Friday, 25th June, 1999 – London
“Shambles? Whaddaya mean, a shambles?”
Simon Hathaway had to shout in order to be heard above the sound of running water as he showered away the last vestiges of sleep. His young lover, Thom Woodford, had been reading aloud from a selection of newspaper reviews carrying varied accounts of Whipsnade’s Oxford Apollo show from two nights ago.
Now Simon pushed back the screen to peer at the lad, seeking confirmation of what he thought he had heard. Thom merely flashed a tolerant smile back at him and returned his attention to the Guardian’s Arts section.
It was good to be back in London again. It always felt good to come home after a long stretch on the road and, for Simon, London was as near to home as he came these days. Lately he had lost his lust for the open road. Three months on tour was too damned long, however much success came from the enterprise. People who had never done this kind of thing for a living always seemed to think it must be such a glamorous lifestyle, being in a band; in Milan one day, Paris the next… doing interviews for popular music shows or glossy magazines. They never stopped to think about the kind of schedule that saw you fall asleep in your seat on a rancid tour bus leaving Glasgow Barrowlands at three in the morning, just a few hours after crawling off stage from a two hour set, to wake up at dawn in Hull, freezing your balls off whilst you waited for a ferry to Rotterdam, where in just a few hours you would be required to soundcheck for another two hour set that same night; in the meantime having slotted in four or five interviews and maybe (just maybe, if you were lucky) wolfing a cardboard sandwich and a Styrofoam coffee that didn’t touch the sides of your gullet all the way down.
In the three and a half, chaotic months just past, Whipsnade had finally concluded the mixes for their third album, ‘Drowning Fields’. B-sides were laid down for the next three earmarked singles at the same time and the band recorded promotional videos for them throughout the last week of April. This involved a twelve hour round trip to Berlin for the filming of ‘Willing Mind’ and three days standing on the moors above Bodmin, in driving sleet, doing the shoot for ‘She’s Got Stars To Walk On’. Preliminary gigs for the album tour had run throughout April, worldwide, after which the band were allowed to return to London for two whole days to record a slot on ‘Later…’ and the video for ‘Animorous’.
Filming took place on the abandoned tube station at Mornington Crescent and featured a pair of black panthers and a crew of hip-hop home-boys (from Islington) who spray-painted the tunnels with Whipsnade’s band logo and subsequently got them banned en-masse from the Underground System!
Shooting done with, there quickly followed on-the-road interviews for the trade press to coincide with the single pressing of ‘Animorous’ and the release of ‘Drowning Fields’ in June. Most of these conversations took place on buses and trains en-route to Europe’s major capital cities for more promotional gigs. During the first week of May, Whipsnade even played in Bucharest and Zagreb where (and Matty was ‘adamant’ about this) they had a solid fan-base. It took three days to get to Bucharest from the former Yugoslavia thanks to a blow-out on the road from Sibiu, two and a half-thousand feet up in the Transylvanian Alps. Ciaran went down with food poisoning on the night of the gig, forcing one of their roadies to stand in for him, and Rayne contracted flu when the air conditioning on the coach seized on cold. Throughout the eastern-European leg of the tour, he had suffered persistent voice-loss.
Before the end of May, illness and exhaustion forced a brief return to England to recuperate. The press had a field day, photographing Rayne at Heathrow in dark glasses and a muffler, looking thin and ill, and printing stories alleging that he had come home for treatment following a Heroin overdose. It was a short halt. Less than a week later Whipsnade were on the road again, this time with a full entourage of more than fifty people and two support bands, gigging across the UK.
“’On a damp Tuesday night in Oxfordshire, Whipsnade put on a dazzling display of chaos for a frenzied fan-base who probably wouldn’t have cared if their heroes performed a set straight out of Mother Goose,’” Thom read aloud to him from the Guardian, as Simon splashed and soaped himself in the glass-panelled shower cubicle. “’Rayne Wylde’s gang of glitter-gothic troubadours are always good entertainment and, in spite of the obvious sound difficulties, managed a performance which brought a small part of Oxford, at least, to it’s knees.
