FRANKENWAY


ON stage, the creature stirs. Arms out-stretched, it stumbles forward; lurching, lumbering... It looks human, but isn't. It's life, but not as we know it. It's... . "FRANKENWAY!" shrieks Andy Parker.



"I noticed it early on in the tour," Andy reveals. "Pete started to walk towards Vinnie. He had his arms out to give him a hug, but the way he staggered made him look just like Frankenstein's monster. It's the same every night. He becomes Frankenway." Phil Mogg gives an instant impression, supplying the voice of the monster: "Wine," he grunts. "Wine, good... give me wine!"



"Vinnie's not too happy about it," Phil continues. "Can you blame him? Who'd want those slobbering lips and that sweat all over you?"



Of course, the real resurrected corpse is the band themselves: UFO, the legendary monsters of rock, back from the grave and confounding their critics with a tour that's played to pilchard-packed houses all over Europe. With their new album The Monkey Puzzle and re-found tightness on stage, it's as if this band has never been away. You have to look real close to see the surgeon's stitches.



Problem one: Pete Way's bladder. "Pete can't do a full set now without having a pee," reveals Andy. "He has to leave the stage three or four times a night to relieve himself. Andre, the bass tech, holds the cup. He is the Guardian of the Golden Goblets... "



Problem two: Pete Way's trousers. He only took one pair of ancient stage strides on tour, and they were a 31-inch waist...



"At Newcastle, he was lying on the floor during 'Rock Bottom' and they split," confides Andy. "He was wearing nothing under them, so the audience saw rather more of Pete than they expected." The next day, Pete asked his lovely American missus Rashida (wife number five) to fix them.



"She suggested he'd be better off getting down the gym," Andy laughs. "So they had a row and the trousers weren't repaired. The next night he was still wearing them. Of course they kept sliding down. Phil and Andre were taking turns to pull 'em up on stage. He was showing so much butt crack Paul Raymond was keeping a guitar pick in there."



I stumble in on the next act of this on-going farce at London's St Giles Hotel. Rashida had just been out and bought Pete new stripy black and white stage trousers at the bargain price of £50 reduced from £100.



The colour drains from Way's face. "Don't spend any more money," he tells her strictly. But she does, returning shortly with a matching red and black pair. Pete moans like a wounded ox.



"He is the tightest man in rock 'n' roll," says Phil later. "He'll wear those trousers till they fall off. If you see him buy a round tonight, you should take pictures."



Pete Way and sobriety are words that sit together like Ted Nugent and veggie-burgers, of course. But the Moggster runs him a close second.



Phil has a new nickname, Captain Schnapps, due to his new-found fondness for the tipple. Pre-tour, he missed three rehearsal days through schnapps hangovers. On tour, it seems to have fuelled his aggression.



"He's taken up arm-wrestling," Pete reveals. "He keeps losing to Oscar the pirate, our guitar tech. We were in a hotel in Germany and Phil was challenging everyone in the bar, going up to Thai businessmen saying 'You're next'."



In London, a double-decker clipped the back end of their tour bus, bringing the West End traffic to a stand-still.



"This posh guy came up and started berating our road crew," says Pete. "Because they're German, he was talking down to them. All of a sudden, Phil roars up from the back of the bus going: 'Shut your effin' mouth'... That was my cue to depart... "



Tonight the band nearly doesn't get in to the gig.



"Where's yer pass?" growls a bouncer.



"Here it is," retorts Mogg, waving his fist at the big gorilla. "Here's my backstage pass..."



Tonio, the band's hyper-efficient Teutonic tour manager, groans as he rushes forward to placate him. "Phil's been slung out of two clubs already this tour for doing zat," he reveals.



Ah UFO. It's been a quarter of a century since I was last on the road with them and nothing seems to have changed. Not even Paul Raymond's hair, which remains as magically jet-black as it was on the Lights Out album.



November 29th, 2006 and the London Astoria is as packed as Phil's leather pants. (Token semi-gay reference to recall the charmless ghost of Ross Halfin). It's just another full-to-capacity venue on a sold-out Euro-tour.



On stage, they deliver like men half their age, which I'm guessing would be 35 – 40. It's only the sweet smell of vomit in the wings that reminds you that things have come a way down-hill from their stadium-playing 1970s glory days...



In those days, UFO was a by-word for rock'n'roll excess.



Some bands employ PR-weasels to drum up outrageous tour stories. UFO never had to. Sitting in the bar, we talk about then and now.



"The initial success was breath-taking," says Phil. "I remember being driven down Sunset and seeing a huge UFO poster on a billboard. Hollywood. Wow! We'd arrived.



