It's become something of a tradition - every second November (more or less) for awhile now, Alice Cooper brings his psychotic gang of miscreants and derelicts (and that's just the band) to Britain to bask in the adoration of his public (and to visit the many shopping centres we have to offer). Thanks to the extraordinary generosity of Shep Gordon, Toby Mamis, Jamie Johnston, and Alice himself, and the tolerance of the band and crew, what follows are the rambling recollections of your humble servant of rain, Arctic temperatures, dry ice, confetti and black eye make - up (and names will not be changed to protect the guilty).
First up is Manchester (yes, it rained - I assume you didn't expect anything else). The band board the unbelievably plush tour bus, itching to hit the boards again after a short break - Keri Kelli with cheekbones like razors; Damon Johnson, quiet and contemplative, sporting his Rasputin look; Chuck Garric, wiry and wry in a smart black suit and matching scarf and Jimmy Degrasso, just as amiable as I remember. Next to me, Tiffany Lowe - her stern exterior hiding the heart of a sadistic maniac. Legendary tour manager Toby Mamis (he worked with John Lennon, in case you you didn’t know) gives the order and the bus heads towards the Apollo, the scene of many a previous Alice Cooper outrage.
Outside the venue, shivering and waiting since at least noon, are the familiar faces from previous tours; those incredibly loyal and dedicated fans who would follow the tour around Britain, travelling from as far away as Germany with others from Greece, Hungary and The Netherlands to follow. Alice’s very own Sick Things.
The first performance passes by in a blur. It's the right show at the right time - a return to the rich theatricality of the past mixed with that timeless back catalogue. Shooting photographs from the pit, I try to remember to keep away from Alice's swinging sword, his waving cane and the grabbing hands of the audience behind me as they reach for the billion dollar bills and beads. The noise from the crowd makes my head spin.
From Manchester to Glasgow where in 1972, the press gave a name to a phenomenon - "Hurricane Alice". This time, it felt like another hurricane had hit the town but at least it was a seated venue; the fans could wait somewhere dry and warm for the doors to open. Wandering around during soundcheck, the venue seemed too upmarket, too clean. Would it hinder the famous Glaswegian passion? Would the audience be too polite?
Not a chance. Damon leads the audience in a mass outbreak of finger - clicking at the start of "Killer" and at the end of the show, Keri rips the strings off his guitar. Another crazed audience reacted as you would expect to another expolosive, highly - charged performance. Was it my imagination, or was the balcony shaking from the audience reaction? After the show, Sheryl Cooper makes her way backstage to the delight of exiting fans, who proclaim their eternal love (sorry, but she's spoken for). After the show, Alice entertains the VIP package holders with stories old and new, like a seasoned stand - up comedian, granting all requests for pictures and offering silly answers to the many silly questions. Everyone leaves beaming. Try telling them it wasn't money well - spent.
Next is Newcastle, where Alice is mobbed by fans while out shopping. At the venue, production manager Cesare Sabatini and his valiant crew manage to squeeze in as much as they can of the set and the lights. The giant stairway used on "Vengeance Is Mine" is too big and is absent. It doesn't matter; no - one takes their eyes off Alice for a second.
By Sheffield, the momentum is definitely building. You feel it as the audience surges into the building, clamouring around the merchandise stands, the temperature rising as show - time approaches. It's easily the best show so far. It surely can't get better than this.
By early afternoon in Swindon, around a thousand people are waiting in torrential rain for that coveted front row spot, shivering without complaint, just so they can be near their hero. I tell them I'm flattered but that they should really go somewhere to get warm. For some reason I am ignored. Inside, it's a familiar scene - front of house sound engineer Randy Muellier and his tech David Quiqley squeeze every whatever the unit of measurement is, of audio clarity from the hall while Paul Bostic hovers over his equipment (not a euphemism). Lighting Director Chad Lewis dazzles the eyes with an intense and vivid light show. Behind the backdrop, Brian Sateia, Chris Leahey and Lorne Wheaton quietly (maybe too quietly) go about their business, as Pat Nowak gently and lovingly prepares the props for the evening's entertainment. In the production office, Toby and Cesare get down to serious work (they never stop) while Jamie Johnston (Alice's assistant) and I begin our dessert - eating competition.
In Wolverhampton - Alice leads a television crew on a tour of the stage before going back to his hotel and before long, the lights dim and the familiar smell of dry ice wafts through the hall. Things are warming up in time for the big night of taping at Hammersmith Apollo. Would they peak too early? Not according to Alice. "We're just warming up!" In Plymouth, eyes widen as Tiffany steps behind the screen during "Be My Lover" and the rest writes itself.
In Nottingham, the venue is almost impossible to navigate and I remain indebted to the venue staff who gave me directions in words of one syllable. The legendary Shep Gordon arrives with show director Rob Roth and lighting designer Norm Schwab to make final arrangements for the taping at Hammersmith - they huddle together with Cesare and Chad, speaking in technical terms, adjusting this and adapting that. After the show, there are nods of approval - it's all systems go.
In Brighton, Shep regales me with tales of falling masonry, snakes in luggage, and giant balloons on the River Thames. Sheryl chips in with tales of the cyclops and auditions, and Jimmy asks about the 'magic' screen. So many stories, so many punch - lines. Rock history in every sense. During the show -- as at every show -- the audience noise rises in anticipation as the beads appear for "Dirty Diamonds." Hundreds of people lean forward, hands stretched out, begging and screaming for a string of beads. Security guards step forward - thank goodness for the barrier.
At the famous and slightly crumbling Hammersmith Apollo, the familiar faces wait in line. A fan from Greece unfurls a giant banner. Inside the venue, the cameramen are in place, friends of Alice's (including Sir Tim Rice) take their seats and just like Glasgow, the balcony is soon shaking, while the main floor is a mass of bodies and raised arms. The show seems to last mere seconds. Afterwards, Shep, Alice and Rob are all smiles - that's a wrap.
Fade to black - end credits.
N.B. – Andy Michael is a longtime Alice fan and friend to all of us in Alice’s world. He resides in London