“’A close tangle with the crowd left Wylde bloodied but indefatigable last night, although the set was foreshortened as a result. What remained, sadly displayed the mighty Whipsnade as former rock kings in beggars’ rags. The old songs were delivered with a rabid gusto that only Rayne Wylde can manage. Demonstratively off his face, Wylde still navigates Kağıthane Escort his way around a three minute pop song like no one else. The newer numbers range from the quivering tension of the single ‘Animorous’, to the broken-hearted balladry of ‘She’s Got Stars To Walk On’, which once more illustrates the band’s unparalleled capacity for writing unlovely love songs. It is a pity that this rendition was mangled by a singer with a skull full of lysergic acid!
“‘Whipsnade on form are miles better than the shambles here in Oxford last night, but right now a period of de-tox looks the order of the day for these former hopefuls of Rock’s Velvet Revolution.’”
Simon tilted his head back beneath the blast of searing water, letting the shower soothe away his tension as Thom folded the newspaper shut decisively. He had slept solidly for the last day and night, since coming home to his apartment in the shadow of Tower Bridge. Deservedly so, in his opinion. The Guardian was entitled to its view, he supposed, but still it made him angry. All media coverage did at the moment.
In Dublin, a well-publicised scuffle with some reporter from the Daily Mirror in the foyer of the band’s hotel had been blown up out of all proportion. Rayne had been pissed off about the Heroin story, true – they ‘all’ had, but the press really had it in for them this time around. The tabloids the next day were full of rubbish about Ray being too stoned to stand up on his own, totally ignoring the fact that he had decked a photographer twice as broad as he was.
Whipsnade’s drummer sighed and rubbed shampoo through his spiky, auburn hair. He supposed things would have been easier if relations between Ray and Sean Courtney had not deteriorated gravely during the Birmingham concert. Rayne had been two hours late for the sound check, and when he finally turned up he was wired and twitchy; still on come-down from the excesses of the Manchester aftershow party. The replacement tour bus had been a mess. Equipment went missing in Manchester (presumed stolen) and the sound had been fucking awful.
Oxford, a night later, had been a magnificent struggle against crushing odds. The Guardian was justified in its criticism of the sound quality but they were not to know that Whipsnade had not even soundchecked the venue. To make matters worse, the crowd had been a bolshy bunch from the word go. Even before the first band set foot on stage they were howling and throwing stuff around. Matters were not helped by the fact that Rayne seemed to be completely out of his head when he finally arrived for the show, alone and soaking wet, just half an hour before the band were due to perform. There had been a screaming row with Court during which the guitarist threatened to quit once the tour was over and Rayne told him quite bluntly that he could do what he damned well liked.
Seconds before the house lights went down, Rayne changed the set-list triggering another argument, which continued on and off throughout the gig. Admittedly, Si conceded, the alterations (if not the altercations following on from them) helped to defuse the crowd’s aggression. Rayne was undeniably wired. He stalked onto that stage like a prizefighter, determined that no one would best him. For the first five numbers there was no let up; starting with ‘Animorous’; then the hotly disputed ‘Dark Paths’ in all it’s black sexual humour and scathing fury; followed without pause by their first single, ‘Outeract’, and a savage rendition of ‘Wild Women’ from the Acid Gardens album and culminating with ‘Wrecking Machine’, the only Whipsnade single never to feature on an album and one of their biggest ever hits.
The choices were good ones, with hindsight. It gave the crowd no respite and Simon had even relaxed and begun to think that they would get away with the lousy sound quality, when Rayne began to belt out the opening lines to an old B-side, ‘Lips Round the Barrel’, accappello. Court had looked over his shoulder at the rest of the band, clearly as startled as they were by this unscheduled addition.
The crowd loved it though, bellowing along with Rayne’s notorious paean to suicide as Whipsnade picked up the musical pieces behind their frontman. Rayne seemed not to care if they were with him or not. He was balancing on the monitors at the very edge of the stage, keening like a violin string; “Lips round the barrel… rope round your neck… Throw yourself down, boy…. Put yourself down….” Then, without warning, he toppled theatrically into the first few rows of the crowd. Trailing the mic lead behind him like the smoking tail of a stricken fighter plane, he vanished into the sea of thrashing bodies below.
