In the Pink Floyd piece I posted yesterday I mention my ‘Access All Areas at All Times’ pass to the Rainbow Theatre in Finsbury Park, truly the platinum Amex of its day. It was given to me by its manager, John Morris, an American who’d been the stage manager at Woodstock, possibly as a thank-you for the coverage that Melody Maker gave the Rainbow when it opened. In truth, as MM’s news editor I was bound to give the Rainbow coverage – not to have done so would have been a bit like the BBC failing to cover a General Election.
John and I became good friends. I remember having Sunday brunches with him on the roof patio of his flat in Old Church Street in Chelsea and taking round a bottle of vodka in the hope that a few Bloody Marys would loosen his tongue and he’d let slip the names of the acts he was going to book, so I’d get a scoop for the front page of next week’s MM.
The Rainbow opened in November 1971 with three straight nights of Who concerts for which Pete had a silver lamé jump suit made up with the red Rainbow logo on the back, and the group was joined on stage by a line of dancing girls. I remember on the opening night, minutes before they were due on stage, there was a bit of a panic because no one could find Roger – turned out he’d been detained on the roof of the building by a temptress for whom the words ‘touch me, feel me’ had assumed a distinctly literal connotation. This may have been the show at which Keith made his entrance from the back of the stalls, sprinting down the aisle to join Pete, Roger and John on stage while the audience cheered him on, or that may have been the second night. I saw all three.
An equally memorable night at the Rainbow for me, albeit for very different reasons, occurred on December 10 that year. This was the night when Frank Zappa was pushed from the stage by a fan who was apparently angry that his girlfriend preferred Frank to him. Frank and the Mothers of Invention were playing two shows that night and because my pass enabled me to come and go as I chose, I’d turned up for the end of the first concert, intending to have a beer or two in the backstage bar in the break between shows, maybe even grab a quick interview with a Mother, before catching the second show.
In the event, because I could roam anywhere I’d wandered down towards the front on the right side and was leaning against the wall by an exit door watching Frank and the Mothers do their encore, a tongue-in-cheek cover of ‘I Want To Hold Your Hand’ during which a photo of the fabs was beamed on to a backdrop. It was pretty much note-perfect too, since their singers Mark Volman and Howard Kaylan, late of The Turtles, were as good as it gets and clearly inspired by being in London and playing a theatre where, when it was the Astoria, The Beatles themselves had played Christmas shows back in 1963 and ’64. It happened really quickly. From out of nowhere this bloke ran on stage and gave Frank a shove, and into the orchestra pit he went. The man rushed off stage but was grabbed by members of the audience who handed him over to Frank’s road crew to deal with, no doubt harshly. Meanwhile an ambulance was called and Frank was stretchered out of the stage door.
I’d been in the perfect position to see all this – I actually climbed on stage after the incident – and was now in the perfect position to observe the aftermath. The audience was asked to leave, which they did, but not before a rumour spread that Frank was dead. The departing crowd, probably 3,000 plus, mingled with those outside waiting for the second show, another 3,000 plus, so there was a huge mass of people out there on Seven Sisters Road, most of whom believed Frank Zappa had been murdered by a crazed fan.
“The band thought I was dead,” Zappa later recalled in his 1989 book The Real Frank Zappa Book. “My head was over on my shoulder, and my neck was bent like it was broken. I had a gash in my chin, a hole in the back of my head, a broken rib, and a fractured leg. One arm was paralyzed.”
Frank spent the best part of a year in a wheelchair. John Morris was mortified. Not only had one of the world’s most gifted modern composers been savagely attacked in his theatre but the losses on the cancelled shows – this was first of four, two shows a night over two nights that Frank was scheduled to play – might cause the theatre to close. It didn’t but John told me it was touch and go for a while – he needed to sell out three shows a week to stay afloat – so I doubled my efforts to help in any way I could.