The Paranoid Style: Weird Tales From The UK

The Paranoid Style: Weird Tales From The UK

We immediately fell in love with The Paranoid Style when we heard their latest track ‘National Sunday’ recently (taken from their new EP Rock & Roll Just Can’t Recall) so we had to get in touch with them and ask us if they’d like to tell us some tales of their many visits to the UK, what they liked about the culture over here, and what kept them coming back. Over to Bruce Bennett, Timothy Bracy and Elizabeth Nelson of the band…

The Time The Paranoid Style Made Matching Hoodies And No One Cared

The Paranoid Style toured Scotland in 2012. It was a part of a package tour and we loved all of the bands traveling with us – Electric Sugar Children, Vladimir, Edinburgh School Of The Deaf – all great. All possibly better than us, but who’s keeping score? (Fucking Vladimir….) Anyway, beforehand, we figured everyone needs matching sweatshirts – bands, crew, sundry hangers-on – everyone. I mean, how is it going to look if we don’t have matching outfits? Disorganized, right? Maybe this is just an American thing. In America when you have a collective experience of any importance, it is immediately invalidated if you don’t have matching shirts. It’s a Constitutional thing. So that was our context. We had 25 sweatshirts custom made.

I (Elizabeth) said to Timothy: “Well, we have to make these fucking sweatshirts. What should we put on the front?” The band names and tour dates were on the back.

Timothy said, “Well maybe we could have a Pegasus on the front?”

I nearly drove the car off the road.


“Look, it’s a beautiful animal. Strong.”

So I went and had a bunch of Pegasus sweatshirts printed up to celebrate the tour. An XXL one for “Gogs” – which, by the way, if you ever find yourself on tour in the UK and it does not include a Scottish man the size of a lake monster and a legend of the bodhrán that calls himself “Gogs” then you are not trying hard enough – and a small for everyone else because literally everyone in the UK is excruciatingly fit compared to our soft, lazy American asses. And when I presented these exotica from overseas I was greeted with something of confusion and revulsion. “Uhh… thanks?” But in typical Keep Calm And Carry On fashion, everyone put the shirts on with what more or less amounts for enthusiasm. Here’s some photographic evidence of Gogs and Tim wearing the damn things in front of a venue that we played and that shut down that same night because it apparently got too loud (fucking Vladimir…):

(Photo credit: Lauren Strachan)

Shortly before this photo was taken, the agreeable Electric Sugar Children drummer “Kenny”, used at a minimum the sleeve of his “Winged Victory” hoodie to mop up the molten pus that ejaculated from the fried “white pudding” he got for his dinner that night. Hoodies!

The Time Bruce Was an Action Swinger

A two-week tour of England, Scotland and Wales with The Action Swingers in 1992 was essentially a crash course in culture shock every incredulous waking moment. After reading a headline displayed outside a news agent’s in Newcastle declaring “PUB OWNER GRAVELY HURT IN GLASSING” I inquired of a London born/bred member of our tour party where in the commonwealth the town of “Glassing” was. But, of course, I’d mistaken a verb for a noun. “Glassing? You don’t do that in New York?” he replied while miming grinding an imaginary pint glass into my face.

Bruce Goes Clueless

En route to Heathrow for our flight home, we stopped to help Love Blobs, the Action Swingers tour’s opening act, unload the equipment backline they owned and we’d shared into the Islington row house they occupied (legally, as it turned out). On cue three little “The Sweeney” sized police cars pulled up, cutting off the tour van and a handful of spirited London cops clad in hi-res yellow vests, etc. piled out. The lead constable, or at least the most Type-A of them, walked up to me, jammed his index finger into my face, and barked a sentence that, trust me, makes absolutely no sense to anyone in the non-council tax USA – “Right, let’s have the rent book, then!” I replied as any product of the American school system would under this, or really nearly any circumstance – “What?” and that single dull-witted syllable of non-kings English was all it took for to move on to the next person hauling an amp up the steps, no further questions asked.

The Time Elizabeth Went To An Outdoor Festival

I suppose you could say that the semester abroad that I spent studying music history and welfare states at the popular UK University that is called “Oxford” counts in terms of applying it to my “on tour in England” course credit. God knows it was insane and eye-opening and amazing and humbling and humiliating and confusing and alcohol-fueled, which is more or less what being on the road with the Rolling Stones is, at least if we are to believe Stanley Booth’s On The Road With The Rolling Stones. And of course, there were buses.

One particular bus ride that I remember taking was to Luton Hoo with my roommates, sorry, flatmates, “Ruth” and “Jeff” to go to a “dance music festival” called “Tribal Gathering”. I know, totally. In my defense, it was 1997. Point is, my flatmates loved the music of the night and I wanted desperately to do anything, ever, so when “Jeff” found out about 36 sweet hours of drum and bass and dub and tents and deejays galore out in the middle of nowhere on some estate in the English countryside I was like, “Yeah! Sign me up!” Kraftwerk was playing too, in something of a reunion show, and I actually knew of their brand of electronic music so I figured at least I could go and jam out to their peculiar tunes about cycling.

