion, it had been a great show, a hard-won vic­tory amid a hos­tile at­mos­phere. But in the re­view of the gig, pub­lished in Sounds on that Wed­nes­day, there was a com­ment that caused Axl to blow a fuse. The writer, Andy Ross, us­ing his pseu­do­nym Andy Hurt, stated that the band were good, but that their singer sounded like a ham­ster with its balls trapped in a door. “Squeak, squeak, squeak…”

Axl walked into the Sounds of­fice in full rock star re­galia: leather trousers, ripped t-shirt, cow­boy boots, cig­a­rette in hand. Be­hind him were the other four mem­bers of the band: gui­tarists Slash and Izzy Stradlin, bas­sist Duff McKa­gan and drum­mer Steven Adler. Slash car­ried a bottle of Jack Daniel’s.

As they looked around the room, won­der­ing who it was that Axl was about to lay into, it was Izzy Stradlin who saw me sit­ting at a desk in one cor­ner. I was the one Sounds writer they knew. Three months ear­lier I’d in­ter­viewed the band in LA for a Sounds fea­ture. I’d also been with them a few days be­fore at one of the apart­ments they had rented in Kens­ing­ton. Izzy came over to talk. The oth­ers fol­lowed. We spoke about their gig at the Mar­quee, and the sec­ond one on June 22. Then Axl leaned in close and said to me in a low voice: “Where’s the guy that wrote the re­view?” “Andy Hurt?”

“Yeah. And he fuck­ing will be.”

When I told him that Andy Hurt wasn’t here, Axl just sighed and shook his head. There was an un­com­fort­able si­lence. Sounds edi­tor Tony Ste­wart called me over and I ex­plained why the band were here. “Get rid of them,” he said. I told them to come with me to the pub. Be­fore we left, Axl took a pen and a piece of paper and scrawled out a note for Andy Hurt. He handed it to Sounds’ sec­re­tary. It read sim­ply: “You’re a dead man.”

It was only once in­side the pub, on Cam­den High Street, that Axl’s mood light­ened. He was aghast at one item on the pub’s food menu. Laugh­ing, he said: “I can’t be­lieve you guys eat this thing called spot­ted dick…”

Guns N’ Roses spent three weeks in Lon­don that sum­mer. For Slash it was a home­com­ing – born in Hamp­stead, the gui­tarist lived in Stokeon-Trent un­til his fam­ily moved to LA when he was five. For the oth­ers, on their first visit to the UK, it was at times a cul­ture shock: the weirdly

named pud­dings; the warm beer; the po­lite cops that didn’t carry guns; the funny way that the tabloid press wrote about these wild young rock’n’rollers from LA . They were ex­cited to be in the coun­try that was home to so many of their favourite bands: Led Zep­pelin, Queen, the Sex Pis­tols. More than any­thing, they wanted to make a name for them­selves out­side of LA . Their three gigs at the Mar­quee were about cre­at­ing a buzz that could be trans­lated to the US.

Along the way there would be trou­ble. The first Mar­quee gig al­most de­scended into a mass brawl when a bunch of drunken ass­holes in the au­di­ence spat at the band and threw plas­tic beer glasses at them. Axl was close to be­ing ar­rested af­ter be­ing thrown out of the Tower Records shop in Pic­cadilly. One of their apart­ments in Kens­ing­ton would end up trashed af­ter a party got out of hand.

But Guns N’ Roses would leave Lon­don at the end of June vic­to­ri­ous. And when they re­turned, four months later, they would be hailed as the great­est rock’n’roll band in the world. What no­body knew was just how big this band were des­tined to be­come.

The first time I met Guns N’ Roses, Slash told me: “The thought of the LA scene just makes me sick.” It was March 18, 1987. Ear­lier that week, the band had played at the fa­mous Whisky A Go Go club. The gig was billed as a launch party for Ap­petite For De­struc­tion, even though the al­bum’s re­lease was months away.

