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…And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead By The Seaside Wedgewood Rooms, Portsmouth 31st January 2001

Desperate for another fix of ramshackle rock and random recklessness, Kitten follows the Trail to Southsea.

Having been suitably windswept along the seafront beside the miniscule and rather grimy Southsea Castle (as built by Henry VIII), we retire to our well-appointed B&B room. Barbara Cartland would love it. There’s a china soap dispenser upon which a china butterfly alights.

Trail of dead???

There’s a white wicker dressing table/stool ‘n’ rocking chair combo. The bed headboard features a padded vinyl oval with an old master type painting on. Everything’s pink. And frilly. Enough! We need to rock.

Walking to the Wedgewood Rooms we spot Jason Reece scurrying along in his parka, but no cowboy hat. He’s really tiny.

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The venue is a cosy little place. Anywhere that displays signed photos of Dylan Moran and The Jesus And Mary Chain in the bar gets the Kitten Seal of Approval. (Cowboy) hats off, too to the affable gig-goers of Portsmouth.

The Strokes come on and are fab. We’re in New York. It is 1977. Onstage from left to right are: Joe Dallesandro, Clem Burke, Richard Hell, Wayne Kramer, plus um, another Wayne Kramer on drums. They wear leather jackets and skinny jeans and baseball boots. Baby-faced Richard Hell-man (singer Julian) stumbles about in coolly insouciant (possibly jet-lagged) mode. He announces that the band are playing sometime or other at the Astoria and the ‘Mow-nark’.The songs are instantly catchy, a bit Television, very new-wavey and there’s also something strangely Smithsy in there. Driving tunes that make you want to pull on your skinny t-shirt and jump about stupidly. One song is (rather dubiously) called ‘Barely Legal’, another is ‘New York City Cops’ (chorus, ‘New York City cops/ They ain’t too smart.’) and there’s the single ‘Modern Age’ (ho ho).

hat boy
I am interrupted from my reverie of hanging out at CB-GBs with Joey, Debbie and Dee Dee by Conrad Keely standing right beside me. Hurrah! He is a few inches taller than Kitten ( i.e. not v. tall, but a veritable Goliath next to Jason) and has his finger stuck in his ear as we’re near the speaker and it is darn loud. Jason emerges and Hurrah 2#, he’s got his cowboy hat on.

This place is great, there’s loads of room to get to the front even though there are plenty of people here. A glass of beer flies across the stage from the ’wings’. Trail of Dead haven’t even got onstage yet and they’re fucking shit up. A hand emerges from the side of the stage displaying a large clock-face to the crowd. Neil wanders on and starts meandering with his bass. There are none of the electronic birdie twitterings that will accompany their arrival onstage at the Astoria three days later. The rest of them stroll on, Conrad holding the clock aloft, triumphantly declaring that they are two minutes late, so does this mean they won’t get paid? He announces tonight’s set will feature new songs and old ones ‘just to fuck with your heads’. True to their word, they launch into a new song sung by Conrad that is, of course fantastic. They’re a bit subdued through a combination of jet lag and the fact that they have hangovers from being taken drinking by At The Drive-In as soon as they arrived. The songs still sound good, though, hammered out with little of the usual in-between noodley guitar interludes.

This close, I am able to appreciate the full splendor of Neil’s bendy-ankled fancy footwork, not to mention the disturbing sight of his nipples through his ‘Wild Turkey’ t-shirt. Conrad demonstrates how new guitars need to be kicked around to get them sounding right, ‘Like a baby. No, just kidding’. At one point Jason hangs the clock around his neck Public Enemy stylee, until it flies off during some mad guitarring. Shockingly, there is no ‘Perfect Teennhod’.

The set goes like this (more or less) and yes it is interesting to know who sung what:

  • New Song (not the Howard Jones ‘song’) - sung by Conrad
  • Mark David Chapman - sung by Neil
  • Mistakes & Regrets - Conrad
  • Blight Takes All - Jason
  • New song,‘I wondered what went wrong/ I wondered what became of you’ – Conrad (fab)
  • Gargoyle Waiting - Jason
  • Fake Fake Eyes - Jason
  • Sigh Your Children - Conrad (v. good this)
  • Half Of What - Conrad
  • Totally Natural -Conrad

Then things go a trifle pear-shaped as some foolish boy flies over the barrier and smacks his head upside the stage, collapsing in a leaden heap on the floor. Neil notices this inert body first and indicates to the others to stop playing. The Trail Of Dead gather round the corpse in concern. Eventually, a couple of bouncers carry him off on a piece of wood. Conrad peers down at him and is rewarded by a rawk ‘devil’ hand-sign. Corpse-boy can’t be feeling that bad then.

The band decide to play one last song and inform us they are now to be known as The Trail Of Love or The Trail Of Hugs. ‘Richter Scale Madness’ (sung by Conrad) undergoes a lyric change from, ‘Kill, Kill’ to ‘Kiss, Kiss’. What nice boys, there’s not even any equipment or band members flying over our heads.

The following Saturday, at the Astoria, they make up for this when Jason generously hands out his guitar to the crowd (Conrad,’That’s how we got most of our equipment’) and the set is completed with the entire drum kit, including the seat, being dismantled and passed out to eager hands. Kitten is amused to see a scrum of teenage boys clutching on to the bass drum, staggering about squabbling, each determined to be the one to take it home. Meanwhile some bloke strolls louchely out the side exit, drum under arm, reassuring a bouncer that it's a gift from the band. He magnanimously offers Kitten a souvenir piece of gaffer tape peeled from the drum.

Meanwhile, back in Southsea, the Trail of Dead all come and hang around sweatily, chatting with the kids. Kitten being, in truth, a pubescent boy-band fan gets Conrad to autograph her ticket. Thrilled by his goofy grin, Kitten trips off into the Southsea night, ears ringing, heart aglow.

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