Anyway, like every festival or doomsday cult, the basic architecture of “Tribal Gathering” was to get you away from society completely and then induce a whole bunch of physical and psychological tortures until you’re essentially helpless and submit completely to a life of revolting chemical toilets and murder. We were taken to a huge field with a bunch of kids that looked amazing – decked to the nines in club gear, great hair, makeup, goofy hats, pacifiers, fairy wings, all that rot – and pretty much set loose. I was maybe wearing vinyl pants? Maybe. Anyway, we got there and “Jeff” proceeded to unfold a few “tabs” of “acid” and was like, “Let’s roll” or whatever was the equivalent was in 1997. At this point in my life, I was not all that versed in “using” drugs, so I was pretty terrified. I suggested that perhaps the good thing for me to do was nothing at all and assume everything would right itself. But “Jeff” was all, “Look, if you’re not going to drop with us right now, we probably can’t hang out with you because Ruth and I going to ‘peak’ (which, by the way, gross) together and if you’re not along for the ride, it’s going to be uncomfortable for us.”
I pondered this for a moment and realized that I could just elect not to take the drugs and spend the next 36 hours totally alone amongst a bunch of complete strangers gyrating to jungle or house or whatever and it took little time to understand that this wasn’t an option. So I demurred, took the drugs and assumed that the absolute worst outcome would be that I wound up in an ambulance careening towards the nearest hospital, which at that moment seemed pretty good to me since at least I’d be back to civilization.

What actually happened was even weirder. Hypnotic, terrifying, and at some point it occurred to everyone that we’re in bloody England in, like, April or something, and when the sun goes down? It gets fucking cold. Like, desert when the sun goes down cold. It wasn’t long after things got dark that the entire countryside was lit aflame for the purposes of survival. Anything that people could burn – blankets, clothes, plastic bottles, bodies, you name it, it was on fire. I vaguely remember cackling maniacally at a few points, as one does when the entire world seems to be ending around you.

Some other stuff happened, and when the sun came up there was some kind of idiotic hippy hand-holding bullshit greeting of the dawn in the name of “peace” or “chill out” or something and then we all got to get back on the buses and go home and I had never been happier to get the fuck out of such beautiful countryside.

Oh and Kraftwerk? Totally ruled.

The Time Timothy Spent With The Handsome Family

My previous band had been booked to open some UK dates for The Handsome Family. We had never met them, but certainly we are aware of their conjuring abilities – the gothic, Flannery O’Connor-esque tales of misfits and murders which characterized so many of their great songs. I will concede that I was excited for the tour but at least slightly intimidated by the notion of meeting Rennie and Brett – they seemed like mysterious oracles, people who knew things I wasn’t so sure I wanted to be apprised of. Still, I reasoned it would all turn out fine. It did not.

The first night of the tour was a show at a church in Kent. At least that was OUR first night of the tour. Unbeknownst to us, some confusion had occurred between our booking agent and our label, and we had been supposed to join the tour the night before in Cardiff. Turns out they had waited and waited, only to be stranded inexplicably without an opening act. So when we arrived at Kent, this was the first exchange I recollect having with Brett:

Me: Great to meet you! A real honor.

Brett: Where the fuck were you last night?

Anyway, that’s my recollection. Still, he was friendly and amiable enough provided the circumstances. I surmised that any potential difficulties had been acceptably massaged. They weren’t.

Turns out The Handsome Family had requested an opening act that was pared down and soft – an appropriate corollary to their delightful two-piece digressions into the soul’s dark night. Owing to some confusion between our label and booking agent, we had been booked instead – a six-piece outfit with pub rock on the brain and a tendency to get loud with any excuse. We had good songs, they had better songs, and of course they had a point. It’s always difficult to follow a wall of noise with acoustic instruments. They did it every night, and killed way beyond anything we could manage, but I understand their frustration.

They were pretty pissed about that. Still and even we seemed to be getting along reasonably well. Brett sat in on a couple of our idiotic poker games. He seemed to dig the gentle ribbing that went on, and by the third or fourth tour date, I thought maybe we had achieved a kind of mutual accord. We had not.

I can’t recollect the town in which shit got real. It was someplace in the North of England, and it was a miserable day. Even though I believe it was June, temperatures hovered in the 40’s and rain pissed relentlessly from the skies. Everybody was on everybody’s last nerve, not an uncommon state for the end of an international tour, and by the time we arrived at the venue it was clear that the situation with us and The Handsome Family had devolved appreciably.

I honestly still don’t know the true reason, but the flashpoint seemed to revolve around the idea that within this community theater we had both been allotted an amount of beer on our rider, and the view taken by Rennie and Brett was that we had commandeered and drank their supply. Why this metastasized into full-fledged animosity remains unclear – I don’t think it would have been difficult for any of us to procure more beer – but I can say that once the gauntlet was thrown we were absolute dicks about it. That night we went on stage in a 150 capacity room and proceeded to turn up to the maximum possible volume and play our fastest, most aggressive songs with abandon. We did great with the audience, but the gesture was amateurish and uncalled for. They were the headliners, the draw and the better talent. That was some sophomoric bullshit we pulled that night.

I never spoke to Rennie and Brett after that, and I regret the whole thing. We were their guests on that tour, and even though we hadn’t been given all of the relevant information, we could have tailored our act and our actions to be far more gracious guests. These are the things you learn on the road. I still don’t think we stole their beer though.

The Time We Tried to Try Buckfast

During the Paranoid Style Winged Victory Tour, we were particularly curious and repelled by the existence of a substance called Buckfast that is apparently the Scottish booze equivalent of bicycle training wheels. Buckfast, we were told, was cheap and strong, but even the Paranoid Style’s profound and frequently indiscriminate individual and collective thirst for liquid oblivion failed to power any of us to a second taste of something that seemed to blend the worst of Boone’s Farm Wine (a ubiquitous starter booze of the American 1970’s that finished like rubbing alcohol cut with flat fruit soda pop), Southern Comfort (a kind of candied bourbon that even now, more than three decades after the first and last time Bruce ever had any, provokes a mild gag reflex for him at the mere mention of the name) and creosote. Cheers, Scotland. Make ours a McEwan’s Scotch Ale. Oh, Buckfast is the only option you say? Well, six of those, then. Better yet, just leave the bottle…

Listen to Rock & Roll Just Can’t Recall in full here:

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