Surfing The Lad Totale: Lias Saoudi On Supporting Liam At Knebworth

This summer, Fat White Family supported Liam Gallagher at his Knebworth enormagig. Writing for tQ, Lias Saoudi recalls the excesses of ego, self-debasement, see-through Spanx and sachets of butter required to face the bucket hat hordes.

All live photographs courtesy of Paayarazzi

As a child, I used to suffer from a recurrent nightmare, well, not a nightmare exactly, more a compulsive envisaging. I used to picture a truck tire balanced on the prick of a pin. For reasons unbeknownst to me, this image filled me with horror. A similar feeling occurs to me today when I contemplate the vastness of space. If I really sit and think about it. Those white suns that are a thousand times the size of our own, just floating around in the void. The smallness of my own skull. It’s horrible. Black holes also I guess, but it’s more the giant stars that freak me out. And then there’s Lasagne. Or “lasaaaaaaaaaaaaaaagnyyhhheuu”, as Liam Gallagher would have it in Oasis’ 1994 song, ‘Digsy’s Dinner’. Listening to him smother an entire musical epoch with that most commonplace article of Italian cuisine felt like an inversion of that shudder inducing fixation. The almost unbearable strain on that second vowel, melting off into a kind of demi ‘yeah’ at the end, a broken but defiant groan of affirmation after the longest of hauls. The micro becomes macro then safely micro again. He takes us by force on a journey to the throbbing heart of meaninglessness, and as we emerge unscathed, we realise that it’s ok. That we’re ok. We can handle a bit of tension. I doubt it’s possible to squeeze any more life out of a word. A thousand years of culture will come and go, that word will still belong to House Gallagher.

I was coked out of my nut at the Q awards about six years ago when I met Liam. He made his way over to the table I was sharing with The Moonlandingz and told me he was a big fan of Fat White Family. Asked me how the new record was going. Whether or not that toothless bloke was still in the band. You should keep Toothless, he said. I then launched into this theory about lasagne. The Digsy’s Dinner theorem. Told him me and the boys had spent many a night trying to get to the bottom of it. Like, do you realise what you’ve done to that word? It’s basically your word now, I told him. You’ve peeled one out of the lexicon and made it completely your own. A personal fiefdom. Brilliant. Just brilliant. He looked perplexed. His mouth drew back slightly in contemplative consternation as he stood up to leave. Sound man. Sound, he replied. Well, good luck with it all yeah.

The night before Knebworth we were in Huddersfield for a warm up show. My mum was in attendance. I find it difficult seeing my mum on tour. I’m emotionally frazzled by default, exhausted, too exhausted to do anything that isn’t the show, too exhausted even to go out for a little bit of dinner. What do you do with your mum other than go out for a little bit of dinner? I love my mum to the point of agony. I love her so much I’m always relieved when we part ways, like the end of that Randy Newman song ‘My Country’ except the parent-child roles are reversed. After the speed and mushrooms have kicked in, once the show’s out of the way, it gets worse. I sat with her in the backstage area cooling down, trying to wipe all of the molten butter off of my torso with a towel, when she starts showing me these photos of her dog down Scarborough North Bay. She’s telling me about Jarvis – that’s the dog’s name, a King Charles Cocker Spaniel, maybe the most amiable dog that ever lived – and his fixation with red balls. Keeps scrapping with other dogs over these red balls he thinks are his apparently. Everything’s sweltering and it’s too much. I have to leave the room for a moment. I have to go and call my girlfriend. I call her up and I say my mum’s here and it’s too much. She’s banging on about Jarvis, I’ve taken too much mushroom, I’m on the cusp of asking her to leave. Obviously, I can’t do that. Won’t do that. But what the fuck man, what are you supposed to do with all of this love? I think I want kids I tell her. I think I’ve accepted it. This is the most affirmative thing I’ve said on the kids front. Don’t say that, she says. Not pissed off, just like, that’s the most important thing in the world to her, the meaning of life as far she’s concerned and maybe being high after a show isn’t the time to fill her heart with said promise. Saul’s got one I want one I tell her, mostly in jest, I think, but you never know. That male competitive stuff runs deeper than deep, one half of the engine of creation, men attempting to one up each other over absolutely anything.

