Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Memories of a thousand* gigs #5

(* probably not actually that many, but who’s counting?)

#5: Bis 

The Cavern, Exeter – 1st June 1996
Also in attendance: The future Mrs Robster, Louse, Midget, Tim & Phil (I think) 

Probably one of the most hilarious nights I can remember, and it had little to do with the band. It was another hot and sweaty one at the Cavern, Bis were the main attraction having just had a hit with their single ‘Kandy Pop’. Mrs Robster and I were barely six months into our relationship, but she was already comfortable (ish) around my more, erm, charismatic friends. A good job too, if this evening was anything to go by.

Quite why everyone was so keen to see Bis remains a mystery; they were absolutely fucking awful. I thought the single was simply irritating (still do!) and saw the media frenzy surrounding them as a last desperate act to latch onto something new to throw onto the dying embers of the Britpop bonfire. The flames rarely flickered by this point, but Bis were hardly the gasoline to set them roaring once more. Mrs Robster was no more enamoured by the band than I was, but we went because I could gain free admission to the Cavern. That, and because a certain group of friends were going and they were always good fun to be around.

My memory betrays me now and again, so it is entirely possible one or two things I relay in this story may be inaccurate. For instance, I’m pretty certain that as well as Mrs Robster and I, also present were Midget, Tim, Phil and Louse[1]. However, it’s possible Strimmer[2] was there too, and that maybe Midget wasn’t. I stand to be corrected should any of those involved wish to put me right.

Tim had a van he used for work. He drove down to Exeter, I agreed to stay sober and drive back. The Cavern was packed – as expected – and Bis were just as terrible live as on record – also as expected. They all looked about 10 years old, especially singer Manda Rin who acted as if she’d had one too many glasses of orange pop before she went on stage. Louse, never one to exercise a great deal of restraint, heckled the band from early on. What really got him started was the guitarist yelling: “Yeeeah! Punk rock!” This was as punk as an episode of Play School[3] and Louse let rip.

“You’re not fuckin’ punk you fuckin’ wankers!”  And so on…

Following the show, Mrs Robster and I went back to the van just ahead of the others. Only Midget and Louse followed. Phil had gone walkabout, and Tim – well, it seemed Tim had become friendly with a couple of ladies. Midget and Louse had tried to tell him that, in their opinions, maybe he wasn’t quite their type. OK, so what they actually said was: “Tim, they’re lesbians, you’ve got no chance.” But Tim persevered, despite repeated warnings from the others.

Phil had said he was going to get something to eat at the end of the show. So the four of us got in the van and drove around looking for our absent compadre. We found him. For some unknown reason, we found Phil nonchalantly walking along the street pushing a shopping trolley. In the trolley was an upturned table that may or may not have come from the Cavern. I did wonder if I was hallucinating, it was truly one of the most bizarre, yet hilarious sights I’d ever seen. What probably made this even funnier was that it was Phil; I always expected to laugh when Phil was around.

Someone asked him: “What the hell have you got in the trolley?” Phil’s matter-of-fact reply was: “A table.” Well, ask a stupid question… Phil abandoned his booty and jumped in the van. I never did find out if he was successful in his quest for food, and the ‘table in a trolley’ haul was never explained.  

On our way out of Exeter, we caught one more sight of Tim, accompanied by his two new friends. We stopped and called for him to come with us (using various choice expressions to let him know he was wasting his time), but he insisted we drive on. He’d be fine; he’d catch a bus back in the morning and pick the van up from mine as arranged.

The following morning, I looked out my front window and Tim’s van was gone. He had indeed picked it up as the key I left in an agreed location was also gone. I didn’t see or hear from him for a few days. I did see Midget though, who couldn’t wait to tell me what had happened. As he told it, Tim got back to the girls’ place, whereupon they thanked him for walking them home and went inside – without him. Stranded 30-odd miles from home, Tim weighed up his options… and started walking. He made it back to Torrington around 7am, picked the van up and drove off. He claimed he’d walked all the way, but I’m still not sure. The next time I saw Tim, I asked him what went wrong. He didn’t seem that bothered, not on the surface at least.

“I reckon they were lesbians,” he surmised…


[1] Who’s who: Louse – tall, skinny punk who had a dog called Gish (yes, after the Smashing Pumpkins record). He and girlfriend Anna were travellers for a while and occasionally crashed at my place; Midget – one of the funniest people I ever knew. Another punk, Midge never failed to make me LOL and also introduced me to lots of great punk and grunge bands (Helmet, Screaming Trees, etc). Sadly no longer with us, Midget nevertheless left a big legacy in people’s hearts; Tim – the archetypal ‘gentle giant’, many people have a Tim story to tell; Phil – Big Phil was another brilliantly funny guy with a character as large as his physicality. He was rarely seen without a huge grin on his face. Even rarer was someone in Phil’s company not grinning along with him!
[2] Strimmer: Strim’s chat-up lines were notorious. “That’s a lovely blouse,” was one of his subtle efforts, while “What’s your favourite position then?” was among his most amusing.
[3] Play School (accessed 10 March 2014)

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