The Golden Gators vs The Bikers From Hell
The Golden Gators you can see and hear in the year 2011 are a superb band. I have seen them a few times on my visits back to Poland and they keep getting better and better. They play long gigs to big crowds and often get well rewarded for doing so. In January 2007 on a freezing hill in Bytom - surrounded by angry biker gangs, fire and a Nazi - it was a different story for The Golden Gators…The Original Golden Gators.
But who were The Golden Gators all that time ago? The group was founded in mid-2006 and the singer was, of course, Rafal Drewniak. Back in those days The Boss didn’t play the guitar because he had his hands full entertaining the crowd. His charisma and jokes onstage could often make the audience forget the messy song they just heard. Andrzej Karch, the backbone of the group to this day, was on bass guitar and sometimes played barefoot. Andzrej’s son Albert – then just 14 years old - was on drums and half the time he showed his amazing talent and half the time we wanted to kill him. On keyboards was Satan’s Favourite Demon – Piotrek Rokosz. Only 16 years old, Piotrek lived and died for death metal but for some reason agreed to join The Golden Gators and play happy hits like “I Want To Break Free” and “Light My Fire”. I was on guitar trying to keep the music together. I helped to choose the songs, wrote out all the chords and then tried to teach them to the band at our Sunday night practices in Albert’s bedroom.
We had played a few concerts together and we were quite good but very basic. The songs were simple and missing a spark. Rafal and I knew we needed a lead guitarist who could provide solos and backing vocals. At the same time Golden Gate also needed a new Native Speaker. When Rafal was interviewing for the new Native I know qualifications on the guitar were more important than qualifications in teaching. On January 1st 2007 our prayers were answered when we went to Katowice Airport to pick up the new Golden Gate Native Speaker and the new Golden Gators lead guitarist, our tall, bald, skinny English angel – Simon Cooper.
Within a few days Simon was playing a gig with us in Galeria. He didn’t play the whole concert because he was having a better time getting drunk and kissing Polish girls, but it was good to have some new life in the band. It was especially important with our biggest ever concert coming up in a few weeks…
Andrzej had arranged for us to play in Bytom at a large party organised by some motorcycle clubs. He was a member of one of the clubs and the party-organisers thought we would be good entertainment. It would be brilliant. The party would be outside but we would play in a massive tent and have a huge stage. We would get free food and beer. We had never played outside Tarnowskie Gory before so playing in Bytom seemed very exotic. I think that is the only time ‘Bytom’ and ‘exotic’ have ever been in the same sentence.
I was excited about the concert in Bytom. The band was getting better with Simon on lead guitar, we had a couple of practices and he improved all of our songs. Simon was only in his first few weeks in Poland but was really enjoying the country. He would love it even more after we played a great set in a big tent in Bytom to a wonderful audience and got paid in beer and food! Nothing could go wrong!
Actually, everything went wrong.
We loaded the equipment into The Golden Gatemobile and drove to Bytom to find the party. I thought it would be in a field somewhere, or in a park. It was on top of a hill. It was dark, cold and wet and we were driving up some dirt road up a hill and couldn’t see where we were going. When we eventually got to the top we saw a huge bonfire surrounded by motorcycles and wild dogs. The bikers were big, bearded and had tattoos all over their muscular arms. That was just the women. It was loud, smelly, dirty and there must have been about 200 people there. It was like the apocalypse and I didn’t think this crowd would like our version of “I’m A Believer” from ‘Shrek’. At least we had the big tent to play in with the large stage. They showed me the stage. It was about the size of three Scrabble boards put together. We had to get Albert’s drums, Piotrek’s keyboard, and Rafal, Simon, Andrzej and I on this stage? It was impossible. It wasn’t in a tent either, but it had a tiny roof made out of tent material.
