Laff? I Nearly Shat

Jul 6 • By • 1033 Views • No Comments on Laff? I Nearly Shat Benjamin C, COLUMNS, Issue 06 // July 2012

As a pre-teenage lad, I am proud to admit that Generation X were close to being my favourite band. Apart from The Damned. And The Stranglers. Adverts. Pistols. The Clash…alright, let’s just say they were up there.

The first album was corny as all hell but sounded (and still sounds) clear, exciting and pop!
Admittedly the second LP “Valley Of The Dolls” spawned a couple of decent singles, but that was about it.

“Perfect Hits” and “Anthology” don’t count.

Bob Andrews and Mark Laff split to form Empire, whose only LP, “Expensive Sound” (1981) was arguably the most musically influential record on the burgeoning DC “scene”. I think it’s also safe to say that we all know what happened to Billy Idol after Gen X’s “Dancing With Myself” single was reissued for the US market under his own name. And… let’s not forget Tony James, who had relative success with the odious Sigue Sigue Sputnik and much later, not so successful, including Mick Jones, with the average Carbon/ Silicon. Yes. I followed the paths of each member for a time and always wondered what happened to drummer Mark Laff.

I found out in the early 80’s that he was in a band called “Twenty Flight Rockers” and they seemed to tour quite a lot, if fly posting in Lambeth, South London from 1983/ 4 onwards was any indication.

Wind the tape forward to the summer of 1985 and there I was, Battersea Park, just south of the Thames in London at the “GLC jobs for a change” free festival. At the third stage according to the programme, mid afternoon, I discovered that Twenty Flight Rockers would be taking charge of proceedings and were sure to kick all our sorry arses into next week. I had never heard them or even seen what they looked like. No matter.

I was there and that was all that was important.

The act performing prior to TFR was Darryl Pandy. A huge, lumbering lummox with crazy eyes bashing out the lead vocal to hit of the day, Farley Jackmaster Funk’s “Love Can’t Turn Around”. The turbulent crowd was insatiable. Pandy left the stage to relentless, deafening applause only to return to his audience in order to hurl open boxes of twelve inch singles, t-shirts, all manner of merchandise, to the outstretched hands.

Not enough for his public, the backing track fired up again and off he went. “Love Can’t Turn Around”. Again. Bodies gyrating, hands in the air, clapping, cheering, FUN. UNITY. Woe betide anyone who dared to follow this. In the blazing sun it was clear that Darryl Pandy would be an extremely hard act to follow:

It took a while for the fever to subside and with a surprisingly quick changeover, there they were. TWENTY FLIGHT ROCKERS. Slicked back quiffs, leather trousers, black shirts, cravats, wallet chains and lo-slung guitars.
The lead singer said something like “ok now, Battersea – let’s rock’n’roll!”, stretched out his arm pointing to the drummer
(who I think was Mark Laff, but he had bleached hair…)
Anyway, the drums kicked in with the classic floor tom/ snare 4/4 beat:
“duh duh BAT duh duh duh BAT duh duh duh BAT…etc”

The first bottle sailed through the air. From the audience. To the stage. Then a beer can. Then another bottle. Then another two bottles. Three. Six cans. Glasses. Even a traffic cone. Within sixty seconds of treading the boards, Twenty Flight Rockers were under an incessant, literal shower of shit.

Perversely, I couldn’t stop smiling. I may even have let out a gut laugh or two.

The drummer (Mark?) took a bottle in the head and fell backwards. The guitarist and bass player scarpered, leaving the singer, who had yet to sing a note, to yell “fuck you then!!” while trying to chuck his mic stand into the audience, unaware that the mic cable was hooked around his ankle.

If there hadn’t been a huge monitor wedge in front of him to save his fall, he may well have thrown himself twelve to fifteen feet into the photographer’s pit. The organisers declared the stage closed and told us all to “fuck off” and that we as an audience were “ungrateful bastards”.

The rest of the scheduled bill for the third stage did not perform that day, including one hit wonders, Furniture (“Brilliant Mind”, anyone?). For that, I for one, was singularly grateful.

Billy Bragg was playing the main stage so I strolled over there to have a look.

He was alright.


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