Mark Shaw Of Then Jerico: Things I Have Learned About Pain
, November 24th, 2009 06:28
In a frank and bizarre interview with Kat Duke, Mark Shaw of 80s pop group Then Jerico reveals he is a magnet for pain and accident. Pictures courtesy of James Mason and Mrs Cheeky
Success is not that important to me; music is
After disbanding the original Then Jerico line-up in 1990, it was only a year before I got a solo album out (Almost co-produced by Andy Taylor of Duran Duran), but regaining the right to use the Then Jerico name was a real uphill struggle. I played countless gigs throughout the 90s but it was 1999 before a new album (Orgasmophobia, which included collaborations with Andy Taylor and Simple Minds’ Mick MacNeil), was released under the Then Jerico banner. Since then, however, it’s been a matter of staying out of trouble long enough to get a decent body of work together.
You’ve got to laugh at misfortune
Back in 1990 a witch doctor in Portugal predicted that I would have major career problems and a "life changing accident". I didn’t think much of it at the time but now what he said keeps coming back to me. To say I’ve been disaster prone is an understatement. I try to see the funny side of my misfortunes, though friends and fans get really pissed off when they see other people laughing at it, but it’s happened to me; I’m the one suffering.
The first major incident was getting my jaw badly broken after a KLR (Kitsch Lounge Riot), gig in London in 2002. These gigs are great mixed entertainment shows done with other artists and this one was the perfect Christmas celebration until some guy delivered an almighty right hook to my face (courtesy of a fistful of coins), for trying to protect a girl he’d been hassling. You could actually hear the crack as my jaw snapped and I had my Christmas lunch through a straw that year.
Don’t touch my hair; don’t touch my microphone – You can grab my cock, I’ve got no problem with that, but not the hair or the mic
In January 2004 I was playing another KLR gig, as part of a regular slot at London’s Café de Paris. We were packing the place out every Thursday night and during the last song of our set I would climb onto the PA stack and sing to whoever was at the end balcony table. Normally the highest rollers in the club have that table and, as part of the show, we’d give them a bit of razzamatazz and make them feel special. I would usually climb up the speakers, climb onto the balcony, unclip the mic lead, hand it to someone, run around the back of the balcony, run downstairs and through the crowd, get back onstage, pull the mic lead down and then come back into the song. I always did it and it worked pretty well for a long time.
That night the prick sitting at this VIP table had been putting Champagne bottles on top of the speaker stack, which kept falling into the crowd. Then he started actually throwing glasses off the balcony, one of which smashed on the sound mixer’s desk so when he put the faders up he cut himself. When a couple of them landed on the stage I thought "Fuck this." I climbed up the PA stack and started moving the bottles back onto the table so this idiot grabbed my microphone. Now, no one grabs my fucking microphone! I tried to snatch it back and he lunged at my lapel so I grabbed his tie but it was a bloody clip-on and came right off in my hand. Pure comic theatre, except I was dangerously teetering atop a 20 foot stack of speakers! As I fell backwards he went to take a swing at me. I swerved out of his way but at this point the whole lot was going to go; bottles, singer and around quarter of a ton of speakers were headed right into the crowd. I had no choice but to jump. I just managed to see a little gap in the crowd to aim for but the steel-sprung dance floor had a metal ring around it and unfortunately when I jumped I landed right on that steel ring. Both of my legs went straight into my feet and I instantly shattered both of my heels.
Your whole system goes into shock and you just can’t feel the pain… at first
I was so full of adrenaline that, as I was lying there on the floor, I was still singing so the band thought I was fine, but every time I tried to stand up I just toppled over. When the lights went down I crawled to the stage and the MC asked if I was OK at which point the alarm was raised. Initially I couldn’t quite comprehend how badly I was damaged; the adrenaline numbs you to it at first. It was when I got to hospital that the shock wore off and I started screaming.
X-rays showed a double calcaneal multiple fracture; in other words, my heels were destroyed. My left heel had gone into five pieces and the right had just shattered into powder. The surgeon told me, “It’s mush in there so we’re going to have to take most of your foot off.” I said, “You’re not fucking doing that so forget it!”
In hospital I was shaking and trying to beat the pain. It might have been the morphine but all these new songs started coming to me. I kept writing lyrics down to distract me from the agony. It was the only way I could focus through all the confusion. In those situations you discover ways of dealing with the pain and the mess and the morphine haze. Unfortunately, soon afterwards, a few new bands emerged, like Keane, for instance, whose work sounded similar to the stuff I’d written so I scrapped the lot.