"You'd get girls knocking at your door every night, saying 'Hello my name's Lisa' or whatever, and you'd end up saying 'Go away'. She'd say 'But you haven't seen me yet', and she'd be beautiful, but they were all stunners. And you'd be saying 'I don't wanna see ya, I just wanna sleep.'



"It was non-stop and we were like kids in a candy store. We'd gone to the Marquee to that and it was full-on. That was 1976."



Andy: "I remember walking into Phil's hotel room in California and there was a girl bouncing around on top of him, singing 'Doctor Doctor' at the top of her voice... she had quite a nice rhythm going. You notice these things as a drummer."



Shouldn't it have been 'Shoot Shoot'?



Phil: "There's a better Schenker story. We caught Michael lying naked on his bed with a cute girl from the gig on top of him, pumping iron so to speak, and he's got a cigarette and a pint of beer going, and he's listening to that night's show on a battered old cassette player."



Andy: "She's screwing him and he's calling up the tour manager saying, 'John tonight we used too much echo... ' Classic.



Phil: "We asked him about it afterwards, and he said: 'For me the woman must do everything.'"



Those days are behind Phil now. He married long-time girlfriend Emma, a former Page Three girl, in Gretna Green this year (he tells me it was last month; turns out it was the summer).



Way refuses to even discuss stories of the previous sister(s)-in-law he seduced, muttering darkly: "Divorces and houses, you know about that."



They still get their share of babes in the audience of course but these tend now to be the daughters of UFO fans (two of Steve 'Harry' Harris's, and his son, are here tonight).



Pete, now 55, is more forthcoming on the subject of drugs. "I'm clean of heroin," he says, adding. "It got to the stage where couldn't get any more in cos all my veins collapsed, it wasn't very nice."



He rolls up his trousers to show off the scars on his calves. "Shrapnel, Korea," laughs Mogg.



In August Pete had an operation to remove "all the dodgy veins," he says. "I'd been injecting for seven or eight years. But I stopped cos I couldn't get any more in and methadone is boring."



The death of his fourth wife, Jo, an American doctor who shared his habit, six years ago, had a cathartic effect on Pete.



"I thought, what's the point anyway? You can't play properly; you can't live your life properly."



Back in the seventies, cocaine was the band's drug of choice. Phil recalls a gruelling tour when they had been in need of pharmaceutical stimulation. A dealer was called. "We expected him to turn up with a bag," says Phil. "He arrived with a suitcase half full of it. Of course none of us thought of saving any. We got to the gig and I was rigid."



The Spinal Tap scene, where the band get lost back-stage, was based on them.



"It was a stadium gig at St Louis," recalls Andy. "Backstage was a maze of tunnels and we were really fucked up, it took us 20 minutes to find the stage."



Rock legend has it that the band blew their takings for a whole US tour by missing their tour bus due to excess partying and having to hire jets to get to the next show.



"Not true," says Phil. "We never hired a jet. A small plane on a couple of occasions."



Andy recalls one such flight. Air turbulence was so bad that he, Pete and Phil thought they were goners.



"It was like an invisible giant was throwing it about. All three of us said as one, 'Where's the fucking Courvoisier?' That's called fear... Pete threw up into a bag and then gave it to the pilot, he didn't know what else to do with it."



Schenker of course excelled. "One night he started wrecking his hotel room," recalls Phil. "He was kicking holes in wall, the manager tried to calm him down but Michael wouldn't have it. He kept squirting him in face with his water pistol; in the end security just grabbed him and marched him out.



"He was always a little strange. When he moved to Palmers Green in '74, he stole the next door neighbours' rabbit. I remember him telling me, 'I have stolen the rabbit, I have him in my flat, he is shitting everywhere.' He'd got over the fence, nicked it to fatten it up and eat, and the place was covered in rabbit crap."



By those standards, today's older wiser UFO seems almost tame. Highlights of this tour include Pete's puppet shows with a toy squirrel ("Little Vinnie") purloined from a restaurant in France, and the auctioning of Vinnie's signed but unwashed underpants for 2,000 Czech koruna.



The audience is older too. Phil enthuses about the sea of bald heads at Nottingham.



Mogg, who will be sixty in 2008, insists he has cut down on booze.



"I can't drink wine any more," he says. "I can't drink spirits; the only thing I'm allowed is beer occasionally."



But he tells me this after he's just drunk the best part of a bottle of Cava in front of me, and he doesn't mention that beer is his breakfast drink.



