CHRIS HERRON VS FAT MIKE - A NOFX SAGA (Originally published 2014 on NHC MUSIC)

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When I was sixteen, I had been a sun-dodging metal-head for five years. Raised by my parents on a diet of Queen, Meat Loaf, Thin Lizzy, Pink Floyd and consequently spending my early teens caught up in the nu-metal wave, at this point in my life my only knowledge of punk was a misinterpreted view of a gang from the seventies, with leather, denim and chains, that maybe went around beating people up I don’t know… It was Kerrang I think that ran a punk issue with a free CD. I can remember the CD well, it was called Search & Destroy: A History of Punk, I’m sure. On the CD I recall The Vandals, The Misfits, Jello Biafra’s NOWTO Combo, The Damned, The Get-Up Kids, King Prawn, AFI and a bunch of others that were verging on metal such as Napalm Death! The important thing is, the opening track of this compilation was a song called ‘Dinosaurs Will Die’, it was by a band that, although I didn't know it at the time, would change my life forever, and that is no exaggeration!

Fast-forward a couple of years to sixteen years old and I move back to Scotland and develop yet another social circle (I moved around a lot as a child), within this new social circle there were punks, actual punks, and they didn't at all fit my stereotypical image that I had drawn from the 70’s. Well, okay, a little bit, there was dyed spikes and ripped denim, but there was also baggy jeans, skateboards and hoodies. It was within this group that a punk rocker named Smitty (now absorbed by the corporate world, haha, you've got to laugh!), played me an album called Punk In Drublic, the band of course were NOFX, and it struck me immediately as a fantastic record - I loved ‘Perfect Government’, but every track on this album was a stand-alone punk classic, not least the anthemic ‘Linoleum’ and all interlaced with irresistible little forays into other weird genres like Hefe’s ‘My Heart is Yearning’ which is like a Caribbean, steel-drum, latino melody!? And slow or acoustic numbers like ‘Reeko’ and ‘Scavenger Type’, so not your average punk album, far better in fact.

So of course, eventually I wanted to hear the album that ‘Dinosaurs Will Die’ is from (the song, by the way, is a wonderful and impactful stab at the music industry). The album was ‘Pump Up The Valuum’ (originally to be named ‘Pump Up The Valium’ but that was a legal matter, so was changed to valuum) and that record was again a superbly crafted piece of punk rock art! The track on it that hit me hardest was not one you’d expect, it was the pseudo-polka accordion-driven anthem that closes the album named ‘Theme Tune to a NOFX Album’, once again it just demonstrated the awesome diversity this band had!

And so it was on - I was addicted, converted from metalhead to punk rocker, I gobbled up NOFX albums and merchandise like valium! Hoodies, tee-shirts, video, posters, and not to mention their extensive back catalogue! Twelve studio albums, a b-sides album, two live albums, fifteen Ep's, twenty-four seven inches and a well-deserved greatest hits later, I’m still regularly listening to NOFX, they never get boring! With such dynamic and diverse albums, not to mention The Decline EP which is THE best punk song written EVER, if not one of the greatest songs ever written and a masterpiece at eighteen minutes long! (I am also a member of the NOFX 7 Inch Club and have them all on coloured vinyl proudly adorning my walls). NOFX are always fixed in snotty punk but are also snorting lines of reggae, ska, jazz, polka, classic rock, metal and many others along the way, NOFX have drew heavily from the chopping mirror of music., and that’s what makes them so exciting. And they are still going, thirty-one years later! Their band’s career is two years older than me! And the important and most admirable and striking thing about NOFX, aside from their talented lyricism, seasoned playing, catchy hooks, grinding riffs, fantastic solos, and brilliant puns, japes and skits all topped off with great album artwork and sleeve design, is that they have achieved success, notoriety, and are all millionares, and they have achieved all of this without ever once selling out! They would go as far as to sue MTV2 for playing the video for ‘Leave It Alone’ and then give the money to charity just to prevent commercial success, NOFX like to be underground, they try to be underground, but they are just too fucking good to stay there! No matter how hard they try, not doing interviews, barely promoting albums or gigs, or pissing off fans, they can‘t help but go gold and platinum, but they do it with talent! Unlike most of the modern world’s biggest-selling bands.