Court cursed an audible blue streak and massacred his precious Strat to cover for the loss of vocals. The other two followed his lead, reprising the refrain helplessly, whilst the crowd erupted like a piranha pool at feeding time and the bouncers struggled to retrieve Rayne from their midst, ripped and bloodied but far from bowed. He was missing his Kağıthane Escort Bayan shoes and the buttons of his black shirt when they boosted him back onstage, with his fly buttons half unfastened, swinging the mic around his head like a weapon. Blood trickled from his lips and left ear, but it was not until much later that Simon discovered how his silver-hoop earring had been ripped out forcibly by a frenzied trophy hunter.
Oddly enough, the lobe of his ear seemed fine by the end of the night.
It had been a shock… to the reviewers as well, who commented on the singer’s battle scars with macabre glee. Simon’s concerns were more grave. Rayne had not thrown himself to the lions like that since one memorable night in Liverpool, over three years ago, when he had performed an elegant dive from the stage of the Royal Court Theatre into a packing crowd. It was the last show of that particular tour, although it had not been scheduled to end thus. A bunch of little Nazis, who had been heckling him all night, piled in and kicked seven shades of shit out of him, putting him in hospital with a broken nose and ribs and a cracked shin. Rayne claimed not to remember anything about the incident, but he never jumped from the stage again.
Not until last night in Oxford.
Rayne Wylde cradled his throbbing head against the heel of his hand and leaned back slowly on the cool, khaki-green wall behind his austere bunk. He had stopped shaking, finally, which was a blessed relief. Everyone who came into his tiny cell had looked at him as if he was a crazed drug-fiend. He laughed humourlessly to himself at the idea that (if they read the tabloids regularly) they probably thought he was anyway. Certainly, he had not helped his image by letting them bring him in here like this. At least now he was caged he no longer felt so nauseous.
A young WPC had brought him coffee some time ago and he had wrestled it down past the lump in his dry throat, fighting the urge to cry, as vivid images flashed through his head from the last twelve hours.
His life had deteriorated into nightmare territory since Whipsnade came back to London. In the few short hours that they had been home, Rayne had lived a horror movie lifestyle. On the road he could hide behind an intense persona, fuelled by libido and stimulants. His coke-numbed senses let him exist at the most basic, primal level, but the drug turned him into an animal, incapable of making his own measured decisions. Here, in civilised West London, where people knew him, he had to resume a mantle of normalcy, at least for appearance’s sake. He had fervently hoped that the insanity in his head would stop the minute he walked across the threshold and back into reality.
When that did not happen, he began to panic. And the pressure was building up inside him now until he wanted to scream out loud.
Back in Oxford, he had begun to believe that it was all over; Whipsnade, his life, everything. It had taken all the shreds of courage he could muster and every last milligram of coke he could ingest (and even that most routine of habits had been a struggle) to throw himself into the crowd. Memories of the vicious kicking he had taken in Liverpool resurfaced as the Oxford mob closed over him, tearing like animals at his clothing and his body. Foolishly, he let himself accept that they would end this waking nightmare for him. Of course, they did nothing of the sort.
Since four burly security men dragged him from the heaving throng, he had felt strangely empty and listless. Nothing mattered any more. If he could not die, what was the point in seeking after thrills?
Once upon a time Rayne had sincerely believed that Whipsnade was all he would ever need. Now, alone and in despair, he wondered what that dream had led him to.
Lying on the bunk in his cell, he thought back wearily to Manchester and the blond-haired boy called Danny. All of that night had been a vague blur. He remembered, distantly, that they had fucked. The kid had been a rare beauty, and an absolute dream in bed, but after the sex things had turned very strange indeed. For a while he was able to convince himself that it was the coke Danny had given him. He had known bad gear to do weird stuff to his head before, but never with such long lasting side effects.
Since Manchester, he had been unable to eat. He did not know if it was anxiety, or drug-related illness. Everything he forced down came right back up again. Even weak tea, which he loathed anyway, or the strong Italian coffee he normally adored, refused to remain in his belly for more than a minute or two. The fear was shredding him internally.
He was ravenous all the time; only, nothing satisfied the hunger gnawing at his belly. When he ate, he was sick. Once he had vomited everything back up, he found himself starving again.
The need to tell someone what was going on created a nightmare scenario of Catch-22 proportions in his head. If he opened his mouth, his own friends would Escort Kağıthane brand him a lunatic. If he kept it to himself, he would likely go crazy anyhow!