We’re all in the van at 10am sharp the next morning outside the hotel. Our new tour manager Danny couldn’t have been clearer, we hit bad traffic, we’re fucked. Once again, we’re on early. 4:30. We’d played the exact same slot at Wide Awake in Brixton the week before. I couldn’t believe it when I received the running order for that one. Fair enough at Knebworth, I mean, who the fuck cares about Fat Whites at Knebworth other than maybe Liam’s spawn? But Brockwell Park? That’s where I sauna! The indignity of it! They gave our slot to Amyl and the Sniffers. The one below that to a jazz band. I couldn’t help but take that billing as a personal insult. We were playing the ‘Windmill stage’ after all. This is the thing you have to get used to if you’re a Fat White, underwhelming billing during the summer. Either folks won’t have you outright because they think you’re a bunch of cunts, or Steve-listening-to-paint-dry-reincarnated-stone-wash-denim-for-a-soul-Le-Mac hasn’t been endlessly hammering your latest tune on his show so not enough people give a fuck, or there is no latest tune because it takes you almost half a decade to cultivate enough of a consensus between you as to what actually constitutes a viable ‘song’, by which point only an unseemly core of die-hard’s care anymore…Out you go in the pale afternoon light pal! We’ll have a proper band on by twilight! Post-post-post-post-post-post-post punk with a Celtic tinge, or woke rock or something irretrievably math-ish from the Brit School… sorry, I’ve meandered into bitterness here, forget that last bit, I betray myself, Black Midi are decent… No, it definitely brings out both the very worst and best in me, festival season.

In the back of the van on the way down from Huddersfield we decide we should all eat something before we start taking speed and listening to Gabba. If we hit the Gabba too soon it’ll fuck us up. We’ll have no beans for the actual gig. ETA is 2. We decide 1 is a good time. The chat returns to a common theme of the tour. A phenomenon we’ve come to denote as ‘lad totale’. The e is intentional. It should read ‘toat-al’. As in ‘I am Joe Totale, the last unborn son…’ On our first day back on the road we came to the conclusion that Liam Gallagher is best summed up by the expression ‘lad totale’. He is every lad, all at once. The ‘essence of lad’ flows through Liam in its very purest sense. What is this ‘essence of lad’? That’s not for me to say, not here, there isn’t the time, save to say it has something to do with masculine harmonics at the broad scale. We wracked our minds trying to suss out who else might fit into the category, and after much deliberation found we could only safely add Paul Gascoigne to the list. One great thing about finding ourselves back in a van as opposed to the more luxuriant tour bus option, other than the elegant theorizing, is that things get manic. The enclosed space, the Gabba, the half-digested prawn sandwiches, last night’s tequila, the amphetamines…if you’re in the mood for it, life doesn’t get any better. Within the white metal walls of that converted Transit a kingdom of pure self-expression is unleashed forty miles out from Stevenage, everyone writhing and slamming and howling. It’s just like old times, except some of us are about to start pushing forty. Commitment is a beautiful thing, wherever you find it.

The backstage area at Knebworth is uninspiring. With such a large site, there’s not really much co-mingling going on. The powers that be have lain out a floor of what looks kind of like grey meccanno across the entire vicinity, I’m guessing in case it pisses it down rendering everything immovable. On a warm day such as this, feels a shame not to be able to touch grass. There are a few desolate picnic tables lain out within our quadrant of portacabins. The girls from Goat Girl are sat at one of these. We exchange hellos. I make my way up to the stage to check out the crowd, not really expecting it to be too busy at this early hour, but am pleasantly surprised to see the arena fairly well packed already. The sight of such a large horde leaves me giddy. More speed. More mushrooms. I get a call from my dad who’s making his way down for the gig. It cuts out halfway through his explaining some predicament at the main gate. The exact same thing happens when my girlfriend calls. She’s making her way down with our god daughter and her mum, G. Their situation is worse. Someone has stormed the tracks. A suicide or a protest, not really sure. Their train is at a standstill. They might not make it in time for the gig. I relay all of these issues onto my tour manager. He is looking exasperated.

