I’d worked with quite a few bands on a part time basis but the Crimo’s were the first to offer me a full time job. In fact, my first full time gig with them was the Stones concert in Hyde Park, earlier that summer. The high point of that gig was the whole audience rising to their feet as one and cheering Ian Mac’s solo during Schizoid - I remember the hairs on the back of my spine rising in unison as the roar from this huge crowd went up.
I’ve worked with 2 live Crimo bands and seen most of the re-incarnations but for my money the original was always the best. For me it was an absolute pleasure to get paid for listening to a top flight band every night.
This particular tour was a great experience for me, I had only just turned 20 and had never really been abroad before. On the tour we mainly worked weekends, and as a result got to see a lot more of America than you would on a normal tour. When I first arrived I was overwhelmed by America and Manhattan — it was loud, brash, the manholes really did smoke, the cop cars really had those sirens, it all felt very alien. They said that you either get it together within two or three weeks or your head explodes over there. My turning point came when David Enthoven (the E in EG Management) balled me out over my stupid refusal to pay for breakfast in Detroit. At that point I had to get it together or be sacked, they didn’t sack me, thank god!!
Our first gig was up north in some college in Vermont. I remember sending my parents a card from “Bear Country”. The audience were completely out of their heads on synthetic mescaline and every time the strobes went off during Schizoid this very audible “Aaaaah” ran round the room - it was hilarious.
Dick was very pleased that truck drivers flashed their lights when overtaking using the same method as in the UK. We had a 20 foot truck as the equipment had doubled before leaving for the States and we also had 2 US guys to help us, though 4 people in one truck is no fun, especially if you’re riding in the back with the equipment!!
The Boston Tea Party was our first proper gig, Al Cooper was headlining and this was our first real taste of US acts and US audiences.
If I remember correctly it was during this gig that the guys decided that we should reduce their backline kit back to single 100 watt stacks as they couldn’t hear each other properly.
In Chicago we played with Iron Butterfly. Peter Noone, (I had been an extra in the film “Mrs. Brown You’ve Got a Lovely Daughter”) first told me about them a year or so before In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida came out. But much more exciting were Poco, who I’d never heard of or seen before.
We were then meant to stay at the Kinetic Theatre after the Iron Butterfly gigs and play one night with the WHO. I was really looking forward to working with them especially as Pete Townshend was a Crimo fan. The previous August, in the bar at the Plumpton Festival he’d demanded to know what modification had been done to the WEM Audiomaster mixer to make the vocal sound so great. I explained that Pete (Sinfield) had taught me that if you turn the treble and bass controls flat out and turned the input sensitivity as high as possible it produced this wonderfully musical vocal distortion. I still don’t know if Townshend believed me. While I’d been in New York on a day off I’d gone up to White Plains to see the WHO play a college gig and had met their road crew and renewed my acquaintance with Bob Pridden, their number one.
We were informed the morning after the Butterfly gig that gangsters had fired the place which had almost destroyed the hall. The fire department had got it under control in time but the water used to douse the fire had completely waterlogged the equipment. Amplifiers were dried overnight with hair dryers, oven baked for 3 hours each and then thoroughly checked by a local techie. Water had swollen the wooden keys of the mellotron. Molly in the English office found and shipped another one out, making us, I believe, the only band to carry 3 full size mellotrons, one of which Robert still owns.
I think it was Jagger who that year said “We never got it on until Detroit.” We understood why too — what an audience!! The best I’ve ever heard - and didn’t they let you know it!!! There were only 2 American bands that I knew who had WEM PA systems. Big Brother & the Holding Company featuring Janis Joplin, and The Band. In Detroit we linked our WEM PA up with The Band’s and for the first time mixed front of house. We couldn’t get very far away from the front of the stage as we didn’t have a multicore, but the difference it made was considerable. Having four Audiomaster mixers hooked up instead of the usual two was luxury indeed, and The Band were just incredible live.
Two days later we played a different hall in Detroit, this time with the Jefferson Airplane. This tour was just getting better and better, and I’d wanted to see the acts that were headlining ever since hearing their stuff at London’s UFO Club where I’d worked some 2 or 3 years earlier.
After Detroit we went back east to New York and the Fillmore East. We’d heard all these stories about how the Fillmores’ were the best at everything. Well, they were pretty damn good. The staff kept telling me how the Stones were going to have Thanksgiving dinner with them in the theatre the following week.
We rehearsed at the Fillmore for a couple of days before the gigs and the band were looking forward to the gig until they heard the first band, The Voices of East Harlem - over a hundred strong gospel choir!!!! We never stood a chance that night - and on the second night the band decided to go on first! I think the only other time that happened was when we played with Free at the Redcar Jazz Club the previous September.
While wandering around on the first day I discovered this mobile 8 track set up under the stage which was recording Joe Cocker, who was topping the bill. After introducing myself, I asked if it would be possible to record our band. To my complete surprise they said “Yes, a good test”, as everybody was using the house PA which they were patched into.
After the set I finally managed to pull Greg and Mike away from the dressing room and took them under the stage. The looks on their faces as they listened to the replay was worth the effort. To my bitter disappointment, those 8 track 2” tapes have never come to light, but people are still trying to find them.