After the Birmingham show, which had been a dire affair, he had lain in bed, alone, and sobbed his heart out for most of the night, without knowing why, except that he felt so utterly wretched. Not since his boyhood had he let his feelings loose like that.
Not since mum died, anyway.
He shut those thoughts out hard, digging his nails into the palms of his hands. Grimly he stared at the grey-green wall opposite and refused to cry.
Even drugs could not soothe him by the time they reached Oxford. The insides of his nose were as raw as they only ever got after prolonged bingeing. He locked himself in his hotel room and stripped naked, dropping his clothes to the floor. Throwing himself onto the bed he closed shaking fingers around his semi-hard dick and jerked off rapidly in an attempt to calm his nerves. A satisfying wank generally helped him to sleep, but he brought himself off three times before giving up on the endeavour. He was still wired and craving… ‘something’, but he did not know what. Idly, he dabbled his fingers in the cooling spunk on his chest and belly then sucked them clean. It eased the itch inside him only slightly.
He had been frantic by this stage. Fleeing the stifling atmosphere of the Whipsnade entourage’s out of town hotel, he called a cab and roamed the city alone for an afternoon. He was a dissolute, twenty-first century vagrant cast adrift in this timeless town of golden walled universities; like a modern day gypsy lost on the set of a period drama. He walked aimlessly, hardly knowing where he was for much of the time. Passing a butcher’s shop on the High Street the most appalling craving yet had come over him. He stood for an age, staring through the window at the raw steaks and cuts of liver in their bloody trays, until one of the assistants had come out onto the street to ask if he was all right.
Rayne struggled to push away the memory of what he had done next. It had sickened him then and still turned his empty stomach even now.
It had been ten years since he last ate meat. The liver was cold and raw but still bloody when he took it from the flimsy plastic bag in a shady nook by the river. By the time Rayne was done with it, the piece of flesh was dry and desiccated and the bag licked clean. He crouched, panting like an animal, by the waters’ edge for a little while afterwards, as the blood ran slowly down his gullet and settled in a cold mass on his spasming gut. Then, sickened by his own degradation, he huddled on his hands and knees and threw up until his shrunken stomach ached and he was weeping with pain and frustration. Streams of blood and bile flowed from his mouth and nostrils as he sobbed and shuddered.
During that same afternoon, he decided to drown himself. Normally cocaine kept him away from alcohol whilst the band were touring, but he could not manage even a tiny sniff of coke by this time. His nose and throat and the insides of his skull ached like they were full of ice. It was easier to inject it, but he had always been squeamish around needles, letting Matt handle the fiddly business of mainlining. A bottle of vodka became his companion during the late afternoon and, when that was empty, he lay down by the riverside again and rolled nervelessly into the water.
It was then that he recalled something else about that terrible night in the Manchester Midland Hotel. He did not need to breathe. Even under water he was utterly sentient, although he lay on the riverbed for nearly half an hour, just hoping blindly.
A couple, walking their dog by the Isis finally spotted him and raised the alarm. They fished him from the river with a boat hook and pumped his lungs until he had coughed up most of Oxfordshire’s water supply – or so it felt. By that time, he was too enervated even to cry.
What made it worse, he could sense the energy around him so very acutely. He could feel the shimmer of summer sunshine through the dappling leaves overhead and smell the verdant greenery and rising sap, and the loamy scent of the earth beneath him. The water had its own clear, slightly irony tang and the people around him were warm and pulsing with life. Rayne could hear the pounding of their earnest, anxious hearts and almost taste the salty heat of their flesh and their blood.
The hunger was so bad that he wanted to scream until the pressure in his head was gone. He longed to grab one of them and rip out his throat until the hot red life-force spilled over his face and hands. Finally, able to stumble to his feet, he had fled, not knowing what direction to take, only that he needed to get away from their concerned voices and the mingled pity and disgust in their eyes. They watched him go in silent astonishment, water still sluicing from his hair and clothing as he ran.
Simon turned off the hot jets and ran his hands through his wet hair, surprised to discover that the memory had left him shaking slightly. It had been a shock, seeing his best friend vanish like that; sucked into the crowd and swallowed up by them as if he would never re-emerge. Recollections of Liverpool had given him palpitations until the security guys could get Rayne safely back onstage.