Almost a decade ago, I was in a band. We were called Mavis. We were good but I wasn’t very adept at tuning my guitar properly. Despite this, some people liked us. Some people even liked us enough to ask us to do a couple of gigs with Hot Water Music.
Hot Water Music are one of my very favourite bands. If you’re aware of them, you probably feel the same. If you don’t, and you’re a fan of righteous, impassioned punk rock, and have access to Spotify, then chances are you might feel the same too. We played with them alongside another band I could apply all of the above to; Sunderland’s Leatherface. But more on them later…
Hailing from Gainesville, Florida (home of the legendary No Idea records, who in the shape of Jawbreaker, Atom & His Package, Dillinger Four, and fellow Gainesville natives Against Me!, released a tonne of my favourite records at the end of the nineties), Hot Water Music were stunning. A deeply emotive band, yet never po-faced and never really earnest. You could get drunk to them, and shout along during the choruses. But they weren’t, y’know, Green Day. They meant more than that to people. I was gutted when they broke up in 2006.
My favourite thing about them was their bassist Chuck Ragan. He had a beard like a pirate and he shouted like a malfunctioning paint stripper, while his absence was the reason why I never really got into the rest of Hot Water Music’s post-hiatus band, The Draft. Yet while those guys were doing that stuff, Chuck’s solo career concerned itself with a style of folk music that couldn’t be more American if the notes were dyed red, white and blue. I really enjoyed his second record, 2007’s fiddle heavy ‘Feast Or Famine’, which had reference points ranging from the great Pete Seeger to Bruce Springsteen.
I can’t tell you how stoked I was when I found out he was playing the Lock Up Stage today!
It was great – really special and warm respite from the rain outside the tent – yet watching him up there, doing his thing, dedicating his song ‘The Boat’ to his “favourite band” Leatherface – and I doubt there’ll be many other people so obviously head over heels in love with music on that stage today – made me think about the time my band got to play with them. And the time that Chuck Ragan gave me gut-rot for a month.
I was a pretty green teenager. I didn’t know that bands got fed by promoters at gigs that didn’t happen in function rooms above pubs. Those were the only kind of gigs I’d ever played until we got asked to play with Leatherface and Hot Water Music. I was flattered to be asked. Astonished really. I couldn’t even tune my guitar!
So when I popped out after Mavis’ soundcheck to buy chips, I was pretty excited when Leatherfaces’ guitarist Frankie Stubbs said there was no need – there was pizza for us all, and beer to drink while we sang along to Hot Water Music’s songs, and best of all, those little Mars Bars you only normally get at Christmas.
Thing is, I got a bit too into this free food thing – I was a student at the time after all – and spent all night going back to eat more free pizza. After about three or four slices I started to feel pretty unwell. After five I started to feel like my insides were made out of sandpaper. Then the stomach cramp kicked in, and I felt like there was an atomic bomb going off in my intestines.
Turns out I was eating pizza that had been positioned directly below the water pipe Chuck Regan had used to hang his sweaty Sunderland shirt on (a tour gift from the SAFC mad Leatherface), and his sweat had been dripping onto the pizza for a good thirty minutes before I started chowing down. I spent most of Leatherfaces’ headline set sat in the toilet, shaking. I spent most of the car ride home, pleading to be allowed to go to the toilet. Then I spent more of the following month in bed.