My old man arrives first with his wife S. My dad doesn’t understand what I do. I don’t understand it either really. I do feel like I slid into this life by mistake, that I might have been a lawyer, a politician, a scholar, that this whole thing should never have happened. I should be doing something that doesn’t destroy my bowels, my candy floss bowels. Despite last night’s Valium, I keep needing to shit myself. Agitative, nerve-racked spurts. Nothing solid to speak of. With stage time a half hour away, I begin getting into character. I slip into a pair of flesh-coloured Spanx. These were gifted to me just before the opening gig of this mini-tour in Manchester, by an ex-hacienda ‘door bitch’. I called her up while we were on the M1 and asked her where I might be able to procure some tan cycling shorts. I wanted to look as naked as possible, without actually having to get my knackers out. Knackers out is too risky these days. She said she had one better. Her recently deceased mother had bequeathed to her an assortment of shape-shifting Spanx. She really hated her mum as well. Haunted Spanx. Perfect. There’s no butter on our rider, which sends a last-minute rattle of panic through the camp. I collar my tour manager: Danny, I know you’re under it with getting folks in, but I need this butter man, I need to shine…this is the big one. Within ten minutes 32 paper ramekins with mini rectangles of butter have been sourced and handed over. I start smothering this all over my body while nervously marching up and down the grey meccano. My dad sits there casually on the picnic bench, not really saying much. My Algerian step mother finds the scene amusing. It’s time to walk over to the stage.

To pull off a good gig I have to get myself into a head space where I’m basically going to war with the audience. The audience is just paste. My paste. To be manipulated at whim. They’re approval is irrelevant, only their attention counts. I need to reach a kind of apotheosis of self-interest before I go on. This necessitates feelings of abject bitterness and resentment for almost all human life. There is a film running in my head where every slight endured, every bit of short change slung my way by reality is compounded into a loop. Until the two modes are in direct opposition, reality outside of my head, and reality within. The friction is what gives it it’s spice. I have to believe I’m the master, but I belong in opposition. I’m like Labour, or even the Liberal Democrats. I’m not born to rule the roost. I’m born to tug and spit at its shirt sleeves, to asphyxiate having a nervous breakdown on the floor while the world moves on without me, in spite of me. The longer I’ve spent away from this ‘zone’, the stranger it seems to have to step back into it. It’s specific to the project. I do not have to whip myself up into a seething froth to perform, only to perform with the Fat Whites. On this particular front one has little choice. It is devil music. It is music about hatred. As I make my way towards the stage from our portacabin, wearing nothing but butter and Spanx, I am holding in a piss. I have decided on a battle stratagem in advance of playing – numerically speaking – the biggest show I likely ever will. There are roughly 70000 people out in the arena. So many people they are divided by barriers into various sections to avoid folks winding up crushed into a kind of lad purée. My tactic up until now has been to commence each show with a move I recently invented I call ‘the Moses’. It’s simple really, when the group start playing our new eleven-minute monotonal drone number ‘The Rites of Hessle Henge (Depp vs Heard)’, I step off the stage and plough forwards through the mob until I reach the end of the mic cable, then begin walking backwards down the route I’ve just carved. Eventually a fairly solid canal opens up within the audience. Once broken in two, you are charged with defending this new arrangement, or disassembling it aggressively, as however befits your mood throughout the duration. It usually winds up in the foetal position somewhere. This won’t wash at Knebworth. Right through the very centre of the crowd a path is already carved out by the barriers. Instead, I decide, seeing as it’s a special occasion, I will mount the stage and piss myself. Once a pool of urine has gathered around my feet, I will roll and douse myself in it before assailing the mob from whatever angle springs to mind. Guerrilla tactics, basically.