Having point-blank refused major surgery the doctors had simply packed and elevated my feet and eventually some of the bone fragments actually fused and reformed. I still need some surgery now and I have very bad arthritis but I have good days and bad days. I was in hospital for eight weeks and spent another three months in a wheelchair and a further three using the wheelchair and crutches. I didn’t go upstairs in my house for six months! After about a year I did a couple of KLR gigs on my crutches and I remember the boxer Barry McGuigan saying to me “You’re a true professional. You got back on that stage on your crutches; good man.” If anyone knows what it is to take some knocks and get right back up, he does.
I do have a temper
We’d done a lot of gigs for the troops, playing what they call "active war theatres" in locations where our forces are actually engaged in combat. So, as soon as was possible, we picked that up again and went to play at the NATO military base near Adana in Turkey. We had to fly to Baghdad to get a transfer to Turkey and I swiftly learned how bad for your health it can be to fly into Muslim territory with dancers in short skirts. On the plane, we were seated near some important dignitary with a very big, very aggressive bodyguard who kept grabbing the girls’ legs and calling them sluts. I told him to fuck off on no uncertain terms and when we landed, I was about to disembark when suddenly this big guy pushed through the stewardesses and tried to throw me down the plane’s steps. I fell down two or three rungs and just managed to grab the rail but I twisted my foot badly so that set me back and I had to do the gigs in a wheelchair and not just on crutches as planned.
Frustrated at being back in the wheelchair, at one gig I decided to climb up onto the armrests, to sit up and sing a bit higher. Of course the whole wheelchair went out from under me and I went over backwards and smashed my head on the drum riser. Typical me I kept going and even crawled over to the troops in the front row to sing and they loved that. They reckoned I was a survivor.
You learn a lot about people from a wheelchair
When you’re in a wheelchair kids just come up to you and say “What happened?”, but adults will look at the person you are with and say “Does he speak?”, because they assume you’re mentally deficient or something. It’s been interesting to get that insight. It makes you think about what it’s like to be face to face with a car at eye level too, particularly at the back where you get a face full of exhaust fumes. It’s like being a small child again. People push in front of you in queues and things as well so you learn a lot about human nature.
In 2006 I gashed my leg open, right to the bone, at a gig I was doing with the SAS Band, (a collective with Tony Hadley of Spandau Ballet, Paul Young, members of Queen and various other artists). It was at a Pontins in Wales somewhere and the guy who was supposed to be building the stage was pissed out of his face and had spent the afternoon asleep in his cabin. There were two stages, one for all the TV monitors and one for the band, and as I came running on I fell in the gap between the two (which was totally unlit and unmarked), and smashed my shin against the side of the stage. There wasn’t even a medic onsite so off I went to yet another hospital. Once the nurse lifted the flap of sliced skin on my shin she found loads of shards of metal embedded in there. It was revolting but at least I’ve got a decent scar to show off for that one.
It doesn’t take six guys to knock a cripple down does it?
Even on the way home from a gig in Buxton, Somerset in 2007 I managed to end up in hospital. I’d stopped for some fish and chips in the town centre and some guys jumped me for looking at one of their girlfriends; I was looking at the foul-mouthed dog in disgust, not lust! These assholes started throwing my stick to one another and then I got nutted in the chest, which sent me flying, and I cut my head open on the pavement. My back and neck were badly bruised and couldn’t walk again for a couple of days.
It’s a massive irony that the next time I got hurt was on a train home from dealing with some of the legal fallout from the leg wound I suffered in Wales. I’d claimed compensation for it, as it cost me quite a few gigs and a lead part in a musical (I bled throughout the final audition), but Pontins were trying to counter-sue me for contributory negligence. To add insult to injury the firm I had sought compensation through, were shit and had gone bankrupt and were now pursuing me for some of the compensation I’d had to win representing myself! On the way back from the final court appearance in all this mess a particularly hysterical ticket inspector descended on me just as my lawyer, who had the train tickets, had gone to the toilet. After threatening to have me arrested for not having a ticket he came back to hassle me again just as the train was taking a sharp bend and I’d picked my stick up to steady myself. This idiot started wailing, “This man is trying to attack me, call the police.” So, calling his bluff, I shouted, “Police, police; any police on this train?” Six guys jump up who, unbeknownst to me, happened to be Royal Protection Squad undercover officers and ticket guy starts squealing that I’ve assaulted him and don’t have a ticket. The next thing I know I’ve got six guys pinning me to the floor in positional asphyxia and stomping all over my legs. Meanwhile another train official arrived and accused me of stealing teabags too! It later transpired that the dastardly teabag thief was some 5’6" blond guy in a beige suit.
