Paris. Late April 1990
T.V. Smith's band, Cheap, are on stage and giving it some helmet. They're pounding through a song called Third Term, a perfectly good bit of punk ramalama, which TV has written because of his despair at Mrs Thatcher being re-elected again. It's the last number of the night. The French support band and their liggers have already been backstage and polished off most our rider – this is the food and beer which the club supplies for starving English rockers. Most nights of our residency, all that's left for us when we get offstage, usually, are broken French baguettes, Laughing Cow cheese and loads of bananas, which for some reason, the hangers-on don't like. The dressing room (see pic) is like all rock dressing rooms and is covered in graffiti, much of it scrawled by other English rock bands.
Sensible has found a good use for the unwanted bananas. Every night, after I've played my set and he's played his set, he stands in the wings breaking them up and flinging the pieces at the audience,Teev's band and me. I'm standing in the wings on the other side of the stage and as the banana fragments whizz through the air, they get momentarily illuminated in the stage lights. When the audience start throwing things back, the air is thick with the flying fruit, which ,when it's lit-up, resembles tracer bullets. I'm on my side of the stage, shirtless, with my black cycling trousers on, picking banana out of my hair. The audience, meanwhile is heaving and jumping at the front of the stage, Captain Sensible's making even more mess and laughing about it all, and poor old Cheap have got to finish their set in this mayhem.
There had been a fight in the dressing room, earlier on. One of the French musicians had got involved in a pushing and shoving match with another one. It wasn't a fight as we'd know it in England. As Sensible once rather chillingly said: "A fight, in my experience, is usually one person quickly hitting another one really hard, until one of them lies down and stops moving." This scuffle was nothing like that. But the diminuitive and elfin TV Smith wasn't having any of it. He marched right up to the wrestling pair and began shouting at them. " YOU! STOP! NOW!" He repeated this tactic, until amazingly, the two opponents ceased. One got the impression that Teev had done this sort of thing before. It was very impressive anyway, because you don't want people having a pagga in the dressing room before you go on, do you?
The previous Monday, Captain Sensible and I arrived at Gare St. Lazare, sometime during the late afternoon and immediately bought a couple of Carte Orange (see pic) passes which allow you to go nearly anywhere in Paris– provided that some sort of train is involved, of course. A Carte Orange will not get you into casinos, health clubs or even the very poorest class of bordello. Captain Sensible is actually Mr International when it comes to the public transport systems of the world. Although he's not brilliant at speaking foreign languages, he understands all of the railway signs and timetables in a way that borders upon the Aspergic. Take him to a foreign city and he'll immediately pick up all the local travel passes, study all the time tables and will soon know exactly what he's doing and where he's going. I've even seen him do it in Tokyo . It's no mean feat,either, when we consider that outside of about a square mile of Tokyo city centre, all the signs are in Japanese script. This obstacle pretty much renders the average western traveller illiterate and yet, the Captain will still seem to know how the system works and which stops, on say, the Yamamoto line, he needs to disembark at in order to visit a street noodle bar. In Paris, a town which he knew from his early days with The Damned, Metro travel is our chief way of getting around, therefore.
When, shortly after his first major solo hit happened, the Captain, accompanied by the Dolly Mixtures, arrived in the city, it was in a record company Limo. Although he probably didn't mind this, I have always had the impression that he was far more comfortable on buses and trains. Sensible was big pop star in France and Belgium in the mid-1980s. Six weeks at the top here, seven weeks at the top there. I've seen the gold and silver discs on his living room walls. When people in England, sing Happy Talk at him, I think it probably dismays me more on his behalf, than it does him. As well as being a fabulous guitarist – and on an average night, believe me, with only an old amp and a wah-wah pedal , he can be Hendrix good – he's also sold an awful lot of pop records. In the UK, though, he's often treated as a mere novelty artist. He generally weathers this injustice very philosphically. The Damned fans all know what he's worth though And he's great to travel with– though, he's not always so good in hotels, as we shall later see.
That evening, we meet up with the record label boss, Andy McQueen, and our fellow musicians, TV Smith and his band. A disparate bunch we are too. I surmise to myself that there will be a few adventures before this week is through. I surmise correctly.
We'll all be resident for five nights at a downtown club, which the Captain would probably and fairly, describe as: "a bit of a khazi." The club is somewhere on The Pigalle. The Pigalle, however, a sleazy strip of Parisian naughtiness, suits us all just fine. Like Soho in London, or the Reeperbahn in Hamburg, it's where we leprous English rock musicians all get sent, sooner or later. Wherever there are women of the night, pickpockets, drunken misunderstandings, clip joints, stray cats and all manner of corporeal ghastliness, you will find the clubs. In such clubs you will find the English rock musicians. Before the English rock musicians, there were English jazz musicians. Working musicians hold a very different idea in their heads of what the world's cities are all about. It is said that the Queen of England thinks that the world smells of fresh paint. English rock musicians, at least, those whose olfactory senses still function to any degree, believe that it smells of something else entirely.
The Pigalle is exciting, though. It's a great writhing ribbon of rudeness which separates Montmarte from the rest of Paris. You've got the Moulin Rouge along the way, La Locomotiv Club, where the medium big rock acts play and then, just up Rue des Martyrs, is a great wedding-cake of a church called the Sacre Couer. Montmartre's a long established bohemian quarter and I found myself completely captivated by it and its atmosphere. One morning, wandering around the dark little backstreets, I saw a battle-scarred cat, sitting on a car bonnet outside a cafe. I stopped to stroke him . If you live with cats or dogs, you tend to miss them when you're away from home – I do anyway – so you make a fuss of them in foreign cities. An old woman sweeping her doorstep, told me to be careful of him. I asked. "Il mordre?" (He bite?) She said back in French: " He's old. He's seen much combat."
Late one afternoon, I was sitting in a cafe with Natacha( (see pic), the rock journalist who was showing me around. You could see down the hill, all across the Paris rooftops looking south over the city. There had been an April shower and the cobbled streets were wet. A moped went sputtering by. A chic-looking woman went sashaying past the cafe with her toy dog. Now the sun came out from behind yellow and black bruised clouds. The diffused light was soft and misty – almost dreamlike. I thought to myself; "No wonder so many painters come to live and work here." I sat there with a beer and a coffee, feeling thoroughly arty and international and for a minute or two I began to understand, at last, why people over the centuries have made such a big fuss about the city – why Hitler, Napoleon and every other two-bit wazzock who ever saw the place might want a little piece it. Because it is, after all, Paris.