But I've got ahead of myself here, I've seen NOFX about ten times by now, but I've only ever seen them in Scotland once, and this brings us nicely to my main point. The first NOFX gig I went to see was in the hot, ecstasy-heightened and booze-drenched summer of my eighteenth year. I had to scrape, scrounge and scrimp to buy a ticket for Gig on the Green in Glasgow, where my favourite band of the last two years, NOFX would be playing, other good bands were playing as well, but all I truly cared about was NOFX. From sixteen to about twenty-one if you’d asked me who my no.1 favourite band were I’d have swiftly and confidently answered ‘NOFX’, knocked off the top spot by Pink Floyd at the beginning of my twenties and currently lurking in a k-hole somewhere at the number eight spot of my top ten, but that’s out of thousands and thousands of great bands so no small feat.

I saw them that time at Gig on the Green 2002 and I was not disappointed, yes, it was a short set, but they were squeezed in between a bunch of other bands and it was still the greatest moment of my life up to that point. Something else fateful happened that day however. It’s reported that a ned (Scottish street hooligan) attempted to stab front man Fat Mike in the heart with a screwdriver and NOFX publicly announced they would never play Scotland again, and they didn't!

The next time I saw them, Thursday 13th May 2004, was at the University of Northumbria, I had to pay lots of money to go down to Newcastle for it, just before the Newcastle gig I had been forced to eat my entire drug stash after we had been pulled over by the cops, so it was the most psychedelic punk gig I've ever been to, with fantastic support from excellent synth-punkers The Epoxies, but I distinctly remember them saying on stage that night ‘Are there any Scots in the crowd?’ Which of course was met with a big ‘Whey!’ and then Fat Mike saying, quote ‘Well this is as far North as we go from now on, we've realised the further North you go in Britain the crazier you people get, so Newcastle is our cut-off point.’ Unquote. And this is true, is does get crazier the more North of this ragged little island, and in Scotland, neds trying to stab you with various DIY tools or knives is a common occurrence, but then not as common as people getting shot in America (where NOFX are from), and you can run from a blade, you can’t run from a bullet.

What makes this whole sordid tale more frustrating is a number of things; Firstly, these guys are a punk band! A punk band no less, that released an internet series named Backstage Passport (which is brilliant and worth a watch!) but which depicts them deliberately playing places on Earth no band has ever played i.e third-world, war-torn shit-holes where you can be beheaded for smoking a joint (bad news for Fat Mike who is a notorious, self-confessed and public drug addict), they played places like Russia, Malaysia, Brazil and South America and yet…that’s right… THEY’RE TOO SCARED TO PLAY SCOTLAND! Scotland, a country that has long been famous for its brilliant crowds at gigs, and because some fuck-head tried to stab the singer/bassist the rest of the legion of Scottish NOFX fans have to pay, and I mean pay, not to mention paying for weekend festivals to see NOFX, but for the past decade I've been paying hundreds of pounds for gigs where the ticket costs fifteen bucks! By having to travel to places like Newcastle, Liverpool, Manchester, London etc. where I myself are likely to get stabbed in the heart with a screwdriver, or worse, shot! Unlike Scotland, where at least they stick to knives, places like Nottingham and Manchester have terrible gun problems! But this is turning into a crime demographic article…

I digress. So, secondly, Fat Mike isn't just the singer and bassist in NOFX, oh no, fat-cat, ‘Fat’ Mike Burkett, is also the founder and owner of arguably the biggest punk rock record label ever, Fat Wreck Chords. This label plays host to many, many of my favourite modern punk bands; Against Me, Lagwagon, Snuff, Mad Caddies, Lawrence Arms, Good Riddance, No Use For A Name, Sick of it All, Consumed, Strung Out, Swingin’ Utters, Gimme Gimmes (who Fat Mike is the bassist for), Anti-Flag, and fuck it, I could go on and on listing bands but my point is made, not all, but a lot of these bands seem to have been, one way or another, influenced by Fat Mike’s decision to avoid Scotland - cos’ they never fucking play!!