Pete is on the wine. Even in concert. Andy says: "Andre tunes Pete's bass with one hand and fills his wine glass with the other."



"I don't why he bothers giving him wine on stage," says Phil. "He should just hand his cup of pee back to him, he wouldn't be able to tell the difference... "



Pete insists he's "just a casual drinker"; a use of the word experts might find puzzling. Presumably in the same way as Torquemada was a casual inquisitor. "Our bar bill is only about £80 a day," he says.



"Pah!" Phil explodes. "I buy rounds, you don't open that fucking wallet... if you see that wallet open tonight, Garry, send me a letter."



Andy: "He hasn't got a wallet; he carries round a collection of crap in a bag."



(In fairness to Pete, he did buy me a drink. No hold on, I was standing next to his daughters when Rashida bought them one on Pete's credit card and I got in on the round. Picture his face when the bill comes through).



"Pete has to drink," says Andy Parker. "He's done a deal with the devil and the alcohol keeps him young. If he ever stopped the years would all come back and he'd age and wither before our eyes like that scene in Star Trek."



But then he adds: "Pete's the best I've seen him, he's naturally a sweet person.



The band seems happier now. In the 80s, they always seemed to be feuding. No-one ties kippers to car exhausts any more, as they once did to Andy's hire care. The words 'No neck' aren't mentioned. These days the stick is gentler.



Paul Raymond is known as Paul Sparrow because of his Johnny Depp style eye-liner (no-one was surprised when he accidentally walked through customs on Emma's passport.) While Pete is...



"We call him Toxic Way," says Phil. "He's given all of us a virus and never got ill himself. He's just a carrier, he's Typhoid Mary... we're suffering from Way-diation... it's like a spell that comes over you."



Only once this tour has Phil wound up Pete enough to retaliate and "kick him in the brooch and ear-rings" on stage.



They bicker like an old married couple. Phil calls Pete's new strides "an unusual choice for an elderly gentleman", adding: "How many men your age wear striped trousers?"



"I wear 'em to annoy you," Pete retorts.



At times, Phil seems as curmudgeonly as a club room full of Colonels. He confesses to having "ripped the head off" his computer before the tour. He hates pre-tuned radios and i-pods. "I don't download," he says with pride.



But there's always a twinkle of mischief in his eye. Only he could anticipate the meeting of Pete's first and fifth wives at the Astoria and hope for fireworks.



Mogg loves Seinfeld, and has become obsessed with Catherine Tate, and the Simpsons which he's only just discovered.



"I love the bit where Homer watches the food in the microwave and says: 'Oh, too slow.' Like Pete Way on the bass, too slow... "



"I don't think so," says Pete, retaliating: "You know he doesn't know all of his words... "



Phil: "Ah but I can make it up as I go along, it's poetic licence. The great thing about us is every night's different, it's not a rehearsed act, you don't know what's going to happen."



Pete recalls a story from the Misdemeanour album. Phil hadn't finished writing the lyrics so they sent him to the garden with a pen and paper. Later, they returned to see how he was getting on. Mogg had vanished, but the paper was still there. On it were the words 'Buy Special Brew'. He'd made a shopping list...



The tour ended in Athens on December 3rd. Next February, they hit Scandinavia and then Russia.



"We're working, it's our new thing," says Pete. "We're gonna play more regularly."



Andy Parker's return has made a big difference to their live sound. They're tight. As tight as Pete at a pay bar.



The tour has not been without incident - Pete twisted his knee in Newcastle; he fell off the drum riser but didn't miss a note. And they needed a police escort at Bristol, when a wheel came off their trailer. But they're not getting busted any more.



Pete's possession charge kept him off the last US tour. Cops in Kentucky found two needles in his bag. That's been dismissed and he's knocked smack on the head so new Stateside gigs are on the cards.



(Phil only ever got cautioned in the US for mooning on stage at Lubbock, Texas)



"Our message to the kids of today is don't do drugs," says Phil before the show. "It's no direction to go in... Pete Doherty I find very punchable... OK, he takes drugs, but what has he ever written?"



"I dragged out my old Jimi Hendrix albums the other day. They're still amazing. Old Led Zep... wow, these guys rock!"



I notice that Phil has not got changed for the stage.



"I'm in my stage gear all day long these days," he explains. "I don't have to change. I am as I am and I'll wear what I want when I want.



"l just walk on with what I've got on, this is an honest off the street gig.



"I'm not dressing up, this is what I am! I came here to rock!"



The next time I see him he's up on stage, complaining that there's no Red Stripe...





© Garry Bushell, December 2006





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