We were sit­ting in late-af­ter­noon sun­shine in the al-fresco restau­rant of the Hy­att ho­tel on Sun­set Boule­vard. Around the table were all five mem­bers of the band, plus their man­ager, Alan Niven. Ev­ery­one was drink­ing beer and chain-smok­ing. The con­ver­sa­tion was mostly about Lon­don. They wanted to know who the best bands were, the best clubs. Slash wanted to know where he could find Lemmy. It was dur­ing the interview that fol­lowed, in my room at a low-grade, run­down ho­tel right across the street from the Hy­att, that they voiced their dis­gust of other LA bands, specif­i­cally, the big-haired glam rock­ers that had come along in the wake of Möt­ley Crüe. For Axl, the worst of­fend­ers were the pret­ti­est of the pretty boys. “Poi­son fucked it up for all of us,” he com­plained. “They said ev­ery­body was fol­low­ing their trend.”

Even then, Guns N’ Roses’ rep­u­ta­tion pre­ceded them. They were re­port­edly the most fucked-up band in Los Angeles since Möt­ley Crüe. They had been nick­named Lines N’ Noses, and it was widely ru­moured that at least three of the five band­mem­bers were heroin ad­dicts. “They’ll make it,” some­one at the record com­pany told me at the time. “If they live.”

They had al­ready re­leased an EP, Live ?!*@ Like A Sui­cide (ac­tu­ally recorded in a stu­dio, with au­di­ence noise dubbed on), which would fi­nance their trip to the UK. And while Ap­petite For De­struc­tion hadn’t yet been re­leased of­fi­cially, ad­vance word had crept through that it was a clas­sic-in-the-mak­ing, and a world away from the pa­per­weight glam metal their Sun­set Strip con­tem­po­raries were ped­dling.

Their UK shows were all part of a strat­egy by their man­ager, Alan Niven, to break GN’R. A New Zealan­der by birth, Alan had spent his for­ma­tive years in an English board­ing school. He un­der­stood the value of the Bri­tish mu­sic press in break­ing new bands.

“They were just too raw for US ra­dio,” says Alan. “So break­ing the band in the US looked like be­ing de­pen­dent on long sup­port slogs

– not a hope­ful prospect for a ca­sual mob of smack­heads and carousers. It made sense to get at­ten­tion in Amer­ica and else­where by mak­ing waves in Lon­don first.”

Jo Cos­bert was la­bel man­ager at Gef­fen UK at this time. She says that the UK com­pany al­ways took its lead from the US, but with Guns N’ Roses the re­verse was true, and she cred­its Alan with the fore­sight to make it hap­pen. “Alan thought GN’R could break the UK first,” she says. “He had the vi­sion.” The band, how­ever, were not con­vinced. “We all had doubts,” Alan says. “Axl asked: ‘Do you re­ally think we can do this?’ But you never get any­where if you al­low doubt to de­rail your ac­tions.”

In the event, Axl might not have made it to the UK. Just weeks be­fore the flight from LA to Lon­don, he was in­volved in an al­ter­ca­tion with LA cops which left him hos­pi­talised. “I got hit on the head by a cop and I guess I just blacked out,” he said. “Two days later I woke up in hos­pi­tal, tied to the bed, with elec­trodes over me. I guess they had to give me elec­troshock.”

That in­ci­dent be­came news in the UK when it was re­ported in the Daily Star. In true tabloid style, they ramped up the out­rage fur­ther with a ref­er­ence to a tongue-in-cheek com­ment that Axl had made about hat­ing poo­dles: “Ev­ery­thing about them makes me want to kill them.” The

Star ran with it in clas­si­cally sen­sa­tion­al­ist style: “A rock band even nas­tier than the Beastie Boys is head­ing for Bri­tain. Los Angeles-based Guns N’ Roses are led by the out­ra­geous Axl Rose, who has an en­dear­ing habit of butcher­ing dogs…” The paper con­tin­ued: “The other mem­bers of the group are as sleazy as their crack­pot leader. Gui­tarist Slash and bass player Duff McKa­gan claim they have been on a booz­ing binge for

TWO YEAR S. Says Slash: ‘When we get up in the af­ter­noon we can’t play be­cause our hands are shak­ing like wind­mills.’”

In fair­ness, the band were living up to their rep­u­ta­tion be­fore they even touched down. On the plane, Slash was so drunk that he dropped a lit cig­a­rette down the side of his seat and al­most started a fire. He was still plas­tered when man­ager Alan Niven led the en­tourage – band and crew – though cus­toms at Heathrow. Jo Cos­bert was there to greet them. “They looked so cool as they sham­bled through,” she says.