Fat Mike, by doing your Backstage Passport and then turning round and being too scared to play Scotland you have cast yourself as a hypocrite. By calling yourself a punk and then refusing to cross the Scottish border out of fear you have committed hypocrisy, they very thing you fight against. In 2004 Fat Wreck Chords spear-headed a campaign to prevent George Bush from being re-elected, the double compilation albums Rock Against Bush 1 & 2 were released as well as the release of Bush-themed NOFX album 'The War on Errorism', and Fat Mike even sacrificed his reputation, to rub shoulders with bands he normally wouldn't associate with, just to get the message across the board to the youth of America, bands like Sum 41, Foo Fighters, Good Charlotte (who he later criticised for pulling-out at the behest of their record label), The Offspring, Greenday (two more bands he has also slandered in the past), Yellowcard etc. The aim was simple and effective, a vast majority of the USA are the youth, a vast majority of the youth are punks, youths and punks are both notorious for not voting (being apathetic) so if they could be convinced to go out and vote it would topple acerebral president George Bush from his tyrannical reign. It was a noble cause, and it almost worked, that year saw a record number of young voters, but whether because the campaign didn't have enough exposure (NOFX are always reluctant to dip their toes in that water) or because apathy just won over, Bush was re-instated, but luckily managed to get through another four years without bringing about the End of Days.

Anyway, I’m almost done, Fat Mike, you may remember me; before I was a radio DJ and a music journalist I used to travel to England to catch your gigs, as I said. One particular time though, it was in Liverpool, Tuesday 6th November 2007, I spent a lot of money to travel down and stay in a hotel (prepared for once, usually I just sleep on a park bench overnight, I can proudly claim to have slept on a park bench in most the major cities of England, haha) and I was early for the gig so I was milling about outside the venue, the Carling Academy, and who gets out of a taxi in full golf clobber, Fat Mike! None of the other so-called NOFX fans recognised him, but I did, so I approached him and said, in my broadest Glaswegian accent, ‘Fat Mike! Awrite’, wur’ yer’ welcomin’ committee fae’ Scoa’tland!’ I don’t think he understood me, so in my normal voice I said, ‘Hi, we’re from Scotland, don’t worry I’m not going to stab you in the heart with a screwdriver.’ He replied, ‘If you’re from Scotland howcum’ I can understand what you’re saying?’ But his broad Californian accent threw me off, and before I could work out what he said he had had security line us all up against the wall. Now that was offensive, but NOFX are nearly all Jewish so I returned the insult and shouted, ‘Lining us up against the wall!? What do you think we are, fucking Jews!?’ But he had vanished into his big luxury tour bus and we were moved on, Fat Mike 1, Chris Herron 1, but later, in the gig, the spineless bastard got me again, he said from the stage, ‘Are there any Scots in the audience?’ Of course we all cheered and whooped, exposing our location, and he said to the rest of the crowd something along the lines of ‘Get them! They attacked me outside.’ And we were set about by Scousers, but I’m a seasoned mosher and scraped through at only the loss of a shoe and a few bumps, I got them all back one by one during the mosh pit madness throughout the night. So Fat Mike 2, Chris Herron 1.

In August, on my birthday August the 8th, I will be seeing NOFX once again, and intend to even the score. I’m travelling South at great expense, once again, but I will forgive their anti-Scottish (is that like anti-Semitic?) behaviour, if they play their song from the Heavy Petting Zoo album, ‘August the 8th’ and dedicate it to me. Appropriate that they have a song entitled the date of my birthday and that they are playing on that very weekend. And as the Scots would say ‘Moantae’ fuck NOFX, come back tae’ Glesgae’ and play! We’re no’ that bad really!’.

I still am, always will be, one of the biggest fans of NOFX, by introducing me to punk they changed my life forever, punk is in my blood, NOFX opened the floodgates for me at sixteen for all the great modern punk bands like Rancid, Screeching Weasel, Leftover Crack, the list is endless, as well as all the ska-punk bands my education in punk led to and finally all the old-skool classics like the Pistols, The Clash, The Dead Kennedys etc. etc. I can thank NOFX for their guidance, and especially for the music, which has kept me enthralled all these years, but as for not playing Scotland…well, don’t get me started…