AN­AR­CHY IN THE UK

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

“THE BET­TING IN HOL­LY­WOOD WAS THAT THE BAND WOULD NOT LAST MORE THAN 10 DAYS ON THE ROAD”

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,

“I GOT TO TOWER RECORDS AND THE SE­CU­RITY THREW ME OUT. AND THEN THEY CALL THE LO­CAL CON­STA­BLES – AIN’T

THAT WHAT THEY CALL ’EM? THEY WERE DICK­HEADS”

“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…

“I

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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