Still, at least we had the free food! I wanted to stay upbeat for Simon so I took him to the food tent with our vouchers. The voucher was for bigos, I told Simon about what a great Polish dish was and that he’d love it. They served it cold and tasted horrible and we both threw it in the bin. Thankfully the beer was alright. We could only get two beers free. I wanted a million. It was so cold and we still had time before we had to play. Two of the motorcycle gangs looked like they were going to fight each other. Simon and I sat on a big log near the bonfire. I tried to tell him that we normally played concerts in nice pubs, indoors and without people in leather jackets with ‘Iron Elephants’ written on the back. Simon looked like he wanted to get on the first plane back to Britain and, to be honest, I wanted to go with him. We tried to have a normal conversation but it was difficult because some of the bikers kept throwing sticks at us. They thought it was funny when their huge dogs would run over to us to get the sticks and we’d get scared and run away from their sharp teeth.
I kept seeing a guy walking around the party by himself. He had his hands behind his back and walked slowly and looked a little strange. It was only when I got close to him I could see by the light of the bonfire that his clothes were green. They looked like some kind of uniform. When I looked closer I saw he was wearing a Nazi uniform. This wasn’t a Hollywood comedy Nazi uniform either, like in Indiana Jones films. This looked real. Very real. What kind of party was this? We eventually got on stage to play and we were terrible. Only Albert, Piotrek and I could fit on the stage so the others stood in the mud. It was so cold! Our hands were freezing and we couldn’t move our fingers to play our instruments. We couldn’t really hear ourselves play. That was probably a good thing. Our songs were totally wrong. We were playing “Every Breath You Take” and “74-75” to drunk men and women in leather jackets and jeans. The surprising thing was that a lot of them seemed to really like it! They must have drunk a lot of vodka before we got there. We didn’t have so many songs back then and because it was only about a month after Christmas we thought we could get away with playing some songs we had done at the Golden Gate Christmas Concert. We played ‘Last Christmas’ by Wham. In January. On top of a hill. In Bytom. To a bunch of angry bikers. They liked it! I bet even the Nazi was dancing by the Bigos tent.
Sadly things all went a bit wrong when a drunken guy got on his bike and rode it right up to the stage, revving the engine as if he was going to ride onto the stage when we were playing. We didn’t know what he was going to do for a minute it looked like he was going to ride right into Albert’s drumkit. Eventually he rode away. Some of the crowd got drunker and started to demand Polish songs but we didn’t know any. Our fingers were getting colder and our songs were getting worse and worse. We were trying to look at each other’s hands to see what chords we should be playing because we couldn’t hear anything. We couldn’t wait to finish. We were like an old dog waiting to be shot. Thankfully the concert soon ended and when it did we packed our stuff into The Golden Gatemobile as fast as we could and drove away from the fire, the bikes, the dogs, their teeth and the tiny stage. Simon and I sat in the back of the car, silently wondering if this Poland thing was such a good idea after all. Just when we thought we were free The Golden Gatemobile hit some rocks when we were driving down the hill and needed some expensive repairs. Repairs that would cost a lot more than a plate of cold bigos and a couple of beers.
When I look back on my days playing with The Golden Gators the gig in Bytom with the bikers is one of the first memories that come to mind. I couldn’t exactly sit here nearly five years later writing about one of our many Galeria gigs that were ‘okay’ or ‘pretty good’. We need a few disasters in life.
Thankfully things improved for the original line-up and we became a good band. Of course, life got in the way and by the beginning of 2008 Albert, Simon, Piotrek and I had left the group and Rafal and Andrzej were the only ones left. They are always the only ones left. Guitarists, keyboardists and drummers come and go in The Golden Gators but in 2029 Rafal and Andrzej will still be there rolling and rocking.
It pains me to say that the original Golden Gators line-up wasn’t the best, but to me The Golden Gators always be my band. Mine and Rokosz’s and Rafal’s…Andrzej’s, Albert’s and Simon’s too. We just let the newer members borrow it for a bit. Sure, there may have been better musicians in the group since us, they may have played better together and been paid in more than bigos, but I ask you this – When did they ever play ‘Last Christmas’ to a Nazi?