A wave of compassion breaks within me three minutes before the gig. The rest of the band are pissing into cups side of stage as is the usual custom on a massive rig – the bogs are always miles away – and I decide to join them. Liam must be bricking it. There’s no amount of fame or cash alleviates the raw fear of having to get up and perform, not for a crowd that size. He’s been nothing but kind to me, maybe taking a piss right where he has to stand warbling for two and a half hours later just isn’t cricket? I walk out on stage, glistening as I assume the classic Gallagher pose at the central mic, hands held behind my back, leaning forward, eternal Mancunian disgruntlement. In rehearsals two weeks prior we’d run through the chords for Digsy’s Dinner, we planned on covering it at the onset right up until the word lasagne, which we would elongate endlessly, bleeding it into the tower of drone. No-one has informed the soundman of this change of plan. Saul goes to pick up his guitar only to be met with silence. His role at the start of each set, up until this point on tour, has been simply to hammer the life out of a metal keg for ten minutes. His guitar isn’t live yet. Several stage hands begin running around, attempting to remedy the situation. I’m stood there greased up for what feels like an eon before anyone plays a note. A great idea, diabolically executed as per usual. ‘What a life it would be, if you would come to mine for tea…’ The audience, as expected, are utterly none plussed. As the show proceeds they move from none-plussed to affronted…what is this shit? The heckling begins. Heckling is like soul food for me. Before I know it, I’m everywhere. I’m beyond the crowd, beneath it, people are hurling things at me, mostly fluids. There’s a lot of laughter and a healthy amount of abuse. I pour beer and water over my head to prevent myself from expiring in the heat. I notice a peculiar burning sensation emanating from the microphone. I’m being electrocuted. I turn my head to gaze back at the band on the massive stage and for a moment this prangs me out somewhat. I’m plugged into a great deal of wattage. I catch a glimpse of my own arse on the giant screens, covered in filth from rolling around on the floor, I look like I’ve let something go, something semi-solid.

That these things finish before they’ve even begun goes without saying. Unless of course something goes horrifically wrong. If you get things sufficiently wrong time on stage expands. In fact, I’ve never known time to stretch itself out more sadistically than it does whilst enduring the public humiliation of a good gig gone to shit. If you get it wrong enough, you can condense roughly the same amount of misery and self-loathing you experience in that first year following a particularly devastating break up into just forty-five minutes. Point in case: about five years ago I performed the matinee slot on a Saturday down the Park Stage at Glastonbury with The Moonlandingz, and I almost murdered time, almost derailed Chronos and his weird enterprise. My pal scouse Chris had given me a suspect pinger the night before the show, by the time stage rolled around at noon the next day, I was on such a vicious come down I couldn’t face the mob. I begged someone for a little something to take the edge off. Heroin makes me throw up incessantly. I mounted the stage shirtless, wearing a studded denim jacket with two golden stallions woven into the lapels, my face entirely painted red – save for the word ‘dad’ on my forehead, rendered in exposed skin – with a loaf of Hovis 50/50 clingfilmed to the top of my skull, a kind of elongated bread crown. Before arriving at the first chorus on the first tune, I was already spewing everywhere. All of the tunes were set to backing tracks, so the band were unable to lay off on a section until I’d finished being sick. I had to try and deliver the words through the vomit. Occasionally I would lift my head long enough from the despair into which I was collapsing to make eye contact with my audience. There were families out there at that hour, Radio 6 listeners’ children galore. Everything started moving so slowly I was terrified it might just stop, that I’d be left ‘on pause’ in that moment of torment, forever. Asides from the sketchy intro, Knebworth was the polar opposite of that experience. In fact, if it weren’t for the nerve damage to my lower neck and the online opprobrium and counter opprobrium, one might have been mistaken for thinking it had never even happened. On one extreme people were calling for the head of Liam himself ‘that naked bloke feeling himself up covered in crap wants his hard drive checking, what was the big man thinking’… on the other extreme, I’d ‘taken the bucket hat horde to task’, with one woman declaring my performance ‘a blow against the patriarchy’, I’m not sure quite what she was getting at with that one, but under the circumstances, I’ll take it. No, one blind rush of light and heat and I was back stage again, walking from the rig back to the portacabins with my old man by my side. He hadn’t a single thing to say so I broke the silence, well, what did you think of that then? The only words he could fumble out of his mouth were "that must take many energy…"

Ten Thousand Apologies – Fat White Family and the Miracle of Failure by Lias Saoudi and Adelle Stripe is out now on White Rabbit Books

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