Uncut Editor's Diary

Ashes To Ashes. . .

Allan Jones

The hilarious news that Keith Richards snorted his father’s ashes reminds me, obliquely, of an incident involving John Cale, at the University Of East Anglia, where he was playing the first date of a UK tour with a band that included Chris Spedding on guitar and uber-producer Chris Thomas on keyboards.

This would have been in May 1975, just after the release of Slow Dazzle. We were in a lecture theatre at the university, which had been appropriated as the band’s dressing room. Cale’s parents have travelled up from Garnant in South Wales for the show, this being apparently the first time they’ve had the chance to see their son on stage and Cale has taken them for a quick drink.

The band’s been hanging around since the afternoon’s sound check and as showtime looms, someone starts cutting up lines of coke, which are quickly gone.

Everybody fairly high, there’s now some concern that Cale when he gets back from the pub will want a quick pick-me-up – John’s idea in those days of a so-called ‘quick drink’ being about eight pints.

Whoever’s holding the coke starts chopping out a line for Cale, who we hear from one of the road crew is heading our way, bumping into things as he approaches.

“Hold on,” says Spedding, eyes glinting somewhat mischievously. “Let’s see how he gets on with this.”

Chris then starts crunching up a piece of chalk he’s found, which once crushed he draws into a rather impressive tramline.

“Just leave it and see what he does,” Spedding says, just as Cale comes booming through the doors of the lecture theatre, like someone barging through a crowd trying to get to the bar for last orders, a slight air of distracted panic about him.

He’s barely in the room when he zooms in on the line of chalk, which without hesitation, he snorts, head rearing back then, like someone’s just caught him under the chin with a fast-moving uppercut. I am fully expecting a cardiac incident of some kind to follow, or perhaps some cerebral episode that will leave him frothing at the mouth and turning a worrying colour.

“Not bad,” he decides. “Could have done with a bit more edge, though,” he adds, before getting on with the business of preparing himself for the gig. Spedding and Thomas exchange amazed looks. Cale, meanwhile, seems utterly unaffected by a snootful of chalk dust – although I might add that for whatever reason, he starts his set by banging away at a piano as if he’s taken a sudden and untrammelled dislike to it that borders on violent hysteria. He is then shortly to be found screaming the lyrics to “Fear Is A Man’s Best Friend” beneath said piano, where he's crouched like some dark creature in the shuddering throes of a psychic breakdown.

From where I’m standing, I can see Cale’s parents sitting at the side of the stage, his father, an eyebrow raised, giving his wife a quizzical look perhaps inspired by complete bafflement at this spectacle and wondering what happened to their son’s classical training and how he might have ended up here, under a piano, yelping like something demented that for the benefit of everyone might have to be shackled or put down.

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