"I wasn’t there, but it almost felt like I was" - Personal Punk review 'DIRECTIONS TO THE OUTSKIRTS OF TOWN: Punk Rock Tour Diaries From Nineties North America' by Welly Artcore
"Known chiefly for guiding the exemplary Artcore zine through over 35 years of DIY punk evolution, Welly Artcore also spent twenty of those years successfully avoiding punk and hardcore trends with his band FOUR LETTER WORD. Directions… focuses on tour diaries from his Nineties adventures in North America, first as merch guy for CHAOS UK, and later with FOUR LETTER WORD.
So many stories are lost to the impetuousness of youth. In a time before smartphones, before the internet, living in the moment was both a blessing and a curse. It was an opportunity to experience life in the raw, with few distractions. The creation of, and immersion in, memories, of self, in real-time. Of course, memories fade like old Polaroids. Using a written diary and photos taken on an actual camera, Welly wipes away grime from a window on the past. Armed with a sardonic delivery brushed lightly with a noir-ish patina, he also turns the potentially self-indulgent into a seat-of-your-pants, punk rock caper.
"1994: Welly jumped in a van as merch guy for punk rock institutions CHAOS UK on a riotous two-month stint around The States. It seemed little had changed since the early 80s, with skinheads and cops still a common denominator. From shows shut down in Long Beach and East LA, Klan bikers handing out leaflets in Texas and a skinhead nightmare in San Diego – business as usual. Welly watches on as a backyard skate party turns into a mini-riot in Southern California and, during punishing drives, he finds time to write fake letters to legendary US punk ‘zine Maximum Rock n’Roll – which are subsequently published. They discover that Glen Benton of DEICIDE fitted the carpets in a Tampa record store, party with Paul Bearer (TERROR), encounter legendary venues like the Hardback Cafe in Gainesville, and New York’s ABC No Rio, learn to appreciate the madness of EYEHATEGOD, play with a disgruntled MDC at 924 Gilman Street, and witness hilarious rock star behaviour from NEUROSIS. Oh yeah, they drink a lot too.
Three years later, Welly’s band FOUR LETTER WORD signed to The Stern Brothers’ (YOUTH BRIGADE) BYO Records and released their debut album, the Frankie Stubbs-produced A Nasty Piece Of Work. BYO arrange a two-month slog around Canada and The States for the Summer of ’98, a dream come true for Welly. This section of the book is more intense, the author no longer along for the ride, as well as having a young son to miss. After supporting STRUNG OUT in London, the band (along with friend Graham) fly to Los Angeles to be met by the Sterns. What follows is a schizophrenic fever dream of rushing highs, crushing lows and awkward moments. The deep, cultural chasm between the British and American psyche is laid bare, colliding with self-sabotaging band members and label demands in an oft-times uncomfortable melting pot. Welly wastes little time stirring up a hornet’s nest of Phoenix ‘patriots’, dedicating Rich White Ghetto to “where you all live!“, resulting in our heroes, and tour mates JOHN COUGAR CONCENTRATION CAMP, escaping the melee in wheel-spinning style.
"Awkwardness and hostility never far away, the band are in the thick of it when PROBLEM’s female singer flashes the crowd and fat-shames an audience member, resulting in a near brawl. At LA’s oh-so-trendy Whiskey a Go-Go, they get an extravagant rock n’ roll intro, before playing a lacklustre set to dead-eyed cool types, and in Orange County, they are challenged to their name by a bunch of tweens from a band called THE FOUR LETTER WORDS. There’s drinking, of course. Welly effectively conveys the emptiness of relentless partying: “…we went to the house to find an array of hollow men crying like small children after partying all night“. FLW’s unpredictable bass player cannot be ignored in this. Unhinged when drunk, he is a constant thorn in the band’s side, including, incredibly, attempting to start a fight with Welly. They are given tickets to Warped, but disappoint the powers that be by failing to schmooze. In Canada, they arrive at the venue to find the outside strewn with junkies, drunks and sex workers, a scene perfectly suited to the author’s acerbic style, balanced beautifully by a ferry trip killer whale sighting. Names are dropped: playing with BAXTER (whose singer is one Tim McIlrath, who would go on to form RISE AGAINST), being complimented on by, not only DAYGLO ABORTIONS, but also THE ADOLESCENTS’ Joe Soto, and playing gigs with the likes of 7 SECONDS, PEZZ, and YOUTH BRIGADE. The whole glorious mess, awash as it is with confusion, awkwardness and unpredictability, ends with a couple of notable events: on the final night, during YOUTH BRIGADE’s set, a seig-heiling skinhead is set upon by Latino Anti-Nazi street fighters, and, during 7 SECONDS last song, Welly and his pals instigate a euphoric stage invasion.
"Down all the years of DIY punk touring, there will be countless stories like this. Most remain mouldering in fading grey matter, all but lost in a pickled stew of alcohol abuse, sanity-destroying drives, and endless half-sleeps on rough floors. Thankfully, this one escaped the fate. Along with in-the-moment photography, diary entries are polished with desert-dry sarcasm and whiplash wit, often prosaic stories rendered dryly caustic, frequently absorbing, and occasionally poignant. There is no attempt to dress them up as glamorous, rock n’ roll adventures, or hardcore baptisms of fire – though they undoubtedly are the latter. Descriptions of long drives, stunning views, eye-opening encounters with the best and worst that life on the road throws up – pun intended – are as compelling as scuffles, arguments, and encounters with egos and cops. Writing blunt prose with the ability to propel you into the moment is an often unacknowledged skill. Whether in a cramped, stinking van after a seven-hour drive, down the front at a sweaty gig, at a punk house full of pissheads or as an onlooker during an awkward moment. I wasn’t there – but it almost felt like I was."
Just a reminder that you can listen to the second part of Welly Artcore's book 'Directions to the outskirts of town - Punk rock tour diaries from nineties North America' on mixcloud here.
It features Four Letter Word, Youth Brigade, 7 Seconds, Brand New Unit, Pinhead Circus and Jon Cougar Concentration Camp.