First you notice the guard towers and then you spot the guards. Bearded, tattooed men in ankle-length Driza-Bone coats. When you realise they’re holding shotguns, you understand this is going to be no ordinary music gig.
We’re in convoy: me and Wrinkly Joe in the front of his snappy Japanese fastmobile with the open-top roof. Joe looking cool and menacing in his wraparounds and his shaven skull gleams under the afternoon sun. In the back, Ed’s examining his new piercings and looking mean. He’s got a bonehead haircut and a scowl that would wilt a cactus, but he’s a motherfucker of a guitar player and you can’t take that away from him. Try it and he’ll take away a couple of your teeth. He’s real mean for a guy whose name is Edwin.
Behind us comes the van with the gear. Nev’s driving and drumming at the same time. Martin the bassman, the human palindrome, is knocking up a fucking spliff the size of a two-man submarine. Luckily, this is not a place where people take offence at such things.
It’s the biker festival again, and I’m here with the Monsters of Rock, Blind Gun-Dog, to entertain these huge, hairy, tattoo-covered, motherfuckers.
OK. The Gun-dogs are going to entertain them and I’m going to drink a lot of beer and ogle the strippers.
Even from here I can see the beer tent heaving. It’s only two o’clock and some heavy three-piece outfit is pounding out a murderous power-chorded riff across the once-peaceful fields of rural North County Dublin.
Here come three Driza-Bone enforcers, and they have a hold of frightened-looking guy in faux-biker non-originals. His feet are off the ground and he’s running on air. There’s a meaty forearm under each oxter, and the killer at the rear is holding him up by the belt. Gentle as three sisters changing a baby, they put him down outside the gate and one of the three puts a finger in his face.
Do not come back, friend, he whispers.
This is going to be a long day and night.
Here’s a huge fucker with a beard to his chest. He’s six-six, maybe six-seven and he’s staring at us. Joe reaches out the window and clasps his hand.
Hey Tiny, he says.
Hey Joe, says Tiny.
Tiny once pulled up his bike to help at a motor accident. He was lifting a car off the victim for the paramedics, when a .45 revolver fell out of his pocket, right in front of the cops.
Cops. Never there when you need them.
Tiny told the judge he only had the piece in case something happened, and he never used it, but he still ended up doing time. Life is not fair.
He waves us through and we pull up by the tent, start unloading the gear. Blind Gun-Dogs on Tour. They should be called the Improbables with those ordinary-guy names. Edwin. Martin. And fucking Neville. But they’re still an evil act and when they crank it up you forget about the non-rock names, especially when Edwin threatens to knock your fucking teeth out.
There’s a field full of bikes on show. There’s a tattoo bus. There’s a beer tent. There’s a band blasting your ear-drums to pulp. There’s a security set-up like you’ve never seen anywhere, and it makes this the place where nobody — nobody in the world — is ever going to give you one second’s hassle. Not with those seven-foot bearded men in Driza-Bones who shake your hand and make you welcome.
Why would you want more?
We look at bikes, we drink beer, we look at more bikes and we drink a lot more beer. It seems about right. The Gun-Dogs never yet played a gig sober, and they’re all the better for that.
Fat hairy guy arrives. He’s got a big tattooed belly, leather waistcoat, beard. Central casting. He looks at Joe.
Joe looks back at him. Yeah.
Need any more drink? Blow?
Nah. Joe’s in the zone.
OK. Right after the next stripper, you’re on.
So we’re in the pit beside the stage and everything’s ready, and the stripper is doing her thing there beside us. The sound system is blasting out Wayne County and the Electric Chairs: If you don’t want to fuck me, baby, baby fuck off.
It’s getting near time and I’m wishing I could be going on stage too with these fucking Gun-Dogs, but of course I can’t because I have no fucking talent. So the girl finishes, and the guys climb up on the stage, and for a while the bikers pay no attention, but then, slowly, they start to get it.
When Joe’s harp starts to wail on Young Man’s Blues and Edwin puts down a sharp, edgy, nasty, bluesy little shape behind him, and then Nev and Martin begin to pump out that rhythm, the bikers shut the fuck up and start paying attention.
It’s good. I’m blind drunk and even I realise it’s fucking good.
Young man’s blues in an old man’s town …
They crank it up and the bikers are dancing, the strippers peep out of their little tent and they’re bopping along, they’re dancing, everybody’s dancing, I’m fucking dancing and I can’t even dance.
We’re all drunk and we’re all stoned and we’re all having a good time and look, up there, it’s the Gun-Dogs with their wrap-around shades and their gleaming skulls and their mean tattoos, and they’re fucking dancing, and I think one of them might even be smiling, though it isn’t allowed in the Gun-Dog Code, and the fucking place is heaving, and then, finally, they’re done and the bikers seem happy which is good and everybody crashes back to the bar for more beer. Nobody dies tonight.
We’re back in the pit and the Dogs are still wearing their axes but before you can draw breath, here comes another giant biker in a Driza-Bone, and he slams a crate of beer on the floor and says thereyago. And then he pulls out a wad of cash and he drops it into the crate of beer and nothing is said.
You going to count it? You know it’s right. He knows it’s right.
Let nobody ever, ever say these boys don’t pay their bills. It’s a point of honour. You know it. They know it, and nobody needs to say it.
Right, guys, let’s get stuck into this fuckin beer.
The night passes in a blur of beer, strippers and spliff.
It’s morning, early. Maybe seven. It’s time to go home, and we’re in convoy again.
Nev’s driving the van and now there are four of us in Joe’s snappy Japanese fastmobile with the open roof. Nobody’s sober. We’re standing up, waving to the bearded, tattooed, fat-bellied motherfuckers as we sweep out of their lair.
What about a song? says Joe.
Great idea, says everyone else.
Right, says Joe, and punches the button on the car’s sound system.
And that’s why three Monsters of Rock, and me, wave goodbye to the Devil’s Disciples at seven in the morning, up to our neck in beer and spliffs, and singing at the top of our voices, us and Dino, That’s Amore.