In 1975 I joined the very successful British band Hot Chocolate, just as You Sexy Thing, their biggest worldwide hit, was released. My role was as woodwind player, auxiliary keyboards and arranger/musical director for their terrific stage show. Although, technically speaking, the three horn players and extra percussionist were not part of the band per se we all became fast friends and travelling companions on the road. I travelled to and from gigs with lead singer Errol Brown in his green Cadillac or with his co-writer Tony Wilson, with much anticipated stops at the legendary motorway service stations. The UK motorway (freeway) services were where you met up with every other band criss – crossing the country – usually between the hours of 1 and 5am! Their usefulness was only offset by their awfulness in the 60s and 70s when I was ‘privileged’ to be a frequent patron. The height of culinary delight was two fried eggs swimming in a plate full of grease – acceptable fare at 3am to the hungry muso and truck driver. The favourite was the legendary ‘Blue Boar’ at the Watford Gap Services where, if you waited long enough, you were sure to run into everyone who ever played in a British band (and many unfortunate touring US artists too – I once found myself queueing behind the Four Tops!)
This particular story is not about the Blue Boar but concerns Salisbury Plain Services (not actually a qualitative description -Salisbury Plain happens to be a major area for British Army manoeuvres) . Hot Chocolate were booked by the agency that represented Queen and we found ourselves on this particular tour one day ahead of Freddie Mercury and company in our itinerary. Often this meant meeting up with them checking into hotels as we checked out – occasionally it meant we got to hang out and go to each others’ shows (I recall the amazement of their lighting designer and chief roadie at discovering they’d both independently been at my 21st birthday jam session with Muddy Waters). This particular night we arrived at Salisbury Services heading back to London to find Queen heading down to where we’d just been. It was probably around 2am and the ‘restaurant’ was deserted apart from a few long distance lorry drivers, the bands and road crews, and the British Army on a training exercise – hence my standing in line in front of Freddie Mercury and behind him, a guy in full army camouflage with a tree growing out of his backpack!
‘Yes?’ snapped the charming young lady behind the counter.
‘Eggs chips and beans please’ said I
‘Sausage egg chips and beans’ replied my server.
‘Well I don’t want the sausage thank you’ I responded.
‘You have to have it’ she insisted pointing at the uninspiring photograph above the serving area.
‘Well I don’t want it – I’ll pay for it but I don’t want to have it on my plate.’
‘It says sausage egg and beans’ she insisted
‘May I please see your supervisor’
Off she went and returned with an even grumpier older lady
‘Egg chips and beans please’
‘Sausage egg chips and beans’
Once again, stalemate. Supervisor threatened me with the police – ‘the sausage police?’ I responded.
‘Put it on another plate?’ I offered. ‘One plate per order’ she insisted.
I threatened to throw it straight in the trash, she threatened the police again, I said ‘it’s my sausage, I’ve bought it, I can wear it if I want!’ Thoughts of a confrontation a la Five Easy Pieces crossed my mind, but when she threatened the police again I thought it wisest to acquiesce, took the sausage and theatrically announced ‘who wants a sausage?’ before scooping it onto the plate of a grateful trucker. All this time the soldier with the tree in his hat stood watching impassively, while Freddie Mercury, bless him, rolled about on the floor clutching his side, laughing helplessly. From that day on we were a double act – if I saw Freddie anywhere I’d sneak up behind and say ‘eggs chips and beans’. Without looking round he’d say ‘sausage eggs chips and beans’ and we’d do the entire altercation to the complete mystification of all around us.
The service stations now serve healthy food and the plates of eggs swimming in grease are long gone – but I still smile when I enter one and just once again I’d like to order eggs chips and beans!
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Posted in: Music History 101
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