What Alan re­mem­bers of their ar­rival was the sense of an­tic­i­pa­tion among the group. “The guys were ex­cited,” he says. “Slash was vis­it­ing his home­land. They were in the land of the Sex Pis­tols and Nazareth, the home of Motör­head – pretty fuck­ing cool for Izzy and Axl, a cou­ple of guys from small-town In­di­ana. They were go­ing to play the Mar­quee, where ev­ery­one from the Stones to AC/DC had played – pretty fuck­ing cool for ev­ery­one. And they all wanted to soak up Lon­don.”

They were de­liv­ered to two ad­join­ing apart­ments in Allen Street in Kens­ing­ton. In one were Axl, Izzy and Alan Niven; in the other, Slash, Duff and Steven. They quickly re­alised that up­scale Kens­ing­ton was not the hap­pen­ing place in Lon­don. “Not at all a rock’n’roll neigh­bour­hood,” as Slash put it. They were soon holed up in a pub, and stayed ’til clos­ing time, around 11pm.

For Axl, how­ever, the first night in Lon­don did not end qui­etly. He, Alan and Tom Zu­taut, the A&R exec who signed the band to Gef­fen, made a late-night visit to Tower Records at Pic­cadilly Cir­cus. Years ear­lier, be­fore GN’R formed, Axl had worked at Tower’s store on Sun­set Boule­vard.

“Ax, Zu­taut and I went to Tower and were cruis­ing the racks,” Alan re­calls. “At one point Ax sat on a step. We had just flown in and he was beat. Im­me­di­ately, three big dudes started in on him. None of them had badges or uni­forms that in­di­cated they were Tower se­cu­rity. So Tom and I went to Ax’s de­fence and there was a cer­tain amount of dis­cus­sion. Tower called the Old Bill. Ax was sur­prised at how I talked to them…”

“The cops are kinda dif­fer­ent in Lon­don,” Axl later re­called. “When they turned up at Tower, Alan said: ‘Take your hands off me!’ And they did! Back in LA they won’t take any of that shit. You’d be slung straight across the front of a squad car with a gun to your head.”

In the sub­se­quent days, ahead of the first Mar­quee gig, band­mem­bers went out to ex­plore the city. “Once we ven­tured to Soho,” Slash said,



“we found our peers.” Mostly this in­volved drink­ing in pubs such as the Ship in War­dour Street, close to the Mar­quee. But it wasn’t all rock’n’roll de­bauch­ery 24/7. Some days they would go to Soho to see Jo Cos­bert at her of­fice in the Warn­ers build­ing. “I’d buy them fish and chips in Ber­wick Street and they’d sit eat­ing on the floor in my of­fice,” she says. “They were al­ways pretty quiet. The only time it got noisy was when Steven Adler got on an of­fice chair and was spin­ning round ’til he came off and he crashed on the floor.”

Alan says there were two camps within the band: “Slash and Duff could bust it up. And Steven, be­ing in Lon­don, was like a puppy run­ning free in Dis­ney­land.” The wis­est head in the band was Izzy. “Iz was cool and re­served.” As for the enig­matic singer, al­ways the one to take spe­cial care over, Alan says Axl “did his best to deal with change and move­ment”.

The scene at Allen Street was one of late nights, lots of booze and noise. “There were al­ways loads of peo­ple at Allen Street,” Jo Cos­bert says. “A stream of girls.” Alan re­mem­bers it as “a lit­tle ram­bunc­tious of an evening, but a fun vibe”. Jo fielded nu­mer­ous com­plaints from nearby res­i­dents in Allen Street, but in the many times she vis­ited the band there she never wit­nessed any drug tak­ing. “They never did drugs around me,” she says. “In a way they were quite pro­tec­tive of me, this straight English girl.” She also re­calls the band as a tight unit. “Axl was the ex­cit­ing front­man,” she says, “but there were no histri­on­ics, no prima donna stuff. He was not the leader – I thought of them as a team.”

