Thursday, March 25, 2010

London Calling

For Guns N' Roses, London Called Early

By Duff McKagan, Thursday, 11 March 2010

I am in London this week looking at a bunch of unsigned bands for a new venture that I am part of. It is fresh and fun to see some of these bands: startled kids with huge and hopeful eyes that see a world that is theirs for the taking, energetic, unjaded, and full of piss and vinegar. I need to see this now and again to remind me what music should be all about. It also reminds me of the first time I came over here: It was with GN'R in July of '87, a few weeks before Appetite for Destruction came out.

The year before, we had put out the Live Like a Suicide EP. This fast and furious collection of songs sort of just died everywhere else in the world except for the UK. Unbeknownst to us, a cult following of fans was building over here who were chomping at the bit for any news on the band. When Kerrang magazine sent a photographer to Los Angeles to shoot us for the cover, we couldn't actually believe it. We had received press coverage in LA at this point, but KERRANG?! Are you kidding me?

After we finished Appetite and were waiting for its release and tour opportunities, we were approached to go to London and play the famous Marquee club. The only place I had been outside the US was Vancouver, BC, to play punk-rock shows with my various Seattle bands when I was a teenager. This was BIG! Huge! Magnificent!

I think it's assumed these days that GN'R kind of "broke" straight from the get-go after the release of AFD. Truth is, it took us nearly a year of straight touring before anyone paid attention to us in a significant manner--except for the UK.

An odd clash of circumstances occurred in Britain about a year before Live Like a Suicide came out. Back then and before the Internet, the youth over here would sort of latch on to one rock-and-roll band and identify it as their clarion light. That band was Hanoi Rocks, an amazing group of Finns who had relocated to England and were writing some of the best and dirtiest rock songs. When Hanoi finally came to tour America for the first time in 1985, their drummer Razzle died in a car crash while making a booze run with Vince Neil in LA I had just moved to Hollywood, and Slash and I had tickets to that Hanoi gig that never happened. It was an incredibly sad moment not only in rock and roll, but all the way around. Hanoi Rocks never quite recovered.

Flash forward to our gig in the UK, July 1987. After the first Marquee gig sold out in record time, they added a second date. That sold out just as fast, so they added a third. By the time we arrived here (we stayed at a rent-by-the-week apartment because it was much cheaper than a hotel), we were kind of like little mini-celebrities. There were times that people would stop us on the street and they actually knew who we were! It was quite weird, even on a small scale.

I learned to ride the tube everywhere, and it just seemed that there were great gigs every night we were there. Slash and I went out to a suburb one night to see the Replacements, and got so drunk that we lost track where we were. We caught a tube to somewhere that was not anywhere even close to our apartment in Kensington. We got into a drunken fight when we got to the end of the line, and realized that there were no more trains running and that we didn't have anything close to the amount of money to take a cab. Come to think of it, I doubt we even knew the address of where we were staying; we only knew how to get there from our local tube stop. To this day, I am not sure how we ever got back that night. Did we sleep in the train station? Ah, the luck and providence shown to the young and drunken and foolish!

But the real reason we were here, of course, was to fucking rock. I must say that back in that period of the band's career, nobody did it with more purpose, sneer, and reckless bad intent than us. This is not me bragging - it's just that we were hitting on all the right cylinders at the same time. When we walked to the Marquee on that first night, we were met by the crowd that was in line surrounding the block. We were absolutely fucking amazed that all these people came to see us. We hung out there in the street with them before and after those three gigs. We found that we had suddenly become "that" band that the youth of England had been looking for to fill the void left after Hanoi Rocks' tragic demise. Within four years, we would be headlining in stadiums here.

I am here now as a real grown-up, an adult doing very "adult-like" business and meeting with real-life businessmen. I am glad to be taken seriously in these meetings, and for certain feel that I have earned the right to be doing the things that I do outside of just playing music. Coming back to London, though, always puts a smile on my face. That first 10-day stay here as a young man will forever be a brilliant memory that will always keep me from becoming jaded.

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