On the 7th October 32 years ago Nel and I embarked on a life-changing rock tour of a large chunk of England -- by bicycle.
I recently found and edited my scribbled diaries of this time. This week, I'll that story in three or four episodes. Here follows, then...
WITH NEL AND I (pt 1)
The Brotherhood of Lizards was my musical project from spring of 1988, when the Cleaners broke up, until spring of 1990. This was six months before I decided to come out of the closet as a pop poet. Lizards' recorded output consisted of one eponymous cassette mini-L.P, one 12-track vinyl LP Lizardland –later re-released as a CD and one single, Market Day.
What the Lizards are chiefly remembered for is The Bicycle Tour. The bicycle tour took in some 1200 miles of English road in several stages between October 7th 1989 and Late February 1990. Here's what happened.
In mid-summer of 1989, with our first album due out on Deltic Records that autumn, the record company, whose bosses were Andy McQueen and Captain Sensible, asked me: " No chance of you touring I suppose?" The thought filled me with dread. Only
12 months earlier, I'd left The Cleaners from Venus because I felt I was being railroaded into touring. Then a typical Newell bit of mad-cappery occurred to me:
"I'd tour if I could do it by bicycle." I said. I fielded this notion to Andy McQueen. There was uneasy laughter at the end of the phone and I thought no more about it.
In late summer however, while studying a map of all the radio stations in the UK, a theoretical plan occurred to me. If Nel and I went from radio station to radio station– mostly distances of 20 to 30 miles apart we could:
1) Do a radio interview and plug the record.
2) Busk in whatever town centre we happened to be in
3) Talk to the local press
4) Do the occasional evening gig.
We would need:
1) Two bikes, spares, panniers and waterproof clothes
2) Guitars, a mandolin, two battery-powered practice amps
3) A cheap B&B or crashpad booked in every town which we
intended to visit.
Costing out the price and logistics of a standard tour: Hotels, petrol, van, roadies, bigger amplification equipment etc, I worked out it would be roughly £4,000 for a month on the road.
Costing out a bicycle tour, even with two bikes, a month on the road would be somewhere between £1000 and £1500 pounds. After all, Nel and I had been buskers and knew we could earn some of our daily expenses by playing on the street.
I put this idea to McQueen, who was initially sceptical. Sensible just chuckled and said things like. " Ha haa. That's my Alien." - his pet name for me.
The person who did take us seriously though was a very bright and sparky young woman at Deltic, called Caron Malcolm. She immediately began phoning radio stations and testing the water. The Lizards tour was on. By mid-September, Nel who had returned from touring France and Spain with folk outfit The Churchfitters, was amazed to find that we were about to embark on the first truly green rock promo tour.
And so it was, that on October 7th 1989, The Voyage Of The Lizards began. It left from Nel's flat in Colchester at about 8.30 a.m. and after many adventures; breaks for repairs and other commitments, ended in the late 20s of February 1990.
During this five-month period, we did half a dozen TV appearances and we met numerous interesting people of that time including Clare Grogan, Derek Jameson, Andrew Morton, Robyn Hitchcock , Jenny Éclair and the newly-freed Paul Hill of The Guildford Four.
At one point, we heard that Dave Stewart of Eurythmics, had phoned up Deltic Records to ask: " Are those two lunatics on their bikes anything to do with you?" Much laughter. The press we received, for two eco-hippies on bikes was phenomenal. We got features in NME, Melody Maker, The Guardian, The Independent ( who didn't know me from Adam then) and Time Out. Towards the end of the project , we got a massive 5-page photo-feature in The Mail On Sunday's You Magazine. The young journalist they sent out with us, a very personable and cheery pop fan called Martin Townsend later became editor of The Sunday Express and appointed me the paper's Poet-in-Residence for 13 years. His initiation was a forty-mile bike trip between Bury St Edmunds and Norwich. Very sore he must have been too, but never complained once.
During those weeks on tour we did more local and national press interviews and photo-shoots than we could keep track of. We did a TV programme in mid December for Granada, cycling around Saddleworth Moor. We were followed by a BBC camera crew for a day. A BBC2 mini-doc about us was made, screening shortly after we'd broken up. It seemed like everybody wanted to know about the Green Tour, or what I later nicknamed The Lead-Free Pencils Tour. Our timing had been accidentally immaculate. Middle
England was on the cusp of the very same eco guilt-trip in which it still flounders today.
They couldn't quite manage the green trip. But they were perfectly happy to see a couple of raggedy musicians doing it on their behalf. Our own attitude was one of stunned delight. We just thought we were going to do a bit of cycling around and busking.
We had no idea that all this publicity would result. To be fair to Caron Malcolm at Deltic, she worked her little buns off making sure that the various media people caught up with us.. There was some talk of us borrowing Andy McQueen's spare mobile phone for the trip. Mobile phones however, weren't much smaller than WW2 field radio packs in those days. We just didn't want the extra weight.
The first leg of the Lizards Tour took in Bury St Edmunds, Peterborough, Cambridge, Bedford, Milton Keynes, Oxford, Swindon, Bath, Bristol, Salisbury, Southampton, London, Brighton and London again. I kept a scrawled diary of it. Most of it survives
Coming next: The Tour Diaries