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last Grateful Dead show.
I only ever attended three Dead shows, all in Europe, so I never
had the chance to go to one of those wild free wheeling bacchanalian
shows that happened with regular frequency in the states, but we Europeans,
although infrequently blessed by visits of that most stellar of bands,
did pretty well from their jaunts across the briny. The 1970 one off
show at the Hollywood
is hot. The 1972 tour is recognized as amongst one of the best
ever , 1974 run at the Alexandra
was good enough to feature as a great Dicks Picks and the 1990 bash
produced some epic shows. A bloody good track record .
Spring 81 was a special time for me, apart from making arrangements
to move to another country, there was another , final chance to see
my main band. It had been a long wait between drinks, we caught the
boys in 1974 and had bought tickets for the aborted Uk tour of 78 (when
I heard they had cancelled in order to go to Egypt I was livid, I had
forth row tickets!) so when the Spring tour came along I hit the box
office early. I wanted to go to at least two shows, but funds and work
dictated just the one on Saturday night. We decided to combine the trip
to the big city with visiting "bucket " shops to get cheap tickets to
Australia and also to see my old mate Mick Ryan, who lived the same
side of London as the Rainbow. This would prove to be a bad move .
After cruising around the pubs for most of the day we made our slightly inebriated way to Mick's mums place in Kilburn. Mick was a soft-spoken hippie who I'd met in Cornwall years before when hitch hiking and we'd been firm friends since, whenever in the smoke I'd make a point in visiting him. When I told him we were coming up to see the Dead he had insisted we come to see him and that he would drive us to the show. This time round he was temporarily staying at his aged mums flat with his exotic South African girlfriend Mellie after being deported from Western Australia for overstaying his visa. " Come on in man" he lisped sibilantly in his west London accent," come through to the bedroom, I've got things ready for you "
After spending about three hours at Mick's we all felt about ready to get going to the gig, Mick had firmly waved aside our offers to get to the show via public transport. " No problems, man, we can drive you to the show, it's much easier than going by the tube, I won't hear of it, sit back and relax". Despite our heavy hints that it was time to get going, Mick remained unmoved, he was a firm believer in manyana (this was a man who took forty minutes in the bathroom every morning, just to wash his face and clean his teeth, so there was no rushing him). Yet, more time passed, it was six forty five and the show started at eight. It would take at least forty minutes to get across to Finsbury from Kilburn on a Saturday night, but Mick was in no hurry, " Don't worry mate ", he soothed, " plenty of time, plenty of time, just one more toke for the road".
During all of this I was becoming more and more uncomfortable, there seemed to be a jinx on my visits to Dead concerts, at Bickershaw in 72, I had had to leave two thirds through the second set because my lift had to get to work in the morning. In 74 the dead blew up their generators and the show was shortened as a result. I did NOT want to miss any part of this show, especially since it would probably be my last for a long time (little did I know just how long) and during Mick's rambling I was going through various teeth grinding and hand wringing exercises, which would probably have culminated in me leaping up and grasping him around the throat, stealing his car keys and driving there myself, if he had not, at about three minutes to seven, eventually stumbled to his feet and said "well, s'pect we'd better be orf then". However, there was still no great sense of urgency, firstly he couldn't find his keys, then he had to go to the toilet. As we practically carried him out to the car we all realized that he didn't know the way there, so an A-Z street map of London had to be found by rummaging through his glove compartment and I had to resort to being navigator in the back seat as we lurched through the back streets of North London.
I expect most heads are not familiar with a London A-Z map, they are not easy to read, especially when one is in the rear seat of a Volkswagen bug, in the dark, trying to read microscopic text from the sporadic light of a bic lighter. Also, by this time none of us were in what would call a "normal " state, so this tended to hamper things somewhat. The combination of tiny text and the fact that the map did not give indications as to which streets were one way or not and the fact that both destination and starting point were separated by about a dozen pages lead to us all shouting directions to Mick which he couldn't follow due to
1. his chronic
After half an hour of this tempers were becoming frayed, it was
ten to eight and we had no idea where we were. The Rainbow was out there
somewhere, probably not very far away, but these bloody one way streets
wouldn't let us get there.
Then the clutch started to malfunction !
I decided it was time to act, I loved Mick like a brother and I didn't want to offend him , but we HAD to get to the concert, I grabbed Kate by the arm and dragged her out of the car, pushing John into the street. " Sorry Mick, but we can't wait mate, gotta see the band, my last chance and all you know, hope you get the car fixed soon, perhaps we'll see you for the second? set, ok? "( They'd both been hoping to get tickets on the door , which made going late even more inexplicable ) all this was said over my shoulder at a rapidly disappearing Volkswagen as I ran full tilt down the street looking frantically for a cab to hail . The last I saw of the Ryan's was Mellies face pressed up against the window , I might have be mistaken, but she could have sworn she was mouthing the word "sorry " into the glass.
It is common knowledge the world over that when you really need
a cab urgently you can never , ever, find one .
Tonight was no exception.
After about five minutes one finally did stop and we piled in , thrusting ten pound notes at the cabby we pleaded piteously for him to take us to the Rainbow as quickly as possible. He was sympathetic and put his foot down. As it turned out we were only a mile or so from the theatre but when the cab finally did screech to a halt outside the theatre it was ominously quiet , no one to be seen outside. They must have started on time for once in their lives, just my luck !
It was 8.15 as we raced into the lobby, the jinx had held, I was destined never to see a complete show . But at least we were HERE at last and we could hear the tones of "Promised Land " wafting through from the interior , finally- although I thought I would never get there at times -I had arrived at -
My last Grateful Dead concert.
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