Well, there seems to be a bit of interest in my involvement with The White Stripes. So for the sake of a bit of story-telling I’ll try to shed some light on my time with them.
In 2000 I was playing in a few bands which were part of the garage rock / ‘Frisbee’ scene in Auckland, NZ. This scene centred around Frisbee Studios where bands (Nothing At All, The D4, Shaft, The Rainy Days, The Rock and Roll Machine, among others) rehearsed and recorded, and John Baker a good friend, who promoted shows locally, as well as bringing numerous acts to our shores (The 5,6,7,8s, Guitar Wolf, Dr. Explosion, etc). Having heard about this Detroit garage rock brother/sister duo John went about getting them down to NZ. I understand The White Stripes had never left North America by this point and took some convincing that this guy from New Zealand was legit. Only when John posted 2 return air tickets to them in Detroit did they realise he was serious.
I first encountered the band when they arrived at Frisbee to tape a piece for the news. Jack gravitated to the upright piano where he belted out St. James Infirmary Blues for the puzzled journos. It was a revelation for me, and a lot of others witnessing the spectacle. All any of us had really heard by this point was You’re Pretty Good Looking on bFM (Auckland college radio). The year 2000 in Auckland was much like everywhere else at the time: obsessed with dance music; venues abandoning stages/P.A.s for DJ booths.
By the time they played at the Kings Arms I was hooked and bought one of everything from the merch table. They had a few 7 inches and buttons, whatever was leftover from Detroit and could fit in their suitcases. A band I played in ‘Shaft’ opened for them, but alas we were a last minute addition, so never made it onto the posters.
The Pizza Pizza show was most memorable. Jack had bought a guitar that day from a local vintage guitar guy, and performed solo as the support act. Heaving full.
Having won their trust, John left to continue being their tour manager. I was working as a tutor at Auckland University and finished in October, 2001. I decided to flee NZ for a couple of months to the UK to see friends. I knew John and The W.S. would be in London for shows around the same time, so I assumed I’d have a hook-up for seeing one of their London shows, if not more…
Around 22 November, 2001 everything happened rather quickly. I tracked John down at the Astoria in London, hung around for the afternoon, re-introduced myself to Jack and Meg. I thought I’d blown it, because I followed John into the dressing room interrupting a big meeting with some important people. I waited for them to be done, bonding with The Von Bondies. I’d carefully packed and brought my Let’s Shake Hands 7 inch all the way from New Zealand with me. Embarrassed, I asked them to sign it. I’d never asked for an autograph from anyone before, or since. Amazing show. Afterwards I helped John load the gear into the van. The crew at this point was John (TM) and Matthew (FoH sound).
The next day I met up with the gang as they arrived to film Top of The Pops. It was all quite exciting. Paul McCartney was there. And Herbie Hancock. The White Stripes were ready to roll with Hotel Yorba, waiting while Muse took an eternity to get their best take. The White Stripes had wanted Billy Childish to be painting in the background during their performance. But the BBC were a little too nervous about what he might spontaneously paint, and vetoed the idea.
Straight after TOTP we raced to another BBC studio to join The Von Bondies who were doing a John Peel session. Afterwards, John showed me aboard the tour bus. They were leaving straight after the Peel Session for Europe. I offered to be a von-roadie, but the bus was leaving imminently, and all my gear was on the other side of London.
I caught a bunch of night busses home. Exhausted, elated and miserable all at the same time.
I carried on my holiday, feeling out of sorts. A couple of days later John rang from Cologne. He said everyone was bummed that I didn’t stowaway on the bus, and if I just turned up they’d love me for it. After a night of mad scrambling, I was on a flight to Hamburg the next day.
I arrived at Molotov in Hamburg to palpable tensions between the bands, and thought I’d made a huge mistake. But, I set up some gear, helped in the changeover, loaded out, got involved, and well… ended up on the bus.
The White Stripes, The Von Bondies, John, Matthew and myself made the bus.
Two Fender Twins, three guitars, a Fender Rhodes and a drumkit made the trailer.
It had begun.
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