BLACK SABBATH - Transport Issues

The name of the man who became the manager of Black Sabbath – once they started making serious dosh – was Patrick Meehan. The name suggests he was an Irishman, but in reality Pat Meehan was a dapper, fast-talking, quick-thinking Londoner from a showbiz family background, and very likeable he was too, very engaging, good company.
In early 1974 I would travel with him and Black Sabbath in America, on a 12-seater private plane from St Louis to Chicago, to see the group in concert in both cities. This was the first time I’d ever flown in such a small plane and it was fantastic, and thinking about it now reminds me that methods of transport figure highly in my memories of Black Sabbath.
Here’s why.
I first became acquainted with Pat Meehan in February 1972, over lunch in a Chinese restaurant with Ozzie for company, during which arrangements were made for me to write a story about the group for Melody Maker. At this time Meehan had offices just around the corner, in London’s Lisle Street between Leicester Square and Chinatown, and he told me he owned three expensive cars: a pale blue Rolls Royce Silver Shadow, a white Aston Martin DBS and a red Ferrari Dino. Over sweet and sour king prawn and special fried rice it was decided that a day or two later I would travel with Meehan to Manchester to see Black Sabbath in concert at the Free Trade Hall, then journey on with them the following day to Newcastle for another show at the City Hall. Somewhere along the way I would be granted an interview.
         On the afternoon of our departure from central London, Meehan explained to me that his Aston Martin was in the car park at Heathrow Airport’s Terminal Three. His Ferrari, meanwhile, was being serviced and his Rolls-Royce was parked nearby. Because his wife required it that evening, his assistant would drive us in the Roller to Heathrow, where Meehan would resume possession of the DBS in which he would drive us both to Manchester. His assistant would then drive back to London in the Rolls.
         Alas, on arrival at Heathrow disaster struck. The Aston Martin was found to have been stolen, or at least was not where Meehan thought it was, even though we searched the Terminal Three car park thoroughly, driving up and down and around and around its four floors in the Roller and attracting no little attention in the process. When we couldn’t find it, Meehan seemed less concerned about the theft or loss of this expensive car than the resulting loss of a briefcase left within that contained documents of some importance to his company, World Wide Artists. Once resigned to the loss of his Aston Martin, Meehan decided to rent a car from the Terminal Three Hertz counter and opted for a Jaguar XJ6, the most expensive vehicle the company offered. But when he tried to do so he was told he already had another Jaguar XJ6 out on rental. There was an exchange of views about this with the Hertz girl, with Meehan denying all knowledge of this and producing a fat wallet bulging with credit cards to prove his creditworthiness, but after some discussion with his assistant he realised that this Jaguar had been left in a car park at Dover some days before and abandoned after the employee driving it had embarked on a ferry for Calais. He apologised to the Hertz girl and informed her of its whereabouts, saying they could collect it at any time from this location, whereupon, as a valued customer, he was allowed to rent a second XJ6.
Thus equipped, we set off for Manchester at least an hour later than intended, heading towards the M1 from Heathrow via Denham, Rickmansworth and Watford. On the outskirts of Watford, however, disaster struck for the second time. A stone was thrown up against the Jaguar's windscreen, which shattered as a result. Meehan tried to drive on but couldn’t, so he produced the car’s jack from the boot and smashed the glass out entirely. It being a cold winter’s night, it was impossible to drive without a windscreen. Trapped in Watford at tea-time, Meehan found a pay-phone, managed to locate another Hertz office and requested another Jaguar. All they could offer was a Ford Granada, which seriously displeased him. A man who owns a Rolls Royce, a Ferrari and an Aston Martin and is by and large unimpressed by Jaguars was likely to be even less impressed by a humble Ford.
As we were both very hungry by now we took tea in a nearby transport café while we waited for the beleaguered Jag to be exchanged for the Ford. Meehan, a man used to haute cuisine of a somewhat higher standard than was available at this eatery, was sanguine about the situation. “When you’re up, you’re up – when you’re down, you’re down,” he said, biting into his bacon sandwich.
Darkness fell. We were now very late and in order to try and reach Manchester in time for the gig, Meehan thrashed the Ford mercilessly on the M1 and M6. It was well past show time when we screeched to a halt around the back of the Free Trade Hall. Yet even though we seemed to have reached the end of our wearisome journey, fate had a further trick up its sleeve.
In his haste to exit the car, Meehan accidentally locked it with the key inside, an action that necessitated breaking in so that he might extract some contracts relating to the evening’s show. A Sabbath roadie was summoned and – as is the way with roadies – he had a jemmy to hand. He obliged his boss by wrenching open the driver’s door, which henceforth refused to close. Having thus incapacitated the Granada, Meehan abandoned it in a side street, its unlockable door hanging open. We had now missed almost the entire concert.
An hour later, back at our hotel, Meehan was on the phone demanding yet another vehicle from Hertz’s central Manchester office, only to be told that this was out of the question. Another exchange of views followed. He now had three cars out on his Hertz credit card, all abandoned, two in states of disrepair. There are limits, I suppose.
The following day, somehow or other, Meehan did manage to obtain from Hertz a blue Ford Capri to drive to Newcastle for the next show on Sabbath’s tour. I didn’t accompany him on this journey, so I don’t know what terrors he visited on the Capri. I suspect the worst. I travelled in a sort of mini-coach with the group’s tour manager and guitarist Tony Iommi, interviewing him along the way. I did see Meehan’s Capri parked outside our Newcastle hotel, looking none the worse for wear. But outward appearances can be deceptive in the car business. Either way, Meehan abandoned it at Newcastle and, the following morning, flew with me back to London, where we were met at Heathrow by his assistant in the blue Roller. I have no idea whether he informed Hertz about the car he abandoned in Newcastle but, like the Jaguar discarded in Dover, I suspect it remained outside the hotel for some time, no doubt attracting umpteen parking tickets.
Thus, when anyone mentions Black Sabbath to me these days, I think not of ‘Paranoid’ or Ozzy’s peace signs or Tony Iommi’s missing finger tips. I think of the wilfully casual attitude their manager had with regard to rented cars and the probable cost thereof. It didn’t come as much of a surprise, therefore, when some years down the line I heard on the rock grapevine that there wasn’t much cash left in the Sabbath kitty.
When you’re up, you’re up; when you’re down, you’re down.

1 comment:

Tim V said...

"A man who owns a Rolls Royce, a Ferrari and an Aston Martin and is by and large unimpressed by Jaguars was likely to be even less impressed by a humble Ford." Excellent stuff Chris, keep them coming.