Quite apart from my considerably superior height and dark hair, I wouldn’t be seen dead wearing beige.
It all would have been laughable but by the time my lawyer materialised we had pulled into the station in London, the British Transport Police had been called in and I was being dragged along the platform screaming, “I can’t walk, I can’t walk.” I tried to nut the copper who was dragging me, my legs hurt so much, and eventually they got me a wheelchair but it was all so crazy I ended up breaking into a loud rendition of I Fought The Law as they wheeled me off.
I’ve spent my life in police stations, nightclubs and hospitals
Last April I was nearly killed. On the way home from a gig with the Alabama 3 (the greatest band in the world), I stopped into the corner shop about 200 yards from my front door. As I came out of the shop there were six youths coming towards me. I kept out of their way but one of them just came right at me with a brutal shoulder-charge and then just punched me really hard in the nose. There was claret everywhere! I had a beautiful steel cane I’d bought in New Orleans, with an ornate (and spiky), dragon’s head on it, and the next thing I know these thugs had surrounded me, grabbed my stick and started smashing me around the head with it. I couldn’t see for all the blood in my eyes but I was only a few feet from the shop so I put my head down and just ran for it. The bastards followed me but the shop guys sprung to action wielding baseball bats and got them out. Then I lost it and started screaming abuse and one of the gang was like, “Fuck you, come and get me." I was so furious I actually went to go after him but then I collapsed on the pavement.
The police got me to hospital, after a couple of highly appropriate cracks to passers by that it wasn’t them who’d beaten me up (this time), but having begged the staff there for help, to no avail, security kicked me out of the hospital for being difficult. It’s disgusting how they treat you sometimes. I had to walk up the street I’d just been beaten up on feeling bloody terrified and limping without my stick. There were rivers of blood pouring out if my head. When I made it home my flatmate got the police and they took me back to hospital to actually get treated. The picture of my face The Sun published that week tells a vivid story in itself; I shudder when I see it now. I ended up with a broken nose, cracked jaw (there goes the jaw again), five holes in my skull and twenty four stitches! The shop’s CCTV footage of the attack disappeared, following a visit from a gang flashing knives, but lots of serious people I know have said “We’ll find them and we’ll sort them out for you Mark,” but I’m not a vigilante and besides, I’ll see them one day sort it out.
People often think you’re drunk if you can’t walk; it’s quite a common thing
I’d love to think I can just get on with finishing the new album I’ve been working on now with no further nasty episodes but even last Autumn I managed to rupture my spleen and break a couple of ribs. I was in Camden tube station when some hoodies running from the police came haring down the escalator I was standing on and sent everyone flying. I came off worst because I was off-balance with my stick. To be honest I often forget I can’t walk properly anymore. There’s even footage on You Tube of me falling about on stage one time because of it. I threw my stick and tambourine in the air during a performance but lost my balance as I was trying to catch them. I crawled up to the guitarist, who was wetting himself, and I was laughing so much that when I then ran to the front of the stage I tripped over a lead and went flying into the front row. People have asked me if I was drunk but I was singing clearly throughout, as always, and I can honestly say that I was sober as a judge.
I said ages ago that this 80s revival shit will take the bands down with them
It’s great to be back in the studio now and I’m glad I didn’t go near any of those 80’s revival tours, though god knows I was asked to enough times. Then Jerico’s a fluid situation with no set, permanent line-up but I have some great musicians around me and we’ll be touring for most of next year . . . if all goes to plan and I can stay out of the emergency room.
Then Jerico’s new album, currently going under the working title Rictus Smile, is scheduled for release next April and you can see Mark and the boys live for an acoustic gig at London’s The Mercer on November 27th.
E mail The Mercer at email@example.com and mention The Quietus to get onto the free guest list. See the official Then Jerico website or the band's My Space page for details of further gigs as they are announced.