By his own ad­mis­sion, Slash was the big­gest drinker in the band. “In Lon­don, my gui­tar tech Johnny took me to a re­ally nice gui­tar store,” he said. “While he was schmooz­ing the owner, I lay down on the floor to get com­fort­able, and passed out cold. They had to carry me out. Ap­par­ently that in­ci­dent made a big im­pres­sion on the English press. It es­tab­lished my ‘leg­endary’ rep­u­ta­tion there.”

The shock for Slash was when he went to the Mar­quee the night be­fore Guns’ first gig there. The band he saw that night was Tiger­tailz, who were based in Cardiff but looked and sounded like they’d walked straight off the Strip, with hair and make-up like Poi­son’s. “Slash turned up at our show,” Tiger­tailz drum­mer Ace Finchum re­calls. “And later he made the com­ment that he had left LA to get away from shitty glam bands, and the first venue he goes into in Lon­don has a shitty glam band play­ing – us!”

The fol­low­ing night there was an­other nasty sur­prise in store…


t’s good to be in fuck­ing Eng­land fi­nally,” Axl said as Guns N’ Roses walked out on the Mar­quee stage.

And as soon as they started into the first song, Reck­less Life, it kicked off. From the tightly packed au­di­ence, a hail of plas­tic beer glasses rained down on the stage. Worse, there were some peo­ple near the stage who were spit­ting at the band. You could see where it landed – right in Izzy’s hair, and Axl’s. It stuck in their hair and dripped down. It seemed as if some peo­ple had de­cided these swing­ing dicks from LA should be taught a les­son, should be chal­lenged.

The band headed into the sec­ond song, Out Ta Get Me from the al­bum. The bot­tles and the gob kept com­ing. They fin­ished the song and Axl yelled: “Hey! If you wanna keep throw­ing things, we’re gonna fuckin’ leave. Whad­daya think?” An­other glass arced out over the au­di­ence and clat­tered into Steven’s cym­bals. “Hey!” Axl said. “Fuck you, pussy!”

Ac­cord­ing to Alan Niven, it was at that point that Duff and Axl were ready to jump in there and go at it with the guys. But af­ter they played a third song, Any­thing Goes, there was no more shit thrown, no more spit­ting. The band had bat­tled through and earned the right to be there.

Axl was still pissed off at Tower, and made his feel­ings clear from the Mar­quee stage. “Y’know, we just got here, right?” he said. “I got to Tower Records, I sit down, and the se­cu­rity throw me out. And then they call the lo­cal con­sta­bles – ain’t that what they call ’em? And they were a cou­ple of dick­heads.” But he was hav­ing fun, too. Smil­ing, he said: “D’ya like my shirt? It says ‘Fuck Danc­ing, Let’s Fuck’. I think that gets to the point.”

That night, the band blasted through eight of the 12 tracks on Ap­petite For De­struc­tion, three off Live ?!*@ Like A Sui­cide, and, for the first time, they played a cover of Bob Dy­lan’s Knockin’ On Heaven’s Door. In the end, they won out. The Mar­quee au­di­ence loved them. “It was rough and phys­i­cal,” Alan Niven re­calls. “I had warned the band about UK au­di­ences. Since the days of Johnny Rot­ten there had de­vel­oped an at­ti­tude of: ‘Prove it to me, ya pussies.’ I an­tic­i­pated a cer­tain at­ti­tude to a new band from LA , so they were pre­pared for the gob­bing and the fuck-you at­ti­tude. When it got in­tense, Duff and Axl threat­ened to come off the stage and mix it up. Of course, it was true love from that point on.”

Around 30 min­utes af­ter the band had fin­ished, with the Mar­quee bar still full of var­i­ous free­loaders, I was in the toi­let, stand­ing next to Steven Adler at the uri­nal. He was as high as a kite. “What did you think, man?” he asked. “Stop piss­ing on my shoes and I’ll tell you,” I replied.

A cou­ple of days later, Axl spoke about that gig as a trial by fire. “Shit, it was hot in there,” he said, “real hard to breathe. When we started it was like, man, we’re in hell! The crowd were so

Lon­don, here we come: Duff, Izzy, Axl, Steven and Slash sit­ting pretty in Can­ter’s Deli in Hol­ly­wood in 1987

Axl gives his ver­dict

on the Bri­tish press De­but­ing live at the Mar­quee in Lon­don in June 1987: “It was rough and phys­i­cal”

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