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BANDS OF FANS WHO TOUR, TOO

Times do change.

Remember when kids dreamed about joining a rock band just for the adventure and travel?

An enterprising group of English fans has finally realized they can hit the rock ‘n’ roll trail without actually having to form a band.

Hundreds of them simply “adopt” bands and spend weeks following the groups around the country, hitchhiking from one concert to the next and sleeping out under the stars.

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It’s cheaper than living at home, they say, and there’s a party every night. By not being in a band, they don’t have to put up with the tediousness of sound checks or rehearsals.

But what about the attention that is another benefit of being in a band?

The hordes of fans--which are known as “crews"--have become such a growing part of the British scene that the pop papers in England have begun doing features about them . Melody Maker did a cover story on the Eskimos, the name taken by the fans who follow the Mission U.K. There’s a basic core of two dozen, but membership swells during portions of tours to more than a hundred.

But the Eskimos didn’t accompany the band on this U.S. tour, and Sparky, one of the early Eskimos, doesn’t see much chance of the crew concept spreading to America, except on a regional basis.

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“America’s too big,” said Sparky, who has graduated economically from the world of rock crews and is serving as a photographer for the Mission U.K. on this tour. “There’s no way a group of kids could afford to follow a band all across the country. We had some kids who have gone to four or five cities in a row here, which is the equivalent (geographically) of doing the whole country in England.

“Besides,” he added before the band’s sound check this week in Phoenix, “it’s difficult for Americans to understand (the crew concept) because you don’t have the unemployment we have in England. Eighty percent of the kids who follow the bands around--not just the Mission, but also people who follow New Model Army and others--are unemployed.

“There just aren’t any jobs for them so they just sit around until it’s time (every two weeks) to sign on again (for welfare benefits). It’s actually cheaper going on the road than sitting at home where they end up going to the pub or whatever and spending money. Going on the road with the Mission is also relief from the boredom.”

It was mid-afternoon and the four members of the Mission U.K.--a hot new British band--were going through a sound check at Prism’s rock club in Phoenix. The temperature outside was in the high 90s and it didn’t seem much cooler inside, and the band was thankful that the stage lights--which add greatly to the heat--were turned off. They didn’t look forward to the show that night.

Sparky, meanwhile, was relaxing in the group’s tour bus, reflecting on the attractions of life as an Eskimo. He had been watching the sound check, but it was too hard to carry on a conversation over the noise of the group. Besides, the bus was air-conditioned.

The slender young man, who runs a motorcycle shop back in England, still identifies with fans who hit the road in pursuit of good times and rock.

“After four or five days of traveling to shows together, you become sort of a family,” he said. “There’s a real strong sense of comradeship. You look for rides together and you find places to sleep . . . car parks or just the countryside.”

As a point of honor, the crews insist on making their own way rather than accepting transportation or asking for free tickets--though bands sometimes put the names of a few fans on guest lists.

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But the fans are always looking for shortcuts when traveling, especially free or discount train tickets that are offered regularly in England as promotional items with soft drinks and candy bars.

“Pepsi had this campaign where they gave you a half-price coach ticket if you bought six cans,” Sparky recalled. “So, everyone raced into the stores, bought six cans and poured them down the sink so they could turn them in.”

The Eskimo draws a distinction between the crews and the obsessive “fans/historians” who travel to several Springsteen or U2 shows jotting down the names of every song so they can exchange information with friends at other shows--or the even more obsessive fans who trek around after the Grateful Dead. The emphasis with crews, Sparky says, is more on fun than on history, and as much on creating their own scene as worshipping the bands.

“The people who go to gigs and write down everything . . . including what is said between songs . . . are (jerks),” he snapped. “How can you enjoy the music if you are writing everything down?”

Sparky has mixed feelings about the widespread media attention that the crews are receiving in England. “At one time, the Eskimos was really only about 15 people, but the media is convinced there are hundreds,” he said. “What happens is a lot of kids who read about the Eskimos go around shouting the name at shows and claiming they are part of it.”

He also complains that the media tends to think of the crews as gangs, attributing any rowdiness at concerts to them. It makes better copy, Sparky suggests, for papers to say the Eskimos or whatever crew caused trouble than just 25 rock fans.

“The idea is to have fun, not cause trouble,” he continued.

About American audiences, Sparky said: “They are generally older because you have to be 21 to get into a lot of the places here. They also don’t get involved the way they do in England. They just tend to stand around and watch the band and then applaud at the end. They’re a lot more active back in England, a lot crazier.”

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(The Mission U.K., incidentally, canceled its Thursday night Palace show after bassist Craig Adams collapsed from exhaustion earlier in the day, according a spokesman for the band. The group planned to play the Palace Friday night with a substitute bassist, canceling its scheduled show at Fender’s in Long Beach. The Mission U.K. is still scheduled to play the La Paloma Theatre in Encinitas tonight.)

ROCK’S GREATEST LIVE HITS: Elvis Presley’s 1968 television “jam” at the NBC studios in Burbank, Elton John’s 1970 U.S. debut at the Troubadour and Bob Marley’s 1976 show at the Roxy are nominated by Rolling Stone magazine as three of the 21 “most exciting, musically outstanding and historically significant concerts and tours” of the past two decades in rock.

Other shows cited: Cream (London’s Royal Albert Hall, 1968), the Beatles (Apple Records rooftop, 1969), John Lennon (Toronto’s Varsity Stadium, 1969), Jimi Hendrix (New York’s Fillmore East, 1969), the Who (New York’s Metropolitan Opera House, 1970), the Allman Brothers Band (Fillmore East, 1971), Bruce Springsteen (New York’s Bottom Line, 1975), the Sex Pistols (San Francisco’s Winterland, 1978).

Tours saluted in the magazine’s June 4 issue: Led Zeppelin (1968), the Rolling Stones (1969), David Bowie (1972), Bob Dylan and the Band (1974), Neil Young (1978), the Police (1978), Pink Floyd (1980), the Jacksons (1981), Prince (1982).

LIVE ACTION: The Cure will be at the Forum on July 14 (tickets go on sale Monday), while Boston will be there July 18 and 20 (tickets on sale Sunday). . . . Tickets for several Universal Amphitheatre and Greek Theatre shows go on sale across the counter on Sunday. The Universal dates include Kansas on July 17 and Hank Williams Jr. on July 24 and 25, while the Greek concerts include Charles Aznavour/Pia Zadora on July 1, Merle Haggard/Tammy Wynette on July 10, Los Lobos on July 31 and David Sanborn on Aug. 12. . . . The Grateful Dead will be at the Ventura County Fairgrounds June 12-14. . . . Hoodoo Gurus headline the Variety Arts Center on June 5.


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