I blew it on the day after the gig as I was invited by David, Crimo’s manager and Dee Anthony who owned the associate US organisation to go with them and Muff Winwood to see the Giants at Shea Stadium. I didn’t tell Dik about it because I was afraid he’d say no to me going. Well he shouted me out when I got back and I certainly deserved it, so here’s a chance to say, “Sorry Dik if I pissed you off, I really didn’t mean to. This was my first American football match - I couldn’t miss it could I ?!”
We had nearly a week off after the Fillmore and then I flew down to Florida with the band, a decision having been taken that 3 in a truck was just feasible but 4 definitely wasn’t. The heat hit me like a hot wind as we stepped out of the aeroplane; I’d never been anywhere remotely tropical before.
We were in West Palm Beach to do a festival where we would play on all three days - I hadn’t experienced that before either. I thought it was great, tailbacks for miles down the freeways, helicopters from the hotel lawn to the festival site and back and a whole host of US acts I’d wanted to see for ages.
As is the way with these things, it began to over-run severely and our set on the third day was cancelled. Hoping to see the Stones I got into a big military type helicopter that was taking people over to the festival site and like another famous festival three months previously the ground had become a sea of mud. As I got off the chopper this scraggy looking chick said to me, “Oh Gee, this is just like Woodstock,” so as there were duck boards to walk on I said, “If you want to avoid the mud, I’ll give you a piggy back up to the stage.” When we got to the bottom of the stage she asked me if I would like to come up onto the back of the stage to watch the Stones with her and her mate Johnny. “Sure I said,” wondering how on earth she had that much pull to get onto the stage. I got let up onto the back of the stage where her mate Johnny was a white albino with pink boss eyes and long white hair whose surname was Winter and I eventually found out her second name was Joplin. Between them was a case of liquor, a bottle of which Janis opened for me and like all good rock & roll stories, I remember nothing about getting back to the hotel that night!!
On the way up to Hollywood from LAX, John Gaydon, the G in EG Management took great delight in pointing out the massive billboard posters for undertakers, (sorry, Chapels of Rest) overlooking the freeway. While in LA I stayed in the canyons and was looked after by this beautiful lady called Rosanne who took me to Disneyland (a life’s ambition fulfilled), showed me the sunrise on Malibu Beach and paddled with me in the freezing Pacific. It is no surprise I became totally enchanted with California.
We shouldn’t really have been booked into the Whisky-A-Go-Go. They were expecting a soul band, not quite Crimo’s normal style!! In fact, I don’t think anybody enjoyed it particularly. One night ended with Greg on drums, Ian Mac I think on guitar and Robert on keyboards and Mike in the audience shouting at the band. I’m sure Robert will correct me if I’ve got the “new” lineup wrong.
Big Sur - California
To get to San Francisco we drove up the 101 coastal road stopping in Big Sur along the way. The big trees are famous but I got taken to the natural hot springs by a couple of chicks from a local bar. They stripped off and got in. Richie, one of the American road crew and I thought we were really onto a good thing but we were told in no uncertain terms that sex wasn’t on the menu - just enjoy the springs. We had a great laugh splashing around and larking about. But my strongest memory is of the four of us running about naked for over half an hour afterwards and just not feeling cold even though it was the second week of December and decidedly chilly!!
While I was having fun, all was not well within the band: Ian and Mike announced their intention to leave the group at the end of the tour. We were pretty depressed arriving in San Francisco, but once again I got surprised. As I walked into the hotel bedroom a very sexy chick announced: “I’m a groupie. Are you in the band?” We owned up, (God knows why) and I redirected her to the guys’ room!!
The Fillmore West, although the place where so much of it started in America, was not as impressive as the Fillmore East. I did the front of house sound while Pete (Sinfield) operated the lights.
While setting up I saw that the house engineer had a A77 Revox plugged into the back of the four, already antiquated Shure mixers, (one EQ control for 4 channels) ganged together as the FOH mixer. The guy let me record our sets from which much of this compilation comes.
This gig is famous for the meeting between Greg and Keith Emerson which led to the formation of ELP. I later joined ELP’s crew and was then put in overall charge but that story is for another time.
Manhattan - New York 1995
Just over a year ago I was in New York and visited Ian for the first time in too many years. I took about an hour for us to recognise each other again. He asked me to take back to the UK these original tapes which I had apparently given to him at the end of the Frisco gigs. He said he thought it appropriate that I brought them back to England as I had recorded them in the first place. I thought at first that Ian meant the 8 track tapes from New York. “Where did you get those?” I asked. “You gave them to me.” He said. “No I didn’t.” I replied. “I left them in Dee’s office. What are you talking about?”
About a half hour later, from the depths of my memory, I recalled the Revox and the recording of the gig.
More recently Dik Fraser was in town and when I picked him up I had the Fillmore West live version of Schizoid Man playing. Although quite loud, Dik instantly turned it up and we were back there again, the living testimony to exactly why there was so much noise about this band.
Richard (Vick) Vickers
1st January 1997